Morley's Workshop 376

By: David Morley, Unique Cars magazine

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1974 Holden 3 1974 Holden 3
1974 Holden 4 1974 Holden 4
UNC 376 ej holden red grey motor brochure UNC 376 ej holden red grey motor brochure
UNC 376 hoist4morley UNC 376 hoist4morley
UNC 376 porsche cayenne s hybrid cutaway 11 UNC 376 porsche cayenne s hybrid cutaway 11
UNC 376 wallpapers buick electra 1968 1 1 UNC 376 wallpapers buick electra 1968 1 1

What have we got? Buick binders, shaky Senators, model-sharing grips and those mysterious red motors.

Morley's Workshop 376
Morley's here to help.

Morley’s soapbox

Ah, I’m loving this. Not only have a couple of confirmed sightings of red-motored EJ Holdens been documented, now there’s even reason to suspect that the mighty Holden 202 red motor might go back further in time than the HQ. Oh sure, Holden says the 202 was developed for, and released with, the HQ, but one reader says different. Let’s start with that, shall we?


More seeing red

I was reading your article about the VN driveline with interest. Even though the tail-shaft may have been overhauled, that doesn’t mean that you should accept it as being correct.

You should get it checked because if it is misaligned, at take-off speed or low road speed when you accelerate, the centre of the tail shaft will whip and not rotate smoothly. I had this issue after rebuilding my VB tail shaft.

As for the 149 red motor in an EJ, it would have been a very late build, just as the EH was being introduced. I have seen 202 engines in factory-built HG utes, so it could well be possible.

I can confirm with my brother-in-law who was a Holden dealer mechanic as an apprentice when these cars were new.

 Nick, Email


Thanks Nick, you’ve made my day. I was over the moon to learn that a couple of UC readers had indeed seen (and checked the oil in) red-motored EJs when they were new, but to learn that you were aware back in the day of HG Holdens with 202s just makes the theory even more plausible.

What’s really interesting about this is that the 202-powered HG you saw and at least one of the 149 EHs reported were a ute and a panel van respectively. Which makes me wonder if the Holden commercial vehicle line-up was the target of these one-offs as they would be less likely to create a fuss at the time.

And when I think about it, didn’t the EH ute and panel van use carry-over EJ bodywork at the rear while the EH sedan and wagon both got new metal? Does this suggest that since some of the old body was retained - therefore making the change-over between models a simpler one - that the commercial vehicles were easier to fit with the new motor as a running (rather than a model) change?

Food for thought, no?

And still they doubt

I can’t believe that you still want to carry on about red motors in EJ Holdens. One reader – yes one reader – tells you that he met a bloke that claimed that his EJ had a red motor and an EH front end. Mind you this reader has not sent one piece of evidence such as GMH documentation, photos or such and he, like you, goes against every other reader who has previously emailed/written to you dismissing this rubbish, including previous readers who worked at GMH.

Good luck with your Tassie Tiger. Great magazine though.

 Greg Hodgins, Email


Aw, come on Greg…can’t a fella dream? And anyways, it isn’t me that’s `carrying on’, it’s you lot. I don’t write these letters myself, y’know; they arrive by carrier pigeon and email from the people who read UC. And I’d say there’s still a fair bit of interest (not to mention heat) in the discussion. Besides, it isn’t one person now; I think we’re up to about three or four UC readers who reckon they know of or have seen factory red-motored EJ Holdens. And that’s quite apart from the people I’ve run into over the years who also reckon they know of the 149 EJ, and who are responsible for this whole debate.

It doesn’t surprise me that nobody has any documentation for such a beast. I mean, do you still have the bill of sale (or whatever it was called back then) from a car you bought more than 50 years ago? Nor is it a surprise that Holden has failed to produce any evidence. It could easily be that these oddities were never properly documented in the first place, especially since the whole episode has a bit of a cloak-and-dagger feel to it in the first place. Did Holden, for instance, bother with certifying a red-motored EJ with the authorities, or did it just quietly slip them into selected showrooms to get rid of the last EJ bodyshells? Stuff like that happened back in the day, I’m sure.

And here’s the nub of it for me: Your statement seems to be that just because somebody says 149 cubic-inch EJs did exist, doesn’t mean they did. But equally, just because you and others say they didn’t, doesn’t mean they didn’t.

By the way, a motorcycling mate of mine told me recently that Harley-Davidson pulled a very similar stroke back in 1984. As the old Shovelhead was making way for the all-new Evo range of bikes, Harley found itself with a few motors left over. So it simply stuck the old Shovelhead V-twins in the new Evo frame and sent them out to the dealerships.

