26 May 2005
Vermeulen reveals passion for Hot-rods.
He possesses a riding talent that has set international motorcycle racing alight since he burst onto the World Supersport scene in 2001 and won that title two years later. Last year - his first in World Superbikes - Chris Vermeulen took four race wins on the all-new Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade, finishing fourth overall.
His talent was spotted early by GP legend Barry Sheene, who persuaded the then 17-year-old Vermeulen that his best chance of success lay outside his native Australia. And so, in 2000, the teenager moved to Europe to contest the British Supersport and Superstock championships, before joining the Castrol Honda World Supersport team the following year.
Being away from home for extended periods and kicking his heels when not testing or racing has forced Vermeulen to keep his mind active with a range of hobbies and leisure pursuits. Of course, a lot of his time is spent training and keeping fit; he is currently working towards his pilot's licence; being an Aussie, he loves surfing; and he enjoys a bit of motocross to keep his riding skills sharp.
But there is a passion that Vermeulen shares with his father Pete, involving not two wheels, but four; not the state-of-the-art machinery of a modern racing motorcycle, but the nostalgic lines of veteran motor vehicles - except these classics get a bit of Vermeulen treatment that turns them into fully-fledged hot-rods.
Most dictionaries define a hot-rod as 'an automobile that has been rebuilt or modified to increase its speed and acceleration' – but there are certain aesthetic values that must be incorporated, too.
The term 'hot-rod' was first used in the US in the 1940s, but the craze was actually started in California during the Depression by young men who began to play around with the early mass-produced cars like the Model T Ford. Hot-rods also became a way for these often poor enthusiasts to gain some automotive status and so, in addition to their mechanical improvements, the cars became symbols of independence and resourcefulness.
"I've always had an interest in hot-rods," says Vermeulen, "and me and my mates at school were always into bikes and cars. We always tried to drive V8s because they're just so much cooler and sound great - much better than a hot-hatch and its 'boom-boom' music!"
Around the time he was preparing to become a professional motorcycle racer in Europe, Vermeulen bought a 1962 Ford F100 pick-up. "I was really after a mid-'50s version," he explains, "but they're incredibly rare."
As luck would have it, no sooner had Vermeulen bought his '62 model than the Holy Grail of a 1954 version appeared. "I've still got the first one in bits but I had to have the '54," he says, "even though it was no more than a chassis and a cab. There was no engine, differentials or axles and the floor was virtually rusted away.
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