Expert advice, Woody wagon, Monaro blues, Euro gamble - Mick's Workshop

By: Mick McCrudden

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Call an expert, woody wagon, Monaro on heat, Camry, Kingswood and more



We have something very special in the workshop at the moment: A 1956 Ford Country Squire wagon, which we’ve been looking after for over a decade.

Woody wagons are thin on the ground in this country and finding one that’s essentially in survivor condition is rare.

When you start to go over the car, you get to spot lots of features. For a start, it’s a factory right-hand drive. The cabin has three full rows of seats, and even the back row has proper footwells for the passenger. Access is via the big rear doors and the split second row of seats with a section that folds forward. It’s really well thought-out.

It’s pretty good for creature comforts, with power steering, air conditioning and polarised glass. Of course, it predates seatbelts.

Under the bonnet is an unmolested V8 proudly emblazoned Thunderbird. That was its performance credentials – at the time Ford’s favoured V8 was the 292ci (4.8lt) Y-block, in this case running a three-speed auto.

The car has clearly been loved all its life. It’s an easy thing to work on: Points, condenser, and a little two-barrel Holley carburettor. Parts supplies for T-birds are excellent.

Getting panels might be tricky, though you’d have to try pretty hard to dent it, as it’s solid. I reckon the front end alone has more than enough metal in it to make a whole Corolla!


We get a lot of big American classics through the workshop and we love working on them. Parts access is generally good and they’re relatively simple things.

The trick is to check it out carefully before you hand over the money. By way of contrast we just had a lovely-looking mid-sixties Thunderbird coupe roll through here, which was a much less happy story. The owner has only just bought it and there’s now a long list of jobs to do. While it presented well, I wouldn’t regard it as safe to drive.

Suspension and steering are badly worn, to the point where the wheels are catching on the guards and chassis rails, the brake pedal is going to the floor, and the adjustable steering column isn’t locking securely. Under the bonnet it has a couple of worn valve guides and it’s oiling plugs. The transmission has been rebuilt, but not well. There is so much play in the selector shaft that fluid is leaking past the seal and just replacing the seal won’t fix it.

This can all be fixed, but it will take time and money and is a pretty big disappointment for the new owner. If in doubt, spend a few hundred bucks and get a mechanic to check it properly. Then at least you know where you stand before handing over the real money.

Here's my tip:

Wheel be right


If you’re buying a set of wheels to change the look of your car, try to get the studs that go with them. While the change-over is usually straightforward, sometimes it isn’t and chasing down a set that works can turn into a major mission.


Ferrari fancier


While the wrapper looks tasty, in reality it can leave a nasty taste, if you don’t buy very wisely

I’ve been lucky enough to have a bit of spare cash to splurge on a car, about $150k, and I’m keen on the idea of getting something like a Ferrari.

I know that’s ‘just’ starter money for one and you can easily add a zero or two.

However I’m seeing a few options such as a mid-1980s Mondial V8 or 308s and even a 328 or two. Another possibility is more up-to-date, a 1999-2000 Modena 360.

Should I go eighties or noughties? Your thoughts?

Jim Crombie

Jim, don’t do it! I know this sounds like I’m being a killjoy, but there is no such thing as a cheap (or relatively cheap) Ferrari. It can break your wallet, break your heart and destroy relationships and you’ll be sleeping in the garage.

If you’d like a cautionary tale, go through the Top Gear archives and look for the segment on buying an allegedly cheap European supercar. Study it intensely.

What you ‘save’ on the purchase price you’re going to end up spending in the workshop. To get an older supercar like this that has been properly sorted can cost $300k-plus. Parts are getting rare and they were never intended to last as long as they have.

As much as I love Italian cars, these are for people with very deep pockets as even a good one will be expensive to run.

Now, if you do decide to go ahead, check it out very carefully. And rather than buy something that needs work, spend the extra to get one that’s already done.

If you really wanted to have a European supercar, look for a Porsche. They have always been better bang for your buck and a superior car that will take more punishment.

Commodore trim

I read with interest Glenn Torrens’ article on the VN-VP range and in particular his love of the VP.

I have had my VP Calais since 1992 and am wondering if you could help/suggest on sourcing several trim items, including: Bonnet badge, plus the chrome strips that separates the two colours along the side of the car.

I’m also wondering if it’s worth restoring the badge. Do you know of anyone who could do that?

Thanks in advance.

Brian McNicholl

Gee it’s hard to believe that a VP now qualifies as an old car that you might struggle to get bits for! Good on you for hanging on to it. If anyone can track down the parts you’re chasing, it will be Holmart in Moorabbin, Vic. You’ll find them easily on the web.
Another that’s worth trying is Commodore Bitz out of Morisset, NSW.

