Barn Finds + Hot Commodores + V8 Ford Utes + Rotaries - Morley's Workshop 389

By: David Morley

Presented by

Flatpack Ford Flatpack Ford

Our head shed-dweller gets stuck into family histories, gets antsy about barn finds, ponders the meaning of hot Commodores, investigates 8-banger Ford utes and demystifies rotary revs



Flatpack Ford

It’s not unusual for families to get together, sit down with their older generations and jot down memories of past events before time robs us of them. Sometimes, those memories lurk in bottom drawers or on the hard-drives of computers, but they’re often dragged out on family get-togethers even generations later. Just like a photo album records the visual past. Which is nice.

But sometimes, a couple of family members will take it upon themselves to actually publish those memories into a book of some sort. Self-publishing and affordable home electronics have made this possible, and it’s a great way to preserve those memories but also keep them accessible.

Too often, however, the people responsible for recording all this stuff somehow feel that there won’t be any interest in those stories beyond the family in question. But a little book that came across my desk this week (via snail mail, I should add) proves that sometimes, the yarns in question have a broader appeal. The book is called The Mail Must get Through and it’s all about a bloke named Alwyn Becker and his recollections of four decades of delivering the mail around the town of Taroom, about 180km north-east of Roma in outback Queensland.

There’s also a bit of family history and some funny yarns about life on the farm, but it’s the stories about Alwyn, his mail run and the fact that he even assembled a brand-new Ford Pilot from a big crate of bits delivered by train back in the 1930s, that his son, Vaughn, figured would appeal to me. And he was dead right (although the other stuff is good fun, too).

As Vaughn says: "Just imagine you lived in the bush, needing/wanting a new car and then having to wait for it to come on the rail from the nearest railway depot, pick it up in pieces in a crate and transport it to your local mechanic for it to be put together. Dad, 93, is still around and living in Taroom and we quite often talk about the early motoring days."

I bet you do. So thanks Vaughn for taking the time to both put the book together and for having the smarts to figure that Unique Cars readers might be interested in it. And you know what else this makes me realise? That this column has become much more than a forum for people to cross-reference points gaps for a 1976 Falcon or to ask about that funny pink metallic colour on HQ Holdens (it was called Orchid, by the way). Nope, I reckon this column has morphed into an online Men’s Shed (ladies most welcome, too, of course). And to be a part of that makes me feel very fortunate and honoured. Keep it coming, folks.



Cor! Tina.

Ford -Cortina

Hey Morley, I was stoked to read in issue 387 that we share a similar experience with a Cortina! My TE Wagon I bought years ago unceremoniously dropped a piston and my mechanic mate Pete asked whether I wanted a "patch up" job replacing the piston or to go the whole hog.

A few of Pete’s home-brew lagers convinced me the latter was the way to go, so Pete had the block acid-dipped, bored 60-thou and, with a 40-thou shave off the cylinder head, added a mild lift cam and a 350 Holley I just happened to have. With a few other tweaks the little Corty wagon was lethal. I will treasure forever being alongside a hot HQ 308 V8 at a set of lights in Morayfield, while talking to my wife on my mobile (now illegal; the phone, not my wife) and on the green my innocent looking Cortina blew him away (and he tried hard). Pete and I wondered how (or if) he would tell his rev-head mates, we thought it would go like this:

Holden Guy:  "I was next to this bloody mouldy looking Cortina wagon, the drag was on, and he shut me down. And the bastard was on the phone at the time!"

Ya gotta larf.

Geoff Scard,


Ah, home brew and engine rebuilds: Shouldn’t go together, but as time has proven many, many times, they’re a perfect match. And Geoff, as I’ve said many times, sleepers are one of my true automotive loves. I’ve owned cars over the years that have caused V8 drivers to drive straight home and pull their engines to bits to figure out why the little green Volkswagen in the next lane just blew them away at the lights.

By the way, including operating heavy machinery while under the influence of home brew, racing on the street, hooning generally and talking on a mobile phone while driving, I reckon your story includes enough license points and fines to send you away for about three months. But as judge and jury, I’ll accept your period of detention behind the wheel of a Cortina Wagon as time already served. And I so advise.


So many Cortinas!

Ford -Cortina -green

A long, long time ago, when I had my 253 HQ Monaro, a mate had a 250 Cortina. Dead even in top speed (don’t ask me how I know, I just do..) and about the same getting there. There aren’t many corners in the Mallee so we didn’t get to compare handling but I’ll take the HQ any day…

Laurie Floyd,


Seems like the dreaded Cortina touched more than its share of Aussie kids back in the day. And not necessarily in a good way. I can see why the relatively svelte (but bigger) HQ and the dunny-block-styled Cortina might have had similar top speeds, Laurie, but it surprises me that the Corty wasn’t a bit quicker out of the blocks. Don’t get me wrong, I love a 253, but it was hardly a high-performance fitment in a HQ. Meanwhile, that torquey six in the Cortina should have hustled it along pretty well.

But you know the one thing we’re forgetting here? The Chrysler Centura which, with an even better straight-six than the Cortina, was a proper weapon in the right (or wrong) hands back in the day. I guess because they weren’t great sellers, not many of us had much to do with them. I can remember two from my youth; the first was a blue one owned by a local lass called Kim O’Something and the second was owned by a mate of my dad’s. I remember dear old Dad borrowing the Centura once and declaring it the fastest thing on four wheels. Yeah, Ferraris were a bit thin on the ground in our town.


Saving Bushes

The letter from Craig Gilmour concerning storage contained some cogent, well-argued ideas. However, I’ve been in the business of storing cars for years and as much as I agree with Craig’s points about suspension bushes, I must add my thoughts: My solution to ‘saving’ bushes as well as tyres is to block up the suspension with the tyres just off the ground. This keeps the bushes in the preferred position as well as preserving the rubber.

Jason Caine,


Ah, now that’s a great idea, Jason: You get the wheels off the ground so the tyres don’t turn into 50-cent pieces, but you don’t have the suspension at full droop, stretching and deforming the suspension bushes. Why didn’t I think of that? Also, why didn’t I invent turbocharging and why wasn’t it me that came up with those little whatchcallems that core and peel an apple in one go? Nice one, bud.


Barns, sheds, garages?

Mitsubishi -Pajero

I have a Mitsubishi Pajero 4X4 with 426,000km on it and which has decided to leak water into the sump. So I have to rebuild the motor. In the meantime, my brother rang me to tell me about a few cars that could serve as a short-term replacement, so I drove to Malaga to look at the first car that was close to us.

It was a 1995 VS Commodore S. The bloke wanted $3000 for it and while it had a few scratches on the dark green (almost black) paint, it was otherwise in beautiful condition inside and out. It also had a set of mags and a spare set of SS wheels with new tyres. It had been sitting in his garage for over six months (Garage find? Ha ha.) Anyway, he was selling the car so he could fit his new boat in the garage.

I’ve had the car for four weeks now and have checked it over and over. From what I can see, it’s done only 180,000km and it’s in perfect condition. Oh, and I only paid $2500 for it. I’ve owned a lot of old cars, but we’ve decided to keep the Commodore and I would like your opinion of them.

Also, I can’t enter your competitions as we do not have internet and your magazine no longer has a coupon in it (Shame!).

G Smith,

Mandurah, WA.

MR SMITH, I don’t think you’re the only person who regrets the move to digital publishing and online magazine consumption and the changes that has brought. Maybe we need to look at putting coupons back in to the magazine when we run competitions (which is pretty much constantly).

Meantime, I’ll agree that a car that has been laid up for less than a year is hardly your classic garage find, but that doesn’t alter the fact that it appears you’ve picked up a very nice set of wheels that the owner wanted rid of to make space. Thus are automotive bargains created. The $2500 price-tag is not too far south of what I’d expect to pay for a VS Commodore S, but it also sounds like you scored a very nice one and the kilometres are, indeed, low considering the age of the thing.

Back in the day, a Commodore S with its V6 engine was considered a bit second-best to the SS with its V8, and while that’s still the case, I did visit a private car collection recently that featured a low-kilometre VS S (this one was white) and the bloke was understandably very proud of what was a super clean, mint-condition example. These Commodores are very long-lived and feature rugged engineering. So my advice would be to keep it serviced and looking good and enjoy it. Since you got better than 400,000km out of a Pajero, I suspect you’re the sort of bloke who looks after his cars properly.

