Morley's Workshop 377: advice on exotica and tools

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Morley battles the wayward history of the red motor, consults on tools and has a go at a few other mysteries.

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Unique Cars, locked bag 12 Oakleigh 3166


Hi folks. I'll kick this issue's Workshop off with a letter that proves that sometimes, even the most unlikely propositions can turn out to be bang on the money. And that even a deliberate attempt at a wind-up can turn around and bite you. This particular letter also demonstrates what a broad church the Unique Cars readership is. And the fella in question clearly knows what he's talking about, so who am I to snigger?

So, some background: You might have read in the last issue of this fine family organ, a piece by broadcaster and former legal-eagle (bear that in mind) Jon Faine. The yarn centred around the legend of the red-handled Stanley knife and whether it ever existed or is just a piece of folklore. This was Faine's evil way of poking fun at the factory red-motored EJ Holden debate that has been raging on these pages for months now.

At the time, Faine asked me if I'd mind him taking the mickey out of this column on the subject of that debate. Of course I didn't mind, but I did warn him that someone, somewhere, was certain to take the bait. Turns out I was right. Check it out.


Tip of the month

I READ Somewhere recently that less than 20 per cent of cars in Australia checked as part of a random survey had the correct tyre pressures on board. Thats pretty scary when you think about it. And I reckon I can name one reason that might be the case: Valve caps. Yep, valve caps; those little rubber or metal screw-on caps that seal the valve off from the outside world.

To the average punter, a valve cap is a right pain in the whatsit. As if it's not bad enough having to kneel beside each tyre to check the pressure, you first have to unscrew the fiddly little cap which, inevitably, is covered is brake dust (along with the rest of the wheel) which then gets on to your fingers and from there, your clothes and your lunch. And for a lot of folks thats just too much hassle.

So the way to get people to check their tyre pressures more often is to simply dice the caps, right? Wrong. The job of the vale cap is to keep the road grime, brake dust, atmospheric fallout and small spiders from entering the valve area. If you run without caps, all that assorted gunk will gather around inside the valve and be blown on to the valves seating surface when you next blow air into the tyre. Chances are, a tiny lump of that crud will get between the valve and its seat and, bingo, one slow leak. Sometimes it isn't even that slow.

What's the solution? Suck it up, Im afraid. If the dust and grime worries you, you can always wipe the caps clean before you undo them, or keep a pair of old gloves in the boot for just such an occasion. My preference is for the metal valve caps which are more rigid and less likely to cross-thread or distort to the point where they aren't doing their job. Ive even seen them with weeny little BMW or Benz or HSV logos on them but I reckon that's just taking the mickey.



Sharpest Tool

I worked for Stanley Tools in the late 70s early 80s and of course have my own collection of Stanley knives and many other tools. I have never seen a red 99 or 199 but most of these sold in Australia were actually made here. In my photo however there are two red Stanley knives, one being a retractable made in the USA and a disposable made in the UK. You can also see that one of my collection still has the grease proof wrap on the spare blades and that I also have complete packs of every style of replacement blade.

Stanley Tools had an extensive manufacturing operation in Australia with plants at Moonah in Tasmania which was the old BHP Titan factory and the old Turner Manufacturing plant in Victoria. Not so today. They proudly boasted that they manufactured in every market around the world; at that time some 140 countries. The knives that I have were made in Australia, France, Great Britain and the USA.

They were a very conservative company with their roots in mid-western USA and I am sure that the old management would be spinning in their graves to see the fantastic support the company now gives to motor sport under the Stanley, De Walt and Sidchrome brands.  The double ended screwdriver was a reps sales tool to demonstrate the increase in torque achieved with the new extruded handle released about 1981-2 as opposed to the old moulded handle that went back to the Turner days. I also have a gold-plated screwdriver issued to commemorate the new handle.

David Hughes, Parkes, NSW

So there you have it: One enormous piss-take backfire for J Faine. Seems there not only WAS a red-handled Stanley knife, but now weve even got photographic proof. And that double-ended screwdriver kills me; it has apprentice-wind-up written all over it, but when David Hughes explains it was used to demonstrate a superior handle, it all makes perfect sense.

