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Smoke and silver lining: Holden HZ skid master

18 December 2016


Every cloud has a silver lining, right? After selling his prized Holden ute, Ricky Ireland never expected to get back behind the wheel to be making more silver linings than clouds!

It’s hard to explain burnouts to someone who doesn’t get it. Try as you might to explain the art of burnouts to someone who doesn’t get them, it’ll always come down to ‘F’-words — f@#king fun! Burnouts are fun! There’s something special about really using an engine, flogging it to within an inch of its life — planting the tacho deep into the red — with the end goal melting the tyres. The resulting clouds of thick, acrid tyre smoke are the icing on the cake. If you don’t get burnouts, you never will, and that means you should probably stop reading right about now. 

Just look across the ditch, where the way of the burnout is very nearly a national religion. Every year, Australia hosts countless events with burnouts at their heart, and it’s here that you’ll see show-quality vehicles endowed with monstrous power plants pinballing around a skidpan, banging off the rev limiter, and pumping out dense plumes of tyre smoke. The crowds love it, and you can’t blame them — it’s mechanical mayhem at its finest. Because the crowds love it, these events are enormous.

That means that the organizers can make the prizes bigger, which, in turn, pushes competitors to step up their game — by building truly out-of-this-world machines — to actually to stand a chance of winning. A recent Powercruise event saw a $53K cheque handed over to ‘Mad Mick’ Brasher for his winning burnout in the infamous ‘ULEGAL’ Corolla. Looking at the scene over in Australia, it’s pretty easy to see how burnouts have evolved from a recreational, late-night pastime of mullet-sporting bogans into a legitimate and professional activity. 

Over in little old New Zealand, though, we’re still playing catch-up. Even so, a decent throng of Kiwi petrolheads is partial to burning rubber. However, until quite recently, there have been few proper outlets to do so legally. That’s all changing, though, with skidpans and burnout pads becoming almost standard fare at motorsport facilities, and New Zealand’s red-blooded vehicle builders and backyard mechanics taking notice. As such, the standard of Kiwi burnout cars — their quality and presentation — is finally beginning to morph into something that can be respected by those whose DNA is missing the bogan gene.

That’s our cue for ‘ENVEED’ to enter in dramatic fashion, screaming beyond 6000rpm and churning vaporized rubber skyward. The ute is a 1980 Holden HZ owned by Ricky and Jenn Ireland and built for the sole purpose of incinerating tyres. Our story actually begins 25 years ago at Tauranga’s Bayshore Leisure Park — although a 12-year-old Ricky didn’t know it at the time. The moment he clapped eyes on the tubbed and blown spectacle of Rod Harvey’s ‘PROLOW’ Falcon and Mark Bardsley’s ‘SLIMER’ Holden HQ ute, Ricky knew that he would build something similar one day. 

Ricky was able to take a small step towards fulfilling that dream in 2005, purchasing two unfinished projects. The first was a Holden HQ ute, with tunnel-rammed 406ci small block, Muncie four-speed, and nine-inch diff. The other was a Holden HZ ute, which, while more mechanically sedate, was also more complete. The HQ’s tough running gear was transplanted into the HZ, which was then sent off to Shane Moulden, who smoothed off all the panel work. Hamilton’s Andrew Kitson and Brendon Mitchell were then tasked with lathering it in a shade of green taken from a can of V energy drink, and, 10 years down the track, the ute still wears that paint — small battle scars aside, this does not look like a decade-old paint job! 
“Basically, I went to every show I could, and just cruised around and enjoyed it,” Ricky recalls. “Then, in 2009, I met my wife, Jenn, and life took a different path.” 

With the opportunity to buy a house to make a home for their family, Ricky made the tough decision to put the ute on the market. Fortunately, Ricky and Jenn were able to sell it to their good friends Paul and Jennifer McCormick, who, they knew, would appreciate and look after it. 
Of course, the tubbed and blown monster sitting on these pages is clear evidence that the story didn’t end there. As luck would have it, Paul and Jennifer decided to sell the ute three years later, and gave Ricky and Jenn first option on it — could they really say no? With the keys back in their hands, Ricky and Jenn cruised around before the ute was put into the shed for a few years. 

A visit to Summernats provided all the inspiration, ideas, and advice Ricky and Jenn needed to pursue that dream of building a mentally overpowered, tubbed, and blown monster. However, it wasn’t until they sat down to watch the Burnout Legends in action that the build gained an objective: they were going to build a pure burnout machine. If you’ve ever watched hectic, competition-level burnouts in person, you’ll be familiar with the sight of steam, spewing coolant expansion tanks, and destroyed engines and wallets. The build started right there at Summernats, with Ricky and Jenn wheeling their first purchase through the Canberra streets in a shopping trolley — a huge Aussie Desert Cooler radiator.

