DENNIS Anderson spent two years looking for the right body – don’t we all? But Dennis has kinky tastes. His idea of a great body is a panel van, which to many street machiners is about as sexy as a Rubenesque nude but it’s a fetish that goes back to his pre-teen days, when his bigger brothers used to rumble into the night with their vans and chicks.
This article was first published in the of September 2003 issue of Street Machine
“Even from the time I was eight or nine I was drawing or making models of panel vans,” Dennis says. “My older brother’s first car was an FE panel van, which he got when he was 15. I remember playing out in the backyard trying to make an interior for it; we were trying to make a cubby house. He bought it from a wrecker for $40.”
Dennis has owned panel vans since he left high school and has five of them in the garage at the moment. This Sandman is number one.
When he decided on a new van 12 years ago, he was turned on by only one body type – an HX or HZ Sandman with no side windows and no sunroof – and it had to be healthy. No dings, no rust, none of those god-awful 1970s mods like love hearts and stars cut into the sides. He finally found it, completely dismantled, everything jammed into the back of the straight, clean body, with only one nasty surprise hidden for when he got it home: the Statesman sill covers were in place, hiding the total lack of sills. They’d rusted away.
So the first job was to make new sills and then get the rest of the body sorted and painted in the electric blue that adorns it today.
All the body lines were smoothed off and the wing was added. Normally those wings are add-ons that look a little untidy but Dennis trimmed it and blended it to the roof with fibreglass, creating a good-looking fit that might have been designed that way from the factory.
Grafting the WB Statesman front end on required cutting off the front horns of the chassis and a hell of a lot of fiddling and fabricating. The guards are WB GTS items but not factory ones; they were stamped from sheet metal by some bloke who, unfortunately, isn’t around any more. His work was apparently awesome “At the time I had a genuine HJ Sandman,” Dennis says, “and we measured the new guards and couldn’t pick the difference between the stamped ones and the factory ones.”
The arse end had to be re-shaped to take the Stato bumper bar, which now fits the rear so snugly there’s no way the factory could have got it so good.
Dennis wanted the proper engine in the bay, a 308, and found one for sale from a guy wrecking a written-off ute. The donk was fairly fresh, making around 300hp, and came complete with HSV VP Senator heads, injection and headers. You beauty! It went straight in, but hiding the jungle of wires was one of those jobs that drove Dennis half mad. He did what he could himself, and paid a lecky to do the rest. All the sensors had to be hidden, as well as the computer. Top job, but one that most people don’t credit because, well, you can’t see it.
Dennis swears by Dellow Automotive so bought a T5 box from an XR8 and had them fit it. It drives to a chromed diff housing matched by chromed undercarriage, all off a former show car.
“All that chrome work was actually done in 1980. The housing is really good, but the springs are a little sad and sorry only because I’ve done way too many miles.
“They’ve been in my car for over 10 years, and they still come up quite well when you give them polish.”
Keeping it that way is getting harder, he admits.
And the all-important interior is, of course, a story in itself. Three stories, actually, because it’s been redone a few times. A woodworking mate made the framework and Rod Taylor trimmed it. Dennis designed it for functionality, so it not only included the speakers and bar, but cupboards to store cleaning gear and things.
Up front, the GTS dash is original (and showing just over 200,000km now), the console is a new one from Rare Spares and the seats are VS Commodore units.
The help of mates Loyle “Cool” Myers and Doug “The Doctor” Davis, and wife Debbie’s love of the car, have been essential. Dennis and Debbie have cruised all over the place in the Sandman, sleeping in it at all the Van Nationals (except this year; the new bub makes a crowd that’s just too tight for living in the back) and on runs with their club, the Sundowners.
Meanwhile, the van’s picked up more than 30 trophies, including five out of the six Best Van prizes in the Summernats Street awards. Apart from the meticulous work and finish of the Sandman, Dennis can thank his modern concept for the success. He never went retro with the van. What was sexy in the 70s is nothing in the Noughties.
“My intention was always to modernise it, to stay away from the 70s look and try to make it different,” says Dennis. And he got it right.
THE bar’s gone! No more boozin’ in the back. Since these photos were taken, Dennis has done a refit in the rear and ditched the liquor because it’s too hard to get into Summernats these days with any glass or alcohol. Even if you’re just putting it on display.
A bar’s a wonderful thing, of course, but it has more drawbacks than just Summernats security checks.
“Bars are very expensive things because the more you drink the more you have to restock them, as we’ve found over the years,” laughs Dennis. “Don’t put expensive alcohol in them ’cause it’ll cost ya!”
And bars can get you into trouble at night. Especially on a van event where everyone tends to like a sip or three. Dennis tells a yarn about one bloke who passed out so everyone dolled him up like a Cherokee, took photos and left him to finally stir enough to stagger to bed. When his missus woke up the next day, she went right off at him for smearing make-up all over the sheets and he spent hours in the shower trying to wash it all off. Oh, how they laughed.
“That’s one of the cleanest stories I can tell you,” reckons Dennis. “You don’t get drunk and pass out at the Van Nationals!”
Oh, and one more tip. Always bring a can of WD40. If your van starts a’rocking, you don’t want it squeaking because no one will give you any mercy if you’re, er, sprung in the act
1976 HOLDEN HX SANDMAN
Colour: Dulux Electric Blue
Engine: 308 Holden
Cam: Crow 30/70
Clutch: Heavy duty 10.5in
Diff: Salisbury 3.36:1
Wheels: Dragway billets 17×8 (f), 17×9 (r)
Front springs: Lovells, lowered 2.5in
Brakes: HZ Statesman
Seats: VS Commodore
Wheel: Dragway billet
Sounds: Pioneer and Sony
Mattress: Yeah, baby!