1979 VB Commodore - country cruise

By: Glenn Torrens - Words & Photos

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With his resurrected 1979 VB Holden Commodore V8 running right, Glenn Torrens embarks on a country cruise with a difference

While rummaging through the glovebox of my farm-find 1979 VB Holden Commodore V8 just after I bought it, I found its original Holden owner’s guide book. There, on a parched piece of stapled paper inside the cover, was a Holden dealer’s stamp, a mid-winter date, and the name of the person who had bought this car new in 1979.

On that cold winter night in June 2020, as I read those details, I instantly decided that as soon as this Commodore was driving again, I would visit Gunnedah in northern NSW – the town on the Holden dealer stamp – and search for the original owner.


Of course, 1979 is a long time ago and in the decades since this car was bought, anything could have happened. Hopefully, the proud owner of this Commodore had been young when it was new it so possibly would be still alive. Or, maybe, it was bought for retirement, so four decades later, the owner would likely be six-foot under.

I would never know unless I searched!

With that ambition, and with my green Commodore running right after I fixed it, I packed my swag and headed off for a road trip. Along for the ride was good mate and fellow car nut Cameron, the bloke responsible for the videos on this car’s resurrection that many of you have been enjoying... We were two blokes with a couple of clues and the hope we could find the original owner.

| Read next: Project Bombodore aircon


But even if we didn’t, any excuse for a road trip is a good enough reason!

On the road

Luckily, Gunnedah isn’t on the other side of the continent for us. To the burble of the Commodore’s willing little 4.2-litre V8, we chased the sunset for a few hours, arriving in Curlewis, 15km from Gunnedah. Being a wheat-farming district busy at harvest time, we’d earlier discovered Gunnedah’s accommodation was fully booked so we stayed at Curlewis’s grand old Commercial Hotel.


The next morning, after driving into Gunnedah and having a café breakfast, we started the serious (but also fun!) part of our trek: visiting Gunnedah’s Holden dealer and – hopefully – finding some clues about my car’s original owner.

We’d had a good start. A few weeks prior to our trek, I’d phoned the Holden dealer in Gunnedah and had spoken to a long-term staffer, Dean, who (after asking me a reassuring number of privacy questions) said he’d be happy to help. Sure enough, when we drove my tatty old Commodore to the dealer, introduced ourselves and showed the name in the car’s books, Dean and a work colleague happily gave us some of their time and local knowledge.


You gotta love a proper Aussie pub. The Commercial Hotel in Curlewis was our destination for our road trip’s first night

But our smiles soon faded. Apparently, the name in the owner’s manual, Alan, is of a bloke who has since died. That demoralised us a little, however Dean encouraged us to continue looking for anyone who may remember this distinctive green V8 Commodore.

Dealer delivery

It’s now occupied by another business but Dean also gave us the Gunnedah main-street address of where the Holden dealer showroom had been in 1979. We wanted to visit where my Commodore – fresh from the Holden factory in the Sydney suburb of Pagewood – was delivered shiny and new on Friday, 27 July 1979.


Here is the Gunnedah main street site where the Holden dealer was in 1979. It’s where Rhonda and Alan bought this car new

Chasing Dean’s suggestion, our next stop was the local post office to research phone numbers, in the hope of speaking to a relative of the original owner. We found and called a number, left a message... but there was no response.

The first owner’s property address was also listed in the Commodore’s owner book. Part of our road trip plan was to find the farm and take a pic at the letterbox where this car had lived near Mullaley, a small town 40km from Gunnedah.

We were to camp behind Mullaley’s Post Office Hotel and when I’d phoned to book a campsite, the publican had asked: ‘caravan or camper?’ and I’d answered that we were in swags, then casually mentioned that we were looking for the first owner of an old Holden Commodore.


"Oh yeah... What’s the name?" enquired the publican.

I told him the name.project-bombodore-vb-commodore-5.jpg

"Yeah, I know him! Old Commodore, did you say?" replied the publican. "A green one with a V8, yeah?"

I was absolutely stunned... we thought the original owner was dead! And this bloke knew of the car! This was unbelievable! "See you when you get here!" was the publican’s friendly invitation.

Sure enough, Postmaster Hotel publican, Greg, gave us huge smiles and eager handshakes when we arrived. As I had with the Holden dealer blokes, I showed the car’s books to prove our happy hope of finding family.


The Post Office Hotel in Mullaley is where we organised to meet the car’s original owners. Three cheers for publican Greg for his assistance

"So that’s the old girl out there?" Greg asked, gazing through his pub’s front window. "Jeez, I used to drive that!"

Solving the mystery of ‘dead’ Alan, the publican explained there were two Alans – father-and-son – and it was the son who had bought this Commodore. That bloke is the publican’s mate, lives just down the road and drives the local bus.

It just goes to show; if you want to know what’s going on – ask the publican!


The Post Office Hotel has a nice simple campground out the back – so that’s where we swagged for our second night

What are the chances?!

The publican suggested we call out to the first owner’s house but first I wanted to visit the property address mentioned in the car’s books. The publican gave us some mud-map directions and soon Cam and I were driving out to the property.

Twenty minutes later, we were probably close to the property – but not sure. Cresting a rise on the highway, I saw someone closing a paddock gate behind a Toyota Hilux and made an instant decision to pull over and ask for directions.


