After 20 years building their breathtaking Holden FX ute, Grahame and Colin Barker got a fitting reward at Summernats 31
This article on Grahame Barker’s Holden FX ute was originally published in the March 2018 issue of Street Machine
THE Meguiar’s Judging Pavilion was packed on the Saturday afternoon of Summernats 31 for the Elite awards. As the name of the winner of Top Judged Elite was read, screams erupted from Grahame and Colin Barker’s family and friends, who’d come along to support them and their 1951 Holden ute, SPCLFX. After 20 years in the build, the quietly spoken Barkers had taken out the top gong for Elite-level show cars at Australia’s biggest modified car show.
It looks almost standard at first glance, but that’s because many of the FX’s body mods are cleverly integrated into the humpy’s overall form. Flush-fitted glass, shaved gutters and deleted quarter-windows are just the start of the work done, and those mirrors are actually electrically operated BMW M3 units from German tuning company Hartge
What made this even more of a stunning achievement is that the pro touring FX is their first crack at building a street machine!
The Barkers are quick to point out they built the FX how they wanted to, and have been overwhelmed by how well SPCLFX has been received by the public. And this was no chequebook build; both Colin and Grahame were actively involved the whole way through
“This is the first car we’ve ever modified,” Grahame says. “We bought the ute in 1997 and it started off as a first car for our son Colin. We had planned upgrades including a 186S red six, HR front end, four-speed gearbox, some rust repairs and paint – none of which happened! It morphed into a fancy work ute, and then got out of control.”
The bonnet and hard tray lid open and close remotely on electronically operated linear actuators, while the side-opening tailgate operates on recessed FB Holden door hinges. The hard lid actually took four attempts to get right, but the finished result is stunning. The access panels hiding the fuel tank in the tray floor are CNC-routed plastic, hydrodipped to look like carbonfibre
Put simply, SPCLFX is a sensory overload, with arrow-straight panelwork, carefully integrated upgrades and modern tech, that nonetheless remains sympathetic to the vehicle’s 1940s origins. Even the choice of a supercharged 3.8-litre V6 over a bent-eight isn’t what we’ve come to expect from Elite-level cars, but they are the perfect choice for this humpy, which has been through engineering certification and is now fully and legally registered in NSW.
While that famous chrome grille looks how The General intended, it actually hides LED indicators, which match the LED lights used around the rest of the car. The beautifully integrated LED headlights sit in frenched buckets, blending modern pro touring touches with classic street machine style
It was a family trip to Summernats in 1998 that ignited Grahame’s desire to take the ute to a much higher standard of build than was initially envisaged. It also meant the quick and cheap rebuild would turn into a much longer, more involved process. “I commented that it would be amazing to have a car good enough to reach the Top 60, so the FX became the focus of that dream,” he says. “While the design process was always fluid, it was important that we maintained the integrity of the iconic FX model. It also had to be a driver that was comfortable, reliable, and not too outlandish.”
Once the tinworm had been chopped out, Grahame and Colin decided they’d like to fit some fatter wheels than the cheese-cutters GM-H equipped its FX-FJs with. The full VS ute four-link and BTR diff copped bulk hours of smoothing, polishing and painting to get it to a level where it has picked up several Elite awards, including Top Undercarriage & Driveline at Adelaide’s Extreme Auto Expo
While Ian Carpenter’s Kreative Enterprises and Warwick Parr from Warwick’s Autobarn were responsible for some of the clever engineering and rust repairs over the prior two decades, it was Sydney’s Image Conversions that really got the ute done for the Barkers. A fairly new shop on the Harbour City scene, Image Conversions is run by Michael and Matt Ellard; you might remember Michael’s epic candy chop-top LS1 Rodeo from our May 2016 issue. “In late 2016 Mick from Image Conversions approached me about finishing the FX,” says Grahame. “I’ve known Mick and Matt for many years, meeting them while they worked in the family business building limousines with their dad Ray. After Ray’s retirement, Mick decided to start his own workshop building modified vehicles. This is when things really got out of control, with more dreams, more ideas and more modifications. Together, the boys have taken what was a great car to the next level; they have exceeded all expectations and helped realise the dream.”
From the ceramic-coated exhaust to the polished Australian Street Rod stainless-steel A-arm with coil-over struts, the undercarriage is not just pretty, it is functional. The power steering rack, Commodore disc brakes and aftermarket crossmember will help this humpy handle like no other once it starts racking up street miles soon
After nearly 20 years in the build, a deadline to debut the commercial was set just six months away, in the form of MotorEx 2017 in Sydney, so no time could be wasted.
The ute was in primer and sported much more modern underpinnings, but it was a long way from finished.
