1FATHR: wild custom HR Holden ute ready for MotorEx

Craig McKenzie's take on the former Ditch Jones ute just keeps getting better

Photographers: Simon Davidson, SM Archives, Chris Thorogood

UPDATE, 29 April, 2023:

Craig McKenzie hasn’t been idle since his reimagined take on the HR ute made famous by Ditch Jones swooped into the Top 10. He’s been working hard on refining the new concept and you can check out the fruits of his labour at Meguiar’s MotorEx, 6-7 May at Melbourne Showgrounds.

“We’ve been doing lots of detail stuff and all the little things we didn’t get done in time for Summernats,” says Craig.

“We repainted the front end and the diff, had a new windscreen made and more billet caps. We made Superstars, so we want to have it looking on point.”

Read up on the history of the ute below!

January 13, 2023: Craig McKenzie has successfully unveiled the ex-Ditch Jones HR Holden ute at Summernats 35, sporting a completely new interior and all white paintwork.

Clearly the judges had no objections to the changes Craig made, the HR scoring a place in the Top 10 Elite judging and second place for Top Bodywork.

Craig’s main goal for the unveil was to get the HR back into the Top 10, which he was stoked to achieve: “I was bloody nervous leading into Thursday night, I was still doing things on the car right until the last minute,” he says.

The accolades also handed Craig an invite from the Summernats team to come to Red CentreNATS this year, and he assures is the HR will be doing plenty of shows this year.

“It’ll be at Showcars Melbourne next month, then we’ll do Rockynats, the Queensland Hot Rod Show and MotorEx, so it’s going to be a big year,” says Craig.

He also hinted to us that he has got his hands on another old street machine he’ll be working on this year, which we’ll bring you more info about soon.

The story to here

December 22, 2022: Ditch Jones’s HR ute (SM, Apr ’07) was one of those cars that you could call ‘polarising’.

The two-tone paint, wild teal-coloured interior and welded-up tailgate definitely had tongues wagging when it debuted at Summernats 20, with people either loving or hating the styling. One thing that couldn’t be argued though was the level of detailing and build quality that went into the car, which Ditch had owned and showed since the late 80s.

First published in Street Machine’s Yearbook 2022

He took the HR off the road in the late 90s, as he recalled in our 2007 feature on the ute: “I wanted to take the car to the next level, as I kept coming up against better machinery.” By the look of the end result, Ditch skipped ‘next level’ and went straight to ‘boss level!’

To handle the extensive modifications, Ditch turned to Drago Ostric and his team at Sefton Concept Vehicles. Among the many highlights were the removable front clip, suicide doors, lengthened wheelbase, flush-fitting glass and the welded-up and reshaped tailgate.

The interior was wild as well, with a custom steel dash and console that looked nothing like the original, and teal blue trim that, depending on who you talked to, either complemented or clashed with the silver-and-yellow paint scheme Ditch had chosen. One thing was certain: this ute stood out in a crowd.

While many people at the time didn’t understand why Ditch didn’t, ahem, ditch the six-pot and stuff in a V8, everyone agreed that the detailing on the 4/71-blown 202 was second to none.

Current custodian Craig McKenzie is now giving the HR a serious makeover in time for Street Machine Summernats 35, so we had to sit down with him for a chat to learn more about his plans for this iconic machine.

How did you come to buy the ute?

I bought it back in 2018. I’ve got a Nissan Navara that has been in the build for years, and even though it’s been at shows before unfinished, it was just taking too long, so I started looking for a car to get me into the Elite Hall in the meantime.

The ute was actually at a car dealer, and I remembered it from its era, so I paid for it over the phone and went and grabbed it.

What condition was it in?

It wasn’t the best. It’d been through a few hands before I got it and people just didn’t seem to care about these old show cars.

There was nothing really major wrong, but the interior was pretty dirty and gross, and the paint needed work. But I could see the potential.

You got the HR sorted in time for Street Machine Summernats 32, where it made the Top 10 and won Top Pro Street. How much work did it take to get it to that point?

A lot of painting and polishing, basically. Luckily, I’m a panel beater by trade, so the paint side wasn’t that hard to get done.

But a lot of the car had to be pulled apart, cleaned and polished, with heaps of work that people don’t see. It took around six months of work to resurrect it properly.

You did a fair bit of the car show circuit after Summernats; how did that go?

Really good; the car won a bunch of awards and the reaction to it being back was really positive.

After Top 10 at the ’Nats, it did well at Red CentreNATS and the Adelaide Auto Expo, and its last show was Springnats, where it won six awards including Car of the Show before we pulled it apart.

What instigated this current rebuild?

It needed to be updated, and while I could’ve sold it, I wanted to take the next step with it. I’d also been asking the judges what areas I could improve on when I was at Summernats after its refresh.

The interior in particular was a big one for me, so that’s getting done right now and will be a big change from the last version of the car. Heaps of people said the same thing to me about updating the car – even Ditch! He’s all for the changes I’m making, and even wanted me to make more than I’ve planned.

Can you give us a hint about the nature of these updates?

Like I said, the interior will be very different, and that’s getting done right now by Simon Judd at Elite Custom Interiors.

I wanted to keep the blown six like it was, so that engine has been out and refreshed and the car is already running and driving with it. It’ll be more white this time, with bronze with satin grey and a few other things throughout.

How is it tracking for its unveiling in January?

Once it’s back from the interior getting done, I’ll be full swing into the paintwork side of things to get it done in time for the show.

The fact it already runs and drives is a big step, but there’ll still be quite a few late nights.

This isn’t the first old show car you’ve resurrected, having recently revamped the GGHO5T Nissan Silvia (SM, May ’22). What is it about them that appeals to you?

I always believe that with a bit of work and updating, cars like this can hold their own today, which is why I love bringing them back.

People think I’m just looking to save money by buying cars that’ve already been built, but people don’t understand how much work still goes into bringing some of them back and taking them to the next level.

This ute in particular has me really nervous, because it’s been in the Top 10 so many times that I don’t want this to be the time it misses – but with 30 cars being unveiled, it’s a big ask.