Summernats 30: In Horsepower We Trust
The Disciples Of Power

The Street Machine Summernats is more than just Australia’s largest car festival; for many it’s closer to a religious experience than a car show.

Fans camp, congregate, share their hard work and are baptised by a mix of burnt rubber, hot dust and Aussie power rock from the 1980s.


2017 marked 30 years for the festival, and 119,184 faithful souls journeyed from far and wide to attend. Not a bad turn out for a country of only 23 million.

The event also saw a record number of entrants: a massive 2,534 cars made their way through the sacred gates of Exhibition Park In Canberra (EPIC), in the country’s capital city. Furthermore, 5.5 million people from across the globe also got involved online through the Summernats live stream.


Worshippers of the ‘Mighty Horsepower’ make their annual pilgrimage from all states and territories of Australia for four days of ‘Church’. Entrants cars are polished to be praised by the community and judges in the Show ‘n’ Shine events or put through their paces during the Dyno Shootout, motorkhana events, cruising ‘Tuff Street’ and then ultimately the ritualistic shredding of tyres.


Nowhere else in the world will you find such passionate owners who are not just prepared, but happy to spend years building a machine to show car standards only to then potentially destroy their creations with two minutes of carnage in front of a fervoured crowd.


From an outsider’s point of view it doesn’t make much sense, but within the community a car’s reputation equals more than the sum of its parts. Machines here are almost living, breathing entities (more so than elsewhere) usually recognised by their license plate name. They almost exist more as an owner’s pet or mate with its own persona. Performing well at a show or over the course of a number of events can lift a car to a near mythical status. Blown motors can be fixed and panels can be straightened out and paint reapplied, but glory lasts forever. Respect within the community has to be earned. Usually during two minutes of madness at a time.

This Is Sparta Summernats

Summernats was forged with the very same warrior spirit that started hot rodding and custom motoring in Australia way back in the early days of chop tops, kustom vans and flipping off ‘the man’. The event and the crowd have remarkably managed to stay true to the original Spartan heritage even in today’s Nanny State environment.


While I love Summernats and what it brings to an overprotected country, I’d also be the first to tell you the event isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. If you’re a fan of boy bands or believe that political correctness is the key to a bright future, you’re probably better off waiting for the next quiet Sunday morning meet. For everyone else though, I’d invite you down to experience the intensity and extreme quality of workmanship on show.

The major roads that link events across the park serve as a continuous parade of rad rides. There are only few things more Australian to do than sitting under a tree with a ‘Dagwood Dog’ (aka corn dog) and a warm beer while appreciating the hard work and unique style of each build that rumbles (or power skids) past.


The cars are a reflection of this Spartan existence. Brutally strong and forgoing most luxury comforts in favour of anything that adds to the power and reliability when it’s time to throw down and sacrifice a set of tires to the Gods of Power and Thunder.


I tip my hat to the organizers who manage to walk a very thin line and somehow successfully keep both the revellers and authorities happy at the same time. I can’t even begin to imagine the challenges involved. Security deserve a nod too, keeping things in order without ruining the fun completely.


Despite the enforcement along the roadways, the sound of rumbling engines is constantly peppered with screeching tires and rev limiters. It’s pretty entertaining to watch entrants see how far they can push security before getting booted from the park.


These guys in their white Holden Commodore seemed to have crossed that line. They might have lost their entry pass but received a massive cheer from the boisterous crowd.

The Toughest Street In Aus

Outside of the different competitions and arenas, most entrants enjoy cruising the 70-hectare compound with mates. Cheering spectators line the roads that loop the area to appreciate the continuous rolling metal exhibition. The top half of the circuit near the exhibition pavilions is a little more controlled than the lower half of the temporary Petrolhead City.


The lower part of the park is where many entrants camp with their cars for the four days. It’s also well known for getting a little wilder than the other sections of the festival, particularly during the evenings. Welcome to ‘Tuff Street’.


This is probably the most colorful of areas to hang around outside of the burnout competitions – especially later in the afternoon and evening before the roads are closed for the night. When the crowd get fired up they might actually be louder than the straight-through pipes and screeching tires. Be prepared for a bit of rowdiness, but know that it’s all in good fun.


Also, wear your sombrero.

While security guards line the streets to keep the roads under control and limit burnouts, stopping them completely is not a realistic expectation. For the most part the guys will turn a blind eye to a small skid, but if things get out of control or you’re hitting the limiter too hard for too long security will remove your entrant sticker and point you to the gate.


Sunday afternoon usually sees plenty of smoke as punters leave the event in style by frying their last set of tires in front of a cheering crowd. Some owners go as far as packing up their camp site and having a mate bring their car trailer around to the closest gate before they light ‘em up.

A Walk In The Park

There are so many interesting facets, events and side stories that happen over the massive four-day festival, and it’s impossible to cover it all without writing a paperback novel. The best way to experience the event is to make your way down and experience your own adventures. This might be a bit hard for our international Speedhunters, so I thought I’d take a virtual walk around the park.

