WELL, this is pretty freakin’ cool. It’s a warm, sunny Friday arvo. It’s my birthday. I’m sprawled on a chair in the shade of the longest pub veranda in Australia, sipping an icy-cold beer with my mate Brad and his crew, who cruised into town in a Falcon GT tribute and a Torana SL/R 5000. Tops!
And it gets better. Rumbling down the main drag past the pub is a black-with-yellow-stripes Dodge Challenger and a sweet-sounding blown ’57 Chev – spotto! People are standing, cheering and clapping, as riding shotgun in the Challenger is actor Richard Moir, who played tough-guy street racer Fox in Running On Empty. Crikey! I didn’t even realise that this was a life goal until a few seconds ago, but I’ve just ticked it off the list.
This awesome scene outside Cobar’s Great Western Hotel is all due to the inaugural Running On Empty Festival. If you don’t know what I’m talking about – and you’re excused if you’re younger than, er, middle-aged – Running On Empty, a slightly cheesy but classic Aussie car flick from 1982, had a street race between Fox in a Challenger (in fact, this one) and Mike in a blown ’57 Chev as its final climactic scene. Cobar’s significance in all this is that it’s around here that the rural scenes of the movie were filmed, including the country servo where legendary Aussie actor Max Cullen as Rebel uttered possibly the most famous words ever in an Aussie car flick: “Green. Green is nice!”
Seeing Running On Emptyas a kid was a lifechanging event for some of us, while for others, it’s taken a while for ‘corny’ to be replaced by ‘iconic’ But that’s what has happened in the almost four decades since the film was produced, largely due to these two cars. The Challenger with the FOX1 plates that I’ve just respectfully raised my schooner to is the original from the movie. The blown ’57 Chev behind it is a ripper tribute car – one of a few, along with a stack of other cool Aussie and US muscle cars cruising here this weekend.
These cars – and plenty of people – have come a long way since word about this Running On Empty Festival began to spread. These days, FOX1 is based in WA, and the BLOWN57 tribute has arrived here after a 10-hour tow by its owner, Queenslander Mark McLean.
Of course, they’re not the only long-distance tourists; getting to do a Great Australian Road Trip is a big part of the fun of attending.
~1~ Hunter Valley local Dan Murphy has owned this ultra-rare, Australianassembled, right-hand-drive 68 AMC Javelin SST since his teenage years, and began restoring it in 1998. “I had it painted back then, but life got in the way of finishing it, so it sat for about 15 years,” he says. “But I threw everything at it for my 40th birthday.” It’ powered by a G-Force-built 360ci AMC V8. “I chose the green to piss off a girl I was dating at the time,” he laughs. “Plus, of course, green is nice’
~2~ Russel Soper brought his black HQ Holden all the way from sugarcane country around Mackay to the red soil of Cobar. By the time he’ arrived back home he’ pedalled the red-headed 355 stroker Holdenpowered four-door 4600km. It’ continuing the tradition of regular driving’ begun by his grandparents when they bought the Quey new in Ayr, North Queensland
~3~ Alan Potter pieced together this tribute RAMMER (the car that rammed Mike’ GTHO into the rear of a truck before it was doused in petrol and set alight, almost “burning the snatch”) from a 49 Chev. Alan is also the owner of the Foxy Lady panel van and has built many incredible Mad Max replica vehicles
THE Running On Empty Festival was co-organised by Ben Hewlett and John De Bruin. Ben is no stranger to street machines and organising stuff; while serving in the Australian Army he was chief mechanic on the Project Digger Ford LTD (SM, May 10). These days he lives and works in Cobar.
“Years ago my brother Tom said: Hey, did you know some of the scenes in Running On Empty were filmed here?’ Ben recalls. “I thought it would be really cool to have some sort of festival here for Running On Empty.” But there was a more honourable reason for the festival. “In 2015 it was the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli and my mate John De Bruin and myself were trying to get money together for a war memorial. We needed a fundraiser. “To cut a long story short, we put it up as a Facebook page and we thought we might get 150 or 200 people interested. It must have been a good idea, because we had about 3000 people show up!”
