The very vehicle that inspired Colin Hawes to get into the vanning scene at a young age is now doing the same to others, but with him at the wheel

Everyone knows how impressionable young people can be, and how the paths we take in our youth can set the directions for life. When Colin Hawes was about 15, the panel van scene was at its peak. As soon as he was exposed to it, he was hooked, and it’s an affliction he suffers from to this day.

It all started innocently enough, when he was stopped at the Himatangi crossroads by a convoy of over a hundred custom vans driving by while driving home from Palmerston North. The exposure continued once back home in Wellington, where Colin would often see Alan Lundberg's ‘The Undertaker’ — an awesome cult HQ panel van of the day — cruising the streets of the capital. From the day Colin first set eyes on The Undertaker, with the tailgate mural of a graveyard scene, he wanted to own it.

A big fan of Holdens, but unable to afford a panel van, Colin initially played around with various Holden sixes for a few years. His poor old sedan was subjected to many attempts to hot it up, first by adding twin carbs, then triple carbs, a hotter cam, and all the other goods — but it never made much of a difference.

Then a mechanic mate gave him some good advice: “You’re wasting your time hotting up that six. Just get a V8.” (That sounds like good advice to us, too!)

The search for a cheap V8 lead to a yellow Sandman panel van advertised by a Palmerston North car dealer. As quick as a flash, Colin was off to inspect what turned out to be a shagged old shaggin’ wagon! It had a gold crushed velvet interior, and was powered by a very tired V8 and four on the floor — but the price was right. While driving back to Wellington with stuffed piston rings, he learned first hand that panel van back doors don’t seal well, and by the time he got home Colin had just about been fumigated.

After a few years, and a few more panel vans, Colin bought another as a base to build a top show van. The result would become known as ‘RAM IT’. Painted black with a full face grille, XC Falcon headlights and a bar in the back, it was running a tunnel rammed 308 on nitrous — the subsequent notoriety earning it a spot on the Weetbix cards ‘Custom Vans’ collection back in 1994.

Colin had this van for quite a few years. However, when the body started to rust and the 308 started to regularly blow head gaskets, Colin made the decision to go Chevy, as parts were cheaper and the engine would be an easier bolt-in swap. Colin also went searching for a better body to replace the rust-infected original.

Soon, yet another van body was found. Imagine Colin’s surprise to find the signature of Alan Lundberg on the body during the stripping process — the owner of The Undertaker; the van that originally got him into this addiction. He had found it.

This next rebuild took a few years while Colin was collecting parts for the project. To prevent rust issues with ‘RAM IT’ the decision was made to strip the van back to its bare metal. It was at this stage that Colin discovered holes along the side of the body where the tonneau cover clips would be if it were a ute.

Colin managed to track Alan Lundberg down and found out that with his brother, Alan had bought a new panel van roof from GMH in Australia and welded it on to a ute. And as it turned out, they did a far better job than the factory, because it has never rusted down the mid seams — a known fault in many Holden panel vans.

Alan had initially installed a Trans Am front end on the van (until they met a lamp post one wet night), but Colin preferred the WB Caprice front end. So he bought a wrecked WB ute for its nose cone and chassis.

With the new WB chassis sourced, the rebuild began in earnest. The chassis was fully stripped, smoothed, and generally tidied up before being powder coated. The front suspension received the same attention, with the wishbones being HPC coated before being fitted with Nolathane bushes, two-inch drop spindles, and a pair of 90/10 shocks. DBA cross-drilled rotors were fitted and the stock calipers were also HPC coated. The rear leaf springs were ditched, the rear end was tubbed, and a set of four bars fabricated with QA1 adjustable coil over shocks to locate the new 9-inch rear diff were added. The 9-inch also received a big work over, with a Yukon polished alloy head, 4.11:1 gears, full floating hubs, and 31-spline axles. To balance the stopping power, EA calipers and another pair of DBA cross-drilled rotors were also installed.

Like the old cheese ad says, “Good things take time,” and actually getting the van all together would take another seven years. Fabricator and drag racer Terry Patterson was responsible for making the tilt front with opening bonnet, changing the dashboard to an HX GTS unit, fabricating wheel tubs, roll cage, drop tanks, and more. Colin debuted the van — now renamed ‘The Overtaker’ — at the 2010 Van Nationals held in Wellington, where it took out Best Engineering and Best Panel Van. Not bad for a van still in primer! 

Unfortunately, the new supercharged engine combination proved to have a few issues, including being prone to backfiring — which resulted in a bent conrod. Colin decided that it was time to build a motor that would have the power to live up to the ‘Overtaker’ name! 

His search for an engine builder lead him to Gary Cawthra, who has built engines for a few of NZV8 magazine's past feature cars. Colin wanted something that looked good and performed better, and Gary has certainly delivered.

