Sleepers, Red Motors & Ford colours - Morley's Workshop 380

By: David Morley, Unique Cars magazine

Presented by

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Morley gets stuck in and helps solve your problems...well, most of them!

Morley's soapbox 

In recent issues, I’ve asked you lot about a couple of things. One being sleepers. You know: A nana-spec car with a huge injection of cubic inches to make it a real wolf in sheep’s clothing. The other question this column raised was whether you’d ever goofed up and done something loopy in the name of servicing or repairing a car. Well, seems you’re paying attention, because the in-tray went nuts with examples of both. I’ll start with a dead-set sleeper that I’d be rapt to own myself, and it’s a combo that we kind of touched on recently when the conversation turned to Volvos with bigger meatballs than the Swedes ever imagined. Meanwhile, keep ‘em coming. Oh, and the red-motored EJ Holden debate? Hasn’t slowed down yet, so we’ll cover off the most recent salvos from both sides. Buckle up…

Letters 

Volvo

This sleeper’s no snoozer

Interesting reading about mild-mannered (boring?) cars that hide something a little more adventurous in the mechanical department. Years ago I set out to take a Volvo 240 series sedan and relieve it of its underwhelming four-cylinder motor and replace it with at least eight cylinders. I ended up with a 2 door 242GT and a Toyota four-litre V8. The Supra five-speed and Volvo LSD help in the go department, but on the outside it’s still a two-door with factory stripes and a set of period looking mags.

It’s been a great project and always catches out unsuspecting fellow road users when the lights turn green. I don’t even mind the "bloody Volvo driver" comments.

David Caligari,

email

Ah, David, what a fantastic sleeper. It looks phenomenal in that understated way that 242 GTs always looked, but pop the lid and it’s game on. Love it. The level of quality and workmanship deserves comment, too. Maybe if all modified vehicles were as beautifully executed as yours, the whole fiddling-with-cars industry might not get looked down upon so often. And hasn’t that two-door 240 body shape aged gracefully?

Your car reminds me a bit of a 240 Volvo track-day car (don’t laugh) that I drove a few years ago. It was stripped out, ran a full cage and a warmed over four-cylinder engine. Two things it needed most were an extra bunch of cylinders and a slippy diff, both issues you’ve addressed with your project. But even with limited urge and a slightly wayward rear axle, the old Ovlov was heaps of fun at the track and didn’t owe the bloke much more than a slab and a counter-meal. Big fun for pocket-money? Got to be a good thing. Meantime, keep up the good work.

 

Car -in -shed 

When things go bung

Watching your lively and very entertaining debate on grey and red engines took me back to the late ’60s and brought a smile to my face. No, it has nothing to do with solving the problem. My father, working in clerical positions all his life, was not mechanically minded. He was a Holden man, though, and owned a nice EK which he had serviced regularly by the dealer or a mechanic. For some unknown reason one Saturday morning he decided to change the oil himself at home. I received a phone call just before lunch. "I have a problem," he said. "I’ve drained the oil, put the bung back in, put the new oil in and it’s reading all the way up the dipstick!" ‘I’ll be over,’ I said, and while driving there I was running through all the possible causes and where dad might have gone wrong.

On entering the carport I was met with the unmistakable smell of gear oil. A quick look underneath was confirmation. Yep, you guessed it, dearest dad had drained the gearbox and tipped a gallon of new oil into the engine! We rectified the problem and when I left he was muttering something about mechanics. In his defence, I guess the bungs were fairly close together.

Sometime later I purchased a shiny low mileage 161 engine which I installed in the EK. I reminded him if he ever decided to do the engine oil again to remove the bung out of the RED sump." 

Carl Wallent,

Maryborough, QLD

Carl, your dad was not the first (nor will he be the last) to fall for this one. In fact, I personally know somebody who did exactly the same thing. In his case, he drained the oil (or so he thought) glurped four litres of oil into the sump and hit the key to check for leaks. Problem was, he couldn’t see the leaks for all the oil smoke that the poor old Toyota engine created thanks to having about eight litres in its crankcase.

