Hillier-built AU Falcon XR8 coupe

Ford never built an AU Falcon coupe, so Mark Rovera and the Hillier brothers decided to do it instead!

Photographers: Tony Rabbitte, SM Archives

BROTHERS Troy and Clayton Hillier stunned everyone when they rocked up to Summernats 13 in 2000 in a custom-built but very factory-looking AU two-door. At the time, Street Machine called it “the coupe Ford should have built”. It made it onto the cover of our March 2000 issue. Around the same time, Holden made front-page news with the announcement that it was bringing back the two-door Monaro, so a six-cylinder AU coupe really set tongues wagging.

Just six months later, Mark Rovera’s red XR8-based coupe landed – and the Hillier brothers had a big hand in building that one, too. With V8 power, a tougher stance and a more muscular wheel and tyre package, Mark’s coupe (SM, Sep-Oct ’00) made an even bigger splash than the brothers’ green AU had.

But although it was built at the brothers’ Hillier Conversions business in Tenterfield, NSW, and Troy and Clayton both chipped in plenty of hard yakka, you couldn’t be more wrong if you thought Mark simply handed over a big cheque – it’s 100 per cent his build.

“I was their apprentice,” Mark says today. “They were great to work for. I got to help them out on a number of their own builds, like the EA ute (SM, Apr-May’97), XP hardtop (SM, Apr-May ’99) and the first AU coupe. They were returning the favour.

“I wanted to build something out of the ordinary,” Mark continues. “Being a Holden man through and through, I was actually looking to build a two-door Commodore. Then Holden announced the Monaro was going ahead. I thought the AU coupe looked all right, so I went that way instead.”

It didn’t take long to find a suitable donor – a white, ex-highway patrol XR8 with only 40km on the clock. Mark drove it around for a few weeks, then had to replace the radiator and figured he might as well just keep going.

“Dad was mortified,” Mark recalls. “He’d always wanted a V8 Ford, and here I was, only 20, with a pretty good V8 XR8 – he couldn’t believe I was going to cut it up.”

From go to whoa, it took Mark and the lads 10 weeks’ worth of long nights and weekends to complete the conversion.

So how was it done?

“The biggest myth of all is that the wheelbase has been shortened,” says Mark. “It’s stock.”

So too is the front and rear glass. The front screen is laid back, and while the rear screen is laid forward, it’s also tucked up into the original turret, which now sits 2¼ inches lower. By keeping the turret stock, the factory hoodlining clips right back into place.

The front doors were lengthened using the front section of the rear door skins, while the rear quarters are stock from the original door opening back. Mark then fabricated a new section to extend the quarter forward to meet up with the new shut line, which was raised up three inches at the very back.

Reshaping exterior body panels is all in a day’s work when you build stretch limos and hearses for a living. So it wasn’t the intricate panelwork but the reshaping of the door frames to suit the relocated, shortened and reshaped B-pillar that the boys felt was the hardest part of the build. “There was a lot more to the pillar than just moving it backwards,” Mark says. “We had to make sure all the bodylines still looked right as they ran through to the back. Also, making sure the door and window rubbers still sealed and worked correctly was a lot of effort.”

As for the custom side glass, Protector Glass Industries still had the moulds from the original build. The rear kick-up in the glass was deliberate to give the initial Hillier coupe a more aggressive, wedge-like shape.

Naturally, the interior required custom door and rear trims. Gavin Hillier made moulds from the sedan trims, which he cut apart and glued back together. From these moulds, new trims were laid up in fibreglass. To match the Blaze Red exterior (applied by uncle Gary Hillier) the interior of Mark’s car was highlighted with loads of bright red leather.

Early on, Mark’s coupe was his daily driver and remained mechanically stock. However, these days he only gets it out about twice a month. That said, he’s added 150,000km to the odometer over the years!

“It still looks good and still turns plenty of heads,” Mark says. “Lots of people want to know the story behind it, which is why the wife hates driving it. She knows the spiel; she just hates having to tell it every time she takes it somewhere!”

A street machine that attracts too many admirers – now there’s a problem we’d all love to have!


As a sideline to Hillier Conversions, which specialises in building stretch limos and hearses, Troy and Clayton’s concept behind the two-door AU was to create a limited run of cars for individual customers.

All up, three coupes were constructed. The Hilliers sold their original six-cylinder Forte coupe, which was refashioned as the 300+ (above), a concept car built by Ford Australia, Sprintex and Millard Design. It was the centrepiece of the Ford stand at the 2001 Melbourne International Motor Show. The 300+ is still around and has changed hands a few times. Mark’s car was next, followed by Troy’s personal coupe, the Arrow (SM, Sep ’02), pictured below.

Troy still owns it, along with his BA Raptor ute (SM, Jun ’03), pictured below.

“Neither gets out much – just the occasional squirt,” Troy says. “We’re just too busy!”


Engine: 5.0-litre V8
Transmission: Adaptive-shift four-speed auto
Suspension: Lowered Tickford
Wheels (then): AJR Finn; 18×8 (f), 18×9 (r)
Wheels (now): Speedy Cheetah 18×8 (f & r)
Tyres: 235/40R18 (f), 265/35R18 (r)