THIS article on Paul and Cheryl Grant’s HZ panel van ‘Phoenix’ was originally published in the February 2008 issue of Street Machine magazine.
BUYING an unfinished project can sometimes be a blessing but more often it can turn out to be a curse. Paul and Cheryl Grant’s HZ panel van — now dubbed Phoenix — luckily fell into the first group, and when Paul teamed up with the previous owner to get the car finished, a little magic happened.
After their previous van was written off in an accident, they couldn’t find another body to rebuild it, so this was purchased as a semi-completed project. It had begun to a very high standard but never completed, back in the mid-90s.
“I knew of this van, owned by a guy called John Cole, and I knew he was thinking of selling it. He’d put a lot of work into it, with the idea of making a splash at Summernats, but It had sat covered in his workshop for about 10 years,” says Paul. A deal was struck and the van was delivered late in 2005. Wanting it ready for the 2007 Easter Van Nationals, Paul started into the mammoth rebuild straight away.
He’d already smoothed and prepared a chassis, diff and a whole bunch of suspension parts, so these were painted silver and assembled. Everything else was then ground and filed smooth, including the engine and gearbox, the engine bay, all the suspension components, and the brakes. Next, all the plumbing and wiring throughout the car was hidden. The body, which wears striking and ultra-modern Honda Gothic Grey paint, was then mounted to the rolling chassis.
Before that, the body received some serious surgery — it takes a few looks to grasp all the subtle changes that add up to one sleek and modern result. Up front, it’s easy to pick the forward-opening bonnet but a closer look also reveals deleted inner guards and the flat-sheeted firewall. To further tidy up the engine bay, things like the battery, washer bottle and gas mixers were relocated and hidden. The front guards have been welded to the nosecone, giving the whole front end a smooth one-piece appearance.
Poking your head underneath reveals the fully sheeted floor pan, all painted in the same silver as the chassis and suspension, resulting in an undercarriage that’s as smooth as the body. Around the back, keen observers will notice the larger-than-usual glass in the now electrically opened top tailgate, as well as the relocated gas support struts. Front and rear glass moon roofs were also installed.
Rather than scouring catalogues and building an engine from scratch, Paul sourced a complete GM crate engine from Eagle Spares. The brand new 350ci small-block was fitted with a Technocarb straight gas system for improved cruising economy. Twin gas tanks are mounted under the rear floor, smoothed and also painted in that silver. Sending the burnt gas rearward are a set of Pacemaker extractors and a twin 2½in exhaust system, all Jet-Hot coated in grey.
Behind the Chevy mill sits a TH700 gearbox, providing an economical overdrive for cruising, while a Ford nine-inch with 3.5 gears spins the wheels. Pressing the 18×8 Bonspeed Clutch billet wheels onto the ground are lowered springs and leaves, with Koni shocks, while slowing down is achieved with 300mm discs at the rear and monster 330mm rotors at the pointy end.
While the outside is sweet, any van worthy of the name needs a showcase interior and the HZ doesn’t disappoint. Up front, a full Mitsubishi Verada dash, centre console (housing a Hurst Pro-Matic shifter) and door trims look as if they were put there in the factory — it even has the Verada’s air conditioning system. Retrimmed Toyota Supra seats could be mistaken for custom-made items. However, some subtle mods were needed in the floor and door trims to make it all fit. New moulded hood linings were installed, and the insides of the tailgate and rear section were trimmed. The front and rear floors were sheeted smooth and, rather than carpet, they were then trimmed in the same material as the rest of the interior for a seamless look.
Long gone is the push-button radio; in its place is a complete entertainment system, consisting of an Alpine touch-screen CD/DVD player, a PlayStation and three screens. Three amps drive the four-inch, 6×9 and 10in speakers scattered throughout the interior, and the whole system has a dedicated battery to power it — hidden, of course.
All this was carried out in near-record time, as the Van Nationals deadline loomed closer, and Paul is very grateful for the help he received during the build, especially from previous owner.
“We had three weeks left and probably three months’ work to be done,” he says. “In between all the swearing and tool-throwing, I think we managed a small miracle. There are still dozens of things to be done but that’s tomorrow’s job!”