Thanks David, for sharing your memories of a fine company with us and, thanks also, for putting Faine back in his box. Still doesnt end the red-motored EJ Holden debate, though, Im pleased to say.

Jaguar -xj 220-supercar

Oh you little Minx!

In your June issue you had an article by Steve Guarino on his Hillman Minx Project. The following may interest him as well as other UC readers. My little project in the early sixties was the same as yours and featured the same pulling power deficiencies.
The easy fix was a Holden motor, bored out to 3 3/16, a ported head and extractors. The rear end was a Holden diff assembly shortened at about three inches per side to fit under the guards and the axles shortened the same amount and re-splined to suit.

The poor original diff lasted two days under the strain. The firewall was partly cut and rebuilt around the back of the engine. After the transplant it was taken to the RTA (then called the Department of  Motor Transport) where we opened the bonnet and the inspector said oh a Holden motor took a note of the engine number and that was it. I am sure if that motor had been held in with rope, it would not have mattered.

I had lots of fun with it and surprised lots of others on the road and especially up hills.

Just thought this would interest you. The car was tidied up and resprayed dark brown and looked quite respectable. Oh, the good old days; no maximum speed limits, no radar and if you were in a de-restricted speed limit area, the onus was on the walloper to prove you were driving in a manner dangerous.

It used to be fun to drive in any cars you had to drive. But how many accidents these days are caused through inattention or nodding off from the boredom of pointing cars instead of driving them? Put it in cruise, turn on the music, adjust the air-con, lean the seat back and go to sleep.

You wont go to sleep in your Hillman I bet.

Bruce Wells, email

Sleeper cars that look about one-tenth as fast as they really are  are probably my first automotive love. And I'm with you all the way about the good old days when the police were there to keep us safe, not keep the governments wallet full.

But you know what, Bruce? I don't reckon the days of swapping unfeasibly large engines into ordinary looking cars are over. A while back, I stopped to put fuel in my old parts-chaser ute. (You cant leave it idling at the servo or the V8 will outrun the bowser.) Anyway, a neat, straight, clean looking old Toyota Corona  about a 1972 model  pulled up at the next bowser, so naturally, while the oil company turned me upside-down and shook me  I was taking a close look at this old Tojo. The door opened and I was expecting an old boy to step out. But no, out jumped a kid of about 19 or 20.

Nice car, I shouted over the noise of crisp 20s gurgling into the utes tank. Looks pretty stock, hows the motor going?

Not bad, says the young feller, its a pretty trick Holden 202.

Bet that goes all right.

Yep, he grinned back.

Naturally, we got talking. Seems Matey's uncle helped with a lot of the fabrication and the kid was absolutely stoked with the end result. Wouldn't have swapped it for a modern hatchback for quids. And the rest of the car was really understated; nice blue paint and a set of period alloys, but nothing else to give the game away; no lowered suspension or bulging exhaust pipe. I reckon this thing must absolutely clean up the local hoons in their V6 Commodores.

Anyway, that's me and sleepers. Personally, my choice would be a 1970s Volvo station-wagon with a modern Volvo turbo motor stuffed in. Or a 1970 Toyota Crown ute with a 2JZ turbo. Or a VW Fastback with a 911 driveline. You get the idea

In fact, whats your sleeper-car fantasy? Have you built a sleeper? Letters and postcards to the usual address.

Hq -specs 

More pre-202 202s

I have been a Unique Cars reader since the mid-80s and still get a kick out of it and look forward to it each month. I've been involved in the motor trade since I left school in 1971, so I've seen a lot of really interesting cars and developments over the years.

Certainly the issue of 202s in HG Holdens is valid: I actually own a 1971 HG Ute with its original 202 motor and it still has the 202 badge on the tailgate. It's a bit of an old banger, but is still registered on original LAR Victorian plates and drives well enough. I recall quite a number of late HGs having 202 engines, so that story is well and truly genuine.

As for the new red motors in EJ Holdens, well that's news to me. I'd never heard of it until the topic came up in Unique Cars a couple of issues ago. I won't say it NEVER happened, as that would be arrogant, but I'm not convinced. It was common practice is the early days to fit red engines to wheezing underpowered EJs; two of my mates did just that to an EJ panel van and a Premier in the late 60s, so there's that side of it to debate as well.