AMONG countless stage and screen roles over the past 35 years, actor Terry Serio has played Aussie rocker Johnny O’ Keefe in the mini-series Shout! and Bob Hawke and John Howard in Keating! The Musical, for which he won a Helpmann award. But Running On Empty was a young Terry’ first major acting gig, and it’ been part of his life ever since.
“To this day, really don’ think the Australian film industry actually realises what a thing’ Running On Empty was,” says Terry. “The central characters, Mike and Tony and Rebel, they simply loved their racing and their fast cars, and I think that struck a chord with people. “I’ ve been chased through airports by people quoting the lines from the film at me,” he laughs. “I’ be putting my bags on a trolley and people will say: PISSOFF!’ to me and security dudes are like: Whoa – what the hell is going on here?’ “After a decade of this started thinking: Wow! This movie – it’ transcended generations.’ It’ the only film I’ ve ever done that has that degree of what you would call resonance’
THERE is surely no better sound to an actor than loud applause, and Richard Moir received plenty over the Cobar weekend. This bloke was a regular on Australian movie and TV screens in the 70s and 80s, starring in The Odd Angry Shot and Round The Twist among others, but for us car nuts he’ Fox, the no-bull Challenger-piloting street racer from Running On Empty.
Now in his 60s, for nearly three decades Richard has suffered from Parkinson’ disease, a bastard condition that affects muscle control and its sufferers’ ability to speak, walk – everything. But with the support of carers, Richard made the most of the weekend, doing plenty of cruising in the passenger seat of the Challenger while wearing the distinctive black hat and tinted round glasses of his ROE character. It was an astonishing effort and an honour to witness. What a frickin’ legend!
THERE were a few cool black Chevs cruising Cobar, but none were closer to the movie car than this (right, behind Running On Empty star Terry Serio), owned by Mark McLean. “It’ the closest to the real one in Australia,” he claims. “I saw the film as a teenager and I remember saying: ‘One day, I’ gonna own one of those!’ And it happened: as an adult, Mark has built and modified several 57s over the years. This one was bought a decade ago to build into a BLOWN57 tribute, right down to the rounded rear wheelarches seen on the movie car. Most other details are correct, too, such as a metal mountain poking through the bonnet, the satin paint, the missing front bumper and the de-chroming. The car remains streetable, although it doesn’ get streetdriven too much. But with its blown big-block Chev, it’ a regular at events like Powercruise, and has run a 10.6 at Willowbank.
~1~ Evan Dawe drove his XB Futura from Young, NSW. His grandfather bought the car brand new at Thomson Ford in Parramatta, and it still has the dealer sticker on the back window. Handed from father to son and now grandson, it runs a 302ci V8/ column auto, with less than 140,000km on the clock. With some police-type ‘whirlygigs’ made from dog food tins and fruit cup lids stuck to a roof rack, it was a fun ROE tribute car at Cobar. Thankfully the wheels didn’ fall off like in the movie!
~2~ Elite car builder Greg Maskell brought his big-block powered, stick-shift-equipped 67 Falcon coupe out to Cobar with twins Nash and Arlen along for the ride. “It was a six-cylinder,” explains the Maskell’ Customs & Classics boss. ”But now it’ a 427 sideoiler with tunnel-port heads!” Back at home in Shepparton, the cool coupe is a daily driver, but to cover the ground to Cobar without running out of juice, it was trailered. “It’ the first time I’ done that!” says a happy Greg
DRIVEN by part-owner Jason Turner, the original FOX1 Challenger cruised plenty on the Friday, often with actor Richard Moir (aka Fox) in the passenger seat. But four-up on Saturday morning, cruising along to the Rebel’ Garage site, the littletoo-low Challenger scraped its sump on some whoops about 20 kays out of town.
