Holden HZ HDT back-up panel van - Reader Resto

By: Alan Keen with Guy Allen, Photography by: Owner & Guy Allen

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This HDT back-up van for Brock and co survived the great 1979 reliability trial when an awful lot of vehicles didn't

It’s an HDT support vehicle from the 1979 Round Australia Repco Reliability Trial. There were three chase vehicles for the event, to support the three VB Commodores that eventually won it. Two of the vans met with disaster. One hit a camel at close to 100mph, while the other broke its back crossing a culvert at high speed.

In any case, I’m told this is the only genuine survivor, though one or two replicas have popped up over time.


That team was a huge effort: three race cars, three support vans, plus several aircraft and probably a lot more. It helped to make the reputation of the Commodore in this country, thanks to the 1-2-3 win, when something like 45 per cent of the field dropped out during the gruelling 19,000km event.

| Read next: Ex-HDT Torana XU-1 rally car

My story with this van began a long time ago when I saw it advertised online, with just one photo, as a stripped shell, with all the parts that came out of it. The seller said it was the real thing, but it took years to find all the clues to back that up.


At first I was prepared to walk away. The owner was asking what seemed like a ridiculous price. However the mate I had with me on the day pulled me up and pointed out the body was as good as they got and it was worth a second look.

| Read next: 1980 Holden VB Commodore rally car tribute

It was all there in boxes when I bought it, and probably a bit more than I really wanted to take on. However, it had all the right numbers plus a good list of gear. For example it was running a 308 V8 with Turbo 350 transmission and LSD rear end. Add in the possibility it was an original event van and it was worth trying.


Alan began this project with a shell and a lot of boxes

That was the start of a 13-year project. There were times when I was prepared to let it go. I even sold it twice, but the buyers couldn’t rake up the money and so we were stuck with each other!

| Read next: Volvo Repco rally survivor

While the race cars ran sixes for the advantages in weight and balance – particularly over rough tracks – the vans had to leap-frog via the main roads and keep up 160km/h all day with a load on board.


It was fortunate that I had a lot of help and encouragement along the way. Of course family and life in general has to come first, so there were a lot of weekends when it didn’t get worked on. It was really over the last couple of years where I got my head down and gave it a hard push.

Along the way there were a lot of little things I discovered that looked odd. For example a hole above the driver door that looked like it was drilled for a wiring loom; welding at odd points in the chassis where it’s been strengthened or had bash plates added; heavy duty suspension front and rear – a lot of things you just wouldn’t do to a normal panel van.


The Cibie driving lights were one of the hardest pieces to find

The whole way along, I’ve tried to keep as much of the original gear as possible. Really it’s just had paint, any final panel work it needed, plus a rebuild of the entire driveline to freshen it up. It’s got the original interior; Original chrome, some of it still showing stone damage from the 1979 event; If you look closely you’ll see a couple of stone dimples where the grille trim copped the odd rock.

Resto Pros in Griffith did a lot of the work. It was on a trip back from there that I came across the bloke who did the signwriting for me. We had pulled into the Shepparton Motor Museum and got talking with one of the staff about my project. As it turned out, he knew Wayne King, who did signwriting for Brock and the HDT team and put him in touch. Wayne did this car for us, and signed it.


Wayne King, HDT signwriter, was enlisted for the project

Weirdly, the hardest things to find were a good set of Cibie Oscars for the front, plus the two work lights for the luggage rack.

That roof rack was a story in itself. I managed, through a string of contacts, to find someone who had the original schematics. So we built it, and the mounting holes were already there in the drip rails.

It was originally registered in NSW. Luckily I was able to get the same registration number in Victoria, on custom yellow and black plates, so it looks the part.


The race cars ran sixes, but the support vans got V8s

It looks a bit different on the road, as it sits high on its suspension – for obvious reasons – while that huge roof rack adds a lot of bulk. Because we’ve been through it carefully, it drives well – I imagine much as it would have new.

It’s incredible it has lasted this long. Normally you’d expect one of these panel vans to have either been worn out as a workhorse or turned into a Sandman replica. However this car seems to have spent most of its life sitting in sheds. So far as I know, it was last registered in 1990.


Original interior!

Lockdown over this year has stopped us getting it out, but I expect we’ll get it out to a few shows now that things are easing up.

My next project? Probably an LC Torana coupe. I’m a Torana man at heart…


Strong foundations


The sight of fresh paint is a big step for any restoration!


Mad men


What an ad! Although, the 19,000km trial reportedly hurt the other two.


Some assembly required


Ready to roll out of the paint booth, and on to assembly!


Coming together


Engine in, along with the interior, and it’s beginning to look like a car!


Fine art


How special to get the original HDT-team signwriter back on the tools.




A final lick of the brush puts the finishing touch on a very special resto.


Original car: 1979 HZ Holden panel van
Length of restoration: 13 years



Body: Panelvan
Engine: 308ci (5.0lt V8 Power: 161kw @ 4800rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 3100rpm
Transmission: 3-speed Turbo 350 auto
Suspension: Heavy duty suspension front and rear, with air adjustment


From Unique Cars #447, December 2020

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