The story on Colin Smith's HQ Premier with its 253 V8 and four-speed also caught my attention. Its a pretty rare and desirable car, but I sold a number of cars similarly equipped when I was a junior salesman at Coliseum Motors (a Holden dealership) in the early 70s. I particularly remember selling a Covert (a metallic grey/green) with Doeskin trim HQ Premier to a spud cocky near Ballarat. It was a 253 V8 with M20 four-speed and he kept that car for many years. I also remember selling a Chrome Yellow with black HQ Kingswood with the 308, M21 four-speed, GTS wheels, GTS dashboard, bucket seats, console, carpets, dual exhaust, the lot. Pretty much a HQ GTS with a Kingswood badge.

I also remember a Cyan Blue one with more or less all the same gear. I could go on, and there were many special cars that I remember vividly. But one worthy of a mention was an Orchid HQ V8 Belmont with a 253, M20, console, GTS dash, GTS wheels and a push-button radio. I even remember us fitting front arm-rests to it, as we did to all the HQ SSs we sold.

Speaking of interesting cars, I have a 1973 HQ Kingswood wagon among my collection which has a 202, M20 four-speed, console and a  GTS dash. Its a one-off special order which was sold new at Smiths or Port Adelaide. It took seven months to be built and delivered, but tha'ts the way it was back then; if you were prepared to wait, you could tailor-make your car. Mine is the only HQ six-cylinder wagon I've seen with a console four-speed, however I have seen a couple with the stick out of the floor one-tonner type set-up.

Peter Wilmot, East Ballarat


Thanks for this input, Peter. Sounds like your wagon was a pretty special order as well as those delicious sounding HQ V8s you delivered all those years ago. And it seems my old man's Chrome Yellow V8 Kingswood with a four-on-the-floor might not have been so rare after all. (Which is academic, because I've never been able to find the old girl. The trail went cold years ago.).

As for your HG ute with a factory 202 on board, I think we need to talk. And I think I need to come and have a look at it and maybe take some photos for all the doubters and haters out there. Yes, that sounds like a plan.

Holden -ute 

EH nuts

Why is it that the biggest sceptics in this magazine are EH nuts; old blokes who still think the EH was the best Holden ever made, and that was in 1964! Is it because they can't bear the thought that a few of their beloved red 149s slipped out the door into an EJ? (And what a beautiful little engine it was; why it was so good and outlasted many of the bigger red sixes is another story altogether.)

Meanwhile, some people just cannot be told! Stuff like:  Holden put their door locks at the back of the rear door on the first FXs (48/215 ) or that FJ utes and vans had heaver springs; the first FEs had no indicators; the last FBs had electric wipers; the first auto was an EK; the EH could be had with factory power steering; the early HDs had king-pin front ends; the first four-speed was in a HR; some of the first HTs had the 307 Chev engine; there was a Holden called the White Hot Special; some of the last HGs had 173 engines (I had one); the LC GTR Torana was a 161 with a dual throat carby set up, and; Holden made a 138 red motor ( the 2250 Torana). On and on it goes.

Like you say, just because you havent seen it doesnt mean it never existed! I hope when one of these rare critters emerges  and it will  that these people have the balls to apologise to you. Keep hammering.

Philip Noone, email

Can of worms, anyone? Jeez Philip, youve stirred the possum now.  But you've also brought to light the fact that there was a whole raft of rare, screwball and just plain weird variations on Holden models over the years, many of which were the result of overlapping models on the production line. I think my favourite is the HQ (I think it was a HQ) panel van with the traditional driver's door on that side but a front and rear door on the other side. I think they were designed to be used as ambulances, but the only one Ive ever seen was being used as the beer-delivery truck for one of the five pubs in the town of Narrandera (where I was a cadet journalist about 300 years ago).

But you also raise an interesting point: That many punters have a dead-set favourite make and model. So let's hear about them, people. Tell me your most favourite ever make and model and well cobble up a top 10 or something. Doesnt have to be a Holden or a Ford or a Valiant. Just let us know what car, above all others, twirls your toupe.

