5000km Red road trip in a Barra-powered EK Holden

A pair of old Holdens, both with significant amounts of Blue Oval engineered into them, take on the big Red CentreNATS road trip


Paul Rockes recently took on a mammoth road trip from his hometown of Harcourt in central Victoria all the way up to Alice Springs for this year’s Red CentreNATS. Not only is his EK Holden van bloody slick, it’s also secretly rocking turbo Barra power! We’ve covered the build here, but we caught up with Paul after he returned home from the red centre to discuss his trip.

It’s a bloody cool van, mate! What’s the story with it?

It’s a car I got from a mate of mine who sadly fell to mental health problems. I didn’t want to see the project unfinished, so I took it on and spent the next three or so years rebuilding it from the ground up. I’m semi-retired now, so we built the whole lot in my garage in Harcourt. We had to recess the firewall 170mm to fit the engine, and then mounted it and the gearbox. We also added a Castlemaine Rod Shop chassis strengthening kit, and converted it to an independent front with a Curley’s Rods & Customs front end. The diff is a BorgWarner one from an EL Falcon.

Why did you choose the Barra for it?

I wanted a unique engine in it, but I wasn’t interested in an American or Japanese one. That ruled out an LS and or an RB30, so I thought a car built in Melbourne deserved an engine local to it, and Barras were built in Geelong. That seemed like a nice fit to me, so I got an engine and four-speed BTR auto from a wrecked BA XR6 Turbo ute and used that for the van.

Were there any other issues with the conversion?

We used the original wiring and ECU for the Barra, so that side was quite simple. It’s very tight for things like the intercooler, piping and the turbo, which is why the turbo and engine are still standard. Plus, in all honesty, standard Barra turbo power is more than enough for a 1440kg old Holden for someone my age!

Was the trip to Alice Springs your first major drive in the car?

Yeah, it was; it’s only been registered for a few months. I built this car to drive it and do long road trips like that, so we decided it was a good way to test the car’s legs. We did around 5000km all up going there and back, and we had a ball.

Did you have any dramas along the journey?

The only drama with the car was I found the rear shocks were not up to it, so I had some Pedders ones organised in Alice so we could swap them out while we were there. There was a drama with the fuel sender and speedo, but they’re just fresh car gremlins. Other than that, she cruised at the 130km/h limit in the NT with no worries, doing 10L/100km and with cruise control!

Who else was with you?

My good mate Geoff Houlden was with me in his FX Holden, which had also only been finished around three months before the trip. It runs a really cool Holden 202 bottom end with an EA Falcon 3.9 SOHC head grafted on top, with SU carbs. He was a massive help with the build of the van, and we set Red CentreNATS as the deadline to get the cars done for their first trip. So I’m glad we made it there and back with no stress!

We hear you also had a crack at Grand Champion!

Yep, that was a bloody shock we really weren’t expecting! Owen Webb came up and asked us both to have a crack in our cars, and being so humble about both our cars, we weren’t expecting it at all. I also ended up winning Top Retrotech and Top 10 in the Street class, which was well beyond what I was expecting. 

After such a successful debut, what’s next for you and the van?

I’d love to road trip it to Cooly Rocks On and Rockynats. They’re next on my list.