ADELAIDE’s Lonsdale Autoshop has been pumping out killer builds for a few years now. Jason Riding is the main man on the spanners, and in recent years, he’s repowered Mick Cox’s AP6 Safari with late-model Hemi goodness and installed a Coyote V8 in Alan Robson’s Boxwood Green F100, along with all the chassis work required. He’s HiLux-diffed an 808 coupe, six-speed Tremec-ed several Toranas and even rebuilt the suspension on my 1973 Isuzu Bellett GT-R. But one thing he hasn’t done is finish off his stonking EH Holden Special. Until now.
To say it’s been a long time coming is an understatement; Jason has had the car for 30 years.
First published in the August 2021 issue of Street Machine
“My first car was an XR Falcon. It was pretty mint: killer paintwork, Dragway Splatts, XD Falcon seats, a 250ci six. It was worth about $2500 in those days,” Jason recalls. “It was cool, but I wanted an EH.”
Scouring the Trading Post, Jase found just the ticket “for sale or swap”, and he couldn’t jump on it quick enough. “The dude wanted $500 for it, which I didn’t have. So I had a look at it and said, ‘I’ll swap you.’ He almost fell over when 17-year-old-me agreed to swap a nice car for an absolute rusty piece of shit!”
Yep, the EH wasn’t much to write home about, with a rust hole in the rear floorpan that Jason’s mates would throw empty iced coffee cartons through. It wasn’t long before the 186 threw a leg out of bed too, so a complete overhaul was required. Unfortunately for Jason, it was 1991: the Gulf War started, the economy got wobbly and he consequently found himself unemployed. On the bright side, he knew a place where he could fruitfully spend his otherwise idle hours.
“I’d done work experience at Belotti’s Paint & Panel in Lonsdale back when I was at school,” Jason says. “It’s long gone now, but Rob Belotti was an absolute legend of a dude, and I’d visit from time to time. So I took the EH to Belotti’s. Every morning, I’d cruise down to his workshop in my $50 Mark II Cortina and not feel guilty that I didn’t have a job.”
Jason did a few odd jobs around the workshop for Rob, but the real benefit was learning skills that he could apply to the EH – albeit of the unofficial, non-apprenticeship-recognised kind. “Rob taught me how to do everything properly on the body. He was cool with me taking up a corner, just so long as it didn’t cost him anything.”
During the years the car rested at Belotti’s, Jason fixed the rust, straightened the panels, deleted the brightwork and painted the body. “It took me ages to save up enough money to do anything, but once I was working again, I was able to finish it off.”
Jason replaced the cactus 186 with a built 202 running triple SUs, slammed it hard on wide chromies, chucked in a set of Sigma buckets and pretty much did everything except the rooflining.
The EH was now the Formula Blue apple of Jason’s eye. “Everything was that same blue: suspension, diff, trans – everything,” he says.
Although Jason had built the car for show and street, his brother had different ideas for his own VJ Valiant, with the vision of building a balls-out drag car.
“When my brother got the Valiant and everyone started getting excited that we might end up getting a track in SA, the direction of my build changed,” Jason says.
Laying the EH up for another extended period, Jason ditched the six-pot and got a set of mini-tubs made up. “I was like, ‘Bugger it, I don’t need it to be a street car,’” Jason says. “That’s when the ’cage went in, and I took over Lonsdale Auto Shop around the same time. I’d bought an established business and I wanted to specialise in custom cars, so it was time to get serious.”
Or so Jason thought; the car ended up languishing as life got in the way. “It just sat there for 10 years doing nothing. It had the tubs, Center Lines and it was still blue, just looking like it should be something.”
At least Jase was able to source an engine during this period – or rather, the engine sourced him.
“At my old workshop premises, we had these hoarders next door,” Jason explains. “They sold me a Holden One Tonner for $500. It ran a 350 Chev and Turbo 350 combo, so I pulled the engine and trans out of that, stripped it all down, and – trans aside – that’s what’s in the EH now.”
Not that the story was that plain and simple, of course. It never is. “I built the bottom end between jobs, so it took about six months,” Jason says.
Eventually though, the mill got chocked full of good stuff: SRP forged pistons, Scat crank and rods, a lumpy Howards cam, Trick Flow heads, single-plane Edelbrock manifold and a 750/950 Holley carburettor. With the mill hooked up to the Turbo 350, with an appropriately shortened tailshaft and a cut-down nine-inch, things looked like they were progressing.
“The problem was, I was making enough money to survive, but I wasn’t making enough money to live,” Jason says. “I was getting over how much it was costing me to run the workshop. The rent was constantly jacking up and I’d be elbow-deep in tradie trucks and dailies every night until 10pm.” Jason wasn’t where he wanted to be, and his partner Jess knew it.
“Jess has been a rock through all this. She came along well after the EH did, but without her, it wouldn’t have happened at all, I reckon.” Jess was integral not only in getting the build progressing, but in the success that Lonsdale Autoshop enjoys today.