Piece of Cake

I've read some funny stuff in my 53 years, but your answer to Nick about seeing Red doesnt just take the cake, it takes the whole bloody cakeshop!

Yes, EH Utes and Vans received carry over EJ rear-end bodywork, but that has nothing to do with putting a new motor in the ENGINE BAY! And the only difference between the EJ and EH front sheet metal is that the front badge went from the bonnet to the middle of the grille. The engine bay stayed the same!

However, this does offer a more plausible explanation for these expert witnesses seeing 149s in an EJ. They could've checked the oil in a 149 in an EH Van (with EJ rear sheet metal) and they got confused and thought it was an EJ (due to that EJ rear sheet metal.....)

Anyway, like I said, funny stuff... almost as funny as an XY GT panel van....(Don't get me started.)

Phil Minns, email

Ah Phil, the point I was making about the EH van and ute using carry-over bodywork, is that maybe  just maybe  because of the smaller change-over job at the factory (because of those carry-over parts) those commercial models were some of the last to chug down the assembly line and, therefore, were the ones that got the later red motor. Doesn't get any more conspiratorial than that, I'm afraid.

And the people I've talked to who reckon they knew red-motored EJs in the day, seem to me like a fairly sane bunch and more than capable of knowing what model Holden they were messing about with. And what about your own statement that the engine bay of the EJ and EH were identical? Doesnt that just make the whole red-motored-EJ thing all the more plausible?

Holden -commodore -vn -driveline

Shudder up

If you want to rid the VN of its driveline shudder on acceleration, you need to use the CV joint on the differential that a VY/VZ 1 tonner uses. Of course you will need to modify the tail shaft to match it

Jason Birmingham, email


Thanks Jason, and yet another take on how to fix the driveline vibes on a VN Commodore V8. I like your thinking, though: If the standard uni-joint isn''t capable of doing the job properly because of prop-shaft angles and what-not, then shifting to a CV joint a la the drive-shafts of pretty much every front-wheel-drive car ever made, might do the trick.

At the moment, the VN is actually feeling a bit better these days. Fellow UC contributor Glenn Torrens took time off from scratching about under Volkswagens recently and performed his favourite tune up trick on the VN. He calls it the GT tune-up and it consists of ripping off the little piece of trunking on the air-box and throwing it in the bin. GT swears he's done dyno tests where this adds anything up to three kiloWatts at the expense of a small amount of induction noise (to the car, not the bin)

From there, I removed the air-box myself and with a small cut-off wheel, opened up the whole front of the box to allow more air in. Yes, there's another small increase in induction noise but the VN does actually feel a bit fitter. But here's the weird part; it also feels a bit smoother, suggesting that some of the vibration I've been feeling was coming from the engine itself. This is only getting stranger.

EJ haters wrong

Re: the letter last issue titled: Wheres the cred?

Have no idea about the red motor/EJ business, BUT, I definitely dont agree with Martin Heydon with his statement about EJs: I remember the EJ, and what a shocker it was, in total contrast... etc

I had an EJ Ute from about 1966. It was used as my work ute for my workshop and service station for years. That ute had the hardest life imaginable, but never gave an ounce of trouble. It spent a lot of its life with a huge car trailer attached and it dragged all manner of stranded vehicles back to the shop on that trailer.

One time I had to collect an extra large and heavy classic car from Box Hill to take back to the shop. I got caught out and had to stop at a railway crossing on a nasty, steep hill. I was not sure if I would get moving again but that little grey motor did its job no problem. When I say no problem, I was sweating and the ute needed a bit of clutch-slip to get the revs up, but the EJ did it. Didnt have to replace the clutch either.

My parents owned a 26-foot caravan and I towed it to Port Albert for them (and back again) a distance of about 220kms. You'd  definitely get pulled up trying to do that today; I've no idea how far over the towing capacity that would have been, but again, that EJ did it without complaint. Yeah, it was a bit hard to stop with the trailer on and didn't handle all that well, but it was a bloody honest hard worker.

