His name will resonate loudly amongst Australian Hot Rod enthusiasts. The man is a legend after all and with such a roaring passion for the unique vehicles, it seems fitting that the bloke who made street rodding famous in this country shares his name with his passion. I am of course talking about Rod Hadfield.
During a time when Hot Rods were beginning to gain popularity in the country, many shied away from the fact that they had an interest in the machines. Rod was a little bit different though – he embraced the culture and was deservedly proud of what he was doing. He showed the people what he could do to cars and his name quickly gained momentum in the industry. People stood up and began to take an avid interest.
There’s no denying that L.A has always been the Hot Rod epicentre of the world but some might be surprised that a small town in the goldfields region of Victoria gives it a run for its money. “I took it upon myself to name Castlemaine the Hot Rod Capital of Australia,” Rod explains. “In actual fact it could be crowned ‘Hot Rod Capital of the World’ when you consider the number of hot rods per capita. It’s bigger than the States. A few years ago there were 90 Hot Rods in Castlemaine. The population was only 8000.”
There was a focus on Hot Rods before he came but not to the same degree. Rod explained that Ford dealers did really well in and around Castlemaine areas and there were plenty of cars on the streets – every person owned one which put it a rung above other rural areas in the country. “I really pushed for people to embrace the Hot Rods and was the first to put up a sign to say ‘I’m open, come in’. Prior to that people were almost ashamed to admit that they were Hot Rod enthusiasts. Plenty of work was undertaken in people’s backyards away from the public eye,” Rod says.
There are approximately 200 people employed in the Castlemaine area thanks to the Hot Rod industry. While this is quite a large number when you consider the amount of people that live there – it isn’t as impressive as it once was. People have either retired, passed away or lost interest. Unfortunately some had to move into other areas to find more permanent employment.
“Castlemaine was once the only area where Hot Rod shops could be found but now they have popped up in a number of rural areas. People in the surrounding towns noticed what was happening here and jumped on the bandwagon by setting up their own Hot Rod related businesses.
“Eddie Ford and a few other guys from the area went up to America around ’62 and saw what was going on and brought the information back and started their own magazine. As a 16 year old I was quite impressionable and hitchhiked to Castlemaine. I saw Eddie building a Hot Rod and I was blown away.” The passion grew into an obsession from here on in. “I eventually moved to Castlemaine because of the magazines. There were 12 dedicated Hot Rod magazines that were all edited and printed in the area. Before I knew it, I was feeding the magazines with photos and information and they were feeding the public. They came in droves because someone was prepared to do it for them – prior to that the garages wouldn’t take on such modifications.
“I started the Castlemaine Rod Shop in 1975 and had 22 of the best and most skilled employees anyone could have asked for. We were mainly building parts but we could also build whole vehicles if people wanted them. Our advertising philosophy was simple, ‘If you can’t get it done anywhere else – bring it to us’. We were doing things that were most unusual and far more intricate than just forging out car parts.”
Three major machine shops started to supply Rod. His team simply couldn’t keep up with demand. The success of the Castlemaine Rod Shop saw a flow on effect to other businesses in the area. Mechanics were thriving as there was a growing need for them to service the Hot Rods that Rod’s team built for people. It’s easy to see why he is so well respected; not only in Castlemaine but around the country. “If it were still going today I would hate to think where it might have ended up – I would be a nervous wreck,” Rod says with a wry grin on his face.
The man wasn’t always a Hot Rod builder though. Once upon a time he was a dairy farmer at Stanhope where he found himself working on the farm’s ute in his spare time. His efforts saw the ute doing things that other people needed an F100 to do. Friends and family took advantage of his expertise and asked him to work on their cars. Some people are just born to do it.
These days Rod is semi-retired and can be found in his shed working on custom grills and drop axles. He also drives taxis and the local school bus on a part-time basis. I think it’s fair to say he’ll never stray far from cars.
His shed is a sight to behold. “It’s a custom built shed that we built ourselves over the space of 12 months. You can’t buy something like this, you have to make it,” Rod explains.
The entrance is graced with the largest root beer collection in the southern hemisphere. Bottles have been sourced from around the world since the goldrush days and Rod can’t get enough of the stuff – apart from a couple of new ones coming out of Asia. He explains that they haven’t quite got the right recipe yet.
