Red Motor Blues - Blackbourn 429

By: Rob Blackbourn

Presented by

holden red motor holden red motor

A succession of old Holdens gave Rob a lot of pleasure back in the day - most of the time

Last month in Unique Cars Morley gave phenolic-fibre timing gears on Holden red sixes a big serve, saying: "… [they are] pretty much guaranteed to fail somewhere remote, dark and totally inconvenient." "Am I right?" he asked finally. If my experience is any guide the clever lad was 100 per cent spot on.

| Read more: Morley's Workshop

In a far off time, late on a Christmas Day, I folded down the back seat of the family Holden wagon, whacked in the big foam mattress and loaded the sleepy kids – already in their sleeping bags – along with a heap of gear, and we headed north up the old Hume Highway from Melbourne in good spirits to spend a few days with friends in Beechworth in north-eastern Victoria.

At around 11.00pm just north of Glenrowan, while cruising easily at around 70mph, the engine flamed out. Making use of the car’s momentum as I worked out my next move I noticed the oil warning light already on but no alternator light so far.   With no Armco or wire-rope barriers to limit my democratic options I headed for the shoulder and coasted toward a break in the roadside trees, managing finally to roll into a spot protected by forest giants fore and aft. For whatever time it took to sort the problem we were going to be safe from the odd semi that might stray off course.


When spinning the motor over on the starter left the distributor rotor unmoved, I knew we were there for the night – the timing gear had died, stopping the camshaft and its distributor and oil-pump drives. And yes, Morley, it was: remote, dark and totally inconvenient.

Next morning, more or less rested after a family mattress-sharing night, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast of Christmas Day leftovers before I headed off to look for a farmhouse with a phone,

The Beechworth cavalry soon arrived as a two vehicle convoy – one mate in her Peugeot 504 to pick up the missus and kids, the other in his Holden-powered short-wheelbase Landrover to tow me and the wagon to Beechy.

While waiting for the garage in town to open after the break, I had plenty of time to get the camshaft out using the decent toolkit I always carried and a couple of borrowed items. The fibre gear looked brand new as long as you ignored a bunch of chewed out teeth. Cleaning the gear fragments out of the sump was part of the fun.

Fortunately the garage stocked Holden spares and they were happy to use their press to strip the old gear and fit the new one. I headed off to walk the mile or so back to the car a happy man, carrying my newly sorted camshaft, some gaskets and oil and filter.

Not so happy though when I slid the camshaft in and the gears wouldn’t mesh properly. The dingbat at the garage had pressed the new gear on back to front… So another two-mile hike was called for – a fruitful one this time after garage guy, looking sheepish, sorted the problem.

While that experience turned out alright in the end you won’t be surprised that I used an alloy timing gear for the next red motor that I built.

Coincidentally last month’s issue also covered the aftermath of Glenn Torrens stuffing string into the number  one pot of his auto Commo’s red six to stop the crank turning while he replaced the timing case seal. It got me scratching my head about how I did it at Beechworth all those years back (my Holden was also an auto). I reckon I would have pulled out the starter motor and jammed a tyre lever or similar between the housing and the ring-gear teeth on the drive-plate. That’d do it.


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