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Rare SPares Legend Chic Henry


Chic Henry

Chic Henry was born Anthony Robert Henry on December 15, 1946 in Launceston, Tasmania. The name Chic came from his school friends after they listened to some kids records in his father’s record collection. One record in particular was based on the cartoon character Henry Hawk, the chicken hawk who was always chasing after Foghorn Leghorn, the southern gentleman rooster. Eventually the name was cut down to “Chic”.


Chic’s father Robert Henry had returned from serving in World War 2 in New Guinea and Borneo and met his mother Alma Horton, who had spent her teenage years in a Catholic girl’s home in Hobart. The two had been hitched and moved into a hotel in Launceston. Five years after Chic was born, they bought a block of dirt and moved into a converted shack from the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme. The Henry’s lived in the shack until they were able to build their final home just down the road, which is where they lived there until they died.

Chic had come from excellent stock as his great, great grandfather started out as Clerk of Works at the quarry that supplied stone for most of Hobart’s buildings. He then moved on to become Tasmania’s first Postmaster. Chic’s great grandfather Robert Henry continued the family’s involvement in Government communications as he was responsible for laying the underwater phone cable between Tasmania and the mainland. The tradition continued with Chic’s grandfather, Earnest and his father, Robert also serving with the Post Master General’s Department with his dad rising to managerial status in the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme.


Chic attended Glen Dhu Primary School, which he freely admits was a “school for

scoundrels”. “I never got into trouble, no not me. I was never to blame for anything that went on there”, Chic tells me with a glint in his eye. “Glen Dhu was a particularly strict school”, Chic remembered.


“You could say that I kept on getting the cane quite a lot in those early years.” From there the young tear away took that rebellious nature on to Queechy High School and remembers having constant run-ins with the teachers.

These frustrated teachers would constantly punish the young Henry boy until his Mum complained to the Department of Education about his constant discipline. “One of the teachers there Eric Flude thought he could see some good in me”, Chic revealed. “He was my English teacher and in the end we became really good friends and I stayed in touch with him for a long time after I finished school.”


Chic’s dad had been a departmental man all his life, receiving a gold watch after forty years service and would call his young son in to work in the post office during the busy times, such as the lead up to Christmas. Given his lineage it was therefore expected by his parents that he too would follow in the footsteps of his forefathers and take up a position in the PMG, but that wasn’t what Chic had in mind.


While in his final year at Queechy High School, one of his mates took up an apprenticeship with the Army and Chic thought to himself “that would be a sensational job to have”. Unfortunately for the lad from Launceston his

application came in too late and he ended up repeating his last year of high school again. “Queechy was a great school to actually receive ‘trade’ experience and that’s where I first learned about blacksmithing.”

That repeat year had an unexpected bonus as the high school became co-ed so the young Chic thought it was great to go to school with the girls. In 1964 Chic again applied to the Army for an apprenticeship and ended up being accepted as an apprentice in the blacksmithing trade. “My dad was none too happy”, Chic vividly recalled.

“It wasn’t the fact that I was not going into the post office but that I was to become a blacksmith, which my dad thought, would be a dying trade. There is a lot more to being a blacksmith than people think. It is not all about shoeing horses as this is done by a farrier. As a blacksmith, you learn to massage metal and make up all manner of things and you also gain a great understanding of metallurgy”, he went on to say.

It was also around the time that Chic started his apprenticeship that he started becoming aware of cars. “I didn’t realise that I had an interest in cars when I was young —


It was only in later years when I started to analyse my life that I figured it out’ he freely admitted. “I remember when I was young going down to Baskerville (near Hobart) with Dad to watch the motor bikes. I was really affected by the smell of the fuel.”

“My Dad was mad about cars and motor racing when I was young. I remember he had a ‘36 Chev roadster that you could call a hot rod. The engine died and my dad and two uncles put in a six cylinder engine from a Bedford truck. I use to think that this car was pretty special as it was painted a mid-blue and I use to get to ride around in the dickie seat. My mates from school use to come around and it didn’t matter how cold it was we’d be in there and it would be too cool for words”, he recalled.

“I remember going to Longford (a long closed road circuit in northern Tasmania) a number of times when I was in high school.



