Brock-branded cars + Ro80s + engine swaps - Morley 387

By: Dave Morley

holden hq holden hq

Dave argues Brock semantics, holds forth on Ro80s and offers his opinion on the best engine swap option for a Sonderklasse

From Unique Cars #387, April 2016 

Morley's Workshop


A letter this issue from Russell McIlwaine over in WA reminded me of old Cortinas and a bloke I knew who had one back in the day. That said, it can’t have been too new a car, because it was certainly well modified by the time Matey came to own it. Now, I have to be honest and say I was more into Holdens back then. The problem with that was I could only afford versions with a six-cylinder engine (which, in a big heavy HQ was a bit underdone). The upshot was I never really rated Fords at all, and was even more ignorant of Valiants.

But back to my pal’s Cortina (actually, he wasn’t my pal at all; more of an acquaintance. Especially not after his girlfriend dumped him and climbed into the passenger’s seat of my HQ Holden, anyway). So let me paint you a word-picture of this TC. It was an XLE and it was bright orangey-red with a white vinyl roof. It had chromies all round and a poo-brown vinyl interior with that dreadful TC Cortina dashboard that sloped away from you at the bottom. Getting the idea?

But this Cortina’s secret weapon was all under the lid. There lurked a pre-crossflow 250-cube six backed up by a four-speed manual cogbox. And it was no stock 250, either.

Nope, this one had a shaved head, extractors, 350 Holley and a small camshaft which we all – in our blissful ignorance – referred to as a half-race cam (whatever the hell that meant). I doubt that it would be anything special today but back then, this was just about the fastest car in this particular small town.

A much better mate borrowed the thing one night and picked me up to go somewhere or other (or nowhere, knowing us at the time). And from the moment we were rolling, I suddenly had a much better grasp of the phenomenon we know as torque. This thing went like the clappers. Couldn’t go around a corner or stop to save itself (or you, come to think of it) but point it at the horizon and it fair dinkum blasted off like there was no tomorrow. Which, given its stoic refusal to change direction may well have been the case. Trust me, this thing put the ‘bus’ into blunderbuss.

But you know what? For all that it was a rocket, I wouldn’t have swapped it for my grey, drum-braked HQ for quids. See, my Holden had something that his Cortina didn’t: To wit, the lovely Debbie, who had formerly decorated that Cortina, and was blonde, had her own house and whose jumper resembled a dead-heat in a Zeppelin race. Ahem.



Brock -ss

Hello Morley. Enjoyed reading various reviews and the like that you have penned in various publications over the years. Keep it up. 

Now in reply to Martin Hayden’s letter in the previous issue of Unique Cars:  As a passionate Brock owner for some 20 years this year, myself and like-minded members/enthusiasts have enjoyed sharing our love for Peter’s creations no matter what model or variant. Call them HDTs; call them Brocks, Brockies; doesn’t matter. They are what they are. 

And finally, to any Brock owner (there is that term again) who wants to join a fantastic club just for Brocks, I would like to refer them to the Brock Commodore Owners Association Australia, or BCOAA for short. Every model, every variant, and every type of passionate Brock owner is represented. And each with a story to tell. It’s important now more than ever that we remember the Brock name and what it stood for. And our club’s members will endeavour to do just that via the love we share for our Brock cars.

Andrew Hall,


I think the last thing we need to do is to start squabbling over what a particular cult car was called back in the day. And I don’t think Martin was trying to start an argument, it’s just that where he grew up with these things, they were referred to as HDTs, not Brocks. That doesn’t match my experience, nor yours from the sound of things.

In any case, it’s these wonderful machines we need to preserve, not some weird take on semantics.

But it does make me wonder a bit. Experts reckon the big problem with the Australian lingo is that it lacks regional differences and accents. I’m not so sure: I grew up in NSW, so a stone you threw at a fence-post was called a ‘rock’. Then I moved to Victoria, and discovered they’re called ‘yonnies’. The numb spot you get when somebody whacks you in the thigh in NSW was called a ‘dead-leg’. Down in Victoria, it was a ‘bocca’. A NSW scallop was made of potato. In Vic, it was a shellfish, yet you bought either from the local fish-n-chip shop. I could go on.

Okay, I will. A couple of my all-time favourites come from the state of Tasmania where things have always been a bit different: Down there, a smarter-than-average kid is called a ‘nointer’, and to ramble on about nothing in particular is to ‘yaffle’. Brilliant. It also got me wondering if there are regional differences in the way we describe aspects of our hobby. Any ideas? Maybe it’s a generation thing. When I was a kid, a burnout was a ‘chalkie’ and now, apparently, it’s also a ‘skid’. A ‘donut’ is now also a ‘heli’ and the ‘coppers’ in NSW have long been the ‘jacks’ in Victoria.

