Car Feature: Kangaroo Tails — A Pair of Aussie Utes

photos by: Scott Schwartz

When You Can’t Buy Your Dream Car, You Build it Yourself!

That’s at least what a pair of Holden-loving car enthusiasts did, anyway. Travis Bell from Indianapolis and Charles Phelps from Lutz, Florida both had Holden Ute dreams, but no traditional way of acquiring one. Both eventually had found a way, but both gentlemen pursued different paths to get there — neither of which, were considered traditional.

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Travis Bell’s 2009 Holden Ute SS

Starting with Travis’ car, it certainly looks like a factory, as-delivered Holden Ute in all of its showroom glory …at a glance. However, once you dig a little deeper into Travis’ acquisition of said Ute, the story becomes even more enticing.

With a 2017 Chevy SS and a ’08 G8 GT in the household, as well as his ’07 SRT8 Magnum, General Lee and Cannonball Run ambulance replicas (seriously!), Travis can already claim to have unusual taste. Factoring in this Holden Ute makes it that much more interesting. Plus, the other Zeta cars in his collection serve as the perfect bookends.

Thing is, how the heck did he ever get it here in the first place? General Motors had never sold anything here with the Holden nameplate directly, and the closest we’ve ever got to having a factory Aussie Ute was the G8 ST concept — that was axed at the last second before it even went into production.

Looking to get his hands on one, meant sourcing a dismembered shell from Down Under; yup, no engine, trans or even a rearend. Thanks to certain laws and regulations, you’re stuck having to purchase a basic shell that you’d have to rebuild from scratch here in The States. Using a lot of ingenuity, a small crack-team group and one ’09 G8 GT parts car, Travis listed the help of GT8 Aussie Utes to build his dream machine.

Under the hood, is the standard-issue L76 that you would find in any ’08-09 G8 GT; the bottom end is completely left untouched, though the heads have received some port and mill work from Farmers Machine Shop, and Steve Gibson at Blue Line Performance was responsible for assembly. They’re stuffed with stock 1.7 ratio rockers, a BTR trunnion upgrade stock L76 exhaust valves and LS3 hollow stem intake valves.

Cam Motion bumpstick with a unique grind was spec’d, and the only info we have on it is what Travis is willing to tell us (don’t you hate that?). The numbers (that we have) read like this: 22x/23x duration, .62x/.62x lift and 11x LSA. Like we said, there are too many variable there than can reflect what the camshaft actually is.

Things were kept pretty simple on the air/fuel front; as a stock fuel system remains in place, with a Vararam cold-air induction kit, and ported 90mm stock throttle body and intake manifold inhaling the oxygen. Kooks long-tube headers and Solo Performance mufflers, with 2.5-inch diameter tubing handle expelling the fumes in quick fashion.

HP Tuners software was implemented into the recipe, with Reoben Eldridge at E-Tuned Performance handling the keyboard. The resulting dyno numbers reflect a 443/403 horsepower/torque output level. A stock ignition system resides under the hood, with a set of NGK plugs firing all eight cylinders.

Other aspects of the car include a G8 GT driveshaft, 2010 Camaro SS rear axle with 3.27 gears, OEM shocks, a Whiteline front sway bar and Kings coil springs, front and rear. The Ute is electronically shifted through a 4L80E trans with a stock G8 stall speed converter.

If those rollers look familiar to you, they should. They’re the same ones that were used on SLP G8 Firehawk — they measure in at 19×8 at all four corners, and are wrapped in rather narrow 245/40 BFGoodrich rubber. Tucked behind them, re the stock calipers paired with cross-drilled and slotted rotors.

The entire body retains the Holden treatment; with all Holden badging and bodywork accounted for and an EGR Auto hardlid covering the bed. PPG Black was sprayed by Wright’s Auto Body, and factory Red Hot guts are what greats occupants in the cockpit.

