1983 HDT ADP VH SL/E + 1985 HDT VK SS - Reader Resto

By: Dave Sciberras with Guy Allen - Story & Photos

Presented by

hdt cars sciberras hdt cars sciberras
hdt cars hdt cars
hdt cars 3 hdt cars 3
hdt vh ss group 3 ontrack hdt vh ss group 3 ontrack
hdt vh ss group 3 rear hdt vh ss group 3 rear
hdt vh ss group 3 jennifer sciberras hdt vh ss group 3 jennifer sciberras
hdt vh ss group 3 front hdt vh ss group 3 front
hdt vh ss group 3 hdt workshop hdt vh ss group 3 hdt workshop
hdt vh ss group 3 headlight hdt vh ss group 3 headlight
hdt vh ss group 3 wheel hdt vh ss group 3 wheel
hdt vh ss group 3 detail hdt vh ss group 3 detail
hdt vh ss group 3 engine bay hdt vh ss group 3 engine bay
hdt vh ss group 3 engine bay 2 hdt vh ss group 3 engine bay 2
hdt vh ss group 3 interior hdt vh ss group 3 interior
hdt vh ss group 3 centre console hdt vh ss group 3 centre console
hdt vk ss back hdt vk ss back
hdt vk ss detail hdt vk ss detail
hdt vk ss engine bay hdt vk ss engine bay
hdt vk ss resto 2 hdt vk ss resto 2
hdt vk ss resto 3 hdt vk ss resto 3
hdt vk ss resto 4 hdt vk ss resto 4
hdt vk ss resto paint hdt vk ss resto paint
hdt vk ss dash hdt vk ss dash
hdt vk ss resto hdt vk ss resto
david sciberras david sciberras

Having one HDT in the family would be sufficient for most of us. But if one is good, two must be better

 

1983 VH SL/E
Australian Dealer Pack by HDT

We were fortunate enough to know the mechanic who did the pre-delivery on this car, when he was an apprentice. He lives in Newcastle. His name is Theo and he has a few HDTs as well.

What I understand is that Brian Kelly, who owned what became Kelly Holden, was driving a Porsche and the GMH zone manager asked him where his Holden was. Brian confessed to having a soft spot for European cars and was told that, if he wanted to keep his Holden signage, he needed to change cars.

hdt-cars.jpg

He had ordered two 382 packs, both five-litre SL/Es and sent them to HDT – this was one of them.

This car sold for $26,000 (double the price of a family Commodore). The staff at the time were worried they’d never sell the car – no-one is going to pay that sort of money for a Commodore!

| Read next: HDT VH SS Group 3 review

We found it online and it had done a lot of work and was in a pretty sad state. It sold for five grand. Over the years it had gone from the Newcastle area to Victoria, then over to Western Australia, then back to Maitland.

hdt-vh-ss-group-3-ontrack.jpg

It was getting close to Jenn’s birthday and she had owned an SL/E years ago. We were lucky to find a car that fitted the criteria of both SL/E and HDT. I spoke with the owner, then it was time for a road trip. Up at 3.00am with the trailer – we drove up and brought it home in time for her birthday.

It was a bit of a disaster, because the seller had locked the keys in the car. Fortunately it was already on the trailer.

Everyone says you can open a Commodore with any other Commodore key – it doesn’t work, we tried and tried. Jenn meanwhile was frustrated because she wanted to drive her new toy.

hdt-vh-ss-group-3-jennifer-sciberras.jpg

We drove this one around for two years while we restored the white car.

Soon after we got it (in 2010), we took it away for a weekend, up to Albury. The accelerator pump on the carby got stuck. We were pulled over on the side of the road and it was pouring rain. I was soaked to the bone and not enjoying it – that’s what
happens when you buy an old car and drive it without working on it!

Anyway, there we were and up popped a brand new Group 3 SS VE retro station wagon. It was Peter Champion, the owner of HDT.

He’s pulled over because he didn’t want to see one of these old girls left on the side of the road and that was the start of a really good friendship.

hdt-vh-ss-group-3-resto.jpg

Looking nice and straight. The couple often took it shifts to get this far

Once the white car was finished, it was the turn of this car. Jenn did a lot of the work on it herself. For example she took a week off work so she could paint-strip the engine bay. She was in the boot fixing up the parcel shelf and fixed quite a few of the dents in the body.