Then, when he tried to move the old girl, she wouldn’t budge in either Reverse or Drive. Which is, of course, a direct result of the auto transmission fluid now being in the drain-pan. At this point, he decided he’d better shut it down and check the engine-oil dipstick and that’s when the pennies started slowly dropping. My own father has a novel way of making sure this never happens to him: He invites me over and gets me to change the oil for him. Perhaps your dad was being equally cagey and staged the whole thing to convince you that you should be the one to crawl around on the shed floor on a Saturday morning. Experience and rat-cunning defeats youth and enthusiasm every time.

 

 Maze 

The maze of fault finding

In response to the question of embarrassing rattles, my girlfriend took her new Golf back to the dealership because of a persistent rattle when cornering. Got the car back the next day – the techs had found a child’s toy maze in the door pocket.

Andy Baccino,

Melbourne 

I reckon mechanics all over Australia (and probably the world) would have stories like this. Doesn’t make them any less funny, though. At least your girlfriend confessed to her crime and didn’t keep it a secret. Mind you, had she known you were about to share it with the Unique Cars community, she might have thought better of spilling the beans.

Meantime, there must be more of these cock-ups and mis-diagnoses out there…so let’s have ‘em.

 

Holden

Viva the revolution 

Seeing as Morley’s Workshop is waxing lyrical about EJ and EH Holdens, I was wondering if you (or anyone else for that matter) can recall a monstrosity akin to an oversized Vauxhall Viva, being proposed by our then Australian GM-H design team; a car that was to become the EH Holden.

Many decades ago, while reading my then favourite car mag (Street Machine I think, but please don’t quote me) they ran an article about an ill-fated proposed EJ replacement, complete with "butt ugly" pictures. Now, according to the article, when the US bosses saw what our Aussie designers proposed, they (the Yanks) hacked up an EJ update and said "here, build this or nothing!", hence the birth of the EH. I know the article was published, I know they had a job to pay for the magazine, but I have never seen anything regarding it ever again, perhaps it was a hoax? What do you reckon? Can  Morley dig up the dirt?

Ian Parks,

Email 

Talking to blokes who lurked around the various R&D sections of Holden back in the day, it’s pretty obvious that all sorts of weird and sometimes not-so-wonderful gadgets were cobbled up as test beds for new ideas. One old-timer I share a cuppa with regularly recalls a trailer that arrived at Plant Seven one day with what looked like a Vauxhall Viva on the back. What’s all this? He asked the guy towing the rig. Have a look under here, says the bloke, and with that he lifts the bonnet to reveal a red motor crammed into an engine bay clearly designed for a four-banger.

My mate’s theory is that this was an early six-pot Torana prototype, but he also says he never saw that car again after that day. Who knows? Maybe it was a prototype, maybe it was just a packaging exercise. Maybe it was just a hill-climb car one of the middle managers had cobbled up. Every now and then, a few grainy photos of these things would sneak out of the factory and wind up in magazines with headlines like: ‘Your next Holden’ or some such speculative twaddle. I should know, I used to write those headlines on a mainstream car magazine.

But here’s where your theory gets a bit interesting. According to the book Heart of the Lion – an excellent Holden history written by UC contributor John Wright – back in 1961, Holden was already working on the design of the EJ Holden and was testing it in mostly undisguised form at the then brand-new Lang Lang proving ground. Somehow, Modern Motor (now Motor) magazine managed to grab some scoop photos of it and ran it on the front cover. Over in the US, a bloke name of Joe Schemansky who was a GM design heavyweight and had worked on post-war Cadillacs among many others, was shown the magazine. And he hated what he saw.

