Morley's workshop 378 - red motors, Chargers and flying Volvos

By: David Morley, Unique Cars magazine

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You, Morley and a whole bunch of other people get tooled up in our virtual shed.

Morley's workshop 378 - red motors, Chargers and flying Volvos
Holden EJ Premier

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Morley's Soapbox - Holden on

If you saw these pages last issue, you'll know that the red-motored EJ Holden debate rages on pretty much unabated. But you'll also know that I was contacted by a bloke by the name of Peter Wilmot who told me he owns an HG Holden ute with a factory 202 engine fitted. Now, conventional wisdom says that the 202 was first seen in the HQ and that the HG should have been fitted with a 186 engine. Now, I know it's not a factory red-motored EJ, but this is still an interesting development and reinforces the fact that anything was possible back in those days.

The upshot was that I packed a sandwich and headed to Peter's place in Ballarat for a gander at his 202-powered HG ute. And whaddayaknow. As I pulled into his shed, I saw not one, but two white HG utes. They were both factory 202s. Seems Peter, who is third generation car-trade (and an excellent bloke) called up a mate with a similar ute to his and presented them both to me.

Now, Peter's ute is the scruffy one of the two, and its factory paperwork is long gone. But Peter says he knows the history of the ute and knows that the original owner (from whom he purchased the thing not long ago) bought it that way and never changed the engine. But it gets better; the second ute which is a very tidy example, came with a copy of the original Holden sales document which lists the engine number. So, I matched the utes VIN to the sales document and then checked the actual engine in the vehicle. Guess what? Numbers matched. Here's proof that the factory 202 HG existed. In fact, still exists.

What's interesting is that the HG ute wasn't retailed until January 1972 (in fact, the sales document lists it as a 1972 vehicle, while the compliance-plate credits it with being a June 1971 build vehicle. Also interesting is that Peter's ute was built in July 1971, after the other one, backing up the factory-202 story further.

The other weirdburger thing on Peter's ute - and I've never seen it before = is the badge on the tailgate. Where some HG utes got a 186 badge, Peter's has the 202 badge more commonly seen on the rump of HQs. Peter's pretty sure the ute's original owner was a fairly pragmatic cocky; not the sort of bloke who would waste time and money putting a badge on the tailgate of his work truck. The other ute? No badge to be seen at all.

So where does this leave us? Not sure, really, but I am glad to have started turning up these weirdo cars and getting into some good old fashioned detective work in the process. It further begs the question: Does anybody out there have any other oddball cars with strange options, crazy compliance plates or engine numbers that just dont gel? My own personal story is a VH Charger I bought many years ago that was built very late in the VH production run. In fact, so late that Chrysler had already changed the paint shop over to the 1973 range of colours. Consequently, my Charger is Limelight; much better known as a VJ colour. I'd love to hear from you about your orphans and arrange to take some photos and let UC's readership in on the secret. Lets have em, folks.


Another one

I can confirm the 202 was fitted to HG Utes. I had one, or rather I bought one for my son. I purchased the ute from a chap by the name of Henderson who had a sheep farm at The Guns, west of Tara in Queensland. When I questioned the 202 in the ute, thinking it was a replacement, he told me he had ordered a new HQ one-tonner just after the HQ was first released but Holden were unable to supply one and offered to supply a HG ute, which they duly did.

This was some time after the HQ was released and the HG was no longer available, except, it seems, as a ute and with a 202. I suspect the colour was an HQ one as well as I have never seen another HG the same shade of green as the ute, but do recall it on HQs.

My father worked at our home-town Holden Sub-Dealers garage from the late 50s to the early 80s, so I asked him if he had even seen an EJ with a red motor. He had not, but said he saw something interesting with an EJ our neighbour by the name of McCorly purchased new. He brought the EJ to the garage to have the factory fitted highway pattern tyres changed over to a set of Suburbanites which had a checked cross-type pattern and were very suited to rural road conditions. When the factory tyres were taken off the mechanics noticed Made in Japan stamped into the metal on the inside centre of the wheel. I wonder how that came about?