And trust me, back when I was a kid, fully sick did not mean what it does now.



Brock -ss -insert

Having just read Martin Hayden’s comment, I am at a loss to whether the car club I’m a member of is legit. I’m a member of the BCOAA which I’m sure you’re maybe familiar with but for readers who aren’t, it’s the Brock Commodore Owners Association of Australia. I am no expert on Brock (oops, HDT) Commodores, but I have seen build sheets where the cars were at HDT for months looking at the dates they arrived at the HDT factory and the dates they eventually left. If they weren’t getting major engine work (as Martin maintains) I’m at a loss as to why they were there so long. And let’s not forget the 5.6-litre strokers that also left the backdoor for special customers. Keep up the good work.

Paul Kerr


Jeez, this subject has really got you fellas from the BCOAA stirred up, hasn’t it? But good to hear from all those passionate about their cars and I guess if you’re committed enough to start a club, then you can call the damn things anything you want. That’s why this country is great. In fact, freedom of choice is one of the real perks of living here. I once walked into an outback pub to see a sign that told me "This is Australia, we don’t wear our baseball caps backwards". So, I immediately turned mine around backwards and walked in. When the barman referred me to the sign, I pointed out that my Grandad had fought in the war so that I could wear my damn hat any way I damn pleased.

No further discussion was required. And, yes, I got a beer.

I even once called the then-Premier of my home-state a dickhead and got away with it.

It’s why Australia is the best country in the world. I mean, try that in North Korea…



Ro 80

Dave, I read with interest your column on the late Brian Woodward. I never met the man , but spoke to him on the phone a few times probably about 20 years ago. He was trying to start a club/register for NSU cars in Australia. He did produce a few newsletters, but I don’t think it went very far - too few cars and Australia is too big a country to have meetings.

I actually found one of his old cars : a green Ro80 owned by a Gerry Goodwin at Grays Point, but there was not much left of it after years sitting out in the open exposed to the elements.

It would have gone to the tip by now. Anyway, I have started up a website:  

If you like interesting cars, it is worth a read.

Murray Mules,


Yeah, old Woody was a huge fan of the NSU Ro80. When I first met him, he actually owned two; one was still fitted with the original – but expired – engine and the other had been converted to a Mazda rotary but still used the NSU gearbox (it was more or less like a Porsche Sportomatic). Woody always reckoned the Ro80 was the inspiration for the later Audi 100 with its big glasshouse, flush glazing and lots of attention to aero-detail. And he was probably right.

But Brian also had a wicked sense of humour and once owned a Mazda 1500 which he fitted with an Alfa grille and confused the hell out of lots of people. As far as I know, he never got the Ro80 bug completely out of his system, but in his later years, he moved to a big house near Sydney Harbour and, inevitably, started playing around with boats.

But did Woody settle for a tinny or a half-cabin? Nope, he went straight for the doctor and bought himself a decommissioned Sydney ferry (true!) with which he then terrorised the harbour city.

The last time I saw Woody, we were both at a Saab launch at some flash joint down the coast. It was about 1.00am, and Woody was standing in the middle of a glass-topped coffee-table, illustrating to some non-believer an important engineering principle about the strength of glass. Meanwhile, the barman was running in a panic around the table, trying to coax him down, while Woody, glass of claret in hand, deftly dodged the poor sod and continued his engineering lecture. Lord I miss him.

By the way, I just checked out your website. It’s a ripper. A forensic level of detail in sales figures and what options were available and even interviews with dealership staff who sold the things new; brilliant. Even if you’re not into Ro80s, it’s a good read and I’m tipping even Woody would have learned something. Keep it up.



Mercedes _Benz -S_Class _W126_mp 35_pic _76838[1]

Just read the latest Morley’s workshop (my favourite section) and came across Robert Bawden-Tripplett’s engine woes with his 380SEL Benz. I have a 1.2m stretch-limo version of this amazing car. These things were so far ahead of the rest in 1981 for NVH and smoothness, even though you had to get after them to make them go.

I have also been looking at a re-power option as this type of thing is not unknown to me. I’ve had a Holden 253 powered ’78 two-wheel-drive Hilux, put a VN SS 5.0 into a 1987 Nissan Pintara Wagon and even an ex Steve Kinser, alloy Donovan Chevy into my ’55 Chevy plus a lot of other stuff.

The best fit for a repower of the W126 is a Commodore VH-on five-litre as the sump is right, the A/C and power-steering pumps are easily adapted to the existing hardware, plus these engines are not a lot heavier than the all-alloy M116 engine. The problem is buying a suitable donor for reasonable money, then the inevitable $1500 engineer’s report plus all the sundries, let alone the cost of an engine reco. Then there is the serious issue of adapting the hydraulic pump to run the "Ride Level" rear suspension fitted to

Australian delivered W126s. I’ve had a quote here in Sydney of $8500 plus parts to do the conversion by someone that has done this before. So I bought a 1982 500SEL English-spec (hi comp) 225KW car for $800 with the correct early Bosch K-Jet injection (not the later KE-Jet). That will allow me $5000 to rebuild the engine and install it.