The main section of the shed is divided into two spaces. One half makes up the workspace while the other is an impressive show room. Much of my attention was focused in there – It felt like I was browsing through a Hot Rod museum rather than a personal collection. There was a veritable smorgasboard on offer and my eyes were feasting. There are over a dozen cars on display and each with its own unique story to tell. There are posters and Hot Rod memorabilia adorning the walls, flags hanging from the ceiling and trophies on a stand. Everything has its place and it isn’t messy or cluttered. The place is impeccable and Rod is happy for people to come around for a look. “If I’m here, I’m open – it’s not a business but a private collection.”
The trophy stand tells an impressive story. In 2005 Rod took three cars over to L.A and hired a big store room to house the vehicles and his Aussie Assault team. They toured around the country and not only showed the Americans that the Aussies could do it too but that they could do it better. Rod’s team won a remarkable 75 awards in the States over a 10 month period. Rod was the first Aussie to win awards at the Street Rod Nationals. “It was hard work at the time but it was the best time of my life”, Rod explains. “They’re Hot Rod mad over there and the rules are less stringent – you can drive what you want, when you want and if it were up to me I would have moved there years ago.”
As I entered the workshop area to check out a couple of the works in progress, my eyes were immediately drawn to a beautiful vehicle flanked by aluminium. It sat proudly in the back corner. I’d never seen anything like it and know I never will in the future. Fact is; nobody else could construct such a vehicle. The Warman Special was built in honour of Rod’s grandfather Raymond Sidney Warman who first introduced Rod to cars with modifications. Somewhat surprisingly, Rod explained that the Warman didn’t take as long to build as some of his other projects. I suppose it’s easy to motivate yourself to dedicate a lot of time and effort to something that’s so close to your heart. “I take it to a few events but you can’t really do much with it. It’s a show piece more than anything else but it does provide me with a few laughs when people claim that they know someone who has the same car.”
The future of the Hot Rod industry is important to Rod, just as it is to Castlemaine and the people that live there. Preservation of its rich history is paramount. In 2004 an idea was hatched that was to become the Castlemaine Hot Rod Centre. The Hot Rod Centre is a not-for-profit enterprise set up to protect and preserve the history of Hot Rods. They actively promote street rodding and want the next generation to get involved. A Hot Rod was donated to the Castlemaine Secondary College for the students to work on. It not only ignites the passion but also demonstrates the intricacies of how such vehicles are built. Students are enjoying the program and it has even inspired some potential drop outs to continue studying. “The main thing is to get kids interested as there is nobody else to show them,” says Rod.
“Funding for the centre comes in through the local bank (Bendigo Bank). When people open new accounts and have their accounts tagged to the Castlemaine Rod Centre, we receive a small proportion of their bank fees. It’s a great initiative and it is working well. A lot of major players like VHRA and ASRF have also seen the benefit and are now doing their bit to help. We also attract a lot of visitors from interstate but it’s hard to convince them to sign up and help out. It doesn’t actually cost them anything. Their bank fees simply go to a better place.
“I don’t think Hot Rods will ever die out in Castlemaine. We have a group of dedicated young people in the area that are interested and that’s the main thing.” With people like Rod steering the initiative it appears as though the future of Hot Rodding in this country is well on track.
DRY LAKES RACING AUSTRALIA
Land Speed Racing does not receive a lot of the media coverage that other racing events receive around the country but that certainly doesn’t stop the competitors from heading to South Australia’s Lake Gairdner each year. Competitors vie for bragging rights by attempting to achieve the highest possible speed with their particular class of vehicle over the measured mile. There are approximately 1400 Dry Lakes Racers Australia members and Rod is one of the founding members as well as long-time secretary and treasurer.
Rod was the first man in Australia to go 200mph on the salt flats of Lake Gairdner in a vehicle powered by a motor fully built by his own business. In 2003 the VR Commodore sedan hit a staggering 259.067mph (418km/h). Despite setting the car alight in 2006 when oil leaked onto the exhaust and ignited the nitrous oxide bottle in the engine cavity – Rod has plans to take the family sedan to 300mph. “No one can really tell you what is going to happen so it takes a lot of experimenting. The event has encouraged competitors to set a lot of trends and write new rules,” says Rod.
The event typically takes place in March each year when there is no water on the lake and winds are at a minimum.
For more information check out: www.dlra.org.au