Anyway, just to muddy the water a little further, read the next letter.


Exactly when is a grey a red?

I read with great interest the challenge you put to your readers re tracking down a genuine red motor in an EJ Holden off the production line. At the last swap meet in Ballarat, I purchased an almost brand-new sales booklet published by Southern Motors. To show how desperate they were to attract buyers, the booklet includes a picture of the old grey motor painted red.

It also had the following write-up: "No other engine in Australia has been so proved for performance, dependability and long, trouble-free life. And now it’s been further improved with a new ventilation and exhaust system, new aluminium clutch housing and a more powerful generator to give greater electrical output at lower engine speeds. The Holden engine – with its 7.25:1 compression ratio – is designed to give its lively best on low-cost, standard-grade fuel."

I purchased my EJ in 1967 for $1100 and an engine rebuild in 1991 cost me $2000. When I consider its value today, it has been a rather good investment when all I had to do was look after it. I never needed to polish it over the years and only washed it every week with plain water and a good chamois. It was the first Holden with enamel paintwork which only needed polishing every three years, according to the advertising.

As for finding an EJ with a factory-fitted red motor, I would be very surprised, but then life is full of surprises. Keep up the good work.

Gary Shaw, Ballan


That’s a bit cheeky, isn’t it, Gary; producing a brochure with the grey motor all done up in red? Makes me wonder if any grey motors were ever painted red by Holden.

And isn’t it interesting how much cars of the same make and model varied back then, too? You obviously got hold of a peach while my rather car-hapless old man bought an EJ wagon back in about 1968 (so it wasn’t an old car at that stage) and it was a shocker. We could never stop the damn thing overheating. Point it up even a gentle hill and it would be puking its rusty guts up within a minute or two.

Years later, dad inherited an EJ ute from an old uncle and it was the complete opposite; a genuine ripper of a thing. I used to borrow it, but even though it was a great car, I hated driving it because dad would never agree to fit the damn thing with seat-belts.


Join the Q

I purchased this vehicle about 25 years ago from the original owner. He told me it was a "special order" car and was produced in limited numbers of 13-15 across Australia as Holden display vehicles. My HQ was a display vehicle in WA, apparently. This particular car went to five or six Holden dealers in the State as a display car, and the original owner purchased it when the car had completed its display duties.

The vehicle is unique as it has factory-fitted four on the floor, a 253 V8 and is a Premier with white body and black vinyl roof.

The HQ was stored in the original owner’s farm for many years, and one day he approached me to see if I was interested in purchasing his HQ.  I asked the price, and he said "how does $1000 sound?" As you can imagine I agreed very quickly! 

My HQ Premier was restored by Skipdon Motors over a four-year period and was worked on when time permitted. I collected the car in February 2015 and carried out a mandatory roadworthy and it is now on the road using Club Permit plates. Total mileage is now 32,212km.

My HQ seems to attract great interest, and I’m overwhelmed by the comments from Holden enthusiasts.

The specs are:

Holden HQ Premier four-door sedan

Built: January 1974

Engine: 253 V8

Gearbox: Factory four on the floor

White body, black vinyl roof.

 Colin A. Smith, Email


This is all a bit spooky, Colin, because in 1974, my dad bought a brand-new HQ Holden and it, too, was a weird combination of mechanical and trim options. It was a Kingswood with, like your car, a 253 V8 with a four-speed manual with a floor shifter. It was chrome yellow with a brown vinyl roof which, I know, sounds a bit Pukesville now, but was cooler than a well-digger’s backside back in ’74.

But the really cool bit was the detail stuff. As well as the floor-shifter, the car had a centre console with a lid (with the gearshift pattern on a little badge glued to it) and the knobbly, golf-ball, shift-knob. The steering wheel was stock Kingswood as was the dashboard and the door trims, although it did have rear armrests where most Kingys had only front armrests. The floor-shift demanded bucket seats and the car had carpet, which I believe was still extra in a Kingswood. (or maybe not by 1974, can anybody clarify?) Even more weirdly, the car had the little switches that turn on the interior light BOTH in the front AND rear door jambs. As far as I know, only Premiers had that at the time.

But just to make sure this bright yellow hulk was even more noticeable, the car had a set of GTS steel rims but no shiny dress rims. It was also fitted with Dunlop Aquaskid tyres, leading my old man to front up back at the dealership after the first wet day, demanding they put proper tyres on it, or they could have the car back. They wisely fitted a set of 14-inch Michelins.

