Twenty-six years ago, Mario Borg consigned his FJ Holden how ute to the garage. Now, his son Chris has rejuvenated it, ready to haul in trophies all over again
This article on Chris's FJ ute was originally published in the July 2017 issue of Street Machine
CHRIS Borg’s dad Mario had a lot of cars – “GTs, hot rods, stuff like that,” Chris says – but it was the FJ ute that always stuck in his mind. “It’s just the curves, the shape and that tilt front,” he says.
Airbags weren't the only modern revision installed with the new build; the FJ ute features a Torana rack-and-pinion steering system connected to a billet steering column and new shaft. Down the back, the trans tunnel was massaged so the diff didn't bonk the body when the ute was slammed
Thumbing the remote in his hand, the roller door in front of us clatters slowly skyward. It makes painfully slow progress; after almost three decades, I just can’t wait to see this machine again – part historic show car, part modern streeter.
Ducking down, first I spy a 20-inch Showwheel, then a rolled rear pan. The smoothed tailgate is next, then the hard tonneau. Finally, there she is in all her Blue Candy glory. But the ute looks a bit different to when it featured in SM, Oct/Nov 1991. For a start, back then it wore Vermillion Fire orange, not blue.
“It’s been in my family since I was a kid,” Chris says as we circle the ute. “My earliest childhood memories are of me, my dad and this ute at the Victorian Hot Rod Shows. Happy memories.”
It stands to reason; Mario hit the show scene hard, usually with Chris in tow. “Every time he won a trophy, he’d let me collect it,” Chris says. “And I’ve still got ’em all.”
It’s clear that Chris regards this FJ with great reverence, but his ties to the past have not bound him from updating the ute. “Even when I was a kid, we agreed that once everyone got to know the car, we’d put it away and do a makeover one day.”
Back then, the ute already rocked the tilt-front and 327ci Chev V8, but was backed by a Muncie four-speed and, believe it or not, drum brakes all ’round. It had been sitting for a decade when Chris received the keys, so he knew it would need work.
“Instead of just fixing it up, I took the opportunity to upgrade everything. Those brakes had to go; that’s the first thing I did when I got the car!” Chris laughs.
Not that Chris jumped straight under there attacking everything with a 13mm spanner and a head full of ideas. “I’m very meticulous and this car is very special to me, so it took me around a year to find the right person.” That person turned out to be Peter Bauer, who not only handled the brakes, but all mechanical areas.
Chris reaches down and presses a button on the guard, then moves around and does the same on the other side, releasing the big flip-front bonnet. With the hot downlights blazing above, the chrome-laden engine bay lights up like a disco. The 327-cuber presents in classic red for the block and heads, with things getting shinier the further north you go, culminating in an Edelbrock 650cfm carb and dominating Assault Racing Products shotgun intake.
While it was at Peter’s workshop, Chris set about looking for someone who could handle the body, applying the same fastidious selection process as he did with the mechanical work. After scouring endless websites, making many phone calls and meeting plenty of fellas, Chris settled on Daniel Cassar at Fast Lane Speed Shop in Ballarat.
“We’re about the same age and both grew up in the car scene; once I got speaking to him I knew he was the right guy,” he says.
Chris had the car shifted straight from Peter’s workshop to Fast Lane, along with a simple plan. “I told Daniel that it had to have that nice, clean look, sit low to the ground and have big wheels!”
Daniel’s first task was to create some low, ditching the traditional springs for an Air Ride airbag system, with the associated plumbing hidden up under the bamboo tray. Three settings were programmed in, allowing the ute to sit nice on the road, get over speed bumps where necessary and hit the weeds when parked.
The required clearance for the big Showwheels brought challenges, with Daniel pumping the front wheelarches outwards for the 17s and re-profiling the rears to swallow the 20s. I circle the car in Chris’s garage looking for telltale bulges or other deviations from stock. The mark of a great custom job is that, without a standard FJ sitting alongside, I can’t find where the FJ ends and Daniel’s genius begins.
With a rolled rear pan, the ute was already pretty clean out back, but the tail-lights were recognisably Valiant. "They stuck out too much," Chris says, so these aftermarket items were installed. With the blending of the metal to meet the lights, they look like they were meant to be there
After Fast Lane mini-tubbed the rear end and relocated the fuel filler to the tray, Chris brought the ute home again to save for the next step, but all was not right. Mario had been watching his son’s progress on the FJ with keen interest, but had been diagnosed with cancer and his health was getting progressively worse.
Chris isn't out to win any drag races, just rattle the neighbourhood a bit when he's out for a cruise. Nevertheless, the small-block Chev should be good for 500 horses, so it'll fair shift when Chris hits the go-pedal!
“It sat at home for about three years, bodywork done but not painted,” Chris says. “During that time, I got Peter Bauer back in to do the steering upgrades.” On New Year’s Eve 2013, Chris caught up with his old man to talk about the build. “Dad was okay at the time; every time I showed him photos of the build, it brought his spirits up.
“New Year’s Day...” – Chris hesitates – “he was gone.”
Mario’s passing steeled Chris’s resolve to finish the build; the ute went back to Fast Lane for a custom dash, paint, sanding and polishing. “That’s when we had the fun of putting it back together,” Chris laughs, recalling his daily driver racking up many miles between his house and Daniel’s workshop in Ballarat.
Although Mario was gone, he was never far from Chris’s mind as the build neared completion. “I remember the goosebumps I got when he gave me the car. I got those same goosebumps the first time we started it, and I get them every time I’ve started it since.”
Chris says the grey velour Valiant bench seat had to go. In its place: a pair of Recaro buckets beautifully custom-stitched with matching door trims
Chris ducks back into the car, turning the key. After a brief clatter from the fuel pump, the 327 blurts into life, settling into a lumpy, gear-driven idle. He gives it a blip as it warms, a smile sliding across his face.
Auto Meter gauges monitor the vitals, including volts and fuel dials housed in their own custom binnacles
After a minute or two, Chris shuts off the burbling FJ and the garage is silent again. “It was my dad’s life accomplishment to get this car in Street Machine back in 1991, and it’s been mine to get it back on these pages 26 years later,” he says.
The Muncie Rock Crusher didn't exactly lend itself to easy cruising so it was also ditched in favour of a mildly built Turbo 350 with a 2800 stall and B&M Quick Shifter
“I will never sell this car, I will live on the street first; it’s my father’s legacy.” Chris clears his throat. “Who knows, maybe my boy Isaac will get it back in the magazine again in another 26 years!”
With a history like yours, Chris, there’s no doubt.
1955 FJ HOLDEN UTE
Colour: HOK Blue Candy
Engine: 327ci small-block Chev
Intake: Edelbrock Air Gap
Carburettor: Edelbrock 650cfm
Pistons: ACL Race Series
Rods: Standard with ARP bolts
Oil pump: Melling high-volume
Radiator: Four-core Aussie Desert Cooler
Ignition: MSD billet with Street Fire control module
Fuel pump: Mechanical
Exhaust: Stainless-steel block-huggers
Transmission: Turbo 350 with TCI components
Diff: Mustang 8¾in 3.50:1 LSD
Tailshaft: Modified Mustang
Brakes: VT slotted rotors with AU twin-piston calipers (f), XF slotted rotors with XF calipers (r)
Springs: Air Ride ’bags (f & r)
Shocks: SoCal Speed Shop (f & r)
Steering: Shortened Torana
Rear end: Four-link
Rims: Showwheels Streeter; 17x8 (f), 20x9.5 (r)
Rubber: Bridgestone; 205/45/17 (f), 245/35 R20 (r)