Big-block 1974 Holden HQ One-Tonner

What's more fun than building your dream car? Building it with your perfect partner

Photographers: Peter Bateman

LOVED-up young couples are often keen to secure the Aussie Dream — their very own mortgage. Not 20-year-old Karly Van and 21-year-old Sam Oram. Their dream was a slick big block-powered HQ one-tonner.

This article was first published in the August 2011 issue of Street Machine

“We decided to build the car before getting a house. We felt that it would have been a struggle with a mortgage and would’ve taken years before we could build a car,” Karly says.

“The tray is steel, including the guards, and the floor is alloy for strength. Under the tray is a storage box, the battery box and a 75-litre fuel cell. The cell eliminates having the filler-neck sticking out,” Sam explains. The tray tilts for access, thanks to 80kg-rated gas struts in each of the chassis rails

With that sort of logic, you just know this couple are born and bred revheads.

“When I was five I got to sit in one of Peter Brock’s Torana race cars,” Sam says. That special moment had Sam hooked on cars and might go some way to explaining why he’s a diesel mechanic now.

It’s a similar story for Karly. “My mum has an LX Torana hatchback and my whole life I’ve been going to car events with her and my stepdad — I’ve been going to Summernats since I was four and a half.”

With a strong Torry background, why a tonner?

“We wanted a car that I could enter in burnout comps and we figured there’d be less burnout-related panel damage to fix on a tonner,” Karly explains.

So in August ’09 their project was purchased — a 253-powered, dented and rusty white HQ cab-chassis.

“We bought it for $900. Plans were to just get it running and paint it matt black.”

Oh, but how plans can quickly change. “After Sam and I had stripped the shell to bare metal, we decided that it should be repainted properly.”

“Up to Summernats 24, I worked from 4am to 4pm, then built the car until 3am. The week before we still needed the engineer’s cert, the weighbridge ticket, the blue slip and rego. It wasn’t finished for judging, but we made it,” Sam says

Spearing off in this new direction meant more than just a change of heart. “Next we replaced all of the panels and it kept improving from there.”

It’s worth mentioning that it was at this point they decided to bin the 253 in favour of a VN Commodore injected five-litre.

“Then, six months before the tonner was finished, Sam decided we needed a bigger engine.”

“We bought a 454ci secondhand from a mate,” Sam continues. “It came along at the right time and at the right price. I would’ve liked a crate engine but being revheads it might have gotten out of hand.”

The monster donk then became a catalyst for further changes in the saga, the bonnet scoop being the most obvious.

“Sam wanted a scoop and I didn’t. But once the 454 was bolted in, it sat too high so we had no choice but to have a scoop. Now I think it looks tougher,” Karly smiles. “As we’d heard of problems with cracking along the join between fibreglass scoops and metal bonnets, we decided on a full fibreglass bonnet.”

Yet another standout feature is the cool — and functional — tilt tray.

The HQ is regoed with the 454. “We had an engineer out three times — we didn’t want to risk the police finding defects but more importantly, we wanted to make sure everything was legal and safe,” Karly says

“Sam and our mate Regan from Arbby Designs designed and fabricated it all at home, in the garage. They designed the tray as an easy way to access everything underneath but we’ve also found that people really like it.”

With the tray complete, Sam then tidied up all the metal-work before he and Karly painted the chassis in a streetable black.

It was at this point that Daniel from Feathers Car & Truck Smash Repairs set about the shade upgrade. He smoothed and prepped the body, then laid PPG Morpheus Purple over the fresh canvas.

The transformations weren’t limited to the outside, either. An HQ GTS wheel now takes care of driving duties, while a Hurst Promatic 2 does the cog-swapping. Pews are WB Stato, with the door trims finished in matching black cloth.

