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Daily Grind: Ken McFadyen’s 1967 Holden HR utility

14 August 2015

NZV8 magazine isn’t just about fully modified vehicles — we also take a look at cool daily drivers too! If you’re passionate about it, and you drive it to work every day, we can showcase it. Today we talk to Ken McFadyen, and we get the details on his 1967 Holden HR utility.

NZV8: Not many HR utes around, Ken — how did you manage to get hold of one? 

Ken: Now that’s a bit of a story, but I’ll keep it short. I had just sold a ’39 Chev coupe and was looking for another project. I wanted something old, but not too old like the ’39, that I could build and put plenty of miles on. Anyway, I was talking with one of my brothers, who lives in Australia, and he said, “What about an HR ute, there’s not too many of them in New Zealand?” I thought Why not, and so the search began.

These are still a pretty rare car, even in Australia. How long did it take to find it?

It took him quite a few months of searching and then, out of the blue, he turned up this one, which was really a genuine one-owner car. When the original owner ordered it from the factory, he wanted reversing lights fitted and the chrome rails you see there on the side, as it was going to be a workhorse on his farm. He used it for a number of years, then, when he ordered his next ute, the HR got parked up in a shed where it sat for a number of years until he sold the farm.

So that’s when your brother bought it for you?

No, it was bought by a guy in Brisbane. He was going to restore it, but all he did was trailer it home and put it in a shed for the next seven years. He eventually realized he was never going to get to it so he put it on the side of the road for sale. My brother saw it, stopped, and had a look. It was pretty darn clean so he gave me a ring and asked me if it wanted it. Of course I said yes, and a few days later he called me to say the ute was in his driveway. It was at that point that I thought to ask what he had paid for it. $1500!

Where to from there?

We eventually had it shipped over to New Zealand, where I tidied it up, put it through compliance, and had the VIN for it issued as a stock HR utility. Obviously, it was never going to stay like that and as soon as it was in the system I stripped it down to its bare bones to rebuild it. Luckily, I have a mate who is a retired panel beater and who did a lot of work on the HRs when they were used as taxis down in Wellington in the ’60s, and he offered to give me a hand with it. There was only a little bit of rust, and it was not too bad — just at the bottom of the doors; the usual spots for these Holdens to rust — but otherwise it was pretty clean. I copped a bit of flack when I fitted the sunroof, cutting up such an original car, but that’s what guys fitted back in the day, and it makes such a difference to the temperature inside.

We guess that, being a truck mechanic, you handled the engine swap yourself?

Yes, once we had the bodywork pretty much done it came back to the workshop and I pulled the stock running gear out. I bought a smashed-up Statesman DeVille and used everything out of that, including the diff, which I narrowed up and fitted the front discs to, so that it now has four wheel discs. I even cut the floor out of it and grafted it into the HR, as the Turbo 400 is quite a bit bigger than the stock three-speed and it seemed easier to swap the floor than try to reshape the original.

Clever thinking! We see you used the Statesman console, too?

It made sense, as it all fitted so easily once the floor section was in there. We fitted the console with the T-bar shifter but there was no room for the seats, so I used some out of a Honda CRX and they fitted well. Another thing I didn’t use was the engine, as I had a 350 out of a jet boat. It was too wild for street use so when I freshened it up I changed the cam to something a bit friendlier. 

That hard cover on the back is a bit different; your handiwork?

No, a local fibreglass guy knocked that up for me and did a damn nice job of it. He made it so that it has similar lines to the bonnet, and it came out really well. The problem was trying to find a way to attach it to the ute so that it lifted easily. Someone suggested a pair of bonnet hinges. I just had to tension the springs up a bit more and now they work perfectly. The other thing that is a bit different is the dash. I was looking for someone to re-cover the top of the dash when a cabinetmaker I know offered to make a new one out of wood, which came out real nice.

It looks great. Any more plans for it? 

Not really. It does get driven quite a bit. Either the HR or my ’67 Camaro is driven every week, especially when the weather is great. The Holden is such a smooth and easy car to drive — great for cruising. My wife likes riding in it, too, which is a plus. My only plans are to keep driving it.

Good stuff, Ken. Thanks for your time.  

Photos: Tim Dickson