Michael Schena turns a basket-case Holden HQ Monaro into a cruisin', show-worthy burnout-and-drag machine
This article on Michael's Monaro was originally published in the October 2016 issue of Street Machine
WHEN Michael Schena bought a dilapidated Monaro coupe back in 2009, he quickly realised he’d bitten off more than he could chew. But he didn’t let it get the best of him; he just kept on chewing!
“My dad just looked at me and looked at the car and asked me if I was serious,” Michael laughs. “‘Yeah, shouldn’t be too bad,’ I answered him. I had no idea! It was already at a panel beater, who told me straight-up that it would need 3000 hours spent on it.”
Putting aside the fact that it’s one of the most beautiful shapes ever to escape Fishermans Bend, this Monaro’s body – if you could call it that – had nothing going for it: no floors, no wheel tubs, no K-frame; it wasn’t even straight!
“It came with a pair of 15x15 alloys and a set of tubs ready to be welded in, but I wanted this car to drive on the street and I wanted a back seat, so I ended up selling the only good parts that came with it,” Michael explains.
A boilermaker and diesel mechanic by trade, Michael was working on tractors and potato farming equipment by day, grabbing dinner, then working on the Monaro by night. “If I couldn’t find the hours after work, I would get up at 3am and do stuff before work instead,” he sighs, rubbing his eyes at the memory. “I was determined to not be one of those guys with a car that sits in the shed in pieces for 20 years and never gets touched.”
Working on a trial-and-error basis, Michael reckons he did some things three times over before getting them right. Not that it was a solo effort, with Michael’s brother Jamie driving two hours from Chadstone every weekend to help out.
Michael's brother Jamie sent him a few presents from the US including a giant laser-cut GTS badge. Jamie also enjoys creating model cars from scratch. This model of Michael's HQ is bolted in the boot on permanent display
Jamie now lives in the USA, but during the build he was working for Holden as a clay modeller. “I thought the body was looking pretty mint, so Jamie got this crazy idea,” Michael says. “He brought over some special foil they use on the clay models; you wet it down and lay it over the clay to make it look painted. We laid some over the bare Monaro shell, then pushed it out into the sun.”
The boys copped a rude shock; not only was the body still covered in ripples, but the gaps were all over the place and the swage lines didn’t meet. So back into the shed it went. “I was tearing my hair out, but we just kept on working,” Michael says of the experience.
With the bodywork taking so long, Johnny Pilla at Powerhouse Engines had plenty of time to pull together a stout driveline. Knowing Michael’s intention to cruise, show, burnout and drag the trusty HQ, he suggested a Dart Big M block with plenty of meat in the walls.
The tough 540-cube Chev Dart mill by Johnny Pilla at Powerhouse Engines is one of the few components not personally fettled by Michael, but it meant the budget took a hit so he made the exhaust from a box of mandrel pipes and two laser-cut flanges
Inside, he installed Mahle slugs, pushed by Callies Compstar H-beam rods attached to a Manley Performance crank. Up top, a pair of AFR heads, Edelbrock manifold and a big Pro Systems Dominator four-barrel complete a package that makes 785hp and has already seen plenty of action on the burnout pad, plus returned a swift 10.3 at Heathcote.
Jamie’s Holden connections came in handy again once the body was ready for paint. “We masked the whole thing up and spent $200 hiring a spray booth. Then we got GM spray painter Lincoln Gray down to spray it; he’s on the gun all day every day, and is one of the guys who worked on EFIJY.” Michael’s 200 bucks were well spent: “I was in awe; there’s not one run in it. Mint!”
The combined result of all this hard work is evident; the paint looks a million bucks, and Michael’s shredded over 25 pairs of rears with nary a hiccup.
But we know what you’re thinking: ‘Get to the dash!’ So here’s the scoop.
Being an industrial designer for Holden meant Jamie’s eye for awesome is finely honed. “Jamie drew up this design and we knew it was going to be mint!” Michael enthuses.
So the boys got to work, first creating a ‘seating buck’ using the remnants of a spare HQ parts car. The buck had no roof, just a dash and somewhere to bolt the seats. There, the boys were able to clay-model the custom design – all in a day’s work for Jamie. “You heat up the modelling clay to 60 degrees, stack it on, then it cools down and goes hard,” Michael explains. “We shifted the gauges here and there to make sure we could see them through the wheel.”
Once they were satisfied with the design, it took seven individual moulds bolted together to cast the finished product. The intricate process was worth it. “Everyone asks what car it’s out of,” Michael says. “When I explain it, people hit us up to sell them the moulds!”
Finished just a week out from Summernats 28, Michael realised that his hard work was going to get ruined the moment he popped a pair of rears. He quickly created a pair of 'guard protectors' (see below) and says he's popped close to 25 pairs of tyres with no problems
I can tell from Michael’s voice that it’s not about the money; the moulds and the Monaro will both stay in his possession until he’s deep underground. It’s about family and it’s about brotherhood – a constant reminder of his best mate who now lives overseas. Jamie was with him every step of the build and helped craft that awesome bespoke dash with genuine Holden ingenuity.
The guard protectors bolt up to the leading edge of the wheelarches and up under the boot floor. They look a bit weird when fitted, but once the smoke starts, they magically become invisible!
Sometimes people get cranky at Michael for chopping up what is now a valuable Aussie classic, but as he says: “It was so far gone; there was no way I was going to get it back to original.
Besides, what really counts as original? A brand-new dashboard styled by one of Holden’s own designers? C’mon guys, that’s mint!