Custom Kingswood: Chopped & Tubbed 1975 Holden HJ Ute

Words: Karlee Sangster Photography: Luke Ray

Reza Fahelfi lives in Jakarta, Indonesia and drives one hell of a ute. The build story itself is not a long one, but the story of how Holden came to Indonesia is.

GM Holden Limited, Australia's oldest motor vehicle manufacturer was established in 1856 as J.A. Holden and Co, a saddlery business in Adelaide. Various partnerships followed and in 1908, Holden and Frost moved into the business of minor repairs to car upholstery. Next came the production of complete motorcycle sidecar bodies in 1913 and shortly after, the company experimented with fitting bodies to different types of carriages. The trade restrictions post-WWI led the company to start full scale production of vehicle body shells. By 1919 Holden's Motor Body Builders Ltd was producing 12,000 shells a year, and by 1924 were the exclusive supplier of car bodies in Australia for USA’s General Motors.

In 1931 GM purchased Holden Motor Body Builders and merged it with General Motors (Australia) Pty Ltd. General Motors Holden Ltd was born. Despite increasing conflict in Asia, there were early indications of export potential. Australian newspapers in 1938 reported news from GMH that twenty four Chevrolet tourers were ordered for shipment to Batavia (now Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia), where GM had established an assembly plant in 1927.

Post WWII, GMH developed a locally manufactured car with the assistance of a tariff wall from the Aussie government. The new Holden model was launched in 1948 and soon dominated the market.

Export began in 1956 to seventeen countries, including Indonesia. In 1959, GMH sent completely knocked down Holden packs to Indonesia for assembly. The Holden gained prestige status during the 1960s and ‘70s, sparking drama in 1967 when members of Indonesian parliament attempted to import 150 of the cars to sell to themselves tax free.

The ‘70s saw a contract forged with PT Udatin (Usaha Dagang Teknik Indonesia) to assemble cars in East Java. The Holden had ingratiated itself into Indonesian culture. The Sultan of Yogyakarta, Hamengkubuwono IX, was very fond of his black Statesman. The country’s upper middle class were often seen driving Kingswoods and Premiers.

The Holden Gemini hit Indonesian soil in 1981 and quickly became the taxi of choice. Holden’s reign was cut short several years later when key industrialists campaigned for the funds to develop local manufacturing plants. 1995 saw the Indonesian government impose an economic nationalist program which included the protection of locally produced cars from the tariffs that imports attracted.

By 1999 GMH's export manager Bob Branson said the company "was considering only exporting to countries that would take at least 500 cars a year. For that reason, exports to Indonesia and Thailand are expected to be shelved".

With no new models hitting the Indonesian market, the iconic Holden has attained classic status. The hot rod and custom scene is alive and kicking, especially in Jakarta, where Reza Fahelfi runs his workshop, Beast Mode Garage. At thirty eight, Reza says he’s been trading classic cars since he was in college. Beast Mode is now three years old and is going from strength to strength.

He made the decision to start his own garage after not being able to find anyone else who could deliver the results he was after. “After a few failed car restorations I felt like we would have done a better job if we could find our own place with experienced mechanics. So, since 2012 we established Beast Mode Garage.”

Reza and his team are clearly partial to the vehicles that flooded the Indonesian market pre-1980.

“We buy cars that we think are worth restoring,” he says. Condition (or lack thereof) poses no problem for the crew. “We will buy a car in any condition, even just a body, broken, with no engine,” Reza explains. “But we only really collect American cars. Cars from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s are our favorites.”

Working this way allows Reza and his team to call all the shots and therefore create cars that are true to their initial visions. “We are not in the business of building cars for customers,” he says. “We just work on our own cars.”

The Beast Mode team are never short of variety, but they have their preferences. Reza continues: “We work on range of cars from American to Japanese cars. But we can never say no to an nice Australian pickup. Finding classic cars is one of the hardest challenges. We prefer to find them rather than buy from car collectors.” Reza is a man who doesn’t take the easy way out.

“How we build the cars and the style depends on the condition they are in when we find them,” says Reza. “We prefer to restore them to their original form with, little twists such as new rims, upgraded engines, free flow exhausts etc. But, when we find the cars that are full of rust or all the parts are missing, we see it as an opportunity for our imagination run wild.”

The 1975 Holden HJ Kingswood Utility that you see before you was one such build. Given his love for all things American, what made Reza choose the Australian import? He explains: “We chose the Holden because we think that the sedan pickup is eye catching to most people and it is almost impossible to find a Ford Ranchero or a Chevy El Camino here in Indonesia.” The build began four years ago when Reza and his friend Mr Anca decided they could improve on one of Indonesia’s most customized cars. “The Holden ute is one of the favorite cars in Indonesia to be built and customised,” says Reza. “The hot rod community is emerging in Indonesia because more people are building customs from the old classic cars. Holdens are quite common in Indonesia, but we wanted to do something different, something that other builders had not done.”

Reza continues; “To track down a Holden ute is not very difficult. This is because in the ‘70s, lots of Holden were imported by foreign companies. Building this car took us two years. But it also took us another two years to make it perfect.” Perfection, according to Reza, has a sound. “I prefer the ute as a hot rod more than the original because I like a big V8 engine with an exhaust sound like - blaarrr!”

Fours years later, the car was finished. Reza recalls: “We did a lot of research because most of the parts used are delivered from the States. We needed to make sure that our budget was well spent and the items we bought were really needed. Otherwise we needed to ship them back to the states for replacement, wasting time, the only thing that we don’t have!”

The ute underwent a series of extensive modifications. It’s been chopped, tubbed and sports a custom made interior. The axle has been shortened considerably and Cragar SS 9/15 wheels at the front and 12/15’s at the rear give the ute its aggressive stance. The House of Kustom Kandy root beer paint job is certainly eye catching and sets off the whole job. Powered by a 5700cc 350 small block Chev, it certainly has the “blaarrr” sound Reza was after.

With the build finally complete, the ute serves as a rolling business card for Beast Mode Garage, and is driven frequently. “We enjoy driving this car to our JHCC group (Jakarta hot rod and classic community) meetup every month because we love the attention,” smiles Reza. It’s a good thing he does. With skills like these, the world is beginning to take notice, and the future of Indonesian customs is looking bright.

This article first appeared in Fuel Magazine issue 19.