Bob Kernot’s blown 351 Cleveland-powered XB panel van

Bob Kernot’s tough-as-George Foreman XB is a work of art

Photographers: Tony Rabbitte

Few wives would order a guy out to the shed to work on his car, but if Joanne Kernot hadn’t ordered hubbie Bob out of the house to fix up his dream machine, it’s unlikely he would have completed his slick blown XB Falcon panel van.

First published in the April 2004 issue of Street Machine

Kernot’s love affair with custom vans began as a 13-year-old when he would see them passing his uncle’s Warwick Farm horse riding school where he worked. Even then, he knew that he would one day own one himself.

His first was a six cylinder HZ Holden with brown curtains and a mattress cover sewn by his mum. This machine served him well for many years, until he heard that an old school mate was selling an XB Falcon van.

The XB was running a 351 Cleveland and four-speed top-loader ’box. Best of all, it had a gold crushed-velvet custom interior and radio-cassette sound – yeehah! Too hot to resist! Having convinced his bank manager to finance the deal, the van then took up residence in the Kernot driveway.

However, life rarely runs smoothly and it proved no different for Bob Kernot and his Falcon van. A blown motor, followed by more problems with its replacement, saw the van immobilised while Kernot saved the money to pay for another rebuild. Then, whilst it was parked in the driveway at his mother’s house, the van was extensively keyed. It proved the catalyst to start the project that ended with the sharp-looking custom van shown in our pictures, but it still didn’t come without a multitude of frustrating problems along the way.

Upon stripping the body back to bare metal, Kernot found a heap of problems that had been hidden under the paint. That meant new guards, bonnet, sills and rear doors.

As if that wasn’t enough, the sand blaster then stripped the whole body, including all lead wiping, when he’d been told to do the engine bay only. To top it off, the vehicle came back from the blasters with a crease in its roof.

Once he’d finally had the body fixed, and the new panels fitted, Kernot decided it was time to have Peter ‘Devo’ Davidson apply the Satellite Brown Metallic paint and ‘Midnight Dream’ murals; the underbody would be bead-blasted and painted Dark Caramel Metallic for contrast.

With the van now ensconced at his own home, Kernot’s nine-year-long relationship was to present the next set of significant difficulties in his life, and the van project once again got sidelined as he worked his way through this particularly challenging time. The turning point came when he met Joanne, whom he subsequently married. Joanne’s 1999 edict to “finish it or sell it” determined that it was time to get serious about the XB.

“That was all the encouragement I needed,” said Kernot.

At first, following advice of Big Al from Katoomba Auto Parts, he was thinking of going the big-block route to get the “impact” he believed the XB needed. That all changed when he spotted an ad for a 6/71 GMC blower, along with a pair of Carter 650 Comp carbs and all the ancillary bits and pieces to fit it to a Cleveland.

With the engine route decided, Big Al next sourced all the bits to build a killer Clevo. While he’s never had the engine on a dyno, he estimates its grunt to run at around 600hp at the flywheel.

Look under the super-trick van and you’ll find everything is polished, plated or painted for a super-sanitary finish. Inside, the van boasts a wild custom interior built around a full custom dash and flat floors. The XB seats are now trimmed in caramel velour, the same colour and material used in the diamond-studded rear. Tasmanian oak panels provide class contrast. All controls have been relocated to the console for a clean look on the dash and column.

It took Kernot 16 years to build his van, but it was still a battle to get it finished in time for the 1999 Van Nats at Pambula on the NSW South Coast.

“It was all hands on deck, and even then we left for Pambula with it still unfinished,” Kernot now laughs.

“We had lots of help as we tried to get it finished in time for the show. Unfortunately we didn’t quite get it done, but, even so, we got seventh top van, which was pretty good in the circumstances.”

Inclusion in the Elite class first time out at Summernats 13 was reason for celebration in 2000, but that was topped a year later by tinware for Top Van Elite at Summernats 14, a feat he repeated at 16 after a year’s absence from the Canberra fuel fest.

Bob Kernot’s experience goes to prove that speed doesn’t always rule, at least when it comes to the build.


Ford jumped aboard the van craze in the 1970s with the XB Falcon vans in 1973. The Surfsider van came with a hinged elevating roof and nylon sleeve which had enough accommodation for two adults and two kids. Then there was the Surferoo, which came with moulded fibreglass storage compartments, foam mattress, esky and fluor lighting.

The XC Sundowner van was an even more overt move into the youth market, with bold graphics, neat sports wheels, bucket seats and full instrumentation. Good examples are quite sought-after today, but you will need to look hard!


Colour:Satellite Brown Metallic
Type:351 Cleveland
Rods:Childs & Albert
Pistons:Forged blower
Heads:Superflow 2V
Cam:Speedpro Billet
Blower:6/71 Jimmy
Induction:Twin Carter 650 Comp
Ignition:Scorcher dist, MSD coil
Exhaust:Pacemaker headers, 2.5in custom dual
’Box:Ford C4, C5 guts, Stage III kit
Converter:2200rpm stall
Tailshaft:4in custom
Diff:9in, 3.89 gears, 31-spline axles
Springs:Pedders coils, dropped 2.5in front, reset leafs, dropped 3in rear
Shocks:Pedders heavy duty gas
Brakes:Refurbished stock
Seats:XB buckets
Trim:Caramel velour
Wood:Tasmanian oak
Wheel:SAAS woodgrain
Shifter:B&M Pro Rachet
Sound:Alpine CD
Rims:Weld Racing, 15×8 and 15×10
Rubber:Kelly, 235/60 and 275/60

‘Big’ Al – Katoomba Auto Parts. Joe – Panthers Auto Electrical. Peter – Innovative Interiors. Bluey – he was always on call. Ripty – cleaning. Joanne – got me off my arse.