WRITING feature articles on cars built by Down Town Kustoms is normally quite a task, as the Taree workshop led by Graeme Brewer has built a solid reputation for constructing genre-busting machines overloaded with cool features. It’s never easy to squeeze all of these little details into a concise story, but I found it particularly daunting in the case of Peter Sharp’s SHQRP Monaro, thanks to the sheer scale of the work involved in making this radical, wide-body HQ.
First published in the July 2021 issue of Street Machine
Still, my own professional struggle doesn’t compare to the strain Graeme Brewer has felt over the past eight years. “It feels like a weight has been lifted now it’s coming to the end of its build process,” he sighs. “This car has been a massive mental load, because every modification creates 10 other things you need to find solutions to, and there’s thousands of mods, so it extrapolates out.”
Coming up with ideas for mad mods is one thing, but working out how to integrate them cohesively into a whole car is a tougher ask. Building something in a style that hasn’t really been done before is an even spicier burrito to unwrap. “With a car of this level, there’s no textbook to solve these issues for you, so you just have to think and think and think about it,” Graeme explains. “It just consumes you; I would take it home and it would creep into my brain. It could get stressful, because I don’t always have the answers right there and then.
“These days we know the problems that we will likely face in a build of this stature, and we can fix them before they pop up. But back when we were building this car, we had so much more trial-and-error in the process. Funnily enough, we didn’t have many redos, apart from part of the floor to accommodate the twin three-inch exhaust after the engine stepped up from the naturally aspirated LS1 to the supercharged LSX.”
While it stands as a unique, coachbuilt vehicle today, Peter Sharp’s HQ build actually started off the same way as many others do: Bloke buys car with an idea of a quick tidy-up and repower; then the project snowballs into a full tear-down rebuild. And DTK didn’t initially feature in the build plans back in 2012.
“The car went to a normal smash shop to fix the rust and have an LS fitted, but it was too much work for them, so the shop owner suggested to Peter that I should do it,” says Graeme. “This HQ was totally rusted and we had to remake every piece of the inner and outer structures until halfway up the bodyline. It was all swiss cheese, and we barely had enough to jig off, but we managed to do that and then we started making stuff.”
SHQRP was one of the first builds we saw completely de-skinned of exterior panels so the rotten inner structures could be removed and replaced with hand-fabricated pieces. While high-end show cars of the time typically featured smoothed, sheeted-over structures, Graeme and DTK added OE-style swages, lips and folds to add strength and rigidity that an original HQ coupe couldn’t dream of. But this is only the tip of the epic engineering inherent in this car.
Building from the centre out, the whole car has been ‘wedged’, which makes for a mega-fat look that many mistake for DTK chopping the coupe’s roof!
“We had to keep the essence of the HQ’s design, especially with the reverse line through the rear guards that most people body-work out, but we wanted to enhance it and push further than what other people had done,” Graeme explains. “We pushed the front of the front guards 10mm wider so the back of those guards came out 30mm, then the doors were wedged out 60mm, so the rear guards fill out 100mm, and it all blends for a cohesive look. We also had to straighten out the bottom of the doors where they roll inwards on a stock car, so our new doors blended with the wider rear guards that were hand-formed by Jamie Downie and Nate Browne from Kustom Garage in Melbourne.”
Although we’re almost used to seeing ‘wide-body’ conversions on late-model cars today, the girth DTK added to the HQ’s side lines caused a raft of engineering changes to be made. A good example of this is the twin-pivot door hinges.
“Because of the wedged guard, the stock door hinges wouldn’t work, so we had to come up with a new action to open the doors,” Graeme said. “This was back in the days before we used CAD, so we made templates in timber, got them laser-cut and had to cross our fingers that they’d work. Today you’d 3D-print templates and know precisely what you needed through computer design.
“The part of the A-pillar where the door mounts had to be upgraded so the big heavy doors, which have side-intrusion bars for engineering, don’t sag. The hinge is massive, with two pivot points to hold the door’s weight.
“Everything in the structure of the car is different except the inner of the parcel shelf. Making the car work was the primary goal, so learning modern ways of putting cars together was also important. For instance, the floor panels are bonded and glued on, like on a modern car.”