Starting with a Dart block with splayed cap four-bolt mains, Gary threw all his skill at the project. At the bottom end of the engine is a Lunati forged steel crank, which connects to the Eagle six-inch rods and Ross Racing pistons. An ARP head stud kit holds down the CNC ported Brodix Track 1 alloy heads fitted with larger 2.08-inch intake and 1.6-inch exhaust valves that have been further ported and modified by Brennan Racing in Tauranga. A Lunati roller cam with plenty of lift and duration work the Lunati roller lifters.

Topping it all off and adding plenty of go to compliment the show looks is the TBS 8–71 billet blower, driven 1:1, and a pair of Demon 650cfm blower carbs with mechanical secondaries. And just in case this all didn’t provide enough go for Colin, Gary also squeezed a 250hp shot of nitrous in there as well!

Obviously, everything else must be up to the task to cope with an engine of this calibre. The fuelling system now comprises a Barry Grant 400 fuel pump, with step-down box for street use, and a Barry Grant four-port regulator for strip use. There is also a separate Barry Grant 220 fuel pump when nitrous is used, and a Hobs cut out switch disarms the nitrous should fuel pressure ever drop too low. Likewise, the ignition was upgraded with an MSD 6 BTM, MSD Pro Billet distributor, and 8.5mm leads. HPC coated headers with 1⅞-inch primaries feed the two-inch pipes to the HPC coated Borla mufflers, and an Aussie Desert Cooler Burnout King alloy radiator takes care of the cooling duties. Bolted to the back of this killer engine is a Chuck Mann-built Powerglide with transbrake and a B&M 2400rpm stall torque converter. 

With the new engine combo installed, Colin was keen to see how it performed. Attempts to dyno the beast were unsuccessful, but we all know that it is real world performance that matters. At its first outing at Port Road street drags in 2011 — with a careful tune up and no nitrous — Colin ran a 7.9-second ⅛-mile with a fresh engine. With a few more miles to free it up and a bit of nitrous thrown in, this time should tumble.

This van was also built for the show scene, and at the 2012 Van Nationals in Tokoroa, Colin’s hard work was rewarded with Best Panel, Best Engineering, Best Display, Vanner’s Choice, and best of all, Super Van awards bestowed upon The Overtaker. After all the hard work, and with the new engine combination, this van has truly been transformed from The Undertaker to The Overtaker, and is now no doubt inspiring people in the same way that Colin was inspired by it all those years ago.

Colin's HQ was featured in NZV8 Issue No. 89 (October 2012). You can grab a copy here.

Colin Hawes: 1972 Holden HQ

  • Engine: 383ci small block Chev, splayed cap four-bolt mains Dart block, Lunati roller cam, Lunati roller lifters, Ross Racing pistons, Lunati forged steel crank, Eagle six-inch rods, ARP fasteners and head stud kit, Brodix Track 1 alloy heads, TBS 8–71 billet blower 1:1 ratio, ARP blower studs, twin Demon 650 blower carbs, NOS 250hp cheater system, Barry Grant pumps and regulators, MSD 6 BTM, MSD Pro Billet distributor, MSD 8.5mm leads, MSD start retard box, custom headers with 1⅞-inch primaries, two-inch HPC coated exhaust, Borla mufflers
  • Driveline: Powerglide with transbrake and scatter shield, B&M 2400rpm stall, B&M Holeshot torque converter, Ford 9-inch, Yukon polished alloy diff head, 4.11:1 gears, 31-spline axles, floating hubs
  • Suspension: Two-inch drop spindles, HPC coated wishbones, 90-10 front shocks, lowered springs, four-link rear, QA1 adjustable coilover shocks, wheelie bar, Nolathane bushes throughout
  • Brakes: HPC coated calipers, DBA cross-drilled rotors, EA Falcon rear calipers, Wilwood master cylinder, Wilwood adjustable proportioning valve, HZ Statesman booster
  • Wheels/tyres: 15x6 and 15x10-inch Cragar rims, Michelin 195x65R15 front tyres, Hoosier Quick Time Pro 28x14.50x15 rear tyres
  • Exterior: WB Caprice tilt front, petrol cap hidden behind tail light, Monaro GTS flutes, bubble back window and tail lights, roof wing
  • Interior: Six-point roll cage, Racetech seats, custom retrim, Hurst shifter, HX GTS dash, Auto Meter gauges
  • Performance: Untested

Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw loves most forms of motorsport, having had a crack at rally driving, drag racing, and four-wheel driving over the years. Over the years he has owned a diverse mix of vehicles from Range Rovers to T-buckets. While awestruck by the power vehicles in the import scene can make, he still prefers an old V8, and he currently drives a ’56 Bel Air that is an old New Zealand–new survivor, which sometimes tows a 1969 Concord caravan that is currently being restored. Also in the shed is a BB Chev-powered 1926 T roadster pickup, which is a long-term project hiding in the back of the shed. In my professional life I have spent 20 years in IT, 10 years as a self-employed builder, and my day job now is in operations / fleet management looking after 400-plus trucks around New Zealand. I've been a contributor to NZV8 since 2010.