Did you hear that story about the bloke whose missus bought him an old Falcon ute as an anniversary present? Sounds far too good to be true, right? Well, for most of us, chances are it’s exactly that. But for Lyndon Hakopa, it’s a reality, and that anniversary will most likely be a day he’ll remember more than the wedding day itself.
After being married for 14 years, Lyndon and wife Derisa understandably know each other pretty well, so when Lyndon started paying attention to an XW ute at a small local swap meet, Derisa hatched a plan. Unfortunately, two problems arose — the first being that Lyndon was there with her, and the second that the ute wasn’t actually for sale. Derisa couldn’t do a deal there and then; instead, she had to hunt around afterwards to try and track the owner down. Making the hunt a bit harder was the fact that no one was forthcoming with any info, fearing she was from the IRD or worse. Eventually, she called the local pub and swore that she didn’t want money from the owner; in fact, she would like to give him some. Finally, she was put in touch. Of course, until that point the owner had had no intention of selling the ute, so it took a further three months of Derisa trying to encourage him to part with it before his wife finally convinced him it was the right move.
Once the ute was in Derisa’s possession, she had to work out a way to give it to Lyndon, which wasn’t as easy as it may sound. What she came up with was to store it at a mate’s workshop, and get him to ring and ask Lyndon to come down and give him a hand with something. When he walked through the door to find Derisa there next to an XW ute wrapped with a giant bow, he was totally blown away.
All that took place 10 years ago now, and, yes, the pair are just as happily married as ever, Lyndon going so far as to state that Derisa is even more of a petrolhead than he is. When you look at his list of previously owned cars, check out her list, too!
Over the next few years, Lyndon toyed with the ute, pulling out the 302 it came with and dropping in a worked 351 and Toploader. Visually, he added his own touch by fitting a set of Cragars as well as a bench seat inside. The ute remained that way for the next six years, clocking up plenty of miles and requiring nothing more than oil and tyres.
Being busy with work commitments, the couple doesn’t get to as many car events as they’d like, but they did manage to make it along to the second-ever Powercruise to be held in New Zealand, where they were pitted next to the team from Matamata Panelworks. Amongst the Panelworks cars was the black Falcon XB coupe known as ‘FFWD’, which graced the cover of NZV8 Issue No. 66.
The XB’s build quality and impressive suspension package stuck in Lyndon’s mind long after the event. So, a few years later, when he and Derisa agreed they’d rebuild the ute with three main requirements — great suspension, modern power steering, and a big block engine — Lyndon knew exactly where to turn for help.
“I got a phone call out of the blue one day, with someone saying, ‘Remember me? I’m going to drop a ute off to you,’” says Malcolm Sankey, owner of Matamata Panelworks. Malcolm was happy about the call; despite the Panelworks team being well known for their Mustang builds, they’re more than happy to work their magic on anything.
While Lyndon emphasised the three key parts of the build mentioned above, the brief for the rest of the build was also very well detailed. This meant that, for the majority of the build, Lyndon and Malcolm simply liaised over the phone.
“I was probably being naïve in thinking it would be as simple as a new motor and steering, reuse this and touch up that, but the result has exceeded all my expectations — and my
accountant’s, too!” Lyndon laughs.
Not a panel nor a bolt has been left untouched, and, as we’ve come to expect of the Matamata team, the workmanship that’s gone into the build is nothing short of flawless.
Having loved the shape of the ute from the outset, both Lyndon and Derisa wanted to retain its character. Instead of radically altering things, they simply chose to enhance what Ford had originally produced. Included in this enhancement was a sharpening of the factory swage lines, and a custom rear valance panel, which saw the removal of the factory spare tyre cover flap and the inclusion of LED reversing lights. However, the change that most people notice is the embossed Ford emblem, which now resides at the front of the carbon fibre–covered tray. All these modifications, along with the enlarged shaker-style hood scoop and many other subtle touches, were handcrafted in metal by the Matamata craftsmen.
The hood scoop is far more complicated than it appears at first glance. While it looks like an XY GT shaker item, it’s actually grafted onto the hood as opposed to the top of the engine. The reason for that is the sheer size of the Bennett Racing Engines–built big block that now resides beneath it. The size of the motor not only caused height issues but necessitated a reworking of the hood’s bracing as well as a narrowing of the front strut towers. Of course, with narrower dimension RRS coilovers finding their way into the towers, there’s still plenty of room within.
The adjustable coilovers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the suspension and steering gear fitted during the build, as every option from the RRS catalogue that would fit the ute has been installed, including power rack and pinion steering and replacement lower control arms. The rear end is now equally well endowed, with the stock leaf springs being dropped to the local metal recyclers and a bolt-in three-link fitted in their place.
As always with a build of this level of fabrication, once the welding and grinding were completed on the bare-steel shell, it was sent off for acid dipping prior to etch priming. In this case, though, it wasn’t just the shell that underwent plenty of bare-metal work but also the interior.
Depending on how well you know your old Falcons, chances are you won’t pick up all the changes that have been made inside the cab. The BF seats and centre console are easy to spot, but the changes to the dash are amazingly subtle, yet also purposeful. The team at Spraytec in Palmerston North has water transfer–printed the metal custom gauge fascia to look like carbon fibre. While that’s an obvious feature, the other details extend far further and are a lot harder to pick up at first glance. Take, for example, the Vintage Air air conditioning controls — which are obviously a new addition. The control panel has been remade to match the size of the items it sits between. It’s this attention to detail that makes the ute an amazing all-round package, yet leaves bystanders wondering — knowing things are different, but being unable to put a finger on them.