Such a thorough reworking of a car that sits so closely to the hearts and minds of Aussies is a huge responsibility to undertake, and while you’d think the DTK boss would be fiercely protective of his ideas and efforts, he actually relishes hearing what people think.
“I really like hearing honest feedback,” Graeme states. “I think this car has so much to look at and it’s so far away from what we’re used to seeing with an HQ Monaro that it might go over peoples’ heads. But I’m incredibly proud of what the boys and I have achieved, and I hope Peter loves it.”
In a cruel twist of fate, Peter hasn’t been able to get home to check the finished product out, as he lives in Hong Kong (read more below). Still, he’s rapt with SHQRP. “I think it is a work of art,” he says, “but I love the fact it isn’t a show car: it is a fully functioning vehicle. The intention was this car was always going to be something I could drive around Australia, and that is still the plan with my wife. I’d even love to take it to the US and drive it around for a few months, because my son lives in Los Angeles. I can’t thank Graeme enough, and I just cannot wait to get home to take it for a drive.”
- The 6.2L iron LSX comes with a boost-friendly 9.0:1 compression ratio, six-bolt mains, a 4340 forged steel crank, forged rods and slugs, a 210/230/121 roller cam and LS3-pattern heads. GM sold this engine as the boost-friendly alternative to risking a junkyard iron motor.
- “Something nobody picks is that the centre of the bonnet has been raised 2.5in,” Graeme revealed. “We fabbed a new bonnet to clear the blower, so we had to make a whole new frame inside the HQ frame so the bonnet skin wouldn’t flex.”
- The symmetrical engine bay features removable hand-formed panels to allow access to the PWR radiator or air conditioning system for servicing. All wiring and fluid plumbing has been tucked for cleanliness, while Speedflow supplied all fittings for the car, including the AN-style a/c fittings. “The whole engine bay is fabricated, even the radiator support,” says Graeme. “It ended up that shape because it matches the shape of the brake booster.”
- FRONT CRADLE
“We weren’t making our own front ends when we built SHQRP, so we started with an off-the-shelf front end and we had to chop it up and change it all because it didn’t work how we wanted,” says Graeme of the tube control arms and rack-and-pinion front end.
Behind the blown LS is a 4L60E built by Shift Right to be as strong as it can be, while a 9in diff lives out back packed with full-floating axles and Truetrac LSD.
Underneath, the car has DCI insulation around hot areas, while the undercarriage has been Raptor-lined, colour-matched to the wheels, so it will work well on the road. “It did hurt the brain knowing it was going to have to work at 100km/h on a highway road trip,” Graeme says.
ShockWave air struts provide a compact air suspension packaging solution, while AccuAir load-levelling air management uses sensors on each corner to keep SHQRP flat and level.
The cooling system is all PWR products, while DTK built a full exhaust system comprising 2in primaries, twin 3in pipes, H-pipe, six cats and four mufflers. “It was a nightmare to package,” Graeme laughs.
WHILE others have tried swapping late-model interiors into classic cars, DTK has done a fantastic job of integrating the VZ Commodore interior into a car with radically different shapes. From the very beginning of fab work, the HQ was being built to accommodate Peter’s tall height, as he wanted to be able to circumnavigate the continental mass of Australia in his hand-built street machine.
“We knew we were going with a VZ Commodore interior, but one thing we did ahead of time was sizing the cabin,” Graeme says.
“We knew Peter liked the ergonomics of the VZ ute he drove up here one time, but we had to lower the floorpans to give him a good amount of room in the cabin.
“When we built the transmission tunnel, we made sure the VZ dash, Commodore pedal assembly and late-model air conditioning system fit at that point, and we used all the parts from the VZ donor car we had. SHQRP actually has a VZ Commodore bulkhead installed where the plenum is on the HQ, so we knew the VZ air conditioning hardware would fit in perfectly and work like a modern car.
“We modelled the whole interior off that era of Commodore; that’s why the dash was positioned low compared to the HQ dash, as the floor in the HQ is higher than the VZ.
