ASRF LEGEND – JOHN BRYANT

BY ROBERT RIGGS, PHOTO SCOTT JOHNCOCK

The street rod world, like all other facets of life, needs people with vison and a drive that enables the vison to become a reality. Such a person was South Australian John Bryant. 

His credentials as a State Director for SA from 1984 and 1988 are documented, a role he took on he admits due to frustration at the time. He believed the ASRF needed some direction to achieve its goals. During this time, he produced a small magazine titled Ignition for a couple of years for the ASRF South Australian State Council. His achievements in other facets of hot rodding perhaps need a history rewind to understand what John’s persistent drive achieved.

John had his first Ford V8 in his mum’s backyard before he was old enough to get a license. It was 1964 and John was a hot rod mad 14-year-old. This was joined by a ’36 coupe and a ‘47 sedan. His first hot rod that hit the road in 1968 was a tidy flathead-powered ‘36 coupe with a ’40 dash and a Falcon deep dished steering wheel. He joined the Eastern Districts Hot Rod club in 1973 and in the same year, became the secretary of the South Australian Hot Rod Association (SAHRA). He picked up a nice ‘35 sedan in 1975 as he was in need of a family car. The ’35 went from a stock streeter to a chopped street rod with updated 350 HP 327 Chev and later running gear over the next nine years.  

From 1976 to 1981 he shadowed Warren Young as the assistant show manager of the popular Adelaide Hot Rod Spectaculars. He then took on the role of Show Manager from 1982 until 2002. That long twenty-year stint produced several firsts. John had little concern for the stress he created for himself in putting on hot rod shows almost single handed with the exception in the ‘80s and ‘90s from his then wife, Danyse, who was a strong component of the Bryant team. To this day, John still gets enough well-deserved kudos to put a smile on his face.

“Your shows were the best I have been in,” are comments John gets regularly from past entrants. If running a hot rod show was not enough, he led the Show Promoters group from 1976 until 2002.

1982 was John’s first year as the South Australian Hot Rod Association show manager and his brief was to not only match the success of the previous highly regarded show manager Warren Young, but to better it. He made some organisational changes up front. He got the local Street Machine Association of SA (SMASA) more involved, improved advertising and promotions and added a high degree of professionalism.

In 1985 he got serious. He set about a complex negotiation undertaking to import the world renowned 1933 Ford coupe owned by popular blues rock ZZ Top front man and guitarist, Billy Gibbons. It was the ‘Eliminator’, as immortalised in their two recent album covers and videos.  It was and still is the most recognised street rod to the general public. He had no success first up but went out of his way to meet Billy when his band toured Adelaide 1985.  

The chopped coupe was to appear at the renamed 1987 SA Hot Rod & Street Machine Spectacular. And it did, but only just. It all started in the US when the coupe never arrived to meet a shipping deadline. The coupe did get to Adelaide, increased attendance numbers by 25% to 26,500 and went on to wow the Sydney Hot Rod Show as well.

In 1988, the Americas Most Beautiful Roadster winner, the James Ellis owned, and Roy Brizio built V12 Ferrari-powered stunning 1932 Ford roadster, was imported for the Adelaide Show. While John was not involved with its importation, in 1989 the Barris-built Munster coach was the feature car at the Adelaide show.

In 1990 he set about purchasing Australia’s top hot rod as a high end SAHRA raffle car and draw card, the big block powered 1932 three window coupe that was owned by Garry Pring. John had also taken on a major project and that was to organise the “Great Aussie Rod Run” in Adelaide for the 1990 Easter weekend. It was a regional nats on steroids and was the equivalent to a major national event in all aspects other than the name.  

Interstate and local rodders still hold this event in high regard for its professionalism. The spacious and the great facilities at the Wayville showgrounds was the base. There was a full program of activities that included a Friday night cruise, Saturday morning judging at the showgrounds, a bus to the Barossa for entrants, Saturday night drags that included a BBQ for entrants, and Sunday show & shine finishing with a presentation and bands at the showgrounds. Monday was a cruise to Birdwood. Entry cost was $30 with goodies bag and T shirt.

Little wonder when South Australia applied for the 11th Nationals in 1993 with a similar format that there was agreement from the ASRF National Control Council. John was again the event manager, and again Adelaide excelled in putting on a high-quality national event.

In 1991 another street rod was imported. It was a fresh Brizio-built right hand drive hiboy ‘32 roadster that was designed as a raffle car from the onset. John had a desire to lift the status of rod shows up a notch with this drawcard and sold the concept of a rod show at the prestigious Darling Harbor complex following the 25th Adelaide Hot Rod Show. It was an ambitious move and it paid off from a promotional perspective. It still holds the attendance record for the venue with 40,000 spectators over three days. 

John came back to Darling Harbour in 1992 as a private promoter but teamed up this time with another promoter who knew how to negotiate better deals from the tough Sydney consortium that managed the venue. Again, the Brizio ‘32 was a drawcard and a raffle car yet again as SAHRA bought the car back from the previous year’s winner. A profit was made, and John teamed up with SAHRA for the third running of a spectacular at Darling Harbour, this time utilising two halls – one for street machines and one for street rods. Financial risks put paid to any further show in the prestigious Darling Harbour venue.    

John is a man driven to succeed. He looks back on this period as being mostly highs and he reflects proudly. The low point was a real estate sale of the SAHRA hall in 1992 that he did not instigate or support. The show side of his life took a back seat after 2002 and he got back to putting his own building design business back into the forefront of his life.  

As busy as he was during the hectic show period, he was still building street rods. He produced a show quality 1934 coupe and a rare 1937 woody with hot flathead, and also had a trophy winning ‘33 tourer with a 302 in his garage. But he hasn’t given up street rodding and is nearly ready to get registration on a very nice flat head powered 1939 Ford tudor. He can’t wait to hit the road. He also has a ‘40 coupe that will be hemi powered, stuck in one corner waiting for a full rebuild.

As much as he has been a serious force putting in many hours over many years into administration and promotion of our hobby, he loves being hands on again and the building side of the hobby.