454-cube big-block 1972 Holden HQ Statesman

Tanny Spiteri resurrects a fine 80s-built Stato in tribute to his fallen brothers

Photographers: Nathan Jacobs

The brothers Spiteri built this stonking Holden HQ Statesman 30 years ago to wow the masses. Now it’s back, but this time inspiration comes from much closer to home

This article on the Spiteri’s Statesman was originally published in the April 2017 issue of Street Machine

I’M PREACHING to the converted here when I say a car is more than mere transport from A to B. Many take on a persona of their own, becoming an entrenched member of the family or a time capsule to one’s journey through life. For some, cars signify an even deeper attachment, a testament to love and respect for family and friends.

When we featured this tough-arse blue HQ Statesman back in 1986, brothers Joe and Tanny Spiteri were just two young blokes making waves, combining their talents to build a high-end show ’n’ go street machine that aspired to – and ended up rubbing shoulders with – the likes of Howard Astill’s Rock Solid XA and Rob Beauchamp’s LX Torana.

“My older brother Joe was 19 when he bought the HQ as a daily driver back in 1983,” Tanny remembers. “It was the usual chocolate brown with a bone interior but being a factory 350 car gave it some street cred. He made plans to fit a big-block and respray it blue, so it wasn’t long before it was stripped down in the family garage at Clayton. Joe was an apprentice mechanic and I was an apprentice panel beater, so it was natural that we’d tackle the majority of the work ourselves. Our younger brother Ray was always keen to lend a hand and our cousin Darren Falzon would pitch in as well.”

Holden HQ Statesman front angleA tunnel-rammed 454 was built, nestled in fresh black chassis rails and detailed with red paint, white extractors and the obligatory bug-catcher scoop and gold Moroso tappet covers. Those gorgeous HQ Statesman flanks were treated to new door skins, HZ GTS guards and a WB Caprice front before being slathered in Bahama Blue Glasurit two-pack – a new paint system in the mid-80s.

“It was cutting edge stuff at the time. There was so much mystery surrounding two-pack and how to use it properly, but I think we nailed it. We went to a car show and won our first trophy. Then it was on!” Tanny laughs.

Holden HQ Statesman engine bayThe brothers headed to the 7th Street Machine Nationals in 1986, where the big Q was picked up for its first feature in SM (Jul-Aug ’86). But the photos had barely time to process before the Statesman was stripped again for the first of many mini-rebuilds.

In a bid to boost the car’s image, the engine bay and undercarriage were the major areas to receive the Spiteri touch, with a complete driveline colour change and added chrome work including the nine-inch housing.

Success at Summernats 2 and a Top Four-Door berth at the ’88 Melbourne Hot Rod Show were just the incentives needed to take things to the next level – not to mention a new elite award in its infancy, our very own SMOTY.

“It was now or never. We were going to give it one more build and give it our all,” Tanny remembers. “Joe said: ‘Let’s go for Street Machine Of The Year,’ and we got busy.”

Holden HQ Statesman engineIt was back to their mum’s garage in Clayton, where the car was completely stripped in readiness for the final onslaught. Once again on jack stands – the only place that had a rotisserie in those days was the local chicken shop – the body was shaved of all badge work, the entire undercarriage was smoothed of every seam and spot-weld, and all edges were lipped to create the cleanest finish possible. The nine-inch was hauled out and substituted with a Jaguar IRS rear – again detailed and smoothed to the nth degree.

Holden HQ Statesman engine“We’d work every night until midnight. Our mum Lucy would even serve us dinner in the shed. It was all new to us and we had no real idea what we were doing!” Tanny laughs. “But it felt like we were heading in the right direction. Joe even marked out and drilled the disc brake rotors by hand! You couldn’t buy stuff like that over the counter back in those days. Someone reported us to the council and we thought we were done for. The council bloke just walked in, asked what we were doing and was so impressed he said he wished his own boys would do the same, then told us to keep at it but keep it quiet! So, we’d do all the grinding work earlier in the evening and switch to the quiet stuff later on.”

Holden HQ Statesman engineThe fabrication work was finished and the completely deburred engine, transmission and exhaust mocked up for a trial fit before the Statesman was blown apart for final paint and detailing – and that’s how it stayed.

