1990 Holden VN SS: Our Shed
Dave Morley succumbs to a pang of local-built nostalgia and points his wallet in the direction of a 1990 VN SS...
1990 Holden VN SS
Learning that local car-making was going to stop was, for me, a bit like learning that Kurt Cobain had popped his clogs. It could easily have happened years earlier (I remember the head-office bail-out of Holden in the mid-80s, for example) but it still came as a shock. But it also started people asking me which piece of Aussie muscle was I going to put away in my shed to remind me of the good times, years from now. At first, I didn’t have a ready answer; I’ve owned plenty of big, boofy Aussie cars over the years, and they’ve all had their good points. Maybe I didn’t need a keepsake at all? Nah, no point ignoring the facts.
So I started to make a short-list. The LX Torana Hatchback I’ve had a jones for for years is now comfortably out of financial reach. Simple as that. Much as I love the lines and could make excuses for the Colditz interior, I just can’t commit a house deposit to the concept of nostalgia. (And they say I aint a realist!)
I’ve owned a few late-ish model Fords and really liked the XR6 concept, and early XR6 Turbos are now really good value. But, to my way of thinking, all the post-2000 stuff from both Ford and Holden is unnecessarily heavy. That kind of blunts the responses and, while I know none of these are race-cars, I’m kind of offended by wilful lumpen-ness. And what about all that air-bag stuff? How’s that going to be shaping up in another 15 years?
And then suddenly it dawned on me: What about an early fuel-injected Commodore? They VN/VP stuff was still lightweight (-ish) there wasn’t too much electronic stuff to go bang. And that fuel-injected 304-cube Holden motor was – and always has been – an absolute peach. Find, say, a VN in Atlas Grey with a five-speed box and the power-pack delete option (no fast glass or central locking to bugger up) and you could be looking at the next big collectible. Better find one fast before the idea gets out.
I looked at a couple of dogs over the next few weeks, but finally the trail led to a shed down the coast where a VN SS had allegedly been in storage for the last seven years. It was a Phoenix Red 1990 VN SS, it was low kays (98,000) and it was – apart from some minor cosmetic bits and pieces – a minter. Take it or leave it, said the bloke, suggesting there was no haggling to be done this day.
With a freshly minted permit stuck to the windscreen, we headed off, straight to the nearest servo to dilute that seven-year-old brew in the VN’s baggy-duds tank. But 500 metres into the journey, I was wondering if all was well. There was such a severe vibration through the car under load, I thought there was either a plug-lead missing or the centre bearing was completely shot (not unusual in these models).
Once I got it home and up on the hoist, the source of all those bad vibrations was patently obvious. Now, I’ve seen cars with worn suspension bushes before. In fact, I’ve seen cars with completely trashed suspension bushes. But I have never, ever, before seen a car with missing suspension bushes. Yep, the lower trailing arms had stuffed bushes, but crazily, two of the four upper-arm bushes were MIA. Gone. Completely. Oh the bushes’ metal inner and outer surfaces were still there. But actual bush material? Er, nope. That would explain the Vibr-O-Ride then.
A trip to the shops netted me a full set of rear suspension bushes and then came the job of fitting them. A mate’s hydraulic press took care of the (remaining) ones in the removable arms, but the rear bushes on the lower control arms are pressed into the axle housing, not the arm itself. So, rather than try to put the whole car in a 20-tonne press, I figured I’d make a puller to wind the old bushes out and shove the new ones in. Good theory, but after much grunting and swinging off a big spanner with a metre of tube added for leverage, I only had one bush out before the mild-steel threaded bar on my home-made puller gave out. Stretched. Kaput.
So I trotted up to the bolt shop and asked for a metre of high-tensile threaded bar. The bloke duly hands over a length of shiny threaded bar-stock. It’s a nice gold-ish colour which I figure has something to do with the heat-treating process. So off I go. I soon had the bar cut to length and all the various washers, pipes and joiner-nuts in place to reef the second bush out. All was going well at first but as I started to ramp up the pressure I was applying to the bush, the threaded bar suddenly snapped, sending it and the nut on it across the workshop where it found the door of my MX-5, leaving a tiny, but annoying dent just next to the exterior mirror.
Thanking my lucky stars I wasn’t standing between the nut and the unfortunate Mazda, the head scratching started. I shuffled across the car-park to my mate Bondini’s and explained my tale of woe. He took one look at the bar stock and told me to stick a magnet to it. Nothing doing. Completely unmagnetic.
"Thought so," said Bondini, "that’s brass, that is."
So that’s today’s lesson kids. All that glitters is not gold. Sometimes it’s brass. And if it is, don’t start to stretch it with the force of ten elephants. Not if there’s an MX-5 parked nearby, anyway.
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