GEOFF Paradise, the founding editor of Street Machine, passed away on 17 February 2015 at the age of 60. Geoff launched Street Machine in 1981 out of the ashes of the infamous Van Wheels. Today marks two years since he passed, so here are some words from close friends and fellow street machiners on how the big guy impacted on their lives.
But first, some history. Geoff got his start in the magazine business in 1970 when, as a 16-year-old apprentice spray painter, he wrote to Kevin Wolfe, the editor of Australian Hot Rodding Review, to complain about the quality of the pictures. Wolfe wrote back: “If you think you can do better, do it yourself.” Geoff promptly did just that and was paid $16 for his first feature. Within three years he was the editor of the same mag.
He then moved to the US and picked up a job as features editor on the world’s biggest-selling car magazine, Hot Rod, where he absorbed everything he could. Here, his entrepreneurial streak was on display, organising to replace the mag’s expensive and time-consuming colour separation process with a cheaper and faster system using his contacts from his time on AHRR. Immigration hassles forced his return to Australia in 1976.
By this time, AHRR had floundered and was replaced by Van Wheels. Armed with what he had learned, Paradise tried to convince Murray Publishing to let him start a new mag in the style of Hot Rod’s sister publication, Car Craft. The suits said no, so he edited the drag racing newspaper Drag News for a while, and later did a stint as a reporter for the ABC.
By 1980, the van craze was losing momentum. And so was Van Wheels, which had been notoriously neglected by management. Paradise was invited to take over the mag and, with the support of managing editor Mac Douglas, was finally able create his Aussie version of Car Craft. In issue 10, he announced: “In future issues of Van Wheels, you are going to see vans so customised they will resemble sedans, sedans with blowers, sedans with turbochargers, sedans with fat tyres. I fink [sic] they call them street machines.”
And so in 1981 Van Wheels & Street Machine was released, with John Strachan’s Alley Cat and Dave Ryan’s GTO on the cover. For the next issue, the title was altered to Street Machine & Van Wheels, with the Van Wheels reference dropping off by issue six. By this time, Street Machine was selling 30,000 copies a month, a figure Geoff took to 55,000 when he put Chris Christou’s tyre-smoking Phase III on the August/September 1984 cover, beating stablemate Wheels for the first time.
He fell out with management shortly after and founded Performance Street Car and then later Fast Fours & Rotaries, amongst other titles that included Australian Drag Racer and Hot 4s. He later published Transport & Trucking Today and Coach & Bus for 15 years, before recently taking up a PR role at Mercedes-Benz.
All the while, Geoff remained a passionate enthusiast, finishing his famous ’57 Heaven project in 2006 and building a blown Hemi-powered ’32 roadster. He was a genuine car and bike guy to his bones. As a publisher, he was a true innovator, as well a mentor and a mate to many in the industry, young and old.
I’M NOT a religious person but I’m close to some who are. Christian folk believe that the souls of good people go to heaven when they die, to join friends and family who got there first. I have a slightly different view: When life is over, it is over, but your memory lives on in the collective consciousness of those who survive you. The more good things you do in your life, and the more people you impact in a positive way, the longer that memory will linger.
Geoff Paradise wasn’t a religious person either, but he is assured a place in my version of heaven. He was a good husband and fathered some great children. He was a legend up here on the NSW Central Coast and not just amongst the car community. We’d get together a couple of times a year for lunch at Terrigal Hotel and I was always amazed by the number of people who came over to pay their respects. It was like he knew everybody.
In our world, he was best known as the first editor of Street Machine and later, Performance Street Car. It seems like a no-brainer now, but Street Machine was entirely his idea. Unlike the jokesters at Van Wheels, Paro was the real McCoy, a genuine modified car guy who knew intimately the market he was targeting. He also had a real feel for editing magazines, as well as an entrepreneurial flair that most journalists lack. He was completely confident in everything he did and he was never wrong.
Street Machine’s contribution as a journal for the Australian modified car scene has been immense. For nearly 35 years it has provided a sense of community and a showcase for our best builds, constantly inspiring others to follow. It has been the conduit by which many aftermarket businesses became established, and was instrumental in starting Summernats. It has inspired 1000 clones and we owe it all to Geoff Paradise.
I’d met him a few times but it wasn’t until I joined Street Machine in 1999 that we became friends. He was the first bloke I rang when I got the job. He suggested lunch; I didn’t get many words in but went home with a much clearer blueprint of where I was headed. And not just in terms of content, but also other stuff like dealing with men in suits. Geoff never took a backward step in his life, even from his bosses, which led to some celebrated incidents. But good editors need a bit of mongrel in them. It’s a complex job and sometimes you have to fight.
At our next lunch, I floated an idea to make Street Machine a monthly mag. He thought it was a good one, so I asked him why he never did it; he was out-selling every other car magazine and it seemed an obvious thing to do. “Oh, you know what those bastards [in suits] are like,” he said, “you make them more money but they never pay you what you’re worth.” So Paro just told them there weren’t enough cars around to publish more often and they believed him. When I finally took my proposal to management nearly 20 years later, they were reluctant. Not enough cars to go around, they said. Geoff laughed like a drain when I told him.
