Craig McKenzie’s HR Holden ute

Craig McKenzie revives a legendary HR show ute with some modern twists to have it once again claim top tinware at Summernats

Photographers: Chris Thorogood

When Ditch Jones unveiled this very HR ute way back at Street Machine Summernats 20, it made a big impression on the scene with its wild body mods, blown Holden six-pot and grey-over-yellow paintwork. Nearly two decades later, the ute still lives on, now in the hands of proud custodian Craig McKenzie, who’s put a modern spin on Ditch’s original vision to recreate the HR as a repeat elite-level show winner.

First published in the July 2023 issue of Street Machine

We’ve relived the story of Ditch’s original build of the car a few times now (SM, Apr ’07 and Yearbook 2022), but if you missed any of those, here’s a basic recap: Ditch wanted a stand-out show machine, so he commissioned Drago and Rob Ostric from Sefton Concept Vehicles to undertake the extensive body mods you see here, along with fitting the blown six-pot.

As for Craig, he has a habit of finding and restoring old show cars, including the Auto Salon-famous Green Ghost Nissan S14 200SX that we featured in our May 2022 issue. “I have a lot of respect for older stuff, and I believe a lot of them can still compete with the top stuff today with just a bit of work,” he says.

Knowing that, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Craig snapped up the HR as soon as he spotted in on the market. “I found it on [Facebook] Marketplace in Sydney at a car dealer. I bought it sight-unseen and then had it brought down,” says the Victorian. “It wasn’t in the best nick, and no one wanted it, but I was at Summernats in the hall when it got unveiled all those years ago, so I knew its potential.”

The initial plan with the HR was a quick resto in its old look to get it back to elite-level status, which took Craig around six months. “It mainly just took lot of painting and polishing, basically,” he says. “Luckily, I’m a spray painter by trade, so the paint side wasn’t that hard to get done.” The old Intro Matrix wheels found their way onto Chad Ribbons’s SMOTY-winning HD ute, replaced by a set of American Legend Talons. “I did the wheels to give it a bit of a different look, and it’s cool that the old ones are still around in the scene with Chad,” Craig says.

The HR headed back to Canberra for Summernats 32, with Craig hoping to land a spot in the Top 10. “It did that when it was first unveiled, so my goal was to get it back there,” he told us. The hard work paid off, with the HR making Top 10 and winning Top Pro Street.

While many would’ve been content with that, for Craig it was only the beginning of his plans for the HR. “While everyone was stoked to see it back, the biggest feedback I got was how outdated it was,” he says. “Everyone – including Ditch – agreed it would do really well with an update, so after Summernats we tore it down and started the new build.”

Even with a full overhaul on the brain, Craig was still very aware of keeping the core defining factors of the HR. “I always planned to keep the body lines and all that as they were; [I wanted to] just neaten up things like panel gaps,” he says. “Same goes for the blown six. It was unique back then and still is now, so we just had that get a basic refresh rather than swap something else in.”

The decision to go all white was a big one, but tied in with the bronze accents throughout, it makes for a classy rejuvenation. “I got some renderings done to help decide on the white, and having the three main colours of white, grey [mostly in the interior] and a dash of bronze works really well I reckon,” says Craig.

With as much yellow under the skin as there was on top, carrying out a complete colour change wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for Craig. “It took two weeks just to paint the driveline; then there were the hours of polishing on top of that!” he says. “I did get quite sick during the build as well, but all in, it took around two years to get done.”

Craig and the crew from Custom Body & Automotive got the exterior and mechanical work dialled, with Ben doing the bodywork, Con the mechanical and Craig laying down the paint. “Although we didn’t change the bodywork as such, Ben spent a lot of time blocking and making the gaps bang-on,” says Craig. “Con helped with all the mechanical side, so it was an after-hours project at work for all three of us.”

Simon and Nick Judd from Elite Custom Interiors got the call to fit out the cabin, and Craig gave them creative licence with it. “All I really wanted was the grey; Simon chose to do the floating seats,” he says. Ditch’s handmade dashboard and centre console design were kept, finished in the same colour as the outside.

As you’d expect, Craig chose Summernats 35 as the place to pull the sheets off the HR’s new look. “I wanted it to get into the Top 10 again,” he says. “My wife secretly organised to have Ditch there for the unveiling, which was very cool. He was stoked with how it turned out.” For the second time, the HR polled in the ’Nats Top 10, as well as making the top six at MotorEx a few months later, with third place in both Top Interior and Top Bodywork. The car also brought home Top Street Machine at the Sydney Hot Rod & Custom Auto Expo.

Since then, Craig has already been toying with how to take the HR to the next level. “I’m always changing bits here and there to improve it, and the goal is to try and take out Grand Champion at Summernats next year,” he says. “Despite what people think, it does drive. I’ve had it out on the street once or twice, and I’ll get it dynoed closer to the ’Nats so it’s ready to go.”

Craig also told us he’s by no means done bringing old show cars back from the dead, with plenty more in the pipeline. “I’ve already got a few more ex-Auto Salon cars in the works,” he says. “You’d be surprised how many are still out there in need of some love!”


Paint: PPG White

Brand:Holden 202
Induction: Fisher customHolden 202
Carb:Holley 700 double-pumper
Blower:Fisher GM 4/71
Head:Ben Gatt nine-port
Camshaft:Crow Cams solid
Conrods:Heavy-duty race
Pistons:ACL Race Series
Crank:Offset ground, counterbalanced
Cooling:Mick’s Metalcraft radiator
Exhaust:3in mild steel, side-exit
Ignition: Pro Comp3in mild steel, side-exit
Gearbox:Hugo’s Racematic
Converter:Dominator Race Eliminator, 2800rpm
Diff:9in, 28-spline axles, 3.8:1 gears
Brakes:Hoppers Stoppers discs & four-piston calipers (f), Hoppers Stoppers discs & two-piston calipers (r)
Rims:American Legend Talon; 18×8 (f), 20×10 (r)
Rubber:Nexen; 225/30R18 (f), 275/30R20 (r)

Ben and Con at Custom Body & Automotive; Matt at Vinyl Wraps & Graphics; Simon and Nick Judd at Elite Custom Interiors; Aidan Donald at Aidan’s Design & Illustration; Luke at Lukey’s Garage; Danny at On-Site Windscreens; the boys at Wheels Australia in Ballarat; my wife Kristie