No one ever said building your dream car would be easy, especially if you have a perfectionist’s standards and a family to feed
Layton and Ra are living proof that where there is a will, there is a way. Their beautiful EH wagon SNOTED is a testament to willpower and ingenuity. They found the car in Auckland while they were at the Pukekohe swap-meet. It was typical of many Holden station wagons of the same era, and came sporting the classic Kiwi DIY white house paint (painted with a stick, of course), and was adorned with the mandatory Greenpeace stickers and Venetians to complete the look.
The motor was the original 149, which still ran. The deal was done for $1200, and sweetened by the seller throwing in a shed-full of old Holden goodies.
The initial plan was to use the car for their upcoming wedding, but when they brought it home and conducted a more thorough examination they realised it was in a much worse state than they had first assumed. So their hopes of a ‘quick lick of paint and new mags and she’ll be right’ rebuild flew out the window. The body was riddled with rust, the bog was an inch thick in most places and the project looked doomed, especially as they had a four-year-old and another kid on the way. Luckily for Layton, Ra has been interested in cars since she was young. She wanted a EH since she was 15 and —¯luckily for the car — their mates managed to convince them to do it properly. So the five-year restore began.
The wagon was stripped of every nut and bolt and the body was taken to Kleen-it Sandblasting and blasted back to bare metal. The front chassis that bolts onto the main body was so rusty there was nowhere left for the bolts to go. This meant they were forced to completely re-make new chassis rails to fit back to the main body. They also had to replace the dog-legs and sills on both sides, the bottom of the rear guards, the bottom half of both door panels and underneath the front window and grille. The front guards were basically non existent, the rear beaver panel had to be replaced along with the floor pan and even the tailgate received a few patches. A lot of the replacement panels were sourced from Rare Spares and required much modifying to fit the wagon. Steel front guards for EHs are as rare as hens’ teeth, so Layton ended up buying some fibreglass guards, but the seams didn’t match up and they too went under the knife.
“The sacrifice was made, and a VS five-litre injected motor was purchased, complete with a VP computer loom and trans. Then came the next headache”
The drive tunnel was opened up to fit a bigger transmission. The rear inner guards received the chop to house the wider tyres and rims they needed. All-up the panel work took Layton a year, during which he became somewhat of an expert at wielding, angle grinders and mig welders. The front chassis rails were strengthened and an HR sub-frame was fitted before the car went off to the panel beaters for final straightening and prep. Layton convinced Dwayne Lilly to swap trades, and judging by the finish on this car Layton must have worked magic on Dwayne’s house, because all the panels are as straight as a die and beautifully finished.
With the bodywork out of the way, work began on the blue 202 motor and HQ Trans they planned to use. A friend from the New Plymouth Rodders heard of the proposed powerplant and set about convincing them the six-pot wasn’t going to cut it. They fully agreed with him, but they had a growing family and a tight budget to consider. In the end Layton had to make a difficult decision: should he sell the first Holden he’d ever bought, or put the EH build on ice? This decision was made even harder because the car happened to be a genuine GTR XU1 Torana.
The sacrifice was made, and a VS five-litre injected motor was purchased, complete with a VP computer loom and trans. Then came the next headache. How do you fit a V8 motor into such a small space without chopping the engine bay to bits? After exhausting all other options, they decided to try an outfit called V6 Conversions in Australia, who also specialise in V8 conversions.
They imported a complete install kit consisting of a modified sump, steering rack, oil pickup, wiring, bracket to fit brake booster, instructions on how to alter the steering column and all the brackets needed to fit the motor. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a solution quickly became a huge problem. Some parts were missing, others weren’t welded properly, holes didn’t line up in crucial places, instructions were poor and to top it off, it didn’t comply with New Zealand certification requirements.
This was never going to be an easy conversion, especially since Layton refused to chop any of the panels inside the engine bay. Once fitted, there was only a 10-20mm gap around the back and sides of the motor. Staying true to form, Layton decided the factory manifolds wouldn’t do, and set about constructing a set of headers out of 42mm tube. The after-market options all exit through the inner guards — something he was not prepared to do. So he removed and refitted the motor 20 times while attempting to fit the bundle of snakes into an already over-populated engine bay.
The cooling system and electrics were no breeze either. The battery was relocated and a new housing made. The alternator was moved and an aluminium radiator from a Hilux van was shoehorned in between the motor and front valance. The steering column had to be altered according to the instructions provided, then installed. To cope with the power upgrade, HQ vented disks and HZ aluminium callipers were bolted on. Koni adjustables were put in control of super-low King springs and de-cambered rear leafs, along with an up-rated front sway bar to help steering feel. The only thing left unmodified was the banjo diff, which had been set up for the six. As long as it was treated nicely, they could make it last till they could afford a full LSD set-up.
The next stage was the wiring. Again, Layton and Ra took up the challenge. After a few months tangled in wires, they took the car to an auto electrician, who sorted the final problems. So, after four years of hard work they finally heard SNOTED roar into life.
