A high-horsepower, 21st century take on the classic custom Holden FJ Ute

Photographers: Phil Cooper

This article about Stephen’s Holden FJ Ute was originally published in the December 2008 issue of Street Machine.

You know what it is but there’s also an aura of mystique about this car. It’s obviously a Humpy Holden but it still takes a minute or two to demystify the foreign elements.

Stephen Sealy calls himself a Kiwi but he’s from Matraville, inner-west Sydney. He met and married a New Zealand lass, Maria, in the early 1970s.

He owns Airport Smash in Auckland and had a few ideas swirling around in his head for a cool Humpy. Ideas are one thing; making them real can be difficult but not for Stephen who’s been on the tools since he was 15.

“I bought the FJ with the intention of building a nice workshop ute with a 308 V8, nice paint and nice wheels,” Stephen shrugs. “But it escalated as these things sometimes do! Where do you want me to start?”

He produces a copy of NZ Auto Trader from March 2000, with an original-looking red ’55 Humpy ute on the cover. It’s his car. This one.

CLASSIC-1955-HOLDEN-UTE-rear“I had it acid-dipped and found a bit of cancer,” he says. “Inner and outer sills; I had to make up half the rear guards so I thought I might as well go the whole hog!

“I looked at the windscreen and figured it would look good with one-piece glass,” he explains. “I like the E-Series headlights but I looked at lots of others too; Subarus and Jags; all sorts of stuff, but I needed something symmetrical and I didn’t want to spend too much cash. Not only were the Benz ones the right shape, they were the right price, too.”

Installing the lights took just one weekend: “I don’t draw plans as such; I just see the finished article in my head, then I get in and do it!”

Cars as diverse as ’32 Fords and late-model Nissan Skylines were looked at as possible tail-light donors. “My wife and I drove around all day looking at tail-lights until we saw a new Mini and thought ‘Yeeeess!’”

Delivery on a set of brand-new Mini lights was quoted at two weeks but they didn’t arrive. Instead, the dealer offered Stephen a set of aftermarket ones; silver lenses with coloured bulbs, instead of the standard red lenses.

CLASSIC-1955-HOLDEN-UTE-engineEven the best tradesman can’t panel-beat glass. “A custom windscreen was going to cost $2500,” Stephen says. “But Terry at Novus came up with a bubble-back Honda Civic rear screen, trimmed 10mm on the edges, that was a perfect fit.” Even better, it was just one-tenth of the price Stephen was quoted for custom glass.

The bonnet took one weekend’s work for the reshaping and another weekend for the BMW 3 Series front-flip hinge conversion. “I could’ve had a go at making it myself but why? You know the factory engineering stuff will work — you just have to adapt it into your space or application.”

That philosophy runs through the car. The single windscreen wiper is a from a Subaru Legacy tailgate, fitted with a longer blade. The handle-free doors use Honda Civic door latches, reversed so the latch is in the B-pillar and the catch is on the door. Why? To hide the actuating mechanisms in the front corners of the tray, rather than attempt to fit everything into the FJ’s thin-as-toast doors.

Steve’s experience repairing wayward tourists’ smashed camper vans taught him that Mitsubishi Canter electric window mechanisms would fit his doors, which wear Suzuki GSX-R1000 mirrors.

He didn’t stop there. The drip rails were shaved and the inside of the Humpy’s tray has been smoothed, with a stainless steel floor between the mini-tubs. “I didn’t want screws in it so it’s glued in place using some pretty good stuff.”

CLASSIC-1955-HOLDEN-UTE-InteriorThe paint, inspired Gary Myers’s Silver Bullet Mustang, is from PPG’s Vibrance range. “I was going to paint it green but my wife said: ‘No!’ Everything must be silver!” That’s why the interior is silver too, and there are clear lenses on it; it’s all clean.”

The trim work was performed by Stitches Upholstery in Manukau over a modified original bench. The trim was one of the few tasks subbed out, with Stephen spending more weekends building a new dash over the VS Commodore steering column, installing a B&M shifter and putting the handbrake on the floor.

The Chev 350 would cost $20 grand but with favours and barters it owes him five. It’s been rubbed out to 355 and puts around 500 down at the treads.

It runs without too much carry-on but has the corrugated idle and eye-watering aroma of a street-tough V8. The driveline — nine-inch, manualised TH350 three-speed — is 800hp capable.

To fit the small-block, Steve moved the firewall back 250mm. The chassis rails, designed for about 60hp, have been reinforced. “I boxed everything with quarter-inch plate, inside and out, and they’ve been welded together. Only the front guards unbolt now.”

CLASSIC-1955-HOLDEN-UTE-underAn HT Holden front end was installed (“I thought it was an HR until the new ball-joints didn’t fit”) with modified VS Commodore rack and pinion steering and HQ-spec DBA slotted front discs under Outlaw front calipers. Making the brakes work is an international team of BMW, Nissan and Holden bits, with the pedal floor-mounted, keeping the firewall nice and clean. Commodore discs control the rear.

How does one man tackle so many mods? “There’s no such thing as ‘can’t do’ in my vocabulary!”