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LS1-powered 1963 Holden EJ van

By Boris Viskovic | Photos: Jordan Leist, 07 Jun 2020 Features

LS1-powered 1963 Holden EJ van

From builder's hack to jaw-dropping street machine. David Hopkin saved this early girl

THE moment I spotted this super-sano EJ pano at Powercruise 26, I was asking who owned it. Parked alongside a blown and injected Charger and a nitrous-sniffing EK, I figured Sam Rhodes would be the best person to ask. Turns out the bloke who put it together is David Hopkin, proprietor of AK Cylinder Heads in Kelmscott, south-east of Perth. David seemed genuinely humbled by the attention his car was receiving. It’s nice to meet someone with a sweet car who doesn’t think it’s the best thing since the invention of the stubbie holder. To him it’s just a neat streeter.

This article was first published in the February 2011 issue of Street Machine

Obviously his version of ‘neat’ is a little neater than most but it’s the subtlety and restraint that he’s shown during the build that makes it special, and it hides a few surprises.

Holden EJ panelvan

Pat Gardner tubular front suspension gets the nose down, while reset leaf springs sort out the rear

“There are many subtle body mods but I’d rather let people spend the time to look at the pics and figure out what has or hasn’t been done,” he says.

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The end result is a far cry from what he started out with more than five years ago, when he put the feelers out for a windowless EJ or EH van. At least finding a project wasn’t as hard as he feared. “I used to work up in Geraldton and phoned my old manager, Peter Bishop of Midwest Performance, to see if he knew of any windowless vans.”

Holden EJ panelvan onroad

Weeks later Peter bought an old work van from local builder Len Head, for the princely sum of $1000. “The van had been in the carport for eight years and it was still registered, but being a builder’s car, it was pretty rough,” David says. Forty workhorse years had taken their toll. Add to that Geraldton’s coastal location and the risk of tin-worm infestation was high. Except Len was a crafty old bloke.

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“Having lived on the coast for a long time, he knew how to look after the van. Underneath was painted in that Endrust rubber stuff and apparently he used to pour the old engine oil inside the floors to keep the rust away.”

Holden EJ panelvan

Len was also pretty handy with a paint brush and when David took delivery it was in a lovely shade of Ceiling White over Mission Brown.

Not being a fan of 70s Housing Commission paint schemes on cars, David opted to redo the car in factory Pittwater Green, albeit tweaked by Vulcan Panel & Paint with some pearl.

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Initial power plans were for a Commodore V6 but after buying a conversion kit that would be more at home on the Queen Mary, he decided on a small-block Chev. He even bought a CRS kit but a call to John Lloyd at Street Quick Performance shifted the goalposts once again — he convinced David that an LS1 was the go.

Holden EJ panelvan engine bay

The LS1 fits fine with an accessory drive system from Street Quick Performance. A tickle delivered 360rwhp

“I was sure it wouldn’t fit so Lloydy lent me a block, heads and sump and by Saturday arvo we [David with Geoff Black from Black Magic Race Cars] had it sitting in the engine bay, albeit on a milk crate. That weekend, while I was on the computer, I came across the Pat Gardner front-end, which is the one we have in the car now.”

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The LS1 fits perfectly, helped by the SQP-supplied accessory drive system that’s 2.5in shorter than anything else on the market. As much as I love old-school carby V8s, you can’t ignore the grunt of even a mildly tweaked LS1. Apart from rings and bearings, a mild cam, MSD throttlebody and a minor tickle to the heads, the engine is stock — yet sends 360hp to the tyres.

Holden EJ panelvan interiior

It’s all class inside with a split bench, billet wheel and column-shift four-speed auto. Updated but not molested

The other links in the chain are a 4L80E auto cogbox and a Commodore diff that has recently had the stock 3.45 gears swapped out for a set of 4.11s. That woke her up a bit but thanks to the overdrive auto, the revs on the highway aren’t over the top. Once again technology comes to the rescue.

The wheels too are a mix of old and new. You would have seen them on countless SM feature cars, especially in the 80s, but never in a 17-inch diameter before.

Holden EJ panelvan interior rear

No shag pile carpet, just fine joinery by Prowest Cabinets. Check out how nice those inner wheel arches are

Up front are your standard 15x6 Auto Drags but out back are 17x9.5s. You can’t get them in satin finish either. David pulled apart his brand spanking new wheels, then sent them to Anderson Metal Spinners who matched the satin finish to the fronts.

The interior appears original at first glance. But then you notice the split-bench seat — no more sliding around during cornering — billet wheel and trio of Auto Meter gauges.

A neat touch we don’t often see in Australia is the column shifter. Usually that’s the first thing that gets tossed but David always planned to run it. There’s no need to manually shift anyway — the electronic auto does it all for you.

Holden EJ panelvan onroad

Of course, a build like this can’t be done without family and friends and David had plenty of support from his wife, Kylee.

“In the thrash to make Powercruise, my dummy was well and truly spat in the dirt. She would pick it up, dust it off and offer words of encouragement. With the help of family and mates, we made it. She’s happy doing stuff that makes me happy. It’ll be my turn soon.”

DAVID HOPKIN
1963 EJ HOLDEN VAN

Colour: Pittwater Green

ENGINE
Type: LS1
Induction: MSD 90mm throttlebody
Heads: Standard, mild port
Camshaft: Comp Cams
Valve springs: PAC
Valves: Ferrea
Cooling: Aussie Desert Cooler, Spal thermos
Exhaust: Custom Butler Built
Dyno: 360rwhp

TRANSMISSION
Gearbox: 4L80E, Ididit shifter
Diff: Commodore with 4.11 gears
Tailshaft: One-piece

BUMP & STOP
Suspension: Pat Gardner tubular A-arms, Avco coil-overs (f), reset standard leaves (r)
Shocks: Koni double adjustable (r)
Steering: Commodore rack & pinion
Brakes: VZ V8 (f), Nissan Skyline (r)

ROLLING STOCK
Rims: Center Line Auto Drag 15x6 (f), 17x9.5 (r)
Rubber: Pirelli 185x15 (f), Toyo 275/45/17 (r)

THANKS
Geoff Black, Black Magic Race Cars; Sam & Cassie Rhodes, Vulcan Panel & Paint; Tony Riggio, Trim; John Lloyd, Street Quick Performance; Bruce, Armadale Mobile Auto Electrics; Kelvin, Rob & Steve, Advanced Brake Remanufacturers; Phil Purser, Final Drive; Ian Wornes, AV Design; Dirk, Ulex Engineering; Phil, Phil Gardner Engineering; Marty, Prowest Cabinets; Fletch, KD & Blacky, endless hours of effort; my family, Kylee, Brandon, Daniel, Corey & Ainsley

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