It’s the early nineties, and a teenaged Joe Kurtovic has just walked into Eastern Creek Raceway. The sound of the announcers bellows through the air and most fans make a beeline for the Top Fuel teams in the garages. Not so Joe.
There’s different rails he wants to see. A unique band of six cylinder powered dragsters that don’t run the quickest times, don’t run consistently and break often. But a 15 year old Kurtovic is mesmerised by his heroes.
“For some reason, I don’t know why, I had seen a picture in a magazine of Joe and Mick Borg’s dragster racing at Castlereagh when I was a kid,” he explained.
“Ever since that day I was hooked. I would go to the old Eastern Creek track and walk straight past Top Fuel to the six cylinder dragsters. I met Mick Borg, Colin Taylor, Steven Anderson. Ever since then I have been around that scene and I love it. I wanted to keep the six cylinder blown and injected theme alive.”
Kurtovic began to crew on the cars and then worked part time jobs through school until he was able to buy into the dragster he worked on, called Little Horny Devil, when he was 17.
“I went halves with Colin Taylor and raced that while I was 17 and 18, until I ran out of money and had to get out of the sport. I was in over my head.”
With a few more years to get his income up, Kurtovic was able to return to racing in a couple of different dragsters. They enabled him to get his fix, but Kurtovic had a greater vision in his mind. “When I was 15 I drew a dragster in art class, similar in style to Joe Borg’s from the early seventies and eighties. I painted it and said one day I was going to build it.”
Seven years ago, Kurtovic began construction of his dream dragster.
“I’d owned a few different used cars and I wanted to build a brand new one,” he said. “Something that looked good and did well on the race track too.”
Not one to turn down a challenge, Kurtovic decided on building his own chassis.
“I started with a pile of tube on my garage floor seven years ago. I built a chassis jig and measured up a few cars in the Sydney Dragway pit area with my tape measure and notebook.”
Kurtovic wanted his dragster to be as period correct as possible, while meeting modern day safety and reliability standards.
“I researched what the cars looked like in the late sixties and decided I wanted to build a car with three main components: a chute-pack body (where the body tails around the parachute bag), a Moon tank and an aluminium front engine dragster Top Fuel wing at the front.”
Having constructed a grand total of zero chassis previously, Kurtovic got a helping hand from renowned Sydney chassis builder Richard Botica.
“Richard helped guide me on what is right and what is wrong. I bought an ANDRA rulebook and SFI front engine dragster spec book and built the car off those. I had never built a chassis before.”
A piece of the puzzle conveniently fell into place while Kurtovic got the build underway, with a chute-pack body coming up for sale in America.
“I rang the guy and he chopped it in half and posted it to Australia for me,” he said. “When it got here I cut and sectioned it and stretched it all mostly myself, with the help of my friend Chris Palazzo. Richard Botica helped me build the aluminium body out the front of the car, the cowl and side panels.”
There is much to be proud of in the chassis and the body of this car, but that supercharged Holden 202 is the soul of the whole deal. Originally built by Norm McCormack, Kurtovic and Dave Handley stripped everything apart and started from scratch to make a whole new combination.
There’s a 202 block with billet crank, Spool rods, JE pistons and a custom one off billet aluminium cylinder head. The 6-71 blower, thanks to fellow six cylinder enthusiast Jeff Ramsay, forces air through a custom aluminium sheet metal manifold from a vintage ribbed bug catcher injection. The custom continues into the billet aluminium timing cover, an ASR sump and billet fuel pump drive. MSD takes care of the ignition with a Powergrid while there is a full Racepak data logger to keep an eye on the vitals. Al’s Race Glides built the two speed Powerglide transmission, while JB Somoracz looked after the full floater Strange diff.
“It’s pretty unique,” Kurtovic said. “It would have been a lot easier doing a small block Chev.
“A lot of people relate to the old Holden six cylinder, everyone seems to have a story. Their parents had one, or they have one in their shed or under the house.”
There isn’t a huge aftermarket for Holden 202s left, let alone for something as intense as Kurtovic’s dragster, and he said that was one of the main challenges of the build.
“We added heaps more modern stuff, everything was hand made. I couldn’t just go to Rocket and buy everything.”
Once all was said and done, the Holden six produced 600 horsepower at 6000rpm on the dyno.
Functionally, the car was nearly finished. But to really set his dragster apart, Kurtovic needed to put the same effort into the looks. He confessed that he went overboard in the final stages, taking inspiration from the delicate touches applied to custom lowriders.
“I ended up building a show-slash-race car rather than something just built for the track,” he said. “Every nut, bolt and washer got chromed and polished. We engraved the front wing and butterfly steering wheel lowrider-style. I have taken elements of lowriders and hot rods with the trim.
“The paint came about with Kyle Smith from Smith Concepts. I met up with him and said I wanted a paint job that was metal flake, candy, pin striped and looked like something from the late sixties. We have gone all out with the metal flake, gold leaf in the writing and then the pin striping. It is way overboard - I originally planned a matte black car!”
One of the hardest tasks to pull off looks wise was left until last. Kurtovic wanted a turned steel wind deflector that would not only help him in the cockpit but also serve to frame the bodywork.
“I had to source the material from America. I got it air freighted express a week before the car’s debut show. I took it to two engineering shops first to cut it and they didn’t want to touch it.
“I had to make three or four templates out of cardboard, then I used a four inch grinder at home to cut it and polished it myself. If it didn’t turn out right the car wouldn’t look finished, that was the most anxious time of the build, when all the pressure was on.
“It might seem like only a minor piece, but it needed to look right.”
As you can see from the final result, Kurtovic made the deflector perfectly and the dragster was set for its first public appearance at the Sydney Hot Rod Show, where it won Top Drag Car and the Hard Metal award.
“We didn’t really expect it to win show awards,” Kurtovic said. “As soon as we left that show I wanted to start racing it; it has been built to race.”
Twenty five years of emotion came to the surface when Joe fired up the dragster for the first time but when it came to making the first pass, Kurtovic said he was all business.
“Once I hit the throttle in the burnout it was all good, we were ready to go. We have slowly crept up on it, being a brand new chassis and engine.
“The goal for the car is to keep racing it and having fun, maybe go to a few interstate meetings. One day I would like to put a 392 nitro Hemi motor in it to cackle it.”
Kurtovic is adamant there is nothing he would change with the car if he were to build it again. This dragster really is a dream turned to reality.
“I left the chassis bare metal thinking I would have to move things or change them, but everything works and does what it should. It is good luck it turned out so well.
“It has probably exceeded my expectations. It was never supposed to turn out so good. It was just going to be a backyard build to get me to fulfil the dream I had in my head.
“The reception it received was pretty cool. A lot of the older guys I used to look up to have said it was a credit to us.”
We think there is more than a touch of good management in addition to the luck Kurtovic describes. This dragster was planned meticulously and built with passion (and the support of wife Vesna and kids Marco and Alexis). While thoroughly nostalgic in its profile, there are modern touches stealthily hidden in every part of the car. This is our favourite kind of nostalgia build here at Drag News.
“We made it look like a sixties car, but it has high tech stuff. Like the Moon tank, I put on a sump with a big outlet so it looks like a Moon tank but functions new age. It’s modern and safe. I didn’t realise how much work a car like this would take from start to finish. I was expecting a 12 month build, that became seven years.”