 Vaughn Becker, Taroom, QLD


That is a strange one, Vaughn. And for the life of me, I can't even begin to guess how a set of Japanese-made wheels were ever fitted new to an EJ Holden. I mean, weren't these the days where local content was king? And didn't ROH in Adelaide make all Holden's wheels back then?

The only thing I can think of is that maybe Holden imported a batch of wheels to satisfy demand and keep waiting times for a new EJ down. It did exactly that back in 2013 when it imported a batch of wheels from the USA to try to reduce the three-month waiting time for the Commodore SSV Redline. But to get a Japanese manufacturer tooled up for a single batch of wheels seems a bit of a long-shot. Or maybe there was a Japanese company already making wheels with the correct offset and stud pattern for one of that country's domestic models. Either way, I'd love to know more.

For the record, Holden these days imports the bulk of its wheels from China, despite ROH still operating about 25km from the front gate of the Holden plant at Elizabeth outside Adelaide. That's globalisation for you.


Another red sighting

I have seen an EJ with a red 149 motor; in 1966 at Lightning Ridge in NSW.
I have also cured vibrations in Holdens and Fords by fitting a new spigot bush in the crankshaft. When the roller bearings wear between input shaft and output shaft, the vibrations start.

 Eugene Kochman, Glenroy VIC


Hmmm, 1966 is awfully young for a car built in 1963 to be re-engined, isn't it? Still, that's no proof that the car wasnt fitted with the 149 by one of the army of tinkerers who took to the hearts of early Holdens back then. I know there was a hard-core bunch of backyard engineers who couldn't wait to get a red motor sitting on the cross-member of their early girls.

This red motor, remember, was an absolute revelation: seven main bearings versus the four of the old grey and the ability to be tuned to heights that would have had a grey motor exploding into a thousand bits. The red was also more long-lived and while the conventional wisdom of the day suggested a grey would need a valve-grind and de-coke at about the 60,000-mile mark, the red was much less reliant on this sort of weekend-wrecking maintenance.

That said, there are still plenty of blokes out there who reckon the grey motor was all a man needed. And I'll tell you what, you stand beside a stock grey-motored Holden even today and you'll be hard pressed to know whether it's running or not, such was the smooth silence of the thing at idle.


The Alternative view

Well its been over 12mths now and the debate about red motors in EJ Holdens still is yet to be proved. It's amazing that a person (Phillip Noone) can carry on about it, then rattle off all these Holden variables that can be proven through documentation, photos etc and not come up with any proof about the red motor in an EJ. Like all of you (which would actually be very few) who would like to think that this happened, please look up the meaning of the words PROOF and HEARSAY. That in itself should end all this rubbish about a red motor in an EJ Holden.

Greg Hodgins


Ah Greg, I know you're not one of the believers out there, but hey, isn't it good to have something other than politics to disagree over? By the way, where's the proof that the red-motored EJ thing DIDNT happen?


Dead set follow up

I've been giving some thought to your question last issue over what make and models are people's dead set favourites. Provided we had the income of a mining magnate I guess most of us would consider our favourite to come from the likes of the Porsche stable with weapons like the GT3, or similar. But that's not what your invitation is about, is it? So here goes;

Family history: Born into FoMoCo family 1943, where even visiting cousins who were not driving Henry's product were considered persona-non-grata. It was all about engineering prowess you understand. My late dad said to prove the point you need only tie a 1937 Chevrolet and a 37 Ford back to back with a wire rope, and drive them in opposite directions. The clutch and rear axles in the Chev would instantly explode. Not to mention Henry's engines had oil pumps and slipper big-end bearings while the General was still messing around with splash feed from the sump to the crank.