Word got out to GM Detroit’s design supremo, Bill Mitchell, and his opinion concurred with Schemansky’s. So, a quick re-hash of the EJ was carried out, including making the bumpers slimmer, adding valances front and rear and re-designing the grille and leading edge of the bonnet to lighten the whole look of the car. And it worked. But the damage to reputations was harder to fix, and for the EH, GM head office in Detroit took full control over design for what was, in reality, a facelift. The Holden stylist had nothing to do with it and, in fact, the final design was simply shipped to Australia in a box with instruction on how to make it.

So maybe you’re on to something, Ian. Maybe the car you’re referring to was, in fact, that ill-fated, ill-proportioned  EJ prototype.

 

Letters -2

A colour thing

Please find attached a photo of a document from Ford regarding the GT I bought back in 1988. I stripped every nut and bolt on this car as part of a complete restoration, and even though the identification plate and verification letter state the car should be Starlight Blue it had been diamond white from the day it left the Ford factory. As you can imagine, this caused more argument and work during the restoration than you can possibly believe.

I Hendry,

Niddrie, VIC

Hmm. Again, here’s a car that suggests that things didn’t always go precisely to plan in the car-building days of the 1960s, 70s and before. To have a car that the tags claim was blue, the factory codes say was blue, but a nut-and-bolt tear-down reveals was always white is a real head-scratcher.

Now, Mr Hendry, I’m sure this thought has crossed your mind before today, but are you sure that this is the original bodyshell that these tags were riveted to back in 1970? I’m not saying it’s necessarily a completely rebodied car, but that would be one explanation for how a factory white car came to be fitted with the tags and numbers from a blue car. On the other hand it could simply be an administrative, record-keeping or production-line stuff-up at Ford’s end. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Maybe a real GT expert could point out the GT-specific bits and pieces and alterations that make a GT a genuine one, but even then, maybe you’re looking at a GT that was rebodied with another authentic GT bodyshell back in the day. But, then, why change the tags over? I reckon if it was rebodied, it would have been a long, long time ago when the car was still relatively new, because for a long time XWs – even GTs – weren’t worth a whole bunch and any shunt big enough to force a major job like a re-shelling would have written it off.

But let’s assume it’s a case of the correct tags on the correct bodyshell; how on earth could a mistake as blindingly obvious as the wrong colour have made it past the quality-control boffins at Broadmeadows? And there’s one more question, of course; what colour did you repaint it during the restoration? Blue or white?

 

Holden -hq -gts

I know that bloke!

I recently read the email from Peter Wilmot in Issue 377 and just thought I’d like to add to it. There is no doubt Peter knows his stuff; I’ve known Pete for many years and in fact I ordered my first new car from him early in 1974 (been a while since we caught up). There I was in 1974, a newly graduated engineer, with a new job (on $6229 a year) a very sad Austin Lancer Series 2 which had been flogged to death over the previous three years, and in need of an image update.

A couple of years earlier I had spotted an HQ SS and decided that I was going to have one one day. Having known Pete for a year or two prior, I thought I’d drop in and see him and order a new car. What started off as a Kingswood V8, four-speed quickly ended up a GTS Monaro four-door for an extra $284 (Salamanca Red without the black panels). Unfortunately weeks of waiting turned into months with no car. Pete kindly let me off the hook and I finished up chasing down a Chrome Yellow four-door Monaro GTS 253 four-speed from Gary and Warren Smith in Melbourne (see photo attached). Over the years I added a 350 Holley carb, twin exhaust, rear sway bar, and pump up shocks. Oh, and some lights. I replaced the standard headlights with Hella halogen globes which were rare in the ’70’s and caused no end of angst from other motorists (There were occasions where I had to show them I was on low beam. They always got the message…).

I recall Pete telling me that later that year a 350 Monaro GTS four-door turned up at the dealership and they could not sell it! What would that be worth today?