The big hardship with these engines is that they have a high-silicon content aluminium bore (no sleeve) so finding a machine shop to tackle a bore job is the hard part.

Financially as much as I like being different and "sticking it" to the purists, I’m staying with the Benz power plant.

To Robert, I do have a complete M116 380 engine with 202km on it out of a 380SEC sitting in the shed.

Colin Robb,

Sydney, NSW

Tempting though it often is to re-invent the wheels, you’re definitely on to something here, Colin: Sometimes it’s better to stick with what you have and work with that. Like you, I love a good engine swap, but if it all starts to get out of hand, it can be a right nightmare to put right. And how many times have you looked at adverts for half-swapped cars being sold for chump change as ‘unfinished projects’? I’d be willing to bet that more ambitious engine swaps are abandoned than are actually finished and find their way on to the road.

That said, nothing would appear to be impossible and in the last week alone, I’ve seen a Toyota LandCruiser HJ45 with a B-I-G Cummins diesel and matching gearbox, a Nissan Patrol with a 6.9-litre V8 turbo-diesel from a USA school bus and a Magna that had been converted to rear-drive and fitted with a Chevy V8. My across-the-road neighbour is currently converting a Nissan NX Coupe to rear-wheel-drive. No, I don’t know why, either. I want to ask him, but I fear he might tell me…

I reckon I’d be ditching the hydraulic ride-levelling suspension for something a bit more traditional (read: simpler). There were two types on the W126; a rear-wheel-levelling system using nitrogen ballasts and a four-wheel hydraulically-driven set-up. Neither are what you’d call simple. I’d also maybe consider throwing a TH700 four-speed auto in to avoid any hassle trying to match the Holden block with the Benz gearbox. Also, the Benz’s in-house four-speed box was notoriously lazy, being calibrated to take off in second gear at anything other than wide-open-throttle.

What I most like about switching the engine in a Benz to a Holden five-litre is the sheer inverse snobbery of it all. That said, I’d probably be a sucker for a Commodore with an S-Class Benz V8 riding up front, too.



Bmw -e 46-330

Firstly, thank you Morley for your column. It is worth the price of the mag just by itself. I hope you keep the red-motored EJ and 202 HG thing going because I love it. I reckon I can remember seeing factory 202-engined HG utes and panel vans as a kid so I’m surprised that it is not common knowledge among trainspotter enthusiasts.

Now to the real reason I write. I think I’ve taken leave of my senses because I’ve become interested in buying an E46 BMW 330ci with manual cog-swapping. What I’m hoping you can tell me is; how crazy is this idea? These things have plenty of known problems but so do most cars except Toyotas and Lexuses (Lexii?). The oil-change interval is what bothers me. It is variable and seems to be around 25,000km! Since they all have at least 100,000km on them, would the engine internals be shot? I imagine getting the engine reco-ed would be prohibitively expensive?

By the way, would you recommend an injected Holden 304 or a Chev LS1 for my UC Torana?

Shaun Jones,


The six-cylinder BMW engine you’re talking about is known as the M54 and, like most BMW inline sixes, it’s quite a gadget. The variable service interval is calculated by the car’s own computer, based on things like the amount of fuel used, how many kilometres the engine has covered and even how many cold starts it’s been subjected to since the last service. The upper end of this range can be 25,000km, so it’s important that you get a fully stamped service record to prove that it hasn’t been neglected. A service record from somebody who specialises in BMWs is nice, too, because some workshops will simply dump and replace the oil, turn off the service light and call that proper maintenance.

If you’re worried about the service intervals being too long, you have the option of servicing the car before the light comes on. Nobody ever ruined an engine with too much love and attention. If it were my 330i, I’d be servicing it every 10,000km or 15,000km at the outside, but that’s just me being old fashioned. And maybe it is an old fashioned attitude because the current Jaguar XE diesel has a service interval of 34,000km! No kidding. It’d still keep me awake at night, though.

Beyond that, the E46 is one of my favourite BMWs of all time and the 330i with a manual gearbox is sheer delight. The other thing to watch with these engines, however, is that the VANOS variable valve timing gear is all working properly. The first signs of trouble are oil smudges anywhere near the VANOS mechanism at the nose of the camshaft. If it fails, it’s big bickies. That said, I’ve seen well maintained examples of this motor with 400,000km on the odo and no signs of them slowing down.