As an aside, fellow Unique Cars contributor Glenn Torrens (he of the mangled VW Beetle fame) gets all bent out of shape when anybody in the office uses the term `barn find’. This, he insists is Australia and it should be called a `garage find’ or a `shed find’. I’m not fussed either way, although it’s good to know I can always wind him up quickly and tightly whenever I like. But what about you lot: Does the term `barn find’ offend?


Hot Commo Option

Holden _commodore _ss _v _redline

Your advice about choosing a Series 2 VF Commodore SS over a Series 1 was spot on. If you get asked the question again and the buyer can’t stretch their budget for a Series 2, I have a good solution: I have one of the last Series 1 VF SS-V six-speed manuals. Not many people know that the last 2015 SS-Vs share the same suspension and other upgrades that the Series 2 got.

These cars can be identified by the rear bumper and front grille colours. The easiest way is by checking the rear bumper finish which you will find is the same as the Series 2. I would recommend this as a good alternative for those whose budgets don’t quite stretch far enough. I fitted mine with a polished stainless magna flow exhaust which was designed in the USA by Chip Foose for the left hook VF-based cars. This thing sounds awesome.

Chris Mooney,


Here’s another example where manufacturing and marketing don’t quite line up. You’d have to speculate that when Holden’s marketing and sales department was ready to ramp up the VF Series 2 launch, the production line bosses had already used up the last of the Series 1 bits. Their solution: Raid whatever‘s lying around which, of course, happened to be a bunch of Series 2 bits and pieces. This is exactly the same ducks-not-quite-lining-up thing that led to HG Holdens with factory-fitted 202s and – at the risk of melting down the Unique Cars email server one more time and giving the poor old postie a hernia – the perhaps mythical, perhaps real EJ Holden with a factory-fitted red motor. And you can bet your bottom dollar, these late-build VF Series 1 oddities rolled into dealership without fanfare or, indeed, any acknowledgement for the buyers that they were a bit different.

So thanks for the heads up, Chris. Meantime, I reckon there’s another alternative to a VF SS-V that is a good car to drive now and might be worth a bit extra in the long-term. And that’s the very last of the VZ Commodore SSs. Thanks to the same set of circumstances, Holden had finished with the 5.7-litre Gen 3 V8 by then and knew it was going to use the six-litre version for the VE Commodore. But a batch or two of those very last VZs also got the six-litre mill, turning them into something a bit special. Trouble is from what I’ve seen, the blokes that own these oddities know what they are and appreciate their specialness. So they’re priced accordingly. Still cheaper than a VF SS, though, and lots of fun to drive.


Factory job? Maybe…

Factory -job

Hi Garage Gurus. l have a Falcon XR V8 auto ute that l brought about four years ago from mid-NSW. My question is: Does anybody know how many factory V8 auto XR Falcon utes were made? All the paperwork and sales brochures l can find say the the 289 V8 wasn’t an option in the XR ute, but mine is all factory fitted with all correct numbers.


Shepparton, VIC

Kev, looking at the listings I have for Falcon utes of that era, the earliest one I can find with a V8 is for a 1968 XT ute with a 302 on board. Which makes me agree with everybody else that there was no V8 option for an XR Falcon ute. Which makes your car a very rare bird indeed, if in fact it’s a factory job and not something that a previous owner has cobbled up.

You say the numbers are all correct for a factory XR ute, but I’m interested in how you’ve arrived at that conclusion, given there doesn’t seem to be any factory records for such a variant. That said – and here come the naysayers one more time – you could option up your XR Falcon 500 sedan or even wagon with a 289 V8, so it would hardly have been an engineering impossibility. The fact that it’s an auto adds up, too, because apart from the XR GT, the only transmission you could get behind the 289 was the three-speed slushbox. I just can’t find any reference to it. Are you sure it’s not a US import that’s been converted to Aussie spec? I’d be willing to bet that the North American version of the Falcon ute (Ranchero) could be had with a V8 back then.

Ford -ute

But I am absolutely prepared to believe it is what you say, purely because, as I’ve said many times, strange things happened in the car industry in those days. If you were prepared to wait for a special order car, you could tick an often very weird series of boxes and some up with some truly oddball cars. I’ve mentioned them before, but I’ve personally seen a Fairlane with Falcon GT running gear and even a late-70s Fairlane with a factory-fitted Toploader four-speed.