“She suggested we take the EH to Adelaide’s Old Skool N New Age show,” Jason says. “Give it one big, last-ditch crack and see how we go.”
Their intention was to pick up a few new customers, hopefully with some comprehensive builds. If it worked, they’d move the workshop closer to home, with improved premises and a focus on the tough stuff. “If not, I’d just close the business and work for someone else. It was all just getting too hard, and something had to give,” Jason says.
It was a play that paid off. “I called a bunch of my customers and we got about 17 cars to the show, including my EH,” says Jason. “We’d rubbed it down and painted it in matte-black etch, just so it wasn’t ‘that blue car’ anymore. It was sitting there with the 350 in it, all the driveline and no doors and guards, with a sign saying, ‘This is what we do’.
“But it worked; that day, I got a guy book in a full-on build on his Impala, and over the next couple of weeks, we got a few more good jobs.”
It was just what Jason needed, so with the support of Jess, they decided to forge ahead, renting out a new workshop in Seaford, then buying the premises, keeping the Lonsdale Autoshop name despite the shift in suburbs.
The refresh gave Jason the time to start dedicating Saturdays to the EH and getting the build moving. Then Jess again helped crank things up a notch.
“Jess wanted to get married, and I was all for that, but I said that I’d only do it if the EH was going,” Jason says. Knowing his passion and what drives him,
You know those stories where someone is trying to get their car going for a specific event? The ones where they’re still bolting parts onto it at 4am before the show/Summernats/formal/wedding? Yeah, that didn’t happen this time. Instead, we had a global pandemic.
“We were supposed to get married in February, but that didn’t happen thanks to all the COVID bullshit,” Jason says. “But the car was ready!”
The flurry of activity to get the EH finished was all relatively easy to co-ordinate; after all, that’s Jason’s speciality. “We’re a one-stop shop here; anything I don’t do goes to one of a network of trusted suppliers – guys like Southern Classics & Customs or Warehouse 27. We all support each other, and a lot of jobs are intertwined.”
That being said, Jase didn’t use either for the work on his EH. “I’d promised the work to Troy at Nightmare Designs, way back when I was at the original workshop,” Jason says. “However, I needed to get it done quicker than Troy could do it, so it went to Roy’s Restorations. Leroy used to work for Troy anyway, so I knew it would be good.”
In fact, Jason’s EH Holden was the first car through Roy’s Restorations, getting in so early that Leroy didn’t even have a spray booth. “He did everything he could in his workshop, starting with the door jambs. Then we prepped it all up and hired Southern Classics & Customs’ booth for the weekend,” Jason explains.
“Leroy did a final rubdown, masked it up and did the paint in custom Premium Silver.”
The final piece of the puzzle was getting rid of that used Turbo 350. “I knew it wasn’t going to handle the power. The Chev was dynoed at 500hp and then I got 250hp of nitrous, so there’s 750hp,” Jase says. “I bought a Powerglide cheap off Facebook. It was supposed to be all built, but naturally, it wasn’t!”
On the dyno again with the new trans, all was good until Jason selected reverse. “It spewed trans fluid everywhere! It had a crack in the bellhousing, but it only opened up going backwards,” he says with a sigh. “I upgraded to a Reid casing; it’s explosion-proof now.”
As you’ve no doubt gathered, this EH has had a long and eventful journey to get to this point. It’s been a work in progress for three decades, and maybe it always will be. It’s had plenty of time sitting still, but like Lonsdale Autoshop itself, it’s full speed ahead for this Special.
1964 EH HOLDEN SPECIAL
|Colour:||PPG Custom Premium Silver|
|Engine:||350ci small-block Chev|
|Exhaust:||CRS extractors, twin 3in exhaust, MagnaFlow mufflers|
|Transmission:||Reid Powerglide with billet internals and transbrake|
|Tailshaft:||Sydney Driveline Service custom 4in|
|Diff:||Custom 9in, Wavetrac 3.89:1 gears, Moser 35-spline axles|
|Front:||Viking springs, Viking double-adjustable shocks|
|Rear:||Split mono-leaf springs, QA1 double-adjustable shocks|
|Steering:||Shortened LH Torana rack-and-pinion|
|Brakes:||P76 discs and HX Holden calipers (f), Wilwood discs and calipers (r)|
|Rims:||Center Line Auto Drag; 15×3.5 (f), 15×8.5 (r)|
|Rubber:||Hankook 165/80/15 (f), Nitto 275/60/15 (r)|
Karl Shields at Southwest Car & Truck Tyres; Brett Niddrie at BNR Engines; Jeff Briffa at Briffa Customs; Chris Spicer at CS Engineering; Joe Webb at Bad Image; DNA Custom Paints; Mark at Hawkesbury Auto Trim; Steve at Shift Right; Fred Watson at Fear Motorsport; Troy Newman at Reflection Detailing & Coatings; Marc at The Rod Shop; most of all, my wife Kim for all her help and support