Nigel Warr’s big-block HQ Holden ute

Nigel Warr has built a big-cube, big-block Holden HQ ute for hauling arse and now it has claimed the Red CentreNATS Grand Champion gong

Photographers: Jordan Leist, Ashleigh Wilson


Since our 2020 feature on Nigel’s ute, he’s given it a big birthday and taken out one of the most-prestigious prizes in our sport – the Red CentreNATS Grand Champion gong!

The recent mods include a de-stroke to 567-cubes, an F-2 ProCharger, Plazmaman intake and water/air intercooler. Tuned by Jeff Johnson with Holley EFI, the new deal made 1193hp at the hubs on 20psi and E85.

On the drag strip, Nigel out-paced the entire field and set a new personal PB in the process, to the tune of 9.2-seconds.

The Grand Champion field was studded with high-quality cars, including two proven seven-second runners in the form of Jason Mansweto’s XW and Billy Shelton’s VL.

However, Nigel was able to hook up better than most, giving him the edge, with decent performances in the other disciplines sealing the deal and delivering WA’s first ever RCN Grand Champion crown.

The story to here:

This article was first published in the May 2020 issue of Street Machine

I’m a bit of a sucker for HQs, so I’ll always stroll up to one to check it out, especially if it’s in the Elite lane for judging at Street Machine Summernats. That’s where I initially spied this stunning HQ ute. One of the first things I noticed was the beautifully detailed engine bay, chock-a-block full of 615 cubic inches of big-block Chevy.

Most likely, the first thing your eyes will be drawn to are the engraved rocker covers advertising Shields Garage, but don’t go looking for it in your local directory, because Shields Garage is basically a really well-equipped shed created by West Aussie Nigel Warr.

“When I built the workshop, the intention was just to build some cars for me or my son, and an HQ ute was on top of the list. A couple of mates use it from time to time, too,” says Nigel.

Holden HQ ute

The low-deck 615ci big-block Chevy is straight out of the Shafiroff Racing Engines catalogue and is rated at 925hp out of the box on pump fuel! The only change is that Nigel swapped out the Dominator carb for a Holley Sniper 4500 EFI system

The ute was actually spotted for sale in South Australia and it just so happens that Nigel has some business interests over there.

“I was looking online and it was for sale about five minutes from one of our shops, so I said to my operations manager: ‘Get this bloke out to the workshop, put it on the hoist, and if it’s good, just buy it off him and give him an Uber to get home.”

Holden HQ ute front

As it turned out, the car was just about perfect. It had a little bit of rust in the corner of the windscreen opening, and the left-hand floor was rusted where the heater had been leaking for 20 years. But there was nothing in the doors, quarter panels or front guards. As Nigel puts it: “It was unbelievable. This car was original original.”

I didn’t ask what the original engine in the ute was, but I reckon it’s a pretty good bet it was a 202. That wasn’t going to cut the mustard, so Nigel went straight to the Shafiroff Racing Engines catalogue to make his selection. “I wanted an engine that would run on pump gas,” he says, “And I reckon if you’re going to put a big-block in, the bigger the cubes, the better.” You’ll get no argument from us, good sir!

Holden HQ ute side

The ute was pretty good when Nigel got it, with very little rust. It’s a lot smoother now though, with shaved tonneau clips and a custom-made full-width bumper. The tubs have been widened 100mm to fit those massive 345/40R17 Toyo Proxes TQ drag radials

The engine Nigel chose was the low-deck ‘Twisted’ package, which is rated at 925hp – although Nigel’s particular one came with a dyno sheet that listed 926hp at the flywheel. Bonus! You’d think something with that much grunt would be a nightmare on the street, but that’s not the case at all.

“When we were at Summernats I drove it back to the hotel every night,” Nigel says. “They had a really secure car park, so we’d leave Summernats, go for a cruise, stop for dinner and cruise home.”

On a 42-degree day at Summernats, the ute punched out 686hp on the hub dyno in the Horsepower Heroes comp, which made him top qualifier in the Aspirated Eight-Cylinder class, but Nigel wasn’t aware that he had to come back for Sunday’s finals.

“We didn’t go to Summernats for anything like that; we just went to have fun,” he says. “The thing that was good for the boys – and good for me too – was the MPW dyno guys giving us the award for their favourite car.”

