Two-strokes + Chrysler Centura + VL Commie Woes - Morley 396

By: David Morley

Presented by

lawn mower lawn mower

A Centura naysayer fires a broadside, VL Commodore woes, EJ Holdens and Minis

Write to Morley c/o
or Unique Cars magazine, Locked Bag 12, Oakleigh, Vic 3166 


Two-strokes; most people hate them. Me? Love ’em. Okay, I’ve always been a fan of the underdog and I admire the alternative approach, but that wouldn’t count for squat if two-stroke engines were as crapola as most people would have you believe. But I reckon they get a bum rap.

The problem, as I see it, is that two-strokes have earned a reputation for being unreliable, purely because they’re so reliable. Pardon? Yeah, see the problem is that your old lawn mower should have quit years before it did, but thanks to its inherent simplicity and ruggedness, kept soldiering on years after it should, by rights, have carked it and been replaced with a shiny new mower. In the meantime, Old Faithful lost a bit of compression and became a bit harder to start and a mower that doesn’t want to start is all she wrote for most of us.

I know they’re not two-strokes, but the same thing happened with air-cooled Volkswagens before they became cool and trendy. As they wore, they got a bit slower and started using a bit of oil and became a bit rattly. And that’s how people started judging them. The point is, of course, that a Holden grey or a Standard Vanguard or Ford sidevalve donk with the same amount of wear would have blown up years earlier. But the VW, which continued to hang in there, became a victim of its own success.

My big passion at the moment is for two-stroke diesels which sound absolutely amazing. And you’ve gotta love an engine that won’t actually run without a supercharger (the whole crankcase needs to be pressurised for the two-stroke diesel to breathe). And hey, if the design was inherently flawed, the North American truck industry would never have dabbled with it. But it did, and some of the best diesel engines ever made were strokers. Fact is, if a two-stroke has fuel, spark and compression, the bugger is obliged to run. And what about the sensation that is the rotary engine? With an induction, compression, ignition and exhaust stroke with every revolution, the rotary is a two-stroke, too.

So, next time you hear somebody describe their kids as `playing up like a borrowed lawn-mower’ or their spouse giving them more trouble `than a second-hand outboard’ don’t believe it for a minute. And I’ll give you another reason for us tappet-heads loving two-strokes: Every stroke is a power stroke. ‘Nuff said.


Nut -bolt

Nut Bag Nouse

When I need nuts and bolts to stop one of my dungers falling apart, I buy the best quality fasteners I can. Like anything else, there’s quality and there’s rubbish. If you’ve ever owned a 1970s-80s japanese motorcycle you’ll know their fasteners were made from cheese. Touched with a spanner or screwdriver they round off like they’ve melted. Designed to be used once (at the factory) they do not encourage home maintenance.

So buy good ones, especially if you might want to undo them and put them back one day. Another tip: If I need half a dozen nuts, bolts, or washers, I buy twice as many and bung the extras back in my stash of bits and bobs for another day.


Chrysler -centura

Centura Whisky Tango Foxtrot

Bathurst-spec Centura, Morley? More like bollocks-spec. Tell this Ray Campbell bloke he’s dreamin’. I had a mate who was an apprentice a few years back. He got the pick of all the cheap trade-ins before they went to auction. One day he comes home with a big grin and points to this mission brown monstrosity. This was a one owner, grandpa-spec car (Centura in case you hasn’t guessed) with the Hemi 245. I had my doubts. Those doubts were proven when we raced a Kingswood with a 350 Chev at the traffic-light grand-prix. Old mate kept up with the Chev very well, it almost beat her. But the difference was the Centura shook so violently it was like being on the Gravitron.

This French Simca body was made to move cheese not haul arse. To my mind it should’ve been deported before all that torque bent its petite chassis in two. It handled its power about as well as Donald Trump and was genuinely shit-scary; one of the scariest four-wheeled experiences of my life. Maybe that’s why it was painted brown as a warning to any who dared push the unlikely merdebox du jour. If ever there was a clandestine French plot to kill bogans, this was it. Let’s instead destroy them all. Can we please now agree to NEVER mention the C word again. Merci beaucoup.

Matt Hayward,


Jeez Matt, you’re a hard marker. I’d hate to think what you’d have made of your mate’s Centura if it hadn’t been able to give a big fright to a Chev-powered Holden. Now, I’ll admit that the Centura might have been a bit underdone in the body and suspension departments, but only after we Aussies had crammed the poor little thing full of pushrod six-banger. Not that I’ve forgotten about the Rainbow Warrior, you understand, but I don’t reckon you can completely blame the French for the outcome in the Centura’s case.

And besides, who cares if she rattles and wiggles a bit? If it can run with a 350-cube Kingy from the lights, it deserves our respect. And another thing: I reckon I’ve experienced a far scarier four-wheeler than the Centura. That honour would belong to a Leyland Marina that a housemate of mine back in the day used to get around in. This thing was evil in every sense of the word. Just when you thought you had it lined up with the next bit of road, the damn thing would either step hard left or tie itself in knots through the steering wheel and refuse to alter course at all. I know we were living in dangerous times, but that Marina stopped being funny pretty quickly. And made a Hemi-powered Centura look like a supercar just as quickly.

