Summernats Grand Champion-winning Holden HQ One-Tonner - flashback

By: Steve Nally, Photography by: Easton Chang/Cristian Brunelli

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Always built as a goer, it was the driving events that got this 2008 Summernats Grand Champion over the line

From Unique Cars #284, Mar/Apr 2008 

Holden HQ One-Tonner

Robert Godfrey didn’t set out to win Summernats 21 Grand Champion, the biggest prize in Australian street machining. He just wanted to build a tough all-round car that looked good, went very hard and could be driven every day. But if his trick Holden HQ One Tonner won a few show gongs along the way then that was a bonus.

But when he unexpectedly made the Elite Top 10 in final judging (2008) at the annual power party, he knew he was in with a chance of leaving Canberra with the Grand Champion‘s broadsword. The static show part was over and it was time to fire up his big block and he knew his car had as much go as show. "I wanted a car that I could show, that I could race and drive on the street, but I never thought I’d ever be in the running for Grand Champion," Godfrey says modestly. "But when you see all these cars in enclosed trailers that have to be pushed into the judging hall…

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"My car’s got as much detail as those cars in some areas but lacks it in other areas because it does get driven and that’s what got me through. You can score good judging points for engineering, paint, panel and modifications; all the things my car has, but I got across the line because I had a lot of experience behind the wheel of my car while some of the Top 10 guys were driving their things for the second or third time. I won the Grass events and the Go-To-Whoa and that gave me the title."

Godfrey had made the Top 60 at Summernats 20, where his car won Tuff Street, and judges wanted him to enter the Elite competition but he wisely deferred, knowing that his car’s undercarriage wouldn’t stand up to the increased scrutiny because he had been drag racing it. For Summernats 21, though, he paid more attention to the underside of the HQ and entered the Elite comp and the rest is history.

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Winning the Summernats Grand Champion broadsword is all about time and passion – owner Robert Godfrey had been improving this One Tonner ute for 15 years!

Back in 1992, Godfrey, then 15, bought the One Tonner for $3500. His first car was a one-owner model in good condition and he says he will never sell it. Back then it had a tired 253ci V8 under the bonnet and a three-speed auto on the column. A ute made sense, as he was a chippy’s apprentice. But, Godfrey says, utes always figured highly in his developing mind.

"My dad says that from the time I was old enough to tell the difference between cars I always wanted a One Tonner. I don’t know why but I always wanted a ute with big wheels on the back and little wheels on the front. Our family was very car orientated; I had a ’69 Corolla paddock basher when I was 10."

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Texas Racing Engines’ manifold and Dominator carbs play their part in delivering ‘tradesman’s’ sledgehammer blow

A couple of crucial meetings also helped Godfrey determine the direction for the HQ and gain the skills to do most of the future modifications himself. Mark Adams was working at the smash repairers across the road from Godfrey’s father’s workshop and he showed the still unlicensed youngster how to prepare the car for paint. The other bloke, Col Moore, was a panel beater at the same shop and he gave the kid valuable tips too.

"Those two guys are responsible for the look of the car now; I pretty much learnt the paint and panel side from them," Godfrey says. "It’s Mark’s winning paint on the car."

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Years of development have seen a 655ci Chev big block replace the old 253ci V8 with dramatic results – try 723kW/1383Nm and sub-9.0sec quarter miles

Now on the road, Godfrey had a good looking charcoal grey daily driver with standard wheels and its original engine.

"When you lifted up the bonnet it was an absolute shit-fight, with a 20-year old 253," he laughs. His first project was to build a simple steel and timber tray, not the one you see now, but similar, minus wheel tubs. Dragway mags and a GTS interior improved the image, his first 308 upped performance, and the car rode so low that "you couldn’t get a Coke can on its side underneath it; it was slammed".

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It was owner Robert Godfrey’s attention to detail underneath the Holden that dragged it up from a Top 60 car to Grand Champ

Over time he upgraded with a series of 308s culminating in a 355 stroker. "It’s probably had about eight different engine combinations in total," he says. But the dream could have ended there because Godfrey, now married, was saving for a house and the ute almost became part of the deposit. He was also tired of having the car broken into and was pretty frustrated.

"The 355 wasn’t fast enough, it was too cranky and used to overheat when I drove it in traffic so it became a Sunday driver. I couldn’t park it anywhere and I couldn’t drive it in town; it became useless and I thought about selling it."

