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Holden talent, Red Bull cash and Triple Eight race engineering are behind V8 Supercar Sandman.
There is still life in the Holden panel van. Nearly 40 years after the original, and despite a death sentence hanging over the Commodore, the Holden hero has been reborn and reimagined as a V8 Supercar Sandman.
It picks up the roof and back door from the Commodore Sportwagon, side guards from the ute, a bunch of hand-formed side panels and a unique quarter window copied from the original panel van.
There is no chance of it becoming a production model but it has just begun an Australia-wide tour, making special appearances at V8 Supercar races including the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide and the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
The new-age Sandman is the result of Holden talent, Red Bull cash and Triple Eight race engineering.
It can hit 100km/h in less than three seconds and would easily top 270km/h at a track like Bathurst
But, ironically, the inspiration came from Bathurst winning team boss Roland Dane, an Irishman whose shaggin' wagon dream car was turned into a reality by 21-year-old Holden designer Tom Grech.
"When I was a nipper, I used to get a copy of Wheels magazine every month from my godfather in Adelaide. Then I saw the original Mad Max movie and thought the Sandman was pretty cool," Dane says.
"I wanted something different for the race team to use for our passenger ride days. I was thinking we could do a station wagon but then I realised we could do a panel van.
"When I spoke to Holden about it, they were keen to get on-board. And here we are." It took a lot of hard work for a good idea to become a 240km/h reality, much of it by Grech. He was hand-picked for the job by another of Holden's prodigies, Peter Hughes - who designs the Commodore warpaint each V8 Supercar season.
"I'm a creative designer for interior and exterior in the advanced studio at Fishermans Bend," Grech says.
"I thought door handles and chromed trim would be my job. But they've thrown me in at the deep end and I'm involved in whole car designs for GM's global brands, Chevrolet, Cadillac.
"Then this came along.
"I'm stoked. It's a pretty awesome thing, just because it's my first car. It came together so quickly, in just three months. All the other projects in the studio take so long because we're looking out to cars in 2025." The heart of the Sandman is a retired V8 Supercar racer, which was parked last year after failing to win favour with five-time champion (soon to be six) Jamie Whincup.
It's been tweaked for more speed and spectacle, picking up a bigger engine, F1-style paddle gearshift and grippier Michelin tyres, with the bodywork laid over the top.
Grech did the original sketches and then it was down to the fabricators at Red Bull Racing in Brisbane to create the bodywork.
"That's not just fibreglass. It's all steel, with carbon fibre panels inside. It's not a bodgie job, it's properly built," says Dane. "It took hundreds of hours. We used as many original Holden panels as we could." The car's silver paintjob reflects Red Bull's involvement. There is also a pair of carbon fibre surfboards on the roof.
"The idea was to carry over a lot of existing parts," Grech says. "Proportionally speaking, it's more radical because it's lower, shorter and wider."
He did much of the early work, from research in history books to hand sketches and CAD drafts, as an after-hours project, but it was quickly adopted as an official Holden concept.
"It's great that this has happened. Holden has a big commitment and big ideas for the future, not just turning into a national sales company. It shows they are also committed to motorsport projects," says Grech.
"I'd love to see more exciting one-off things like this." Mechanically, the car is pure V8 Supercar, from its 475kW Chevrolet V8 engine to the six-speed sequential manual gearbox to old-school rear-wheel drive. It can hit 100km/h in less than three seconds and would easily top 270km/h at a track like Bathurst.
The Sandman fired up for the first time last week and was unveiled alongside an original Sandman with racy red bodywork on the Gold Coast.
Not surprisingly, Craig Lowndes drove the old-timer while Jamie Whincup got the new car.
Over the weekend of the Gold Coast 600 the car completed a series of demonstration runs and drew huge crowds whenever it emerged from its pit garage. It still needs some work, and will grow a subtle rear spoiler to try to tame some unruliness over 200km/h, before being paraded across the country.
There is zero chance of a production model, but Dane is happy and Holden is also keen to show the car."I think it's really cool. It's turned out really well, Dane says. 'Everyone who sees it seems to like it."
Lots of people have a Sandman story and this is mine.
It's definitely the newest, since it was only written on Sunday morning on the streets of Surfers in the newest Sandman of them all. And it's all Roland Dane's fault.
The boss of the Red Bull Racing team is the man who decided to transform a superannuated V8 Supercar into a born-again Holden panel van, then asked young gun Andrew Thompson to give up his weekend for some chauffeur work, and finally blustered me into taking a ride.
"Come on. What are you, a coward?" he says.
That's exactly how I feel as Thommo idles down to the end of the pitlane. "Ah, don't worry. It's pretty good. Mostly...," he tells me as we wait for the green light.
Mostly what? I know it will crank up to 240km/h but I wonder how the Sandman bodywork will work over the top of a genuine race car just like those handled by Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowdnes.
I don't have long to wait. He drops the clutch, the rear wheels spin madly and dissolve into tyre smoke, and then we're in fourth gear and heading for the hairpin.
It takes most of the first lap for my brain to catch up with my eyeballs. The scenery is firing at me, the concrete canyons create a giant V8 thunder chamber, and I can see skid marks and gouges where cars have smacked walls.
I realise I've just ridden in the world's fastest Sandman
My ride is actually better than a V8 Supercar, since the Sandman has a Formula One-style paddle gearchange and grippy Michelin tyres, but it still gets nasty at times.
Especially when Thompson locks the back wheels at 200km/h into the first turn and the car jumps sideways.
He gathers it up before I realise we're in trouble, then pushes hard for the rest of the lap. Now I can see and feel what the racers feel, from the heat in the cabin to the wheelspin out of the slow corners and the effort required to keep the car under control and pointing down the road.
Then it's over. We roll back into the pits and a huge crowd gawks at Holden's new hero car.
"Well, what did you think?" Thompson grins.
"Honestly, I'm not sure," I say.
It takes a minute for my heart rate to drop enough for me to reflect. And then I realise I've just ridden in the world's fastest Sandman.
REMEMBER THE LAST ONE
This is the second time the Sandman has been brought back from the dead. The first was in 2000, when Holden rocked the Sydney motor show with the unveiling of a unique concept (above) that celebrated the original Sandman from the 1970s.
Based on a VU Commodore, the Sandman panel van was a converted ute with a bold psychedelic paint job that included murals - with beach and bush goddess themes - by Mambo art director, David McKay.
It also starred at the Detroit show in 2001, but only after a local artist was called into add some modesty to the scantily clad women airbrushed on to the side panels.
The artwork was eventually restored to its original Mambo condition and the car is on display in the heritage collection at Holden headquarters at Fishermans Bend in Melbourne.
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