Anyway, although I've never owned one, my hero car would be the very first Windsor GT-HO, in Vermillion Fire, complete with rear stabiliser bar and cow-catcher. Yes it lost the race it was designed to win, but it won the street cred stakes hands down, and in Fred Gibson's hands repeatedly cleaned up the 350 Monaro opposition at the Oran Park night meetings back in the day.

Eric Waples, Albion Park, NSW


Yeah, money does unfortunately come into it, doesn't it Eric. Then again, you could comfortably get into a second-hand Porsche GT3 (say, a 996 model) for a fair bit less than they're asking for GT-HOs these days. What I find really interesting, though, is that you've nominated a GT-HO other than the legendary Phase III. Even though the Phase I didnt win Bathurst in 1969, Bruce McPhee and Barry Mullholland gave it a red hot go and probably would have taken home the silverware had McPhee not spent six minutes in the pits after clobbering the bank at The Cutting while trying to side-step a mini. And while the Phase III is the one everybody remembers, the Phase I is the big Henry that started it all and therefore deserves big respect.

We've also got something in common here, Eric; my favourite Aussie hot-rod also never won Bathurst.

Meanwhile, keep em coming folks: What's your favourite make and model and why? Doesn't need to be an Australian car, a supercar or even a performance car. Just has to be what floats yer boat.


Thats my car

I read with great interest the readers rides in the mag (issue #349 back in 2013) about an LJ GTR XU-1. I am pretty certain I owned this car as Frank Coad at the Sea Lake Holden dealership came to our farming property on a Saturday morning and said: I have a special little car for you to buy.

Frank was a family friend, so a very exciting quick test drive later, we purchased the XU-1 on the spot. We had a lot of fun and special times and have very special memories in this vehicle. If possible I would like to make contact with Mike Rossi, the present owner and tell him some other history about the XU-1. Hoping you can assist.

Andy Collins, Broome, WA


You'd reckon, wouldn't you Andy, that somebody at Unique Cars would know the whereabouts or the phone number of the owner of this particular XU-1, wouldn't you? Especially since we featured it not that long ago. But since that issue, weve had a change of editor and, crucially, a change of publisher, and that seems to have seen the owners contact details lost in the mist of time and the garbage tip that is the UC bunker. (Hey, were journos and car nuts, not clean-freaks.)

Even Uncle Phil shook his head when we asked him and, trust me, if Uncle P doesnt know a car or its owner, the bloke in question is a real Houdini. Or doesn't exist.

So, I'll throw it open to you lot: Anybody out there know the name or contact details for that XU-1? It had Victorian rego  back then, so maybe somebody from one of the Torana clubs down south knows of its whereabouts.


For the love of sleepers

The letter Oh you little Minx! in issue #377 was very interesting. You suggested that a modern turbo Volvo engine in a 70s wagon would be a good bet. Volvo did fit a turbo to its B20 engine from around 1989-1993 in the 740/940 wagon. The modern equivalent would not be possible without a great deal of engineering as Volvo has been front-drive or all-wheel-drive since 1992 with the release of the 850 series. The best you could do is to fit the DOHC six-cylinder from a 960 or the DOHC four-cylinder from a 940 GLE.

Another great sleeper would be either a TF Cortina or XD Falcon fitted with the latest six-cylinder Falcon running gear. The Minx would also have gone well with the 1725 engine from a Hillman GT with the twin CD Strombergs as this would have pretty well bolted in along with the four-speed transmission .

Richard Fulwood, Email

I'm going to date myself a little here, but I tested those turbocharged 740 Volvos back when they were still filling new-car showrooms. And they were great things. There was also a V6 and while it was mechanically similar otherwise, it just couldn't hold a candle to those turbo-terrors. I suppose the simple path to sleeper heaven would be to just buy one of those and wick it up with some modern touches like a big intercooler and so on. The trouble for me is that they look like fridges that have fallen over.

