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500hp street-legal 1961 EK Holden Special

By Simon Telford | Photos: John Jovic, 12 Jan 2019 Features

500hp street-legal 1961 EK Holden Special

Hand-built in Darwin, this Holden EK is the best in the land

This article on Garry's EK Holden was originally published in the August 2009 issue of Street Machine

WANTED a highly modified car but I didn’t want to modify things for the sake of it — only to improve the performance and wow factor,” Garry Quinn says of his Chev-powered EK sedan.

Holden EK SpecialThose are words to live by and Garry has built a car with a killer stance and the performance to match by sticking to them. That the car was created almost entirely in Garry’s own shed makes it all the more impressive, as does the fact that he lives in Darwin.

Read next: 660hp small-block Chev-powered EK Holden at Drag Challenge

While the Top End has its fair share of tough drag cars, top-level street machines are few and far between. The warm and wet weather isn’t the best for cruising in precious metal and it’s a long way from the big speed shops but none of that bothered Garry, who is a fitter and machinist by trade and builds flash fishing boats for a quid.

Holden EK Special“The climate is excellent for car building because you don’t have to deal with cold nights and mornings in the shed. It is hard not being able to just walk into a speed shop and take what you need but you end up fabricating a lot of things yourself.”

Read next: Blown & injected 1961 Holden EK sedan

The build started early in 2008, when Garry bought an EK Special out of Queensland, sight unseen. From the start, the plan was to drop a tough small-block into it and jam some fat rubber under the rear, so Garry did the smart thing and got the build approved in principle by the road authorities before turning a spanner.

Holden EK Special bootThat approval included a thumbs-up for a four-link rear, which would be dismissed out of hand in many other jurisdictions. “The TAC is tough up here,” he says, “but if you approach things the right way, the sky’s the limit. I actually had the car approved with a 6/71 before I decided I wanted to keep everything under the bonnet.”

Read next: Chopped 350-cube 1962 EK Holden panel van

With the build rubber-stamped, Garry started to strip the car down but soon ran into life trouble.

Holden EK Special engine“Shortly after I started, work got busy and I let it sit until October — when I got a wake-up call with my health and was rushed to hospital. The doctor told me to lay off work for a while and chill out.”

That left him with bugger-all to do, so he turned his attention back to the EK. He only did a couple of hours a day at first, and set the goal of getting the car finished in time for the 2009 FB-EK Nationals in Bendigo, seven months away. To get there, the EK was going to need a custom interior complete with well-integrated audio, air con, power windows, central locking and lots of other time-consuming details.

Holden EK Special bootHow do you meet such an ambitious target? “I’ve got a big whiteboard in the shed and I made lists — things to buy, things that needed to be done before paint, things that could be done while it was being painted, jobs to do after. It was the only way to keep track of everything.”

Garry also had an excellent donor car, a low-mileage VN SS Commodore. “I put the 5.0-litre and auto into my LandCruiser,” he says. “I thought I might use a few bits for the EK but ended up using the bucket seats, diff, rear brakes, steering column, air conditioning, wiring loom, retractable seat belts and lots more.”

Holden EK specialHe also built a kick-arse rotisserie to suspend the car while he got down to the serious business of measuring, fabricating and trial-fitting himself back to health.

Garry is all for making things easy but isn’t a fan of shortcuts or compromises. Take the way he squeezed those fat Yokies under the rear guards.

“I didn’t want to just cut the whole rear of the car out. The idea was to retain as much of the original floorpan as possible and make everything look as if it belonged there, while keeping it all accessible for adjustments and servicing.”

Holden EK SpecialSo he moved the sub-frame rails in by 110mm each side and widened the inner wheelarches by 20mm each. The four-link is a McDonald Brothers item, mated to set a set of coil-over shocks and a Panhard bar of Garry’s own design. To provide a sturdy mount for the shocks he fabricated a new diff hump, which also supports the fuel tank. The ends of the four-link protruded into the floor, so he cut out a couple of clearance channels, then fabricated and welded in sturdy covers. They fouled the rear seat, which was modified to suit. Phew!

At the front he also kept things unconventional, eschewing the usual HR set-up for an LH Torana crossmember, with HZ stub axles to help it sit lower and P76 discs to tuck the wheels in.