And just to pour a little more fuel on this here fire, I was recently talking to an old mate I hadn’t seen in ages. And he told me that he’d personally seen, back in the day, an EJ Holden with a factory red motor. "Saw it with me own eyes," he assured me. He’d swear it on a stack of bibles, too. He also told me about an EH a mate of his owned with what was allegedly factory-fitted power-steering. Now, as far as I know, neither the HD nor the HR Holdens that followed the EH had a power-steering option, so this one’s pretty intriguing, too. Maybe it was a special order for a bloke with one arm missing, or maybe the local convent ordered it so the elderly nuns could go tearing about the parish in comfort. Perhaps it was a prototype that escaped the crusher. Who knows. Either way, I’d love to see such a thing. And I’d also love to hear from anybody else who has one of these oddities tucked away in a corner.

Yes, I’m still waiting for photographic proof of a red-motored EJ, but I’m keeping the faith. And, yes, I’m braced for the onslaught of emails from those who profess to know better. Bring it on.


Rotary doubts

Mazda -rx4

A mate of mine once owned a Mazda RX-4 which he claimed would rev to 10,000rpm. Surely not. I know rotaries have a reputation for big revs, but this was back in the 1970s when even a Ferrari probably redlined at 6500rpm. Is he having me on, or was the rotary able to spin that hard?

Andrew P,

Melbourne, VIC

NEVER HAVING met your mate, Andrew, I can’t say whether the bloke is full of it or not. But I can tell you one thing, even back in 1973 when the RX-4 burst on to the scene, those little rotisseries were capable of monster revs. Blokes who rallied them in the day frequently saw the wrong side of 10,000rpm as did the brave fellas who raced the things at Bathurst.

However, it’s not quite that simple. Conventional wisdom is that the rotary engine revs hard because it has great primary balance and very few moving parts. All that is true, but there’s another secret to it. As you probably know, instead of conventional pistons going up and down on a crankshaft, the rotary design uses a vaguely triangular rotor, rotating inside a vaguely oval housing. The spaces created by the rotor as it passes different parts of the housing create the suck, squeeze, bang, blow sequence of events that we know as internal combustion.

But here’s the rotary’s dirty little secret: The crankshaft (or, more correctly, the output shaft) has lobes that run against the inside of the rotor and are turned by the rotation of that rotor. The catch is that the lobes on the output shaft are smaller than the inside diameter of the rotor, so they’re effectively geared at about three to one. That is: the output shaft turns roughly three times for every elliptical lap of the housing the rotor completes. So, while the output shaft might be registering 9000rpm on the tacho (and it certainly is turning at that speed) the rotor itself is only spinning at about 3000rpm.

It doesn’t make the rotary any less impressive, of course, and it’s an engine I love dearly, but it’s something not a lot of people know. But now you do. Try it out at the pub.



Run a tight ship


Even if you’re just refitting a wheel or slapping a front end back together to move the project around the shed, do the nuts and bolts up tight. It’s too easy to walk away for a few weeks (or months, or years; you know how it goes) only to return and forget about fasteners that are only finger tight. Can you see the next frame in this tragic cartoon? Same goes for brake lines and bleeders, brake caliper bolts and anything else that really can’t afford to jump ship on the first test drive.


Cool, Runnings

Gas -tank

A nice side-effect of running on LPG is that it’s much harder to cook an engine by overheating it. LPG will freeze in the mixer as it depressurises, so the mixer itself is hooked into the engine’s cooling system. Essentially, the coolant that keeps the engine cool also keeps the mixer warm and the LPG flowing. Logically, then, if the car loses coolant, the mixer runs dry and the gas freezes, stopping the car in its tracks before the lack of coolant can do major harm to the engine. Nice. One more reason to go gas.


Plods & Sods

Police -light

Just because a car is advertised as an ex-police car, doesn’t mean it’s anything special. The various State and Territory forces have all, over the years, ordered specific vehicles for specific needs, but in some cases, those mods have amounted only to heavy duty suspension or a bigger transmission cooler or a bigger alternator. Yes, a BT1 ex-chaser has some merit, but if the ex-cop car in question was a Falcon used by the local licensing sergeant, we wouldn’t be tempted to pay any extra over the price of the same car in the same condition with a civilian background.

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



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