“I guess I can trace it all back to my dad – he’s been taking me to car shows as far back as I can remember,” explains Chris Edwards of Arlington, Washington. An aircraft test technician for Boeing, Edwards says his fascination with GM musclecars early on. “I really started getting into [it] when I was about 13. Dad started working with one of our neighbors horse-trading cars. They’d bring a project, polish the turd a little bit, turn it around, and move up the ranks to some really nice older performance vehicles.”
The elder Edwards’ hot rodding exploits inspired Chris to get something to call his own. “I started getting the itch for a project,” Chris says. “So when I was 14, my old man took me to get my first car – a 1969 Chevy El Camino. I’ve still got it today. And that’s where the interest in ‘utes’ came from.”
Shorthand for utility, the term ute has its origins in Australia and New Zealand. While car-based vehicles with pickup beds like the Ford Ranchero and Chevrolet El Camino were put out to pasture long ago in the United States, utes like these have remained in production in Australia and have proven popular enough to warrant some seriously potent high performance variants.
The same can’t be said of the US market however, and these utes have remained forbidden fruit for enthusiasts on this side of the pond for decades – assuming they even know about them.
“I had no idea that the Holden Ute was a thing up until around a year ago,” Edwards says. “A buddy of mine who had moved out of state was pushing me to get into online gaming, and he told me about this racing game, Forza Horizon 3, which takes place in Australia. The first car you get in the game is a Gen-F Holden Maloo. I thought, “Wow, that’s a really cool rig! I like El Caminos, and that’s an El Camino!”
It didn’t take long for Edwards to start researching the car and how he could get his hands on one. “I google’d ‘Maloo USA’ and Left Hand Utes came up,” Chris says. “So I called them and found out what they had on the market. After pulling some financial wizardry and selling my 2010 Camaro 2SS – my dream car at the time – I got this Holden Ute.”
I had no idea that the Holden Ute was a thing up until around a year ago. A buddy of mine told me about this racing game, Forza Horizon 3, which takes place in Australia. The first car you get in the game is a Gen-F Holden Maloo. I thought, “Wow, that’s a really cool rig!”
Bringing It Home
Although Holden vehicles have never been sold by parent company General Motors in America, those familiar with GM’s Zeta platform – which underpinned the fifth generation Chevy Camaro and Pontiac G8 in the United States – will immediately see the lineage with the Ute. But where the Camaro sports a coupe roofline and the G8 offered a second set of doors, the Ute’s back half is a cargo box not unlike what you’d find in a typical pickup.
Yet despite its inherent focus on utility, the lower center of gravity and sport-oriented chassis design of Zeta platform provide those Holdens with a level of on-road performance capability that you simply can’t find with a conventional factory pickup.
Still, without enough demand to justify bring the car-truck to the US in an official capacity, it takes some legwork to put one in a US enthusiast’s driveway. “My understanding of the process is that it’s about six months, and five of that is paperwork,” Edwards tells us. “It gets brought in as a rolling chassis – the drivetrain either gets removed and sold in Australia, or sent out separately to be reassembled later. It’s rebuilt with US-spec parts and put through a list of inspections, and once the inspections are complete, they issue a title for it.”
Part of that rebuild process is focused on moving the steering column, gauges, and pedals from what we’d consider the passenger side of the vehicle to the driver’s side – hence the name, Left Hand Utes. But the company also takes the opportunity to upgrade a few things here and there, too. “This type of Commodore didn’t originally have heated power seats,” Edwards says. “So in my car they’re Holden skins wrapped around Pontiac G8 seat frames and internals.”
A Hot Rodded Aussie Street Machine
“When Left Hand Utes delivered it to me, it was as close to factory bone-stock as it could be,” Edwards explains. “I took it as a blank slate and ran with it.”
