Dave Hemsworth’s FJ Holden ute

We look back at Dave Hemsworth's amazing FJ ute, budget-built on a Chev LUV chassis as a genuine streeter at the height of the pro street era

Dave Hemsworth FJ ute
Photographers: Warwick Kent

When is a humpy ute not a humpy ute? When it gets dropped over a Chev LUV chassis, is powered by a Ford Windsor and grunts through a Ford driveline!

The man behind this schizophrenic creation is plumber-turned-storeman, Dave Hemsworth. Dave’s been in the customising business for yonks, fooling around with hot rods before slotting Jaguar and Ford Windsor mills into early-model Falcons. Then he became hooked on humpies, building a black small-block Chev-powered FX (SM, Aug/Sep ’85) and a white FJ utility that had a Hemsworth-crafted tilt front. But these were just a taste of what Dave had in store.

The Hemsworth mind started ticking over after a trip to an engineering shop in ’85. Purely by chance, the boys in the shop were working on a Chev LUV chassis, fitting it with a nine-inch Ford diff. The track, wheelbase, and front and rear kicks of the chassis all clicked, and Dave started thinking. And measuring.

“I thought maybe it just might fit under an FJ ute body,” Dave remembers. “I measured it up first and found the front chassis kick was exactly the same as the FJ subframes, and the rear chassis kick followed the FJ rails as well. I didn’t really know if it was going to work with the LUV chassis under it, but it looked close enough, so I bought a chassis for a hundred bucks, and I picked up a body for 50. I didn’t want to stuff up a good body.”

Engine choice was easy; Dave already had a 302 Ford Windsor sitting in his garage. The V8 was mated, via a Weber double-plate clutch, to a stock Ford Top Loader, driving through a shortened Ford tailshaft. Race Car Engineering narrowed the nine-inch rear axle, with the 3.0:1-ratio internals overhauled by John Kean Auto Tune. The axle was then bolted to the Chev LUV’s stock semi-ellipticals.

Dave also left the LUV torsion-bar front end intact, although the spindles now carry purpose-built alloy hubs spinning Toyota HiLux disc brakes, matched by Ford drums on the rear. To tie down the bounce, Dave chose KYB gas shocks, which control Center Line wheels running 145/50R15 Michelins up front and 265/50R15 radials out back.

The back of the body was stuffed, so the original idea was to use the cab front and graft on a timber-floored pick-up back. But that was before Dave heard about a bloke who had a couple of FJ ute body panels – a full left rear quarter and half-decent tailgate.

Dave handed over 120 bucks and got right into the job. Braced by 25x25mm RHS tubing, the body was channelled 100mm to drop down over the LUV chassis. To fit the big V8, the firewall was replaced by a stainless-steel sheet that sits 225mm to the rear of the original. The rusted cab and tray floors were also flung; now there’s powdercoated aluminium sheet, which has also been used to fabricate the wheel tubs and the centre console.

Three weeks of solid yakka went into creating the forward-hinged tilt front. Crafted in steel, the one-piece, tube-braced panel swings off brackets grafted to chrome tube bars that run back to the firewall. The bars hide the wiring and provide a mount for the Toyota Land Cruiser radiator. Alloy panels and headlight base tubs neaten the assembly, and the engine bay is pilfer-proofed by dual key-insert side hood locks. Typical of the Hemsworth attention to detail, the radio aerial has been mounted horizontally across the top of the firewall, out of sight until the front is tilted.

Hankering for an original-looking interior, Dave stuck with an FJ steering column, but it’s been shortened and U-jointed to connect its base to a solid stainless shaft that runs forward to the chassis-mounted LUV steering box. One of the classier touches is the polished, cast-alloy Morris Marina pedal bracket grafted into the firewall, and the Marina brake booster has been mated to a Ford dual master cylinder, a clutch master cylinder and the cable to control the carburettor.

Trimmed in black vinyl, Ford cloth and felt, the interior was also fitted with twin Scorpion buckets. The stock humpy dash got VDO oil and temp gauges, fitted into period-style individual mounts either side of the steering column, which also carries a Smiths tachometer monitored through the spokes of the SAAS wheel. Out of sight inside the glovebox is a stereo system, although there’s nothing subtle about the polished alloy-tube rollcage, which has braces running back to the tray.

When Dave finished all the welding, Steve Bazla took over the finishing. Ten coats of Dulux Formula Blue cover the flawless body panels. Stripped clean of ornaments, the body runs exterior door handle shields, Hemsworth-fabricated bumperettes and minimum-size Holden HQ tail and indicator lights.

The carpeted, tonneau-covered tray carries the filler for the 100-litre alloy fuel tank, battery, another fire extinguisher and the bottle that feeds the 110hp nitrous oxide kit.

And you’d better believe the gas is for real, boosting the feed from a 600 Holley on an Edelbrock Performer manifold. Built by FJ specialist John Kean, the mostly stock 302 received a set of TRW forged pistons, a Sig Erson TQ30 cam, stainless pushrods and Rhoads lifters. The Kean-machined heads – small-chamber 289 units – got 2.02- and 1.60-inch stainless Chev valves and oversized ports. For safety, an 11-inch steel flywheel hangs on a balanced crank, while the stock ignition was reworked to provide the right distributor advance curve. For ground clearance, a modified sump from a Ford Bronco was fitted, and the unique installation also dictated a full Graham Bevis custom exhaust system.

Dave finished tightening the last stainless-steel, Allen-keyed undercarriage bolt just before Christmas 1988. There was enough time to rack up 70 clicks in the LUV humpy around town; then Dave and John Kean headed south from Brisbane to Sydney, Tumut and Canberra, taking in the Street Machine Summernats as spectators. There had been too many dirt roads and not enough clean-up hours to enter!

Dave builds real street machines – trick trucks that run comfortably on the street. They ran 3000km on that southern trip, and the LUV humpy, a Top Street Competition and Top Undercarriage trophy winner, drives everywhere. And at an all-up cost of 15 grand – plus a heap of spare-time sweat – this tough performer is also in the economy class.

Of course, Dave has a fair few mates who’ve helped with the project, blokes like John Kean, Paul Pryor, Peter Porno and Roy Ford.

“No, I reckon there won’t be any more,” Dave says of the prospect of further projects. “I reckon I’m too old now. Although it’s funny, me saying that. That’s what I said on the last one…”


After Dave sold the ute, it was acquired by Sydney drag racer Garth Bell. With the help of Rod Andrews, Bell transformed the FJ into one of the sharpest race cars the country has ever seen, collecting a stack of trophies for Best Presented and Best Engineered.

Starting with a 477 Chev, Garth moved on to a Pro Stock Buick engine, running as quick as 9.31 seconds. He then sold the ute to Wayne Abbott, who raced it in Snap-On colours. Garth bought it back and transformed it with supercharged 20B rotary power (SM, Feb ’05), and later sold it to racer Darren Mood, who campaigned it with a small-block Chev.

Garth bought it back once more and fitted a ProCharged Toyota 2JZ six-pot, before selling it to Melbourne racer Shane Ellis, who currently runs a 440-cube pump-fuel SBC in the car, making 755hp.

Garth is currently restoring a 1974 911 Porsche Targa.

Donk:302 Windsor
Gearbox:Top Loader
Diff:9in, 3.0:1
Chassis:Chev LUV
Rims:Center Line
Rubber:145/50R15 (f), 265/50R15 (r)
Colour:Formula Blue