LEGEND. It’s a descriptor bandied about so often these days that its true meaning has been softened. Once, to be labelled a legend was a term of respect, earned from a number of achievements accomplished over a period of time – not a tag of instant gratification fuelled by our social-media obsessed society. Sure, your 18-year-old mate who wheelstands a bike while skulling a beer up his nose has #madskillz, but that doesn’t make him a legend – not yet, anyway.
So cast your eyes over the next few pages; it’s time for a session of Old-School 101. Those in the know will immediately recognise John Zeigler’s HJ Holden ute from the Fat Nancy’s scene in Mad Max and appreciate its heart-warming history, while the uneducated purists will probably moan that it’s a ‘ruined classic’ For me, there are a number of more applicable terms that spring to mind: innovator; showstopper; movie star, survivor, and yes, legend.
This Holden was destined for the star treatment from the moment it rolled off the showroom floor in 1975. John’s father, also called John, bought it to use as a shop ute for his Shell service station, but his passion for both hot rods and customs left little chance that the HJ would be left untouched.
The Holden was soon sporting a prototype custom rear wing along with a set of ROH Wildfire mags, while a spankers HJ Statesman front helped make it a standout from the get-go. But it didn’t take long for these modifications to become commonplace, and John Sr was keen for his ute to be truly in a league of its own.
The second makeover was extreme – remembering that the ute was barely two years old at the time – and neatly transferred the influence of early Aussie rod and custom styling cues to the panel van scene, which was on the cusp of exploding locally. Full custom bodywork included the fitment of then-new (and thus pricy) Mercedes-Benz headlamps, cool split chin spoilers and an asymmetrically biased tube grille at the front, while tapering flared guards and sail panels altered the side view. The new rear end treatment retained the previous wing – albeit repositioned further back and blended to the quarters – while two pairs of tail-lights, joined through the indicators, were matched to a custom rear pan. The rear bumperettes were stacked next to the front bumper on the cutting room floor, while an uncharacteristically subtle yet perfect bonnet scoop was formed in steel.
The factory Jade Green metallic made a return, sprayed by Greg Bullivant and bordered by custom yellow and green highlights added by hot car legend Daryl Withers, who also applied his talents to many other aspects of the build. A whopping set of Hotwires and Mickey Thompson treads were chosen to fill the ample flares.
The interior was treated to an equally vibrant retrim in yellow and green cloth by Bill
Ditchfield, accompanied by a portable TV and a smattering of GTS componentry. The tray area was completely removed from its commercial roots, with a second television mounted front and centre, bordered by mirrors, headphones and a glass hard lid.
The HJ was well-specced by the elder John when he originally ticked the boxes at his local Holden dealer, so the 308, Turbo 400 and Salisbury drivetrain were retained but detailed to the max with lashings of chrome and paint. However, its workhorse days weren’t completely over; John would use and display the ute – dubbed Techno – at his Shell workshop and attend numerous rod runs and car shows, often with one of his hot rods in tow.
Not one to sit idle, John Sr made further changes to the green Techno, which included shaving the door handles and a more extensive T-top conversion that involved de-framing the doors.
By the early-to-mid 1980s and with a number of years and plenty of road miles under the HJ’s belt, John felt it was time to give the ute its third makeover. It was reborn as The Sorcerer to tackle the burgeoning street machine scene; we featured the revamp in SM, Jul/Aug ’86. The most noticeable visual changes were the shaving of both front spoilers, minor grille mods and the opening up of the sail panels, while a colour change to plain black and a new set of chromed custom wheels firmly stamped a fresh identity. However, the main action surrounded a drivetrain swap and significant undercarriage detailing. A 350 Chev replaced the 308, while the Salisbury diff made way for a full chromed and detailed Jag unit.
The black body was highlighted with red for the chassis and driveline, while the 70s-spec green interior made way for then-current bright red vinyl and velour, again stitched by Bill Ditchfield.
