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MOTORING: The Ultimate – Holden Rodeo

Featured in Freestyle Volume 03 2007. Story by Jeremy Shields. Photography by Phil Cooper.

Forget everything you’ve read, seen, or heard about customizing mini trucks in this country, because there’s an all-new how-to book on the shelves, and you’re first inline to crack open this mind-blowing trip, ten years in the making.

The most important part of any good publication is the cover. It draws the eyes to it, and even at a glance begins to tell the story that lies within.

When Darrell Leemhuis first bought his 1990 Rodeo Spacecab off his old man it was roughly 7 years old, and like any one-owner vehicle that had been looked after, it resembled a nice, crisp early edition of Agriculture Monthly. A decade and more labour than anyone would care to quantify later, it would be more at home in some highly secret, mythical book of customisation available to only those who can truly appreciate such an incredible work of art.

Then again, this is Freestyle Magazine, and heres the tip – this things got so much attention to detail even Darrell’s gonna be re-discovering bits he’d forgotten he’d done in another ten years time.

Need some help? Here’s a perfect example. Take a long hard look at those rear windows, and now take a look at a standard Spacecab. For those that picked it, you’ll be starting to get the picture. For those that didn’t, it’s tiny touches such as the raising of the glass that sets this thing apart.

Now try and find the gap between the tray and cabin. Forget the magnifying glass – it’s gone, welded up and smoothed over beneath the rich House of Kolor custom candy mix of 3 colours for that super-clean look – the difference that will either make or break any project of this calibre.

Keeping the MIG handy, Darrell also went to work on the front guards, now also permanently attached to the main body all in the name of clean, uninterrupted bodywork. Anything that got in the way was taken care of, with Darrell busting out with the razor for a once-in-a-lifetime shave. Door handle, aerial, roof channels – you name it – if it protruded from the basic body surface, it got the treatment. This is just the start of things though, - feast your peepers on both front and rear ends to see what we mean.

Both are totally custom, and both present an equally unique departure from standard. Starting at the front, we’re talking a full, one-off job culminating in that wild bumper/valance. Looking at the consistent clearance between body and ground around the whole vehicle, you’re once again reminded of the time taken to make every aspect of the project perfect. A mini truck tradition in the form of a billet grille has been added, and if you’re wondering about the odd angles on that bumper, take a quick squizz at the camber those one-off custom 20x9.5” Intro rims are rocking when she’s laid out and it all starts to make sense.

Truth is, stylish booty is what it’s all about, and moving to the rear of Darrell’s Rodeo, we’re clearly in Jennifer Hawkins territory. More work with the welder, hammer and dolly has given it a shape and style that sets jaws dropping and eyes popping. Check out that rear lip spoiler – subtle and sedate to the boy-racers out there, it’s a simple concept like this that make the machine. Providing a slight eyelid to the clear tail lights, it’s every bit as hand-made as the custom roll pan, with only the recessed number plate section breaking the effect.

Although born for such uses, throw a shovel or ladder in the back of this truck and we reckon you’d be facing a serious beat-down. When you’re packing a recessed custom fuel tank, a couple of bottles of giggle gas, and a pair of wheel tubs to clothe those 20’s there’s barely enough room left for a pair of socks anyway. Even more so when you take into account the custom sheet work covering a mammoth 9” notch job on each of the chassis’ rails, allowing Darrell to lay frame at the flick of a switch.

Getting back to those details, the custom House of Kolor ‘Galaxy Grey’ coated chassis - designed specifically for the air suspension - actually houses each of the air lines carrying squished O2 from the compressor to the bags, and while most commercial vehicles of this type roll horse and cart style with leaf springs at the rear, this Rodeo breaks the mould with a custom 4-link setup, connected to a diff housing that is, once again, a custom item. Up front the fabrication frenzy continues, with one-off suspension arms complete with rose-jointed inners carrying a pair of one-off custom drop spindles. Even the rack-and-pinion steering setup was made from scratch!

Cracking open those chassis members will not only reveal high-pressure air hose though, with fuel lines also sharing space; hidden away to keep everything nice and uncluttered. We’re not talking small-diameter standard fuel hose here either – after all, it’s got to feed the under bonnet craziness.

Far from a cruiser, Darrell’s gone just as wild in the power department as with every other aspect of the car, and like going up against a Bas Rutten/Kimbo Splice tag team, if you take it on, you’re in for a world of hurt.

Fronting a flat-as-a-tack, hand-made firewall, the 4ZE1 2.6L four has been going to the gym… Lots. In fact, we reckon it’s been hitting the ‘roids; pumped up beyond all recognition from the toes up. Downstairs now houses a knife-edged factory crankshaft, with it’s healthy stroke pushing forged Mahle conrods and pistons through each of the bores. With a careful eye kept on clearances during assembly, it’s gotta be tough to take the constant punishment a Garrett GT35R can dish out.

As with the rest of the car, appearances mean everything, so aside from the metal surrounding the motor itself, a lot of time was taken to make sure the powerplant had a style all it’s own. This mainly involves no ordinary ‘high-mount’ turbo location, putting the compressor in clear view of whatever it’s about to eat for dinner, courtesy of a custom exhaust manifold polished to the same mirror-finish as everything else that wasn’t already coated in candy or grey. A custom inlet manifold takes all the fresh produce the turbo can give before cramming it through polished inlet ports to the chambers. Bringing both fuel and Nitrous to the party are a pair of custom rails, while a Tial 40mm external wastegate keeps boost levels in check.

High pressure creates heat, and if there’s one thing any engine will turn it’s nose up at, it’s a hot intake charge. By now we can tell that Darrell’s not really an off-the-shelf type of guy, so it’s no surprise that the intercooler core as well as radiator (with hidden filler, 19inch thermo fan, horn and overflow) are also designed and fabricated exclusively for the truck.