While looking for the property, we stopped to ask directions. We were amazed to discover that the lady we asked, Wendy, was the original owner’s sister-in-law. How about that!

In hindsight, a yobbo bloke hauling a tatty Commodore down from 100km/h, jumping out and asking random questions about the middle of nowhere was maybe not what this lady was expecting on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. She was a little startled at first, but after my explanation, she looked past me to the green Commodore, recognised it and introduced herself as Wendy, the original owner’s sister-in-law!

Once again, we were amazed at our luck. After a hearty chat with Wendy, Cam and I soon found the property where this Commodore had lived and the letterbox it had driven past probably thousands of times. As we took pics and vids, Cameron and I laughed at what we were doing: some people collect stamps, some people climb Mount Everest... and some people drive around in old cars looking for letterboxes!


This is the letterbox to Alan and Rhonda’s home of the 1980s. It hasn’t for more than 25 years... but this car has driven past this tin thousands of times!

It was around this time that the publican rang to give us good news: He’d phoned the original owner who’d agreed to come to the pub. Happy that we’d found my Commodore’s first ‘home’, we drove back to Mullaley, with Cameron and I amazed – astonished – at the success of our search.

Back at Mullaley, we parked the Commodore in pole position outside the pub. Publican Greg confirmed that the original owner would be there in an hour or so. Glowing with happiness -–and with no more driving – we settled on the veranda to enjoy the warm weather and the cold beers... and meet the original owner.


Alan and Rhonda say the Commodore was the perfect family car. Their two kids grew up in the back seat; school, shopping, holidays to the Gold Coast; all the cool family stuff

Striking gold

Publican Greg told us that the original owner drives a Toyota these days... as do most people around here! After a few false alarms, a Land Cruiser parked nose-to-the-fence near the Commodore. From the pub veranda, Cameron and I watched in anticipation as the passenger and driver stepped out of the Land Cruiser.

"Is that our car...?" we heard the passenger ask as she swung her feet to the ground. "Is it?" She looked back through the Cruiser’s interior, enquiring to the driver.


By now, the driver, too, was staring at the Commodore, slowly nodding a confirmation. With a mix of joy and astonishment the lady’s voice rose: "THAT’S OUR OLD CAR! OH, MY GOD!"


Hardly able to believe this was happening, I wandered down from the pub veranda to introduce myself to my Commodore’s original owners. We’ve found them. I don’t think I’ve ever had a happier grin: Meeting these people was a simply joyful moment for me.

This lovely bubbly couple, Alan and Rhonda, told us about the green Commodore V8 they bought brand-new, as 20-something newlyweds, in 1979. Their previous car was a ’72 HQ Holden V8 ute but they were planning a family.


"We needed a family car," said Alan. "So, for us that was the Commodore.

"We’d been married 10 months when we took delivery of that car," Rhonda explained. "I can remember Alan choosing the gold pin-stripe for it. And I remember realising when I first drove it that it had power steering.

"Oh, my gawd!" she laughed at the memory of that incredible ultra-modern technological extravagance. "Power steering! This is beautiful!"

After taking ‘their’ Commodore for another short drive around the streets of Mullaley for old time’s sake, the couple agreed that four decades ago, they made a good choice with Holden’s new-for-the-1980s Commodore.


Hail damage early in the car’s life might explain the kooky badge placement! COMMODORE 4.2 should be on the left

"We have the fondest memories of it," Rhonda said. "Over to the coast for holidays; up to the Gold Coast... We reared our little children in that car! I was driven to hospital in it, for both my kids [Carly, now 40 and Brad, 37]."

"One of those drives was a high-speed run at 5 o’clock one morning!" continued Alan. "I won’t tell you how fast I had to go!"

Not that it matters now, but Rhonda revealed the car suffered hail damage early in their ownership.

"I think I was at Fosseys (a department store in Tamworth, an hour or so from Mullaley) and we were hit by this massive hail storm. The roof had to be fixed, and the bonnet and boot were too."


Cash For Commodores... Sorry, but you’re not getting no phone call about this one!

The couple kept the car for about 15 years, eventually selling it in the mid-1990s.

"We sold it to a young bloke who was at Armidale University," Alan continued. "I think we’d put 250,000km on it by then. It never let us down – except for once when the water pump let go. That was when it was almost new and under warranty. That was the only thing that ever went wrong."

"We loved that car," Rhonda assured us. "It’s great that it’s still alive."


After meeting the original owners, we stopped at the tiny town of Tambar Springs the next day. I later discovered my car lived there, too, with its second owner. Astonishing

What a journey

After meeting the original owners, enjoying sunset drinks, a good pub feed and camping behind the pub, Cameron and I continued our road trip the next day. In proper road-trip tradition – and with the whole day available to us – we took the long way home, circling through Tambar Springs, enjoying a pie at Coolah and a drink at Merriwa in the upper Hunter Valley before the drudgery of the freeway home.

This road trip, to find my Commodore’s original owners and to enjoy some wide open space and fresh country air – all to the background beat of the Commodore’s 4.2-litre V8 engine - was a terrific little break from a Covid-stressed world.

Mission accomplished.


From Unique Cars #465 Apr/May 2022


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