This article on Graham's EH wagon was originally published in the December 2018 issue of Street Machine
THERE ARE only two things I love more than reminiscing about old-school street machines: Learning that a particular car has survived, and discovering that it’s still in the hands of the original builder.
When a teenaged Graham Horne went hunting for an HR wagon back in 1983, little did he know that it would spawn a 35-year love affair with an EH that is not likely to fizzle anytime soon!
“I was 18 and keen to get an HR as my first car,” Graham says. “But I couldn’t find a decent one, so I brought home this EH instead. It was the best $500 I’ve ever spent.” That was a fair amount of coin back then, and landed Graham the type of EH you’d expect from a then-20-year-old car: pretty worn and rusty, but complete and just begging to be hotted up.
The first round of upgrades were immediate and born purely from necessity: “On that initial drive home I blew the clutch and busted the windscreen,” Graham says. “I got it sorted and used it as my daily driver for the next few years, making improvements when I could. I took it to Canberra for the sixth Street Machine Nationals in ’84 and came home a changed man; I stripped the car completely, deciding to stop messing about and do a real build.”
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Graham fitted up an HR disc-brake front end and dropped in a hot six-cylinder, with the interior scoring a re-trim and the body sorted for its first incarnation in Jade Green metallic.
The wagon was looking the goods and deemed neat enough to be used for Graham and wife Kerry’s wedding in 1986, with further undercarriage detailing finished before Graham and the EH trekked back to Canberra at Easter 1986.
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A nice touch of positive rake works nicely with the 17in Boyd rims, while the HZ side markers and blue-dot-clad tail-light lenses were retained from the wagon’s earlier builds. A 3.55-geared 9in LSD offers a beaut mix of performance with driveability for when Graham stretches the car’s legs
“The cops were brutal that year for the seventh Nats, but I wasn’t deterred,” Graham says. “Between ’86 and ’88 I stripped the wagon again, loading every unboltable part into the boot of my HT Prem and taking it to the chrome-platers. And I mean everything: the front end, rear leaf springs, all of the engine bolt-ons and the crossmembers.”
When it came to the frontal treatment, Graham chose an EJ grille for his EH to combine the smoothest elements from both models. The GTR Torana guard flutes were once a popular mod, and the whole package looks a treat lathered in Jade Green from the HJ colour charts
A T-top sunroof was added and the wheels swapped out for then-cutting-edge Dragway Tri-Spokes, and in 1988 Graham returned for the eighth Nats at Wagga Wagga – a high point of the EH’s journey thus far, with Graham taking out Top Wagon.
But even with the taste of ’88 Nats success still fresh, Graham still had one last item on the wishlist that wouldn’t quit niggling: “I wanted a V8-powered EH,” he says. “So I put the wagon back in the garage for its final build. I stripped it down to the last nut and bolt and built a rotisserie to mount the shell.
The front end is a treasure-trove of old-school cool, nutted out well before the convenience of plentiful aftermarket options. An HR crossmember has been outfitted with LH Torana rack-and-pinion, bookended by HZ brakes and steering arms
An LH Torana floor hump was welded in, along with new floorpans and a pair of 100x50mm RHS rails to form a three-quarter chassis. A larger-capacity XY Falcon fuel tank was selected and adapted to the EH, and a Sigma collapsible steering column was fitted as a segue to a re-engineered front end. An HR crossmember was modified for new engine mounts, sump clearance and to mount an LH Torana steering rack, and the MacGyver-styled engineering continued with the adaptation of HZ Holden front discs, stubs and steering arms. A narrowed nineinch housing, lowered EH leaf springs and HZ drum brakes rounded out the rear end. This wagon was a veritable compendium of old-school wrecking-yard genius at its best.
Powering the beast was a 307-cube smallblock Chev, backed by a Turbo 400 trans mounted via a custom three-inch tubular crossmember. A shortened HQ V8 tailshaft was added as the last piece of the driveline puzzle. Graham was adamant that fenderwell pipes poking through the inner guards were not an option, so put in the hard yards to create a neat set of headers that funnel down nicely against the sides of the engine.
By 1991 Graham had made good progress and the EH was presented for its first inspection to an engineer, who came back suitably impressed and gave it the green light.
The car was in mock-up stage, ready to be pulled down and rebuilt for real, but it would be another 22 years before Graham and Kerry would finally get back behind the wheel.