I can also remember seeing Sir Jack Brabham’s Cooper Climax (Brabham won the first international event at the track in 1960) at a local motor dealer before one race. I was more interested in the look and sound of the car rather than the racing itself”, he conceded.


“Another racer I recall is a car called a Tornado. This was a fat cigar shaped open wheeler car and I couldn’t get enough of it going around the track. I also remember seeing Bob Jane’s E Type Jaguar on a trailer after it had died on the track. I came up behind it and saw those massive wheels and thought to myself—this has to be the coolest thing going around.”


“It’s funny when I got to Melbourne I remember a mate and myself were going

to buy a Porsche. I don’t know how we were going to pay for it but I just use to dream about that chocolate brown Porsche being for sale. That was in my first year of

my apprenticeship when we were not even allowed to have a car”, he added.

Going back slightly to the start of his apprenticeship and the move to Melbourne in 1964, Chic went to the Army Apprentices School at Balcombe, near Mount Martha on the Mornington Peninsular. “Despite my father’s misgivings I really got a kick out of blacksmithing”, he stated. “I don’t look back with any sense of regret for doing that trade as it has made me more versatile and able to do a vast range of things’


Despite making a living from this trade, Chic was better at some things than others.

“I remember buying a Morris Messenger van and ended up finishing it like no other. I painted it Company B blue with a brush and that same day it rained and the paint ran and ended with a speckled finish”, he recalled. “My mother made me black satin curtains and I got an inner spring mattress from a friend of mine’s spare double bed — it had surfing decals on it and was a real shaggin’ wagon well before they were ever invented”, he vividly recounted.

A couple of Chic’s mates at the Army camp became well known around Melbourne as they had hotted up cars, especially Dave ‘Grease’ Rodgers in his FC Holden and another dude with a Mk 2 Ford Zephyr. We called the FC our Blue Fastback Limousine.

While these were attractive to him, Chic was keener to go surfing with his mate, Kevin ‘Rabbit’ Burrows. “I rode a surfboard for the first time in ‘62 and was a good swimmer and diver, but had more fun doing ‘maddies’ off the diving board.” One time he and his mates were thrown out of the Launceston City baths and they decided to go and dive off the Gorge bridge (over Cataract Gorge) instead.


Once Chic had crossed the pond he and Rabbit were regular surfers at Bells Beach, Portsea, Torquay and Phillip Island. “I

remember nearly drowning once at Cheviot Beach where Harold Holt went missing. I had my life flash before my eyes along that piece of coastline and the surf there was so dangerous that it doesn’t surprise me in the least that he disappeared there”, he admitted. The good news is that Chic survived.

In all, Chic spent three life changing years in the southern capital and in 1967, moved to Sydney to do his final year of his apprenticeship at the School of Mechanical Engineering at Casula. Chic wanted to join the Corps of Engineers. While there he also worked on detachment to the Department of Main Roads at a massive workshop in Rose Hill and a heavy forging company in Milperra.

“While I was there I use to work with lumps of steel that were the size of a Mazda 121”, he stated. “At the start of my fifth year I then did my corps training which I had to do to become an Engineer. When I look back I realise that I had the leadership qualities that I think are so important now. My teacher in high school, Eric Elude could see those leadership qualities behind the facade of a naughty boy and though I was as stupid as I was at the time, he had identified such

qualities in certain kids.”



“My Army training taught me how to crawl down tunnels and delouse mines, jack hammers, etc and how to build bridges. You also had to know how to use pneumatic tools and I got to work with explosives. In fact I had a lot of interest in explosives — not that I used it in later life, but I found it fascinating:’

“My first real posting was to 6 Engineers Stores Regiment in Penrith. When I was in Sydney I met my first wife, Doreen and we got married in 1968. We weren’t there long and I got a posting to Townsville where Tended up being stationed for four and a half years. Doreen fell pregnant and my first daughter, Angela Michelle was born. After four and a half years I rose to the illustrious rank of lance corporal. joined the Army to be a tradesman and if I had become an officer then I’d stop doing that trade”, Chic readily admitted.

Chic had amassed a number of skills in his time in the Army and was considered for a very risky job at one stage in his time in North Queensland. “They were looking for someone to work in an underwater capacity but they had to have explosives experience

— it turned out I was the only one in the area that had that suite of skills as I had clearance diver experience with the Navy. In the end it didn’t work out and just as well as might not very well be here anymore”, he explained.

