Iconic custom Holdens part 4: FE-HR

We continue our series on custom Holdens from the 60s and 70s, this time looking at some of the best FE-HR builds of the Aussie hot-car scene


Research for our recent deep dive into custom FX-FJ Holden history uncovered a number of very cool later-model custom Holdens built in the 1960s and 70s. Although not as dominant as their venerable humpy brethren, the decade long FE-HR model run still provided perfect fodder for budding hot-car builders also looking to personalise their rides. Here are a few that caught our attention, and we’ll round out our custom builds series next time with a look at some iconic non-Holden builds.

First published in the July 2023 issue of Street Machine

1. David Chapman’s FE sedan

This FE sedan built by David Chapman was an innovative and unusual custom Holden of the late 1960s. The Melburnian busied himself by sourcing an HD ute shell and a written-off HR wagon – both near-new cars at that stage – and grafting the ute’s outer rear quarters and the wagon’s rear pan to his FE.

David then switched the body to two-door configuration, raising the lower edges of the remaining doors six inches in the process, while the nose treatment was achieved using two shortened HD bumper bars, one reversed and mounted on top of the other before being moulded with the body.

A fibreglass bonnet bridged the new void, and a full grille was made to suit. The HR wagon donated its dash and many interior parts, while the 186 engine was fitted along with the early adoption of an HR front end and diff conversion. Paint was a rare Holden hue, Hannans Gold, which was set off nicely by Herbert mag wheels.

When its show duties eventually wrapped up, David needed a work vehicle, so he took the bold step of stripping his coupe and applying its mods to a panel van. In the process, he changed the colour to orange and adding flared guards to cover a fat set of Dragways. The van came up for sale recently, and is now in the hands of custom fan Brett Birch, who is leaving it visually as-is and just tidying it up mechanically.

2. Graeme French’s FE sedan

Clean and crisp yet still obviously customised, this gorgeous FE sedan was built in the mid-1970s by Graeme French. Graeme hailed from Colebrook in Tasmania, and this Apple Isle Holden featured some neat tricks that still make it highly respected among many Aussie custom tragics today.

The flared guards and EH tail-lights were well executed, and keen eyes will notice ‘standard’-type non-FE-FC headlight surrounds housed neatly under FB-EK-style front guard peaks.

Wolseley vents and a custom grille insert contrasted nicely with the maroon paint and black vinyl roof, while the chrome Road Knight rims had plenty of dish to complement the lowered suspension.

A 173 was lifted from an HQ Holden and featured all the hot bits from that time – a Perfectune (later Yella Terra) Stage 3 cylinder head, Eddie Thomas 25-65 cam and twin Stromberg carbs. Sonic extractors dumped into a full twin system.

3. Mal Hatch’s FC Holden sedan

South Australia was a hotbed of iconic early Holden customs, and one of the most lauded was the gold FC Holden sedan built by Mal Hatch, which melded attractive customising techniques with extensive attention to detail.

International truck headlights and a custom grille centre were complemented by modified and moulded bumper bars, while the rear doors were shaved of their handles and the tail-lights replaced with HR sedan units. The sanitary gold and black exterior played down what was happening under the bonnet. A worked grey donk with triple carbs, finished in candy blue and chrome, was nestled in a candy red engine bay, also dripping with the shiny stuff, and really wowed show punters of the day.

The black and white interior housed a custom console, more chrome and a gaggle of auxiliary switches and gauges, as was the style of the time. The trophy haul was successful to say the least, and became a family affair when Mal was shipped out to serve for Australia in Vietnam in 1967; his dear mum is reported to have shown the car on his behalf until his return. The FC was eventually sold, and was found by Adelaide local Anthony Harradine a number of years later, unfinished after a blue-with-flames rebuild.

Anthony had fellow SA custom legend Nick Venardis (SM, Sep ’17) bring the FC back to life at his Ariel Customs business in a fresh red hue. The car was then sold again, and was last spotted in Tasmania.

4. Daryl Withers’s EK ‘The Gladiator’

Daryl Withers has had a hand in many pioneering iconic customs – including the initial ‘Techno’ guise of John Zeigler’s legendary HJ ute (SM, Oct ’18) – but he made his mark with his own brace of FB and EK Holden builds. His most famous personal build is this purple EK sedan dubbed ‘The Gladiator’, which was treated to a few updates during its early-1970s build journey.

Comet Purple paint was highlighted with lacework, while Wolseley vents, bonnet louvres and a custom grille stamped a firm identity. Its front bumper was eventually replaced with a rollpan and the five-spoke wheels replaced with Dragways.

A hot 186 red motor with triple sidedraught Solex carbs gave it plenty of stick, and the era-perfect yellow tramp rods came into their own at the drags. Best of all, this is a recent photo – Daryl still owns the EK and woke it from a long slumber a few years back looking exactly as it did in its heyday.

5. Steve Dann’s EK Holden

This beaut cyan and gold EK Holden was the handiwork of Steve Dann. Bought by Steve after it was damaged in a crash, the EK’s front doors were stretched six inches to create the two-door body, while International truck headlights and HQ panel van tail-lights were fitted, with custom tube grilles at each end.

Rollpans front and rear were added, along with flared back guards, which failed to house the cube-like 13×10 C&D five-spoke mags.

A mild 161 replaced the grey motor, and Steve and his mates had the EK finished just in time to attend the very first Street Rod Nationals in Narrandera in 1973.

The EK was subsequently sold, and, sadly, a fire later damaged it beyond repair. It then lived out its days languishing in a backyard. The front clip made its way onto a station wagon build, but that too unfortunately was never finished, and little is known about whether any parts from this cool custom have survived.

6. Allan Butcher’s EJ sedan

This Brisbane-based EJ sedan scored plenty of customisation and a convertible conversion towards the end of the 1960s, and was the work of speedway legend Allan Butcher and his team at his old smash repair business in Eight Mile Plains.

The roof was lopped off once the rear doors were welded up, and the now-convertible was turned into a strict two-seater to allow strengthening work to go in rather than a rear seat. The front scored a tube grille and slightly canted early Dodge truck headlights, which worked in with an EH bonnet that had EJ cowl grilles welded into its leading edge.

The original EJ bonnet was used as a reverse-opening bootlid, while tank Fairlane tail-lights were fitted along with indicators mounted into the trailing edges of the fabricated fins.

Maroon paint and fake wire-wheel hubcaps rounded out the exterior, while the stock grey motor driveline was retained. Dubbed the ‘Batmobile’ by magazines of the day, the EJ eventually meandered its way down to Sydney before being lost to time.

7. Gary Roberts’s HR ute

One of my personal favourites from this era was this incredible Holden ute built by Gary Roberts of Brisbane. Gary took a brand-new HR and turned it into a show stunner, cleaning up awards along the Australian east coast and as far away as South Australia.

Custom front indicators recessed into the HR front pan allowed for an unusual yet effective coil-style full grille, while HK Premier tail-lights and their matching boot trims tidied up the rear. Twin frenched aerials were added to the left front guard before the ute was slathered in gold paint highlighted with a white vinyl roof and tonneau.

The Amos mag wheels were another Brisbane hot-car icon, while a stout 186 featured a Waggott head and camshaft, triple Stromberg carbs and – like the rest of the ute – incredible chrome and paint detailing. The HR eventually found its way to the legendary Mick Atholwood, who painted it black and used it as a shop ute before selling it on to a buyer in Townsville.