FOR many of us, the cars we desire later in life are the cars that inspired us in our formative years, and so it goes with Doug MacDonald and his HG panel van.
“My passion for Holden vans started as a kid, around 14 years old,” Doug says, “watching my older brother’s mates driving around in tough-sounding vans and hearing stories about all the good times they had with them.”
Doug wanted part of that dream, so when he finally got his licence and a bit of money in his pocket, he ended up buying a van from his brother’s mate.
“I kept it original, tidied it up and drove it for a while, but it didn’t curb the urge I had to build my own, unique, even tougher van,” he says. And that’s where this 10-year build got its start.
Doug sold the other van and set out looking for a blank canvas so he could build the van of his dreams. He found a windowless sin-bin on eBay and the price was right, but the problem was that the HG van was in Tasmania.
“I couldn’t just go take a look at it,” Doug says. “It was going for $400 and there was only a few hours left before the auction ended. So I contacted the seller and he told me that it either had to be sold over eBay, or the scrap metal guy was going to grab it. I had to make a quick decision.”
It’s pretty obvious which way Doug decided to go, and at that stage he was thinking: “What a bargain!” without realising what it was going to cost him to get the van back over to the mainland.
“So my first big bill, before the resto even began, was a return trip on the Spirit of Tasmania for myself, my old man, and a car and car trailer,” Doug says. “All up it was $2500; over six times the cost of the car!”
Back in Melbourne, Doug moved the van into his dad’s factory so he could strip it down to the last nut and bolt and mount it on a trolley. He could see it had ‘some’ rust, so he set about finding a workshop to handle the metal repairs and then they sent it off for sand-blasting.
“Unfortunately the van had way more rust than I was expecting,” Doug says. “The bonnet, guards and entire floor were rusted through. I knew from the start that I would be getting someone to build the car for me, but I never anticipated the amount of custom metalwork that was involved.”
From there the van went through several different workshops over the years, for various reasons. The extended timeline and multiple hands certainly added some expense to the final build.
“The huge amount of metalwork became a process of one step forward, and often several steps back,” Doug admits. “One mob would use lead filler, the next preferred bog and the third decided to cut the whole side out and do it all again.”
Eventually Doug found his way to Watermans Collision Repair Centre in Blackburn, Melbourne, where they went through the bodywork again before coating the lot with a silver base that was then covered in a custom De Beer green with a three-layer Xirallic pearl. They did a cracker of a job too. Green is worse than black in many ways, because not only does it show every defect, but it gives poor coverage per layer. Squirting more paint on doesn’t help because then it just ends up all blotchy, but as
Colour: De Beer custom green
Engine: LS2 6.0L
Turbos: GT35, 44mm Tial wastegates Intake: Typhoon alloy Throttlebody: Stock Heads: Stock Pistons: Stock Crank: Stock Rods: Stock Cam: Stock ECU: Factory Commodore Ignition: MSD Exhaust: C&A turbo headers, stainless 3in exhaust
Transmission: T56 six-speed Clutch/converter: VE SS Diff: Art Morrison 9in, alloy housing, Strange aluminium centre, Truetrac, 31-spline axles, 3.7 gears
Brakes: Wilwood four-piston (f & r) Springs: Shockwave airbags (f & r) Shocks: Shockwave (f & r)
Rims: Intro Gallup; 18x7 (f), 20x10 (r) Rubber: 215/40 (f), 275/35 (r)
Steering wheel: Billet Specialties Seats: VY SS retrimmed Gauges: Auto Meter Shifter: Factory
My beautiful and understanding wife; Scott & Jamie from SG Auto Electrics; Mark & Dylan from Watermans Collision Repair Centre; Cam from Cam’s Custom Automotive Interiors; Con & Andrew from C&A Auto Fashion; and a big thanks to all my friends and family for being supportive along the way
you can see there’s no evidence of that here. Doug’s van has perfect coverage and looks flawless from every angle.
The slammed-on-the-ground stance is a combination of the channelled body and extended sills, and the Shockwave airbags.
“I wanted it low, but I also wanted to be able to drive it,” Doug says. The van may not look as good with the ’bags pumped up, but they certainly keep it practical.
Inside, Doug let Cam’s Custom Automotive Interiors go to town, and Cam has certainly done that. Panel vans always present trimmers with a challenge because there is so much surface area to cover; Cam came up with a cool extended hexagonal design that features on the VY SS seats, custom door trims and the cargo area. It’s not over-the-top; subtly tasteful is the way we’d describe it.
“I wasn’t that much help,” Doug says. “I told Cam all I wanted was a black interior, to design me something different. I didn’t give him much to work with, but I couldn’t be happier with the result.”
Under the repro GTS bonnet is a twin-turbo LS2 combo that should be good for over 500 horses at the treads. That might not sound like a lot in this day and age but anyone who has driven a genuine 500rwhp car will know that’s plenty for the street. The donk itself is a stock six-litre with a pair of GT35 turbos hanging off a pair of custom turbo headers built by C&A Auto Fashion.
At the time of writing the combo hasn’t been tuned yet, but the guys are hoping for somewhere in the vicinity of 400rwkW.
That’d be plenty of power for Doug and his wife to cruise around the streets.
Getting the car to this point has been a big job – bigger than Doug ever imagined. After the paint was completed he talked to Scott at SG Auto Electrics to sort out the wiring for the engine, but Scott’s job turned into a whole lot more. Scott came up with a plan to finish the car for Doug, who was starting up a new business at the time; Doug told him to go for it.
“Scott took on the project when the van was just a painted shell. He’s done every single thing as far as assembling the van and done a great job by completely wiring, assembling and finishing the whole thing off. Week by week it just started coming to life,” Doug says. “But I think I was the most nervous when I got the call to come down to the shop when Scott had it all wired and ready to fire up for the first time.”
Originally the plan was to do the unveil at Summernats, but the pressure of time meant that this was no longer possible. There are still some minor things to do with the van before it’s ready to appear in public, and then Doug wants to show the beast off before hitting the road to enjoy the fruits of his labours.
But 10 years is a long time, and things have changed. “We’ve got kids now,” Doug says. Which means the family trips in the twoseater are going to be hard to pull off; it’s not the 70s anymore.
“If I get the urge for another car I’d like to have something the family can come along in. I reckon a Monaro would look good next to the panel van.” Hmm, so do we.