1964 Holden EH Panel Van - Reader Resto

By: Ken Collishaw, Photography by: Guy Allen/Ken Collishaw

Presented by

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Who knew some Holden EH panel vans were fitted with barn doors?

 

1964 Holden EH Panel Van resto

A good mate of mine, Frank Lemmens, is a very experienced panel beater, spray painter and all-round car guru. He had this EH panel van in his workshop, which he had started working on before the owner became seriously ill. The car sat for about 10 years at Frank’s place and, in March 2017, the owner, who had finally recovered from his illness, came in and said he could no longer continue with the project. He decided to sell the vehicle, and I bought it. In the early 90s a friend and I restored a 1951 Chevrolet, and I still own this vehicle which I’ve since rebuilt again, this time properly, and to suit my performance and comfort requirements.

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Initially I didn’t know all that much about the EH. Because it had barn doors I immediately thought ‘divvy van’ and decided to restore it as a police car (you know, light blue paint, big blue light, siren on the bonnet etc). But when I was given the keys to the car I was also given a shoebox full of documentation, and this provided full provenance on the vehicle. I now have the glove box folder with owner manual, service book, Nasco accessories brochure, and running-in instruction sheet. I also was given the EH Holden sales brochure, EH commercial vehicles brochure, Holden engines brochure, Hydramatic transmission brochure and also the original motor manual. The box held an extensive collection of receipts covering most of the outlays on the car over the years.

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One of the visitors to Frank’s workshop was a member of the EH Holden Club of Vic and he identified the car as being one of two vans that were ordered for library work.

Apparently, these vehicles were pretty much the stuff of legends, and neither had been spotted for a very long time. A look through the documentation found a licence to carry commercial goods that identified the original owner as a librarian, and this confirmed that story.

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The body tag shows that the car is a factory automatic vehicle, and any auto EH panel van is ultra rare. Another document I have shows the car was ordered with sliding cargo area windows, and with optional windscreen washers, interior rear-view mirror, weather shield and parcel tray. The owner also ordered a motor manual and a spare fan belt. The total purchase price was £1280. There is no mention on that document of the barn doors, but there is also no invoice for a conversion along the way so I believe they were installed as part of the original scope of supply. It is also worth mentioning that the EH commercial vehicles, the utes and panel vans, were all fitted with EJ tail lights, so it is common for people to mistake these for EJ’s.

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The car was delivered on the July 31, 1964, and was bought from Swingbridge Motors in Footscray. The service book and documentation show the displayed mileage of 66,018 when I bought the car to be genuine.

After evaluating all of this extra information I realised the car was too rare to change further away from it’s original configuration, and decided to get on with the restoration largely taking it back to factory specifications.

Frank was occasionally working on the floor rust repairs over the first few months. Being the factory automatic, the transmission hump is larger, but the only repair sections available are for manual, so he had quite a bit of work to get them to fit, but he did a great job.

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From there it was pretty much the two of us working full time on the car. We stripped the car back to a bare shell, and then turned it on its side to make the underside brand new. The brake and fuel lines, petrol tank and rear springs were fitted before turning the vehicle back upright, and after that the rear end was completed before dropping it back on the rear wheels.

We reinstalled the K frame and then the front end. When working on the front end we found out why the car had been taken off the road. A lower wishbone was badly bent, and one of the wheels was also badly damaged. Torana disc stubs had been installed on the kingpin front end, and we left them there as better brakes are always good. There is a remote booster on the front brakes.

The 179 and Hydramatic had been replaced with a 202 and Trimatic. Hydramatics were pretty notorious and the car’s service records show repeated problems with the transmission. With that in mind we left the updated drivetrain in, but dressed the motor up as a 179.

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When the transmission change was made they had installed a floor shift and bucket seats, which we changed back to column shift and a bench. This was not easy as the gear order is different between the Hydramatic and Trimatic, and the steering column had been replaced with a manual column, so we had to find a replacement auto column and fittings too.

Among the many cost savings in the commercial range was the absence of a door lock in the driver’s door. You have to unlock the passenger door and slide across. I wonder how easy this was with buckets and a floor shift? Maybe they just didn’t lock it?

The shell was painted in the factory colour, Windorah Beige, and for authenticity we did this in acrylic.

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We fitted out the engine bay, having to find a windscreen washer and pump as the original one had been replaced with a later model Holden unit. The brake master cylinder is still the old steel one, and survivors of these are quite rare.

From there the other hanging panels were prepared and installed, mostly one at a time. The interior was painted in the correct colours for the front floor, dash and the colourfleck for the cargo area. The original cargo area timber floor was repainted and put back in, still showing some scars from years of use.

The sliding windows were long gone, so we had to get them re-made to the original dimensions. All the windows were fitted and the doors kitted out. The bumpers were re-chromed and installed and we fitted light truck tyres, which match the original specifications, on repainted rims.

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Inside the dash was put back together and the wiring repaired where required. We fitted a very good reproduction hood lining and new carpet. We also fitted reproduction door trims and seat covers which were made to the original patterns in the genuine Elephant Grey.

We did a front-end alignment, then greased under the car and it was ready.

The commercial vehicles were low spec, and this car has no bumper overriders or mudflaps. Inside there are blanking plates where the optional cigarette lighter and radio would have gone. The car has never had a radio installed in it.

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We are very proud of the quality we achieved on this restoration, particularly as we managed to do this entirely in Frank’s workshop and with just the two of us working on it. From the time I bought it the car didn’t leave the workshop until it was tested for roadworthiness, but we did take it to Unique Exhaust as soon as it was on the road to get the exhaust fitted correctly.

Is it for sale? Well, everything is for sale at the right price, but I wouldn’t sell this car for a fair price, it would need to be a very high offer to get my interest!

THE RESTORATION:

Primed and ready

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The EH panel van body waiting for its new coat of paint.

The underbody

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Looking like new after full restorative treatment.

Benched

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New vinyl in the original pattern for the bench seat that doubled as the cargo barrier back then.

Original dash

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But the steering wheel was definitely an aftermarket addition.

Red six but not as we know it

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The 202ci six was painted to look like the original 179ci engine.

Two spoke wheel

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An original tiller ready for refurbishment to add to the van’s authenticity.


Length of restoration:
12 months

1964 Holden Eh panel van specs

BODY Panel van – with added barn doors and sliding windows
ENGINE 3 litre inline six
POWER 86kW claimed
TRANSMISSION 3-speed auto
SUSPENSION
Independent – coil springs with unequal wishbones, tubular shocks(f) Semi-elliptic springs with six leaves, tubular shocks (r)
BRAKES Hydraulic drums
PRODUCTION 250,000+ EH range

 

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