Let’s start with the aftermath of a long weekend staying at Tuff Street. Yes, someone has left a complete living room and BBQ behind that they’d brought along for their tents/pavilion.


While the majority of machinery is Australian or American in origin, a few of Japan and Europe’s finest do pop up from time to time. There is one caveat to that statement though: half of the Japanese and Euro metal on display are running an LS or similar V8.


Not too dissimilar from how rust naturally spreads, the rat rod patina has been growing steadily over the last few years. The past 18 months though has seen the style boom by eating its way into the more and more higher profile builds Down Under. While the patina was in varying levels of effect, rust was everywhere.


While the look wasn’t in short supply, one car that really stood out was this 1955 Chevy Bel Air. You can imagine this ‘taxi’ full of wildlings trying to outrun Mad Max’s Interceptor across a vast desert. Without going completely over the top, it’d fit right into that future wasteland without any additional modifications.


While the rat rodders were out in force they were still a minority. The vast majority of builds were still a bit more traditional in their presentation. This amazingly clean ’57 Bel Air really emphasises the possibilities possible when two very different people apply their style to almost identical canvases.


The guys who traveled the furthest seemed to have been rewarded the most this year. The almost 7,400km round trip paid off for Mark Williams and his Holden HQ ‘One Tonner’ ute. Mark had just completed the nine-year build two nights before it was time to make the massive trip from Perth to Canberra. Not only that, he had to say farewell to his terminally ill father who was a big part of the build to make the trip, and sadly he passed away the Friday of Summernats. Mark made the Top 60 but was still outside of the Top 20 candidates, only to then blaze the competition during the Go2Whoa and slalom events to surprise everybody and claim Grand Champion. It must have been a bittersweet moment.


Fellow Western Australian Chris Bitmead continued his 2016 whirlwind of success with his masterpiece, a Ford XB Falcon known as XBOSS. The car took out the majority of show category accolades, adding to what would be a very large, or very full trophy cabinet back in Chris’s garage.


Every year I leave Summernats inspired to sell my Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX and find a classic with some big displacement and a bit more personality. There’s a lot to be said for the speed and convenience of a modern car, but let’s be honest – the majority of modern rides, regardless of power and ability, lack the soul and charisma that accompanies a temperamental classic. With prices for nostalgic cars constantly on the rise, the time to buy some decent is growing smaller by the day.

I do wonder about the long-term future of the fanatical ‘Church’ of Summernats. What’s going to happen when the bulk of these classic vehicles skyrocket out of the budget of the average working class man? Will we eventually see a Summernats filled with a younger or more mixed field of machinery? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

While the type and class of future cars at Summernats is unclear, the unwavering faith of the ‘Disciples of Power’ should never be questioned. In horsepower we trust.

Matthew Everingham
Instagram: matthew_everingham

Cutting Room Floor


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What the hell is that green sedan with the suicide doors?

That thing's awesome!


Ice Age Assuming you're talking about the one with the Australian Army down the side, it's a Ford P6 LTD


Zac Yeates Ice Age That's the one. Thanks!




It's so silly and pointless. 

I absolutely love it.


Brian E Spilner Well, America and Australia did serve as dumping grounds for the Empire's undesirables. The "undesirable" status, however, came in part from the belief that "I can do it better."


Bogan AF 

this was a great event, i'll def make a return in the next few years.
cruising up in the datto was sick too.


Paddy McGrath I so want to witness this once in my life!


speedhunters_dino Paddy McGrath come on boys, you know where we are.... come on down, make it happen! :D
A perspective piece from someone who hasn't been exposed to this.... spectacle, especially from O/S, would be fantastic. I'd come just to watch your reactions!


BrendonLawson speedhunters_dino Paddy McGrath I'm trying to wonder if it's basically an Australian Gatebil, but more mental. Which I didn't think was possible. 

Any chance you can move Australia a bit closer to us?


StreetStatik Do those rear windows roll down, or are they coffee tables right now?


Paddy McGrath speedhunters_dino HA! i dont know if it's more mental than Gatebil (I'll try to be over this year i think to compare...) but it is a hell of alot more bogan!


I went to Summernats last year and as a foreigner (that lives in Australia) the event was enjoyable but was wasn't as good as I hoped it was going to be, maybe I just don't fit in with the culture very well. But the cars were great and scary at times.


Matboy_Au not one image of an AU falcon??? not a real coverage of Australiana without one.:P


I'm getting the vibe that you don't really like Summernats. Might be best to stay away and stick to the race track.


BrendonLawson Matboy_Au Sorry mate, I feel like I've let the country down. We'll just have to wait for the photochops to roll in :p


Ice Age StreetStatik They roll


Matboy_Au AHhahahahaaaa, My FB has not stopped with the notifications of my "mates" tagging me in all the photochops. I love reading the comments from non aus people. priceless!


It looks like their yobbos have a little too much metrosexual hipster in the mix.


Matboy_Au Ice Age StreetStatik Nice.


