Russell and the temptress

Russell Clarke – A man and his machine. Photo: Bruce Barnard.

It’s a love story of sorts.

Russell loved Sandy. Sandy loved Russell. They both loved sail boats. Everything was just lovely.

But Russell had another love. A secret love.

“I love hot rods, Got my first when I was 15. A 1934 Ford Coup,” says the retired Matua engineer.

It was a passion suppressed for 20 years while the couple sailed. But then the petrol-head in Russell re-ignited. Uncontrollably. “So I set out building another hot rod.” It was good for the soul. But Sandy was horrified.”

Russell scrambled together bits and pieces of a Model A from here, there and everywhere. “When you have been doing it for as long as I have, you know where to go and what to look for.” Then he skulked off downstairs into the garage among all his industrial lathes, drill presses, mills and tools …. to build a hot rod. To test his love.

“It took me two days a week for six years. And $60-70,000.” He admits not a lot else got done. But when the Snifter rolled out of the garage there was another outpouring of love. Sandy loved the Snifter.

Snifter – my name, not theirs – because of the spearmint green colour. Snifters – those exquisite spearmint, chocolate and nougat candies of yesteryear.

“People love it. Especially the colour. Desert Green is the colour chart name,” says Russell. Wherever the Snifter goes she is a talking point. “It isn’t a factory colour on any car I know.” Russell, Sandy and son-in-law Gerald, himself a car painter with Mount Precision, parked up on the couch for hours figuring what was exactly right.

“We didn’t want any conventional colours – all too common,” says Russell. It’s an attitude that might have rankled with the man who originally made the car nearly 90 years ago. "Any customer can have a car painted any colour he wants, as long as it’s black,” said Henry Ford. He went on to make 14,999,999 black Model Ts before painting the milestone 15 millionth green.

Recreating a true classic vintage Model A wasn’t an option for Russell. “I love the hot rod version. I like the look.” It’s a connection that goes back to the day when the only way to get a fast car was to build one yourself. “You could buy a Ferrari but who had the money to do that?”

So instead you bought an old light car and dropped in an American V8. And that’s what you still do.

The Snifter, which actually hasn’t been blessed with a name, is pretty, very pretty. Which feels an odd thing to say about a hot rod. Russell has an explanation. “I think she has a certain appeal because she still looks like a vintage car – an elegant vintage look and feel.” Pretty, elegant and vintage but with a little bit of sting.

“About 300 horse power which translates to about 14 and a half seconds for the standing quarter. About 100mph.” An animal like this needs exercising so Russell intends going to the Bay Rodders’ Nostalgia Drags at Meremere next year. If she doesn’t win she will still charm. And people will talk about her. Even inanimate objects must enjoy being the centre of attention

“I get a kick because I think the car has turned out pretty good. And I base that on comments we get everywhere we drive.” Like down Hewletts Rd the other day. “A guy winds down his window and calls out ‘great car mate.’ And just as he is winding it up he says ‘just awesome.’ That makes you feel good. People are drawn to it and want to comment.”

Then there’s the unsavoury subject of money. ”Probably shouldn’t talk about cost.” says Russell.

However, and it’s a big however, the Snifter was comparatively cheap at $60-70,000. “Two or three hundred thousand dollars is not out of the way. Even here in New Zealand.” He refers to the guys who have to pay to get things done, or made. “They’re paying $80-100 an hour, so it adds up quickly.”

The Snifter has big chrome doe eyes, lovely lines, and reeks sensuality. The Desert Green is fresh and cool with a hint of jealousy. She is some sort of auto femme fatale. Men will love to flirt with her.


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