All the wiring and air conditioning, brake and fuel lines have been hidden within false boxes inside the chassis rails. On top of this, the bolts holding the front guards to the inner guards have been hidden, requiring custom carbonfibre covers to also hide them from underneath when going through show judging
Way back at the start of the project a wrecked VS Commodore ute had been purchased to rob its four-link rear end and BorgWarner diff. After upgrading the Panhard rod, boxing and smoothing the control arms, moving the wheel tubs in to the rail, and slicing the BTR78 diff to fit, the Barkers turned their attention to the front end, and figured they couldn’t leave the old 1940s-spec steering in place with that beaut new rear end.
Australian Street Rods built a custom front end with handmade tube control arms, adjustable coil-over shocks, and a custom crossmember that has a power rack-and-pinion steering set-up mounted within it. That connects to the Billet Specialties column using modern Borgeson polished unis and custom stainless-steel spline shafts.
The wheels are 18x8in and 20x10in American Legend Talons, and were originally going to feature painted centres. However, seeing how they looked in their polished and brushed finish, the decision was made to leave them as-delivered. They hide polished VS Commodore disc brakes at all four corners
Sitting above them is a factory supercharged L67 3.8-litre Holden V6. Purchased fresh in a crate, BG Engines upgraded it with some mild head work, port-matched intake, a ported throttlebody and Crow pushrods, plus a stage IV cam, blower pulley and snout from Yella Terra. Controlled by a MoTeC M800 ECU, the forced-six works a Toyota W58 five-speed manual that has been fitted up using a Dellow Conversions bellhousing.
The footwell and firewall have been moved forward to give more cabin space for driver and passenger, while summers will be nice in there thanks to Vintage Air a/c. Other neat touches include the one-piece hoodlining and Boyd Coddington-series gauges from Classic Instruments, which tie the custom dash to the car’s 40s heritage
While that work is nice, what sets this FX apart is the fact the entire drivetrain and undercarriage has been smoothed and finished to perfection. It matches the bodywork, which is pin-straight and packing some seriously cool custom touches, even though it looks almost factory-fresh.
The shaved gutters, flush glass, LED tail-lights, custom blinkers hidden in the grille, frenched headlights and custom rollpan are all easy enough to spot. But then there’s the electronically operated bonnet and custom hard lid; the mirror-image firewall that has been pushed forward for more room in the cabin; smoothed floorpans; custom dash and console; electronically operated cowl vent; sideopening smoothed tailgate; and hidden fasteners holding the front guards to the inner structure.
All this work has been covered in a Lexus Titanium Silver that was customised and then laid down by Michael at Image Conversions. That work has paid off, with SPCLFX taking a huge amount of tinware at the shows it has entered.
Looking at these pics of the humpy in the build, the extent of the work carried out by Grahame, Colin and the many talented tradespeople involved in the FX’s transformation becomes clear. The date stamps on the photos also confirm the build’s 20-year gestation
“It debuted at Meguiar’s MotorEx 2017 in Sydney, qualifying as a Superstar and winning silver medals in Bodywork, Engine & Components, and Undercarriage & Driveline,” Grahame says. “We also won bronze medals in Interior & Rear Compartment, Impact & Display, and Overall Innovation. We took it to the Adelaide Extreme Auto Expo, where we got first place in the Elite Top Five, won Best Undercarriage & Driveline, Best Interior & Rear, Best Paint and Best Bodywork. At Summernats 31 the ute won Top Judged Elite, Top Standard Paint, Top Pro Custom, Top Bodywork, and scored a Top 10 plate.
“It’s taken 20 years to get the FX done and the journey has included many highs and lows,” Grahame continues. “We met and dealt with some amazing people, but also faced challenges of both the human and mechanical variety along the way.
“Colin [the now 36-year-old son] has been actively involved throughout the build, and my daughter Jodie and wife Debbie have been understanding and patient. The best part is my in-laws Amber and Jonno, Jan plus the grandkids Zoe, Josh, Jesse and Ivy were all there to share the success.”
While there is an FC hiding in the back of the family shed, for now Grahame plans on enjoying the FX by doing what it was built for: driving it.
1951 HOLDEN FX UTE
Paint: Custom Spies Hecker Titanium
Type: Holden L67 3.8L V6
Induction: Eaton M90 supercharger
Cam: Crow stage IV
Pushrods: Crow 1010 steel
Valve springs: Crow
Exhaust: Custom 2.5in stainless
ECU: MoTeC M800
Cooling: PWR alloy radiator, Davies Craig thermo fan
Gearbox: Toyota W58 five-speed manual
Diff: Custom BorgWarner, LSD
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Front suspension: Custom arms and crossmember, power rack conversion, custom coil-overs, Aldan shocks
Rear suspension: Modified VS Commodore four-link, custom upper arms and Panhard rod, custom coilovers, Rodtech shocks
Brakes: VS Commodore discs (f & r), VH40 remote booster
WHEELS & TYRES
Wheels: American Legend Talon; 18×8 (f), 20×10 (r)
Tyres: Michelin; 215/40 (f), 275/30 (r)