Anybody else want to weigh in with their recollections of horrors past?


Holden -vl -commodore

More VL Commie Woes

Over the years I have had about 30 company cars. Most of these were base models until I got promoted in later years. I have logged more than 2.5 million kilometres in some of the most ordinary cars grown in Oz. Drum-braked, three on the tree, cheap tyres, Holdens and Falcons, and we kept them for 150,000 km or more. Anyway every one of these early 60s to mid 80s cars had their idiosyncrasies but none more puzzling than my VL Commie auto. It developed a habit of just stopping for no reason at all, or overheating and the fuel consumption would go nuts. This problem mystified every mechanic in almost every town that I was visiting.

Then, one day I left Peak Hill to drive to Nyngan. The car used a full tank of juice to do about 200km and was close to boiling. And as I crossed the railway line it died again. The local NRMA agent who also had a mechanical business in town and by now was familiar with my car towed it to his workshop and puzzled over the problem again. In the workshop the car started again and everything checked out as normal so he took it for a drive. But fortunately it was a dark, cloudy day because when the VL started coughing again he opened the bonnet and spotted a single spark in the wiring loom where it runs across the back of the engine bay. A single wire was worn through and shorting on the firewall. This wire was of course connected to the computer and every time it shorted it did something to the programme. Run rich or lean, hot or cold and go or stop.

GMH, in its never ending quest for economy, had deleted the insulation from the wiring loom between the two clips that supported it. This would have been a cost saving of less than a cent. The problem was notified in an NRMA bulletin to all their service people and to GMH.

David Hughes

Parkes, NSW

Hey, isn’t it nice when you actually get a result like that? Hopefully, the reader in a previous issue who was having nightmares with his own VL might be able to use this info for a fix. Fundamentally, the VL Commodore was a decent bit of gear. The Nissan-sourced six suddenly made the old blue and black motors seem a bit old hat, and the four-speed automatic was a revelation.

But, as you point out, they were definitely cars that were built down to a price, not up to a quality level, and that caused problems for owners like you. Since you’ve owned and driven the wheels off pretty much every Aussie car from the 60s to the 80s (or so it seems) I’d be interested in knowing what you thought the golden era was in that period. What was the best model from each manufacturer from the point of view of a bloke who really used them up? Anybody else out there got an opinion?

For mine, I’d be inclined to nominate early Commodores as a bit of a watershed time. Sure, the drivelines were fished out of a tar-pit somewhere, but the engineering was rugged and the cars were strong. And they took local-car dynamics to a whole new level. But I can also see how the march of technology made each generation better than the last… In some respects.


Holden -ej -3

EJ is top of the heap

Hello, just to add to the debate. I have had two EJs. Both were purchased in the 70s. One was a sedan with automatic transmission and the other a manual ute. Both of these vehicles were honest and reliable. Both were bought as second cars and were cheap. They were used as daily commutes to work.

The automatic took about a city block to change gears at times and the only troubles I had with it was, at one stage, the radiator carked it and she overheated. At one point I had six adults in the car, driving up and down steep hills. The transmission let us know it was working but she never let us down.

The other problem I had with the car was kind of my own fault. I had built a house and there was a heap of soil where they had put in the sewer pipes. Being lazy, I decided to use the car to pack down the heap of soil. It worked fine until the heap got taller. Using a bit more throttle I ran the car up the heap.  This felt great until it ground to a stop on top of the pile with both front and rear wheels off the ground. Not real good. The next problem was I had to get out of the window as the body must have moved and I couldn’t undo the doors. The solution was to get a shovel out and dig it off the mound. When she was back down the doors all opened and there were no squeaks and rattles in the body. The only thing I bought for the car was an eyebrow trim and a set of radials. Very cheap motoring.

The ute was purchased to move some soil for the garden. It was cheaper than buying a trailer and a lot easier to reverse. I used it as a commuter car for a couple of years. It was Katrina Beige. A mate of mine had an EH 179 wagon. I liked the power it had so I decided a red motor was the way to go. My mechanic checked everything out and said the motor would be great and easy to fit. There was one problem, the body would have to go. The body near the rear leaf springs was just about rusted through. The following weekend the ute became a Honda Civic.

Like all updates the EJ was bettered by the EH, but both were honest and reliable workers, so what’s the debate about?

Brian Tonkin,


I think it goes without saying, Brian me old mate, that an EJ Holden was never designed as a piece of earthmoving equipment. That said, I’ve used my utes over the years to uproot small trees, pull down fences and as short-wheelbase tipper trucks. The best one was a HJ with a 253 and loose old auto. The only thing missing was a three-point linkage and a pivot to mount a blade. And speaking of EJ utes, my dad owned one many years ago; a car he bought from the estate of his uncle (or something). It was a great car, but I refused to drive it until he put seat-belts in it. He never did. And it wasn’t because he was concerned with originality, he was just lousy.

