It’s a well-known, weird and often-demonstrated curiosity that any given person or situation can be linked together through six degrees of separation. Expat-Aussie Andrew Clatworthy and his family have an automotive variant on that theory with this HG Holden Belmont ute, the story of which starts back when it was purchased brand-spanking-new on September 20, 1971.
Without the connections and influence of this family heirloom, Andrew wouldn’t have started his panel business Streetneat, and there wouldn’t be a bunch of Streetneat-built vehicles scattered around Australia, and now, the world.
Andrew explains: “I was given this ute as my first car by my mum when I was just about 18 and still going to agricultural college. It was only supposed to be for utilitarian transport purposes, as the car was well maintained and in great shape when I took over the keys. It had nothing really wrong with it or in dire need of attention. Although I did request the milk-truck canopy that had been on it since new be removed before I came home from college in 1984.”
As a teenager, the ute gave Andrew direction in life. Suddenly agricultural college wasn’t so important, nor was partying to excess with mates, and pissing money up against the wall like his peers. Instead, every spare waking hour and dollar was set aside for the improvements to the ute. By 1986 enough was saved for a show-class paint job — providing Andrew did the lion’s share of the prep work to help keep the price down. That was a defining time for Andrew when he started to learn the art of manipulating metal and paint. It served as a sort of apprenticeship where he worked on and off for free over the next two years in between casual jobs and after hours, just to get as involved as possible with bodywork and other facets of automotive restoration. By 1988 the ute was in its glory days of show-car status, sporting an XU1-spec 202, M20 four-speed, disc brakes, plush velour interior and gun-barrel–straight bodywork finished in Honda Windermere Blue metallic.
With a successful and award-winning ute build out of the way, it was time to address the empty passenger seat. His mates decided that as he was turning 21 soon, they should intervene with a 21st shed party. It was at that party that he met Kim, the Kiwi girl.
By 1992 the now-married pair had set up Streetneat Panels Rod and Custom on the outskirts of Brisbane, and further work on the ute was a primary motivator. However life got in the way, and although the ute did gain a 350 Chev/TH350 conversion, it became the shop hack. By 1995 Andrew had succumbed to pressure and let the beloved, but well-worn HG go to a new owner — another expat-Kiwi girl. Occasionally it came back to Streetneat for some work. Andrew still had all the documents, spares and he even bought new old stock (NOS) parts as they became available despite not owning the car any more. He was clinging to precious yet pointless memories … and everyone let him know about it too!
By 2002 Streetneat had been in full swing for ten, long years, and the shop really needed a new truckster to keep the Streetneat image fresh and interesting. Sticking with what was nostalgically familiar, an FC ute, and a few years later, an FC sedan for Kim, were created from a pile of parts. Two days away from registering the FC ute for road use (after a two-year build), Andrew got a rather unexpected phone call. The Kiwi lass that owned the HG ute needed cash fast, and the ute was first to go. Andrew had nil funds but was determined not to let this opportunity slip by. After begging, borrowing, and haggling, the HG was home again for a final negotiated price of $1250 — a bloody steal. Later that same day, an early-Holden wrecker mate called by to check out the finished FC ute. He quickly spied the HG and that it had a Chev heart. Looking worse-for-wear he assumed Andrew had bought it for wrecking and offered to buy the driveline for, coincidentally, $1250! Andrew explained to his wrecker mate that if it hadn’t have been for that particular HG ute he “wouldn’t be standing here now! But yeah — take the driveline, don’t hurt my ute and pay me now please …”
Although work on the ute over the next five-plus years was painfully slow, it was steady. The majority of effort was put into bringing the body back from the dead. Rust holes, while minor in size, were plentiful in area. The complete front, forward of the windscreen, was replaced with a combination of NOS parts, good second-hand panels and plenty of craftsmanship. Metal finish and unpicking at factory seams was the theme strictly stuck to, and not an ounce of body filler was used. About six other vehicles gave their bodies up to this ‘homeopathic’ approach of fixing like-with-like. The entire floor from firewall to diff area was replaced with a combination of aftermarket parts and sections from donor cars.
To help feed the ute rebirth, Streetneat took on purely HK-TG Monaro-based projects for clients. It made sense while in the process of gathering parts and rebuilding the ute to concentrate on the same model, and this approach gave Andrew an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things HK-TG Holden. It resulted in a monomaniacal attention to detail, as Andrew says: “I became the very person I used to loathe: a bloody restorer perfectionist. You know you’ve lost the plot when you restore six of everything right down to zinc plating internal parts that are never seen, then pick the best from that bunch. I’m not exaggerating either! You should see how much of this crap I still have!”
The ute build theme was simple, as it’s always been. Understatement through detail is the Streetneat signature. Andrew explains: “It’s not really restored to factory-correct in every aspect, yet it’s not really an in-your-face machine either. Using mostly factory restored parts with the right colours and options is the key.”
An example of that is the distinctive billet-look grille that’s actually crafted from a couple of NOS HK items — but tweaked. “I’ve also added some stainless trim that Belmonts didn’t have like gutter moulds, quarter glass and windscreen trim. I kept the Belmont ute theme true with impossible-to-find Belmont badges. That flooring in the tray is factory-correct in style and colour. I kept my solemn promise to myself to only use factory items or parts of the era.”