Despite having no windows, seats or paint, Layton couldn’t resist a hot lap around the block — as ya do. Once they had recovered from the joy and exhilaration of seeing their creation running, it was time to face possibly the most important decision of the build; the colour. Layton wanted black, Ra wanted silver. After much debate, SNOTED was their compromise — and a pretty good one at that. The custom colour (no, it’s not the Ford Falcon hue!) was mixed up by Premier Paints. The wagon was off to Layton’s cousin, Mark Cottam, who applied the wet stuff.
Then it was time for the final stage of the build. Ra was in charge of cleaning all the chrome, and the interior was sent to Tidy Trim to re-upholster. American Eagle wheels measuring 17×8 were imported from the States. These were clad with 205/45 up front and 225/45 on the rear. The windows were tinted by Tint Magic before they went in. Shadow gauges were fitted and a B&M Prostick race shifter was installed.
Once the interior was complete, the stereo install could commence. A Pioneer head deck was installed to power the Boston Acoustics five-inch components up front. A Pioneer Premier 2000W sub mounted in the tyre well is driven by a Rockford Fosgate P5002 amp. This set-up has proven to have more than enough power to get the EH humming.
Layton and Ra set a goal of having the car road legal by Christmas 2005. With November approaching fast they needed to get it certified pretty quickly. There were a few issues with the steering column, to which some quick engineering was applied. By early November it was off to the local testing station for the first warrant.
Layton was told he was not allowed to drive the car into the pits, as it was against company policy. As you can imagine, he was rather nervous about handing over the keys to his newly finished labour of love, but he obliged. As he looked on, the mechanic drove forward and snagged the exhaust on the lip of the pit, despite the mechanic in the pit yelling “Stop!”. The rear wheel lifted and the panicking mechanic slammed his right foot on what he thought was the brake. It was actually the accelerator. This caused the V8 to rev up to full noise before coming back down on the wheels and blowing the diff completely. Five years of slaving away, only for it to be wrecked on the first day out. How Layton restrained himself from flying off the hook is beyond me. By this stage they had no money left, so they had to borrow some and go hard over Christmas. Layton went to Holden Heaven (by now his second home) and they gave him a deal on a LSD V8 Commodore diff. This promptly sent to Diffs R Us in Auckland to be altered to fit the EH, which also meant an upgrade for SNOTED to rear disc brakes. So, after recovering from a near death (someone else’s) experience, they took the wagon to a different testing station a week before Xmas. They then had to wait for the plates, which — in a stroke of luck — arrived the day before Xmas.
Driving it on Christmas day was the best present Layton and Ra could have ever received. They told me that when they decided to go ahead with the V8 conversion, they had a budget of $15,000. Although they have not done a complete tally up, they estimate they’ve spent close to $18,000.
This is one of the nicest wagons I’ve ever seen — it’s most definitely the best EH. And it all cost under $20,000. In today’s market there is not a lot you can get for the same price. Which would you prefer, a Suzuki Swift or this beautiful custom ride? SNOTED is a perfect example of what can be achieved despite huge odds. Layton and Ra now have a ride anyone would be proud to call their own.
- Engine: Five-litre injected out of a VS Commodore, internal standard spec, pod filter and modified intake, VL external fuel pump, two-inch twin pipe exhaust with twin two-inch Flowmaster mufflers with stainless tip ends, self-made custom extractors from 42mm pipe and bends, Toyota Hilux van radiator which is three-core aluminium, an electric fan on the outside and motor mount fan on inside, Standard VL computer and wiring harness, Mitsubishi alternator altered to fit, changes to water pump, sump and oil pick-up as well.
- Driveline: TH 700 Transmission, single piece driveshaft, VP Commodore LSD V8 diff, chopped to suit EH
- Suspension/Brakes: Front: HR front sub frame, Koni adjustable shocks, super-low King springs, after-market sway bar. Rear: Koni adjustable shocks, Leaf springs heated and shrunk down three inches, and one-inch lowering blocks. Front brakes: HQ vented discs with HZ aluminium callipers. Rear brakes: Commodore VP discs brakes standard, VK brake booster mounted to firewall with a VL slave cylinder with one-inch bore to get correct flow for HQ disc brakes
- Wheels and Tyres: Wheels: American Eagle wheels, 17×8 all round with a five-inch back set for wider BFG Ventus tyres measuring 205/45-17 on the front and 225/45-17 on the rear
Layton and Ra
People to Thank: Biggest thanks to my wife Ra and my girls, Shannley and Jada — without their help it wouldn’t have been finished.
Also thanks to Mark Cottam, Dwayne Lilly, Justin Walker, Craig Neilson, Neil Spranger, Shorn Iremonger, Steve Hildred, Evan Shoemark, Tidy Trim and the boys at Holden Heaven.