WE SPOTTED Keith van der Leerís HX panel van on the grass at the inaugural Red CentreNATS in all its retro 70s glory Ė polished Center Lines, bug catcher scoop, Stato front and a GTS spoiler on the roof. Heíd dragged it all the way from Rockingham, about as far west from the Alice as you can get!

Tell us a bit about the pano.

I bought the van about three-and-a-half years ago. It was a total rust-bucket wreck of a thing.

It sat idle for quite some time; then the very start of January last year I decided I was going to the Red CentreNATS, so me and a mate just turned around and said: ďLetís do it!Ē

So that gave you around nine months to get it done?

At that stage I was working two-and-one on the mines, so it only gave me every third week to work on it. Effectively the van was built in about 14 weeks. There were even a couple of breaks where if things were falling behind Iíd do a 36-hour stint on it. I was that determined to get to the Red CentreNATS it wasnít funny.

Is it a Sandman or anything special?

Nah, sheís just a Belmont, originally a 173 threeon- the-tree, but Iíve put all the GTS interior in it, GTS guards, HX Statesman front. It runs a pretty thumped-up 308 and good olí Trimatic thatís been tricked up with a 3000 high-stall, and Iím running a nine-inch diff in her.

Is the paint new as well?

Yep, a mate of mine did most of the panel and paint, but what I did was buy another chassis and put the body on that and sent it off to him. While he was doing the panel and paint, I was doing all the chassis, suspension and driveline work Ė all done in a single-car garage in my backyard.

Is it a straight black?

No, itís actually a Candy Apple Coke. If the lightís not on it at the right angle, it does look black, but when you get it out on a sunny day she absolutely beams out at you.

Youíve kept it pretty true to the old van era.

That was one of the things I was aiming for when I was building the van. I wanted stuff on there from the era that it was built, thatís why Iíve stuck with the old Center Line rims and whiteletter tyres.

Are you a mechanic by trade?

Well, Iím a jack of all trades, master of none. My very first involvement with cars was at the tender age of 14 when my dad bought me an FJ to be my first speedway car.

People cry when they see that stuff now.

I look back at my first three cars; I was the second owner of an EH Holden, then a GTR XU-1 and then an HQ Sandman panel van. I sort of think now: Why didnít I keep all three of them buggers?

Thatís how we all learn, by working on our old cars.

One time I put battery acid in the radiator of the EH. The radiator was that choked up I had to buy a new one, but I tell you what, it never ran so cool after that [laughs]. I still chuckle at myself when I think about that.

What was your highlight from the Red CentreNATS?

When I was getting interviewed by that sheila from the Darwin news. That was so funny because when she came up to me I had a can of Jackís in me hand, so I said: ďIíll just put this down.Ē She looked at me and said: ďDonít be so stupid, youíre in Alice Springs now!Ē s