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HOT ROD LEGEND NORM LONGFIELD - INTERVIEW

By Geoff Seddon | Photos: Peter Bateman, 01 Feb 2018 Features

norm longifeld 1896

Norm Longfield's life in the fast lane

IN RETIREMENT, Norm Longfield has more energy than blokes half his age. He talks fast and laughs a lot. Life’s not a dress rehearsal for this successful electrical contractor, drag racer and car builder, for whom even the sky is not the limit.

This article on Norm Longfield was first published in issue 16 of the Street Machine Hot Rod magazine, 2015

When did all this start?
I was 15 or 16. I went to Castlereagh drags and fell in love there and then.

The racing or the cars?
The front-engined dragsters. The Yanks were out here running high sevens. Took me 40 years to get into one.

First car?
An FJ when I was 16.

Did you race it?
No, but then we got another one, the Mexican Red Mover.

Norm Longfield

Who’s we?
Me and me mates, and my dad Stan. He was a mechanic, taught me everything. Dad wouldn’t actually do anything but he’d stand there all day. He said if he did it for me, I wouldn’t learn. He never understood why we’d go street racing on Saturday night, break it, then work on it all day Sunday to drive to work on Monday.

Street racing?
Can I say that? I ran the red FJ once at Castlereagh, then got defected for 12-inch wheels. The thing was jacked up to buggery! So I took the wheels off it and started building the bucket.

As you do.
The only cars the cops had no specifications on were hot rods. They didn’t know much about them. I’m going back to 1968. There were no such things as engineering reports; you just took it over the pits. It wasn’t that hard to get them registered.

A handful nonetheless.
We took it to Castlereagh and down the deep end is when you realise you’re just sitting on a chassis! No rollcage, just bits of timber and fibreglass and upholstery. You’re bulletproof when you’re 20.

And then you were conscripted?
Yeah, the only lottery I ever won.

And you ended up in Vietnam.
Yeah, Nui Dat.

Did you volunteer?
No, but going didn’t worry me. I’d never been out of NSW, so it was like a big adventure. One time we took off to Saigon, just drove out the gate. We were 100km from base camp for three days, three of us, going up all these back roads. If we’d got ambushed, no one would have had a clue. It was like racing a T-bucket with no rollbar.

It wasn’t a great war but people should remember the only options were to go to Vietnam or go to jail. We did what we had to do, whether it was right or wrong. I like to think it was right.

Meanwhile, back in Oz...
I started working for myself, married Rhonda and bought a house, so the bucket got put in the garage. The furthest thing from my mind was cars.

Norm LongfieldNorm’s bar-top sits on a ready-to-run Rolls Royce Merlin V12! Norm also owns an Avon jet engine. The KB Table was built by Rod Wells from old parts: “Rod’s a good guy, I couldn’t have done half the things I’ve done without him,” Norm say

Never sell them though, eh?
You’re right, but there was another reason: that second FJ I had. I sold that car to a guy I knew, and he and his brother died in it. I got really cut up about it and decided I’d never sell a car again. So that’s half the reason I’ve got a collection.

What got you back into cars?
Everything was going pretty good, so I bought the Corvette and played around with that. Then we came up with a rear-engined Model A, with an 8/71-blown and injected big-block Chevy running on methanol. The power was put to the ground via a front-wheel-drive Cadillac transmission.

I bet that one wasn’t registered!
It was once. We had a farm on the south coast and we registered it as a Ford stump-puller tractor. That’s why we needed all the horsepower, for the stumps. We could drive it on the road between sun-up and sundown.

Did you ever pull a stump out with it?
It wouldn’t pull Granny off the toilet!

What did you do with it?
I went to a couple of rod runs, a couple of shows. I crave the building part of it, but once it’s sorted, I lose interest. I wanted a Corvette all my life, I got it finished and pushed it in the garage for 40 years!

Which brings us to your Willys.
I always wanted one and there were none in Australia. It took me five and a half years. It was always gonna be a 3D sort of deal; race it, register it, show it. I built it like a Wild Bunch car. Some people liked it, some people didn’t, but you don’t build cars to please them. You build them to please yourself.

Your cars have great style.
It’s all about the form it takes, the stance of the car and the way it looks. You can buy the best of everything and it can look like a bag of bolts. You could paint the Willys matte black and put steel rims on it, and it would still look like a million miles an hour sitting there.

Have you raced it?
At the old Eastern Creek track and Heathcote. I think it ran an eight.

Norm Longfield

Shows?
It was the first hot rod to win Summernats, and a half-drag car at that. Chic Henry copped a lot of flack!

Then what?
I saw a Jocko Liner come up for sale in Michigan. It looked like a salt lakes racer.

But it was a drag car.
And not a particular good drag car. Everyone who’s ever had a go on one has fallen over, including us.

That was a big crash. How’d you pull up?
Really good. That’s one thing I’ll say about it. We flipped it four times over about 200 metres.