It’s easy to see why, as the car not only performed extremely well, but it was probably the most highly detailed car to make a run on the dyno. Underneath is just as nice as the top, with the chassis and underbody all painted in the custom mix that Nigel has dubbed Shields Orange.

To get that power to the ground, you need a fair bit of rubber hitting the road, and there’s definitely no shortage of that at the rear, while the front tyres are suitably skinny. What sets the ute apart from other Pro Street-style cars is the diameter of the rims front and rear.

The Castlemaine Rod Shop front end features coil-over shocks and rack-and-pinion steering. The 355mm Wilwood six-spot brakes also required 17in wheels on the front

There’s a current trend where people are running 17s on the front with 15s on the rear, but Nigel has stepped it up on the rear with massive 17x12s wrapped in 345/40 Toyo Proxes TQ drag radials.

The rear end features a sheet-metal 9in located with a McDonald Bros four-link and coil-overs. Check out the quad 3in exhaust, which was needed to make sure the gases from the big 615-cuber had somewhere to go

“I wanted to put the bigger brakes on, so I needed the bigger wheels,” he says. “A lot of cars look a bit ‘roller-skatey’ because the wheels don’t look big enough to fill the guards, so I thought I’d just go a bit bigger. I didn’t want to get a modern wheel, and I think the Weld wheel is the toughest wheel you can buy.”

The brakes Nigel chose should do an admirable job of hauling the car up, as they’re 355mm Wilwoods with six-spot calipers up front and 320mm with four-spots out back.

The underside of the all-steel bonnet has been smoothed, but still keeps all of the factory shapes. There’s no more head injuries from the bonnet catch, either, with a unit from a late-model Japanese car replacing it

As with the outside of the car, the interior is highly detailed and thoroughly purposeful. There’s an ANDRA-spec rollcage that has been painted body colour, a custom dash and console, and a set of race buckets that also copped a bit of customising.

The engine bay is neat as a pin and highly symmetrical. The heater and wiper motor have been removed for a super-clean firewall. The reservoirs on the engine are for power steering and radiator overflow, while the painted tanks behind the headlights are a fuel chiller and more radiator overflow

“Originally I wanted to put some old-school seats in, but it’s really hard to get all the ANDRA approvals, so I bought the OMP seats, which do nicely, then we retrimmed them in original Holden-style materials,” says Nigel.

The low-deck 615ci big-block Chevy is straight out of the Shafiroff Racing Engines catalogue and is rated at 925hp out of the box on
pump fuel! The only change is that Nigel swapped out the Dominator carb for a Holley Sniper 4500 EFI system

The dash was fabricated to accept a set of Auto Meter gauges and billet buttons. A billet steering column replaces the original. but it’s been pushed back around 50mm to give the driver more space. The dash was also reshaped to make more room and then retrimmed.

The interior has quite a few custom touches, too, with the dash pad reshaped and retrimmed to make more space in the cabin. The OMP Racing buckets were retrimmed in a mix of HQ and HK/T/G material to backdate the look

It’s an impressive effort for a first-time build, but Nigel admits the credit should go entirely to the small and very talented crew at Shields Garage. Apart from the initial sandblasting of the car and the interior trim – which was done at Shields Garage by Tim’s Motor Trimmers – the entire car was built in-house. But as I said at the start of the story, don’t go looking them up to book in a job. Nigel’s already got something else in the build, and, no doubt, a few more ideas rattling around his head that need to come to life.


Paint: Shields Orange

Type: 615ci Dart big-block Chev
Inlet: Bill Mitchell Products
Injection: Holley Sniper 4500
Heads: Brodix
Valves: Manley
Cam: Comp Cams solid-roller
Pistons: JE
Crank: Manley
Conrods: Molnar
Radiator: PWR alloy
Exhaust: Custom stainless extractors, quad exhaust
Ignition: MSD

’Box: TH700R, billet internals, manualised, transbrake
Converter: 2500rpm stall
Diff: 9in, 35-spline, Truetrac, 3.7:1 gears

Front end: CRS tubular IFS, coil-overs
Rear end: McDonald Bros four-link, coil-overs
Steering: CRS power rack-and-pinion
Brakes: Wilwood 355mm six-spot (f), 320mm four-spot (r)

Rims: Weld S71; 17×4.5 (r), 17×12 (r)
Rubber: Mickey Thompson 27x6x17 (f), Toyo 345/40R17 (r)

The crew at Shields Garage: Craig Stocker, Dave Colclough and Yul Jensen