Graham had painted the engine bay, interior and undercarriage surfaces in fresh Jade Green, but his family decided to leave the hustle and bustle of Melbourne’s eastern suburbs for a more relaxed life in north-east Victoria, and the project was put on the backburner. “You know the deal,” Graham says, “we got busy building a house and settling in, so the car stuff was put on hold. I finally slid off the covers in 2007 after I found Rosko at Rosko’s Restorations in Tocumwal, who was prepared to paint the outside of the car, continuing with the brand of paint I had used. When the car came home freshly painted in 2013, I started reassembly in my garage, carefully refitting the exterior trim and glass. It was just like old times.”
A 307-cube smallblock Chev replaced a hot six for this final build, and runs the usual carb, cam and exhaust mods to make it a lively performer in a lightweight EH. The engine bay detailing is a mix of new and old styling and is oh-so-crisp to boot – check out the on-point reworked radiator support and shrouding
The 307 small-block was treated to a rebuild by Graham and his mate Andrew James, who topped the freshened bottom end with ported Power Pak heads, an Edelbrock Performer intake and 650 vac-sec Holley carb. A trimmed-down Commodore radiator keeps the action nice and cool, while the aforementioned custom headers and a 2.5-inch exhaust allow the Chev donk to hit all the right notes.
The Turbo 400 transmission was rebuilt with a stage one shift kit and 2500rpm stall, and great allrounder 3.55 gears now fill the nine-inch.
The EH’s newfound stud pattern opened up a broader world of wheel choices for Graham, who swapped the old Dragways for a set of 17-inch Boyd Coddington Junkyard Dogs in seven- and eight-inch widths, wrapped in 205/45 and 245/45 rubber respectively.
That gorgeous green interior glistens with velveteen and plush carpet, matched to a brace of early Smiths gauges in a custom dash housing. A Mitsubishi Sigma donated a tilt steering column, while Mazda 808 supplied the bucket seats
The interior is the combined work of Grajud Upholstery, The Trim Factory and Graham’s dear mum, Olive – it’s an enviable mix of old-school componentry lavished in green vinyl and velveteen, tastefully complemented by green plush-pile carpet. An HR Premier centre console is flanked by Mazda 808 front bucket seats matched to the original EH rear pew, while the Sigma steering column is topped by a Series 500 wheel. A custom fulllength dash houses Smiths and VDO gauges, with the underdash area tidied by replacing the usual EH umbrella-handle park-brake with an HQ lever mounted in its natural home beside the driver’s seat. Graham handled all of the electrical wiring duties before presenting the vehicle to the same engineer for its second inspection – yep, 22 years later. The engineer’s only request was to quieten the exhaust and add some extra gusseting to the transmission crossmember. This was dutifully sorted and the engineer’s report issued.
The EH breezed through a roadworthy inspection and it’s been happy days ever since; in fact Graham and the wagon slotted straight back into their winning ways. A Top 60 berth at Summernats 30 was indicative of the EH’s quality and finish, reinforced by Top Wagon placings at the 2016 and ’17 EJ/EH Holden Nationals and 2015, ’16 and ’17 Wagon Nationals, and Third Top Wagon/Van at the 2017 Victorian Hot Rod & Cool Rides show.
“A lot of people have commented about how old-school my car is. It’s true; I love old-school customs and did as much of the build as I could in my home garage, which I’m very proud of,” Graham says.
His skills and eye for detail haven’t gone unnoticed either; this year Graham has stepped up from being a show entrant to a show judge, a natural progression that he’s happy to embrace.
1963 EH HOLDEN WAGON
Colour: Jade Green Metallic
Make: Chevrolet 307ci
Block: Factory cast
Camshaft: Mild hydraulic street-grind
Heads: GM Power Pak, ported
Intake: Edelbrock Performer
Carb: Holley 650cfm
Exhaust: Custom extractors, 2.5in system
Gearbox: Turbo 400
Converter: 2500rpm stall
Tailshaft: V8 HQ
Diff: 9in, LSD, 3.55:1 gears
Front: Holden HR double wishbone, Pedders coils, Monroe Gas shocks
Rear: Reset EH leaf springs, Monroe Gas shocks
Brakes: HZ Holden discs (f), HZ Holden drums (r); HZ Holden dual-circuit master cylinder
Steering: LH Torana rack and-pinion, HZ steering arms, Sigma column
Rims: Boyd Coddington Junkyard Dog; 17x7 (f), 17x8 (r)
Tyres: Maxxis; 205/45 (f), 245/45 (r)