Ditch Jones had a really nice HR ute for 16 years. Then four years later that same ute turned out to be better than even he imagined it could be
This article on Ditch's HR ute was originally published in the April 2007 issue of Street Machine
MOST punters who copped an eyeful of Ditch Jones’s stunning HR ute at Summernats 20 would have thought they were checking out a never-before-seen elite show car. And in a way they were but anyone who was at the first Street Machine Nationals, all those years ago in 1988, would have already seen it.
You see, Ditch had owned this ute for about 20 years and for a number of those years it was a top contender at shows. Resplendent in Slate Blue paint, US Racer mags, a hot 179 and Premier interior, it was a pretty nice car — for its day.
Ditch bought the HR pretty much finished; all the hard work had been completed by the previous owner, Ross Allen, and the sale price of $6500 was pretty good coin for an HR ute back then.
One of the first things Ditch did was get involved with the ACT FE-HR Holden Club but after a while he decided to go a different way. He had been working away at the car, making it nicer and doing pretty well at the shows, but inevitably moving it further and further away from its factory roots.
Soon it was time to head across to a new club, the ACT Street Machine Club, where the membership included the likes of Peter Fitzpatrick. It wasn’t long before Ditch had been totally corrupted by those crazy street machiners and the car just kept getting better — or worse from the restorers’ point of view.
For eight or nine years the car travelled the show circuit — not on a trailer but under its own power. By the end of that, it was starting to show its age and Ditch realised that if he wanted to stay competitive in the show scene, he would have to bite the bullet and go for it.
“I wanted to take the car to the next level as I kept coming up against better machinery. It was the undercarriage that let me down and I tried to keep up. For a while I got a little bit out of control with the fluoro-pink powder coat — and it worked! I got the car in another magazine,” Ditch says.
“I had some pretty big plans for the next incarnation of the ute. For a while I thought about turning it into a six-wheeler with a lazy axle.”
Sadly — or not — that plan didn’t make the cut but one thing that was always on the cards was a blown six.
“I knew I’d have to move the motor back as I wanted to run the four-inch belt. Most guys run two-inch belts but they don’t look right to me,” Ditch says.
Another thing that he just had to have was the injector hat look. It took a bit of convincing — around three months — but Ditch finally talked Al at Don Garlits NZ to build an adapter to suit the 4/71 blower. Just as well he persevered as Al now sells a heap of them!
Suicide doors were also a must-have but Ditch was adamant that the classic lines of the HR must not be messed around too much.
A Kilkenny finned rocker-cover has been smoothed over, with a custom billet breather and filler cap added. That big four-inch belt meant that the whole motor had to be moved back to make it fit
“Holden built a good shape and I didn’t want to destroy it,” he says.
But where do you go to make these dreams come true? A good place to start would be Sefton Concept Vehicles (SCV) and the talented team headed up by Drago Ostric and his brother, Rob.
Check out the engine details! All those factory daggy bits have been replaced by one-off billet pieces machined by the boys at SCV. The only thing that bugs Ditch is the writing on the plug leads but that’s probably gone by now!
Initially, the car was sent to Drago to box up the frame and work his magic. A fair bit of work had already been carried out in Canberra by Ditch’s mate Rob, and it was Drago’s job to smooth it all out and make it look a million bucks.
That round cap on top of the billet thermostat housing is the radiator cap — except it’s not on the radiator. More billet bits cover the head bolts. Don’t you just wish the paint on your car was as good as the paint on this rocker cover?
“I went up there one day and Drago had chopped the whole front end off!” Ditch says. “He said it was getting too heavy and it looked like shit! All that time and money gone to waste. Oh well.”
It was a similar story with the front clip of the car, which has been designed to be easily removed and only has six fixings. Ditch mentioned that he had a fibreglass clip at home; Drago replied: “I don’t want to know about it, I’ll never get it straight. I’ll just build a steel one!”
A lot of people ask why he went for a blown six. For Ditch it’s obvious: “No-one has really built a wild six-cylinder to this standard, especially in recent times. Everyone just puts V8s in them. The other thing is that no six-cylinder has ever won Grand Champion.
Twenty years ago the HR front was the hot item for your early Holden — not these days! Ditch opted for a fully fabricated crossmember and tubular A-arm set-up, with CRS dropped spindles and big 330mm rotors from Hoppers Stoppers
“The plan for this car was always for it to be a show car with an afterlife as a racer. That’s why it’s got the blown engine and rollcage. The ’cage was built by Doug Stewart at Oztin and it’s to ANDRA specs, not made out of exhaust tube like a lot of show car stuff!
“With the way we’ve designed the engine bay and trans tunnel, we could quite easily fit a small-block — even a big-block — down the track. After a couple of years on the show circuit, the plan is to do a few driving events and some Nostalgia Drag events,” Ditch insists.
Cobra race seats were shortened, then expertly covered in teal suede by G-Trim. Being one-piece seats, it was no mean feat getting them looking this good. “The whole thing has a race-retro look,” Ditch says
The car is so smooth and so well detailed, that looking at the pics it could be mistaken for a model car — and Ditch has copped quite a few comments in that vein. “A lot of people have said that it looks like a Hot Wheels car with those big wheels, rake and two-tone paint,” says Ditch.