BELOW Techno in rare fullcolour glory as featured in Custom Vans & Trucks #6 in 1977; it was immortalised in Mad Max soon after. “The film’ producers KennedyMiller were looking for cars that complemented the futuristic theme of the film,” John explains. “They thought Dad’ ute perfectly embodied this vision and rode the edge of ‘the now and the later’
1 John’ ute is widely regarded as the first HJ-era commercial to sport a Statesman front, and was soon outfitted with a set of ROH Wildfire rims and a GM-H prototype rear wing. “I still have that exhaust raiser!” John Jr says. “Dad used to show it using the lifter, as he could easily raise the car without scratching the paint and also use it on any surface”
2 The Sorcerer guise took John’ already-wild creation to the next level. A 350 Chev, Jag rear, custom rims and red detailing brought the ute firmly into the 1980s, while fresh black Acran paint was applied over further body changes – the most noticeable being the removal of the front chin spoilers and opening of the sail panels behind the cabin
3 Pictured in 2002, here is John Sr – then in his 60s – with The Sorcerer while it was receiving some body repairs
These updates kept the ute in the mix for the ensuing years, while a flame job and other minor changes were added through the 90s. Then in 2008, with the years passing by and his interests leaning towards other areas, John Sr moved the HJ on to his son John, who tucked it away safely for a rainy day.
That day came in 2017, when John felt it was time to give his dad’s old ute a freshen-up, and tasked master builder Sasha Hollenbach and his team from Delux Kustoms in Dandenong with revamp number four.
The build mission statement was simple: Combine the best of the green and black guises of the ute into one final incarnation. Sasha and David Boi busied themselves recreating the steel chin spoilers and filling the outer surfaces of the sail panels – the inner surfaces were left ‘open’ as a styling nod to the later guise – before prepping the body for a fresh coat of DNA Jet Black.
The old adage ‘red and green should never be seen’ rang true when John and Sasha nutted out the final primary paint choice; with the red interior and undercarriage detailing still in nearperfect condition, black was deemed the only logical choice. With the fresh hue baking off in the Delux oven, Sasha busied himself studying photos of the paint effects used on the ute’s green incarnation, readying himself for the build’s finale.
Colour: DNA Jet Black
Make: Chevrolet 350ci
Block: Factory cast
Camshaft: Sig Erson mild-grind
Heads: Fuellie cast, ported and polished
Exhaust: Pacemaker extractors, custom twin system
Gearbox: Turbo 400
Diff: Jaguar E-Type IRS
Front: Factory Holden double wishbone
Rear: Jaguar twin coil-overs
Brakes: HJ Holden discs (f), Jaguar inboard discs (r); Holden master cylinder
Rims: Custom-made chrome steel; 15x10 (f & r)
Tyres: Mickey Thompson Indy Profile (f & r)
Sasha Hollenbach, Paul Coleman & David Boi at Delux Kustoms; Josh Schuster; DNA Custom Paints; Daryl Withers; Bill Ditchfield; Greg Bullivant
Some serious masking was undertaken before Paul Coleman laid down the DNA true candy red and gold detailing over different bases in lieu of green and yellow, mirroring the custom paint used for the Techno build while considering the aforementioned red interior and driveline colourings. The Delux boys then rubbed, flow-coated, rubbed and polished it all to perfection.
With the makeover now complete, the remaining areas of the HJ – now dubbed Black Magic – were thoroughly detailed before it was debuted at Meguiar’s MotorEx 2018, earning a well-deserved spot on the Street Machine Hall Of Fame display.
And what does John’s dad think of his old ute’s new look? “The smile on his face was incredible, says John Jr. “I took him to see it at Sasha’s workshop and it was an emotional reunion. This car is so important to my family. It forms part of Dad’s identity and is an expression of the creativity and passion that makes him tick, but is also a vital piece of our Australian motoring heritage. I can’t wait to get the ute back into the public eye and share it with a new s generation of car fans.