Now, here’s where your car is making me wonder out loud. My old man was – and is – known for his, ahem, frugality. I’m not saying he switches the gas off while he turns the bacon, but he doesn’t unload cash unnecessarily.  After poring over the brochures for weeks, he eventually walked into the showroom to buy an HQ – probably a Belmont knowing him - with a 202 and Trimatic (he was also lazy). When he came home with this V8, four-speed thing with all those options, we all thought he must have flipped his wig. I believe mum checked the tags on his undies to make sure it was really him.

My thoughts ever since then were he simply bought the car the dealer had on the showroom floor. Or, rather, he was sold that particular car by a fast-talking salesman. But now I’m wondering if, like the original owner of your car, he didn’t actually wind up with a special order car that had already done the rounds of the local dealerships to drum up a bit of interest. It would certainly have been an odd options package for a dealer to order on the off-chance my old man would walk in. But I can see how something that looked as sharp as this car might have convinced people that a new Kingswood was in their future. That said, Colin, your car is even wackier being a Premier with a four-on-the-floor. In those days, manual Premiers were still reasonably common (I bought one years ago and turned it into a race-car) but most were column-shifted three-speeds if they weren’t autos.

By the way, my dad’s car was registered in NSW as GSL-973 and if anybody knows where it is now, I’d love to get hold of it and return it to the car I fell in love with as a nine-year-old, rampant tappet-head. Seriously.


Prohibited Towing?

I have read that it is advisable not to tow with a vehicle fitted with a CVT transmission.  Also I have read it is not advisable to tow with a hybrid.  Are both (or either) of these statements correct?  If so it makes these vehicles a bit restricted, wouldn’t you say?

Peter Riggall, Riverside Tas


We featured this one in our letters page last month, but I just wanted to address a few rumours I’ve heard over the years. And guess what? Turns out they’re only half right.

First up, I checked with Porsche about the Hybrid situation. Let’s face it, if ever there was a hybrid that should be able to tow a trailer, it’s the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid. You know the one; big weighbridge ticket; all-wheel-drive; should be a monty to haul a caravan, right? Wrong, it turns out. But the problem is not, as you may suspect, anything to do with driveline fragility. Nope, it’s all about that weight.

See, in a Cayenne hybrid, the battery pack weighs north of 150kg and it’s all located behind the rear axle. Which means that if you’re also travelling with a bum on every seat and a full load of fuel, you’re already getting close to the maximum rear-axle load. Hook on even a small trailer and the axle load is suddenly over the top. Porsche’s factory code for its towing-pack option is 1D6 (another bit of useless info for you) and it’s simply not available for the Cayenne Hybrid. Broadly speaking, all hybrids are in the same overloaded boat and that’s why the advice is not to use them as tugs.

As well as the chance of over-taxing the rear axle, I reckon you’d probably void your warranty, too, if you ignored this advice. It’s a shame, really, as the hybrid driveline with that electric-motor torque boost from a standing start makes them otherwise ideal for hauling stuff around in a six-by-four.

Now, CVTs. Back in the bad old days, CVTs were only ever fitted to piddling little vehicles with tiny-teeny little engines. Because the moment you put them behind anything with any sort of grunt, the metal bands that transfer the drive inside the CVT would snap. And that, effectively ruled out towing, for the same reason.

The times, however, are a-changing. These days, CVTs are much stronger than ever before and can be found snuggling up to big V6 engines as a result. I talked to Nissan about this, mainly because its new Pathfinder runs a CVT yet is expected by typical Pathfinder buyers, to be able to tow a house through quicksand. And, apparently, it can. Nissan says that regardless of the CVT tranny, the new two-wheel-drive version of the Pathie is fine to tow anything up to its maximum rated load of – wait for it – 2700kg (with a braked trailer, of course).


Those vibes again

I share your frustrations re the annoying vibration in your VN. I had a similar problem in my VQ and, to make matters worse, my wife used to tell me I imagined the problem.  

In the end I traded up – on both counts.

Dan, Somewhere in WA


Well Dan, I sincerely hope the new one had a powerful set of headlights and a firm rear end. And I hope you got the car you wanted, too. But here’s the fundamental difference between us as human beings: in the case of my VN SS, Mrs M doesn’t even know I own the bloody thing. Luckily, she’s about as likely to pick up a copy of Unique Cars as I am to develop an interest in French provincial kitchen furniture.


And more…

I own a VR Senator, a T5 five-speed same as yours, however have owned a few V8 Holdens and all suffered the same vibration to varying degrees in the lower gears. I have developed a theory!

