Steve Santos’s elite-level EJ Holden wagon

This EJ was meant to be a surprise birthday present, but it evolved into a sweet Summernats Top 60 stunner instead

Photographers: Ben Hosking

Canberra’s Steve Santos is a man of many talents. While some enthusiasts knock out a ton of killer builds with a common style or brand, Steve takes a broader brush to his art – everything from 1000hp Walkinshaws to killer ProCharged Falcons, and even a turbo slant-six AP5 Valiant wagon (SM, Apr ’22).

First published in the July 2022 issue of Street Machine

That Mopar was built as a present for his father, though his dad was originally meant to get this sweet EJ wagon. “The EJ was purchased locally in the ACT to build as a surprise present for Dad’s 70th birthday, but these plans changed during the build, as I believed the car wouldn’t be appropriate for Dad,” Steve says.

Luckily, Steve was able to knock out that awesome Valiant for his dad instead, and now gets to cruise this slick, LS-powered wagon. However, it took a bucket-load of work to get the five-door cruiser to the Summernats Top 60 Elite level it is now.

“I started the project off by dummying up the running gear and got all the fabrication work sorted,” Steve begins. “Then I got it blasted and discovered the horror show. It had rust in a lot of places and very poor repairs to a previous rear-end accident. The K-frame also resembled swiss cheese.”

On the plus side, the sorry condition of the shell made it easier to get hacking away with the long list of body mods, as Steve wouldn’t be chopping up a cherry, museum-ready example.

“I purchased an EH wagon from a wrecking yard and began replacing the EJ’s rear quarters, beaver panel, front plenum and K-frame,” Steve says. Other work included making a custom exhaust outlet; shaving the front indicators; replacing the floors; fixing the door gaps; notching the K-frame to allow for the alternator and low-mount air-conditioning; adding a third brake light above the tailgate; and sneaking a hidden LED lightbar behind the grille.

Steve dry-assembled the whole car – including fitting the custom 20×7 and 20×8 BCI Smoothie wheels – so that there would be no surprise fabrication to perform once the Sikkens Bronze paint was laid down. He chose to powdercoat the underbody and interior for a hard-wearing finish before doing final fit-up of the drivetrain.

Steve had purchased a VE V8 Calais as a donor for the engine and transmission, and his good mate, Summernats Horsepower Heroes legend Jake Edwards, grabbed the late-model small-block to wake it up with a cam and lifter package, along with that awesome custom sheet-metal intake manifold.

Castlemaine Rod Shop supplied the independent front end and rack-and-pinion steering upgrade, the Ididit collapsible steering column and the drop spindles to get the EJ closer to terra firma. The brakes, chassis reinforcement kit, trans tunnel, handbrake cable kit and nine-inch diff also came in a big box of radness from the Rod Shop legends.

Steve maintains that having a complete donor vehicle saves a lot of time when building a car from the ground up. “Having the donor car was great, as it just sat there and I was able to use little bits and pieces, even if it was just for mock-up of an idea, before ordering brand-new parts for the finished car.”

The Wilwood disc brakes sitting at each corner of the EJ are now operated by the booster and master combo from the donor VE Calais. Other modern touches include push-button start, power windows, front and rear heated seats, reverse camera, air con, tyre pressure monitoring, central locking, and a remote wiper motor. It all helps this EJ cruise better than any early-60s Holden has any right to!

Though the outside is a work of art, Steve and Gavin Lockwood of GAS Auto Trim put bulk work into ensuring the cabin is also a swish place. The modified EJ bench seats have been trimmed in leather and paired with a restored factory tiller and a smooth leather hoodlining.

More bespoke work went into the custom cluster for the Classic Industries gauges, custom centre console, 3D-printed armrests, and smooth, flat floors.

The stereo runs a Sony head unit, Alpine amps and speakers, and Rockford Fosgate subs, providing enough thump to overcome the grumpy six-litre LS up front.

While it landed a place in the Summernats 34 Top 60 Elite Hall on debut, Steve has wasted no time in getting the slick streeter out onto the blacktop. “I like to build the cars fairly quickly and then take a couple of years to enjoy them,” he says. “The thing that kills me is that I can build a house in six months, which is huge, but a little car takes three times that long?”

You may think Steve would be too busy enjoying the wagon to contemplate another build, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. “I was going to have a few years off, but a car recently popped up on Gumtree and, well, it’s found its way into my garage,” he laughs. This man cannot be stopped!


Paint: Sikkens Bronze
Brand: Holden L98 6.0L
Induction: Custom manifold
Camshaft: Jake’s Performance
Oil system: CRS sump
Fuel system: VE Commodore pump and MRA
Cooling: Custom radiator, Spal fans
Exhaust: CRS headers, twin 2.5in system, 3in rear section
Gearbox: 6L80E six-speed auto
Converter: 2500rpm
Diff: CRS 9in, Truetrac centre, billet axles
Front: CRS independent front end, Viking coil-overs, CRS rack-and-pinion
Rear: Reset leaf springs, Koni shocks, CRS chassis kit, two-link trailing arms
Brakes: Wilwood discs (f & r)
Master cylinder: VE Commodore
Rims: BCI Smoothie; 20×7 (f), 20×8 (r)
Rubber: Nexen; 225/35R20 (f), 245/35R20 (r)

Jake Edwards at Jake’s Performance; Harvey for the EJ and EH parts; Colin at AA Sandblasting; Rob Sharp for help with the wiring problem-solving; Steve and Paul at Can-Fab Powder Coating; Gavin Lockwood at GAS Auto Trim; Canberra Bodyworks for the paint; Tito Contreras for his help