Under the hood of Chris’s Ute lurks a warmed-over Gen IV L76 from a 2009 Pontiac G8 GT that sports LS3 heads, an LS3 intake, a VCM OTR cold air intake, LS7 lifters with Texas Speed and Performance chromoly pushrods, TSP dual springs, and a TSP Stage 3 LS3 Cam. “I originally just wanted to do a mild camshaft swap, and then I got to talking with Texas Speed,” Chris says. “Honestly I can’t say that I went for the cam based on performance – it was strictly for that idle.” Those mods woke the motor up regardless, as the combination was good for 444 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque on Marysville Speed N’ Custom’s Dynojet 248x dynamometer.
I originally just wanted to do a mild camshaft swap, and then I got to talking with Texas Speed. Honestly I can’t say that I went for the cam based on performance – it was strictly for that idle.
The wheel, tire, and brake setup was an area where Edwards focused his attention. “Those wheels and tires were actually off of my boss’ second generation Cadillac CTS-V,” Edwards notes. “Once I got the wheels I knew I had room for bigger brakes, and I ended up doing the Brembos at the same time as the camshaft. It was actually kind of an afterthought – I was going to try to get a cheaper set off of eBay, but I wound up going with G8 Only because they had everything I needed already there.”
Although this Ute could undoubtedly hold its own on both a road course and the drag strip, Edwards says he’s happy to just use the Holden as a fun, daily-driven street machine. “I’m a little hesitant to run it on the track,” he says. “If I break it, there’s no chance in hell I’m going to be able to replace it. If I snap a rear axle, no big deal – I just get something out of a Camaro, that’s not a problem. But if the car meets the wall or something along those lines, it’s going to be hell trying to find body panels. The Ute’s a unicorn.”
That unicorn status even makes the more mundane aspects of car ownership an interesting challenge. “The first thing was finding a bank that would finance it,” he tells us. “The first two said hell no, then I talked to USAA. They asked for the VIN, I gave it to them, and they said ‘This car doesn’t exist.’ I sent them pictures of it and the Aussie VIN, then they wanted a picture of the title and some other stuff. It seemed like every time I called in, someone else wanted a copy of the title or something else. Finally, they agreed to fund it.”
Insuring the car was a bit tricky as well, Chris says. “Most people who buy a car through Left Hand Utes end up going through Grundy. I got a quote from them and I wasn’t too keen on it – I thought maybe I could do better. So I got back on the phone with USAA, and because they already had all the financing paperwork on the car, they insured it for the appraised value as a daily driver.”
And of course that unicorn status elicits its fair share of attention from enthusiasts out on the road. “We’d just gotten the car and my wife and I decided to go on a cruise through downtown Arlington,” he says. “We pull into this restaurant and this guy in a Chrysler parks next to us, gets out and says, ‘Holy $#@%, I’ve been following you for twenty minutes! What the hell is that thing?’ So I explained it to him, popped the hood, and let him snap some pictures. And that guy ended up getting me into the local car community.”
That enthusiasm would also convince Edwards to enter the Ute into some car shows, and it wasn’t long before he was bringing home awards like Best Custom at the 2018 El Camino Classics Club car show, Best Unique/Other Pontiac at the 2017 Western Washington Firebirds Club show, and Best 1980-Present at the 2017 Rhodes River Ranch Car Show.
The Road Ahead
Edwards says that while there’s a few upgrades left to do, he’s pretty happy with the Holden as it sits now. “I’ve got a line lock that’s sitting in a box behind the seat that’s waiting to be put in,” he notes. “But other than that, what I’m really working on is getting a second one – a Maloo.”
Developed by the Holden Special Vehicles division, the Maloo is an even more potent performance package than the Ute. “The one I’m looking at is Gen-F – the last generation built,” he adds. “And this one’s got the same supercharged LSA motor you’d find in a second-generation CTS-V.”
You might be wondering what one man can do with two utes. “If I keep the one I have now, that’ll be my wife’s car,” he tells us. “That’ll be her toy. And I’ll tell you this – I’ve spent fifteen grand on parts for the car this year and she hasn’t batted an eye.” That’s love, folks.