On the subject of HD/HR Holdens (refer your article in the same issue), some six months or so before I ordered the Monaro I was looking at another mate’s car – a HR Premier with an X2 engine, four-speed on the floor, console, bucket seats, front discs, six-inch rims and a two-inch sports system, all for $1000. (G’day Chibby, are you out there in reader land?)  At that time I had no job so it was a stretch and therefore didn’t happen. I believe that this was all factory (except for the rims and exhaust) which seems to fit with the article. I remember it used to go pretty well, even allowing for a lot of speedo error the magic ton was achieved on the odd occasion.

Keep up the good work boys, always look forward to the mag arriving.

Laurie Floyd,

Email

Laurie, you should do yourself a favour and get in touch with Pete Wilmot; he’s a great bloke and an endless source of information and yarns. I enjoyed the morning I spent in his garage enormously. I don’t know whether you’re still fooling around with old Holden iron, but I can confirm that Pete is, and that his shed is home to a couple of spectacular ’70s Holdens.

The HR you nearly bought, meanwhile, probably was factory-delivered with all that gear. You could indeed option a floor-shifted four-speed, X2 engine, disc front brakes and centre console on a HR and that combo today would be a supremely collectible vehicle. Not as valuable as the 350 GTS HQ Monaro that Pete Wilmot couldn’t shift off the showroom floor, though.

Do you still have the yellow HQ?

 

More HG 202 sightings

I’m another witness to HG Holdens with factory-fitted 202 red motors. A long time ago in my mis-spent youth I travelled around Australia with a large contingent of mates. One mate in particular had reason to purchase another vehicle after his HG panel van was totalled (incidentally this HG panel van was fitted with a 173 red motor and I think it was a factory fitment, too). The accident happened while we were in Perth back in the mid ’70s.

Anyway, this mate bought an HG  ute, privately as I remember, and it was a bloody good thing. I remember wondering what was going on with the thing having a 202, but there it was. He stayed in Perth after myself and some other mates left to continue our travels and he eventually drove it back to Brisbane without a problem. I’d reckon that EJs with factory-fitted red 149 motors were very likely to have rolled off the shop floor when you look at the HG 202 red motor story.

Meantime, I hope you enjoy your VN SS Dave. I was lucky enough to have a nice one the exact colour that you have – Phoenix Red I think it is – and the thing went very well. It had the power pack the and also an electric sunroof. Unfortunately whoever put the sunroof in didn’t rustproof the cut-out for the sunroof and it started to bubble around the sealing rubber. I sold it as it was going to be expensive to fix. Absolutely love the mag; great stuff and extremely informative.

Simon Griffiths,

Wakerley, Qld. 

Funny you should mention the power-pack option and sunroof on your VN SS, Simon. As much as I like a sunroof on a balmy summer’s night, when I went looking for my SS, I deliberately aimed  for a car without these options. The sunroofs were never fitted at the factory; mostly they were done by outside contractors on the instructions of dealerships. And, as you’ve correctly identified, the quality of the installations could vary enormously.

And although the power pack (central locking and power windows) was a factory deal, anybody who has sampled 1990-grade Holden power windows will know that if they are still working, they probably won’t be for long. And central locking? One more thing to foul up in a car of this vintage and reputation, I’m afraid. I’ll happily wind my own windows and lock my own doors just like we all did in the old days, thanks very much.

Thanks for the input Simon. It seems you’ve identified yet another commercial vehicle (another ute) with the 202 fitted to a HG. Whether or not that really points to a suggestion that EJs were factory-fitted with red motors is debatable, but it seems not everybody shares your open-mindedness on the subject. See what I mean below.

 

Letter -3

Dr Google

Mr Morley, you will find all the proof that you need that red motors were never fitted in an EJ Holden off the assembly line. With today’s technology (the internet), Google up EJ Holden specifications from the EJ/EH Car Club, or email GMH and get confirmation that the EJ was only fitted with the 2.6-litre motor (I did). Then re-read all of your readers’ comments over the past year from those that worked at GM-H, building this model and those that sold them. And guess what? They all agree that it never happened.

