Renowned winemaker Toby Bekkers proves the work ute doesn’t have to be boring with this gorgeous 1971 Holden HG Kingswood.
Making fine wine is much like restoring a classic car. You need attention to detail, patience, talent, experience and plenty of money to invest. Little wonder then that many of Australia’s winemakers have an interesting vehicle or two in the shed. Turn up to cellar doors in places like the Barossa, Hunter or Yarra Valley and chances are you’ll spot something to excite the motoring enthusiast as well as the grape juice drinker.
In South Australia’s famed McLaren Vale wine region, husband and wife team Toby and Emma Bekkers own and operate Bekkers Wine. There’s the stunning views across vineyards, the beautiful cellar door and the numerous accolades (“Bekkers is a star” exclaimed leading wine critic James Halliday after tasting the 2017 Syrah Grenache and awarding it 98 points), but there’s even more beauty to be found here.
Peek around the corner and there’s the vehicles to keep this show running. A new Mitsubishi Triton ute does most of the heavy lifting, but we’re more interested in two very different – yet both very cool – work utes, each looking very good indeed for their 50 years of service. First is a 1970 Ford F-350 with 351 cu in V8, this mighty flat-bed American truck – which Emma claims as her own for moving a bit of wine around and driving locally – looks down on Toby’s Australian effort, a 1971 Holden HG ute.
This Kingswood-badged two-door is almost impossibly immaculate, despite nearly reaching its half-century. It’s been subject to a major restoration across many years and is probably in better shape today than when it rolled off Holden’s production line. Dressed in its original colour with chrome bumpers and the winery’s subtle logos on the doors and tailgate, it’s a reminder how much classier these proper car-based utes were than the current crop of giant pickups dominating today’s sales charts – Holden’s own Colorado included.
Toby’s one of the region’s most talented and respected viticulturists, and greeting high-end wine buyers while caked in motor oil wouldn’t do his business any favours. So despite having a history with classics – a Mk2 Ford Escort, Triumph TR4, HJ ute and HX ute – he simply didn’t have the time to restore an earlier ute. “I wouldn’t have had the capacity either if I’m honest,” Toby explained. “We’re pretty polished in what we do with wine, and attention to detail is important to us. I wouldn’t have been happy with a half finished one, so buying an expertly restored one was the only option. It probably saved me three years of work.”
Toby bought the ‘71 ute from David Blackman in Melbourne, owner of Blackman’s Automotive Interiors. “We’ve been restoring cars for 30 years, and this HG has been one of our favourite projects,” David said.
“The build took two years and we’re very proud of it. Our aim was for it to look and drive like it had just come off the showroom floor, which we achieved.
We were sad to see it go, but Toby’s the right person for this car. It looks like it was made for Toby’s winery. It’s the perfect home for this great classic working car.”
David said they bought the ute from a Holden enthusiast, who’d kept it in great condition, but sadly not much history was known. “If you start with a good car, you’ll end up with a good car,” remarking that there were only small rust spots and it drove exceptionally. The paint was stripped by a friend, Ryan Johnson, then an apprentice but now running Johnson’s Car Restorations. The lower sections of the body panels were replaced, Ryan got the body straight and it was repainted according to its original paint code. Having been established for 70 years,
David’s business obviously has trusted contacts. Their mechanic, Wayne Cooper, is supposedly retired, but thanks to his extensive knowledge working on these Holdens, David allocated him workshop space to tackle the oily bits.
“Wayne rebuilt everything underneath and went through the engine,” David said. “He said the motor was nearly perfect inside. He reconditioned it and put it back together and it really runs beautifully.” Its drum brakes and lines were all reconditioned, while the suspension was sent to Pedders to be professionally lowered to help the ute’s stance. It now sits perfectly over powdercoated, restored wheels, adorned with original hubcaps David sourced.
The engine is Holden’s 202 cu in (3.3-litre) inline six-cylinder. Records show this motor was used in the later Holden HQ series (from July 1971), but David’s research suggests very late model HGs, like Toby’s, were delivered with it too. That being the case, the motor’s believed to be original.
David explained these HGs are a great choice to restore as practically everything you need can be simply sourced through the likes of Rare Spares.
The meticulous work has ensured Toby’s able to use the HG as a daily driver. “It’s far comfier to drive than my modern Triton,” he said. “It’s so much more fun and interesting, and as it’s car based, it isn’t skittery and floating around like a new ute. It sits firmly on the road and tracks really well. We’re not trying to win Bathurst in it, but it keeps up with traffic. I know it has nothing like ABS, airbags, or disc brakes, so I remember to allow some leeway. It doesn’t have air conditioning, but it’s comfortable enough with windows down, even in 40C heat.”
With a three-speed column shift, that purring inline six-cylinder and beautifully redone suspension and bushes, it truly glides along. From my passenger seat it’s also incredibly comfortable and even a bit luxurious inside. The dash is simple and classy, and Toby’s looking at fitting a retro looking stereo head-unit with modern niceties such as Bluetooth to help his commute.
The cabin retains its striking red colour from steering wheel to door cards, dash, carpets and seats. This is where David, the expert trimmer, has shown his skills. “We did the interior to the same factory design, except we changed the seats to leather with the door cards and dash to match,” he said. “We stripped and reconditioned everything before adding the leather, and the seats were pulled apart, filled to their original height and pleated in their original style. The tub was lined with oiled merbau timber as you’d use on exterior decks, and its colour complements the interior colour.”
It’s a ute teeming with Australian heritage and seemingly appreciated by all. “I really wanted one as I’ve got great memories of these utes when I was a kid; my mum used to drive the sedan version,” Toby said. “It’s a head-turner and an emotional, heart-string puller. People who visit the cellar door want to sit in it and have their photo taken.”
Toby reckons the ute’s so solid it could do practically anything at the winery, but he obviously doesn’t want to bash it around too much. Its life will be whizzing to shops and making wine deliveries to Adelaide’s swanky restaurants. Ideal business advertising, really. Toby said he’ll perform the required maintenance, and confidently stated: “If there’s one thing that’s least going to go wrong it’ll be a six-cylinder classic Holden.” Spoken like a man who knows the old methods are still the best.