Morley's Workshop 374 - red motors & sorting an SS

By: David Morley, Unique Cars magazine

Presented by

dmSS Got a weird vibration in your Holden? dmSS
dm washers Maybe different-sized washers will work. dm washers
dm mountsMW8A One of the offending mounts. dm mountsMW8A
dmEJHolden02 Did it have a red motor? dmEJHolden02
dmXD Factory Happier days when we still made Falcons. dmXD Factory

The great red motor debate, crap batteries, shaky SS chassis, Ford mysteries - you name it, we'll have a crack at it.

Morley's Workshop 374 - red motors & sorting an SS
Morley's up to no good.

Morley’s Soapbox

Hi gang. Last issue I kicked this whole bench-racing thing off again by asking a question about my latest toy, a VN Commodore SS. Even after changing every rubber bush in the live-axle rear end to urethane, I’ve still got a slight vibration under full load in the lower gears.

Suggestions have ranged from poor rear-wheel alignment to `they all do that, mate.’ Whatever it is, I want to fix it because right now, it’s about the only glitch in what is otherwise a very entertaining car to drive. The stout torque curve from the injected five-litre Holden motor is perfectly matched to the ratios in the T5 and the relatively lightweight VN is roomy but still has a side-step that later, heavier models lost.

I also took the opportunity to stir the possum again on the subject of EJ Holdens with factory-fitted red motors. My hope is that the story is true and there were a few that escaped the production line with a 149 red under the lid as Holden made the production change from grey to red motors and EJ to EH.

You’ll also recall that this prompted a few people to call me names and suggest that I was hallucinating (and worse). But this month, comes a letter from Philip Noone who reckons he can help me on both fronts. Philip has some advice on Holden rear ends AND claims to have seen a red-motored EJ in the flesh. So let’s start with his letter shall we?


Two solutions, no waiting

I read the article about your VN driveline vibe and thought: someone has put the centre-shaft in wrong. I reckon they’ve turned the spline in the middle around. There is a specific way they line up; not just anywhere.

Also on your EJ issue: once at a car show in Bendigo, I met bloke who had an EJ wagon there with a 149 red. He claimed it was factory fitted and it did look so with its EH front end. He claimed there was a handful that came that way. I think you are right.

Philip Noone, email

Phil, old son, you’ve made my day. I knew somebody would eventually have to run into somebody who owned or who’d seen one of these rare critters, and you’re that someone. Now, look, I know the nay-sayers out there may doubt your claim, but really, why would you go to the trouble of contacting Unique Cars to tell us porkies? Similarly, why would the owner of this spectral beast make up a yarn like that?

And I’ll say it again: if anybody out there has even the wreck of an EJ with a factory red motor, please get in touch so we can have a look at it and take some photos. Next stop, the Tassie Tiger.

As for the advice on my VN, yep, you could be on the right tram there. I know that many people have, over the years, pulled the driveshaft out of Commodores and forgotten how the thing was indexed when they went to put it back in.

You’re right, there’s a very specific alignment for these things and putting the driveshaft even one spline out can ruin your whole day. But from the looks of the aftermarket paint on the thing, the driveshaft in my car has been reconditioned fairly recently by a shop that knew what it was doing. Also, the vibration isn’t bad enough to suggest that the thing is seriously out of balance. I’ve checked the centre bearing and it doesn’t seem to be the problem either.

Wobbly Senator

I had a very similar vibration in my VS 215i Senator. Under load it would give a low frequency vibration, as yours does. I had all the suspension bushes checked and replaced, but the vibration was still there. We inspected the Hydra-Trak diff, tailshaft and centre bearings and the engine mounts and transmission mounts for any signs of wear but this was all in good shape.

In frustration, we slid the torque converter back from the engine and fired her up to see if this was an engine balance issue. With the engine running and revved there was no vibration at all, so we replaced the torque converter with a new unit. But the vibration was still there!

Over the years it continued to get worse, with no one being able to diagnose the location of the vibration.  I finally decided to replace the gearbox with a reconditioned unit even though the gearbox seemed in perfect condition. And finally problem solved! Six years later and still no sign of the vibration.

I hope this helps problem solve your SS’s issue (although I think yours is a manual). 

PS: Good choice for a collectible; budget friendly, and a truly great little engine.

Jason Trewin, email

My car is a manual, Jason, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be contributing to the vibes just as your automatic did. But I’m inclined to think that if it was the tranny at fault, it would be a constant vibration or at least not just showing up at full noise in first and second. Also, there’s no noise or vibration coming through the shifter, and that’s often where a gearbox imbalance or wear can show up first.

But what your letter does suggest to me is that even if I check everything I can see that could be contributing to the wobble, I might still never find the source. I don’t want to go down the road of wholesale component replacement, though, so I’ll keep fiddling. Stay tuned.


Re the letter in the March issue entitled Battery Blues from Will Weston:

You make several suggestions to help him with his battery going flat but you did not mention fitting a battery isolator.  I have three old cars with these fitted and I have had the batteries for a very long time (10 years for one) with no problem.  An old car nut suggested I fit these many years ago when he related a story to me of his house nearly being burnt down by a short circuit in an old car parked in the garage under his house, I have never forgotten it.  