You yourself, with regards to the 202-powered HG ute, physically went and saw, photographed, and came up with documentation that proved the factory 202 exists! Now do the same regarding a red motor in an EJ Holden. By the way, it’s a pretty ordinary comment that it’s up to me to prove that EJs never had a red motor (which I just did). But you were the one who said that they did (more than a year ago). Over to you, where’s your PROOF ?

Look forward to reading your findings.

Greg H,

Again 

Okay folks, let me set the scene here: Greg included copies of documents that he found on the internet that he reckons prove the EJ never escaped the Holden factory with a red motor fitted. But Greg, I’ve got to take you up on a couple of points here.

For a start, this whole debate has never been about me saying the EJ came with a red motor. It’s about me saying that I’d heard it as a rumour and asked for people who knew more about it than me to step forward. Which they did. And I’ve got to say, it’s been a very entertaining discussion for me and a lot of other UC readers. Clearly it’s been keeping you off the streets, too, even if it’s only been to try to prove me wrong.

Secondly, you’ve fallen into the old trap of incorrectly interpreting the info you’ve dug up. All the documents you sent me confirm that the grey-motored EJ Holden did exist. That much we knew anyway. But not a single one of the documents you provided categorically state that a red-motored EJ did not exist. The two statements might sound like the same thing, but they’re not. The existence of a grey-motored version does not automatically rule out the possibility of a red-motored one. Do you see the difference?

And why buzz-kill the subject? The fact that the whole thing is a rumour and not a sanctioned fact is what makes it tantalising.

I should also point out that just because it’s been published by a 45-year-old, still living with his parents, on some website or other, hardly bestows gospel status. Do you know why doctors tell their patients not to Google their symptoms? Because the Dr Google ‘diagnosis’ that gets thrown up is often completely wrong, despite coming from some professional, trustworthy looking website. The internet, my friend, is full of lies, half-truths and stupidity.

Then there’s the email response you got from Holden (see the picture). Of course Holden will only acknowledge the grey-motored EJ. Again, that’s the point. But the email then goes on to explain that some of the pre-1989 records have been lost or destroyed. Which is another way of saying "We don’t know". And if I was the conspiratorial type, I could argue that "We don’t know" is code for "We did it, but we’re not admitting it". But that’d be drawing too long a bow. Wouldn’t it? Or would it?

 

Advice

Holden -commodore 

Tip of the month

READING ABOUT other people’s spannering balls-ups is a right giggle, but it also reminds me that we all have to start somewhere. My brother tells a ripper yarn about the time he worked for a government department in the 1980s, servicing a fleet of cars, utes and light-industrial machinery.

His boss had one of the then-brand-spankers VN Commodores complete with the Buick-derived V6 engine and this particular Monday, it was time for the Commy’s first service. My brother was also responsible at this time for an apprentice who – and let’s not beat about the bush here – was about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

Anyway, little brother drains the oil in the V6, replaces the sump plug and then feels nature’s unmistakable call. So he instructs the apprentice to fill the V6 with oil and then sweep the floor when he’s done. Bro comes out of the library a few minutes later to see the youngster doing as he was told; sweeping the workshop floor. Did you put oil in the Commodore? Yes boss. So Morley hits the key to move the Commodore into the car-park and suddenly all hell breaks loose. The V6 is staggering and banging, there’s smoke everywhere and oil is spurting out of every breather and even the dipstick tube.

He shuts her down fast and starts to have a poke around the now very oily engine bay. The dipstick has been punched about six inches out of its tube, so that’s where he starts to look first. And it doesn’t take him long to work out that there’s now about 30 litres of Castrol GTX in the Holden’s sump.

All is not well. A short pop quiz with the apprentice then takes place.

"But boss," he pleads, "I only did what you told me. I filled the Commodore engine with oil."

And so he had…right up to the tops of the rocker covers. I believe that particular apprentice did a fair bit more floor sweeping in the weeks and months that followed.

Send your emails to: uniquecars@bauertrader.com.au

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