Eager Maniac Trans Am-fronted, T-top HQ Monaro GTS

Back in the 1980s, Neil James set out to wow the show scene with his super-loud custom Monaro. Mission accomplished!

Photographers: Mitch Hemming

Though it never actually copped a feature in Street Machine, Neil James’s wild Trans Am-fronted HQ GTS was a back-page regular in 1995 thanks to its title of Bridgestone Eager Maniac 1994.

A regular on the Queensland show scene in the 90s, the Quey recently showed up for sale on Gumtree, still under Neil’s ownership. We caught up with Neil just before the car headed off to its first new custodian in 44 years.

First published in Street Machine’s Summer Special magazine 2023

So the Quey is a real-deal GTS?

Yes, it is. I’m the third owner and I bought it in 1978. A mechanic owned it before me, and before that a little old lady used to drive it around the suburbs of Melbourne, if you can believe it!

My good friend Leigh Parker has been involved with the car since day one. He knew there was one for sale from the mechanic in his workshop. Back then I had a six-cylinder, four-speed LH Torana in Barbados Green that was dressed up with L34 parts and Hotwires.

I sold the Torana, rocked up to the workshop on a Friday afternoon and gave him $3600. He asked when I wanted to pick it up, and I said, “I’m taking the car now; I’m driving up to Queensland with my girlfriend tomorrow at 6am!” Off we went, and the car never missed a beat.

How long was it before you started the mods?

Probably two or three years. I took it to Leigh, who had a panel shop-cum-service station in Melbourne called JK Motors, which has obviously since gone. The first thing we did was repaint it red, because I didn’t like the Dublin Green.

I was a revhead from way back, so we thought, “What can we do that’s different to make it stand out?” They didn’t have a dissimilar shape to a Trans Am, so I thought, “Why don’t I dress it up as one?” I think GM-H took a lot of cues from the head office over in the States.

When I was in Melbourne, I had Leigh put on an aftermarket Trans Am nosecone from Arcadipane Design, a set of flares from Vancraft, and a shaker from Nicks Wreckers, which then became Eagle Spares.

We also installed a set of ’77 Firebird tail-lamps and a factory Holden wing.

But you didn’t do the T-top straight away?

Leigh moved up to Queensland before I did, but when I moved up about six months later, I took the car off the road and said, “Let’s do something really radical.”

The Targa roof isn’t a five-minute job, so I had all the necessary chassis work done in Melbourne to allow him to do it – you can’t just cut the sections out.

There’s a story that did the rounds years and years ago about a bloke with an XA hardtop. The guy just cut the roof sections out, but he couldn’t open the doors because the car had just banana’d!

It took a good six months just to do the roof, because I was still working and had limited hours.

Tell us about the driveline.

We put a 308 in and specced it up to L34 Torana spec. Then we beefed up the internals of the M21 four-speed and put in a disc-brake rear end in from an HZ Statesman.

How did it go on the show scene?

I wanted to get it ready for Summernats in 1990, but I just ran out of time, so instead I worked towards the Street Machine Nationals, but I came out a bit disappointed and disillusioned because the car didn’t get much recognition.

I drove it back a couple of years later to the panel shop and said, “Mate, we’re gonna pull it all apart again.” We started with a custom mix of fluorescent red for the engine.

Everyone was doing chromework around the engine, so I made a few phone calls and found a bloke who did gold plating instead. I had all the nuts and bolts, the velocity stacks and the carburettors done in 23-carat gold. I redid the firewall and wheelwells in a custom Candy Apple Red with a Wildfire fleck through it, so when you lifted the bonnet it was like a giant toffee apple!

It was something else. People would say, “This guy has more money than sense.” But that’s what I wanted – something to really grab people’s eyes.

Where to from there?

I did the next Summernats, which was good. I didn’t enter it to be judged, but I got a lot of good feedback, and one or two magazines approached me.

Then I started the show circuit in South East Queensland, and it cleaned up everywhere I took the thing trophy-wise.

Would you believe it if I told you I submitted it in an All Ford Day show and picked up trophies? Today you’d be ostracised beyond redemption!

How did the Eager Maniac thing come about?

I had Eager tyres on the car, so I entered the competition. I didn’t know who I was up against, but nearly six months went by and I never heard who won, so I rang Bridgestone to ask.

They put the phone down for two or three minutes and then said, “Guess what? It was you!” So I got a full set of Eagers, I think $1000 in cash, and a big pewter-type trophy.

I’m going to keep that particular trophy, but all the others can go with the car [to its new owner]. I’ve also got one of those back covers framed in glass.

You’ve got pictures from IndyCar, too?

Yeah, I got approached by the IndyCar Corporation, who asked if I’d be interested in doing a promo shoot. They said they’d use a couple of bikini girls, and it ended up on the front page of the Gold Coast Sun paper.

Then Telstra got in touch with me and asked about the sound system, as sound-off competitions were just starting to come to the fore and they were doing one called Symphony for the Motor Car.

I wanted to get a foot in before everyone else, so I thought this would be a part of the big overkill spend. I spent $10,000 on Yamaha amps and god knows what else – it was ridiculous.

But again, it grabbed people’s attention and won a few competitions, so that was my foray into the limelight.

No Street Machine feature, though.

It never got one, but I wasn’t disappointed. I didn’t build it to see it in Street Machine; I built it to do what I wanted it to do, and it got recognition.

I always entered it in ‘Wild Custom’ and came away with good feedback. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and some people probably saw it as sacrilegious.

Looks like it’s been off the road for a while now?

I haven’t driven it in 10 years. I went to start it up the other day and couldn’t get the thing turned over.

Once we took the heads off, we found corrosion in two of the cylinder bores. I didn’t know what to do, but Leigh said whoever buys it is probably going to pull the engine anyway.

I would’ve liked to sell it as a going concern, but I’ve just had a guy look at it who’ll be returning this afternoon, and hopefully he’ll have the right amount of folding stuff with him. I’d just like someone else to get the use out of it.

Did you ever consider turning it back into a stocker?

I did, because they seem to be gaining in value, but I thought I’d be spending a conservative $50,000 to find a donor car. It’s just what we did with cars in the late 70s, the 80s and possibly into the 90s.

You wanted something that nobody else was driving around in, and it was nothing to chop a car up!

Reckon this potential buyer will do that?

He said he’d leave it like it is, and I said, “Okay, fair enough!”