Project HQ GTS tribute build - Part 2
We've started to strip Project GTS back to basics, but there are still some big decisions to be made...
Project HQ GTS tribute
You’ve gotta love car builds for their ability to scare the tripe out of you. Take Project GTS for example. We started with a functional and frighteningly fast Touring Car Masters war veteran and, some weeks later, we seem to have a hollowed-out version. The race engine has been shipped out and put aside, the panels are being removed… in fact, you could argue we have less than we started with.
But that is the nature of a ground-up build: you have to take steps backwards before you can make the first one forward.
Builder Gary O’Brien of Bendigo Retro Muscle Cars remains upbeat. He reckons that a car like this, with a great history, is going to make someone very happy when we finally give it away. "This car started off as such a humble HQ," he says. "A hotted-up road car that’s done some pretty good things." That includes some Group N racing and then some very high-profile bouts in TCM.
Now it’s time for the ‘auld dear’ to head back to the street. "If we can get to the end where we build a really tough street car and some lucky person can burn around in it," explains O’Brien, "with its credentials, they’ll have something to say down the pub with their mates... and we can showcase a bit of Aussie talent." That’s something of a hobby-horse for the Bendigo-based business man and racer. The HQ was conceived in the 20th century with a massive local involvement and he’s determined to see it re-enter the 21st century that same way.
He and Unique Cars Project Manager ‘Uncle’ Phil Walker have a pretty big shopping list rattling around in their heads: engine, transmission, suspension, brakes, interior – you get the picture.
There is a lot of detail to be finalised, but some basic ideas are starting to firm up.
Let’s start with the powerplant. While there is enormous appeal in going for something resembling an original-spec V8, it's not terribly practical. "The 308 stock has run out," says O’Brien, flatly. "There are no good blocks left anymore. All the bits are so hard and cost so much... they’re hand made." That’s not the end of the world, as there are lots of options. "We’re going for
the Australian-made theme and there are some aftermarket guys out there making stuff that bolts straight into a Holden. I’m thinking if we can promote an Aussie-made engine at 427 cubes, with the muscle behind it to hang in there, we’re on a winner." Uncle Phil, meanwhile, is nodding in furious agreement. Number 427 is a magic one in GM history, and he’s convinced we can stitch together an all-alloy engine, from the block through to the heads, and largely meet O’Brien’s locally-made criteria. As for fuelling, we may stay old-school for the sake of simplicity – a carburettor, like a 700 Holley, is a contender for the go-mixing duties.
O’Brien chimes in: "With the engine technology around today and engine builders who are about, I truly believe we can get the mileage you would have got as a standard motor car and, when you put your foot on the throttle, you’ll scare yourself.
You’ll have to warn grandma if she’s taking it to the shops!
"It has to be a muscle car in the true sense. Street machining and street cars have come so far, if we put all the 1970s technology in it, we’re going to end up with an old car. Our aim is to have something that’s very driveable, reasonable fuel economy, go like hell and stop as well."
What about the transmission? There’s agreement we need a five-speed – ideally with a good spread in the first four gears and a nice tall fifth for the highway.
Front suspension is anyone’s guess at this stage, though O’Brien has a fair bit of race experience to fall back on. For the back of the car, he is a fan of the catalogue from 04 O’Brien and Uncle Phil get a little ga-ga over the shiny new Superlight wheels. 05 The crew has access to a pro dyno set-up. Strange Engineering. "What we learned from all our racing activities is you can buy
anything for a nine-inch rear end and it’s all affordable now. So I’m thinking, ‘Let’s build a Strange rear end for it.’" If so, we’ll have a bit of a trans-Pacific project on our hands – local and USA content.
So, gents, any thoughts on brakes? "There are so many Australian companies that make good brake packages," says O’Brien. "It would be nice to see the Harrops stay on it, but who knows?"
Alright, what about wheels? O’Brien suddenly scarpers to the other end of the workshop and scuttles back grinning from ear-to-ear. What he’s holding is a shiny black Superlight (a Minilite replica made in South Australia) originally intended for another project car. "Perfect!" declares Uncle Phil, who was thinking exactly along those lines.
O’Brien reckons the body also needs a complete makeover. "It’s a bit like Elvis – the old girl has had a few hits. My thinking was there are some local companies that are on the verge of producing sheet metal for these, and I’m hoping the stock will be available when we get up to that point.
"The car’s a factory-plated car and I decided a while back we were going to rebody the old girl as it was getting a bit soggy in the rear end. HQs can do that, they get a bit of ‘traditional’ cracking and fatigue areas. It’s been welded up and patched up a few times.
"I have got some really clean panels for this car. It was such a good car, good floor pans, no rust, we thought we should put it to a better use and rebody it."
The stripping has started and we’ve got a few key decisions to make before the car can start to take shape and rejoin the road. But one thing we know for sure, it’s going to be an exciting ride.
Watch this space…
It seems we’ve created a bit of confusion with this exercise as, about the time we announced Project GTS, young Mr O’Brien published an ad on the TCM website, offering a race HQ. For those of you who were wondering, it’s not the same car. The road tags stay with the give-away machine, while O’Brien is building a new racer.
With an enviable collection of car-building skills and resources at his fingertips, plus some invaluable TCM race experience, he decided it was time to start offering what’s effectively a turn-key racer for the class.
"So the thought was let’s build a proper shell for going racing and put a good package together," he explains. "Because we’re trying to break into the scene and build a few cars, what we want to do is build a really good and affordable touring car, so someone can come along and buy that as an entry-level car and do what they want with it."
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