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|RARE SPARES LEGEND PROFILE|
Howard Astill spent most of his life living and working in Broken Hill, NSW in a variety of retail service businesses– assisted and supported by his wife Heather and Children Lee and Louise. Always a car enthusiast, Howard began modifying an XC Ford Falcon panel van in the late 1970s, when panel vans were the ‘craze’ for young Australian car enthusiasts. In the early 1980s, Howard switched his attention to the new generation of ‘street machines’ by building an XA Ford Falcon sedan into a show car of the highest standard. Nick-named ‘Rock Solid’ and – after subtle and continual improvement – this car was highly acclaimed by the judges at Australia’s premier modified car event, Summernats. This burgundy-coloured Falcon was a standard-setting car in Australia, establishing Howard’s reputation as an Elite car builder.
To retain the innovation and freshness admired by Australia’s car show judges, Howard evolved ‘Rock Solid’ over the next 2 years winning the Australian titles at Wagga Wagga in its new paint work as Rock Solid II, almost totally re-building it yet again with a new blue-with-graphics colour scheme and detailing to achieve as many trophies as possible. In its two burgundy, and finally blue ‘Rock 3’ guises, Howard achieved Top Judged and Grand Champion at Summernats and countless more awards at regional shows on Australia’s show circuit.
In 1990, Howard approached Street Machine Magazine to support the build of a high-quality 500ci Pro Streeter. In consultation with the magazine, the idea evolved to become a project car covered in detail in the pages of the magazine and ultimately given away as a prize to a lucky reader. Howard selected a rare 1960s Ford ‘Compact’ Fairlane and crafted a full new chassis under the mildly-modified body. Reflecting the technology of the time, it was powered by a fuel-injected Ford 5.0-litre V8 and with full engineering approval for the modifications, ‘Rock 4’ was a truly street-legal street machine and one of the first new-generation ‘retro-tech’ or ‘pro touring’ street machines ever built. At its first outing at Summernats 5, Rock 4 made the top ten and Grand Champion.
His next project was ‘Race Rock’ an XA Falcon Hardtop built with the express intention of winning the highly-coveted Street Machine Magazine ‘Street Machine of the Year’ award. With this competition determined by magazine readers’ votes, Howard designed the car to have broad-ranging appeal in all its characteristics: supercharged engine, classy comp-style trim, tough Pro Street stance and world-class paint. Sponsored by Pioneer – and hence, well-known as ‘the Pioneer coupe’ - it was his first ‘non-street’ build and was successful in its mission, winning SMOTY in 1995 and securing a third Grand Champion.
The SMOTY-winning Race Rock became Die Hard during 1999/2000 after Howard was inspired to re-build the car after the tragic death of his mate Leigh Demain, one of the blokes who had helped him with previous builds. One of the obituaries for Leigh read “the brightest star”, which lead to the Southern Cross and eventually the whole flag. A concept was given to Geoff Haggerty who created the finished design. Mechanically the car was the same as before. After one show the car was sold and has since been resold to a collector.
“The biggest thing was taking the rear wing off it, which gave it a different stance. It got some new interior bits and a sound system. But basically, all I did was blow it apart, paint it, detail and put it back together. That car was about Leigh, nothing else” explained Howard Astill
The compact Fairlane came up for sale and after buying the car back from a Sydney enthusiast more than a decade after he completed it, Howard extensively re-detailed the ‘Violet’ Rock 4 Fairlane and drove the car more than 1200km from Broken Hill to Summernats 17 for delivery to a new owner. The Fairlane made the top 60 before moving to Wollongong and has since been sold 2 more times.
In 2005, Howard and his wife Heather relocated to the Illawarra region on NSW’s south coast and after establishing there new home, Howard once again turned his attention to street machines, commencing a long-planned Ford Mustang - The Mustang was debuted at Summernats 22 and took out Top Standard Paint, Top Coupe and placed in the Top 10 for the Top Elite Awards.
“I am proud to say that I have put my heart and soul into building some of the most highly regarded Elite-standard show cars in Australia and I hope that I have inspired a whole generation of others to do the same. Looking around the industry, the scene and the magazines, I know that modified car building in Australia is now stronger and better than it has ever been.” said Howard Astill
For more information on Howard and his cars go to www.howardastill.com