My life with cars: Peter Fleetwood

Peter Fleetwood grew up in a family of gearheads, here are just some of his favourite cars through the years


For some of us, a love of cars is something that forms gradually over time. But for others, it is smashed into us almost from birth, thanks to a parent or sibling exposing us to the joys and trials of working with cars. Peter Fleetwood is definitely from the latter category, born into a family of gearheads with his late father Brian at the helm. Here are some of the cars that have shaped Peter’s journey.

First published in the December 2023 issue of Street Machine

1. Peter’s dad Brian was a mechanic, so petrol was already flowing through Peter’s veins as an infant. “When it came time to get my first car, Dad was all over it and saddled me up with a Morris 1100. On my first drive, Dad said that I’d never be able to roll it and proceeded to rip on the handbrake at about 50mph, scaring the crap out of me!” he recalls. “My first full-on build was this HQ sedan in 1983; I was 20 at the time and paid $600 for a mint 161-and-Trimatic Kingswood in original Chateau Mauve with a white roof.”

These were the days when you could still buy everything new from Holden, so Peter equipped his Quey with brand-new GTS front guards, an HZ bootlid, and a new Premier nosecone and grille, among other mods. “I built a tough 350 small-block Chev backed by a Powerglide with a 3000 stall and a 3.55-geared Salisbury diff, and had the car resprayed before fitting up a set of 14-inch Appliance steel-spoke wheels. It stayed in this guise for a couple of years before I got keen for something new.”

2. That “something new” turned out to be an HQ ute, which Peter decked out with the front clip and complete small-block running gear from his HQ sedan. A wagon rear bumper and respray in Glacier White with a Mother of Pearl overlay had it looking the goods, and Peter and a couple of mates hit the road for Canberra to attend the 1986 Street Machine Nationals.

“We bent a valve not far from NatEx, so we spent the first two days in the camping ground fixing it, but otherwise we had a great time,” he says. “I kept it for the next couple of years, but with marriage and kids looming on the horizon, the limitations of a ute were soon front and centre, so I swapped out the 350 for a 307 Chev and sold it on.”

3. With a smart-looking, six-cylinder, Malachite Green VC Commodore now adorning his driveway, the family-friendly extra doors and seats were covered, but Peter still yearned for V8 grunt. So he decided to throw the tough 350 he’d built for the HQ sedan into the Commodore. That said, fitting a small-block Chev into an early Commodore has never been easy, so Peter sought some advice.

“A schoolmate of mine, Geoff Hem, pioneered this swap with his silver VB, and it was his car that the well-known conversion kits were modelled off,” he explains. “I spoke to Geoff and he ran me through the process, and I soon had the Commodore sorted with the 350 backed by a single-rail four-speed and nine-inch, and a tunnel ram for good measure.”

Widened and chromed standard Commodore rims sorted the car’s visuals. Unfortunately, the EPA didn’t share Peter’s enthusiasm for a non-emissions, tunnel ram-equipped SBC Commodore, and it was defected off the road.

4. With the defected Commodore now returned to its six-cylinder/M21 four-speed roots, Peter swapped it for this mild-custom Holden street bruiser, which had been one of the first V8 HRs to prowl Dandenong back in the 1970s. Its tired 350 and Saginaw were soon changed out for Peter’s original tunnel-rammed 350 combo – you should be sensing a pattern here – backed by a Turbo 350 and nine-inch. Peter added a chassis kit to tie things together and undid some of the custom bodywork. “It was changed back to HR lights because the Fairmont GXL headlights and HT Premier grille were fitted so poorly,” he says. “I kept the HD pan and made my own custom HR grille from two units to eliminate the factory indicators.”

The HQ wagon tail-lights remained, and Peter even added an EH Premier rear bumper for something different. At the 1991 Calder Park Street Machine Nationals, Peter thrashed the car around the Thunderdome and did the burnout comp, before he and the family packed up and moved north to Queensland. “I drove that HR nearly all the way from Victoria – tunnel ram and all – before it packed it in with ignition problems at Aratula, about an hour or so west of Brisbane,” he says.

There was no way the Queensland authorities were going to let this car slide – a V8 early Holden wasn’t even legal in the state until the late 90s – so Peter yanked the trusty 350 and returned the HR to six-cylinder power for daily driver duties.

5. Not one to rest on his laurels, Peter soon immersed himself in the local Brisbane hot-car scene with this LH Torana sedan. He’d throw down an impressive 11.80 pass at Willowbank on a Saturday, then head to Lakeside on Sunday, street driving it everywhere in between. The mid-90s were a golden era of street machining in Brisbane, and Peter was knee-deep in events like the Lawnton Powernats – even taking out the burnout comp one year – while a Grand Champion gong further north at the Bundy Nats was another feather in this Torry’s cap.

Its aqua paint and Cragar S/S wheels made it a standout, with the undercarriage detailed just as neatly the body. Power again came from Peter’s ever faithful tunnel-rammed 350 Chev and Turbo 350 combo, backed by a 3.89-geared nine-inch. “This car won me buckets of trophies,” he recalls. “I later swapped the LH as a roller for an HG ute drag car.”

6. Keen for a bit of fun at Summernats 10 in 1996, Peter and his mate Jason Davis built their own ’Nats cruiser out of this LX sedan. When they bought the car, it had already been converted to a two-door sedan using hatch doors, but had suffered some side damage along the way. Peter cut the roof off and fitted UC hatchback quarter panels to improve the lines, then nestled the entire 350 Chev running gear and interior from his LX sedan between the convertible’s purple-pearl-over-mint-green flanks.

“We had such an awesome time,” he recalls. “We killed so many tyres on the cruise route, and even had bike and car racing legend Wayne Gardner doing hot laps with us. I later sold it to a Holden wrecker here in Brisbane when I moved to Sydney.”

7. With the LX sedan long sold and Peter’s interest in the HG drag ute waning, he decided to get back to his tough street roots and build this HT Monaro. His ever-reliable 350 Chev driveline was again summoned for duty, the only change from the Torana being a switch to 4.3 gears in the Tank Fairlane nine-inch.

The body was finished in an unusual yet striking coral hue, complemented by an HT Premier grille, HG tail-lights, Premier bootlid garnish and Weld ProStars. The Monaro ran consistent 11.90s along with plenty of street kilometres before it was sold – including that cornerstone 350 Chev engine – in 2008.

8. One of Peter’s dream cars had long been a 1969 Camaro, and he picked up this beaut in 1996 as a rolling shell. Peter sorted a right-hand-drive conversion using an HZ GTS dash, and first had it on the road as a small block-powered streeter. A switch to a 454 big-block in 2004 upped the ante, with 11.80s the order of the day until Peter blew the engine at the 2009 Sydney Nostalgia Drags. “The 454 is now out to 468 cubes and has run a 7.0-second best over the eighth-mile,” he says.

“I’m super paranoid about wrecking the car, as I love it too dearly, so I’m building an HQ ute to swap the running gear into and go properly racing again. I’ve owned this Camaro longer than any of the 100 or so other cars that have passed through my hands, so it is the definite keeper.”

9. Another of Peter’s current stable is this HZ wagon, which he has owned for four years. It now runs a 307 Chev and TH700 driveline and rolls on Center Line Auto Drags. The exterior retains its original patina, but everything underneath and inside is new or reconditioned, including the WB Statesman trim and yellow-needle HZ GTS dash.

“It’s time to whittle down the fleet, so I will have this and my HZ One Tonner up for sale soon,” Peter reveals. “I’ve got a 1950 Chevrolet Deluxe coupe also in the build, so between that, the Camaro and my HQ ute, there’ll be enough to tinker with.”