Silvio Muscat’s big-block HQ one tonner

We take a look back at Silvio Muscat's tough, trophy-winning HQ One Tonner

Photographers: Kent Mears

We take a look back at Silvio Muscat’s tough, trophy-winning HQ One Tonner

This article on Silvio’s One Tonner was originally published in the March 2001 issue of Street Machine

ASK MANY street machiners about their first car and you usually get a smile and a subtle shake of the head. There might be a gentle pause, especially from the older blokes, as their mind rewinds to teenage years and memories – dreams and nightmares – of the car that carried their P plates. Often it’s some old Holden or Ford; junk then, a classic today. Encourage people to talk about their first experiences with (and in!) their first car and they’ll often tell you wistfully, “Wish I still had it!”

Well, this is Silvio Muscat’s first car and he’ll probably never utter those words. The 28-year-old from Wollongong has been playing with this HQ One Tonner since before he was licensed. And in 2001, Silvio realised the dream of many, cracking into the Summernats Top 10.

HQ One Tonner engine bay“It was a red piece of shit,” said Silvio of his pre-Ps purchase back in Australia’s bicentennial party year, 1988. “An HQ. Six cylinders. But I always liked One Tonners since I was a little kid.”

The first build – yes, like so many street machines, this one has had more than one – included a 253ci V8, four-speed gearbox and Simmons wheels.

“I didn’t have it detailed underneath, but the engine bay was clean.

It was a weekend car,” recalls Silvio. “But I always wanted a big-block in it. In fact, I even had a picture in my head of what the finished car would look like.”

Even though he always knew he’d rebuild it to its current state, it wasn’t supposed to happen the way it did. A gift from a bunch of mates is what really kick-started the car’s rebuild.

“Some mates bought me one of those monster tachos and I was fitting it to the A pillar. I slipped with the drill and broke the screen. So I had to renew that. I found a bit of rust while I was there, which meant I took the driver’s door off.” One thing led to another. “Then I looked at my nice engine bay and thought I could improve that, and then I thought it could do with a respray.”

Have we heard this story before?

HQ One Tonner engine baySuperbly detailed, the blown 454ci Chev is one huge lump in the custard-smooth bay

Yes. Before he realised it, Silvio was headlong into a rebuild. The original HQ cab was in fact rooted and rotted and not worth fixing. So he bought a WB cab and ended up saving a lot of time, and not just because of the rust-free floors: as it was Silvio’s intention to bin the HQ unit and fit a dash from an HZ, the later cabin had the correct dash-mounting points already in place.

Before the cab was dropped onto the original HQ full-length chassis (the chassis is the only remaining part of the original car), the chassis had its remaining welds ground and smoothed, and unwanted holes filled.

HQ One TonnerThat took plenty of work, but the cabin absorbed even more effort. Silvio and his dad unpicked the firewall and in one smooth move, the lads replaced it with steel sheet. Voila! No more heater box and no more brake booster.

But cars need heater/demister units and brakes, so Silvio spent a few weeks bracing the firewall and re-engineering a Daihatsu truck master cylinder/booster to suit the layout under the Tonner’s dash. The Daihatsu’s original under-dash location made it an ideal starting point for Silvio’s ideas. The truck unit required the manufacture of a new pedal swingarm in addition to the firewall bracing. It’s almost a shame that so little of Silvio’s work can really be appreciated at first glance. You just can’t see it!

HQ One TonnerThe demister is an aftermarket electric item, also hidden. The original demister vents have been smoothed over and the demister now blasts through the speaker grille.

“I think I got it at American Autos,” says Silvio. “Works okay and reduces the hassle of pipes and stuff.” Completing the trifecta of now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t mods under the dash is the relocated windscreen wiper motor.

More conventional but no less impressive are details like the custard-smooth door jambs. That’s because the plastic cabin vents in the B pillars have been binned. Where the door skins fold over their shells are smoothed to perfection and the scuff plates are rich with chrome.

HQ One TonnerIt all looks sensational and highlights the effort put in by the team at Auto Q Accident Repair Centre near Fairy Meadow where Silvio lives.

“Would you believe a second-year apprentice did the spray job?” Silvio exclaims when we ask him about the gleaming Signal Yellow-based paint job. We shake our heads in dumb admiration. “He’s got his ticket now, of course. He’s one shit-hot painter,” Silvio adds. David McInerney is the lad responsible.

The dash is detailed stock HZ Statesman, complete with woodgrain (“I swapped it with a mate who didn’t like wood”) around a Momo-twirled steering column that’s been shortened. No, we didn’t notice either. More obvious is the pair of Recaros with yellow leather highlights (by Roman Auto-Tek) and the in-yer-face TRS harnesses. It was all fitted by Silvio and his mate, upholsterer Jim Badger.

HQ One Tonner interiorSilvio claims a healthy 800 horses from the Newby-blown big-block Chev parked out front. Running on methanol (“I’ll detune it once its show days are over”), the engine was screwed together by long-time mate Joe Zanotto. The 454-cuber runs L88 alloy heads and an LS7 crank. Triples, Carillos, rollers – name the quality part and you’ll probably find it here.

A RaceGlides-prepped two-speed auto with a polished case and Dominator 4000rpm convertor lives behind the engine. A Daniels Engineering-built tail shaft and braced Rod Andrews housing/Mark Williams nine-inch complete the driveline. Silvio had to grind all the diff wends and smooth them with braze before the distinctive satin-silver HPC coat went on. HPC also covers the self-built exhaust hanging off extractors by Johnny. Have you ever seen a zorst this big before? Nah, thought not. And there’s two of them!

Brakes are Commodore rears and HZ fronts, with polished calipers at both ends. The discs and rear springs have also been treated to a sheen of HPC and the front tubs painted. A handful of plastic bushes and a thick front swaybar round out the ride.

Silvio reckons he scored the last WB Caprice grille in captivity from his local Holden dealer. “I was going to put an HZ four-light front on it, but this is better,” he reckons. Can’t argue with that.

Silvio MuscatMany parts are new: the front guards, the headlights – but not the front bumper, which is a rechromed wrecker refugee. Being new (or near enough) wasn’t good enough for Silvio, as many details – check the top edge of the front guards in the bay and the underside of the steel bonnet – have been further refined, fettled and fitted to perfection.

But, like most car builds big or small, it hasn’t been all smiles for Silvio. Looking at the finished product, it’s often easy to forget the aggro, heartache, pain and strain involved in building a street machine. Silvio though he’d save a few bucks by buying pre-owned heads, even though everything else was new. Bolted together, everything was fine until a valve seat dropped, leading to the near-total destruction of the engine. “Metal bits went everywhere,” says a now-wiser Silvio. “It’s the biggest regret I have building the car. Secondhand bits. Never again!”

Silvio's trophiesLike plenty of street machiners, Silvio has plenty more stories to tell, like when he couldn’t fit the exhaust under the tray, or when he lost most of his paint in a fire, or the effort that went into paint-detailing the chromed suspension arms, or how he carefully smoothed the windscreen trims before Lee at T&B polished, or the fitting of that jarrah tray out back, or …

But Silvio’s parting comment tells the story more than any other: “You’ve gotta enjoy yourself. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

Colour: Signal Yellow
Featured: March 2001

Makin’ It Move
Type: 454 big-block Chev
Crank: LS7
Heads: L88 alloy
Blower: Newby 6/71
exhaust: Custom

gearbox: RaceGlides auto
diff: Ford nine-inch
converter: Dominator 4000rpm
brakes: Commodore (f), HZ (r)

Wheels: 15-inch Simmons