As far as a V8 for a UC Torana goes, I’m a bit biased here, because I’m a huge rap for the old Iron Lion injected 304 and not so much of an LS1 fan-boy. For mine, LS1s were always a bit rattly and soft off the bottom end for my liking although they did get better as time passed and production methods got tightened up. Oh, and the six-litre version suddenly made the 5.7 largely redundant.

Even so, I still reckon the injected Holden five-litre is a nicer street motor with more torque where you want it. No, it doesn’t have the outright shove of a good LS1, but in a lightweight like a UC Torana, it should do the job admirably. Back it up with either the T5 or later Getrag five-speed and you’d have a really nice package. Kind of what the SLR/5000 could have been if Holden had continued with the concept beyond the LX. I’m also figuring you might have fewer rego and insurance hassles with the Holden block, too.



Datsun -240

Might a 60-year-old gent respond to your Best of the Breed request in issue 384?

My love of cars really began in earnest around 1973 or ’74 when I rode down from country WA to Northam on my Kawasaki 900 motorcycle to begin my new job with Westrail as a receiving and delivering parcels porter. I traded in the Kwaka for my first car, a Datsun 240K hardtop. Try finding one of those today!

After a string of cars, mainly Fords, including a Capri V6 which the next owner rallied and destroyed, I went back to work in my parents’ newsagency and eventually asked them if the company could afford to buy me a car. They agreed but the car had to be a station-wagon. And so began a love affair with Ford Cortinas. My first one was a TC XLE which I traded for a TE 4.1-litre three-speed automatic with bucket seats, power steering, full instrumentation, sports steering wheel and even a laminated, tinted windscreen. Well, did I love that vehicle!

Trading it for the final Cortina I would ever own almost broke my mother’s heart, but I went from that white wagon to a very special Cortina sedan available then in only two colours with the words Cortina spelled out in stripes along both sills. It was a four-speed manual, had Scheel seats, power steering, spotlights and a soft foam rear spoiler. I eventually traded it in on a Toyota LiteAce van for work at a dealership in Wanneroo north of Perth, and I never saw that car again. All I have left are photos of that very special Cortina.

Russell McIlwaine,

Popanyinning, WA

Great to hear from you Russell and thanks for taking the time to respond. I reckon a lot of people are into Cortinas these days, even if they’re not as popular as Holden Toranas. Heck, even Chrysler Centuras are getting a mention these days. Those mid-sized Aussie cars are interesting, too, from the point of view that they were an awakening by the Big Three that they couldn’t simply go on offering just one model. The trick was getting local content into cars that were designed elsewhere: The Cortina was a British Ford design, the Torana started as a Vauxhall Viva (with plenty of Australianisation to accept the red sixes) and the Centura was a real weird-burger, starting life as a European Chrysler 180, on to which local engineers grafted a longer beak and then stuffed full of Hemi six.

My own experience of Cortinas doesn’t match yours for happiness and sunshine. My first brush with the Cortina was a TE that a mate bought brand new and which self-immolated while still under warranty, and the second was a bastardised TC XLE with a worked 250-cubic-inch six and a manual gearbox. Lord, that thing went in a straight line, but it cornered like a supertanker and steered like a cow. And the interior was pants. Oh, and it had a vinyl roof - not cool.

From what I can remember (and somebody may be able to expand on this) the ‘Cortina’ script in stripes was part of the S-Pak option and, from what I can gather, it was quite a rare bird with just 500 examples of the S-Pak made in 1979. Looking back at them now, the TE isn’t such a bad looker and the interior was definitely tidied up compared with the TC. And with a 4.1 and a four-speed, I bet they still haul like good ’uns.


Manhandling Hose

My -tip -radiator

Manhandling hose When you’re removing radiator hoses from the rad itself, don’t be tempted to grab them and whip them back and forth like a dog killing a snake. The necks that join the hose to the upper and lower tank can be very fragile (especially after a million heat-cycles) and you’ll crack `em if you’re not careful. Gently does it.


Alfa Scissor Doors

Trivial -alfa _romeo _carabo _04pop

The scissor doors used on the Lamborghini Countach first appeared on an Alfa Romeo concept car – the Carabo shown in 1968.

Browned Off

Trivial -volvo

Ever wondered why 1970s Australian-assembled Volvos, Nissans and VW Beetles were painted the same (fairly dunger) colours? It’s because they all came off the same assembly line (in Clayton, Victoria, to be exact) and came out of the same paint shop at the same time.

Hole Shot

Trivial -australian -RS2000

When Ford started making the Mark 2 Escort RS2000 locally, it fitted a bigger fuel tank with the filler behind the number plate. Which meant the filler cap on the right rear quarter was redundant. But did Ford press a new quarter panel? Nope, it fitted a plastic bung instead! Cheap buggers.

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