Hot rodding gets in your veins. Building a car is just the start. There is an entire lifestyle waiting for those who want more than a Sunday drive from their hobby.
Craig Lockhart has built his life around hot rods. It is his livelihood and his hobby; it’s where he has met friends and more than likely it’s what he is thinking about right now. His car, a 1932 steel-bodied Ford five-window Coupe is the latest in a line of custom creations that have made a mark. Oncoming, you can see Craig’s grin beaming through the flat windshield.
His car obsession started in the same place as many Aussie hot rodders – with the dystopian adventures of Max Rockatansky.
“Growing up on the farm, cars were like spaceships to me,” says Craig.
“I watched Mad Max for the first time and went straight outside. I got the old paddock basher and cut it up into a Mad Max car.” After personalising the family hack, a mechanic is all Craig wanted to be. He worked on his wish and got it. After years turning spanners on someone else’s time, 12 years ago he struck out on his own.
His shop, East Coast Race Cars’ logo is underscored with its specialties – street, strip, salt. Starting with fabrication for drag racers, a passion for early Ford hot-rods didn’t take long to shine through. Soon the shop was turning out rods, muscle, street machines and restorations with Craig earning a name as one of the masters of the niche.
The car that put him on the map – an XC Falcon ute nicknamed Billet. On debut at Summernats it won Best Ute.
“I built all that in a dirt floor shed” says Craig. “It said to people ‘that’s what I can do with nothing. Imagine what I could do if you gave me something’.”
The five-window coupe, plated FLT32, was a swap for a fiberglass bodied three-window. Told it was a good car with history, the deal was done and the car brought home. No time was wasted to get it on the road.
“I had a Flathead and some running gear. I stuck it in and drove it for the next 10 years. Fast-forward and a few years back and we decided to re-build the car for the Hot Rod Nationals in Newcastle.”
At the event, a member of Sydney hot-rod club The Drag-Ens asked Craig where the car came from, and who had owned it previously. Curiosity piqued, by the end of the weekend Craig had been given a history lesson on his own car.
Brought to Sydney from America in 1974, phone calls to local rodding heads helped complete the picture. Gathering every hot rod book, magazine and rodding journal he could find, Craig set out to understand his cars lineage.
It turns out the five-window has been around the block and seen a few things doing it. “I can trace the history back to 1964, and I know it goes further than that. It’s in the June 1964 Rod and Custom in a group photo shot with the Early Times club,” says Craig.
“The Early Times club had a lot of famous guys who were hot rodders before people thought it looked cool; they did it because they loved it. One of the most famous things it did was go to one of the first ever Street Rod Nationals in Peoria Illinois around 1971.”
Craig’s version of the car is wedged between a few of hot-rodding’s strict definitions, straddling lines between classic hot-rod and street rod. A musician once said you don’t need a stereo in a car with a Ford Flathead engine. Listening to the hopped-up side valve V8 idle and rev, you understand why.
The ’32 Coupe is not window dressing. It gets driven and it gets driven hard. A showing at the inaugural Rattle Trap proved that. Rattle Traps emulates the revival of hot-rod beach racing in the US; a post-war time when racetracks and smooth roads were hard to find. On Crowdy Point beach just months ago, Craig lined FLT32 up and rooster tailed through the hard sand.
The history of the car is important, and it deepens the connection Craig has with it, but more important is making his own statement.
“If I had known its history earlier on I could have quite well have built it like it was. I’m sort of relieved I didn’t,” he says.
“I built the car the way I wanted it, to make me happy and no one else. I’ve put my time period into the car. In 50 years someone can look back and say ‘that was when Craig Lockhart owned it’. This is the way it will stay. When I die my kids can fight over it.”
Until then, Craig intends to keep making his own history.