That's one area where old cars win hands down over new ones: Clean styling, like that orange (rust?) Torana up there.


Ice Age Matboy_Au StreetStatik the only electric window in the car.

check out: for and article TJB Photo wrote and shot recently 

also some more pics of it's guise in 2013


THE_EXN i can agree with the fitting in part, i just made the most of it and chose the bits i liked. 
like siting on my chair under the shade of a tree watching the cars all cruise by. trust me, i was hating on 90% of em but every now and again a stunner would come past, like a Ke26 wagon or Blown Xy falcon still on 15inch globes.


At the eleventh photo, there's a car with its blower not in the middle of the hood. Just why and how?


gagahsasono Straight six motor... Manifold doesn't sit directly over motor.


I think what is threatening the future of Summernats is the story of the bloke who died from injuries sustained after falling from the back of ute. Hopefully it'll be seen as the unfortunate accident it was, and not as a calling sign for the event to be shut down. I know the pollies have been looking for a new reason to shut the event permanently.


I flew over from Canada for this, it was the most ridiculous spectacle I've ever seen, and I've been to a lot of major events all over North America. Oh and Bourbon and Cola slushies are quite amazing, I can't wait to go back again.


That XB... if there's a better shaped car.. id love to see it... sublime...


That happened on the Thursday, banned ridding in the back the rest of the weekend.


Good to see a post about Summernats! It's crazy how far people will travel for this event.Not to mention just how much money are poured into cars JUST to do burnouts. Something truly unique to Australia. 

To answer the question about the future of Summernats cars, I think most of the cars now are worth a pretty penny. there will still be heaps of classics there for show and destruction of tires. I do think there will be more XR6 turbos and other newer v8s. I didnt go this year, cause I'm from Melb but definitely should make the trip soon.


StreetStatik THE_EXN Yeah not sure what day I went there but I enjoyed all the cars out in the middle of the event on the grass, I saw a really rare Ford Falcon XC cobra, so cool!


BlackJacket What day it happened isn't going to mean anything to the groups who have been trying to get the Nats shut down for the last 20+ years, just the fact that it happened there. I know as soon as I read about the accident on facebook there were lots of people calling for Summernats to be shut down.


3nigm4 BlackJacket Let's hope that it's viewed as the very unfortunate accident it was and nothing more. It would be a shame to end something so uniquely Australian.


Just as the HT's made way for the HQ's then the Gen 1 (VB-VL) Commodores you'll see a rise in the prominence of the VN-VS era with the Gen 3 era not to far behind. A VS (or E Series Falcon) is now ~20+ yr's old and still at an affordable price point for someone to start a project with where as the older stuff is simply too rare and too expensive now for anyone without properly deep pockets. 

It's a constant evolution. In time we'll be looking at VF's and FG's cruising Summernats as relics on a bye-gone era.


Matboy_Au I hope so too.


So maybe the love for burning rubber goes hand in hand with the love for barbeque?
Looks like one hell of an they have there down under.
Regarding the far future, I wonder how good a Tesla or any other electric car can burnout with all that torque they have. Will look surrealistic if this might happen in 50 years from now. ☺


For the guys that wan't a look into what someone from outside Australia thinks of Summernats.


i wish i could have gone to summernats 10 or 15 years ago




"There are only few things more Australian to do than sitting under a tree with a ‘Dagwood Dog’ (aka corn dog) and a warm beer "

A warm beer!!?? That's sacrilegious and the furthest thing from Australian ;)


Donk wheels be strong down under.


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BrendonLawson Paddy McGrath
An Irish man Paddy, you may be one of the few that would get an honorary pass from the bogans due to beer intake capabilities.
Certainly not an Australian Gatebil as such. While the theory is similar, masses of horsepower and alcohol. This is something very different and almost cult like in the land down under, you're either 'red' or 'blue'.. Holden/GM or Ford, powered by the almighty GM or Ford V8. The rest shunned by the masses. You'd have to experience it in all it's bogan goodness to appreciate it.
I must also suggest the Bathurst 1000 'The Great Race' truly is that, one of the greatest motorsport events on the calendar in arguably one of the most competitive racing series in the world. The pilgrimage to the mountain to support either 'red' or 'blue' cult like. An amazing event of beer, horsepower and some of the best touring car racing anywhere, a Speedhunters must cover event imo.
Pick wisely your form of transport, as an Irish man traveling by straight six E30 BMW I figured I'd be safe enough given the E30's Bathurst history. On the first night alone three different sets of people offered in jest to burn it out for me, jokingly but with a touch of seriousness that if need be they'd help me rid the camp site of this german infestation haha.
Get on it Speedhunters, one of the greatest motorsport events in the world!




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RoK1981 BBQing steak and tyres are two my favourite things. You might be on to something!


THE_EXN Don't feel to bad. I have friends who are Aussies that come from a long line of Australian decent that don't really enjoy the event or the crowd. It really isn't for everyone, but it's heaven for those that feel a sense of belonging. :)


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