“It’s funny but the junior officers would come down to our workshop compound to find out what was going on. We had our finger on the pulse and they would learn more that way than through official channels. I didn’t have the attitude to be a senior NCO or an officer and as a result, would end up having to clean the pots and pans in the mess hall. One day in January 1973 I’d finally done my time and resigned from the Army and moved down to Brisbane.”


“I had no trouble getting a job as a welder and this saw me work in places like Thiess Brothers, Leighton Contractors as well as a couple of

smaller places. I had a job for a while at a

large workshop that made up massive signs

and billboards that were used on the side of highways. If a special request was received for something unusual to be created then it usually came to me as I had the skills from my blacksmithing days. I had the ability to massage all sorts of metals including brass, copper, steel and aluminium and turn it into whatever the customer wanted.”

Chic still enjoyed his water sports, but while in Townsville the Barrier Reef meant that he couldn’t surf too often. This saw him focus more on water polo, which he had played for years. While playing in Townsville, Chic was spotted and asked to try out for the Queensland state team. “All I can remember was that back then I was pretty skinny and in the Australian Titles some of my opponents were built like second row forwards. However I could swim a lot faster than most of them” he revealed.

As part of Chic’s fitness regime, he could be found in the gymnasium in Townsville. It was here he suffered a bad spill on a trampoline that severely damaged the big Tasmanian. As Chic recalled. “I’d come off it awkwardly and ended up doing some serious damage to my back. So bad was the injury that I eventually had to have an operation in Brisbane. I couldn’t work as a welder and new a career change, even if temporary was necessary. I ended up taking a job at Metropolitan Funerals.” That’s right — Chic became a funeral director. “They actually employed me as a maintenance mechanic because they had a large fleet of approximately thirty vehicles. There were five Chev’s, a ‘55 Ford Customline hearse as well as some off road vehicles and boats. With my large range of skills, I became very useful to them. However, the rules of engagement when you signed were that everyone on staff was also trained to look after the bereaved and handle deceased”, he eerily said.


“I had no idea that I could do that sort of work but, as it turned out I became very good at it. I had compassion and really enjoyed helping people but the only thing I could not come at was the religious aspect of it. While I believe in Christian values the thing I noticed day after day was the ‘hypocrisy’ of religion — I hated seeing the falseness of some people.”

“You might ask how could I use such skills and apply them to welding. What I did absorb really helped me in later life when I found myself needing to be a much more understanding and compassionate person. I often tell people that I learned much more about public relations from being a funeral director than anything else that I’ve ever done. People are pretty much out of sorts on that day, so even if you just help them park their car, they seem to think that Funeral Directors are terrific people”, he explained.

It wasn’t long before Chic’s talent in the funeral business was spotted and a job offer at Ballina was in the offing. Chic tells me. “My While still in the army, Chic would drive down from Townsville to Ballina at Christmas time. Passing through Surfer’s, they would see signs for the Ampol New Year Drag Racing Series. In 1969, they started attending the races. “When I was living in Townsville I saw the local track, Savannah get built and I raced a VE Valiant that I’d spent some

money on there. I had become good friends with the Brosnans who were pretty tough at national level in Super Stock. The Brosnan brothers and I became good mates”, he conceded. “It was also around this time that I met John “Stomper” Winterburn through an Army mate of mine, Tommy Fulton who was a ‘Nasho’. Tommy drove a fifties Ford Crown Victoria and I’d never ever seen anything like that before and Stomper drove a HD Holden covered with graphics. It was the maddest thing I’d ever seen. So here I was with a mate who had a Crown Victoria with red oxide primed front guards and this other guy with his wild hair do and a graphics painted HD Holden — that really affected me at the time.”

“While I was in Sydney, I drove a red and white EH Holden. There was another guy who had a red and white EH that ran at the drags at the old Castlereagh strip. There was also a pink and white one and a chocolate and white one that was an absolute weapon and I was often mistaken for this guy who lived out at Campbelltown and ran the other red and white EH with people saying to me, “Oh, I saw you out at Castlereagh last Sunday night.”

first wife, Doreen was from Ballina and we use to go there often to see her folks. Plus, the surf around there is great. I ended up meeting this bloke at the funeral of Doreen’s father and he made me a job offer with a promising future there. In the end though, I really thought that I couldn’t be a Funeral Director for the rest of my life”, he conceded.

