Doorslammer driver Stuart Bishop gives a Holden HJ van from the glory days a new lease on life
This article on Stuart’s HJ van was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Street Machine
IT’S EASY to forget that, just like you and me, the majority of level-one drag racers cut their teeth tinkering with street cars. It makes sense when you think about it, but the glitz and spectacle of professional drag racing feels like a world away from hoicking out your 186 donk using the Hills Hoist.
Airbags on all corners drop Stuart’s HJ on the deck and is just one aspect of a tasteful – yet rarely achieved – blending of hot rod, panel van and muscle car influences. The smooth silver paint is the factory GM-H Satin Mist, which, along with an HJ Statesman front, is a throwback to the van’s early years on the show scene
Camaro Doorslammer racer Stuart Bishop has been there, done that, and although the racing stakes are higher nowadays, he still hankers to build and own tough streeters.
“I started out paddock-bashing as a kid and worked my way up to a nitrous-fed 360-powered CL Valiant ute that I raced through the 90s,” Stuart says. “That ute ran a 10.30 best, which was pretty quick for a 3800-pound street car. I later raced the ex-Bill Mann ’57 Chev in Triple M radio station regalia, and it was through this car that I met Bill Jones from Weldwell Engineering.”
Stu knew Bill had a few choice cars tucked away and was able to pry an EH wagon project from him that was rebuilt with a 202, five-speed and air con.
Stuart’s HJ mixes the rare combination of a panel van bodystyle with a race-inspired LSX 454R donk and a Tremec T56 six-speed, and packs hefty brakes and suspension under those gorgeous silver flanks
“That car is still my daily driver,” Stuart says. “But I’d always wanted a panel van and he had this silver HJ languishing in the back of his shed; I kept chipping away at him and managed to purchase it around 10 years ago.”
The rear interior is a far cry from the van’s early years sporting crushed velvet. Tastefully finished in timber and stainless, it nonetheless steers clear of the modern ‘resto’ path
First, you need to understand that this HJ has a great pedigree: In the 1980s it was a popular show van on the Brisbane scene under the guise Altered Image. Its owner, Jon Chivas, built one of the cleanest panel vans in an era of wild customs, and was a member of the revered Super Street Machines club along with pioneering street machining legends Wayne Pagel, Greg Carlson and Lou Spelta. Jon was an avid drag racer, and ended up swapping the HJ with the Joneses in return for fabrication work on a new race car.
Stuart’s HJ in Altered Image guise in the 80s, when it was owned by Jon Chivas. A Statesman front with over-riders, tastefully executed crushed-velvet interior and plenty of cyan blue detailing were classic panel van calling cards, while sanitary silver paintwork and rarely seen Cragar SST rims brought Altered Image into the burgeoning street machine scene
When Stuart first spied the HJ it was amazingly intact and untouched from its Chivas days. However, time had taken its toll on its silver paint and blue crushed-velvet interior.
“The paint was toast and the interior was shot purely due to the ravages of time, but we managed to get the old 308 fired up; it ran reluctantly, but it ran, so that was something,” he recalls.
As CEO of Wallace Bishop and its national chain of specialty jewellery stores, Stuart is pretty much on the clock seven days a week. It’s amazing he finds time for his drag racing commitments, let alone rebuilding cars. So the majority of the work was tackled in-house by his staff at Stuart Bishop Racing. Master tinkerer Steve Bremner was the main man on the van build, ably assisted by race car fabricator Steve Godbold and engine guru Daniel Reed.
The HJ was stripped and the rebuild started with getting the bodyshell up to scratch. Years of hibernation meant the van had avoided most of the issues that cause rust and damage, so it was a straightforward task of filling the original side windows, fabricating neat recesses in the sills for the side-exit exhaust and shaving any superfluous chrome. Michael Cassimatis took care of the necessary bodywork before the van was lavished in its original GM-H silver hue, Satin Mist Metallic, by the folks at BCM Body Repairs.
The driveline and suspension, however, were a different matter, with Stuart keen to upgrade both the performance and handling of the van. The chassis was treated to ladder bars and a Watt’s linkage conversion at the rear, which both replaced the original leaf-spring set-up and enabled fitment of an AccuAir airbag assembly.
A Blacks Racks power steering system replaced the old draglink-style steering box, while the original GM-H double wishbone front suspension was retained but modified to allow installation of the remaining airbag componentry. Koni shocks were used in conjunction with this system at all corners.
A Cruisin Automotive electric accumulator-style master cylinder and Wilwood four-wheel discs are a massive improvement on the factory disc/drum set-up, and a vital upgrade given Stuart’s plans for the van’s mumbo; no prizes for guessing it involved plenty of horsepower!
