Project HQ GTS Tribute - part 7

By: Guy Allen, Photography by: Guy Allen

Presented by

Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7
Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7
Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7
Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7
Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7
Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7
Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7
Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7
Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7
Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7
Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7 Project HQ GTS - part 7

Our HQ GTS tribute project car gets a lick of paint while we plot how to give it plenty of bite

Project HQ GTS Tribute - part 7
Project HQ GTS - part 7


Project HQ GTS tribute part 7

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It’s Saturday and you’d think that anyone with any sense would be home burying their head in a newspaper and a plate of bacon and eggs. As we wander into Bendigo Retro Muscle Cars to check on the progress of our mighty HQ, it seems half of the staff has failed to understand the concept of time off. What gives?

Ringmaster Gary O’Brien shakes his head in wonder and tries to explain. "These guys come in and work nine hours a day," he says. "They’re high-end self-motivated. They have a little break, they go home and they’re working on cars in the shed till 10 o’clock. And you ring them up on a Sunday and they’re doing the same thing. They love what they do and they work on them seven days a week and keep learning. They keep building a better mousetrap and improving their craft."

That’s all very uplifting, but what’s the practical effect on our car? "The body is like a gun barrel," says our own Uncle Phil. Yep, it’s that straight, despite being part of a car that showed evidence of once being the family truckster, given caravan-towing duties on the holidays, before becoming O’Brien’s race car.

When we last left it, one thing had us a bit mystified: The outside was pretty much perfect, having gone through the whole high-fill and rubbing back process, but the interior was still rough. Actually, it was very rough. So what was going on?

"We had the car in the prep bay and we were working a little back to front," says O’Brien. "Because we didn’t have info on the transmission, the interior and sill area was still in a raw state from when it was a race car." Apart from welding in some patches for the floor, it had to be left alone until the crew had more info on what would be going in.

The key to this was the transmission and, after tossing around all sorts of possibilities that included four, five or even six-speed manuals, the boys have settled on a Tremec TKO600. Supplied by Mal Wood in Queensland (, it comes rebuilt to his own race specification and he reckons that even the biggest klutz won’t be able to kill it. Knowing what trannie was chosen meant O’Brien could then fabricate and finish off the transmission tunnel, with the guidance of a few images emailed to him by Wood. "We were able to change the car without having to fit the motor and gearbox, which saves a heap of time," O’Brien says.

Wood, by the way, is the Australian distributor for Tremec and has a long history in driveline conversions.

About this point you might reasonably ask, has anyone bothered to think about the loud bit under the snout? Yep, an engine would be nice. We’re planning on a long-stroke Holden 355ci, with moving parts supplied by Precision International (, and assembly expertise by Top Torque in Melbourne ( Some of you may recall this is the team that was good enough to stitch together the Ford and Chev V8s we gave away several months ago. They’re a good combination and have promised us an easy 500 horses, more than enough to get your attention.

With those decisions made, the Bendigo Retro crew could finalise the floor pan. With the Tremec-friendly transmission tunnel sorted, it was time to look a little harder at the rear end. A typical weakness in this body series is around the diff housing, particularly if the car’s been given some extra ponies to deal with.

O’Brien takes up the story: "When I was a young bloke and these things were nearly brand new (that’s a while ago!) I had a car in our panel shop where we pulled the back seat out and there were cracks in the floor. And I thought, ‘What’s that all about?’ So we started welding a few things to try and strengthen it. Over time and through the racing, we’ve sort of worked out where all that energy goes and this is the best outcome. The floor won’t rip out of this one."

What our car has ended up with is a neatly constructed brace that looks for all the world like it has been there since it left the factory. How did they come up with the design? "I was talking to Mick [O’Brien’s fabricator] and had a look at the TCM race car," O’Brien explains. "I said, ‘We don’t need all that heavy bracing, but we will need a compromise’. We slept on it and this is what we came up with."

A final touch was the inner front guards, which have been pulled out and subtly modified. "The factory had a mounting point in the middle. We’ve shifted them out, so we can drop the ride height and get an extra 25mm of clearance." Another subtle change that will look factory.

Truth be told, the car might have managed without that, or the extra bracing, but it’s pretty typical of this project. O’Brien’s view is simple enough: "It’s not just a shiny coat paint over something that’s going to give someone issues in five years time, ten years time, or even 15 years time." Clearly he builds to last and reckons that sort of long-term approach is going to have appeal to someone with a muscle-car project in mind; they’ll see the value in it.

Since we’ve raised the spectre of the mechanical package, we’re getting closer to finalising the parts list. In addition to the truckload of Rare Spares goodies ( we’re throwing at it, the car is likely to end up with a Harrop diff housing (, Koni suspension ( and Simmons wheels (

However, we’re missing a crucial component: the rear screen. While we can get a new HQ unit with no dramas, Gary would like the HZ version, with the built-in heater/demister grid.

Back in the paint booth, young Chris is giving our body shell a final once-over before applying paint. In fact, he has the thing spread across two booths – one for the main shell and bonnet, the other for nose cone, doors, front fenders and boot lid. It seems like there’s enough sheetmetal floating about the place to build a decent-sized warehouse.

The crew is using PPG product on the car, and O’Brien reckons there have been some significant changes over time. Materials that were once the exclusive preserve of high-end cars are now used day-to-day. For example, our monster will score a ceramic finish as a final coat. Yep, it’s expensive, but the methods have improved over time and you tend to use less of the raw materials.

One of the very few things everyone agreed on from day one was the car had to remain black – that was its race colour and changing it simply wasn’t on. Of course, there’s black and then there are myriad variants of the shade.

"We’re putting a little twist in this one," O’Brien says, with he and Uncle Phil conspiring to add just a hint of pearl.

What colour pearl? Ah, that would be telling. The boys reckon they’ll wait to see what the punters say and are having a private bet over how long it takes someone to get it right.

With the body prep and paint now under control, the slow part of the build is basically complete. From here the progress will look quick, as large parts of the project come together. It’s now a matter of keeping an eye on the goal as it all comes together.

"A car like this, you want to be able to pick a couple of gears and get going," O’Brien explains. "If someone was to take it to a club day, or a sprint, and burn around, this thing will behave like a race car. But it will still be a very nice street drive."

A big call? Time will tell.


With all these projects, good research and preparation will ultimately save time and money. For example, when you decide on the plan to put transmission Y behind engine B, have a chat with a few experts to ensure that what you’re aiming for is realistic. Finding out about any potential traps before paint and body are finalised can save you a lot of grief further down the track. 




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