“The car behind flew up beside me and signalled me to kill it,” Jason explains, slashing his fingers across his throat. “It’ left a 200m oil spill on the ground.” A bit of action saw the Challenger trailered back to town and hoisted at Jemrok Workshop. The exhaust was dropped, the sump removed and welded closed, and thanks to the efforts of Mark Riddell and Steve Courtney, within a few hours one of Australia’ most famous movie cars was back cruising past the pub again – to rapturous applause.
BELOW: Anthony Patterson (right) brought his 57 Chev from the NSW mid-north-coast town of Kempsey. “I’ ve been a petrolhead all my life,” he admits. “I saw the movie back when it came out – think I’ just left high school. Of course, I could never afford a 57 Chev two-door until later in life, but I bought this about 10 years ago from an American importer.” It runs a 700hp blown 408cuber, Glide and 9in. “I’ ve had some faster cars – but this is the toughest!” he says with a laugh. He’ chatting to Ted King who helped with the Running On Empty stunts
Grab a map of Oz and Cobar sits on the red dirt of outback NSW, about mid-way between Adelaide and Brisbane. Sydney and Melbourne are a decent day’s drive away, too, so the ROE Festival is a ripper reason for a long-haul cruise.
Street Machine’s Scotty, Paul and the photographers cruised here in the justcompleted Carnage Dodge Phoenix. My mates Brad, Joe, James and Lynton have spent two relaxing days driving up from Adelaide, luxuriating in the V8 rumble of their red SL/R 5000 and blue GT replica, overnighting at the iconic Silverton Hotel west of Broken Hill, right in the middle of Mad Max country! For the people camped beside the Cobar caravan I’m in park, the ROE Festival has made a perfect bookend to their terrific week-long cruise that began with the HK-HT-HG Holden Nationals in SA the previous weekend. I was supposed to be swagging in my shed-find Commodore wagon, but engine problems meant it had to stay home. Still, even in something late-modelwhite boring, my eight-hour drive under a big sky was good for the soul.
As the sun sets, the Dodge and the Chev – and plenty of others – do a few laps as people arrive. While those two are undoubtedly the heroes, it’s great see the effort that people have put into replicas of other cars from the film, too – The Gazzard boys’ EK Holden; the RAMMER 1950s Chev; even the blue XB Falcon cop car from the movie has a couple of tributes cruising in Cobar.
But although there is a good crew of Holden HK-T-G cruisers in town, we don’t see one yellow early Monaro like the one in the film. Maybe it’s because that car came to a fiery demise in the movie’s opening scenes when its “he’s just a bad loser” driver crashed and burned after being defeated by Fox.
Friday night is drive-in movie night. Guess what we watch? Yep, Running On Empty on a (not so) big screen at the local sports ground.
Up the back are dozens of cars, drive-in style, with plenty of space for picnic blankets on the grass down the front.
The Rebel’s Garage site used in the movie is at Canbelego, about 45 kays out of town, so that’s the destination for a cruise on Saturday morning. After pics are taken at the huge ‘Cobar’ sign at the east end of town, our kilometres-long convoy of cars continues on.
The building used as the outback servo in the movie has unfortunately been demolished, but the Cobar Men’s Shed mob have set up a tribute, complete with old-style fuel bowsers, offering a bright and breezy backdrop for some memories from some of the film’s stars, and, later, a stack of pics of people with their cars.
After that, it’s back into town for an all-makes show ’n’ shine just off the main street and more laidback cruising all afternoon.
What a ripper weekend: wide open spaces under a big sky, and three great pubs and a couple of terrific clubs to eat and drink in. Let’s hope co-organisers Ben and John (see breakout, p78) and their loyal Cobar locals can the sort Running out another On cruisy Empty weekend Festival. in s the spirit of the Running On Empty Festival.