It wasn’t long afterward that Chic separated from Doreen in 1984.


“The day I left to go to Townsville the drags were on at Castlereagh and I found myself following a trailer with this Anglia that had huge rear wheels shod with massive slicks and that got my attention”, he tells me and then — “When I was up past Rockhampton, near Sarina I was travelling along the Crystal Highway (so known for the large amount of shattered windscreen glass on the side of the road). As I travelled north I could see this car glowing in the distance. It didn’t take me long to catch up (we use to travel everywhere back then at 100 mph — as you could get away with it) and I saw on the trailer, the Plymouth Ramcharger of Col Neaton. This car was painted in all sorts of metalflake colours and I remember that the car was literally glowing and that really grabbed me. I pulled alongside it and it had all these wild colours and the shape of the roof and everything. I later saw the car at Savannah and that’s when it really sunk in —I realised that I had a thing for American cars. They later took that 440 Wedge motor and stuck in a Charger as Neaton owned a Chrysler dealership in Ayr, North Queensland.”


“There was another car up there too — the ‘Crazy Critter’ — it was an S Series Valiant with a blown Hemi in it and that was the maddest thing I’d ever seen — I didn’t care about anything else — I just thought that it was a cool car. This was the early days of the Wild Bunch style cars. I also remembered the days of Bill Shrewsberry’s wheel-standing LA Dart. He’d turn the fuel off while coming back down the track sitting on the bonnet steering and waving. After one particular run he turned it off late and overshot the burnout area and people ended up diving out of the way as he entered the pits”, he stated with a huge chuckle.

“It’s funny how all of these particular influences, not so much towards drag racing, but just wild cars was really starting to get me hooked. I had the EH and then got the VE Valiant which was a pretty cool car and it was only a year old when I bought it. After that I bought my first V8 — a VH Valiant Regal with the 318 in it.”


“After that I bought a 318 from racer Cliff Kiss, that was in his AP6 Val, not knowing that there were two different types of 318. That one was not able to fit in the engine bay (being a 90 degree engine). I ended selling it to one of ‘Chickenman’s’ crew. That was another car that had a big influence on me. When it appeared at Townsville Rick ‘Chickenman’ Stapleton put a coat of resin on the Triumph Herald body and then added feathers that came off as he raced down the track”, he explained.

“Now ‘Chickenman’s’ Triumph had a 409 Chev engine and I wouldn’t mind betting that it was one of the ones that made its way into my ‘62 Chev Impala Super Sports, which I bought some years later. When the ‘74 Brisbane flood came through, Stapleton had two or three 409’s stored away that went under water. After that, they were thrown out. When I moved to Brisbane I knew Tommy Fulton from Rods Inc and I knew Stomper, though not very well, and even though I had purchased a ‘57 Chev Belair I found myself being looked upon as a ‘hot rodder’ in the generic sense of the word (Hot Rods are usually pre-48 vintage). Why? Because while I like the drag racing cars, I also liked the street aspect of it — that was where my ‘go’ was and this wasn’t a pre-48 car, but later model stuff”

“In 1978 I bought the best car ever — a 1962 Chevrolet Impala Super Sports to which I fitted a 427 big block and a 727 Torqueflight out of one of Bill Shrewsberry’s wheelstanders. On reflection I guess it was pretty naughty, but I use to love to get the car to roar away from the lights and let it get sideways down the road. I loved to drive it fast and I can remember going up to Maryborough one time and looking down at the speedo — I was doing 146 mph and it was full of stuff — it weighed 4010 pounds and was like getting a battleship onto the plane. I used to love to take guys for a run and see their utter disbelief when they got out of the Impala. I had one really high horse-powered engine in it that had enough power to pick up the front wheels when it left hard. For such a heavy car it certainly could perform on cue. I recall taking my long time friend, Mick Atholwood (who had built the engine) and another dude called Wolfman who cried in fear. Man it was fun in those days and don’t tell anyone — it still is”, he revealed with that youthful fire still aglow in his eyes.