Custom alloy engine pulleys add that finishing touch, while a Haltech E6K ECU kicks it all into action, and just when you think the mechanical madness is over, take a look behind those rims. Controlled by a twin-pedal Wilwood under dash brake and clutch assembly, big 6-piston Wilwood fronts do the bulk of the work, grabbing 330mm vented and slotted rotors. The rear didn’t escape either, treated to Wilwood 4-spots and 300mm vented and slotted rotors. Keeping with tradition, the brake lines are once again tucked away inside the chassis.

Tools-down at this stage? Not a chance. A simple re-trim on the interior would have let the whole project down, not to mention leave Darrell kicking himself for not finishing the job properly, and if there’s one thing we’ve learnt so far, it’s that this guy doesn’t do things by halves and to complete the premise of the whole exercise, nothing was left untouched within those suicide doors.

Despite the 3 inch body drop carried out on the truck, there was still plenty of room to go nuts on it’s insides, starting with a flowing custom dash setup, treated to the same custom hue as the exterior after being smoothed to perfection. As for the basis of the dash, we’re suspecting it may have been donated by an FD RX-7, while 6 complementary Defi gauges in the centre console are a welcome departure from your played-out Autometer offerings. Mirroring the wicked curved and smoothed dash surfaces up top is a custom roof console, doing a perfect job of breaking up the taupe leather trimming, adorning everything from the Sparco recliners to custom door trims and of course, those dead-flat smoothed-out floor panels. As well as providing the 20s, Intro also turned out a tiller to match, pimped out in white leather to match it’s surroundings.

While a modded Playstation controller was hip a few years ago, things have changed, and keeping up the times Darrell’s gone for a full remote and auto raise Dakota Digital system for those bags – after all, who doesn’t want to see their handiwork in action from the outside once in a while. The electronic smarts don’t stop here either, and let’s face it, paint jobs like this start shaking in their boots at the sight of a set of car keys, so to avoid any sort of trauma in the first place, this truck’s been fitted with the perfect solution – a swipe-card activated ignition. Even the doors are opened via electric poppers. You’ve gotta agree, this thing just doesn’t quit with tricky little touches absolutely everywhere you look.

Filling every remaining nook and cranny called for one final modification – a seriously bangin’ A/V system, built around an Eclipse AVX 5000 head unit.

‘A’ is for audio, and with the space provided, you don’t get much tougher than a pair of Eclipse Ti DVC Titanium 15”s, given bowel-moving power through an Eclipse DA7232 Digital amp. All bass is for Excels with a 5-cousin lowering job though, so handling the upper register are a set of Eclipse 8062 component series splits, given life thanks to a pair of Eclipse 33240 2 channel amps. Stinger cable has been used throughout for a crisp sound, while a Stinger SSCAP1MFD capacitor ensures there’s plenty of power to go around.

Let’s not forget the visual though, taken care of by a pair of Eclipse VM 7211 LCDs – one in each of those hand-crafted door trims.

You want the ultimate? You got it. We can tell you but one thing more – if you’re sick of hearing the word custom, you’re in the wrong place ‘cause this is what it’s truly all about…


Owner. Darrell Leemhuis

Vehicle. 1990 Holden Rodeo Spacecab

Engine. 4ZE1 2.6 Litre SOHC, Smoothed and painted block, Knife-edged factory crankshaft, Mahle forged pistons and con rods - 8.1:1 compression ratio, Ported and polished head, Custom exhaust manifold, Garrett GT35R turbo, Tial 40mm external wastegate, Custom aluminium inlet manifold, Custom fuel and Nos rails, Custom alloy pulleys and harmonic balancer, Custom intercooler, Custom aliminium radiator with hidden filler and overflow, Fuel lines hidden in chassis, Halteck E6K computer

Body/Paint. Chassis - House of Kolor Galaxy Grey, Body - House of Kolor Custom Candy mix, Custom tube chassis for air bag system, Suicide doors, 3” body drop, Smoothed transmission tunnel, Custom flat firewall, Smoothed radiator support, Smoothed windscreen plenum/cowling cover, Shaved door handles, roof channels, aerial, fuel flap, Custom mirrors, Custom bonnet and front bumper with billet grille, Front guards and tray welded to cab, Rear space cab windows raised, Floating rear and side windows, Smoothed tray with custom wheel tubs, 9” notch on rear chassis rails, Custom fuel cell recessed into tray, Custom roll pan and tail

Brakes/Suspension. Remote-controlled 4 way air bag system, Air lines hidden in chassis, Custom spindles, upper and lower control arms, Custom rack and pinion steering, Custom 4-link rear end Custom diff housing, Wilwood pedal box, Front: 330mm slotted/vented rotors, Wilwood 6 piston calipers, Rear: 300mm slotted/vented rotors, Wilwood 4 piston calipers, Brake lines hidden in chassis

Wheels. Custom one-off Intro 20x9.5, Yokohama 245/30/20 rubber

Interior. Swipe card ignition, Custom dash, door trims and roof panels, Leather-trimmed Sparco reclining buckets, Sparco 4-point harnesses, Defi stepper gauges, Custom flat floor panels trimmed in leather, One-off custom Intro billet wheel, Electric door poppers, Dakota Digital air suspension remote

Audio. AVX 5000 Eclipse head unit, VM 7211 Eclipse LCD screens in doors, Pair 8062 Eclipse component series splits, Pair 88150 Ti DVC Eclipse 15inch Titanium subs, Pair 33240 Eclipse 2 channel amps for splits, DA7232 Eclipse digital amplifier for subs, Stinger SSCAP1MFD Capacitor, Stinger cable and connections used throughout


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