Geoff Paradise was always good company, full of yarns from a life well lived and happy in his soul. From an early age, he did it his way and went on to enjoy a highly successful career as a publisher and businessman, providing employment for countless journalists, photographers, illustrators, graphic artists and advertising sales staff along the way. So many of us, in this trade, owe a debt to ‘The Big Fella in the black ’57’.
Time passes quickly when you’re having a good time. And although he went onto many other things, he loved this magazine to death and will forever be remembered as the bloke who started it.
JON VAN DAAL
I FIRST met Geoffrey Mark Paradise when I was 15 years old. Looking back, I can honestly say he was the person who had the most influence over my life and the path I eventually took. He assisted me no end on the road to becoming a photo-journalist, which led to a lifelong passion for photography and drag racing.
Following his recent tragic death I felt it was appropriate to go over some close calls we had together, where it could have been curtains for us both.
In April 1977 we attended the second Street Machine Nationals at Griffith in southern NSW. While we had undertaken a similar journey in 1976 in a diminutive 850 Mini, this time we had a tricked-out version of a Valiant Drifter van that Geoff had somehow scammed. After enjoying a great time at the event we returned via Orange and Bathurst. Halfway between the two towns, we had the setting sun behind us and a bloke on the wrong side of the road heading straight towards us.
We were going through a rock cutting with very little room on our left. The driver, coming the other way, had trouble seeing us as he passed a semi-trailer. While we slowed down dramatically, he was still on a direct collision course with us. In the end, he saw us at the last second and missed us by a coat of paint.
Exactly a year later, Geoff and I were standing in the traps at Castlereagh International Dragway when Angelo Palumbo made a run in his AA/Gas Hemi-powered Torana. At about half-track, the entire bottom end blew out of the engine and the car turned sideways and barrel-rolled down the track. We both had our fingers on our camera’s motor drives as the car slowly disintegrated in front of us. Unbeknownst to me the body had come away from the chassis and part of it landed where I was standing. I’m typing this today thanks to the quick-thinking of Geoff, who pulled me out of the way at the last minute.
Another time: Geoff had built a very tidy Statesman-front-end black HQ Holden and had it shod with BF Goodrich tyres wrapped around Center Line wheels, which looked extremely tough against the black livery. All was not right, however, as we later found out.
We’d attended a race at Castlereagh and were returning home along Windsor Road. Without warning the front right wheel came off and the car lurched right into oncoming traffic. There were a number of trucks coming the other way but luckily Geoff was able to manhandle the tricycle and bring said beast to a stop in the right-hand turn lane. Calamity averted.
At the time of his passing, I was working for Geoff on his Coach & Bus trade magazine and luckily for me it was the closest we’d been for quite some years. In closing, I have been proud to call him my friend as we both took turns navigating the fast lane.
YOU needed big cojones or a total lack of imagination to take on Kerry Packer at the height of his ferocious powers. And no one could accuse my old sparring partner, mate and eternal, infectious optimist, Geoffrey Paradise, of lacking imagination. So, let’s call it for what it was.
This wonderfully profane bloke had big balls and an outsized capacity to enjoy life. He was a people magnet, a likeable larrikin with sharp commercial instincts lurking behind his 1980s trademark Magnum, P.I. moustache.
Having launched his passion project, Street Machine magazine, and then watched it fire off into the stratosphere (challenging Wheels for Chrissake), he figured: “Stuff this, why am I making the Big Fella all this dough when I’m working for wages?” The way Geoff saw it, it was his idea, his vision, and his contact book after all.
So he did a runner in early 1985, with the art director in tow, to launch his own magazine: Performance Street Car. He was at Park Street on Friday but gone on Monday, leaving no useable stories or photos for the next issue. You have to admire the chutzpah.
When they worked out the plot at Packer HQ it got a bit tense. There were lawyers and plenty of drama. Enter me, straight off the world’s most indirect plane flight from the Daytona 24 Hour: Orlando, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Auckland, Melbourne and finally Sydney. Another reason Pan Am went broke.
Trevor Kennedy, the big kahuna of the Packer publishing empire had latched on because someone worked out that the bloke being paid for the Brian Plankkmann column in Street Machine was me. Guilty as charged, your honour. Brian was a little bit of mischief cooked up at Geoff’s insistence. It started as a joke; I did a party routine when on the cans as this bushie character that drove a ute. Geoff said write him up as a column, so Brian was born. Jet-lagged and out of the loop, this is how I came to be offered Geoff Paradise’s job.
We were good mates, having shared plenty of on- and off-the-record adventures. He’d single-handedly started the V8 ’Til ’98 campaign, which convinced Holden not to dump its V8 engine. That was vintage Geoff. Spot the trend and chase it. He was a ‘Just Do It’ kind of bloke long before Nike hit on the slogan.