It’s the subtle details that add up to count for so much of the overall look. The interior is pure NOS Belmont. Mostly. The twilight blue vinyl colour has been craftily colour-matched to the interior metal surfaces as the exterior modern blue hues clashed. The two-tone paint breaks are pure Brougham in execution, yet it would take an obsessive enthusiast to pick it straight away. The Belmont door cards are made from original factory tooling but are a re-creation. Dash layout is mostly dead-plain Belmont with a few twists. Facing the driver is a restored GTS gauge cluster and a NOS-standard Belmont tiller. There’s no radio or heater — just very rare unpunched factory blank-off plates where these items would be fitted in anything other than a Belmont. No armrests, electric windows, or even carpets — just wall-to-wall plain Belmont vinyl in twilight blue.
The driveline is the main deviation from stock Belmont. The John Payne race-prepped Powerglide is column shifted via factory parts. John Payne also built the 383ci-stroked Chev, which includes a Scat crank, Kiwi Cylinder Heads aluminium heads and a big hydraulic cam. The carb is a Barry Grant Demon 850cfm on an Edelbrock single-plane manifold and the exhaust is a dual three-inch mandrel stainless item, fed from Genie/Streetneat-built custom headers. Andrew had some help here, as he explains: “I had full use of Genie’s workshop and crew — that was super helpful!”
Andrew isn’t fussed on the technical engine specs. “I don’t get hung up on brand names and I don’t build engines. I told John the plan for me was to go 118mph/11.2 — build me that please. So according to the Moroso speed calculator that’s what was built. If it comes close to that then I’m happy. I’m not obsessive about that aspect — I just want to have a tough street ’n’ strip car that can be driven to and from the track.”
Keeping the overall package streetable and following the contemporised build theme meant staying with as many NOS brake and suspension parts as possible. The front brakes are HQ ventilated slotted discs, and the rears are HQ drum. The diff is now a three-inch-narrower-than-stock HG nine-inch, housing Moser axles, and 3.7:1 Strange gears with a Tru-Lok set-up. Rear tyres are 26.1-inch MT 15×8 street slicks with pizza-cutter MT 15×5 radials up front. Weld wheels are a timeless choice for the strip, and for a change of pace, if desired, a set of standard black HQ steelies can be fitted for the street-stealth look.
By 2008 the HG ute was a mocked-up runner but far from finished, and life was about to get in the way of progress again. Andrew and Kim had decided it was time for a change, and the plan was for a shift from outer Brisbane, Australia, to outer Hamilton, New Zealand. But the business was busier than it had ever been. “I can’t even begin to fathom how we did it. I had an HG Monaro full resto in the shop that was due to go to Ireland before the year was out. I had my own HG ute to finish … I took on more staff to help me get through the other massive projects like a DeSoto truck and an HK wagon — but all that seemed to achieve was even more work coming in as folk got wind of our December 2008 departure. So I concentrated on the two HGs and worked ridiculous hours …”
Finally, the HG ute now calls New Zealand home. It ran down the strip a few times last Father’s Day, but has yet to be fully sorted and tuned properly as it broke a roller rocker that outing. Life is once again getting in the way in the form of getting established here. But at least the HG is finished. Son Harold will take the keys when Dad says it’s time —after all it’s not a family heirloom if you don’t pass it on!
This article is from NZV8 issue 88. Get your copy here.
1971 HG Belmont Ute – Specifications
Engine: 383ci small block Chev, Scat crank, Kiwi Cylinder Heads aluminum heads, hydraulic cam, Barry Grant Demon 850cfm carb, Edelbrock single-plane manifold, dual three-inch exhaust, Genie headers
Driveline: John Payne race-prepped Powerglide, nine-inch diff, 3.7:1 Strange gears, Tru-Lok head, Moser axles
Suspension: Rebuilt with NOS
Brakes: HQ discs, HQ drums
Wheels/tyres: 26.1x15x8-inch MT street slicks, MT 15×5 radials, Weld wheels
Exterior: File-finished, custom blue, custom HK-based grille
Interior: NOS Belmont
Performance: 11-second potential
Andrew Clatworthy – Driver Profile
Occupation: Automotive restoration specialist, company director, Streetneat Ltd
Previously owned cars: This one, FC coupe, EK panel van plus many more hot rods, Holdens and American classics
Dream car: 426 Hemi-powered ’58 Plymouth coupe — Christine
Length of ownership: 28 years on and off
Build time: ongoing since 1984
Andrew thanks: Mum and Dad for giving me the ute, somewhere to build it and the head start to my career; my wife Kim for buying the interior, for enduring welding scars for life on her hands from the hammer welding and for quietly putting up with this for way too many years! My son Harold and daughter Bonnie for inspiration and helping hands when it counted; Graham Carr for the exterior paint and Bill Hooker (Kiwi offsiders in Aus at Streetneat); Dave Britton for the final upholstery assembly; Val Neil for the stainless trim restoration and for being my panel beating mentor; John Payne for the engine and gearbox; Joe Gearon for the diff; Genie Exhausts for the use of their facilities and their help; Ralph at Custom Coatings for zinc- and powder-coating a ridiculous amount of parts; and my brother-in-law Kev Knuth for the tray flooring.
Words: NZV8 Photos: Adam Croy[Gallery not found]