Rust finally got it, too. Because the window seals were all shot, the ute leaked like a cabinet meeting. Eventually, I pulled the seat out, grabbed a hammer and cold chisel and cut a few holes in the floorpan for the water to drain. But the damage was done. Probably wouldn’t tackle the same problem the same way today…

But you’re right, the EJ Holden was a fine piece of Aussie engineering, made at a time when we, as a society, genuinely favoured steak over sizzle. My only question for you, Brian, is how the Honda Civic was at carting soil and packing down earthworks? Bit light for that, I’d have thought.


Holden -commodore -engine -bay

VN Vibes

Regarding your VN Commodore with a driveline shudder: If the VN is lowered I would be making sure you have an adjustable Panhard rod. That too will change the driveline angles. Also I believe there are now adjustable upper control arms in the market. I’m an ex Holden dealer tech from the VN- VY era, I will just about guarantee you it’s the driveline angles.



Okay, I’m gonna come clean here: The VN’s driveline wobbles have been fixed and I had a heap of replies like yours Jason, suggesting everything from bent axles to crook uni-joint angles. But my confession is this: It wasn’t a driveline vibration after all. Yep, I made the rookie error of presuming that just because VN Commodores had a reputation for wobbly drivelines, that was going to be the cause of my problems, too.

But after replacing every bush and even getting a second opinion on the condition of the uni-joints and the diff backlash, I was left scratching my big, hairy scone. And then, after many weeks, I noticed something really interesting: The vibes were worst under load (which you’d expect, of course) but they got even worse as the level of fuel in the tank dropped. Eventually, the engine would start to stumble and miss even at idle, at which point I ripped into the fuel system to take a look-see.

It turned out the little rubber hose that joins the lift-pump to the tank outlet had perished and fallen to bits about half-way along it length. So, when the tank was full and petrol was covering the split, she still pumped like a good ’un and fed the five-litre all the PULP it wanted. But as the tank’s level fell, the split became exposed and the more the level fell, the more of the split was exposed. Eventually, the pump couldn’t keep up with the fuel spilling out of the split and the pressure in the fuel rail fell. And then, of course, the engine developed the staggers; at first only under load and eventually at idle.

Rather than just replace the wee bit of rubber hose (which I would have done had I been stuck in the boondocks) I did the smart thing and replaced the fuel pump, filter and hose. And problem solved. Yes, embarrassing and frustrating but, as I’ve said all along, as a mechanic, I make a pretty good journo.



Mini mojo

Hey all, I have a 72 Leyland Mini and want to put twin SUs on it. But I’m struggling to find the right twin carb setup? Any help on the search would be much appreciated. Thanks

Rowan Wild,


One of the things I like most about this industry, Rowan, is that there are blokes like you still doing it old school. In this chuck-away world, today’s must-have soon becomes tomorrow’s has-been, and that annoys me a bit. But luckily, we tappet heads have never abandoned the things that made us grin back in the day; stuff like a big old set of SU carbs on a Mini donk.

And because of that, the bits and pieces in question are still around if you search a bit. A quick look on a couple of online sites turned up sets of carbs and manifolds for a Mini in either as-is condition, completely rebuilt and reconditioned and even, in some cases, brand-new. You need to work out a budget for this, but a fully reco-ed set of SUs and all the trimmings (linkages, gaskets and such) can easily run past a grand. Still, in the long run, that might still work out cheaper than buying a crusty old pair of carbs and then having to rebuild them from the float-bowls up.

I reckon the best bet is to find a carburettor shop in your area and have a chat to the bloke behind the counter who is odds-on to have done exactly what you’re after probably, ooh, a million times. They’ll be able to not only suggest the right carbs (and possible source them for you) but will also be able to tailor the package to do exactly what you want it to on the road (or track). Like I said, the nice thing is that there are still businesses and people out there who love this old school stuff and have never let it go.

Meantime, try finding parts for a Betamax video recorder or a replacement charger for one of those old `brick’ mobile phones and you'll see what I mean.


Le -mans -start

Start line blues

Remember the Le Mans start – cars lined up along pit wall, drivers sprinting across the track to them, climbing in, starting the engines and blasting away? It often led to cars running into each other and drivers not fastening their belts properly in the rush. Belgian Jacky Ickx started the 1969 Le Mans classic in a Ford GT-40 but, as a protest over his safety issues with the Le Mans start, he walked calmly to his car, belted in carefully and took off stone, motherless last. He won the race but Brit John Woolfe was killed in a crash on the first lap, speculation being that his belts were not fastened properly. It was the last year of the Le Mans start.


Oily rag smells?

Back when Saab was still making cars, I went to the launch of a new 9-3 where, to demonstrate how far engines had come, a hose from the tailpipe of an early, two-stroke Saab 93 was attached to the intake of the new car. The oldie was started first and then the new car, running purely on the fumes of the old girl, fired up and ran perfectly with nothing visible out the tailpipe. At the time, Saab reckoned that if the new car was run in some of the worst polluted cities, the tailpipe emissions would be cleaner than the air the engine was breathing. You listening, China?



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