Jalopies princess can tinker
with the best of them

You could say Sydney native Nikki Bunn is a new Renaissance woman.

She’s intelligent, articulate, writes for magazines, dances ballet and tap and also has a love for her 1956 Chevy Apache pickup — a “rodesteration” project she shares with her father Chris.

As of Sunday, the 23-year-old is also a drag racer.

If you attended last weekend’s Cactus Jalopies, you probably saw Nikki’s truck. It was the signature vehicle for the event, emblazoned in a bright, rich yellow on the back of T-shirts, sitting proud outside the registration trailer and taking a central space during the show ‘n’ shine Saturday while Nikki held court.

Sunday, she had the truck on the Wine Country Racing Association track, holding her own against some seasoned veterans.

For this weekend at least, she’s restoration royalty — a princess amid a sea of middle-aged tinkerers.

“I get that question a lot,” she says when asked how she ended up owning a rebuilt rodster pickup. “A lot of people are like, ‘Nikki how did you go from ballet, tap jazz and a little bit of hiphop to full-blown car stuff and trucks and hot rods and all that?’

“The answer is pretty simple — I grew up around these things.”

Her father has his own project, a 1972 Ford F250 pickup that Nikki says was the project in the family garage “my whole entire life.”

Nikki’s truck at Richter Pass Motorplex, where Nikki raced Sunday.

Her weekends were an endless stream of very enjoyable car shows and she can easily tell you the make and model of every vehicle that passes.

So when Nikki, then a teenager and barely licensed, decided it was time to get started on her own project, she found an enthusiastic ally in her father.

Together they found the Apache.

“We got the truck in October 2012 and it was all-stock,” says Nikki. “I drove it around like that for two years.”

And then the fun started.

“In 2014, we took it off the road and tore it down to bare-frame rails on the shop floor and, in a matter of six months and some very long days, built it up to basically what you see today.”

The work was completed in what Chris describes as a “home shop” — a two car garage where “there’s room to park her truck in the middle of an assortment of tools and work benches.

“We kind of make-do with what we’ve got and get innovative,” says Chris. “We’re not on a huge budget.”

It’s a love that Nikki is quick to share with anyone who asks. She encourages her young peers — especially women — to do some tinkering of their own.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re into old-school hot rods, trucks, 4x4s or even imports, just do what you love,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what every one else thinks of it. It’s your project, so do your thing and build it the way you want it.”

Nikki’s love for her pickup wasn’t lost on Jalopies organizers, one of whom saw her truck in an online magazine — in an article Nikki wrote — and thought enough of her work to suggest she receive a special invitation to this year’s show.

Francine Launier, mom to another restoration virtuoso, was glad to have Nikki aboard, hoping to build a future for the industry on younger enthusiasts.

“She reminds me of JF,” she says, recalling her son was just 14 when he started on a 1951 Mercury. “That’s what it’s all about, we have to go with the new generation. I’m happy when I see a younger person with a car they’ve restored themselves.

“We need to see more of that.”

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