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Home-built 1978 Holden HZ Statesman Caprice - flashback

By Huey | Photos: www.rabbitte.com.au, 26 Jan 2019 Features

Home-built 1978 Holden HZ Statesman Caprice - flashback

When Dad sold the family Holden Statesman, David Sammut bought it back and gave it a five-year freshen up

This article on David's Statesman first appeared in the May 2007 issue of Street Machine

THERE'S something special about a car that’s been in your family for a couple of decades. Other cars can come and go but nothing steals your heart like a ride you grew up with.

Holden HZ Statesman rearJust ask David Sammut, the owner of this beautiful HZ Statesman.

“My father owned the car for 18 years. It was the car that took me everywhere as a kid; I learnt to drive in it; I passed my test in it. It even got me to the church on my wedding day.”

Read next: Fuel-injected 454-cube 1976 Holden HJ Statesman De Ville

Holden HZ StatesmanHowever, in 2001 his father thought it was time to downgrade to a smaller car. Unknown to David, his father and brother went out and traded it in for $3000 against a new car.

“I pulled out $3000 and sent him back to the car yard. Luckily he convinced the yard to accept the cash which meant the old girl could stay in the family, where she belonged.”

Read next: 454-cube big-block 1972 Holden HQ Statesman

Holden HZ Statesman CapriceWith the Statesman safely back in the family, David decided to clean up a few scratches and some minor rust. You all know what’s coming now, don’t you?

“It quickly got out of hand. Once you do one thing properly you can’t do a half-arsed job with the rest.”

Read next: Big-block Holden HJ Statesman

Holden HZ Statesman Caprice exhaustWhen he talks about doing it properly, he means it! With the use of his in-laws’ garage, David set about stripping away the old paint and years of road grime. He spent 230 hours taking the car back to bare metal, including the shell, undercarriage, steering and suspension components, diff, gearbox and chassis rails.

“I sanded it until my fingers bled. You just tape ’em up and keep going,” he says.

Holden HZ Statesman Caprice tail lightBody-wise, the Statesman was fairly good but in keeping with the ‘doing it properly’ mantra, David decided it could be better. All of the factory press-welds were smoothed over, unwanted trim was removed, and surplus holes were welded up. Once the Statesman was looking good, Pauly Abela sprayed on the Inferno Red paint, usually found on Chrysler PT Cruisers. Allan McCoy repaired the stainless mouldings, which were then treated to some new chrome. Billet Specialties 17x8 Psycho wheels wrapped in Falken 235/45/17 tyres complete the exterior style.

Holden HZ Statesman Caprice wheelTerry Murphy Automotive was enlisted to bring the 308’s internals up to the standard of the rest of the car. Like the body, the donk wasn’t in a bad way, having been rebuilt a couple of years before David bought the car.

“I didn’t want it too wild, because I want to drive it, you know? That’s why I left the battery, the air conditioning and the power steering all in the engine bay.”

Holden HZ Statesman Caprice bootHe might have left them in situ but everything has been detailed to within an inch of its life. Those people curious enough to check it out will see the undercarriage also copped the flawless treatment.

Moving inside, there was no way the stock threads were going to cut it so David set about constructing board-work to tidy up the interior. The boot, parcel shelf, transmission tunnel, floor and firewall all received a smooth-over. The front seats came courtesy of a VS Statesman, and the standard rear bench was contoured into a comfortable two-seater. Colin Sultana from Precision Motor Trimming created the door trims then upholstered the whole lot with a mix of vinyl and suede over Mercedes Benz carpets.

Holden HZ Statesman Caprice undersideThe Billet Specialties steering wheel matches the rolling stock, while a B&M Hard Core Street Bandit takes care of the gear-shifting duties. The stereo is all JVC, with a touch-screen head unit supplying the tunes to a 580Watt amp powering six-inch speakers in the kick panels and 6x9s lurking in the parcel shelf. The finishing touch for the interior was new glass all around, which was a challenge to track down.

“The rear screen was the last one Pilkington had in stock. After much searching, the purchasing manager at Rare Spares managed to organise for new glass to be made — even the rear quarter windows.”

Holden HZ Statesman interiorThe HZ uses factory gauges in a reupholstered dash. That’s where the similarities to a standard Statesman interior end

With Summernats approaching, a big effort was put in for the final six months of the build, to get the car ready.

“It was one step forwards, three steps back, right up to the week before. I was working six-day weeks, then I would come and work on the car. The missus was great, really supportive.”

Holden HZ Statesman interior rearDavid used to be ferried around in this car as a kid. The back seat can’t have been very comfortable because he got it sculpted into this neat two-seater

All the hard work paid off with a place in the Elite Top 60 and Third Top Sedan. The judges weren’t the only ones impressed; so was David’s dad.

“At first he was saying: ‘What are you doing?’ You know what oldies are like. But now that it’s done, he loves it.”

So now that you’ve rebuilt the car of your childhood, what’re you gonna do with it?

Holden Statsman HZ shifter“It’ll be shown for a couple of years but it’s been built to be driven. I built it for me, and if I get trophies along the way that’s just a bonus.

There’s no point spending money on cars that will never hit the road and not be enjoyed. It was built to cruise: everything works, it doesn’t overheat and it’s reliable.”

BILLET STYLE

David didn’t rely on a towering blower or bulging rubber for shock value — he’s happy to have a Statesman with class in spades.

In building such a stylish ride, it’s the little things that make all the difference. One of the standout features of this car is the tasteful and consistent use of billet. Billet Specialties supplied a number of items such as the wheels, steering wheel, air cleaner, and rocker cover breathers, and they look great. But sometimes you need parts that aren’t offered by the aftermarket.

Holden Statesman engine bayEngine bay is a case study in tastefully balancing chrome, billet and painted surfaces. Even better, it’s a practical driver with air con, power steering and battery all in their natural places

For those touches, David relied on a good mate, Allan Mac. Allan was responsible for lots of the little billet features that not only tidy up the car but add some sparkle too. He was responsible for the billet work on the exhaust tips, bonnet and boot caps, water pump, power steering and air conditioning pulleys, firewall caps, battery clamp and terminal clamps, air conditioner plumbing cover, pedals, shifter surround, power window surround, handbrake lever, steering column cover, seat adjuster covers and numberplate surrounds.

It’s the effort invested in little details like these billet pieces that make the car so nice.

DAVID SAMMUT
1978 HZ STATESMAN CAPRICE

Colour: Chrysler PT Cruiser Inferno Red

ENGINE
Type: Holden 308
Carbie: Rochester Quadrajet 4bbl
Intake: Edelbrock Performer
Heads: L34-spec cross flow, ported and polished, 10:1 comp
Cam: Crow 30/70
Valves: L34 stainless steel
Lifters: Yella Terra roller rockers
Pistons: Forged ACL race series
Conrods: H-section forged, 5.623in
Crank: Ground 308, 3.062in stroke
Exhaust: Genie four-into-one, dual 2½in pipes

TRANSMISSION
Gearbox: Turbo 400, 2000rpm stall converter
Diff: Salisbury 10-bolt LSD, 3.08:1

SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Springs: Pedders
Shocks: Monroe gas
Brakes: PBR four-wheel discs

INTERIOR
Seats: VS Statesman (f), modified stock (r)
Tiller: Billet Specialties Psycho
Trim: Vinyl
Instruments: Standard, HZ GTS tacho
Shifter: B&M Hard Core Street Bandit

WHEELS & TYRES
Wheels: Billet Specialties Pyscho 17x8 (f&r)
Tyres: Falkens 235/45 (f&r)