In July 2014, the ute was pulled out of storage and ripped apart. With dreams of a blown big block and power north of 700hp, Ricky and Jenn weren’t going to cut corners — over-engineering would be key. A chassis with a narrowed rear section was located in Taranaki, and, armed with $1300 in cash and a Hiab, Ricky made the trek down. As far as the diff was concerned, there could only be one choice — a narrowed nine-inch. That nine-inch is a fairly tough piece of kit for a skid hack, with Strange crown wheel and pinion gears, full spool, and 28-spline axles. These were made to fit beneath the tray, thanks to the engineering expertise of Jamie Barnes. 

Firmly attached to the diff is a serious suspension set-up, comprising a custom four-link and a Panhard rod, as well as adjustable coilovers. 
“I looked at getting QA1s, but I ended up going for these ones from Kruzin Kustoms — it’s a burnout car, and there’s a big risk that they’ll get smashed. I’d rather pay $400 than pay for another pair of QA1s,” Ricky tells us. 

It makes sense, as nowhere rear of the diff is safe — everything is likely to cop a hiding. 
With this in mind, there is now only empty real estate beneath the rear of the tray, where a large drop-tank once resided. The fuel system has been moved to safety on the tray just behind the cabin and is just as well suited to the nature of the car as every other aspect of the build.

The 38-litre fuel cell holds enough E85 to last a number of on-limiter skids, and the fuel pick-up is located at the rear of the cell — when you’re smashing the tyres on a skidpan, the rear of the tank is almost always guaranteed to be immersed in fuel, minimizing the risk of fuel starvation. An Aeromotive A1000 fuel pump delivers more than enough go-juice to keep the wheels spinning, and the reason behind such a large fuel pump becomes obvious when you take into account the polished nuclear warhead that dominates the engine bay. 

If over-engineering is the name of the game, then this engine is the ute’s crowning jewel. Based on an iron block with four-bolt mains, ST Automotive’s Shane Parsons has built an absolute monster. The big block Chev now displaces a staggering 496ci, and, with the knowledge from the get-go that it’d be built for burnouts, nothing was overlooked in the quest to build a bulletproof motor. “We had it built for 1200hp, and wound it back to around 700hp — it shouldn’t blow up,” Ricky states matter-of-factly. 

The parts list alone should be enough to verify that. A forged Scat stroker kit held together with ARP fasteners makes up the bulk of the bottom end’s strength. Up top, it’s a similarly simple and effective combination of parts. Edelbrock alloy heads have been ported, and the Comp Cams catalogue donated a solid-roller camshaft, valve springs, stud girdle, and adjustable roller rockers to the cause. This valvetrain assembly allows the big block to breathe far greater quantities of air than the already monstrous bottom end could demand on its own.

The reason for this is apparent: bolted firmly above the engine’s valley is an 8-71 blower from The Blower Shop (TBS) with teflon-tipped billet rotors, worked over by supercharger guru Al Shadwick at Als Blower Drives. Running an E85 fuel mixture has dictated some special requirements in the fuelling system, and these come in the form of twin Quick Fuel 1050cfm E85 carburettors. All up, the potent combo is good for a dyno-proven 738hp at the wheels on 12psi of boost. 

While burnouts don’t inflict quite so much damage on the driveline as other motoring pursuits, such as drag racing or drifting, a seriously tough package is still required to handle the abuse. Chuck Mann, of Rotorua V8 Performance, was tasked with building a suitable transmission, and he’s more than delivered. The GM TH400 has been beefed up with a reverse-pattern manual valve body and spragless second gear, eliminating the TH400’s biggest weak point.

The big block’s torque is handled by a custom torque converter, built by AutoTrans specifically for the application, and exits through a 3½-inch billet driveshaft. What weak point? 
With the key ingredients taken care of, there came a mad scramble to get everything pieced together in time. The deadline was the 2015 Mothers Chrome Expression Session, held over August 8–9 — only a year after the build began — and the ute was still in bits in the Ireland family shed with barely a month to go. 

Fortunately, Ricky and Jenn are blessed with an awesome circle of good friends, who were willing to pull out all the stops to see the ute to completion — often working into the small hours of the morning. Johnny Pratt fabricated the tray and wheel tubs, Shawn Avery rewired the entire ute from front to back, including the new ICE ignition system. Gavin Cornish spent his time battling with the jobs that no one else wanted — fitting the seats and running around for parts — and helpful members of the Undefined Car Club (UCC) steadily turned up to help piece the puzzle together.

The Monday before Chrome, the ute was trailered up to Auckland, ready to hit the dyno at C&M Performance. The result, as you know, exceeded all expectations, with tuning wizards Carl Jensen and Rob Penman extracting 738hp at the treads.
With ENVEED loaded onto its Kevin Mitchell–sponsored transporter trailer and a tray full of tyres supplied by Cooper Tyres Matamata, Ricky, Jenn, and the UCC headed off towards Hampton Downs. The result of their hard work was unleashed in all its glory on the first day of the Mothers Chrome Expression Session.

