Mopar fans from all points of the Pentastar converge on Albury-Wodonga to celebrate 30 years of Chryslers on the Murray
BEING a third-generation Chrysler fan, it borders on bloody criminal that I’ve never made the pilgrimage to Albury-Wodonga for Chryslers On The Murray. So when Editor Telfo dangled the Pentastar carrot in front of me for this year, I jumped at the chance to immerse myself in the Southern Hemisphere’s premier Mopar event.
Come early Friday morning I was on a Fokker bound for Melbourne and super-keen for the drive north to the border. My hire basher was upgraded from a Corolla to a VF Commodore, so I decided if anyone asked me what car I brought, I could legitimately say: “Just the VF,” and let them decide if I meant Valiant or not.
The Commo may not have armed me with much street cred, but its sat-nav got me to the Hume and I settled in for the few-hour journey. Surprisingly I only saw one Chrysler that whole drive – a battered Neon sedan – but I needn’t have worried; by the time I hit the outskirts of Wodonga I knew awesomeness was brewing.
With the early birds having already smoked their way through the driving events at the nearby Logic Centre, I headed straight to the afternoon meet ’n’ greet at the Gateway Park complex and was immediately impressed by the set-up, friendliness and professionalism offered up by the Albury-Wodonga Chrysler Club. Sure, having run this event for 30 years, it isn’t their first rodeo, but their small but passionate membership put on a hell of a big show given the number of volunteers at their disposal.
As the ultimate variety in Chrysler products rolled through the gates, I had my second realisation: I should never go to this show and not bring one of my own cars; the long drive from Brisbane would be worth it to fully indulge in the event instead of being on the fringes.
But I was happy to talk the talk, and being a CL panel van tragic I was immediately drawn to the survivor-spec Impact Orange Drifter van owned by John Lodge, who wears his passion on his sleeve – literally! But hang on, there was more: he also brought along a matching orange Drifter ute and Drifter Charger! “I bought the van, then found the ute soon after,” John said. “Then I realised I was on a hat trick and put the feelers out for a matching Charger.” Each car is super-rare and collectible in its own right, but the three together made for an impressive sight.
As the sun set on Friday evening, the Albury main drag took on a whole new persona. I swear I’d jumped into the DeLorean and shot back 20 years to the glory days with the amount of awesome street cruising on the go. All sorts of Chryslers mixed it with a motley collection of local hot rods and street machines – seriously a sight for sore eyes. A handful of blown rides and ultra-tough streeters in the mix were just icing on the cake.
One car I was particularly taken with was a tidy and suitably number-plated VH 770 Charger sporting the nose-down/arse-up sniffer rake along with chrome tramp rods – it just looked tough. This is my style to a T, but I definitely wasn’t expecting its owner, Joshua Savvoudiou, to be a bloke in his early 20s: “I just love the old-school look but most people don’t seem to get it,” he said. “My dad, Telly, and uncle, George Haridemos have owned Chargers for years, so it’s in the blood.”
A peek under the bonnet revealed an engine bay superbly detailed with plenty of chrome and braided hose to tie in with the 80s-inspired exterior. I did a double-take when I spied the carbied twin-turbo Hemi set-up. “I usually run a triple-Webered 265, but that gave up the ghost a few weeks ago,” Josh said. “This is one of my dad’s old motors he and his friend Gary were developing back in the 80s. It’s been a mad thrash to get it swapped in and tuned, but it’s been worth it to make it here and have some fun.”
SM photographer Shaun and myself enjoyed some bench racing with Josh, Telly and George, along with VH E55 owner Chris Evans and fellow Charger turbo fan Michael McLean, who all hail from Canberra and regularly cruise our nation’s capital as an ‘unofficial’ club. “We’re all mates who like to keep it about the cars and not the politics,” Michael said – a refreshing outlook, considering their hometown. Michael’s orange VJ is a real surprise package, too.
Saturday kicked off bright and early with superb weather, and a steady stream of cars rolled in for the show ’n’ shine and judging, while traders and swap meet patrons busied themselves sorting their wares.
