Built in a single-car garage, the only thing rocking this Top 60 pano is a 500hp 383ci Chev.
This article was originally published in the 2007 edition of Street Machine.
Panel vans from the 60s are getting thin on the ground. Most of them saw hard labour lugging around tools and supplies for tradesman. A few lucky examples would have been pressed into duty chasing more pleasurable activities. Either way, vans of this vintage aren’t a common sight these days. That’s precisely the reason Simon Gemmell bought this van.
“You don’t see HK vans much. I chose the van just to be different” he says. The van was purchased for the princely sum of $450, so needless to say, it wasn’t in the most pristine condition.
At the time, Simon was living in the garage of his mum’s place. He asked his mum if he could move up to the house for six weeks while he gave the van a quick tidy-up. As you can see from the pictures, the van received far more than a six-week quickie.
“I got carried away,” he says, in a massive understatement. “I ended up buying the house, and the car took eight years”.
Being a panel van, getting the body right was critical. The body was covered in six different coats of acrylic paint, and beneath that there were seven coats of antifoul. Antifoul is more often found protecting the bottoms of boats, so, unsurprisingly, it didn’t come off too easily. Once the paint and the antifoul had been removed, the whole car received a good sandblasting, so any nasty rust spots would be revealed.
With the van stripped right down, it was clear that it was going to need a bit of work to get it up to scratch. With only a single-car garage to work in, Simon set about getting it up to his high standards. New floor pans were installed, and the fuel tank was relocated to the spare-tyre well. While he was in there, he also did the neat panel work. Panels were mocked up in cardboard first, and were then transferred to steel. With no square edges to go off, it was definitely a challenge, but it sure came up a treat. Pete Cleary was called in finish off the interior metal work with the mini tubs and a six-point cage.
Moving outside, there was no way the existing panels were going to be good enough. The search began to find decent replacements, which is much easier said than done.
“Every panel is from a different state” he explains. “It took about four years to get everything. Good HKs are getting rare.”
With some decent panels sourced, Frank’s Paint and Panel was entrusted to get the massive sides straight and spray on the Holden Impulse Blue. In the sun, with the chrome, the results are stunning. The exterior package is finished off with 15×7 and 15×10 Welds.
With such a great-looking body, the van deserved something special under its bonnet. COME Racing was called upon to piece together a healthy Chev for power. The 383ci V8 is fed by a Victor Junior manifold, topped by an 850 Demon carby. Inside there’s plenty of good gear, such as Hypereutectic pistons, Speed Pro rings, Clevite bearings, and rods and crank from COME. The spent gases flow into Pacemaker headers, where they are then directed into dual three-inch pipes.
The small-block makes a healthy 505 horses at the flywheel. A full manual Turbo 350 feeds the power through to the nine-inch diff with 31-spline Mark Williams axles. Pulling up all that are slotted VN discs with WB calipers. Pedders shocks and Nolathane bushes all round keep the van tracking true when the road gets bumpy.
With the body sorted, and plenty of go and whoa, all that was left was to give the interior a freshen up. Monaro buckets re-trimmed in charcoal vinyl provide some comfort, while a custom wheel and a Magnum Grip Street Bandit give Simon something to hang onto when he’s out on the road. Auto Meter gauges keep an eye on the Chev, which also provides the tunes, given that there’s no stereo. A nice patriotic touch is the Aussie flag in the cargo area, done by Simon’s mate Tony.
The van was finished just three days before Summernats, and earned Simon a spot in the Top 60, and an encouragement award. That’s not bad for the first outing of a car built at home in a single-car garage. “I have to thank my wife Kerrie for hanging in there; she was very supportive,” says Simon.
Now that another classic 60s panel van has been given a new lease on life, what’s a guy to do now?
“I’ve learnt so much,” he says. “Second time round will be a lot easier.” Second time? Yep, there’s a Chevy C20 that will be able to carry the whole family. Simon says it will just be a little tidy-up, but we’ve heard that before!