PS. I'm older than Martin, so Ive been around Holdens longer!

Gavin Campbell, email.

As I've mentioned before in this column, Gavin, I've had a bit to do with the EJ myself. But given your experiences, it seems like blanket statements about particular models aren't always appropriate. Okay, Ill admit, sometimes an all-encompassing judgment can apply, and if we were talking about Humber Vogues (my sister had one) then I reckon we'd be on pretty safe ground condemning all Humber Vogues for being boring, ill-handling, wheezy little boxes of ugly. Even the red ones were beige.

But for most makes and models there are shades of grey, for sure. In my experience, the two EJs in my life were chalk and cheese. The wagon we had as family wheels when I was a little tacker was a crock; constantly overheating and falling to bits. But the ute my dad inherited a couple of decades later was a pearler. Which kind of proves the point that you have to judge old cars on their individual merits.

It's also true that some people just have perverse tastes in cars. You couldn't give me a Mark 3 Ford Cortina, for instance, but have you looked at the prices of well-preserved ones lately? Clearly, they float the boat for some folks. Hell, who knows, there might even be a Humber Vogue Appreciation Society out there. And if there is, I'm sorry. Not for what I said about Vogues, I'm just sorry.

Mazda -mx5

Whos zooming who?

I have a question that I think rates as one of those questions like how many stars are there in the universe, and why cant emus walk backwards.

Why do men buy/drive with pride Mazda MX5s? I have witnessed middle-aged men with driving gloves, tweed hats and chests puffed out proudly strutting in front of these shopping trolleys on several occasions and all I feel like saying is: Does your daughter know you have borrowed her car for the day?

Correct me if I am wrong but these things were equipped with 1.6, 1.8, 2.0-litre engines developing a paltry 95kW and not enough torque to pluck loose an eyelash. Your opinion would help satisfy the minds of many fellow motoring enthusiasts and just for the record we drive (including my wife) a new 328i GT BMW and a 1968 RS Camaro small-block, so I am broad-minded. But in the words of someone who was once famous: please explain?

Rob Mottershead, McCrae, VIC


Ah Rob, I can tell you've never driven an MX-5. Because if you had, there's no way you could walk away from the experience with any doubts remaining about the little roadsters claim to classic stratus. Or its sheer brilliance as a car, for that matter.

Yep, the engines were small, and the 1.6-litre version fitted to the first MX-5 didn't even make the 95kW you've quoted. In fact, it made just 85kW, but each and every one of those kW were up for it. The little guy revved to seven-and-a-half and was happy doing it and with the five-speed manual with fairly short ratios (Mazda didnt water the concept down with an automatic gearbox for several years) it was huge fun drive. It was just one of those car in which you could use 100 per cent of the performance 100 per cent of the time. Try that in your RS Camaro and I'll be sending you a cake with a file in it.

Even better was the handling. The unassisted steering in the first (and now most desirable models) was pin-sharp and the cornering was an amazing blend of ride-control and grip. Throw in great seats, a convertible roof that didnt leak and a kerb weight of just 950kg or so and you had yourself a car that was truly more than the sum of its parts. Which, as I have speculated in the past, is the thing that makes a classic design a classic design.

But there's more. The engines in these things are bomb-proof. Designed to take a turbocharger in other Mazda models, the four-cylinder bottom end was tough. In fact, the experts reckon an MX-5 will probably only ever need its head lifted for a bit of a clean up. And thatll be every 400,000km or so.

But Rob, heres the other piece of the puzzle that tells me Im right and youre wrong: Im six-foot, the best part of 95kg and I have a head like a dropped pie. I don't own driving gloves, I dont wear a tweed hat and I dont have a daughter. But I do own a 1989 Mazda MX-5. And its a keeper.

Tell you what, bring your Camaro to a coffee shop one Sunday morning and well swap cars for a couple of hours and go for a blast. Purely for scientific purposes you understand. And if you still don't get MX-5s, I'll buy lunch.

By the way, I don't know why the emu cant walk backwards, but its the (symbolic) reason both it and the kangaroo are on the national coat of arms: Neither is capable of taking a backward step. Unlike governments, it would seem.

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