Walking amongst the owners and friends doing last-minute cleaning, setting up shades and barbeques, or generally having a laugh reminded me why we do what we do. COTM is definitely geared at people as well as cars, offering the opportunity for old friends to have a sometimes-just-annual catch-up, or reaffirm new friendships spawned through the modern connections of social media.
The sheer volume and variety of Chryslers here is what floored me; as a COTM virgin I’d never experienced so many Mopars in one place, and walking the rows introduced me to a number of rarer models that I’d never spied in the flesh, or even knew existed. The Rambler/AMC crowd were here in their fifth year as an incorporated part of COTM, and were well-represented, with everything from Javelins to the last of the Aussie Jeeps.
Matt Webster and his team from Webster’s Dyno spent a busy morning preparing their tent for the first session of power runs before the crowds and cars gradually dispersed for the afternoon cruise to Ettamogah Pub. Shaun and I caught up with our newfound mates from the previous evening – who we’d since dubbed ‘The Charger Blokes’, and they asked us to join them on the drive. They didn’t have to ask twice!
As I waved goodbye to the hire Commodore and strapped myself into Michael McLean’s VJ for the cruise, I forgot that I had responsibilities and was on the clock; I was just a car guy on the open road, in the company of other likeminded folks enjoying the camaraderie that comes with blasting down the highway. Cruising with Michael in the company of four other Chargers with their distinctive ducktail styling gave me a new appreciation of what cool-looking cars they truly are. The Chrysler Australia Limited designers got it so right!
The spotlight at this year’s event was on the models that bookend the Valiant legacy in Australia – the R- and S-Series and the CL-CM range – and a healthy array of these cars on the Ettamogah Pub’s oval offered up the perfect chance for happy snaps or just a view to be savoured along with a steak burger and cold beer.
As the sun set on another great day, I was reminded that cars have to be driven and enjoyed. The core of this can sometimes be lost in the process and tribulations of building your preferred ride, but there were plenty of people who didn’t need reminding during Saturday night’s street cruising. If I thought Friday night’s experience was awesome then Saturday blew my mind! The atmosphere is difficult to describe, mainly I think because it’s just such a rare experience in our modern-day over-regulated society.
Sunday arrived all too quickly and it was back to the Gateway for the final events and afternoon trophy presentation. I swear there were even more Chryslers on the field and in the carpark than the previous day, and with a record number of 741 entrants, we can only hope the passion for events like Chryslers On The Murray continues to grow.
As Sunday drew to a close I made peace with the Commodore then headed south towards Melbourne, my mind awash with plans to return to COTM with my own car. Maybe if I incorporate Chryslers By The Bay in Geelong the week prior and the SA All Chrysler Day the following weekend, I can have the ultimate Mega Mopar road trip. Now that sounds like an awesome idea!
1. Leanne Collicoat’s gorgeous Moulin Rouge-coloured 1970 Plymouth ’Cuda convertible runs a 340-cube Six-Pack-equipped small-block, slapstick-shifted 727 auto and 3.77:1 8.75in diff. This ample go, along with a heap of Rallye options, is complemented by period luxury items such as air conditioning, power steering and road lamps to make a great all-round streeter
2. We featured Damien Veness’s ultra-rare 1955 DeSoto Sportsman coupe back in September 2011, and she’s still holding her looks, placing in Top 5 American. Mega-sized rear tyres and 392ci Hemi power make for a great pairing and the DeSoto even tackled foot-deep floodwater on the trip down from Lismore! “Yep, no trailer queen here,” Damien’s son Tom said. “Dad had spent a solid week cleaning and detailing the undercarriage, which came undone pretty quickly after that!”