But the 240 and 244 Volvos of a generation earlier now they're good looking cars. And with a wicked up turbo four-cylinder on board, I reckon they'd be monster fun and would take V8 Commodores and Falcons to pieces in a straight line. Done right, they'd be pretty handy around corners, too.

If you have a look on YouTube, youll find videos of stove-hot Volvo 240s doing all sorts of evil things in the hands of Scandinavian headbangers. Some of these things have 700 horsepower and some amazing engineering. Others, not so much, but you get the idea.

In Australia, the trend has been to fit those house-brick Volvos with either small-block V8s or things like 2JZ Toyota straight-sixes. But, personally, I like the idea of staying within the family and using a turbo four running about 30 psi bolted to a five or six-speed manual. I reckon they'd handle better without a big, heavy V8 hanging over the front axle. That said, the B20 and B23 Volvo mills weren't exactly lightweights either, but man, are they strong.

I love the idea of an older Falcon with a modern DOHC four-litre six transplant. But why not go the whole way and use the brilliant, locally developed turbo-six from an XR6? Mind you, I'd be using something like an XE Falcon with a coil-sprung rear end rather than a real early-girl with leaf springs, but it would surely be something to behold. The only catch being that I wouldn't be in a hurry to use a Mark III Cortina of any sort. I drove these things back in the day with the 250 cubic-inch pushrod Falcon engine and they were a total handful. It's hard to imagine how even more power would improve them. The fact that the two-litre version of the Mark III Cortina was considered the best of the lot should tell you plenty.

Meantime, anybody got a sleeper they'd like to share with us? Letters and postcards to the usual address.


The next big, blue thing

You've driven plenty of Aussie Fords in your time and as much as I hate ringing the last bell for everybody down at Geelong, I'm wondering if you have a favourite iteration/s of the mighty Falcon. Perhaps you can share some of your fondest memories with the Blue Ovals locally-built efforts. While you're at it, now that Phase IIIs are atmospheric in values, what would you say is the next Falcon to go big?

Samuel Coleman, NSW

Hmmm. Good question, Samuel. But this is a topic that has been raging lately, thanks to the imminent implosion of the Australian car-making industry. Everybody is wondering  - usually aloud - about what's the next Aussie car to become truly collectible. And it's not just Fords that are dominating pub debates, the next big Holden mover and shaker is also a hot topic.

I reckon you can draw a line under anything built before about 1980. When you look at the prices of HQ Holdens and XA Falcons in good nick, you can see that they've already taken off. And anything that old that hasn't already started to climb was probably such a shitbox back in the day that it never will be collectible. Which leaves us with 80s and 90s stuff from both Holden and Ford.

In the red corner, the answer is a bit easier for me, because I recently bought a VN SS Commodore as my keeper and a reminder of what was good about Aussie cars when there are no longer any around. I reckon the VN SS has kind of grown into its clothes a bit these days and, set up properly, theyre a good drive (driveline vibes aside). Mine is also proving to be pretty cheap to run and easy to modify (in small ways, to get it to work properly).

Beyond that, I'd say things like VR and VS SSs could come into their own soon and don't forget about early HSVs. The Gen 3-powered HSVs will always be dearer than the Iron Lion variety and the one to forget about in collectability terms is a series one VT SS or HSV because it had the Holden five-litre when the Series 2 model got the Chev-sourced 5.7. However, those comments only really apply in a collectability sense, because I prefer the Holden engine to the early Gen 3. Its just that by the VT, the Commodore package was pretty heavy and needed a bit more than the Holden five-litre could drum up.

Fords? Well, the early 80s Falcon ESP is starting to go gangbusters, especially 351, four-speed examples. But even a 302 is worth looking after if you've got one. And you cant go past an EF or EL XR6 in manual form as another one to watch closely. These are cheap now and represent great buying, but good ones are getting thin on the ground and it won't last forever. Great cars, too. Heck, even the AU XR6 might start to appreciate and let's not forget the other emerging Ford classic, an early (BA or BF) XR6 Turbo.