Speaking of the interior, it now wears plenty of rich leather, masterfully stitched by Ted Handley at Matamata Motor Trimmers. The custom door cards hide a serious speaker set-up. Fellow Ford fan Neil Dods, from Phoenix Audio, was called upon to work his magic in the stereo department, with one of his signature ‘old but fitted with new internals’ head units, as well as the rest of the system. He specced a set-up consisting of Infinity front components with rear 6x9s and a single 10-inch sub hidden behind the seats. The whole lot runs off a pair of Soundstream amps, also hidden behind the seats.
How much room does this leave for any luggage, you ask? Surprisingly, the answer is plenty. With the stock fuel tank, which usually resides in this area, being ditched in favour of a custom drop tank behind the diff, not only does the ute have a far better weight balance but it also has plenty more room inside. To add extra room, the roof lining has been glued to the sheet metal, and the edges trimmed separately, giving more head space should the driver ever need to wear a helmet. With the engine being purchased as producing 790hp at 6000rpm and 780lb·ft at 4800rpm, there’s every chance that, sooner or later, the need will indeed arise as Lyndon decides to put the power to the test.
Chuck Mann was called on to assemble the trans that now backs up the 460-cube big block, which he fitted with a manual valve body and 2500rpm stall, along with plenty of his usual wizardry. That all pales in comparison with what’s gone into the diff, though. Tim at The Krsyler Shop was responsible for constructing what has to be one of the toughest diffs around. Based off a Strange nine-inch housing, it’s fitted with a Strange nodular iron head, Mark Williams 31-spline axles, and Eaton Truetrac LSD — just the thing for ensuring it handles everything thrown at it.
The engine package is sure to put the traction of the 275/35R18 rear rubber to the test, and, with that power in mind, the body has been strengthened by having subframe connectors welded in place along with custom cross members. Once the ute is up to speed, it’s the job of RRS four-pot calipers to slow it back down. Both front and rear brake set-ups, along with the under-dash booster, were sourced from the RRS catalogue. Rather than having the master cylinders hidden away, custom-made polished items have been made, and purposely left in the engine bay. The look ties in perfectly with the custom strut tops, radiator overflow, and power-steering tanks that have also been hand-built for the vehicle. While these items have deliberately been made to stand out, again there’s plenty that goes unnoticed — such as the modified Corvette bonnet catch, added along with the custom slam panel cover.
Greig Miller and his team, who run the paint side of Matamata Panelworks, gave their part of the project just as much care and attention as the fabrication team had, creating custom colours to suit Lyndon’s brief. The result is Gamma Ray Green and Ultraviolet Grey, as named by Greig. The Ultraviolet Grey, as applied to the bonnet, features a very subtle hint of purple, while the green is one of those rare colours that pops just as well out of the sun as it does in it.
The build began just one week after CRC Speedshow 2014, and hit the spray booth as a bare shell just nine weeks out from the 2015 running of the same event, where it was debuted. With the quality of the paintwork on the ute, not to mention the rest of the finish, you’d never pick that the build took such a short time.
When unveiled at the Speedshow, the ute met with amazement and inspired plenty of questions. We sure hope Lyndon didn’t mind, as now that the vehicle’s on the street, he’s going to get plenty more of that. However, we’re sure that no one who asks him about his ute guesses it was a gift from his wife — some guys have all the luck!
- Vehicle: 1970 Ford Falcon XW ute
- Engine: 460ci big-block Ford, Ford Racing block, Scat crankshaft, Scat H-beam rods, Ross pistons, Kaase P1 heads, ARP fasteners, custom roller camshaft, Hi-Rev hydraulic lifters, roller rockers, Edelbrock Victor intake, Dominator carb, MSD ignition, custom headers, twin three-inch exhaust, Flowmaster mufflers, Milodon sump kit, Melling oil pump, custom fuel cell
- Driveline: TH400 transmission, Strange nine-inch diff, Strange nodular iron head, Mark Williams 31-spline axles, Eaton Truetrac LSD
- Suspension: RRS coilovers, RRS lower control arms, RRS three-link rear end, Nolathane bushes, RRS rack and pinion steering,
- Brakes: RRS under-dash booster, RRS Phase 4 discs and calipers
- Wheels/Tyres: 18x8-inch and 18x10-inch US Mags Rambler U425 wheels, 245/40R18 and 275/35R18 tyres
- Exterior: Custom hood scoop, custom deck tray, custom rear panel, sharpened swage lines, LED tail lights, custom reverse lights, PPG Gamma Ray Green paint
- Chassis: Custom subframe connectors, custom cross members
- Interior: Full custom retrim, Lokar shifter, Vintage Air air conditioning, custom dash, custom centre console, Sparco steering wheel, Honda steering column, Falcon BF seats, Phoenix Audio head unit, Infinity speakers, twin Soundstream amps, Soundstream 10-inch sub
- Performance: 790hp at 6000rpm, 780lb·ft at 4800rpm
This article was originally posted in NZV8 Issue No. 126. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: