Arthur Mitsoulis knew the car was there, parked against a gutter and looking abandoned in Kings Cross.
To banish any thoughts of buying the 1970 Valiant Regal 770, he would turn his head and look away as he drove past it on his route to work each day.
That is, until after seven months he left a yellow post-it note on the vehicle, with a phone number and an expression of interest. The owner called him that evening. Mr Mitsoulis bought the car, for $1000 in cash.
That was 2001. Two decades later in the main pavilion at Summernats, the Valiant has come a long way, being a contender for the festival's Grand Champion award.
It's hard to imagine the repainted, reupholstered Valiant as Mr Mitsoulis first found it in inner Sydney: covered in bird poo, tree leaves and dust, with a bit of rust in the back window and rear quarters.
"You couldn't even see out the windscreen, it was that bad," he said.
The Valiant had nevertheless survived the years, and with a wash, polish, tune and some panel beating work, came out well. Alpine white in colour with a classic 1970s vinyl roof, the car became part of his life, as he drove it from building site to building site as a safety officer.
"I love the car. It's a part of the family," he said.
When his business boomed about six years ago, Mr Mitsoulis could afford to do more with the Valiant. It's involved an $80,000 paint job that took 18 months. There was also a $30,000 fabrication process. He's replaced the engine. It took three years to find the material first used to upholster the car. And, COVID-related supply disruptions delayed parts needed from the US.
Above all, Mr Mitsoulis wanted to stay true to the car's original form - what he calls the epitome of 1960s styling.
"It's a stand-alone car with a lot of presence. I wanted the car to look like the car your granddad drove in the '70s and '80s, but with brand new fresh running gear," he said.
"I'm a bit amazed by it all. I like holding on to our history and our Australian motoring history. And it was a bit of an honour to restore this car and keep it for the next few generations in either my family or somebody else's. I do know that this car, the way we've built it, can last another 100 years."
The end result is a long-held dream fulfilled for the car lover. As a child growing up in his parents' takeaway shops in Sydney, he would read car magazines and drool over the vehicles.
Admirers have been taking photos of the Valiant at EPIC all Summernats. His wife and young son drove from Sydney to see him unveil it on Friday night.
Mr Mitsoulis hopes to win Grand Champion but acknowledges that there's stiff competition.
He was readying on Saturday to take the Valiant for its first drive since finishing work on it earlier in the week. It will be the reward of an expensive, seven-year labour of love, albeit one that has benefited from a lot of help from friends.
"It was a long journey. COVID threw us a couple of spanners in the works as well. We didn't think we were going to make the show this year, we thought that maybe it would be best to just hold our horses and wait for next year. But as it turns out, we've got it here."
The Grand Champion Award winner will be announced on Sunday.
Summernats co-owner Andy Lopez said the quality of entrants had been high in the event's comeback after its COVID hiatus.
"The silver lining, maybe, about the two years away is people have had plenty of time to work on their cars and get them into absolute amazing condition," he said.
Attendance at the event, which began on Thursday, is capped at 20,000 a day this year for COVID safety reasons and festivalgoers are required to wear masks indoors.
Burnout championship eliminations, body art nationals and the mullet competition were among the events featured on Saturday's program.
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