HE’S THE man who put the small Victorian town of Castlemaine on the map – and then repeatedly tried to blow it off the map with machines like his street-registered, 2250kW aero-engined ’55 Chev, the 27-litre V12 Warman Special, a twin-supercharged 7.0-litre Model T Ford … and around 30 similar automotive affronts over a period of five decades.
Castlemaine is known as ‘The Street Rod Centre of Australia’. It was Rod Hadfield, 72, who moved to the town in his early 20s, that proclaimed it so.
“When I first came here, they were building rods, but it was all underground,” he says. “I decided to start Castlemaine Rod Shop and advertise it and not be afraid to admit it – that if you’re driving a modified car, there wasn’t something wrong with you.
“I got all these signs made, got permission to put one up on every entrance into Castlemaine … we had a two-year permit to do that. And 35 years later, they’re still there.”
Castlemaine was fertile ground for rodding. “It wasn’t any trouble at all to find a suitable car to build a rod out of,” Hadfield says. “The wreckers had 10 acres of ’33 and ’34 Fords, and because of the gold rush, we had foundries and machine shops and pattern makers. So the talent was here, as well as the material.”
Hadfield soon met Eddie Ford, one of the nation’s true Rodfathers who’d been part of a seminal, six-month expedition to the US rod scene in 1966 and was publishing Custom Rodder magazine from his farmhouse.
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“Eddie was looking for somebody to build his early Ford F100 with an independent front end and stuff. I said I was prepared to have a go.”
Hadfield then built a Ford Anglia rod, documented in a series in the magazine. It helped build Hadfield’s profile as an innovative and talented constructor. Castlemaine Rod Shop was established to build components for customers – and cars to promote the business.
“We were making components and making everything possible so the customer could do the majority of work themselves,” he says. “A lot of shops would build someone a turnkey car and take their money, but I approached it that they were enthusiasts, and they’d like to be able to do it themselves.”
The throttle really opened on Hadfield’s Castlemaine Rod Shop in the 1980s. “At our peak in the late-’80s, we had 22 on staff. In the early-’90s I started my major machine stop; I had metallurgists, machinists, welders, draftsmen. We could do just about any job.”
Hadfield’s own cars showed staggering imagination, innovation and craftsmanship. Among the better known is Final Objective, a ’55 Chev coupe with a supercharged V12 Rolls-Royce Merlin engine – and full Victorian rego.
Then there’s the Warman Special, built on a lengthened 1932 Cadillac limousine chassis, with a hand-fabricated, polished alloy streamliner body, and powered by a Rolls-Royce Meteor V12 tank engine. How does it drive? “Oh, you’ve just got to keep your wits about you. It’s just like driving any other Warman …”
Hadfield’s daughter Allison has recently catalogued the cars, and her family’s hot rodding history, in The Mad Scientist of Australian Hot Rodding: Rod Hadfield (Renniks Publications).
Hadfield and wife Carol sold the Castlemaine Rod Shop a number of years ago, but continue to be active in hot rodding, both through their Stubtech engineering business and the Hadfields Hot Rods museum at their home in Chewton, just east of Castlemaine.
“There’s about 20 cars there,” Hadfield says. “It’s not a business, it’s just if people want to come in and have a look, they give me $5 and they can spend the rest of the day there. There’s even a broom in the corner if they want to bloody stay around.”