It look about three years, really on the weekends for the most part. Sometimes she would be working on the house and I’d be on the car, then she’d get sick of that and we’d swap.

It was a big job, down to the bare shell. There was rust in the A-pillars and sill panels. We were lucky as were able to cut up another Commodore to repair it all. Really the shell was pretty good.

hdt-vh-ss-group-3-interior.jpg

One thing sold me on this car. This model, and VB through to late VH, all had the chassis number stamped on the radiator support panel. A lot of them were lost through accidents. This one had never had a hit, so all the numbers were there.

An option with these cars was – even though it wasn’t well-publicised – you could have your high-output engines and there was a stroker you could have. The HDT mechanics would build both.

hdt-vh-ss-group-3-hdt-workshop.jpg

The reason it was kept quiet was Holden was carrying the warranty on HDT cars, and these stretched the rules. Everyone knows Brock and Holden butted heads at times.

So the stroked engine was an option for this car. It was originally delivered as a five litre, and many were delivered as 253. We talked about what we would have ordered when the car was new, so everything we did was an HDT option at the time.

When they were new, the 253 (4.2lt) and 355 (5.8lt) had ‘HDT improved’ air cleaner stickers, while the five litre was marked as such.

hdt-vh-ss-group-3-engine-bay.jpg

The air-cleaner cover scored a one-off sticker

With this car, we had people asking whether it was a 253 and so we had HDT make up a new air cleaner sticker just for this car.

Some people notice the air splitters on the nose are colour-coded rather than black – that was another option at the time.

We went right through the whole options list for this, and so added an extra oil cooler, dual horns, Group 3 radio and the O’Neil body kit. That last one is a mixture of VC HDT kit, 16-inch Centra wheels and VH Group 3. That last one was a mongrel to fit!

hdt-vh-ss-group-3-wheel.jpg

Those wheels were part of a history HDT had with European components, such as Irmscher wheels, Bilstein shock absorbers and of course Momo steering wheels.

With VH you had the option of the M21 four-speed manual or the Trimatic and this car has the auto. It’s had a little bit of work done to it, so it can hold on to the engine in front! And it has a 90-litre fuel tank.

THE RESTO:

Call it a draw

hdt-vh-ss-group-3-bonnet.jpg

That’s no way to treat a bonnet! It seems the crew got a little distracted.

 

Factory fresh

hdt-vh-ss-group-3-resto-2.jpg

You know the owner is going way beyond a quick freshen-up when you see this sitting in their shed.

 

More cubes please

hdt-vh-ss-group-3-engine.jpg

The owners took the opportunity to stroke the V8 to a spec that was available but not publicised.

 

You’ve got the look

hdt-vh-ss-group-3-detail.jpg

It might be very eighties, but the HDTs succeeded in making sure the details looked right.

 

Final product

hdt-vh-ss-group-3-engine-bay-2.jpg

We can only guess at the huge number of hours that went into the engine bay..

 

Gathering of the clan

hdt-top-view.jpg

Now there’s something you don’t see in everyone’s back yard. 

 

ORIGINAL CAR
1983 VH SL/E Australian Dealer Pack by HDT, build number 864
Length of restoration: 3 years

1983 VH SL/E Australian Dealer Pack by HDT

Body: 4D sedan
Engine: 5.8lt stroker
Power: approx 200kW @ 4750rpm
Torque: approx 450Nm @ 3500rpm
Transmission: 3-speed auto
Suspension: Front: Double wishbones with coil springs. Rear: live axle with trailing arms and coils

 

1985 VK HDT SS,
BUILD NUMBER 2774

This car was a surprise 30th birthday present from my wife. I had a VY SS ute at the time – 13 years ago – and I’d decided to sell it. She came up and asked me to sign some paperwork, ostensibly for the house. I asked to read it and Jenn turned around and said, "If you want to read it, you can start paying all the bills." I signed it straight away. It turned out she’d found the car and needed to get money out.

hdt-vk-ss-back.jpg

She hid it in a mate’s shed up the road for three months. On the night of my birthday we’re all standing in the garage and all of a sudden the music stops. Then I hear this HDT 25th anniversary DVD playing and I’m wondering why she’s playing it.