How fast were you going?
It was on an airstrip so you wouldn’t have a clue. There was a plane above us, whether that disturbed a little bit of air –

A plane?
We were racing a biplane at Cowra. I had just got ahead when the front came up. I’ve done smarter things. A couple of others had done the same thing, which is why they stopped building them. We decided to restore it but never race it again.

You had your first FED by then.
Yeah, Shazzam. It was on methanol but we decided to run nitro. How hard could it be? The car was a real handful, it was never built for it, so we went looking for one that was. One came up in the US called WWII. It had my name on it! I love racing it, it’s a blast. We’re hoping to do five seconds next time. We’re only seven-hundredths off it.

Got much of a view?
Yeah, down both sides of the rocker covers!

You must be a clean-living sort of bloke.
I don’t gamble, don’t smoke, never had drugs, even when I went to Vietnam. I say to kids, if you can go to a war zone and not take drugs, surely you can get through high school.

You married well, mate.
There’s a lot of give and take. Rhonda plays golf, always has, so when we retired we bought a house on a golf course. She’s let me do all these things all my life, so now she can have a real good time.

Norm Longfield"It’s a hot rod with wings, a real handful. 600hp, 1340 cubic inches, nine-cylinder radial engine, supercharged. You have to have all the respect in the world for it or it will bite, like a hot rod. It’s a beautiful thing to fly”

What does she think of your warbird?

She’s been up in it twice; not enough engines and too many moving bits!

What is it?
A 1943 North American Aviation T6. It was a fighter trainer in World War II, although it some saw action. Mine has six bullet holes it picked up in Paraguay.

What happens if the engine stops?
It’s got a reasonable glide rate, but you’re nervous of the whole thing. I could blow it up on the runway. You have to watch how much boost you put into the motor, you gotta warm it up and nurse it like an old Harley. You gotta really fly it.

Are you finished building cars?
There’s enough work maintaining this lot. And I’ve got a plane to fly.

Golf?
Well, that’s an issue. I’ll give it a go.

NORM'S CARS:

Norm Longfield's Model A1. We took the blue Model A to the Street Rod Nationals in Penrith. We’re cruising around, straight-out exhausts, slicks, and we come to a stop light. There’s another hot rod there, broom-broom-broom, we’re off and up she comes! Holy shit – we forgot to put the wheelie bars on! We went back to our truck and there’s a cop car there. I thought they must have seen the wheelie, but they just want to have a look and go for a drive. The cop jumps in and he’s going: ‘This is fantastic, on a chase I could get my revolver out and shoot like this!’ He was more of a cowboy than I was! In all the excitement we hadn’t refuelled and they had to bring some more down in the cop car. So there we were, on the side of the highway with the cops filling up our stump-puller with methanol! Then he says: ‘Mate, I’m not on all weekend but if you have any trouble, tell ’em to ring me.’ We could have done anything.”

Norm Longfield2. With the help of Ziggy’s Hot Rods, Norm restored the Jocko Liner to a level of detail that is stunning to behold. While it’s fully functional, it will never run in anger again, but it can be used as a ‘cackle car’. Norm’s already crashed it once and he doesn’t fancy going through that again. It looks similar to the previous build with its signature red scallops, though the current paint scheme is a slightly tweaked version of Jocko’s own scheme, but with all of the speed part stickers airbrushed on

Norm Longfield's Willys

3. “I only build hot rods, not street rods,” Norm says. “A hot rod is something you never take out of the metropolitan area because it’s too far to tow it home. A street rod is more conventional. None of my cars would make it to Queensland; we’d be going like a rocket but we’d break something. Hot rods are supercharged, run on slicks, the closest things there are to race cars on the street.” The Willys was a masterpiece built on a full chassis and running a blown Milodon Hemi and Lenco trans. It was built to be driven, and it was!

Norm Longfield's cars4. The visibility out of the dragster just got a lot worse now that Norm’s put a hot rod body on it. “I’ve always been a hot rodder and just loved that look, but now I’ve got to learn how to drive the car again. We always run in the left lane and I would watch the centre line, but now I can’t see it, so I have to learn how to look out the left window and stay about 10 feet off the wall,” Norm says. The body looks like it started off as a ’34 sedan that’s been cut and shut six ways from Sunday to suit the dragster chassis

magazine coversLeft: Norm spent $5000 and three years turning his ’23 T pick-up into one of Australia’s best show rods. It won Top Car of Show and People’s Choice on debut at the 1970 National Hot Rod Show. The car ran a 318 Dodge Poly motor: “A lot of dragsters ran them back then, it was like putting Hemi in,” Norm says

Right: “I bought the Corvette when Gough Whitlam was in power,” Norm says. “It’s a 1969 big-block with a Muncie four-speed rock crusher, the last of the real muscle cars. It does 72mph in first gear. You can be just sitting there with the engine going tick, tick, tick [in top] and you’re doing 100mph!”