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.

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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.

"Dad did more than half the work because I was away so much," he adds, "but we found a 5-litre V8 from a 1986 Mustang, got a 9-inch diff from a drag racer and a 4-speed manual gearbox. There's independent front suspension from a Mitsubishi L300 van and steering from an old Ford Cortina. It all took about 18 months and cost me more than double my original budget of 30,000 Australian dollars, but it really is my pride and joy."

Pete Vermeulen looks after the F100 while his son is away and has even won prizes after entering it in a couple of hot-rod shows. "I always tinker with it a bit whenever I come home," says Vermeulen Jr., "and like to just cruise around in it. A mate of mine has a Ferrari but the pick-up gets a lot more admiring looks!"

The pick-up, however, is 12,000 miles away from Vermeulen's European base and the 22-year-old has recently been yearning for a toy to play with and cruise around in during the racing season.

"I haven't really got the time to do a proper restoration job like we did on the F100," he laments, "so I started looking for a finished Model B Ford Coupe. They were made in the early 1930s and came after the original Model T from the late 1920s, which was followed by the Model A.

"There were a heap of different Ford models then," he adds, "but the two-door, two-seater Coupes do up really well and look so cool. I eventually found a 1933 model in America and it's on its way over to Europe now."

This latest weapon also boasts the obligatory V8 engine developing around 400bhp, which works with a three-speed semi-automatic gearbox and diff taken from another drag racer. "We reckon it'll do a standing quarter mile in under 10 seconds," smiles Vermeulen, "which is pretty quick!"

Perhaps not quite as quick as his Winston Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade and, at around US$50,000 - including shipping and import costs - perhaps not quite as expensive. But for a would-be world champion, the bright yellow hot-rod Model B Ford Coupe is perfect for just 'cruising around'.