If you’re familiar with the skidpan at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, you’ll know that it’s a pretty tricky surface to smoke up — and, if it’s raining, you may as well forget about it. However, ENVEED encountered no such problems; with Jenn in the seat beside him, Ricky pumped out massive clouds of tyre smoke as a huge middle finger to the moody, grey clouds that had dumped rain all over the event. That first set of tyres was gone in 60 seconds. That debut was a good one, winning the burnout competition with ease. Jenn has now started having a crack behind the wheel, too. She won the ladies’ trophy at the Helensville Burnout Comp, her first-ever event.First skid, first win — both times around! 

Since then, Ricky and Jenn’s aim has been to take ‘Percy’ — as their little green ute is now affectionately known — to as many events as they can. Whether it’s displaying Percy in a show, or participating in a skid competition, they’re all for making the most of the ute that they, and their friends, put so much effort into building. While there are plans in place to get the ute on the road, Ricky’s got a few small priorities. He’s well aware of the sacrifices that Jenn has made to allow the ute to be built and is firmly committed to returning the favour — a big turbo will be finding its way under the bonnet of her daily-driven late-model HSV. Of course, he also tells us that Jenn really wants an Aussie-built Powerhouse engine for the ute too … sounds as though the Ireland family garage could soon be one of the coolest, and cloudiest, in the land.

1980 Holden HZ

  • Engine: 496ci big block Chev, 454 cast-iron truck block, four-bolt mains, Scat forged stroker crank, Scat rods, Scat forged pistons, ARP fasteners, ported and polished Edelbrock alloy heads, Comp Cams solid-roller camshaft, Comp Cams valve springs, Comp Cams stud girdle, Comp Cams adjustable roller rockers, TBS intake manifold, TBS 8-71 supercharger, teflon-tipped billet rotors, twin 1050cfm Quick Fuel ethanol carburettors, TBS scoop, Aeromotive A1000 fuel pump, twin Aeromotive fuel filters, Aeromotive fuel-pressure regulator, Aeromotive 38-litre anodized tank, ICE 24V 10A ignition, ICE distributor, ICE 9mm ignition leads, Hurricane headers, custom three-inch exhaust, twin Flowmaster 44 mufflers, Aussie Desert Cooler Burnout King radiator, twin 16-inch thermo fans
  • Drivetrain: GM TH400, reverse-pattern manual valve body, spragless second gear, AutoTrans custom 2800rpm stall converter, three-inch driveshaft, Ford nine-inch diff, Strange nine-inch head, Strange full spool, Strange gears, 28-spline axles, 3½-inch billet driveshaft, 1350 billet driveshaft yokes 
  • Suspension: Factory double-wishbone front suspension, Monroe heavy-duty shocks, Eibach coil springs, Nolathane bushes, four-link rear, Panhard bar, adjustable rear coilovers
  • Brakes: Eight-inch, twin-diaphragm brake booster, Holden HZ front calipers, no rear brakes
  • Wheels/Tyres: 15×6-inch and 15×12-inch Weld Dragstar wheels; 185/65/15 Bridgestone and 28.5/11.5/15 Hoosier tyres
  • Exterior: Holden HZ Premier nose cone, Holden HZ Monaro guard flutes, stainless firewall panel, rear wheel tubs, shaved door locks, shaved fuel filler, Spies Hecker custom green paint
  • Chassis: Narrowed rear section, custom four-bar rear
  • Interior: Auto Meter gauges, custom gauge panel, B&M shifter, Momo steering wheel, vinyl bucket seats
  • Performance: 738hp at the wheels (12psi boost, on E85)

Driver profile

  • Owner: Ricky and Jenn Ireland
  • Car club: UCC, Holden Special Vehicles Club, Matamata Rod and Custom Club, Tauranga Holden Club
  • Age: 37 (Ricky) and 30 (Jenn)
  • Occupation: Earthworks owner/operator
  • Previously owned cars: Currently own a blown 383ci ’73 Holden Monaro GTS, 2007 HSV GTS; a string of highly modified fours, sixes, and eights in the past
  • Dream car: I have it!
  • Why the ute? It was a 25-year dream after sitting in Mark Bardsley’s ‘SLIMER’ ute
  • Build time: One year this time round!
  • Length of ownership: Four years, first time; three years, second time
  • Ricky and Jenn thank: Shawn and Julz from Avery Auto Electrical, Rotorua; Al Shadwick from Als Blower Drives; Chuck Mann from Rotorua V8 Performance; Nigel Dixon and Aaron Jenkins, the guidance counsellors; Carl Jensen from C&M Performance; Shane Parsons at ST Automotive; Clinton Potter at Red Star Signs, Hamilton; Jamie Barnes, from Rex Barnes Engineering, Matamata; Rob and Fraser, from Cooper Tyres, Matamata; the UCC family; Johnny Pratt; Gavin Cornish; Brad Davies; Shaun Jury; Guy ‘Mad Max’ Maxwell; Nick Hows; Tony ‘T-dogg’ Dalton; Corey Sharp; Jared Radovancich; Tony Heuvel; Tim Bendall; Cameron Payne; Steven Conda; Phil Carseldine; and, most of all, our kids!

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of NZV8 (Issue No. 131). You can grab a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: