Under the skin of 'Hombre': a Kiwi drag racing icon
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A genuine icon of New Zealand drag racing is back in action
This is definitely not a classic car that's been restored for quiet drives at the weekend.
After six years of research and restoration work, Hawera's Grant Stables has returned one of New Zealand's iconic drag racing cars to the strip.
Hombre is the Fiat Topolino-bodied Top Fuel Altered, built and raced in New Zealand and Australia by Peter Lodge from 1974 until 1977.
One of the genuine icons of Kiwi drag racing, Hombre was back in action at the annual Nostalgia Drags meet at Meremere last weekend with Peter Lodge's son and former Top Alcohol champion Shane behind the wheel.
"I bought the car on Trade Me in 2011 as a rolling chassis," said Stables. "After Pete sold it, the car had been raced by other teams through till about 1990. In the process it had been lengthened and lowered, split-up and partly reassembled again and my first job was working out what was original.
"The car had been extended but the original chassis remained. The seat and the diff were original and so were the sides and back of the body. There was enough for me to say I could restore it."
The appeal of owning Hombre and seeing it in action again on the quarter-mile had its inspiration in Stables' childhood.
"There was a board game called Drag Strip in the late 1970s, which I remember playing as a child. You flicked a marble to push the cars along and the car pictured on the box was Hombre."
Stables says the project gathered pace when Peter Lodge became interested.
"There have been a few visits to Auckland and lots of phone calls and emails with Peter. He's been very much involved and he's excited about the car coming back to life.
"I'm a fitter-welder by trade so I could do most of the work myself, but I had no idea how to build a drag race engine.
"Peter said if I bought the parts, he would build it for me."
Stables says there were a number of decisions to be made early in the rebuild process.
"Because these cars were always being developed you have to select one moment from its history to restore it back to. I chose 1977 in the Amco Jeans livery when Pete won Top Eliminator at the 1977 Nationals."
That means the 392-cubic inch steel-block Chrysler Hemi V8 is topped by a 6/71 supercharger and Hillborn injection combination and runs on a methanol/nitro-methane fuel blend.
It was in this specification in February 1977 that Lodge powered Hombre to a Top Fuel Altered national record at 7.677secs/175mph.
Hombre retained that place in the Kiwi drag racing record book for a remarkable 39 years until Te Puke's Dave Gauld re-set the class record in 2016 with his Nitemare altered.
"Dave had been chasing it [the record] for a while. It was a bit sad to see it get broken but it was always going to happen."
Typical of most restoration or race car build projects there was a last-minute thrash to get the car finished ahead of the Nostalgia Drags. "I've had to take most of the last month off work getting all the little things finished on it," said Stables. "We took it to Meremere and got it fired up for the first time only two weeks before the Nostalgia Drags."
Despite the hours and dollars that have gone into the Hombre restoration, Stables isn't itching to get behind the wheel. "I don't know if I'll ever drive it myself. The driving doesn't excite me that much, I like building things."
The plan for Hombre will be occasional outings at special drag racing events. "It'll be out again at the Nostalgia Drags and next year is also the 50th anniversary New Zealand Nationals," said Stables. "It was special to get Shane to drive it last weekend and I was really stoked we got three runs with no major issues to solve."