SCV created a custom all-steel interior. The dash was filled with Auto Meter Pro-Comp gauges and the floating console is home for the B&M Pro Ratchet shifter and auxiliary switches
There’s no doubt about it, this car definitely had people talking at Summernats 20, where it won a spot in the Elite Top 10, was selected as a Meguiar’s Showcar Superstar and won a bunch of other tinware including Top Pro Street. Whether it was the paint, the motor, the wild bodywork or just why someone would spend so much money on an old Holden ute, it was a hot topic. And that’s just how Ditch likes it.
No story on Ditch’s ute would be complete without a word from the man who spent much of the four years putting it together. Drago Ostric is no stranger to Street Machine or the Summernats Elite Hall — he’s one of the best builders in the business.
How many modifications did you make?
Um [long pause] about 100 I guess. We stretched the wheelbase 100mm to get the front wheels centred in the guards, the engine has been set back to clear the blower drive and we redesigned the front end twice!
As you can see, the old girl was a pretty tidy unit back in the 80s. This was its first feature-shoot, at Civic in Canberra. You’ve just gotta love those deep-dish US Racers, Bridgestone Eagers (writing on the outside of course) and the Premier details
How much original sheet-metal is left?
Just the skin and that’s all been smoothed. The roof isn’t chopped but we extended the window openings to meet with the flush-mounted glass and we removed the rain gutters as well.
What was the toughest mod?
Everything from the dashboard forward we cut out and had to make from scratch. We had to work out how to make it all fit again How much of the four years was work time?
That car has 18 months’ work just in metal fabrication! It would weigh about 1800kg now, with all the extra metal we put in it. In some places we had to double-skin it to get it smooth. We had that car together and apart at least a dozen times!
After a number of years showing the ute, Ditch realised it needed a bit of an update. Out came the fluoro pink for the engine detail and some Big D graphics. Wheels went from the slot mags to a set of Dragway five-spokes. This photo was taken at the ute’s last outing before the current build began
And Ditch sent the car back to you again after Summernats?
There were still 40 pieces of billet to fit! Little things like rings where the rollcage meets the trim, bonnet hinges, stuff we just didn’t have time to do before Summernats.
DITCH'S UTE IN DETAIL:
- 1. To the untrained eye, this looks like any other HR grille, only it’s painted yellow. Wrong! The only original bit left is the centre piece, the rest was made from steel, one louvre at a time! Even the headlight buckets have been modified to bring them closer to the bodywork. Normally there’s a 5mm gap; not any more. To make it work, the entire radiator support panel had to be replaced
- 2. The front bumper was narrowed and shaved to bring it closer to the body. Once it was close enough the sucker was welded to the rest of the car. It ain’t going nowhere
- 3. Wheelbase was stretched 100mm to centre the front wheels in the guards. For better clearance, the front wheel opening was also raised 35mm
- 4. The sills have been extended around 40mm. This gives the effect of lowering the car as well as increasing the ratio between the body and roof, making it look slightly chopped?
- 5. Suicide doors are hung off 15x50mm billet steel hinges that slide into the door and are fixed with hidden bolts before the trim goes on. This required a lot of strengthening of the B-pillar and smoothing around the A-pillar
- 6. An old custom trick is to use a full-width wagon bumper on the utes as they only came out with bumperettes. No surprises that the rear unit has been given the same treatment
as the front
- 7. The only bits of fibreglass on the whole car are the tail-light housings. They cover custom-made lenses filled with LED lenses. And in case you fancy a set for your HR, Drago did keep the mould
- 8. The tailgate was welded up using the original skin with a new opening formed to match the shape of the roof turret — only upside-down
- 9. The roof has been stretched to meet the flush-fitting glass but what you may not notice is the swage line that runs across the top of the guards, up the windscreen pillar and across the top of the screen. It was a lot of work to get that to look right
- 10. The bonnet has been stretched to meet the windscreen, which of course meant the wiper cowl was removed. The whole lot comes off in one piece, or the bonnet can be opened as normal
- 11. The engine has been moved back 100mm and dropped about 65mm. This gives plenty of room for the big four-inch blower belt and means only the hat sticks out above the bonnet
1967 HR HOLDEN UTE
Colour: PPG Diamond Silver over Ditch’s Twisted Lemon
Engine: Holden 3.3 litre
Carb: Holley Supercharger Series 700cfm DP
Blower: Fisher GM 4/71
Manifold: Fisher custom
Head: Ben Gatt custom nine-port
Pistons: ACL Race Series 8.1 comp ratio
Crank: Offset ground, counterbalanced
Rods: Heavy duty race prepared with ARP bolts
Cam: Crow solid blower
Ignition: Pro Comp custom
Cooling: Mick’s Metalcraft custom crossflow
Exhaust: Custom HPC-coated single pipe
Transmission: Hugo’s Racematic full manual shift
Converter: Dominator Race Eliminator, 2800rpm
Diff: M&A Eng Ford 9in, 28-spline axles, Strange 3.89:1 mini-spool
Brakes: Hoppers Stoppers 330mm discs & four-spot calipers (f), 54mm custom drum brakes (r)
Springs: Aldan coil-overs (f), reset leaves (r)
Suspension: Custom tubular A-arms, CRS drop spindles (f), Hugo’s full floating ladder bar slider, Monroe gas shocks (r)
Steering: Custom column, VH Commodore rack
Wheel: Intro Matrix
Seats: G-Trim custom buckets
Gauges: Auto Meter Pro-Comp
Rollcage: Custom six-point steel to ANDRA spec
Shifter: B&M Pro Ratchet
Rims: Intro Matrix, 17x7 (f), 19x10 (r)
Rubber: Dunlop 225/17 (f), Bridgestone 295/19 (r)