Gino Onorato’s pro street HX Holden Statesman

Chopped back end, blown 350, stock upholstery and paint. Perfect for driving to church

Photographers: Guy Bowden

The mighty Statesman Caprice. Long-wheelbase Oz luxury with enough room behind the driver to carry a couple of spare Toranas. Unless it’s the ’77 HX owned by Adelaide’s Gino Onorato, in which case you’d be more comfortable riding in the boot than the back, for the rear pew’s been turfed in favour of some serious engineering.

First published in the August 2004 issue of Street Machine

“The chassis was already done when I bought it,” says Gino, referring to the spectacular ¾ chassis job with tubs, four-link, coil-over rear end and ladder bar set-up. The front-end’s mechanically standard, though the whole show’s been dumped by nearly four inches.

“It was an unfinished project, with Street and Strip Engineering in Victoria doing the original work, including the fully-integrated steel cage,” Gino adds.

On the lookout for a platform to promote his Commercial Metal Polishers business, Gino had been scouring the classifieds for a while before going to Melbourne with the family on a shopping mission.

“I was looking at a Torana when the owner said he knew of this Statesman,” recalls Gino.

“I was blown away by the quality of the ¾ chassis, the undercarriage — the floor’s dead flat and seamless — how they’ve stretched the wheel arches, welded up two pairs of wheel arch moulds and joined them — you can’t even see where. You’d swear they’re original!”

The major labour on the arse end may have been done, but there was plenty more in store as the newest member of the Onorato family was brought home. Gino had a clear vision of how he saw the Statesman evolving to showcase his trade and first on the agenda was a visit to Lee’s Performance where they transplanted the original 79,000km 308 for a 350 Chev Gino already had waiting.

If you want to show off your polishing skills, the more metal the better, right? On went a BDS 6/71 supercharger and twin 600 Holleys to help fill the re-styled engine bay.

“We took out the power steering, air-con, and all the ugly stuff under the bonnet and hid the wiring,” says Gino. “The boys at Lee’s did a fantastic job. Taking out the old school stuff without damaging the body or anything else wasn’t easy. It took a lot of planning to make the new 350 and blower fit nicely without grabbing a hammer and making things fit!”

With the mumbo sorted, Gino set about getting the power to the stunning 15×15 rear Centreline Convo Pro rims and 31×18.5 Mickey Thompson boots. The standard slushbox made way for a Turbo 400 with Stage II shift kit and 5000 high-stall Dominator, while retaining the original T-Bar shifter. That feeds into a braced 31-spline nine-inch via an F100 tailshaft.

Why retain the T-Bar? This Caprice is Jekyll and Hyde — wild pro streeter from most angles, but National Motor Museum on the inside (back seats excepted), as Gino explains.

“The interior is unrestored, original condition — seats, carpet, dash, linings, steering wheel, stereo, everything. I’ve had motor trimmers freak out how it’s still got the original Holden piping. It’s something that’s irreplaceable. People say I should do a retro fit-out and chuck the vinyl roof but I just love the original appeal of it all.”

Maintaining that original rage is the factory Cordoba Brown metallic paint. With ye olde bonnet tucked safely in the shed, Gino called Adelaide Mobile Paint Specialists to give the new blower-friendly donk-cover a spray (along with the engine bay and inner guards) with spectacular results.

There’s no doubt this Statesman has the hardware to line up next to the Christmas tree most Saturday nights, though Gino’s priorities lie elsewhere.

“Everyone says I should race it — it’s got all the gear — but I mainly built it to promote what I do. I haven’t got the guts to destroy the beautiful undercarriage and everything the car’s got. I get good satisfaction from working on it,” says Gino.

“I’ve had 11-sec HQ Monaros, done the street car drag sort of thing, but decided to go more into the show scene for the promotional side of the business and I get as much enjoyment from it. There’s more room for family involvement and my wife and kids help get the car ready for a show.”

And do the punters love it?

“The crowd response is huge!” admits Gino. “It’s not one of those cars that rolls in, sits there without any pistons in the block, and rolls out. I fire it up, make a bit of noise, give it a blip and get ’em excited.”

It’s not just the crowd either, as the judges have rewarded it with 12 trophies from three shows, including Top 10, Top Pro Street, Top Undercarriage and Judge’s Choice at the Extreme Horsepower Show. Not bad for a model that started life as the choice of countless grandpas across the country, but that’s part of the fun for Gino.

“I just love the ‘Driving Miss Daisy on steroids’ appeal of the thing. It’s the original church car, now with a blower!”

Magpie fever

There’s a whole lot more shiny stuff in store for Gino’s ride, so expect to see the tough HX Statesman looking better with each outing.

“It’s an ongoing project, and I want to go to the next level with it,” he enthuses. “I’m planning on building a full aluminium engine to replace the current 350.

“I’ll use a sheetmetal sump, Donovan block, aluminium heads, and it’ll be built specifically as a blown engine application from the start. I’ll give it the full polished treatment — the whole lot, from top to toe. Basically, I’m going to have a big chunk of polished aluminium under the bonnet!”

“I was going to try Summernats in 2004, but I’ll wait ’til it’s 100 per cent the way I really want it, so I’ll leave it for another year, then go there with a big bang!”

Would Gino sell it to make way for another challenge? Not if his family’s got a say in it.

“The wife and kids love it, in fact the kids wear black armbands if I mention selling it. I’ve had a few guys wanting to buy the rolling shell, but I haven’t got the guts to sell!”

Gino Onorato
1977 HX Statesman Caprice

Colour:Cordoba Brown Metallic
Engine:350 Chev
Crank:Factory steel
Camshaft:Mild hydraulic
Induction:BDS 671 Supercharger with twin 600 Holleys
Intake:Weiand Blower manifold
Ignition:Crane TRC ignition box, LX92 coil, Holley leads, Accel dizzy
Gearbox:Turbo 400 Stage II
Converter:Dominator 8-inch, 5000rpm stall
Diff:Braced 9-inch, 31 spline 4.11 LSD
Brakes:Stock (f), XF discs and calipers (r)
Suspension:reset springs (f), 4-link coilovers, ladder bars (r)
Original front, with Autometer monster tacho, Simpson harnesses; rear trim removed.
Rims:Convo Pro, 5×6 (f), 15×15 (r)
Rubber:195×70 Hankooks (f) & 31×18.5 Mickey Thompsons (r)

The wife & kids, Dave & John at Lee’s Performance, St George Motors, Sam & Corey, Adelaide Mobile Paint Specialists, Adrad, Rock at Westside Towing.