Wheel­sto­ries

The street-rod le­gend who let his imag­i­na­tion run wild

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents -

He put the Rod in hot-rod

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.

“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 Roll­sroyce 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.”

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