Australian Van Nationals 2024 – gallery

For the panel vanning faithful, Easter 2024 saw all roads lead to Stanthorpe for the 49th annual Van Nationals

Photographers: Steve Kelly

In January 1979, a small group of panel van enthusiasts from Brisbane’s now long-defunct Holden Vans Ltd club decided to run the state’s first ever Queensland Van-In, choosing the beautiful Southern Downs spot of Stanthorpe as the host town.

Famous for its apples, wineries and crisp (by Queensland standards) winters, Stanthorpe has really come of age in the decades since, much like the van scene itself.

“That 1979 meet has long been spoken of in hallowed tones by local vanners. So, we felt that a 45-year celebration of that first Stanthorpe show was the perfect theme and location for this year’s 49th Australian Van Nationals,” said event co-organiser and long-time van tragic Christine Dowton.

Christine, co-organiser Andrew Farrell and their team worked long and hard in the lead-up to the Easter long weekend to ensure entrants and spectators alike enjoyed not only a healthy dose of van-related love, but also a decent insight into what the local area has to offer.

Earlybirds arriving on the Wednesday and Thursday were unfortunately greeted by rainy weather that saw the cancellation of a couple of welcome events, including the normally awesome dirt drags at the nearby Pete’s Hot Rod & Resto Shop. However, the Pete’s shop tour still got the juices flowing and new ideas swirling.

By Good Friday, the sun started to shine through, and an early-morning coffee-and-cars event at the Glen Aplin Jamworks was a great primer for the early-evening van cruise of Stanthorpe’s main drag. Dozens of curious locals and tourists lined the footpaths of Maryland Street to enjoy the collective ‘root’ of panel vans burbling by, the bracing sights and sounds enhanced by many entrants dressing up in period 1979 garb.

Saturday’s official events kicked off with a pair of mid-morning poker runs to take in the local vineyards and breweries, while the afternoon saw many entrants doing last-minute van cleaning and camp chores before some pre-judging was undertaken in preparation for Sunday’s show.

Quietly nestled in the campgrounds was a very cool 1961 Ford Falcon sedan-delivery owned by Beaudesert’s Brett McKechnie. Eagle-eyed Ford freaks will be quick to notice that it’s a US model thanks to some visual differences to its Aussie brethren, and Brett’s Falc has scored some extra changes to make it even more distinctive.

“It’s a replica of Carroll Shelby’s first shop workhorse from back in the early 1960s,” Brett said. “The original van was used to tow Cobras to race tracks and for parts-running, and was also believed to be the first car from the Shelby stable to sport racing stripes.” Just like the original, Brett’s delivery has been fitted with a hi-po Windsor, but it also features a Paxton supercharger and blow-through carb box assembly for extra neddies. A Top Loader and nine-inch round out the powertrain, while a swag of extra Shelby gear from various decades complement the traditional white and blue paint scheme.

Saturday night wrapped up with a vanning light and sound show, topped off with a barbecue and live music belted out by the van-appropriate Hillbilly Nipple Lickers.

Sunday morning was go time, with nearly 200 vans filling the oval of the Stanthorpe Showgrounds – just like they did back in ’79 – and hall for the main show ’n’ shine. All I can say is, if variety’s important to you, you need to get yourself to a panel van show. All manner of small, medium and big vans, from dead-stock FJs to wildly customised 70s throwbacks to modern V-series Commodores, meant there was truly something to satisfy all tastes.

The sun bouncing off its Candy Apple Red paint drew me straight to Paul Murray’s ‘Iron Man’ HR van, which has copped a refresh since we featured it way back in our Van Wheels special (SM, Jun ’15). New rolling stock, fresh paint and murals, and extra detailing to its small-block Chev, Turbo 700 and Jag diff drivetrain made it a crowd favourite and netted Paul a spot in the Top 10 – a great result for a van that sees a heap of street miles. The number of kids and adults Paul let sit in the van for photos was a tribute to his all ’round great-bloke-ness, leaving plenty of young peeps with lasting memories and inspiration.

My attention soon turned to Ian Wood’s EH van, ‘La Catrina’ (SM, Dec ’22) parked nearby. The searing orange hue in the outdoor light attracted me like a moth to a flame, and it was fantastic to be able to eyeball this gorgeous van in person. Ian’s vision is a subtly modern twist on the themed van builds that dominated the scene in the 70s and 80s, with a striking ‘Day of the Dead’ concept applied throughout. Its 6.0-litre LS2 and six-speed auto keep things pretty lively, and Ian netted a swag of tinware for his first ever Van Nats, including a Top 10 placing, Best Engineered, Best Engine Bay and Best Custom Van, along with the coveted Entrants’ Choice and Legends Custom Choice awards.