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Billet Specialties 15-inchers grace each corner

Luckily, his wife Sarah talked him out of it and racing became his next priority, only he wasn’t winning.

‘Toyton’ needed to be a whole lot "crankier" and another mate, Mark Hayes, said, "Go big block, young man!" So in went a nitrous-fed 427 Chev. Godfrey also fabbed a roll cage, tubbed and narrowed the rear-end and dropped in four-link rear suspension and a rear-mounted fuel cell.

The car ran 10.9sec quarters straight out of the box but Godfrey then got hooked on the idea of unadulterated power, ditched the laughing gas, and stroked the 427 to 500 cubes and ran 9.9secs.

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Not much is left of the original interior

But that still wasn’t enough and he went to 600 then 655ci. But that’s when the real modifications started; the bloody 655 didn’t fit! Godfrey now had to build the front-end around the engine and this is what really caught Summernats judges’ attention.

"I set out to be different. With the bonnet closed, my car looks like a One Tonner with a big block but once you open the bonnet and start looking at the engineering, fabrication and one-offs, that’s the (big) difference," Godfrey boasts. "The HQ has the ugliest engine bay ever designed and I wasn’t having that."

Godfrey fabricated inner guards and welded them to the outer guards; he welded the front apron and made a tubular radiator support. The 655 had to sit lower because the rocker covers would have hit the bonnet, so the crossmember had to be cut by 50mm.

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Out went the brake booster and in went a twin master cylinder race-style pedal box. The steering box was flung and replaced by a rack and pinion system from an LH Torana because there wouldn’t have been room for extractors otherwise.

A huge aluminium radiator and thermo fan meant the engine had to be moved back 100mm, which also improved weight distribution, but that meant the firewall had to be cut out, remade and recessed and the transmission tunnel cut out and re-fabricated in sheet metal. Except for the outer guards, nothing in the front-end is Holden now, Godfrey says.

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"It just got out of control; it went from cleaning up the engine bay and putting in a 600-cube to a full-on, bare-metal, cab-off, not one bolt left in the chassis conversion and it took 12 months," Godfrey says. "I was in the shed til 2am at least three nights a week and Sarah was pregnant then and regretted letting me keep the car!"

The once humble tradie’s ute now makes a staggering 971hp (723kW) at 7200rpm at the rear wheels, runs an 8.8sec quarter mile at 154mph (248km/h) and can do a non-stop 476m-long Power Skid (a burnout without using front-wheel braking); it’s a real mutha of an HQ.

Godfrey is aiming at 1000rwhp through an auto trans next but ‘Toyton’ has a soft side too.

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"It’s not a race car, it’s not a full show car, it’s not a street car; it’s a blend of those three things. That’s what I wanted," he says proudly. "The engine is more driveable on the street than what my 355 stroker was eight years ago. It doesn’t overheat, it idles in gear; it’s a good reliable engine." The car had been charcoal all this time but before his stellar Summernats appearance Godfrey decided to change the colour to Sunset Pearl in order to make more of an impact. "I was sick of seeing it ‘disappear’ amongst other cars at shows, the colour was hard to maintain and in the direct sun it looked like nothing," he says.

"With the bonnet closed, a lot of people used to basically ignore it because they’d seen ‘Toyton’ before but because the car was now so highly modified under the bonnet I thought I might as well change the colour as well. These days people say ‘I remember when this car was grey’, which is really good; it’s pretty much got its own identity." 

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Robert Godfrey Holden HQ One Tonner

Engine: 655ci (10.7-litre) Chev big block
Induction: Texas Racing Engines intake manifold, twin 1150cfm Pro Series Dominator carburettors
Heads: Brodix
Exhaust: four-into-one headers, 5.0inch Gonzo collectors, twin 4.0inch system, 6.0inch straight-through mufflers 
Power/torque: 723kW/1383Nm
Transmission: Turbo 400, with trans-brake, 4500rpm stall convertor
Differential: Ford 9.0inch, Strange nodular iron carrier, 3.55:1
Brakes: Wilwood four-piston calipers, ventilated cross-drilled rotors
Wheels: Billet Specialties 15x6 (front),
15x10 (rear)
Tyres: Mickey Thompson Front Runners (front), Hoosier 355x50 (rear)
Paint: House of Kolor Sunset Pearl


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