No-one’s going to want to stand there listening to that except me and my tragic mates! A few seconds later I could hear this Holden V8 revving. Then the door rolls up in drives this car, with my one-eyed Ford mate Jared behind the wheel. He’s got out and thrown the keys to me, and I’m thinking how lovely, Jenn’s organised a ride in an HDT for me, maybe I’m borrowing it for the weekend. Then she wanders up and says, happy birthday, here’s your present!

This was the car we did while we drove around in the red car and it wasn’t too bad. Not too much had been picked off it, though it had a few little modifications that people had done over the years. We were able to undo all of them and go right back to original.

hdt-vk-ss-engine-bay.jpg

It’s now exactly how it was ordered from HDT, through the Holden dealer. On these, the biggest options you could get were side skirts and a rear deck spoiler. They were $200 each. Whoever first ordered this car stuck to the basics and didn’t order any extras.

I like it like that. A lot of people when they do go to restore one of these, they want to do it as a Group 3 and put all the body kit on it, the bigger 16-inch Aero wheels and the full trim. But I thought you don’t see too many like this, so we’ll just put it back the way it was.

It was still a strip back to bare metal job and took about two years, where the VH took three.

There wasn’t a lot of spare time over that period – no Easter holidays or that sort of thing. Jenn and I were both in the shed here at home.

hdt-vk-ss-detail.jpg

The body on the VK was better than on the VH and also hadn’t been in an accident. We just had the normal wear and tear and minor dents to deal with. The rear shelf had been cut for speakers, but I was able to graft in sections from another Commodore. Once they were grafted in and welded up, you would never tell.

Inside, the seats have been redone, but the vinyl panels are the originals.

The engine is a 304 with an M21 manual behind it. It has the flat-top pistons in it now, the Group A-spec camshaft, Crane roller rockers and a little bit of machining work done to it – nothing too crazy.

Because of the time this was built, which was right in the middle of HDT doing all the blue SS road cars, this car ended up with Group A SS headers (inch and three-quarter primaries) from the factory.

Most of the work for both cars was done in the back shed, from prepping bodies through to assembly, by Jenn and me, with my dad Joe helping out. I would say the hardest part of the project was organising engine builders.

hdt-cars-3.jpg

One tip I learned when it came to subbing out a job was never tell them you’re doing a restoration. If they know you have a very long deadline, they’ll use it. I learned my lesson and, by the end, I was telling people that the car was stuck in the driveway and needed to have the job back quickly.

The VK is a good fun car to drive. The base SS didn’t get Bilstein shockers in them, but Munroe Wylie instead. They were still quite good. With the upgraded mechanicals, wider wheels and light weight (about 1300kg) they’re a very sprightly car.

It’s a good, fun car, almost like a little go-kart.

david-sciberras.jpg

The VH is different. It handles really well and has the full Bilstein suspension and is carrying quite a bit more weight.

It’s still lively and you can feel a big difference between these and a standard Commodore.

They’re not crazy fast by today’s standards, but they’re still fun to drive.

THE RESTO:

Long way

hdt-vk-ss-resto-4.jpg

Jenn hard at work. It must have seemed like there was a very long way to go.

 

Details details

hdt-vk-ss-resto-3.jpg

Seeing this sort of detail being attended to is a reminder of just how big the overall task is.


In the booth

hdt-vk-ss-resto-paint.jpg

The paint was one of the very few tasks that couldn’t be tackled in the back yard shed.


Careful there

hdt-vk-ss-resto-2.jpg

Getting this lot in is one of those delicvate tasks that needs all hands on deck, and a lot of patience.

 

Dad’s hairy helper

hdt-vk-ss-resto.jpg

Don’t you just love the way the family mutt feels obliged to lend a hand, or a paw?

 

Very flash

hdt-vk-ss-dash.jpg

The Momo wheel immediately sets the cabin apart from the general run of Commodores.

 

ORIGINAL CAR
1985 VK HDT SS, BUILD NUMBER 2774
Length of restoration: 2 years

1985 Holden Commodore VK HDT SS

Body: 4D sedan
Engine: 5.0lt V8
Power: 177kW @ 4800rpm
Torque: 420Nm @ 3500rpm
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Suspension: Front: Double wishbones with coil springs. Rear: live axle with trailing arms and coils

(Ed’s note: Dave’s partner Jenn passed away suddenly earlier this year. We hope this reminds her family and friends of happy times.)

 

From Unique Cars #443, Aug 2020

Unique Cars magazine Value Guides

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