WHILE it’s not uncommon to hear plenty of Australian accents at SEMA, Aussie-built cars feature far less regularly. Not so this year, with the world’s largest automotive trade event seeing a heap of homegrown talent shining up the nearly endless halls of the Las Vegas Convention Centre.
KEES WEEL – 1935 CHEVROLET COUPE
AFTER five years of hard graft by one of Australia’s greatest custom car crafters, Peter Fitzpatrick, together with the combined excellence of some of the finest tradespeople in the land, Kees Weel’s 1935 Chevrolet coupe (SM, Dec ’19) is an incredible creation.
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It’s not just us who think so either, with the factory RHD coupe taking out the GM Designers’ Choice Award following the car’s unveiling at SEMA 2019 – one of the most prestigious gongs presented to a Battle Of The Builders contender. Fitzy was also presented with a sweet trophy featuring the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray by Chevrolet’s Executive Design Director, Phil Zak.
“We’re still on a bit of a high,” Peter said. “We had a few cool drinks, as Aussies do, and it’s just been phenomenal.
“Kees Weel from PWR asked me if I’d be interested in building it for him at MotorEx about five years ago,” Peter continued. “I first saw the car in his workshop about 10 years ago and I thought it was a pretty cool-looking car; they only made about 3500 of them.”
Peter Fitzpatrick and Kees Weel receive their award from the GM Design Team
Having initially tried to purchase the car himself, Peter was eventually asked by Kees if he’d like to build it for him. “Two years ago Kees said we should take it to SEMA, and I said: ‘Oh, shit yeah!’” said Peter.
With a wrecked C6 Corvette donating the running gear, the car turned up in a box trailer and Peter was instructed to make it all work together.
Employing PWR’s expertise and equipment to create amazing billet performance parts, Peter incorporated a custom billet grille, replica billet wheels and other trick bits into this one-of-a-kind pro touring-inspired ride. The roof chop might be obvious to fans of the era, but less so are the custom aluminium bonnet and wide guards (to accommodate the wider track of the Corvette suspension), and the steel running boards.
MARIO CIARROCCHI – 1972 VH VALIANT CHARGER
MOTHERS Polish has a typically massive presence at SEMA this year, with a mix of muscle cars, hot rods and off-roaders gleaming in the Las Vegas sunshine. But amongst the more typical Chevys and Dodges lies the unchallenged star of their line-up – this brighter-than-bright, Ferrari red VH Charger owned by Mario Ciarrocchi (SM, Sep ’19) and brought to life by Justin Hills from Hills & Co Customs.
“There’s a lot of stuff here that’s been seen before, so it’s good to have something different,” Justin said of the Charger.
Mario’s Charger looks less like the 1971 Wheels Car of the Year and more as if it were designed by Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina himself, with Mario taking inspiration from the Ferraris he loved in his youth to create something special from a car he’s owned for more than 30 years.
Being an Australian Mopar on US soil, there’s been an interesting reaction from the punters, but Justin has enjoyed the attention. “The question I’ve been asked the most is: ‘What is it?’ and the show hasn’t even started yet! I’ve been explaining it non-stop since I got here,” he said.
The stunning-but-subtle custom bodywork and real-deal Rosso Corsa paint are undoubtedly what catch the eye initially, but the more you look at the little details, the more you realise you’re staring at something quite different from a standard Charger. That’s usually about the time you notice the monstrous 540ci Indy-based bruiser up front, complete with F&B Performance throttlebodies under the carbonfibre bonnet. Double the power, yet similar weight to a stock Charger. Nice!
Any concerns about this car being snapped up by a wealthy collector in the USA were allayed by Justin: “After this we’ll take it back to Australia,” he said. “It’ll possibly do the show circuit, and after that Mario’s gonna drive it. I’ll think he’ll drive the wheels off of it – it’s built to drive.”
DARREN SHELDRICK – 1939 DODGE HEARSE
WE’RE used to seeing wild, one-off builds at SEMA, but Darren Sheldrick’s ’39 Dodge, known as RATICAL, is a serious show-stopper. We watched for 10 minutes straight as punter after stunned punter stopped, did a double- take, walked back to this metal monster and had their jaws dropped one by one.
The hearse packs a twin-turbo 393ci Chev, TH400 trans and Air Ride suspension on a custom chassis, and was built by the Sunshine Coast’s Double Jacks Garage as part of the International RATical Rod Build-Off/Drive-Off, which saw teams from around the world building a car from January until October before driving their creations 1400 miles from Lincoln, Nebraska all the way Las Vegas for SEMA.
ROB ZAHABI – 1970 DODGE CHALLENGER
IT’S NO surprise that the reigning Summernats Top Judged Elite winner, Rob Zahabi’s immaculate Dodge Challenger, would be featured on the enormous Meguiar’s stand at SEMA, the glossy PPG paint shining under the convention centre lights and attracting more than its fair share of attention.
“The second it was rolled in the door, the Good Guys put the gold award sticker on the car as a participant, and we were only five minutes in!” said Rob.
A 572ci big-block Hemi wrapped in sexy sheet metal isn’t exactly a new idea for many Americans, but this insane F3 ProCharged, smoothed, ’bagged and wildly customised beast has probably snapped more necks at SEMA than all the different versions of the new Toyota Supra combined.
Rob’s last mega-build to head Stateside, his twin-ProCharged jet-black Nova, featured at a number of high-profile shows, including the Good Guys Street Machine Of The Year awards, where it made the Top 20. That car would eventually sell at Barrett-Jackson Auctions for an impressive $220,000, so we can only imagine the truly nuts offers Rob has been fielding for this beauty, for sale or not!
“It’s been such a big response, and it keeps on going all the way to day three,” he said. “I’m very pleased and very proud to be here – honoured really.”
Rob has produced an hour-long special on the creation of one of the best Challengers ever built, and you can watch it right now here.