The rear wheel tubs were widened by two inches to house the 285 tyres, and neat side hatches have been incorporated to make better use of a normally void space. The complete interior package ties in beautifully with Stuart’s vision for the build
The factory 308 was tired due to a distinct lack of use, so this plastic-fantastic donk and its accompanying M21 cogger were removed. SBR crew-chief Daniel took charge of the mechanicals and sourced a 600hp, 454ci LSX R engine, which remains internally stock but runs additional porting to the LSX heads. A FAST inlet manifold and 102mm throttlebody ups the ante on the intake side, and is matched to Bosch 50lb/hr injectors fed via twin Bosch 044 fuel pumps and controlled by a MoTeC M84 ECU.
An ARE alloy radiator was chosen for cooling duties, while a MoTeC ignition expander and a brace of eight LS7 coils handle the spark.
Custom two-inch primary headers and a twin three-inch system were fabricated by Scott’s Rods Performance Exhaust, with the latter exiting via neatly recessed side outlets that pay tasteful homage to both the HJ’s vanning roots – pardon the pun – and race-inspired driveline. And if a quieter presence is ever required, a flick of a switch activates solenoid-style diverters that re-route the exhaust through 2.5-inch tailpipes.
The LSX 454R donk is rated at a healthy 600hp out of the crate. However, the heads were whipped off and treated to some additional porting for extra grunt
A Tremec T56 six-speed manual is mated to the LSX via a Quick Time bellhousing and feeds power rearwards to a Strange-equipped, 31-spline nine-inch diff running 4.86 gears. Those gears may seem a little steep for street use, but the combination of an additional two overdrive gears and tall 285/70 rear BF Goodrich whitewall tyres make for the perfect balance of performance and driveability. Matching 215/65 BFG whitewalls were selected for the front, with all tyres mounted on a mix of six- and eight-inch Wheel Vintiques smoothie rims.
The firewall and engine bay is as clean and sanitary as the rest of the build, and the chosen detailing injects a striking Transformers-like identity to the engine and ancillaries
The interior transformation is one of the highlights of Stuart’s van. The front seats are race-shaped buckets from the Procar range, trimmed in black leather by Barry Ashen at Aerospec. Stuart inlaid both these and the door trims with sailing-inspired stainless eyelets punched into contrasting white. A GTS steering wheel is a timeless choice, but the original GTS gauge cluster was redone with white-faced gauges for a different look.
Procar bucket seats were trimmed in black leather, and the unique stainless-clad white leather inserts for the seats and door trims add a neat contrasting element. The factory HJ gauges were refurbished in white to match
Pop the rear tailgate and the new interior is a far cry from its blue velvet forerunner, but still has links to the vanning heyday of the 70s and 80s.
“I wanted the rear to retain a beach feel but be more practical,” Stuart says. “The plush interiors are nice, but you need something more durable when it’s time to start hauling stuff around. The van has a tow bar for our jet skis, and I need the back to handle the punishment my boys are likely to dish out when they throw their gear in – as only kids can!”
A custom centre console was fabricated to house the T56 shifter. Modern air conditioning, fast glass and remote central locking are also welcome additions
As it turns out, Steve Bremner from SBR is a jack-of-all-trades. He duly fashioned the timber work and stainless trim for the party section that segues nicely from the modern edge found up front in the cockpit.
“The van is a cracker,” Stuart says. “The aim was always to build something different that was a nice streeter but went hard too. Plus it had to keep elements of its former identity as Altered Image; that’s why it was painted the same silver and retained a manual transmission. It’s kind of a Re-Altered Image now.”
So, what’s next on the to-do list for Stuart and his team? “Another driver,” he says. “We’re building an all-Mopar ’68 Dodge Charger with a 605-cube mountain motor along with tubs, airbag suspension and a four-link. Oh, and probably a tow bar to haul around a fuel tanker so I can get some range out of the thing!”
1975 HOLDEN HJ PANEL VAN
Colour: Satin Mist
Engine: 454ci Chevrolet LSX 454R
Throttlebody: FAST 102mm
Heads: LSX, ported
Crank: Factory LSX
Cam: GM hydraulic-roller 236/[email protected]
ECU: MoTeC M84
Ignition: 8 x LS7 coils, MoTeC Ignition Expander
Exhaust: Scott’s Rods custom 2in primary pipes, twin 3in system, 2.5in tailpipes
Transmission: Tremec T56, Quick Time bellhousing
Clutch: NPC heavy-duty
Diff: 9in, Strange centre, 31-spline axles, 4.86 gears
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Suspension: Factory wishbone (f), ladder bar and Watt’s linkage (r)
Shocks: Koni (f & r)
Airbags: AccuAir (f & r)
Steering: Blacks Racks power steer
Brakes: Cruisin Automotive electric master cylinder, Wilwood discs & calipers (f & r)
WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: Wheel Vintiques smoothies; 15×6 (f), 15×8 (r)
Tyres: BF Goodrich whitewalls; 215/65 (f), 285/70 (r)