“I remember when I was growing up that I use to see this ‘57 Chev that had the little rubber tips on the front bumpers. I think these were standard on the imported versions. Anyway, the first ‘57 I bought had them. I got it from a racer called Jeff ‘The Burner’ Burnett. In fact the engine in it was from the American ‘Too Bad’ funny car that crashed at Surfer’s. I bought it just before the ‘74 floods and when I saw it, the only thing sticking out of the water was the roof turret. Burnett ended up washing it all down and I still agreed to buy it and ended up keeping it for quite a few years. When he built his first funny car I ended up using the ‘57 as a push car. I drilled holes in the front bumper bar (which now, would be looked upon with disdain) so I could mount a bracket for the push bar”, he said.

“So I found myself being caught between drag racing, hot rodding and this new emerging ‘Street Machine’ scene. This happened quite quickly because by now I am quite well known by the Brisbane hot rodder’s. They went down for the first Street Rod Nationals in 1973. I read about it after the event and thought that this was really cool. You got there, drove around, listen to a rock and roll band and had plenty of other things to do and see. Cars from all over Australia. This was certainly better than a rod run to Caloundra.”


“Because I had my ‘57 Chevy, I was accepted by the hot rodder’s. But if I had driven my Valiant, they wouldn’t have given me the time of day. I remember Ross Burgess from Sydney had this gold 61 ‘Bubble Top Chevy’ and I really liked that car. I saw my ‘62 race at Surfers when Cof Dunn of Superformance fame owned it and I noticed that it had castors welded to the back of the chassis rails. I thought look at this wanker, thinks he’s got wheelie bars on the back of it. It wasn’t until I owned the car that I realised that with so much overhang behind the rear wheels and going over a gutter, they became really handy. “I was soon asked to become a drag racing scrutineer at Surfers Paradise Raceway and I ended up doing it for seven years. That’s where I first met Ronnie Whelan who worked as the head of scrutineering. I also met Victor Bray. I’d seen Victor at the local Chev Club meetings and I remember him turning up at the Surfers drag strip with clear plastic pipe for fuel lines held on with welding wire. We had to knock him back and he was not allowed to race. We told Victor he had to have the correct woven cloth type fuel line with the red stripe through it so you knew it was resistant to fuel and he duly turned up next time with the correct lines. Once he started racing, it wasn’t long before just about everyone got on his back about his ‘57 Chev’s flat black paint scheme, asking him to finish the job.”

“He ran the car with ten inch wide wheels on the back, six or seven inch wide ones on the front with no front bumper — that was real street race style right out of the film American Graffiti. He then came to me and said, ‘Can you tell them to get off my back about the car?’. The promoters wanted to see a well presented car but to his credit Victor stuck to his guns and soon became a hero with the flat black that became the real big ‘Victor Bray Pro Signature’ paint”, Chic continued.

“I can remember one of the highlights from that time was at the Streetnationals drag race at Surfers. I think the Impala still had a 454 in it at the time. This day I drove the ‘62 down from Brisbane and worked as a scrutineer. I qualified — with a 12.8 second time — and raced in the particular class. After that, I was able to do my work as an official, win my class and then win Top Eliminator. So I collected my pay for being an official, got paid my prize money, got a trophy and drove home again. Lex Swayn wrote it up for Dragster Australia magazine and I was pretty proud of that.”

“Now at around the end of my time in Brisbane the Street Machine scene was really starting to become big time. Some guys in Sydney— Dale Barnard who owned B&B Chev, Laurie Waters who owned a Classic Chevy, Ross Burgess and a few others from the 55-56-57 Chev Club of Australia, decided to run what was going to be a “Chevy Nationals” in Griffith. But they were light on numbers so they invited a few Street Machiner’s too. I received an invite because I had such a high profile car, plus the fact that there weren’t too many Chev’s that were being street driven with the rear guards cut out to fit ten inch wide rims. There was no two ways about it, that car was a bit of a beast in its day. The event became known as the Street Machine Nationals and while that was being run in Griffith just down the road the Street Rod Nationals were on in Narrandera. So we ended up running the event again the year after so we could have our event every other year to the hot rodder’s, because there were a lot of people who would like to travel to both.”

