Budget-built HJ Holden Sandman tribute

Father-son projects don't come much more wholesome than Travis's ute


“Travis here. I am a tank crewman in C Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment ADF and a hardcore street machiner. This is my 1975 HJ Sandman tribute that my father Greg and I built. I have owned it now for more than 8 years; I was 14 when we got it. We put rego on it when I got my Ls.

When we bought it, we didn’t quite know what we were getting into. It was heavily bogged and sprayed a few different colours over the years with the top coat being a dark blue/black, done with rattle cans. Under that was bog and then red paint, followed by more bog and yellow paint under than, before the factory white. I remember stripping the passenger side door with the wire wheel on an angle grinder and it just kept going deeper and deeper into the bog, before going straight through the outside door skin. That meant a trip to the wreckers to get an intact door.

Once we finally had the body back to bare metal we found very little rust, which is exactly what we were hoping for. We were not too worried about the dents, and the next weekend we tried our hand at panel beating. We actually ended up breaking the hammer trying to bash some dents out of the tray. We gave it a red hot go but eventually turned to bog to fill the remainder.

When it came to picking paint we were always going to choose an original HJ/HX colour, and we decided to go with a Sandman scheme. It was a brickie’s ute, so we reckon it had once legitimately hauled sand! While driving behind a white and blue Sandman ute, Mum made a comment along the lines of ‘we should make ours look like that.’ With that, Dad and I started browsing all the Sandman colour schemes. We were very close to choosing yellow with blue Sandman decals, but ultimately decided on the Aquarius Blue/orange as we’d never seen it anywhere else.

We went to the paint shop conscious of our lack of a paint booth and that our safety gear consisted of old overalls and Bunnings respirators. We had the Aquarius Blue mixed up in acrylic and painted it ourselves in the shed over a few weekends. Once we saw the whole car painted, we knew we’d made the right choice.

I then got my Ls, and started logging some hours. This was short lived, as the quick addition of a retro Cain manifold and a double-barrel Holley carby killed the 202 the ute came with. I remember driving it out of the shed onto the street. We gave it some go, and it was probably the first time in 30 years the engine had got a decent serving of petrol. We made it less than 100 metres down the street before Dad asked if I had left a spanner in the engine bay. I had not. After taking the head off we found holes in the top of both the number two and number five cylinders, as well as piston ring fragments through all cylinders. We managed to get another 202 for $200 and a case of beer, and after dropping that in we celebrated by finally giving it the bright orange Sandman decal set.

All the chrome bits and odds and ends are all original. Everything that wasn’t broken was cleaned up, polished or painted chassis black and put back on. The interior was brown. This was quickly fixed with black vinyl paint rattle cans from Supercheap.

The inside of the tray is coated in heavy silicon-based hammertone finish paint as we still use it to get firewood in the winter— we just load it by hand instead of having the Bobcat dump buckets in at a time!

The 14-inch Rebel wheels came with the ute, and just like the GTS dash they were covered in overspray. We rubbed them back to bare metal and tried our best to replicate the look of HQ GTS wheels.

235/60/14 rubbers take their medicine from The Good Doctor Chev. I brought a 350ci cast iron crate motor (M20-eater) for $5000 once I got my full licence, and it has been a peach. A fair bit of fossil fuel goes in via an Edelbrock 600cfm carby with mechanical secondaries, mounted on a dual-plane Edelbrock Performer manifold. An HEI distributor sets fire to the fuel and generic long tube headers are on duty, followed by a set of Hooker mufflers and Chevy drop pipes just behind the rear wheels. It does not run power steering but that does not bother me, as my work vehicle has a 1500hp jet engine and fires 120mm rounds, so the Chev-powered HJ feels quite refined.

It runs an M20 because they are cheaper than an M21, and we have grabbed a few from Marketplace when they go crunch. Dr. Chev ripped the banjo diff’s internal organs out, so a ten-bolt transplant was performed.

A knocker at a car show recently told me to take it back to the panel beater. I laughed, because this particular Holden may never have been to a Panel shop ever! If I could click my fingers and have a blown LS, tubs and perfect paint and panel for this ute, I’d probably say no. I’d rather do all that to another ute and keep mine just as it is: SBC, letterbox scoop, three pedals, scorpion gear knob, 14-inch wheels and Dad on the spanners.

This ute was really enjoyable to build with my dad and is now my daily driver, wood hauler, Bunnings runner, cruiser, show car, and club car.”