“When the car was in Melbourne having the rear quarters made, we sent it around to DCI to have all the soundproofing and insulation worked out at their shop. When it came time to install the interior, we just opened the boxes in the right order and it all fit in perfectly. It made the whole job incredibly easy.
“The interior was initially roughed in with help from Todd from Eastside Kustom Trim in Newcastle, before Brent Parker up here took over the job and laid the finishing touches to the point you see here.”
YOU need to have a special vision to commission a build of the size and scale of SHQRP, and Peter Sharp is exactly this kind of rad cat. What is even more impressive is that he has done this while living in Hong Kong, a world away from the sleepy township of Taree.
Having already restored an HG Premier and deciding to move on from his motorcycle hobby, Peter began the SHQRP project one night as he was browsing eBay.
“I’ve always loved the HQ, and in 2009 I found two Monaro coupes on eBay,” he explains. “This car came from Coffs, and I bought another car from Wyong. The Coffs car was in better condition than the car from Wyong, so we put all the good parts on the Coffs car and sold the Wyong car for what I paid for it.”
While the end result is epic, Peter wasn’t initially out to build the most radical, street-beating HQ two-door that could be dreamed up.
“The wide-body came about because I wanted big wheels,” he says. “However, I didn’t want them sitting under the car with a tubbed look and the associated impact that would have on the rear seats, so this is how it morphed into the car it is today. We thought about how I wanted to use the car and the engineering required to make that work, and then found solutions that worked stylistically to suit.”
So, after eight years, is Peter stoked?
“This car became what it is because of Graeme and his crew’s skills,” he asserts. “Graeme’s great because of his creativity as well as his tenacity to find solutions to problems.”
ANY car that takes years to build will have some features that will lock it into a certain era, and Graeme is refreshingly honest about this when discussing not only the finished car, but his and DTK’s own evolution during SHQRP’s build.
“I’d say this is the car that got us noticed as Down Town Kustoms to start with,” he smiles. “I think it is good to look back at the process of building it, even knowing that, if we built this car now, we’d build it totally differently.
“What I mean by that is our processes have evolved, so we can do it with computer design to speed up the process and increase the precision, plus we’re far more experienced with cars of this level now. That’s also on top of the parts availability improving so much in recent years – even things like the HID headlights the HQ has, as they were done before LED headlights were so common.
“There are parts on this car that were so far outside our experience of car building and fabrication when we started, like the rear quarters that Jamie made, but we’ve learned and evolved as a shop. At the time we were building it, all the processes were incredibly advanced. For instance, we made the grille in timber and James Foden had to 3D-scan that, which was almost science fiction at that time, and then it was billet-machined.
“Today, the technology we can build a car with makes these processes far simpler and quicker, so there is no guesswork or trial-and-error. But this car is a good reminder of how we used to work, and how far we’ve all come as professional car builders.”
UPDATE, JUNE 2022
PETER has recently taken delivery of the HQ and is driving the wheels off it when he is in Australia. You can keep track of their adventures here.
1972 HOLDEN HQ MONARO LS
Paint: PPG Mercedes Bright Silver
Type: 6.2L GM LSX376-B15
ECU: GM LS3
Blower: Harrop HTV2300
Cooling: PWR radiator
Exhaust: Custom DTK, 2in primaries, twin 3in system
Gearbox: 4L60E four-speed auto
Diff: 9in, Truetrac LSD, full-floating axles
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Front: ShockWave air struts, AccuAir air management, custom IFS
Rear: ShockWave air struts, AccuAir air management, custom triangulated four-link
Brakes: Harrop six-pot (f), Harrop four-pot (r) Master cylinder: Wilwood
WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: Forgeline ZX3P; 19×9 (f), 19×14 (r)
Rubber: Pirelli P Zero; 245/45R19 (f), 355/30R19 (r)
Graeme and the Down Town Kustoms crew for all their thoughtful hard work and dedication to quality; Speedflow for their
support; Jamie Downie and Nate Browne at Kustom Garage for the rear guards; Heath Moore at Harrop; Forgeline; DCI; Linda Vesperman and Benny Maxwell for the renderings; Brent Parker for the trim