With such a unique blend of hardware, and considering the what great lengths Travis had to go through to get his Ute to the point of where it’s at now, we say the spotlight ion this machine is well deserved. It’s certainly a different approach to Charles Phelps’ G8 GXP ST…

Charles Phelps’ 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP Sport Truck

If you were to catch a glimpse of Charles’ G8 Sport Truck in passing on the street or even at a car meet, you might look at it with confusion. You may think to yourself, “that’s a G8… but it’s one of those truck versions. Well, wait a second, Pontiac didn’t actually build that thing, did they? Or did they?”

In short, no, they didn’t.

However, what you’re actually looking at, is a legit G8 GXP, “with a back bit missing” as Jeremy Clarkson once put it. What started out in life as a production 2009 G8 GXP, has eventually evolved into what you’re looking at here.

Have you ever been in one of those shoulder-less, one-lane construction zones on the freeway that stretch for miles? Have you ever worried or wondered about breaking down in one? Well, that’s exactly what happened to Charles.

As he tells us, it’s directly a result of being rear-ended one afternoon after a G8 car club meet in Georgia. Apparently a little old lady in a Honda Civic couldn’t quite put together that there was a car broken down in a lane, despite the four-way flashers and Charles’ wife and kid waving erratically beside the concrete barrier and the car. She didn’t even begin to stop, much less slow down, so she plowed into it full-steam at 70 mph. Luckily for all of those involved, nobody was hurt but the GXP was totaled.

Turns out, a defective fuel pump was the culprit of the breakdown but Charles’ story with G8s and the Zeta platform in general goes a bit further back before that. As it turns out, his first foray was with a 2009 G8 GT, back when he first heard word that The General was discontinuing Pontiac. Wanting to get in on the action, he found his copy and enjoyed it for a few years.

He loved his GT, but he wanted the ultimate G8; the GXP. Locating a white 6-speed example in New York, he flew North to pick up his moredoor Pontiac. Being a one of only 846 GXPs with the six forward gears it seemed to be a perfect end to the story. Fate had other ideas, and after the brief pondering of swapping the GXP goodies over to a V6 G8, it wouldn’t be until he jokingly came up iwth the idea of building a Ute to his wife over dinner one evening.


“What’s a Ute,” she would ask. At that point, “it was game on,” as Charles tells us.

He would spend months finding a donor shell and several more going through all of the hoops and hurdles getting it certified and legal for US travels. Namely, it would have to utilize the G8 left-hand drive configuration for it to be legal (as did Travis’ car).

Also like the other Ute depicted here, only the shell would be permitted to make the journey over from Down Under. The drivetrain would have to stay in Australia — which is perfectly alright in Charles’ case, considering he was planning on relying on his totaled GXP drivetrain and front fascia, anyway. Once he got the Ute in his shop, he set to work.

Yanking the drivetrain out of the G8 body, and into the Ute, wouldn’t be cut and dry; Charles decided to modify things a bit take advantage of the reduced curb weight. The LS3 still retains its factory bottom-end, though a Rick Crawford camshaft, and P&P LS3 ported and milled cylinder heads were implemented into the build.

Rick Crawford also supplied one of his AirRam intakes and a K&N filter system was also installed to dial back the amount of restrictions on the induction side of things. A P&P ported LS3 throttle body and LS7 MAF sensor were also used. R9ck also handled the tuning duty, utilizing HP Tuners software for th perfect balance of excellent performance and street ability. The resulting power output is 476 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque to the rear tires.

On the exhaust side, Kooks long-tube headers, and Solo Performance X-pipe and mufflers provide a killer soundtrack. The old GXP’s TR-6060 lives on with the LS3, but it has since been updated with a LT1 clutch. The MGW-shifted transmission feeds through a stock driveshaft, which in turn, connects to a 2013 Camaro 1LE rearend, housing 3.91 gears.

Under that Aussie-born body is an AirREX air suspension system, which allows the ability to adjust the firmness and the ride height from the cockpit. Sexy VIP Modular VRS-13 20-inch wheels (10-inches, front — 11-inches, rear) with a killer camber and great curb appeal. Hidden behind them, are the GXP’s Brembo brakes — they worked great in the old G8, so they’re right at home on the Ute!

