Speed and Custom

Burgers, Cars & where it all started

Posted by Johnny Promo

To help you understand BurgerFuel as a brand but more importantly how the whole car thing started, we must take you back in history to1994 to a small Hot Rod Shop in Auckland where two guys were busy putting the finishing touches on a Drag car clone of their now famous Model T Roadster. ​


Burgers, Cars & where it all started

Chris Piaggi and John Pavlovich were a couple of young guys who were into all things Hot Rod and had decided that one day they would build a drag car that was true to a 1950s era design called an “Altered”.  Not only would they exclusively use pre 1965 era parts, they would make their Drag car a clone of the hot rod they had built almost a decade earlier They achieved this by painting the two “Model T” bodies in identical Purple with matching Flame jobs! OK, so these guys build the car but almost at the same time, another guy, Chris Mason is working on his own dream in the form of a new gourmet Burger restaurant called BurgerFuel which opened in Ponsonby1995. Chris was into classic British bikes and high performance European cars and so his store reflected aspects of this automotive design cue. This appealed to many people but especially those who had a bent toward Custom culture and fast cars. 


BurgerFuel was a hit and Chris and John spent many a night sampling Burgers like the Pontiac Pickle, Flathead Hawaiian and Ford Freak-out and so over the next few years they made BurgerFuel their Friday night ritual. Well by 1998 Chris and John had decided they wanted to take their then Fuel Injected Drag car up to the next level and go “Supercharged”! 

This would require an almost complete re-vamp of the driveline and it was decided that to really go big a Sponsor should be sought to help fund the expenses. But who was the real question, as not just any company logo would fit the classic look of this Dragster, it would have to be a company with a cool Logo, a cool product and even the colours in their design should complement the Purple of their cars as this was their “Trademark”. 

After a time it dawned on them that BurgerFuel would be a perfect fit, after all what would be more nostalgic than a Burger joint sponsoring a race car?

As luck would have it, the boys had a man on the inside, Big Al Anderson. Al had been working at BurgerFuel for some time and it was put to him that if he got a sponsorship meeting set up with Chris the owner, his ancient classic Vespa Motorbike would be custom painted for free by John. 

True to his word Al got onto it and a year later (yes, Al took his time) a meeting was finally agreed to between Chris and John to discuss the possibility. Synergy was the word and Chris got it immediately, so a deal was struck and at the end of the 1999 Drag season The “Piaggi /Pavlovich Special” would make its debut as the BurgerFuel supercharged Flathead! 

It pays to mention here that at the time of signing of the Sponsorship contract the car was still in a million pieces and untried in a Supercharged configuration but Chris Mason was confident in the guys he had just made his first sponsorship deal with. Six months later the day of reckoning was upon Chris and John as they warmed up the engine in the pits for the first time (in typical fashion the car was finished at midnight before the race). Chris Mason was in the crowd anxiously waiting the appearance of the Altered on the start line. Sitting in the driver's seat John nervously hammered the throttle to warm the slicks under Chris Piaggi’s careful instruction. Wow, the Supercharger had added at least another 150 horsepower to the combination and John felt it immediately. With Chris Piaggi urging the car forward to the start line the dragster in the other lane performed its burnout, it was none other than Pete Dore’s Front Engine rail “Midnight Special” driven by the “Hot Shoe” Darrel Slater. 

a grinding screeching halt

It was a spine tingling moment. The two cars pulled into the staging beams, their supercharged engines revving, raw fuel spitting from their un-muffled exhausts. Johns head cleared just in time to see the lights of the Christmas tree run down. On the last amber he let go the brake and hit the gas hard milliseconds before the green bulb lit. 

It was only a tenth of second later but seeming like slow motion to John when the Altered lurched forward lifting its front wheels clear of the launch pad, rear tires fighting for traction and then without warning the unthinkable happened. The Left rear axle having twisted almost 360 degrees finally snapped sending the car hard right toward the Armco barrier. Johns one thought at that moment was to save the precious Antique front wheels as he was now spun around almost 90 degrees and was facing the grandstand. He tried to steer the car left, back towards the centre line, however momentum took over and the car slammed hard crashing into the Armco railing pushing the entire rear axle into the roll cage bringing the Altered to a grinding screeching halt. It was over. 60 feet from where it had first taken off and only a tenth of a second later the car was left smoking and broken. So that was it, the first time Chris Mason had seen his brand on a race car only to see it crash before barley getting off the start line. 

One might be forgiven to think the towel would’ve been thrown in at the moment but Chris and John were philosophical and told Chris that they were still happy with the cars performance, as it had never had the power before to snap axles and this was very exciting!!

Chris Mason could see the passion and knew the guys would sort the car eventually but to his surprise and barley three weeks later at the 1999 Nostalgia Drags the car laid down three flawless and very fast passes eclipsing the class record and earning them a place in the record books as the fastest D Class Altered ever. 

What made this achievement even more amazing is the motor they used to break that 18 year old record was a seventy year old Ford “Flathead” V8 which by the way was also the name of a Burger on BurgerFuel’ s menu all those years ago. Yep, there’s that synergy we mentioned before. Spooky! Long story short, the Altered went on to win many races and John and Chris P still own it to this day (There’s a comeback story there I’m sure).

Chris Mason went on to build many more successful stores and John got good really at promoting them so Chris went ahead and made him the promotions Manager of BurgerFuel. After that, the two did a whole lot more cool stuff with cars and burgers but anyway, that’s the story of how it all started. 

For more stories like this, stay tuned to BurgerFuel Speed and Custom, where we really mean fast food!