A dozen elite-level vans had been selected to be displayed in the show hall, centred around Gary Scicluna’s all-conquering ‘Skid Row’ Escort (SM, Sep ’14), a seven-time winner of Australia’s Top Van and looking just as crisp and current as it did when first unveiled more than a decade ago. Not surprisingly, Gary netted yet another van-load of trophies at this year’s event, including Best Small Van and Best Custom Interior, and he even cut a few hot laps in the Esky around Mount Panorama during his journey back home to Victoria!

The passage of time has seen many of the traditional panel van models enter the ‘classic’ realm, and few could hold a candle to Jason and Jess Ackland’s Mint Julep-painted HX Sandman. Built to be exactly as it rolled off the production line in September 1976, everything on the van has been date-coded right down to the distributor and coil and the 1976 GMH-fitted Lucas battery. Jason and Jess’s fantastic display included era-correct picnicware and even a date-coded Dolly magazine! The couple cleaned up in the original categories, taking home Best Original Interior and Best Original Engine Bay, while also adding Best Paint and Top 10 trophies to the mantelpiece.

Sunday wrapped up the event with a few cold bevvies and a delicious roast meal at the official awards dinner, and when the dust settled, it was once again Gary Scicluna’s Skid Row Escort taking out the Australian Top Van gong – for the eighth time!

Next year’s 50th-anniversary Van Nationals will be held back where it all started – Mildura, Victoria – and everyone at this year’s show was left in no doubt that Gary’s Escort will be the van to beat come Easter 2025. The Aussie van scene in general seems to be in a really good place right now, with a third of the near-200 entrants at this year’s Van Nats being first-timers. If that’s anything to go by, the 50th-birthday bash in Mildura in 2025 will be a doozy. See you there!


1. Just when I thought it was impossible to make John ‘Badger’ Goodyear’s replica of the Ford Motor Company’s XC Falcon Concorde show van any cooler, he rocked up to Van Nats with a matching trailer! Launceston-based John has travelled thousands of kays all over Australia in the XC with its 351 Clevo, T5 and 2.92-geared driveline. The trailer was found already sliced in South Australia, so it was simply flared and painted to match.

2. Danny Hoy’s factory beige EH pano receives plenty of poke from an XU-1-spec 202 red motor with triple SUs. The Walcha, NSW resident just finished a two-year full rebuild on the EH, registering it just four days before Van Nats ’24.

3. Coke and Pam Wilson from Inverell saved their genuine Chrysler Drifter van from the tip, then spent the next five years restoring it to its full Impact Orange glory. The original Hemi 265 six-cylinder and four-speed combo still powers the rare Mopar, and the Wilsons were awarded Runner-up Best Chrysler at Van Nats ’24.

4. Neil Dieckmann and his legendary FJ are celebrating 50 years together in 2024. Neil has covered more miles and attended more events than most, and the FJ’s triple Weber-equipped Holden six still sings a sweet tune.

5. Paul Murray had his ‘Iron Man’ HR looking the goods. A visual upgrade since it appeared in our Van Wheels tribute issue (SM, Jun ’15) saw it earn a Top 10 spot at Van Nats ’24. A small-block Chev hides under the flip front, while a nicely detailed Jag diff fills the rear.

6. Phil and Kerrie Carberry road-tripped from Canberra in their awesome ‘HGVE’ HG van. A written-off 2010 HSV R8 Maloo ute had its entire body removed and replaced with that of the HG, and retains everything from its Walkinshaw-enhanced, blown 6.2L mill to the HSV door locks and actuators.

7. Brett McKechnie’s 1961 US Ford Falcon sedan-delivery was built as a replica of Carroll Shelby’s first shop truck from back in the early 1960s. Brett’s van has a little more poke, though, thanks to the Paxton supercharger hanging from its Windsor, along with plenty of other Shelby parts and accessories.

8. Arron Hay’s aptly named ‘Rustic’ Holden van features V6 Commodore running gear, a station wagon floor and rear seat to make it more family friendly. It’s a budget build while the Newcastle resident chips away at his longer-term full-custom Holden project dubbed ‘The Howling.’

9. Matt Cantrill has owned his HT-grilled HG van for 32 years, and it currently rocks a 383 stroker SBC running Holley Sniper EFI. Unfortunately, Saturday’s poker run saw a truck take a corner too wide, forcing Matt and the HG into the bush, damaging a front ball joint and earning Matt the Hard Luck Award.