The whole body has been sprayed in a custom Candy Red Pearl; with three coats of base, three coasts of Candy and four coats of high solid clear. The finish is amazing, and much like Travis’ Ute, it features a black and red interior, sourced from the departed GXP.

They say that you should never give up on your dreams and that anything is possible. From what we’ve seen here from these two gentlemen, it’s certainly hard to argue that notion!

TECH SHEET:

  • CAR: 2009 Holden Ute SS
  • OWNER: Travis Bell
  • ENGINE BLOCK: GM, L76 (364 cubic-inch)
  • CRANKSHAFT: GM, L76
  • PISTONS: GM, L76
  • CONNECTING RODS: GM, L76
  • CAMSHAFT: Cam Motion; 22x/23x duration, .62x/.62x lift, 11x LSA
  • CYLINDER HEAD: Stock L76; ported and milled by Farmers Machine Shop
  • ROCKER ARMS: GM; 1.7 with BTR trunnion upgrade
  • COMPRESSION RATIO: 10.7:1
  • INDUCTION: Vararam cold-air intake, ported OEM 90mm throttle body and intake manifold by BLP
  • FUEL DELIVERY: Stock; L76/G8
  • IGNITION: Stock coils, distributor and plug wires, NGK plugs
  • EXHAUST: Kooks long-tube headers, Solo Performance mufflers and X-pipe
  • OILING: Stock
  • TUNING: HP Tuners; tuning by Reoben Eldridge at E-Tuned Performance
  • TRANSMISSION: 4L80E, Stock
  • CONVERTER: Stock, G8
  • DRIVESHAFT: Stock, G8
  • REAREND: 2010 Camaro SS; 3.27 gears
  • SUSPENSION: Kings coil springs (front and rear), Whiteline front sway bar, stock shocks
  • BRAKES: Stock; cross-drilled/slotted rotors
  • WHEELS: SLP G8 Firehawk; 19×8 (front and rear)
  • TIRES: BF Goodrich; 245/40/19
  • HP/TQ: 443/403

TECH SHEET:

  • CAR: 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP Sport Truck
  • OWNER: Charles Phelps
  • ENGINE BLOCK: GM, LS3 (376 cubic-inch)
  • CRANKSHAFT: GM, LS3
  • PISTONS: GM, LS3
  • CONNECTING RODS: GM, LS3
  • CAMSHAFT: Rick Crawford Racing; 219/235 duration, .625/.626 lift, 114+1 LSA
  • CYLINDER HEAD: P&P; ported, polished and milled LS3 (built by Rick Crawford Racing)
  • COMPRESSION RATIO: 10.7:1
  • INDUCTION: Holley sheet-metal intake manifold, ported stock throttle body, K&N filter, OEM LS7 MAF
  • FUEL DELIVERY: Stock; LS3/G8 GXP
  • IGNITION: Stock coils, distributor, Taylor plug wires, NGK plugs
  • EXHAUST: Kooks long-tube headers, Solo Performance X-pipe and mufflers
  • OILING: Stock
  • TUNING: HP Tuners; tuning by Rick Crawford Racing
  • TRANSMISSION: TR-6060, MGW shifter
  • CLUTCH: GM; GEN-V LT1
  • DRIVESHAFT: Stock; G8
  • REAREND: 2013 Camaro SS/1LE; 3.91 gears
  • SUSPENSION: AirREX air suspension system
  • BRAKES: Brembo
  • WHEELS: VIP Modular; VRS-13 (20×10, front), (20×11, rear)
  • HP/TQ.: 476/442
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Being infatuated with cars since he was a toddler, GM EFI Founder and Editor, Rick Seitz, has a true love and passion for late-model GM vehicles. When he isn’t tuning, testing, or competing with the brand’s current crop of project vehicles, he’s busy tinkering and planning the next modifications for his own cars.
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