Words: Richard Opie Photos: Cam Leggett
How good is an HQ Holden, really? At one point in time, the old Aussie workhorses filled in pretty much every gap a four-wheeled machine could in Kiwi society.
The HQ played a role as the dependable family wagon, trucking around Mum, Dad, and scorching their sprogs’ legs on the vinyl seats during a mid-summer getaway.
Our boys in blue used them, lurching from corner to corner, cross-plies squealing away in pursuit of the bad guys. Farmers hauled everything conceivable with an HQ, while young fellas lined the interiors of their panel vans with crushed velvet in a quest to slay, er, well you know the drill.
The venerable HQ even found its way onto the race circuit, amongst a gaggle of 20-something other mad bastards, right feet mashed to the floorboards, wringing every last little bit of grunt out of a howling 202. She’s truly a Jack of all trades, and we haven’t even touched on the myriad of tough street machines born from the HQ chassis.
HQs are an absolute cornerstone of the Kiwi tough street scene. Whether it’s packing a screaming SBC cut loose on the skid pad, blazing through a set of rear boots, or an oily old 253 slapping its way along the main drag of Gore, ROH Prostars glistening by streetlight as it scrapes the asphalt. It’s almost like wherever there’s a party, and there’s cars involved, an HQ is there.
It almost stands to reason then, that this vibrant red, tough-as-nails HQ sedan streeter hails from the tarmac of the Taranaki region. There’s something in the water over that way, or maybe it’s that oil and gas industry that permeates the mentality of its car-mad residents, but a stream of mega-staunch creations have flowed from the region. Born and bred in Taranaki, Trevor Tolhopf’s 1973 Kingswood is built to be stout, and with good reason. “I’ve spent all my life thrashing cars, breaking them, fixing them,” laughs Trevor. “I guess I drive like a bit of an idiot sometimes — just about every car I’ve had, I’ve broken it!”
It’s a story that begins way back as a kid in Waitara, with his old man making a bit of a business of buying, fixing up, and selling old cars. “I grew up around old-school cars,” explains Trevor. “My dad would always be buying and selling them; sometimes he’d send me up the driveways of houses where an old car was on the lawn, or in the shed, and get me to ask them to sell it!”
He reckons the tactic didn’t always pay off, but when the father-son duo did succeed in snapping up a deal, it was the process that came next that set Trevor in good stead to ultimately piece together the blown HQ sedan that’s the pride of the fleet today.
“He’d take these cars back home, park ’em in the shed and we’d panel beat ’em, and get ’em fixed up ready to sell,” says Trevor. “He always had a string of Holdens too, so I guess that’s maybe where it comes from for me!”
The Kingswood is by no means Trevor’s first GM-H product. The Lion features often in his line-up of previous rides — in fact a minty HQ Monaro made way for this sedan — and it’s destined to feature in the future, but more on that later! “We’d sold the HQ Monaro to put some money into other things,” explains Trevor. “They were skyrocketing in price so we made the hard call, but we decided we couldn’t live without a Holden, so started looking for a sedan.”
Trevor’s taken on a bit of his dad’s entrepreneurial streak, buying, fixing, and flipping old cars, and he knew where to find an HQ sedan as a solid starting point. “I was offered this car about five years earlier,” says Trevor. “I thought it wasn’t worth the asking price then, but we got back in touch with the guy and made a deal — but it cost me a bit more than the first offer!”
The Kingswood was all the way down in Invercargill, so Trevor and his wife Linda booked a couple of one-way tickets to the Deep South. The previous owner had already had a crack at building the HQ into something special. It presented as a GTS replica, in lime green with black stripes. A basic 350 Chev lump, backed with a TH350 that fed a “half-pie” diff in the back, but Trevor reckons it “drove like a dream” all 1300-odd kilometres back to the ‘Naki.
“Yeah, but I just couldn’t get my head around the colour,” laughs Trevor, before admitting he just ain’t a fan of green at all. And this is where it all really starts. We’ve all been there. The whole ‘I’m just gonna’ justification for starting a build. In Trevor’s case, he was just gonna’ sort out that disagreeable shade of green, and build a new donk for the unsuspecting sedan. Famous last words, right?
It helped that the lurid green tone hadn’t been laid on perfectly straight panels before Trevor and Linda set about prepping the car for a new coat of jam, which ended up being a full strip down to a bare shell. When Trevor says “stripped bare”, he means it. The entire body shell was taken back to bare metal — including the underside — epoxied and prepped before being sent to Hayden at Paintworks in New Plymouth. Hayden applied the finishing touches, massaging the panels and ensuring the sheet metal was on point, before spraying a coat of custom red/orange flip across the HQ’s iconic silhouette.
Meanwhile, Trevor set to work on the subframe and running gear. Blasted, coated, and kitted out with new fasteners throughout, and beefed up Koni shocks, the subframe was bolted under the freshly painted shell. Trevor set about reassembling the car while engine builder Chris from New Plymouth Engine Rebuilders hooked into building a rowdy, bulletproof motor for the car, something capable of dealing with the punishment doled out by Trevor’s right foot.
The basis is a 407-cube Dart block, packed full of the good stuff. A forged steel Scat crank slots into the main caps, topped by Manley rods and Arias pistons, all necessary for hanging together in the face of a good old-fashioned ragging. Up top, the stout small block uses AFR 210cc race heads, kitted out with roller rockers actuated by a custom 600 thou lift cam.
A naturally aspirated engine with a loopy idle wouldn’t be enough, though. To top off the gleaming tower of power, a 6/71 TBS blower jams boost down a pair of 950cfm Demon carbies, before gases exit via big ol’ Pacemaker headers into dual 3-inch pipes finished with a classic pair of Flowmaster mufflers.
“We went through hell building that engine,” Trevor says, referring to the drama that plagued Covid-era parts supplies, “but he [Chris] knows what he’s doing and, man, when we fired it up, I honestly couldn’t have been happier!”
With a Hughes-built, manualised TH400 box stolen from his old 1FAT67 Camaro, the powertrain is built to withstand a beating. The rear-end features a fabricated 9-inch housing from the Krysler Shop, using 35-spline axles and a Trutrac LSD to keep those fat rear BFGoodrich 295-wide tyres pumping out the white stuff.
You can add ‘roadmarker’ to the list of uses that HQs have been pressed into across our shores. Trevor’s not too shy about putting the boot up it and having a good time — in controlled situations of course — and the HQ is built to take it. In his words, “We’ve built it right, we’ve built it to last.”
And long may it last, the whining of the 6/71 and bellowing of the SB echoing round the hills of Taranaki. But it’s not the last we’re going to hear of Trevor and his lead foot. He and Linda have recently acquired an HT Monaro which — and we know where this is going — is destined to be a bit of a project too. Since it’s definitely going to need to withstand a beating, we reckon there’ll be another tough Holden streeter rolling out of the Tolhopf garage before we know it!
This article originally appeared in NZV8 issue 216