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Bad to the bone: check out Francis Noble’s 1973 Holden Kingswood

26 July 2015


Matte black paint, mountainous blower, extreme tubs — it might sound simple, but Francis Noble’s epic Kingswood ute defines the word ‘tough’

Do you remember the moment in your automotive life akin to a light bulb going off above a cartoon character’s head — the moment that changed your entire perspective? For some, it was the sight of an enormous supercharger hanging out of a bonnet, whilst others found it in the sensation of catapulting down the 1320 or the look of a ground-scrapingly low car. In Francis ‘Rolly’ Noble’s case, it was simply looking at, and then cruising in, a bunch of angry, tubbed street machines. 

Rolly has had a long-term love affair with the V8 engine, and has owned more than his fair share of them, from old Holdens and Valiants right through to a Plymouth Fury hearse. His veins are undoubtedly a perfect 50/50 blend of blood and petrol. However, it was actually rather recently that Rolly discovered the joy of huge tubs to complement huge V8s — his tubbed and blown big block–powered Holden Kingswood is the result of this perfect marriage of passions. Fortunately, Rolly’s day job is as a grader driver, and his work at the helm of heavy machinery helps to maintain and repair the roads that his wild ute was built to torment. 

When Rolly and his wife, Lisa, moved to Auckland from Kaitaia, it was inevitable that they’d fall in with a group of like-minded people — Manukau Rod & Custom Club. They made some great friends, and were given many chances to cruise in seriously cool machinery. We’re all too familiar with the snowball effect, and there is nothing to the contrary in this story. Rolly’s V8 addiction had just made a new friend — big tubs and even bigger engines. He even went so far as to buy a enormously staggered set of Weld Prostars, at 15×6 and 15×12 inches. Hey, why not, you ask? Well, he stored these in the bedroom for two years before he’d even bought a car to fit them to — let’s not ask what Lisa thought of that! 

Time went on, and Rolly’s love for tubbed cars only got stronger. It culminated one day in a phone call from a friend from Ahipara, in the Far North, asking Rolly if he’d be keen to buy his son’s Holden Kingswood ute. The ute had been stored in a shipping container for the last five years, and it was time to move it on. Rolly travelled up from Auckland to have a look at it, before deciding to buy it — $2500 later and he was arranging to have the ute transported back to Auckland. In a display of patience that would do a saint proud, Rolly decided to drive the ute for a couple of years before jumping into a full overhaul.

The plan had been to drop in a 502ci big block and tub the rear, but it didn’t take long for the blokes at Manukau Rod & Custom Club, most notably Stan Ponting, to convince him of the “bigger is better” philosophy — more specifically, a GM 572 crate motor.

These drastically upgraded plans meant the chassis would need upgrading to suit, and, as luck would have it, a good friend happened to have just the ticket. In 2006, Carl Johnson offered Rolly the chassis that had been in Top Doorslammer driver, Mark Bardsley’s old ute. Not just any old chassis, it had already been narrowed 18 inches in the rear by Wayne Yearbury, making it the perfect base for a wildly tubbed ride. Over a two-year period, Rolly stripped the chassis back, sandblasting it and covering it in black paint, and completely overhauled the suspension. Finally, after four years in the bedroom, the Weld wheels were evicted and fitted to the ute, giving just the appearance that Rolly had been striving for. 

The project was temporarily put on hold in 2008, when Rolly and Lisa decided to move back up to Kaitaia. Once they were settled back in, though, it was business as usual — the body was removed from the chassis, awaiting surgery. Pete Wallace was enlisted to fabricate the tray and tubs, and ensure they sat correctly on the chassis.

With this all done, the ute was sent off to Harry Mane’s Mane Car Painters, where it received a generous coating of matte black, with a pinch of clear for protection. The matte finish looks right at home on the Kingswood’s body, perfectly underlining its evil intentions for street and strip. Now that the ute looked suitably menacing, the gaping void between the narrow front wheels needed to be filled with an appropriate engine.

By now, Rolly had his heart set on a GM ZZ572 crate motor, so Clive at Advanced Four Wheel Equipment was called — and guess what he happened to have in stock? Sourcing a transmission capable of harnessing the big block’s phenomenal torque left few options but the trusty TH400, so Rolly got in touch with Dave and Carl at DC Trading to help him out. The answer came in the form of a Hughes-built TH400, which DC Trading imported along with an equally strong driveshaft. Dave was also given the unenviable job of crafting a pair of custom headers to squeeze into the engine bay — not an easy job, but he managed to make them fit.

With the motive power sorted, the job of installing it all came down to Rolly and Lisa. This was done promptly, and a huge Desert Cooler Burnout King alloy radiator was imported from Australia to ensure that the big motor would not be left wanting for cooling. The next step towards hitting the road was sorting out the electrical spaghetti — for this, Pat from Redan Auto Electrical was entrusted to work her magic by wiring the entire ute. While she was at it, she hid much of the wiring, greatly enhancing the under-bonnet tidiness. From there, the ute migrated up the road to The Mechanics, where Barry and Johnny were tasked with firing the almighty powerplant into life and adjusting the ignition timing. 

“What a buzz it is finally to hear that sound you’ve been longing to hear,” said Rolly of the day he got the call to pick the ute up and drive it home. Cue a year’s worth of cruising, including making the most of the 572’s power by launching it wherever possible, and it was only a matter of time before something would give up the ghost. This turned out to be the transmission, which evidently didn’t enjoy having huge numbers of torque abruptly rammed through it. Rolly was back under the ute, removing the gearbox for a rebuild. The transmission was sent off to Willie, at Willie’s Transmissions, so that the TH400 could be beefed up to handle the torque. 

What better fix for a destroyed gearbox than to squeeze even more power and torque out of the engine? With the ute temporarily out of action, Rolly began to think quite seriously about how the 572 just wasn’t quite enough — what would really do it, he reckoned, would be the addition of a very large supercharger. With Lisa’s blessing, a phone call was made to Al Shadwick, from Al’s Blower Drives. The “bigger is better” philosophy was referred to once more, and a billet 8-71 soon found itself en route to New Zealand. When it arrived, the ute was brought down to Auckland, and Al was tasked with setting the engine up and installing the blower.

Concessions were made for the addition of forced induction, including 0.080-inch thick Cometic head gaskets, and dropping the compression to a more blower-friendly 9.0:1. A pair of 780cfm Quick Fuel carburettors top it all off, and ensure that the big motor will always have the go to match its show. The shiny mountain of power aiming skyward is the perfect partner for the equally enormous rear wheels, and Rolly now has all he wants from a car in one super tough package. 

With so much power on tap, Rolly seems satisfied with the ute, and plans just to enjoy it as much as possible over the next few years, before it is given a new paint job and roll cage. It should go without saying that the drag strip is going to be a frequent haunt for Rolly and his ute, but Rolly also plans to cruise as much as possible. New Zealand’s roads are lucky that there couldn’t be a more suitable man behind the wheel. 

1973 Holden Kingswood

Engine: 572ci big block Chev, forged alloy pistons, plasma-moly rings, forged steel crank, four-bolt mains, alloy rectangle port heads, 1.7:1 ratio roller rockers, hydraulic roller cam, stainless steel valves, twin 780cfm Quick Fuel carburettors, The Blower Shop billet 8-71 supercharger, MSD distributor, MSD leads, MSD coil, MSD 6-BTM ignition, custom headers, three-inch stainless exhaust, Flowmaster mufflers, Desert Cooler Burnout King alloy radiator, twin thermo fans, 120-litre stainless fuel tank, high performance Holley fuel pump
Driveline: Hughes TH400, 3000rpm high stall converter, Redline clutch plates, GM flexplate, 9-inch diff, 4.11:1 ratio, 28-spline axles, custom driveshaft
Suspension: King Springs superlow (front), two-inch lowering blocks, Koni shocks, Nolathane bushes
Brakes: Kruzin Kustoms eight-inch booster, Kruzin Kustoms master cylinder, factory discs, factory rotors, factory drums
Wheels/Tyres: Weld Prostar 15×6-inch and 15×12-inch, King Star 155/50R15 (front), Mickey Thompson Pro Sport 29x15x15 (rear)
Exterior: Tubbed tray, matte black paint
Chassis: Narrowed rear section 
Interior: Leather bucket seats, Holden steering wheel, B&M shifter, Auto Meter gauges, Pioneer head unit, Pioneer 6×9 speakers
Performance: Untested