This meant we would be fierce rivals. It was a tough call that stretched the friendship for a while but it was the measure of the man that he successfully launched Performance Street Car and rolled it into a nice publishing business.
Along the way he had to contend with the inevitable court action brought by Consolidated Press, all the while seeing his baby Street Machine soaring to even greater heights with circulation reaching over 100,000 – a first in Australia for a motoring magazine.
All credit to Geoff. Even though he had left the building it was his DNA that laid the template for a publishing phenomenon that has endured for decades.
Australian publishing has lost an outsized character and a thoroughly charismatic bloke who was as comfortable in a muscle car T-shirt and jeans as he was suited up in his final role as a Mercedes-Benz executive.
The nicknames were as Aussie as the bloke who owned them. Paro was common, but ironically so too was The Big Fella – at least during the later stages of his career.
Vale Geoff. You will be sorely missed.
GEOFF touched many people in many different ways. I first met Geoff back in the 70s when Van Wheels was changing to Street Machine. He had a huge vision for the future and pushed people really hard to grow this new movement and give it credibility. There were often very interesting meetings with Chic Henry and car owners, including John Strachan with Alley Cat, to grow the magazine and move it in a forward direction.
I did some work on Geoff’s ’57 Chevy project car – another innovation back in the day to drive sales and give the magazines street cred. We did many projects together including the first water-based paintjob on a custom car (Darrell Eastlake’s Cadillac) which generated plenty of magazine and television coverage at the time.
Geoff loved the USA and I was in such envy when he visited the States and met up with Scott Sullivan to drive his ‘Cheezwiz’ ’57 Chevy on the Power Tour. This was such a big deal, especially for me, as Scott’s Chevy was my favourite car and he was such an influence on my car-building at the time. Geoff always supported and helped me with contacts and direction on many fronts.
Geoff will be greatly missed. My condolences go to all his family and many friends whom he touched in his time on this planet.
Chic and Paro chat at Street Machine’s infamous Power & Influence talk-fest, SM, July 2001
I HAD heard the name Geoff Paradise before I met him at a street machine gathering at Forster-Tuncurry in the 70s. His size and expressive personality would never leave you wondering, and he was like that every time I met him. He smiled in a way that told you he knew something and was prepared to tell you about it. And he never lacked confidence.
I’m known for Summernats, but it was Geoff Paradise who opened the door for me by strongly supporting the Street Machine Nationals and by creating an introduction to Phil Scott. This led to the formation of the first Street Machine Summernats in Canberra in 1988.
Along with the great relationship I enjoyed with the magazine, its editors and staff for over a quarter of a century, I always valued the continuing friendship I had with Geoff. It was more than just person-to-person stuff, but an exchange of thoughts and ideas that came from where he had been and how he saw the future.
One thing I love about this car scene that I’ve been a part of for so many years is that there are people who are true enthusiasts. They have built cars, driven them, walked the walk and talked the talk – that was Geoff. The depth of his passion was immeasurable. Some people might say: “Oh yeah. He was the editor of Street Machine one time”, but he was the one who used this cheeky confidence to make Street Machine happen. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude.
I’m so sorry he has left us this way, however, I have no doubt Geoff will be making his expressive presence felt in that place that performance car people go when they pass.
My deepest sympathy go to Jax, the children and all the family. I, along with many other people I know, will miss him enormously.
Paro was a major drag racing head and was proud to have Street Machine’s name emblazoned on two very different champion race machines: Rod Andrews’ ute and Graeme Cowin’s nitro funny car
AS FAR as Kiwis went, I was okay according to Paro. I first met Geoff in the late 70s through ‘Red Devil FJ’ driver Phil Olive. Paro lived in the same unit complex as Phil and his family. In those days, Crows Nest and Cammeray in Sydney (now very gentrified and trendy) was drag race central. Other racers and journalists that lived in the area included Jeff Hislop, Mark Hayes and Jon Van Daal – some of the Castlereagh fire crew and officials also resided there.
Paro was always interested in my ute. When we started to step up performance, he approached me about shooting a cover shot and story for the new Street Machine magazine. He wanted to create an American Graffiti-type scene for the cover and with my car being dual-purpose in those days, it fitted the bill perfectly. As usual he was bloody anal with the shoot. I’m sure he sent photographer Peter Bateman nuts with the number of Polaroid shots he had him take to set the scene. Oh, for digital cameras!
As the magazine grew in stature, Paro asked me if I would carry the magazine masthead on the ute – for suitable recompense. From memory it was the supply of slick tyres and some tow money. We never had a written contract, handshake only. He was a man of honour and integrity. We continued the relationship until I sold the ute in 1987.
In recent years we kept in touch from time to time, and it was always like putting on an old shoe. Most recently with Facebook, he was always coming on and chipping me about my grammar. If he could read this, he would probably do the same. Farewell my friend and deep condolences to your family. You will be sorely missed.
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Street Machine is the bible of Aussie modified auto culture, celebrating wild muscle cars, customs and hot rods – and the incredible humans who create them.
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