Like most people I have had the centre bearing replaced, prop shaft  inspected, gearbox and engine mounts looked at, all to no avail.

The Senator has been lowered further than when it left HSV and I suspect this is the beginning of the problem whereby the lowering changes the geometry of the tailshafts,  in turn loading up the CV joints which is exacerbated by hard acceleration causing the tail to squat. The end result is severe vibration and noticeable drag retarding the rate of acceleration in first and second gears. This is just my pet theory hatched in my Neanderthal brain, but please do let us know when you discover the real answer.

 Paul Myring, Email


Nothing wrong with that theory, Paul, and it seems to be a pretty common train of thought. I can see how a lowered car that is then punched hard off the line causing it to squat like a dog trying to pass a sock could extend the uni-joints beyond their design parameters. I’d guess, though, that your VS Senator had an independent rear end which would make it squat even harder than the live axle in my VN.


Buick binders

I own a 1968 Buick Electra with front disc brakes. I’ve spoken to many experts in America, and now the discs are obsolete. Where in Australia can I get rotors made up as mine are beginning to run thin? I’m having a lot of trouble with this. Because I live in Adelaide, if it’s not a Holden or Ford, Chev or Mustang, the so called car parts experts don’t want to know. Please help.

Also how good is the 430 engine? I think it’s a bloody powerful engine for what it is. I would like to know your honest opinion.

 Shane, Email


Everybody complains about model-sharing these days and the fact that cars are too much alike with too many shared components. And I’ll admit that plonking a Toyota badge on a VN Commodore (it happened in Australia back in the late-80s) is about as cynical as a company attempting to flog something to the public can get. However, I’m almost as amazed at the proliferation of models and the associated non-compatibility of parts that went with it when it comes to Yank iron from the 50s and 60s.

Despite the fact that Buick was by then part of the General Motors empire, the Electra is not, as you might imagine, a rebadged Chev or Pontiac. In fact, even the engines were specific to the various brands and the Electra’s V8s were pretty much exclusive to that brand and that brand alone. But to be honest, I’m not that familiar with the Buick 430 cubic-inch engine fitted to your car. The 430 option only ran from 1967 to 69, at which point it was replaced by the more common 455 cuber.

But the 430’s real claim to fame was that it was the engine series that finally replaced the Buick Nailhead V8, so it had big boots to fill. The factory claimed 360 horsepower at 5000rpm for the 430, but that was probably a big old lie (as was common back then in such matters). That said, the 430 was considered more efficient and smoother than the Nailhead.

As for brakes, I’d try a specialist aftermarket mob like Willwood. But I’d start with the local specialists first, even though it’s an American car. Actually talking to somebody local about what you need is always better than just ordering something online and hoping that it’ll work. If you don’t do any good there, don’t despair because nothing is impossible these days. You can buy blank discs and have them drilled to whatever stud pattern you need. Provided the blank disc can be fitted with the right bearings for your spindles, a good machine shop or light engineering business should be able to drill the blanks and press in the studs for you.


Tip of the month

Get yourself a hoist. That’s my tip for this month. If you can physically fit one in your garage, there is no better piece of equipment to have. I had a two-poster installed a few years back and immediately said goodbye to lying on my back on cold concrete while wrestling with a stubborn ball-joint. My days of horizontal oil changes are now over, too, thankfully.

Not only does a hoist make working under a car safer and less likely to leave you with frozen kidneys or in need of a chiropractor, it also makes some jobs that were impossible with the car on the deck suddenly possible. Standing up with the full range of arm movements at your disposal to remove a steering rack or getting at that bottom radiator hose will always beat doing it on your back with grit falling into your eyes and oil dripping into your hair.

Modern hoists are also a lot cheaper than they once were, bringing them easily within reach of a lot of home workshops. Make sure the one you buy is certified to Australian Standards to ensure its safety and give a lot of thought to whether you want a two or four-poster and whether you want the cables to run over the top or along the ground. The advantage of going over the top is that there’s no hump (however small) to push the car over while you position it. The downside is that a tall vehicle – like a Kombi, for instance – may be too high to lift all the way up before it hits the cable-box.

The current stuff is also simple to install although many of the companies selling hoists offer an installation service which delivers a bit of peace of mind. Oh, and you no longer need three-phase power to operate a hoist; there are many models out here that work on ordinary household sparks. And there’s one other major benefit to having a hoist: you just added an extra parking space for that next project. Maybe spare the other half that piece of info during negotiations.


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