10. Brent Broderick has been chipping away at his Amcat-converted Commodore van dubbed ‘Cronus’ for a number of years. First bought out of Canberra in stock form, the LS-powered VY now sports a V8 Supercars front bar and plenty of Grim Reaper-inspired interior and exterior touches, nabbing Brent the runner-up spot for Best V-Series Paint.

11. David Window’s XY Falcon van is one of only seven to be factory-delivered as a K-code with a 351 Cleveland. The Electric Blue paint, column-shifted FMX auto, 9in diff and air con are all as-optioned, as is the ‘B9’ coarse black interior trim. David scored Best Ford Pre-XA at Van Nats ’24.

12. Clinton Wheeler easily bagged the Longest Distance Travelled award when he decided to ship his beautifully chopped and finished EK van (SM, Jul ’18) across the ditch from NZ, and also scored a Top 10 trophy for his troubles. Clinton has the Holden on a one-year ‘car passport’ and intends to enjoy some Queensland events like Cooly Rocks On, Beachfest and the Hervey Bay Van-In while he and the van are here.

13. John Lillie’s XC Falcon, ‘The Joker’, was built with the help of the team at Chrome n Candy Customs, replete with appropriate purple and bright green detailing. A triple-throttlebody Gas Research LPG intake on its 351 Clevo is an unusual feature, as are the Cadillac tail-lights. John and The Joker earned a place in the Top 10.

14. In recent years, XF-XH Falcon vans have become a great option for a budget van build as the earlier Aussie vans get pricier. Tor Kumpel’s crossflow six-powered XF was bought as a stocker sporting the current two-tone paint, but he’s since added the bodykit, Weld Draglites and XR-spec headlights.

15. Stanthorpe local Jamie Reid’s Falcon sedan-delivery was a stunner on Sunday’s show oval. Built as a loving tribute to his late daughter, Tiarnah, Jamie’s ‘Narn’ XM was finished in Tiarnah’s favourite custom-mix teal and features a strong 302 Windsor, C4 transmission and four-linked 9in rear.

16. Rodney and Jennie Barnes’s casino-themed, Malachite Green HZ Sandman, ‘The Player’, looked sharp with its factory-optioned Statesman front. An old-school 332ci Holden stroker and five-speed Supra ’box have been beautifully detailed to match. It won Best Theme and a place in the Top 10.

17. Phil Lister’s ‘Vantastic’ Bedford has had quite a few make-overs since he bought it brand new in 1980, the latest of which sees it wearing cherry black paint with fresh murals and a new interior. The factory 173 red six and Trimatic were swapped out many moons ago for a 400ci Chev and Turbo 400. Phil was awarded Best Big Van at Stanthorpe.

18. Mark Morgan brought his stunning XC Falcon down from Gympie, still sporting the original 302 V8, single-rail four-speed and disc-brake BorgWarner diff. “It was built by a good mate who offered it to me as soon as he’d finished it,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve ever shown it.” It was a firm crowd favourite, and the judges thought highly of it too, awarding Mark the Encouragement Award.

19. Karl Vanzuyden is a tireless mover and shaker in the Victorian van scene and has owned this Statesman-fronted HQ for 20 years. Some recent upgrades include a T5 conversion behind the 308, a fresh set of bubble windows and US Mags Rambler rims.

20. Brett Rubie and his partner Lana rocked up to the Nats in their genuine HX Sandman, which Brett purchased back in 2003. Still running the original 253, four-speed and 10-bolt driveline, the van is stock apart from a set of Weld wheels, and it covers a heap of road miles every year.


Gary Scicluna – ‘Skid Row’ Mk2 Escort

  1. TOP 10
  2. 1. Gary Scicluna – ‘Skid Row’ Mk2 Escort
  3. 2. Jason & Jess Ackland – ‘Eloped’ HX Sandman
  4. 3. Ritchie Brown – ‘End of Days’ HJ Sandman
  5. 4. Ian Wood – ‘La Catrina’ EH Holden
  6. 5. Wayne Turner – ‘Weapan’ HX Holden
  7. 6. Rodney & Jennie Barnes – ‘The Player’ HZ Sandman
  8. 7. John Lillie – ‘The Joker’ XC Falcon
  9. 8. Susan Kelley – ‘Ned’ EH Holden
  10. 9. Clinton Wheeler – DLIVID EK Holden
  11. 10. Paul Murray – ‘Iron Man’ HR Holden