“By the time we got to Narrandera I had worked out what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to drive my tough street car on the street whenever I could. I liked to drag race it from time to time and put it into shows whenever I wanted. I enjoyed hanging out American Graffiti style. I loved to go to John White’s speed shop on a Saturday morning and annoy the buggery out of him while he was trying to do some work. To me that was what a Street Machinery did and I’d still do it today if I could afford the time”, he explained.

“The Nationals ran in Griffith twice and then it went to Shepparton and was run by the Victorian Street Machine Association. The sport was being run by these State Associations back then as they began to form. I was in the Queensland one and then a few people got together to try and create a national organisation. So people like Rowan Wilson in NSW, Victorian Dave Ryan of Rare Spares, Jim Wolfe from Adelaide, John Toovey from Melbourne and a couple of blokes from Sydney got together. These were the people who had good ideas about creating our own identity.”


“So I bit the bullet and said I’d become the National Director of the Australian Street Machine Federation. I thought back then that I had a more impartial view than some of the other people. That might have seemed arrogant but history proved that I was right. The problem was that the various states all had their own agendas and couldn’t get along — which unfortunately in some cases is still prevalent today in many walks of life. While I had these visions and the drive to make it happen, I loved more than anything to drive my own tough car on the street.”

“I think it had a 454 in it at that time I ended up staging the Street Machine Nationals in 1982, 84 & 86. In 1983, I realised that this event had a lot of potential and could become a lot bigger if I could do it full time. But the Australian Street Machine Federation couldn’t accept that. After the 1980 Nationals in Narrandera I went to Canberra to have a look at the facilities there. Back then the A.C.T. Government didn’t exist so there were no incentives or subsidies to go there. Despite this the city was very central to the four eastern states, had plenty of accommodation, excellent cruising roads and had Natex — an incredible place to hold it.”



“Natex (as Canberra’s showground was known then) obviously had plenty of amenities, enough pavilions to house various exhibitors and entrants, the showgrounds and camping facilities. The management were so supportive of my activities that they told me we had to build a dedicated burnout track — which I did in 1987. After many years of trying to run the event the way I thought it should be run and not achieving that, I decided to go out on my own.”

“I spoke with Street Machine Magazine’s Geoff Paradise and Phil Scott and got their backing and with assistance of companies like Yella Terra I decided to stage the first Summernats in January 1988. While the event was a resounding success in many ways it was a financial disaster and I came out $200,000 in the red (quite a lot of money at the time, partly because I had to build the burnout track). Thanks to the continued support from the sponsors, the entrants, the spectators and the bank manager I turned it around to put it in the black”, he revealed.

These days the event is a three million dollar plus exercise. When you add up all the infrastructure, the hired staff and security, the advertising and promotion budget it isn’t an exercise for the faint hearted. Liaising with local government, Police, Ambulance and all manner of government red tape. Things like road closures, health and safety and insurance considerations are a fact of life for Chic to run the Summernats.

Chic acknowledges that he has the ability to overview a project and stay focused enough to bring it to a successful conclusion. Those leadership skills that his high school teacher saw back then have come now to the fore over the years. This has given him the ability to pick and manage the right people, problem solve on the fly and with a hands on attitude, steer the event through the rough and the smooth. He also says with great sincerity, that his years of success are also the result of great supporting friendships and a family that have stuck by him through the stressful times.

Over the last sixty plus years Chic has been a loving son, a larrikin school student, an able apprentice blacksmith, a learned lance corporal, a hard working husband, a fantastic father, a talented tradesman, an understanding undertaker, an inspiring boss and a promoter’s promoter. He has strived to do the very best job he can do with an amazing range of skills and all the time has kept in touch with the people who helped him create an event that has gone on to be a cultural icon. The fact that Chic is still the same down to earth bloke that I initially met in 1973 is to me the most important thing of all.


There is no doubt that the Summernats has evolved continually throughout the last twenty years and will continue to evolve well into the next twenty. Chic Henry took the best aspects of what started as the Street Machine Nationals and added his own brand of entertainment and events to make that special weekend in January at the Canberra Showgrounds an experience for all that attend.


Information for profile has been sourced from: Jon Van Daal’s, A History of Summernats

For more information on the book go to http://www.bookworks.com.au/


Jon Van Daal, Chic Henry, a short biography, A history of The Summernats (2008)