These cheap devices are easy to fit and only take a second to connect and disconnect the battery. The only down side is that any alarm system is not activated and I have read that modern high-tech auto gearboxes can lose their memory necessitating very expensive repair if the current is completely cut off.  But for most old cars I think they work a treat. 

Peter Riggall, Riverside, Tas

Good thinking, Peter. Sometimes the low-tech solution is the best one. Pretty much every race-car ever built has a battery isolator which essentially is a switch that basically does the same thing as disconnecting one of the battery leads. I’m not sure about gearboxes losing the plot without power, but I reckon the biggest hassle would be in cars that have modern stereos that require the power to be maintained to avoid losing all their station presets. Punching the presets in every time you drove the car would get pretty old pretty quick.

Badge engineering

I am writing to you regarding the story in the Unique Cars edition 325  (July 2011).
I noticed in the editorial about the Holden EH S4 that there were 126  produced; six at Fishermens Bend and 120 in Pagewood, Sydney.

All of these bore the 179 badge on the boot lid. The only difference with mine is it has a S4 badge where the 179 badge is located on the others. The `S ‘and the `4’ are separate with 1 pin on the back of each which fits into the holes in the bootlid where the 179 badge would otherwise go. I was wondering if any of your readers have any information about this. I purchased my S4 from Maitland NSW in 1982. The previous owner had a receipt from an auction house in Leichhardt in Sydney in 1965 for £910. He told me that the S4 badge was on it when he purchased the car. Any information would be appreciated.

Peter Lovedee, email

Okay, how about it troops; does anybody know anything about EH S4 badging and whether the one Peter describes was a factory job? I immediately started to shuffle through my old Holden books but every picture of an EH S4 I found showed the familiar 179 badge on the right-hand corner of the bootlid. Far more common was no badge at all, as the mighty 179 badge was a prized possession among young fellers back in the day. But who’s to say the S4 badge wasn’t somehow fitted at Holden or maybe the dealership that sold it brand-new? And if not, where did it come from? And don’t you wish you could buy an EH S4 for 910 quid now…

I actually got the chance to drive an original S4 a few years ago and it was absolutely lovely. The engine was reckoned to be standard, but if that’s the case, then the factory was definitely giving the red sixes a bit of a massage because this one went like a bullet. I still have the most incredible respect for the blokes that raced them in that period though; those old three-speed boxes and drum brakes would be certain to get your attention coming into, say, Murray’s Corner at Bathurst. For my drive, though, the big issue was the lack of seat-belts. I described it back then as triggering the same emotions as that dream we’ve all had where we turn up to school in our pyjamas. Vulnerable doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Three years in the making

I spent three years chasing a vibration like you describe with your VN SS. I have a ‘55 Bel Air sedan (an Aussie one) with 400SBC, TH400 and a nine-inch disc rear. I replaced unis, had the tail shaft (3.5" diameter) checked and balanced twice, tested the axles for straightness and the axle flanges for run out, redid the leaf springs, and the shocks, even mucked about with axle housing wedges altering the pinion angle.

I tested after each of these procedures, and that’s why it took me three years to complete. Eventually it got so bad it was flogging the rear uni out in 500km. I even bought a rare 3.36:1 LSD Jaguar diff assembly to throw under it as I was so frustrated with it and no-one could help. I was speaking to an old engineer about the Jag conversion and he suggested I check the pinion flange for run out. This I did with a dial gauge and found 1.5thou run out on one side. I replaced the pinion flange and have not had a problem in the last 2 years and 15,000 miles. Maybe you could look at yours? 

Colin Robb, Wollongong NSW

Lord above mate. How did you ever resist the urge to drive the mongrel off a cliff after three years of buying new bits, testing others and getting precisely nowhere? I honestly hadn’t thought of pinion run-out, but it’s something I’ll check.

Like you, I consulted an old engineer mate and he stuck his head under the VN and told me he didn’t know how it worked at all, given the shonky angles formed by the output shaft, driveshaft and diff pinion. "It’s just wrong," he told me, pointing out that the angles front and rear should all be the same. Obviously, that’s how you came to decide to use wedges to adjust the pinion angle. I’ll let you know how I go.

The simple approach

My poison is a tatty old VH that I dropped three inches using King Springs and Monroe short shocks. Immediately there was a savage vibration on acceleration and I went through all the steps you have taken with no result. Finally I had a talk with an old mechanic and offered my idea that I thought it to be a diff pinion angle issue and thought that I would need to purchase adjustable upper trailing arms to cure the problem.

The mechanic said "Did you remove the spacers between the centre tailshaft bearing and the cross member?" I removed the spacers for an immediate improvement and then positioned them between the cross member and the body to completely cure the problem. Once I discussed this around the traps everyone said, "Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about that."

Apparently it was common knowledge years ago and had passed into history as old solid axle Commodores have dwindled on the road. I noticed that your car looks to be sitting lower than standard and this may cure your problem.
Keep the quality mag coming.