Holden EK Special interior“I was going to use an HR front end but I thought the LH crossmember would be a neater solution. It looked more Chev-friendly, as you don’t have to cut the crossmember to clear the sump or butcher the front outrigger to fit the steering rack. The LH also sits lower than the HR, which helped keep everything under the bonnet and it meant I’d be able to use the LH steering without mucking around.”

Mating the Torana front end to the EK wasn’t simple — he had to notch the crossmember on each side and then plate it to provide a flat spot to position the EK mounts.

Holden EK Special undercarriage“It wasn’t easy but now I’ve done one I could do another one a lot quicker,” he says. Tying it all together is a chassis strengthening kit that Garry designed and built to look stock.

One of the few things he didn’t want to handle was the panel and paint, demoting himself to ‘bitch’ status and putting good mate Rick Petersen in charge of smoothing the EK’s skin and squirting it with many coats of De Beer Special Black. With plenty of road miles planned, the underside wasn’t given the gloss finish, instead copping a rubberised two-pack marine paint called Amerlok, which wipes clean with little effort.

Holden EK specialComponents like the diff were hit with a gunmetal grey, while the engine block, sway bars, sump and a few other pieces were painted in Chev Orange.

Garry built the 383ci small-block himself, using a DIY Procomp kit, and mated it to a BTE Racing Powerglide. To make the mouse-motor fit sweetly, he moved the big Aussie Desert Cooler radiator forward from the stock location. This involved fabricating a new radiator support panel and bonnet latch but it was worth it.

Holden EK Special interiorHe also shortened the VN SS diff and treated it to a set of Moser billet axles. We’ll find out how the stock LSD copes with 500hp when Garry hits the strip in the not-too-distant future.

He met his ambitious build deadline, getting the car running and registered with a carb a couple of weeks out from the FB-EK Nationals. The car was then towed to Donn Mammone in Mildura, where it was fitted with its wild Hilborn EFI set-up. From there, the car went straight to the Nats in Bendigo.

Holden EK Special interiorGarry had a ball cruising around the countryside with 80 other finned early girls.

“There are only eight FB-EKs that I know of in the Northern Territory, so it was amazing to see so many in one place. The car drove beautifully. At 100km/h you can take your hands off the wheel and it doesn’t budge. It is pretty loud though!”

Holden EK Special dashThe trophy haul was impressive, with the car winning a swag of tinware including Best Modified EK, Best EK Overall and Grand Champion.

So now that this beast is built, Garry has a another project to attend to: “My wife wants her own EK now. We already have the car, we just have to decide if that one will be a V6 or a V8. Sue’s pushing for a V8 and I really don’t blame her!”

Garry QuinnGARRY QUINN
1961 EK HOLDEN SPECIAL

Colour: De Beer Special Black

DONK
Type: Chev 383ci
Induction: Hilborn eight-stack
Heads: Procomp alloy
Cam: Hydraulic roller
Pistons: Hypereutectic 11:1
Crank: Procomp steel
Rods: Forged H-beams
Injectors: Rochester 48lb/hr
ECU: Haltech PS2000
Ignition: Procomp 6A
Fuel pump: Aeromotive A1000
Radiator: Aussie Desert Cooler
Exhaust: 15/8in primaries, 2.5in twin system 
Power: 500hp (estimate)

SHIFT
’Box: BTE Racing manualised Powerglide
Converter: JP Racing 3800rpm
Diff: Shortened VN SS BorgWarner, 28-spline Moser billet axles, 3.45:1 LSD

BENEATH
Front suspension: LH Torana crossmember, SL/R5000 springs & gas shocks, HZ stub axles
Steering: LH Torana rack, VN column, Flaming River universal joint and intermediate shaft
Rear suspension: McDonald Brothers four-link, Panhard rod, QA1 springs, Strange adjustable coil-over shocks
Brakes: Modified P76 discs, HQ calipers (f), VN SS discs (r), Hoppers Stoppers booster and dual-circuit master cylinder

ROLLING STOCK
Rims: Center Line Convo Pros, 15x6 (f), 15x10 (r)
Rubber: Yokohama C-Drive 205/50 (f) Yokohama 352 295/50 (r)