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Sleeper HT panel van is the perfect restomod

This HT Pano may look like a stocker, but it’s far from that under the skin


The coolest projects don’t always come from a sale listing. Whether they’re a family heirloom, payment for a job, or something that’s stumbled upon, finding a car can be just as much of a story as building it. Chris Borg’s stunning HT panel van is a great example, stemming from an eagle eye and a cold, damp adventure to Emerald. 

As the Greenvale, Victoria builder explains, he spotted the rear half of a van body sitting in the background of a listing for some other parts. “The seller, Damien, constructed and lived in a mud-brick home on his amazing property,” Chris says. “Being in construction, seeing another form of living was an eye-opener! 

“The van was sitting in a barn, covered in dust and home to mice,” he continues. “My friend Adrian thought I was crazy to restore it when he first laid eyes on the shell, but being windowless, I wanted it as a starting point and wasn’t concerned about completing the shell with what was needed.”

Finding all that stuff turned into a long game. “It was a mission to find some panels, as they’ve become sought-after,” Chris says. “Especially rear upper and lower tailgates and their locking mechanisms and struts. Very few were around for sale at the time. The rear tailgate handles were selling for top dollars, and the spare wheel lock was impossible to find.”

That puzzle finally came together after a whole year of online crawling, then was instantly pulled apart and stripped to bare metal, copping a lick of epoxy while everything else on the van was refurbished. The bezels, bars, handles and hubcaps all went to AA Vinney’s for rechroming, and Tudor Plating coated every last fitting in zinc.

COVID soon rolled around and Chris couldn’t ply his usual renovation trade, so he put the van on a rotisserie, stripped the undercarriage and dove headfirst into paint prep on the all-stock body. “Thinking back, the lockdown periods helped me find the time, and I suspect a lot of home car builders were in the same scenario,” he points out. 

After replacing three rusted-out floorpans, the lower A-pillars and lower rear quarters, Chris set the panel gaps and blocked everything back before calling on good mate Ron Barclay to check it all over. “Ron gave me the thumbs-up and organised the car for paint with Ed Miller,” Chris says. “We travelled every Saturday for five weeks to Ed’s panel shop down in the south-east to help with disassembly, masking and reassembly. 

“The amazing man Ed painted the car in a five-week turnaround! It was so unexpected, as I’d previously built an HQ Monaro, which took over 12 months in another shop for paint only!”

The NASCO name isn’t quite as ubiquitous as it was when 60s Holdens ruled the roost, so if you’re unfamiliar, it stands for National Auto Service Company, General Motors’ Aussie spares and accessories division through much of the chrome-bumper era. “During the prep stage, I decided to have the van built and painted to resemble something NASCO may have used as a promo vehicle or for deliveries,” Chris explains. “At a later stage, the sides will be hand-painted with a NASCO decal and lettering.” 

This plan fed neatly into Chris’s colour choice – back-dated, EH-era Gundagai Grey, with a slight twist. “The trim colour was also from the EH, and that finalised my decision to keep it period-correct and discreet, but still with a different look,” he says. Novatex provided the fresh vinyl, and the door cards were special-ordered from PJ Products using the same stuff, while the HT Premier bucket seats and GTS wheel reflect the Holden parts catalogue vibe.

Chris called up another mate, Stef Radovanovic, for a mild 350 Chev. “It’s not his usual request as a race engine builder and part of a race team,” Chris laughs. The modest mouse features Edelbrock E-Street heads and a Holley 650 carb, along with a Crow hydraulic cam, Mallory ignition and a Melling Select oil pump. It’s far from the wildest SBC going around, but that’s kind of the point! 

A shift-kitted Turbo 350 and nine-inch diff follow, with a Truetrac and 31-spline axles shortened to fit the custom-offset, 17-inch rolling stock from BCI Wheels. Andrew from 12 Volt Performance sorted the wiring, building a harness that splits into three sections and uses waterproof Deutsch plugs all ’round.

Work had backed up significantly for Chris by the time he was allowed to get back on-site, so making time to put the van together was a bit harder than during the long months in lockdown, and a Showcars Melbourne unveiling deadline added to the stress. 

“My wife Melissa could see in my eyes that I was head-first, and was there with an extra hand when needed,” Chris says. “I lost count of how many dinners she served downstairs in the garage!” The NASCO plates were screwed on a couple of days before the Showcars weekend, where it scored a well-earned trophy in the Top Ute/Van category. 

With the gorgeous HT sorted for now, Chris is focusing on paying Melissa back with an MGB resto, but after that is an HK Premier!


Story Jack Houlihan

Photos Ellen Dewar

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