Steve Carmody, Lower Beechmont, Qld

Steve, the moment I finished reading your letter, I dashed out to the workshop, stuck the old VN in the air and had a squiz. Yep, there were the two spacers between the centre bearing outer housing and the little cross-member that supports the whole shebang.

Once I’d worked out that the nuts on top of the securing bolts aren’t captive (not on my SS anyway) I managed to unbolt the assembly and get enough movement to poke the spacers out with a blade screwdriver. Then it was a simple matter of bolting it together again.

Visually, everything looked to line up better than before and I think it’s made a small improvement. But like I said, I noticed this very same vibration on newly-minted VN Commodores back when I was plucking them off Holden’s press-test fleet, I’m still inclined to think there’s some kind of inherent harmonics thing going on. But at least I’m making progress. I think. Your eagle-eyed observation that my car was a bit lower than stock was the clue to it all. I’m not sure what springs are in it, but it’s definitely a tad closer to the deck than the stock FE2 suspension (standard on the VN SS) sat things. Meantime, I’m going to try all the other excellent suggestions on these pages and I’ll keep everybody posted.

Losing one’s block

Wondering if you can help me out I have a Ford Falcon GL, 5.8 -litre. The tags read:

JG23XK 17102 K

Engine: T 

Trans:   L 

Trim:      R

Paint:     9

I still have the body but the engine is out there somewhere. Maybe. Where could I look to try to track the engine down to buy it back? 

The body was fitted with two rods to the diff and the aerial is in the middle of the roof. The front bumper-bar has over-riders, and the engine was black. Is it just an ex-cop car or something else? I’ve seen ex-cop cars that look like mine, but none had the centre aerial or over-riders. Can you help or point me in the right direction?

Oh yeah, the car is an XD and the year of manufacture was June, 1980. I’m not sure where it was registered first. Thanks,

Steve Read, email

Hi Steve. I ran your numbers through my little code book and here’s how it breaks down:

J:            Australian division (of Ford);

G:           Broadmeadows plant;

23:          Falcon 500 sedan;

X:            1980;

K:            June;

17102:    the car’s serial number;

Engine T:         5.8 litre high-comp;

Trans L:  4-speed floor-shift;

Paint 9:   Snow White.

The weirdburger one here is the Trim code, R, which, according to the info I could find, denotes Palomino velour which (I think) was only used on Fairmont Ghias and maybe Fairlanes. Sure is an odd trim combo for a white Falcon 500, even one with a 351. I guess in those days, you could order pretty much anything you wanted form the dealership, and I’ve seen Fairlanes with floor-shifted four-speeds and even GT running gear before today. But if that code (and my cracking of it) is right, that would make it pretty unlikely for the car to have been an ex-cop car. Let’s face it, who’s going to option off-white or tan velour for transporting the local drunk home on a Friday night? On the other hand, there was a Palomino vinyl option which would have made more sense in a cop-car context. It carries trim code R4, so maybe that’s what you have.

As for the car originally being a police car, who knows? Interestingly, there’s a specific code for a Falcon or Fairlane taxi, but nothing I can find to denote a police pack, as there was in, say, Commodores with the BT1 option. There’s a Ford code called OPT20 for police cars from about the EF model, but I don’t know if it applies to earlier models. Can anybody out there throw some light on this for Steve? Meantime, I think it’s possible to read too much into the centre-mount aerial and the front over-riders. Different State and Territory police forces have had vastly different requirements over the years and the methods of equipping police cars have changed as the technology has moved on. What I’m saying is that just because one NSW XD police car had a centre-mount aerial, doesn’t mean the next one did.

I have a bit of personal knowledge of this as my old man was a NSW country copper for 30 years. We used to get a new cop car every 18 months or so, and I don’t recall two ever being exactly the same. Even the two XCs we had back-to-back differed. And let’s not forget the various roles Falcons have played. They were used by security organisations, sheriffs, undercover cops and who knows what else the government might have deemed appropriate in an era that gave us the Combe-Ivanov affair (ask yer grandad).

The two rods running back to the diff are interesting, though. Without seeing them, I gather they’re like track-rods that help locate the leaf-sprung rear end. Ford itself used similar technology to tame the rear end of its European-spec Escort RS2000s, so it definitely suggests a car with a performance past. How about a photo of them to see if anybody else knows what they’re about?

As for finding the original engine, man, that’s a real needle/haystack job. Even if it is out there somewhere in somebody’s garage, the owner would need to know the engine number off the top of their head to make the connection and get in touch. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but hoo-boy, it’s a long shot. That said, I’d start with the Falcon clubs and see if anybody there knows of your engine. But let’s be realistic here: it was probably replaced because it blew up way back in the day when replacement 351s weren’t as hard to find as they are now. Which means was probably been melted down years ago and, if it still exists at all these days, it will probably be carrying a Kia badge.


(From Unique Cars magazine number 374, April 2015)

Ed's note: we're sitting on a backlog of Morley's Workshop columns and will be catching up over coming weeks. Guido


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