HOLDEN’S FACTORY DRUG MULE?

FRENCH AUTHORITIES THREATEN TO CRUSH CLASSIC AUSSIE UTE DUE TO ITS FACTORY-BUILT ‘DRUG-SMUGGLING COMPARTMENT’

STORY MATT REEKIE

SACRÉ bleu and strewth, mate! French border officials have threatened to destroy a classic Australian car they say is a potential drug carrier. The car’s owner, UK-based Aussie Travis McKimmie, says the hoopla over his barn-find HG ute would be almost funny, if it weren’t so serious. “Ridiculous is the only way I can put it,” Travis told SM. “If you were going to transport drugs in Europe, would you really use something that stands out as much as a rare Holden? It makes no sense.” At the centre of the controversy is a pale yellow 1970 Holden Kingswood ute, which was originally built in New Zealand and shipped to the Netherlands by a private owner 12 years ago, where it sat in storage until recently. Travis got his hands on it via a Dutch mate and arranged to have it transported to England so he could restore it, but the car only made it as far as the Channel Tunnel. A routine inspection by French customs officials at Calais on 14 March uncovered 20.1 grams of cannabis in the spare wheel that Travis believes had been there throughout the ute’s 12-year hibernation. “The first I knew, I got a text from the transportation company saying: ‘Your car’s been seized by French Customs. They found drugs in the car!’” he explained. “I phoned up French Customs and the guy basically told me: ‘We think it can be used for drug smuggling so the car will be destroyed.’ That’s when I started panicking.” The French border patrol had imposed a 70-Euro fine for the weed and impounded the ute for further scrutiny, where they discovered a cavity beneath the rear tray that they reckoned could be used to transport illicit drugs. The gendarmerie is now threatening to say ‘Au revoir’ to Travis’s car and send it to the crusher! “Their issue wasn’t so much finding the cannabis, it was that these ‘hidden compartments’, as they call them, could be used for smuggling,” Travis said. “I’ve tried to explain that this is a standard ute, but they don’t seem to care about that.” General Motors-Holden used station wagon floorpans to build its utes as a standard costsaving practice from the mid-1950s to the early 70s. The result was that its utes were left with a gap in the underfloor at the rear, which became a trouble spot for rust but otherwise served no purpose. Now it’s become a major bugbear for Travis, who has written a passionate letter to French officials explaining everything from Holden’s manufacturing processes to his lifelong love of HGs, but has yet to hear back. “I’ve called French Customs a few times and tried to explain the value of the car, because I think they just see it as some old pick-up. It’s not like I can just go and get another one; they are rare, especially over here. I’ve sent them photos of other Holden utes to show that this is how they are put together. But it’s been two weeks now and I have no idea when I might get an answer. “My wife is worried; she thinks if I start stirring things up I might never get the car back, but I just don’t know what else to do.” INSET: Originally from the small Victorian town of Walwa, Travis has lived in England for 23 years and takes pride in owning an HK Brougham, even though it’s “pretty rough”. The HK was imported in 1968 as a showcase vehicle for GM-H in the UK. Travis has owned it for four years and it still runs the original 307ci Chev small-block and Powerglide, which he intends to transplant into the HG when it finally (fingers crossed) arrives.