FOR Matthew Cerantola, his HJ ute is more than just a 765rwhp, nine-second turbo-LS monster. It’s a member of the family, the very car that seeded his love affair for four wheels when he was barely out of nappies.
First published in the May 2021 issue of Street Machine
“My uncle Peter bought it as a shell during the 90s, and originally he didn’t have anywhere to put it, so it was stored at our house,” says Matt. “He finished it around ’99 when I was six years old, turning it into a nice 308 cruiser. I would always hear it coming up the road from our joint and go cruising in it; I loved the thing!”
Matt spent his teenage years messing around with old Geminis, but eventually the opportunity finally arose to get the car he’d always wanted. “In 2014 my uncle approached me with an offer to buy the ute, but there was one condition: he made me promise to leave it as it was,” he laughs.
As you may have already gathered, it didn’t take long for Matt to break that promise, the HJ copping two different 355 stroker Holden mills. The second of those was sold to pave the way for the ballistic turbo-LS combo it now sports. “I rocked up to a fancy car show in Port Melbourne in the ute, and by the end of the day I’d taken a deposit on the engine from someone who made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Matt says. “I’d been tempted to do an LS anyway, so it was the perfect excuse.”
With an LS3 chosen as the new donk for the ute, a conversation with Matt’s engineer turned his thoughts towards boost. “The engineer said the process and things I needed to do would be somewhat the same whether I turboed it or not, so I had to!” he says. Matt wasn’t going to let the addition of a turbo overcomplicate things though, opting to still keep the set-up simple and relatively cheap.
The 6.2-litre LS mill was sent to Lakeside Automotive for a few simple mods. The original crank, rods, pistons and heads were all retained, with the rings simply re-gapped to suit boost. A VCM 16T cam was slotted in with VCM pushrods, LS7 lifters and Manley double valve springs, along with a FAST 92mm throttlebody and ARP rod bolts and head studs.
Once Matt got the engine back, he got to work piecing together the turbo system and getting the ute ready to be engineered. “I used outside help for things like the engine, gearbox and wiring, but I did all the assembly work and stuff needed for the engineering at home in the garage,” he says. A pair of KillaBoost T6 LS turbo manifolds are used to feed the Proboost S480 hairdryer, with all the intercooler and exhaust piping done by Brandon from Proline Fabrication. Matt also overhauled the driveline, using a Paul Rogers-built two-speed Powerglide with a Dominator 3500rpm converter, and a 31-spline nine-inch diff packing street-friendly 3.55:1 gearing.
Frank and Peter from Allsparks Automotive finished off the fuel system before Frank put the HJ on the dyno, with results nobody was expecting. “When I was putting the package together, Frank told me to expect around 450rwkW, which I was more than happy with,” says Matt. So you can imagine how hard Frank and Matt’s jaws hit the pavement when the HJ smashed out 570kW (765hp) to the rear treads on 14psi, drinking pump E85 with a tuned LS1 ECU. “Frank couldn’t believe it!” Matt laughs. “There’s still barely any timing in it or anything. It’s a big improvement over the old 375rwhp 355, that’s for sure.”
Before the world went mad, Matt did get the opportunity to give the HJ a hit down the strip with the new gear. Once again, the car well and truly exceeded expectations, recording a 9.0@151mph after just a few runs. “I went there hoping to run a 9.99, so to smash out a 9.1 on the first pass and almost being in the eights already is bonkers,” Matt says.
But the true purpose of Matt’s ute is to eat up the street miles, which is exactly what he uses it for. “I usually do around 200-250km in it each weekend,” he says. “I take it out whether it’s a stinking hot day or raining. It’s easy to drive around because it has a bit of lag, but once the turbo comes on, it just fries the rear tyres!”
Matt’s future plans for the HJ include upgrading the rear suspension and taking on our gruelling five-day Drag Challenge marathon: “The rear suspension is still stock, so some upgrades there should see it go into the eights, and doing Drag Challenge has always been a dream of mine.”
But the real question is: What does his uncle think of the ute now? “He always tries to tell me I’ve ruined it, but deep down I know he likes it,” Matt laughs.
1976 HJ HOLDEN UTE
Paint: Porsche Iris Blue
Brand: 6.2L LS3
Induction: FAST 92mm throttlebody
Turbo: Proboost S480
Camshaft: VCM 16T, 238/233@114, .603/.596 lift
Oil pump: Melling
Fuel system: Twin Walbro 460 pumps, Bosch 100lb injectors
Exhaust: KillaBoost T6 turbo manifolds, 4in stainless system
Ignition: LS1 coils and leads
Gearbox: Two-speed Powerglide
Converter: Dominator 3500rpm
Diff: 9in, 31-spline, 3.55:1 gears
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Front: Standard springs, 90/10 drag shocks
Rear: 2in lowering blocks
Brakes: Wilwood 320mm discs and four-piston calipers (f), drums (r)
Master cylinder: HQ
WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: Street Pro 15×4 (f), Weld AlumaStar beadlock 15×9 (r)
Rubber: Nankang 165/80 R15 (f), Nankang 255/60 R15 (r)
My uncle Peter Polini for selling me ute; Paul Rogers for the killer gearbox, diff and amazing customer service; Frank at
Allsparks for making the car what it is – its driveabililty is unreal; Brandon at Proline Fabrication for the fab work;
Elvin at ECS Bodyworks for paint and panel; Lakeside Automotive for a killer engine that keeps on giving; Drew at Japelec
Auto Electrical for the rewire; my beautiful partner Lisa; all my family and friends who have supported me along the way