If you re­placed the word ‘crim­i­nal’ with ‘drag racer’ in the state­ment “This city de­serves a bet­ter class of crim­i­nal, and I’m go­ing to give it to them”, you’d pretty much sum up Ryan Shel­don’s goal. It wasn’t Ryan who said this im­pos­ing quote, how­ever, but Bat­man’s arch neme­sis, the Joker.

Ryan’s not twisted like the Joker … well, not as twisted, per­haps, but is all for hav­ing a laugh and mak­ing drag rac­ing fun again. Be­sides kick­ing some su­per­charged arse with a nat­u­rally as­pi­rated en­gine com­bi­na­tion, bring­ing back the glory days of show­man­ship and sports­man­ship is what it’s all about for the Auck­land-based fur­nace op­er­a­tor. He’s been wind­ing up the com­pe­ti­tion in Top Street and gen­er­ally hav­ing a laugh do­ing it for the last few sea­sons be­hind the wheel of his ‘Joker’ Ca­maro. The ’58 Ply­mouth Fury you see here is that same car. Well, kinda. This is ‘Joker 2.0’ — a re­bod­ied ver­sion of that same chas­sis that’s pow­ered him to na­tional cham­pi­onships and race wins at both ends of the coun­try and a PB of 7.89 sec­onds at 174.55mph. While Ryan’s been on the strip with the car for just two years, his story with it goes back a whole lot fur­ther — right back, in fact, to those good old days he’s now em­u­lat­ing. The goal at the time was to join the hugely pop­u­lar Wild Bunch ranks with a steel-bod­ied sec­ond-gen Ca­maro pow­ered by a blown and in­jected big block Chev. For this, he and a rac­ing part­ner pur­chased a for­mer Su­per Stock car and sent it off to Chris Ty­nan at Ty­nan Race Cars in Mata­mata to gut it and cre­ate a tube chas­sis for what he af­fec­tion­ately de­scribes as “the over­weight pig”. Not long into the chas­sis build, for what­ever rea­son, the part­ner­ship dis­solved and the car dis­ap­peared. That didn’t sour his tastes for rac­ing though, and Ryan went on to be in­volved in many other suc­cess­ful rac­ing part­ner­ships and built a bunch of street cars in the years that fol­lowed.

Some 25 years af­ter the Ca­maro dream be­gan, a very sim­i­lar Ca­maro ap­peared on Trade Me in noth­ing more than very bare rolling form. On closer in­spec­tion, it was found to be in­deed the same chas­sis that Chris had cre­ated, but the steel body had gone, re­placed with a fi­bre­glass ver­sion — al­beit a less-than-per­fect one. Be­fore he knew it, his rac­ing dreams were reignited,

even if by now he’d de­cided that nat­u­ral as­pi­ra­tion was bet­ter than su­per­charg­ing, or so he claims. Six months af­ter pur­chas­ing it, and fi­nally with a shed to work on it in, he got stuck in to the build. Fel­low drag racer Doron An­der­son and GSS partsslinger / fab­ri­ca­tor ex­traor­di­naire Trevor Kit­ney were roped in to help, as was Ryan’s dad Des — a long-time car guy him­self — to make it all hap­pen. The 598-cube big block Chev, pre­vi­ously cam­paigned by Stu Stan­ners in his sev­ensec­ond al­tered, was sourced and mated to a BTE Pow­er­glide trans­mis­sion, and, be­fore long, he was sit­ting at the stag­ing lights ready to mash the ac­cel­er­a­tor pedal. Ryan ex­plains: “In a sea­son and a half with the Ca­maro, we won 10 of 15 races with a cou­ple run­ners-up, set an NZDRA record, and won the Na­tional Se­ries at our first at­tempt. Run­ning high sevens like clock­work was fun, but the age­ing body was slowly fall­ing apart.” While he could have got stuck in to the fi­bre­glass body, in­stead he de­cided to di­rect his ef­forts into an­other shape that he’d al­ways loved — a shape you’d not gen­er­ally find near a drag strip, and cer­tainly not on this side of the planet. Of course, to keep the com­pe­ti­tion guess­ing, and to have a lit­tle fun with ev­ery­one, he’s kept that body shape quiet, un­til this very ar­ti­cle.

The ’58 Ply­mouth Fury — or, more cor­rectly, a fi­bre­glass ver­sion of one — was sourced from Sun­coast Race Cars in Florida and, to date, is one of just a hand­ful ever pro­duced.

Plans to get it here were de­layed a bit by Hur­ri­cane Irma, which struck the area in Au­gust 2017, so, once it ar­rived, the build needed to hap­pen in a ridicu­lously brief time frame if he were to make it to the start of the sea­son, some two weeks af­ter this magazine goes on sale. Nor­mally, a chas­sis would be built to fit a body, but, in this in­stance, that worldly or­der would be dis­rupted, and both needed a small amount of tweak­ing be­fore they’d sit hap­pily to­gether. Dad Des is the one who’s still ex­tract­ing fi­bre­glass splin­ters from his fin­gers, be­ing given the task of widen­ing the body to suit the Ca­maro’s broader frame.

Even then, the new body wasn’t a sim­ple change, as it af­fected many other parts of the build, such as all the in­ter­nal tin work, and the glaz­ing, which Ryan cre­ated re­place­ments for.

Once mounted, the car was sent on a trip un­der the radar to Welling­ton where WelTec paint tu­tor Dean Riches and his stu­dents would lay down the gloss white sup­plied by the team at Linkup Paints.

Un­der the cover of dark­ness once again, the car was dropped to Kurt Goodin Art­works where he was given three weeks to work his magic on it be­fore it could be sent back to WelTec for a coat of clear to pro­tect it all. Essen­tially, the me­chan­i­cals re­main as they were when Ryan ter­ror­ized Top Street last sea­son — the 600-ish-cube big block is good enough to run clock­work seven-sec­ond passes with min­i­mal fuss. The new body’s a touch lighter than the old, so, all go­ing to plan, those con­sis­tent seven-sec­ond slips will be a touch more im­pres­sive too. That said, hav­ing crewed on or co-owned over a dozen Group 1 cars over the years, he’s well aware of the fact that go­ing faster means more main­te­nance, and, with the cur­rent combo, there’s a good bal­ance of per­for­mance with­out the need for it to lose its en­joy­ment.

“We have cre­ated this car to be fun for ev­ery­one — no stress, and some­thing peo­ple can re­late to and iden­tify with and get back to what has been lack­ing in our sport for years — fun for fam­ily and friends and spec­ta­tors alike,” Ryan says. “We may not have the fastest or best-look­ing car out there, but ev­ery­one knows who the Joker is … ”

Art­workDropped as a blank can­vas to Kurt Goodin and with a three-week dead­line, Kurt cre­ated the mas­ter­piece you see to­day, and Ryan couldn’t be hap­pier with how Kurt trans­ferred the vi­sion in his head into re­al­ity. All up, there’s around 80 hours of air­brush and de­sign work in the de­sign, with many hid­den touches. Now it’s just up to Ryan to make sure he keeps it off the wall!

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