1979 Holden TE Gemini Gypsy - Reader Resto

By: Dave Carey with Darren O'Neill, Photography by: Jordan Leist and Darren O'Neill

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A lifelong love of Geminis brought Darren O'Neill to the pinnacle of Isuzu ownership, a Euro-Japanese hybrid with a distinctly Aussie flavour, thanks to American Leo Pruneau!


1979 Holden TE Gemini Gypsy resto

My first car was a red TE Gemini van; my Dad’s apprentice had left it for dead in his back yard, hidden in long grass. It had a blown head gasket, so Dad fixed it up and gave it to me when I got my licence. I eventually re-shelled it into another van, but never finished it off, instead I bought a turbocharged TC coupe and sold the van.

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Since then, I’ve had several Geminis, both fast and slow. I bought a Venetian Red TG sedan with an EFI 2.0 litre twin cam in it, a Gemini ZZ/Z which I dailyed for some time and, weirdly, I’ve also ended up with two Japanese-built Gemini diesel automatics, a variant that was never sold here. I recently picked up a pair of TX coupes; one in rare Satin Mist Metallic, which is a ’75-only colour and another in Absinth Yellow, which was optioned with the desirable Fashion Pack.

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The only Gypsy I’d ever spied before mine was one I used to see in a front yard about 20 years ago; white with blue decals. I tried to buy it a few times, but the owner wouldn’t part with it. Of course, one day it was gone and that was that.

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I got onto this one via Gumtree. It was sitting under a tree with the windows down on a property in Bullsbrook, WA, but at $280, how could I resist? The floor had rusted out and the factory roof rack had been removed, causing some fairly bad rust up there.

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Gypsy was found under a tree, windows down and windscreen missing

When I brought it back home, I stripped the whole car back to bare metal myself using hand tools like sanders, grinders and wire wheels; no sandblasting here. I had a guy come around to my house and do some panel beating, replacing the passenger sill and passenger floor. Fortunately, the wagon and van doors are weirdly averse to rusting; they each needed a minor repair near the latch and that was it.

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I then handed the Gypsy over to Dominic Delbene, who sourced a donor Gemini van for parts. Believe it or not, it was another Gypsy, this time a yellow one, but it was fairly-well rooted. I grabbed the engine out of it, the wiring loom and the entire roof panel. Importantly, I was able to use the yellow Gypsy as a guide, because as bad as it was, it was completely unmolested. I could see where every single bolt and fastener went; I then had each one refurbished, ensuring the restoration was absolutely spot-on.

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My mate Richard gave me a hand refreshing the motor; it’s the first bottom end I’ve ever done myself. I had the block bored out and put a set of oversized pistons in there, with chromoly rings, Taiho bearings and some other good bits.

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Fortunately, I already had a rebuilt head in my parts stash, and even that’s off a rare beast, this time an early ‘big valve’ TX Gemini. It’s been given a mild port and heavy-duty valve springs, all done by my friend Sam. He also did the block machining and crank balancing.

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Some other Gypsy-specific parts came with the yellow van such as the tartan seats, which were junk, but at least they were there! It had the extra wiring to run the console gauges, which I needed. And importantly, it had the full-length roof lining and full-height side trims. The trims were beyond repair, but between the red and yellow cars, I had enough to template-up new trims. The trims in the standard panelvan simply cover the holes in the inner structure, nothing else; the full-height Gypsy items take the load area up to another level.

Being a bit of a hoarder, I had a good pile of other NOS stuff such as the rear mudflaps, bumpers, rubber bumper end caps, all the indicators and a set of tail lights I purchased from England, where they were fitted to the Vauxhall Chevette Estate and Bedford Chevanne. I only paid ten pounds for them!

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The side window seals weren’t as cheap; I had to use a mixture of GM NOS and Opel Kadett bits from the European aftermarket. Down the back, I also had a new tailgate lock and key. I wanted this restoration to be spot-on, so it was important I sourced buckskin-coloured pinch weld for the door apertures; you can normally only get black ones aftermarket. Believe it or not, I also had a set of NOS interior door handle surrounds; these always fall off. Once Dominic returned the repaired car, I carefully pieced it back together. I had to restore the wiper motor and blower fan; all that stuff was dismantled, replated and re-assembled. If it had a sticker on it, the sticker was either replicated or re-stuck. As for the ‘Gypsy’ decals, they were carefully traced and then sent to Sandman decal specialist Jason Ackland at STICKTHIS Automotive Decals and Stripes. Resultingly, Jason can now provide the correct decals to other Gypsy owners.

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Obviously, the interior needed heaps of attention; the front carpets are actually standard repro items and the same company does a rear carpet for the panelvan. I’m not sure if they set out to replicate the Gypsy item, but having seen the original, it’s pretty damned close!

I swapped dashboards with fellow West Australian Gemini enthusiast Leo Flavel; I provided a mint, early-model dash for his project and he gave me a brown TE item in return. I had to buy four different steering wheels until I got one in the right condition, while the super-rare stereo-delete and cigarette lighter-delete panels really finish it off.

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Replacement engine was, coincidentally, sourced from another Gypsy, then rebuilt with oversized pistons, chromoly rings, Taiho bearings and fitted with a fresh ‘big valve’ TX head

I completed the restoration in October 2017, but I didn’t register it straight away. I did WA’s Hot Rod and Street Machine Spectacular where it got nothing but positive reactions. I could hear people whispering how it looked like a brand-new car again, which was my aim. I also picked up Top Two Best Small Van at the 2018 Murray Auto Extravaganza in Pinjarra. I came second to ‘The Temptress’; a fully 80s Gemini van from back in the day, which was very cool.

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It’s a really rare car, but I’ve now parted with it. I’ve done what I needed to do, which was to save it so people would see what a Gemini Gypsy should look like. I’m not sure how many were built; suffice to say, Leo Pruneau has never seen one, and he designed them! It’s gone to a Holden collector in the Eastern States and will be well cared for.

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Above: Darren’s Gypsy was built October 1979, the first month of TE Gemini production, however the Gypsy brochure was printed January 1980 and the option released 17 March of that year. This points to the possibility that this particular Gypsy was the press car, as seen in this road test in Van Wheels #9.


Supermarket hauler

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Front end completely stripped, Darren sat the shell on a discarded shopping trolley for easy access.


Second chance

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Darren has wrecked out around eight Gemini wagons and vans; these mint door trims came from his parts stash.


NOS Gemini badges

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Plenty of new-old-stock parts were applied, including all badges and, wait for it, the dipstick.


Full height trim

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Although rough, Darren’s Gypsy included the ultra-rare, full-height rear trim unique to this spec.


RPM vanning

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The Gypsy is unique in that it has a factory tacho in place of where the blank would be on a base model van.


Gauge trio

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It also has separate gauges for the fuel and temp, plus three in the centre console for oil, clock and amps.

Original car:
1979 Holden TE Gemini Gypsy
Length of restoration:
18 months

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Body: panelvan
Engine: G161Z 1584cc Isuzu four cylinder
Power: 50kw @ 5400rpm
Torque: 111Nm @ 3600rpm
Transmission: 5 speed manual
Front: Double wishbones with coil springs
Rear: 3-link solid rear axle with torque tube and coil springs


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