With the rest of the Quey coming together nicely, Sam went about squeezing the big-block into the pointy end. Changing to a short water pump aided the fitment of Big Bertha. Some bling was added with a March pulley kit, while up top there’s a Weiand Stealth manifold and Holley 750. Stoking the fire is an MSD 6AL ignition with MSD leads and coil. A Holley fuel pump delivers 98 octane from the fuel cell and Hurricane extractors direct the exhaust gases to twin three-inch pipes and MagnaFlow mufflers. Un-tuned, the combo dumped 318rwhp on the dyno at Nats 24.

Slotted behind the donk is a Turbo 400 that’s been livened up with a stage-two kit and a B&M 2000rpm stally for assistance off the line. In the rear, the HQ sports a nine-inch with a mini-spool, 3.25 gears and 28-spline axles.

Getting the purple beast three inches lower are Pedders springs up front and reset leaves in the rear, while stopping is by DBA slotted discs all ’round, with HQ grippers at the front and VN Commodore clamps at the back. Karly and Sam chose 18-inch Showwheels Streeters to round off their new-look tonner.

“I was in the car while it was on the dyno. I was so nervous! It hadn’t been tuned and we were hoping for 250hp so we were happy with 318hp. I want to get close to the 450hp in Mum’s LX — I keep saying I’m going to beat her,” Karly says

While professionals did many specific tasks, Sam and Karly earned plenty of scraped knuckles as they bolted their pride together, and Sam — with help from his mate Scott — also rewired the HQ.

“The build was definitely a bonding experience for us. Everyone was tired and stressed by the end. There were a few arguments but we couldn’t have been happier when we were finally driving it, on New Year’s Eve,” Karly says. “Although we both worked on the car, Sam did a fair bit more than me. He did an amazing job and he deserves the biggest thanks of all from me. If it wasn’t for him, none of this would have been possible.”

So who has custody of the finished product?

Looking like factory, the Hurst Promatic 2 shifter uses the original console thanks to Sam’s cleverly fabricated brackets. Dash is a later HZ, with Auto Meter oil pressure and coolant temp gauges

“Well it stays at my house, as I have a garage,” Karly says. “It is our car, as we both worked on it and paid for it. But technically it’s my car as it’s in my name.”

“I’ve got a ’73 two-door LJ Torana project — once we complete that, it’ll be my car,” Sam adds.

“And the tonner can then be mine,” Karly finishes.

As for the intended tyre-fryin’, they’ve come to an agreement on that too.

“We’re not going to do burnouts in it now. We might head down to Sydney Dragway just to see what we can do but we won’t be putting it in any big burnout comps. We don’t want to damage it.”


Colour: PPG Morpheus Purple

Donk: Chev 454
Induction: Holley 750cfm and Weiand Stealth manifold
Ignition: MSD 6AL, MSD coil, dizzy and leads
Fuel: 98-octane, Holley Billet fuel pump
Exhaust: Hurricane extractors, twin three-inch pipes, MagnaFlow mufflers
Cooling: PWR Radiator, 16in SPAL fan
Output: 318rwhp (untuned)

Gearbox: Turbo 400, stage two shift kit
Shifter: Hurst Promatic 2
Diff: Nine-inch, mini-spool, 3.25 gears, 28-spline axles
Converter: B&M, 2000rpm stall

Springs: Pedders, 3in lowered (f), 3in lowered leaf (r)
Brakes: DBA slotted discs; HQ calipers (f), VN Commodore calipers (r)
Master cylinder: RPC 11/16in

Wheel: HQ GTS
Dash: HZ plus Auto Meter oil pressure and coolant temperature gauges
Seats: WB Statesman
Stereo: Clarion head unit, Fusion 6in (f), 6x9in (r)

Rims: Showwheels Streeters 18×7 (f), 18×8 (r)
Rubber: Zeetex HP103, 225/45 (f), 245/45 (r)

Karly’s parents, Carolyn and Theo Tzortas; Sam’s parents, John and Val Oram; Regan from Arbby Designs (0448 179 004); Scotty for wiring; Brett for brakes; Daniel, Feathers Car & Truck Smash Repairs, Ingleburn (02 9829 2966)