Want a couple of roughies (as punters refer to long-shots that could just struggle home)? What about the Australian developed Nissan Skyline GTS (the first model was white, the second red)? These were also excellent cars in the day and even though they're not the greatest lookers, they still work well today. And for a real speculator, try a late Mitsubishi Sigma GSR. Even better would be a Sigma Peter Wherrett Special which had the big 2.6-litre engine, flash alloys and even Recaro seats. Mind-bending in the day and still good fun in 2015. Trouble is, Mitsubishi only made 1000 of them and that was back in 1981. Anybody out there got one?


A lot on her plate

I purchased a 1963 EJ Holden in Tasmania a few years ago and got it trucked to Western Australia where I live. After a time, we had to change the Tassie number plates to WA plates and I am left with personalised Tasmanian number plates EJ 1963. As I no longer need them, I was wondering where I could sell them  or if I could sell them. Your guidance, if possible,would be appreciated.

Jenny Stabback, WA


Number plates are hot items these days, Jenny, not that I've ever understood the trend. For the life of me, I can't see why a number plate - even a single or double-digit one - should command the prices they do, but a quick look at many auction sites (not to mention the back pages of this fine family publication) will show you that not everybody agrees with me. A car with a number plate worth more than itself? Not unknown.

Some States and Territories allow for plates to be bought, sold and stored, some aren't as switched on to this fashion statement. I looked up the Tasmanian Motor Registry site on the interweb but, typically, it didn't contain the specific info I was after on your behalf. So I rang the helpline number and, you guessed it, got put on hold. I waited until my phone went flat, but still nothing. My first question was whether Tassie plates can, in fact, be traded, and whether they could be applied to another car. Obviously, that car would have to be registered in Tasmania in the first place. But I'm afraid Ill have to flick-pass the phone duties to you. I hope you're not doing anything important for the next three weeks.

Meantime, while I get the need to personalise a vehicle, I'm just not personally inclined to use a number plate to do it. I enjoy a really clever plate or one that makes me think, but all too often, the plate is a humourless statement about the make or model of the car it's attached to. Which usually makes me wonder if the bloke who owns it is in danger of forgetting what he's driving. I think the Americans say it best when they call personalised plates vanity plates


Vibe no more

Further to my earlier email regarding our VR Senator with factory fitted driveline vibes. The old girl has been to our friends at Top Torque for an engine freshen up over summer which included new engine mounts, and when I read about removing the cross-member spacers in issue 374 , I immediately phoned Sean who happened to be walking past the VR on the hoist so out they came as well.

There must be a god cos bugger me when the old girl came home, the vibrations were completely gone  vanished and hopefully never to return. Trouble is I can't define exactly which was the ultimate fix, but the good news is the problem can be cured - unlike our moronic politicians!

Paul Myring


Actually, Paul, I think calling most politicians morons is being a bit hard on the rest of the moron population. But thanks for the update. Unfortunately, as you've correctly identified, you've committed the diagnostic mechanics cardinal sin of changing more than one thing at a time. Fresh engine, fresh engine mounts, deleted gearbox spacerswhich was the magic bullet? But hey, nice work fella and I'm pleased to know this VN trait can be fixed. Eventually.

My own car seems to be getting better and better with every kilometre it covers. That would make sense, too, since it sat in a shed for about seven years with just occasional runs to keep everything lubed. The vibes are now down to a level where I can live with them, but I plan to keep chasing them until I run the cause to ground.

Next step is a new set of front discs and pads, cause I think the pads are a bit mouldy and the discs have developed a lip. I'll also be fitting the whole lot with new front wheel bearings, because I can see no sense in pressing the old bearings out of the old disc and refitting them to a new disc. Not when they cost tuppence-halfpenny a pair, anyway. Stay tuned.

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