As for badges, I’ve seen amateurs with a bit of patience do their own restorations with good results and I’ve even tackled it myself. It may involve sitting down with time to spare, carefully cleaning and sanding, and maybe even getting used to small brushes and hobby paints. If there are pro restorers in this area, we’re happy to hear from you.

Holden Sound

Recently Mark Higgins explained how he had his error code for the sound system on his third-generation Monaro fixed by Vas Maleli at SV Group Three Systems.  I have the same problem with my VX HSV Senator.  Do you have any more contact details for Vas? 

Carey Marsden

To bring everyone else up to speed, Higgo had a ‘dead’ CD stacker in his otherwise mint late-model Monaro. It was solved quickly and Vas will deal with the units by mail. He is located in Mount Waverley, Vic, and his mobile is 0419 378 729.

Monaro Air


Aircon shutting down on a hot day is not what you want

I was hoping for some guidance on a recurring issue that to date has not been successfully diagnosed.  I have an August 2005 CV8 Monaro.  If I travel on the freeway/country roads at 105 km per hour or greater for more than 60 – 90 minutes, the air conditioner stops working.  Numerous visits to Holden dealers (and their authorised replacements) have failed to identify the cause. Some have said they think it could be the fan propeller that separates from the cylinder at speed. Others suggest a freezing issue but when they review, could not find a cause. 

The latter also suggested it wasn’t the propeller fan.  From my observations, it is more prevalent an issue, the hotter the outside is.  Is this something you have come across, can assist with or perhaps you can direct me to either a chatroom or specialist that I could engage?  I live on the North Shore of Sydney.

Sean Pyper

Unfortunately, this is one of those issues that will chew up workshop time, as someone will need to sit down and go methodically through the system. What they will be looking for is what component is closing down: Compressor or evaporator system. Then you can determine if we have a pressure drop, when it’s terribly hot, which makes the safety switch shut down the compressor, or is it the thermometer inside the car sensing incorrectly. Or is the thermostat misbehaving? It could be as simple as a loose component in the fan switch.

Electrics play up when they get hot and it’s a matter of establishing the culprit and being pedantic about tracking it down. It’s a job that’s going to cost, as it will burn time.

Air conditioning is complex and an integral part of modern cars, from the body control module through to the fans. A very different situation to when they were something the dealer added to the underside of the dash.

The good news is that if it’s happening consistently it will be easier to replicate the conditions and track it down. Even in cold weather, one trick to replicate the temperature is to borrow a paint booth and turn the heat on. It sounds a bit desperate, but I’ve done that before today.


I’m writing re Mick’s Puzzler, issue 473, where Mick suggested it would be interesting to see a hybrid driven flat-out around a racetrack, followed by a decent-sized V8 and compare how they went for fuel consumption.

I own both – a Camry Hybrid for 10 years and an HZ Kingswood 253 V8 for 22 years. I have just completed, for the second time in the Kingswood, the Canberra to Perth return trip, 9300km. Apart from the original distributor and alternator both dying at the same time on the first day out, the car ran faultlessly. I received hundreds of thumbs-ups from passing traffic.

I also love my Camry. It’s a great package of economy, power and reduced pollution. It also has crossed the country and the range of 1000 km for a tank of fuel made for a cheap trip.

Quotes for a battery replacement (when/if) are around the $2-3000. Full EVs are still a problem with recharge times, huge battery replacement costs and limited range: I didn’t see any Teslas on the Nullarbor!

Paul McKeich

Interesting one, Paul, and I like the contrasting cars. The HQ-HZ Holden with the 253 was just brilliant. It was a family sedan, wasn’t overly powerful but it did its job really well. All it needed was power steering. You could drive it to the end of the earth and not get out tired.

I’m not surprised the hybrid does very well at cruise, though the story would be different if you took my test literally and held it flat-out.

A quote for $3000 for battery replacement is a starting price for a hybrid and may be for a remanufactured battery. A full EV replacement will be several times that..

One of my concerns at the moment is EV converts to me sound like addicted gamblers: You only hear when they’re winning, not when they have to replace battery packs at prices which defy good sense. Stick with the Kingswood and the hybrid!

Trivial Pursuit

Zed Force


Okay, how many car makers can you think of that started with the letter Z? Here are a few to get you going: Z (Zbrojovka), Zagato, Zender, Zenith, Zeta, Zil, Zundapp. Who have we left out?


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