Big-block FX Holden ute at Northern Nats 2021

A wild early Holden built for sprints, drags and skids!

Photographers: Ashleigh Wilson

FAR North Queensland’s Northern Nats 2021 had the expected variety of machines tearing up the burnout pad, but nothing raised a smile quite like this ancient FX Holden ute, WRINKLES.

Er, WRINKLES? “It’s just an old car,” says owner Paul Khan. “It’s got wrinkles.” Fair enough. And for such a small, unassuming classic, it sure as hell made a lot of noise and smoke.

“The original build was intended for hillclimbs and sprints,” says Paul. “Then my kids got interested in burnouts, so we converted it to a burnout car. We’d like to do drags in it as well down the track.”

Paul hand-built WRINKLES himself with a little help from his sons, saving a basket case and turning it into “my burnout animal”. Much like it being an old-school car, Paul’s an old-school builder, employing plenty of custom fabrication and using whatever parts were at his disposal to enhance the ute’s looks and performance.

Under that curvaceous bonnet sits a 454-cube big-block Chev with 396 heads, all set back 19 inches – easy enough to do, as the original firewall had rusted away. Paul says there’s only a mild cam, and it’s all mated to a tricked-up Powerglide gearbox with an Outlaw Shop torque converter. There’s a shortened, 31-spline nine-inch diff out back, connected to the trans via a massive tailshaft from Hy-Way Truck Accessories. Paul’s also fitted FiTech fuel injection.

WRINKLES’ shell is actually a 1954 FJ – well, the back half, at least. The front end is all unmistakeable and gorgeous big-grilled FX, including the sheet metal, bonnet, guards and chrome face.

“I weighed the front of the FJ, its grille and bumper bars, and when doing the same with the FX, it was actually lighter,” Paul explains. “This would be better for drags, so we went with that.”

A mate saw the FJ advertised by the roadside in Mackay some 25 years ago, costing $200 or a swap for a motorcycle. Two scrapyard-bound bikes were soon traded, and four hours later a sad-looking ute was dropped at Paul’s place in Townsville. “It was very rusty, way beyond what you’d turn back into a street car,” he says.

The chassis is only three rails – two main ones and a third in the middle – with Paul’s hand-built steel rollcage adding the extra protection. The bottom half of the body and floorpans – which had been a rusted mess – were thrown away and new sections crafted. Those bulbous rear arches have been custom rolled, while inside the spartan cabin is a bespoke tunnel with shifter and a twin handbrake-style set-up (as seen in rally cars) mounted on top. Seats are old Cobra steel-framed items, but all the wood and cardboard’s been removed and replaced with steel sheeting in case of an accident. “They’re heavier, but safer,” Paul says.

Highlighting the numerous parts bins Paul has raided, there’s an HR Holden crossmember, HQ stub axles, Commodore brakes with WB Holden calipers, Subaru rack-and-pinion steering and a Holden LS Astra electric power steering pump. According to Paul, the Hyundai tie-rod ends are on the shortest Holden arms you can get, which are off a Statesman. Finally, 14-inch Commodore front wheels are used with just the right offset to clear the guards.

It feels every inch its age inside the titchy cabin, until you fire up that V8 and things feel far more up-to-date. That’s if you can overcome the pain of your eardrums shattering: let’s just say there’s not much in the way of sound-deadening.

“It’s only been rough-tuned in the shed, but when you stand on it, it just spins the wheels,” Paul says.

A newbie to the burnout world, at WRINKLES’ debut at Rockynats a few months ago Paul tagged the wall, creasing a front guard and bending the bumper. “I got some advice from the Masters guys down there; they told me the right things to do and I improved immediately,” he says. “I just need more experience.”

Northern Nats provided that chance, with the FX wowing crowds on each of the three days.

Paul’s first run was drama-filled. The car had to be jumped after refusing to start; then the cold night air and the engine’s mad heat meant his windscreen completely fogged up – not helped of course by the billowing tyre smoke. “There were lots of hand signals needed!” he laughs.

An unlikely burnout animal, WRINKLES is sure to be one of the most fun, striking and welcome tyre-shredders in Queensland for years to come.

Photographers: Ashleigh Wilson