Thousands of people gathered to enjoy the final day of Summernats 2013. Photos: JAY CRONAN Photo: Jay Cronan
Summernats, to paraphrase a famous Clintonism from 21 years ago, is all about ''the cars, stupid''.
While hot women, tarmac action and controversy are the headline grabbers, the real heart and soul of the 26-year-old event is the enthusiasts who sacrifice thousands of hours and, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars on the altar of internal combustion.
Visions of perfection take many forms, ranging from startlingly original EH Holdens and surreally sculpted 1934 Ford convertibles to the starkly white and minimalist Camaro that won the supreme entrant award after a public vote at Central Park on Sunday morning.
The god of horsepower presides over a very broad church and his most dedicated worshippers, whether from the cults of Ford, General Motors or Chrysler, are tolerant of their co-religionists.
''I think they are all magnificent,'' Clint Kelly, 49, a concreter for Orange City Council, said. His pride and joy, an exquisitely restored and tastefully enhanced Torana GTR-XU1, was shortlisted for the supreme entrant award and he was commenting on the other 11 finalists.
''I am a Holden nut but I'm also a Ford nut, and if I couldn't have done up the Torana I would have tried for an XY-GT replica.''
Kelly has loved Toranas for longer than he cares to remember and he makes it to Bathurst, just down the road from his home town, every year. ''Before the prices took off, my mates and I used to use these [XU1s] for speedway,'' he said.
His latest car was a bare shell two years ago. Council work does not pay rock-star wages and he has a lot of ''sweat equity'' invested in the project.
''I had the motor for years before that,'' he said. ''I have kept it as close to stock as possible, out of respect for a great car [but] I have carried out enhancements to bring it up to modern standards.
''I was offered $55,000 for it on Saturday. The guy kept coming back and eventually said 'name your price'. But the car is not for sale. I'm driving my dream. I wouldn't swap it for a Ferrari.''
The supreme entrant award winner, Adrian Woodley, is equally passionate about his immaculately customised 1200 kilowatt 1968 Camaro. ''I brought it across from the US as a rolling shell,'' the 28-year-old autoelectrician from Charnwood said. ''I've been working on it for the last two years.
''People have no idea of the work that goes into building a car like this. It is six hours a night on top of your day job. I did everything except the upholstery and the paintwork.''
Woodley said the car would owe him about $200,000 but that it was ''worth every cent''. ''It is not the last car by a long shot. My missus has plans for a Mustang but I will be keeping this one.''
Nathan Beauchamp, 33, a family man from Wollongong who sold advertising for The Canberra Times in a previous life, takes a different approach. His 2001 Commodore is all about comfort and the ultimate in in-car sound.
Beauchamp, who was at Summernats with his wife Mel, his daughter Taedora, 5, son Caleb, 3, and youngest child Allara, 17 months, has taken the former base-model Holden to a place never dreamt of by its original designers.
While the mechanics are largely standard, a 3.8-litre V6 with a four speed automatic, it now has media screens everywhere you look. They are hung from the roof, fitted to the back of the headrests, in the dash and even in the boot lid.
If the front-seat passenger is bored with their music video they can switch to an integrated PlayStation. Top-quality sound comes from a set of three-way speakers in the front and three sub-woofers in the boot.
Beauchamp, who loves all types of music, uses the vehicle daily and appreciates it every day on his way to work. ''I did all the retrimming work and installations myself and now work on cars full time. My hobby has become my business.''
George Dimitrievski, also of Wollongong, is another enthusiast who has turned a passion into a career. The air suspension specialist presented showgoers with an irresistible combination of eye candy - a scissor-doored Holden ute that had been transformed into an ''Aussie, Aussie, Aussie'' Batmobile and a scantily-clad, living, breathing Catwoman in the shape of Chelsea Cook.
The addition of Cook to the mix was a mistake. Spectators were much more interested in Batman's accomplice cum nemesis than his wheels.