3. Father and son Tim and Arrion Strichow are COTM regulars who hail from the Yarra Valley and drove their VC Safari up for the weekend. “I had a VC sedan as a young bloke, just like my dad and uncle,” Tim said. “I had always wanted a wagon and hounded a local girl for this one, which had been sitting for years. It looked terrible all covered in lichen and moss – I had to clean the gutters with a toothbrush – but it came up a treat and was in great shape mechanically.” It runs a 2bbl Slant-six with extractors, making for a trouble-free cruiser
4. Car of the show for me was Louie Demetriou’s triple-black ’68 Charger. I can only dream of rowing through the Hurst-shifted gears of the New Process four-speed that bridges the 512ci big-block and Dana 60 rear. “I found this by accident when helping my brother search for a ’67 Mustang,” Louie said. “It was an emotional build for me; our mum Anna had recently passed and she was always telling me to live life to the full and enjoy myself, so I’ve dedicated the car to her. Now that the bugs have been ironed out, I’m clocking up the miles and doing just what she said”
5. Over 10 years, Kosta Contis created this awesome Viper V10-powered CL ute out of his old work hack. “I was keen to build something different and had some scale diecast Challengers and Chargers with V10s, so I figured it would fit!” Kosta said. A standout interior and custom bodywork offer a refreshing nod to street machines of the past, and Kosta’s efforts were suitably rewarded with a Top 5 Australian spot and Editor’s Choice award
6. Mopar tech legend Richard ‘Rick’ Ehrenberg loves Aussie Chryslers and flew in from the States to attend COTM as a special guest presenter. A highlight of the event was his Friday evening seminar, which he followed up with an impromptu visit to the local cruise spots where he checked out a heap of cars and happily discussed all manner of Mopars with some lucky owners
7. Berry O’Connor drove her and husband Kerry’s AP1 Chrysler Royal up from Wangaratta for the show ’n’ shine, and its original flathead six-cylinder and Powerflite automatic didn’t miss a beat. “The ‘AP1’ designates it as being Australian Production model number 1, which were built in Adelaide,” Berry said. “We bought the car in 2009 as a bit of a mid-life crisis, and enjoy it most weekends as our Sunday driver”
8. Tough streeters don’t come much cooler than Tom Banks Sr’s Chrysler By Chrysler hardtop. A rare car in any form, Tom’s CxC runs a W5-headed 408ci stroker backed by a billet-filled 727 trans and 4.3:1-geared 9in. It’s run an 11.5@119mph best – very impressive for a 3800lb heavyweight
9. Bill Papanicolaou is highly respected in Australian Chrysler circles and created the forerunner to the Valiant Infobase back in 2003, initially to locate and record the existence of Charger ‘White Knight’ specials. Earning a living as a data analyst equipped Bill with the passion and skills to develop his register to cater for all Valiant models. Check out Bill’s work at valiantinfobase.com
10. Best known for the wheel-popping antics in his black Chrysler Sigma drag car, Sydney’s Brett Roberts spreads his Mopar love over a number of different rides including this 1955 Chrysler New Yorker hardtop. The two-tone green-over-white paint may be fresh, but the original Hemi V8 remains unopened since it left the factory
11. Daniel Buchanan’s sinister black Chrysler 300 packs a Whipple-blown 426ci Gen III Hemi, backed by a Turbo 400 and 9in. There was a close call on Saturday’s dyno run when it broke a hold-down strap, but it was back with a vengeance on Sunday to smash down 771.5hp, earning Daniel top spots in both the New Hemi class and Best Horsepower Overall
12. Chargers sporting turbos were out in force this year, but none could pack the visual punch of Glen Walker’s VH-fronted VK. “I bought this Charger for $1200 18 years ago and have been tinkering with it ever since,” he said. “The 440 is a low-compression engine out of an old motorhome, and after far too many drinks in the shed one night I decided to go the twin-turbo route. It’s making around 550rwhp but I don’t trust my skills behind the wheel to make it any quicker! It’s heaps of fun exactly as it sits”
13. Don’t let the number plates, er, fool you – Brisbane’s BJ Donnelly is pretty much The Stig with a grey beard, and has impressive skills behind the wheel. His latest roundie racer is this VH Charger dressed to replicate the old Nelson/Naughton Bathurst runner, and packs a 277-cube Hemi-six sporting triple 50mm Webers, backed by a five-speed and Detroit Locker-equipped HiLux diff. “It’s a little cranky around town but we’ll get it out for some street driving this weekend,” BJ said. “It’s my 22nd visit to Albury and I have always enjoyed the mix of the show side and the cruise action”
14. The COTM swap meet offered plenty of items to help start or finish your project. I mean, where else would you find on offer one of only 1959 Valiant panel van top tailgates ever made?