Trouble Streak - What Do You Reckon? #428

By: Glenn Torrens

Presented by

holden commodore wagon holden commodore wagon

Cool cars are usually great fun but sometimes stuff happens as Glenn Torrens discovers

No-one died but I can’t remember a worse time playing with cool cars than the past fortnight. It began with the motor in one of my VWs. The motor was a little standard 1600 that a mate and I freshened together in the shed. Anyhow, despite our collective enthusiasm and careful measuring and assembly, the engine developed an internal noise during its run-in. As I needed the car to remain mobile, I’ve had to pull out the new motor and install a spare. Not difficult with a VW – you can swap motors in less time than it takes to watch the evening news – but I’m a bit dev’oed.

Next was my cool old ’79 Commodore wagon. Ever since it chucked a fan belt a few months ago, it’s had an oil leak; the flailing failed belt wrecked the seal behind the front pulley. I soon discovered there’s no easy way to hold a Holden six-cylinder auto crankshaft, so I used an old trick of filling Number 1 combustion chamber with string to prevent the engine rotating as I removed the bolts holding the air-con and power steering pulley.

But after I’d completed the task, I forgot to remove the string before I hit the key…

The result was an intermittent doonk-doonk-doonk from my lovely, shed-find, patina, 145,000km time-warp 3.3-litre Red motor. At first I thought – hoped – I might have bent a valve, a pushrod or damaged a lifter from the valves copping a hit from the rope but a head-off inspection showed nothing. Re-assembled, the noise seemed to be gone, making me think it was a bled-down hydraulic lifter and that I had been too fast (or impatient) with my diagnosis and lifting of the head.   All seemed good… So I drove it to the shops and then it wouldn’t start. Pulling a plug lead showed no spark but a quick fiddle with the points seemed to get it going again. Whew!

Home again, I replaced the points. But the next time I drove it, again it died and I ran the battery almost flat trying to restart it. I walked 20 mins home, got another car to jump-start it but still no result… until I played with the distributor: the settling-in of the new points had moved the timing. I drove the wagon home then walked 20 mins back for the other car.

And now the doonk-doonk noise is back… Obviously I’ve done some significant damage. That will be an engine-out job to fix… and you don’t remove a Holden six in an hour, like a VW. Oh, and the starter motor – that has probably done more work in the last two weeks than the last two decades – is now squealing. And the choke cable broke, too. And it’s all happened just two weeks before a planned 2000km swags-and-beer outback road trip in the old gal. Damn.

In amongst all this is my VP Commodore. I bought it to kill for its EFI V8 and auto… ironically to put in my cool old brown Commodore wagon. But after driving the VP Exec home from Queensland, I realised it was too good to die… so instead, I’ve restored it.

One of the last rebuild tasks was to get the air-con working again. My air-con bloke said I needed a new evaporator. Damn! That’s a complete dash-out task, about eight hours each way. With the new core installed, we gassed the air-con. Yippee! Cool air for a hot summer… until a few days later when all I could get from the vents was hot air. It’s booked-in for another look tomorrow.

So two busted engines, a dud distributor, squealy starter motor, broken choke cable and warm air-con, all in less than two weeks… and in all that kerfuffle I’ve forgotten to get the Volvo’s rego inspection done so after three months I need to apply for new number plates and a full-on blue slip rego inspection for that, too. I wonder if I will score a speeding ticket, a shopping trolley dent or a flat tyre tomorrow…?


Classic Australian Family Car Value Guide home page

Muscle Car Value Guide home page

Japanese Classic Car Value Guide home page

Recent auction results

Sell your car for free right here


Sign up to our free weekly newsletter for more unique car reviews and features plus see the latest unique and classic cars for sale.

Subscribe to Unique Cars magazine
- Print edition
- Digital edition