“That was it. The HQ was sprayed in a custom-mix blue then left in pieces for nearly 30 years. We just got busy with life and other interests,” Tanny says.

“Joe went ski racing and we both continued on in our respective trades, but always talked of finishing the car. We lost Ray to cancer in 2002 and that just devastated us. He was only 33 years old and it made it even harder to get back into the Statesman, as it was such an emotional connection between the three of us. Those early years working on it together held such precious memories.

Holden HQ Statesman“Joe and I went into business together doing high-end mechanical and panel work, but he too fell ill and succumbed to kidney disease at age 42 in 2007. It was a double blow for me and our mum. I decided then and there that this car was never to be sold. I had to finish it for Joe.”

Holden HQ Statesman springsTanny kept chipping away at the Statesman whenever time and family commitments allowed, but was given a boost when he was invited to display the car at Summernats 30. Having a deadline really got things on the boil, and Tanny, with a select bunch of friends and trusted tradespeople, went hammer-and-tong to finish the car, with the majority of the work completed in the last few months of 2016.

“I was adamant that the HQ had to stay as close to Joe’s vision as possible. It was such an emotional rollercoaster ride for me, and everyone understood this; I can’t thank them all enough for their help.”

Holden HQ StatesmanLong-time friend Charlie Saliba gave the 454 a once-over, slotting in a modern-spec hydraulic-roller cam for improved driveability before it was detailed and reinstalled as per Joe’s original vision, while the Turbo 400 was rebuilt by another friend, ‘Pooch’. The original radiator and Cheviot Armorlite rims were sold off many moons ago, with cooling now sorted by an aluminium unit and Center Line Auto Drags selected as the new rolling stock.

“Joe chose the Armorlites back in the 80s as we couldn’t afford the real thing, so I think it’s a change he would approve of,” Tanny says.

Close friends Mick and Mary-Ann Abela of Auto-Tek Automotive in Melbourne’s south-east were instrumental in finishing the car. They worked through Christmas to help Tanny wire and finish all of the finicky jobs that rear their ugly heads when you’re on a time crunch. Steve ‘UCSMOKE’ Loader and Darren Reid from Street N Strip Kustom Exhaust & Fabrication sorted the ancillaries and mounted both the exhaust and shifter, before Tanny and Mick held their breath and fired the old-school Rat engine for the first time in decades.

Holden HQ Statesman shifter“It was a very special moment and just the push we needed to make it that final stretch.” Tanny says. “I drove it 10 metres onto the tow truck and we were on our way to Canberra.”

The HQ was proudly displayed at Summernats 30 and fired up the memory banks for many old-school attendees who remembered it from first time ’round.

Holden HQ Statesman onroad“Joe would be very proud,” Tanny says. “I look at this car now and can’t believe what we achieved all those years ago; how did we even have the brains to build it? Sure, I could do nicer body and paint nowadays, but I want to drive it and enjoy it with my family.

“It’s not about the glory, it’s more than that. I get to relive my youth and cherish something that holds many great memories. Everywhere on this car I see Joe and Ray’s handiwork and that’s what makes it special. I’ve had people say I should update it and do things like fit modern brakes, but I just say to them: ‘Do you know what my brother went through to drill those discs?’ So no, it will stay exactly as-is.”

Colour: Custom-mix blue

Engine: Chevrolet 454ci
Block: Factory cast
Intake: Weiand tunnel-ram
Carbs: Twin Holley 600cfm
Heads: Small-port cast-iron
Cam: Custom-grind hydraulic-roller
Ignition: MSD

Transmission: Turbo 400
Converter: 2500 stall
Diff: Jaguar IRS, 3.25 gears

Front: Standard wishbone, Pedders lowered coils
Rear: Jaguar coil-overs
Shocks: Pedders (f & r)
Brakes: WB master cylinder; HQ drilled discs & calipers (f), Jag discs & calipers (r)

Rims: Center Line Auto Drag; 15×3.5 (f), 15×8.5 (r)
Tyres: Nankang; 185/80 (f), 255/60 (r)