Holden VC Commodore Engine Upgrade - Staff Cars

By: Dave Morley, Photography by: Dave Morley

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engine swap engine swap

Never look a gift horse in the mouth. Or a gift donk, come to that

I find generosity a very attractive quality in people. Especially when it’s directed my way. I should explain: A few weeks ago, I got an email from a champion fella called Neville (call me Nifty) who, aside from being a tappet-head with a lovely (and fairly lively) Walkinshaw Commodore in his fabulous, neater-than-mine-will-ever-be workshop, wanted to give me something. Nifty had been reading about Project Duckshit in this fine, family magazine, and suddenly remembered that he had this thing lying around that he thought I might like for my hillclimber. And you know what? He was dead right.

And the thing was – drumroll please – a motor. And not just any motor; a fully rebuilt 3.3-litre black motor from a VK Commodore that Nifty simply has no use for and knew that I probably would have. So he offered it to me. For free. Nix. Nada. Gratis. Hell, he even offered to deliver it to me.

Commodore -engine

Now, my plan has always been to run the stock blue motor that the Brown Bomber was running when I bought it. And that’s still the case, because it’ll be a great way to shake the rest of the car down, get to know what it handles like and, most importantly, get it running and on a hillclimb track sooner rather than later. That’s the way it will still pan out, and I’m currently working with Hume Performance in NSW as we re-write the book on how to make a mild 202 work properly (watch this space). Which means, of course, that I’ll eventually need a built motor with a bunch more squirt and that’s where Nev’s freebie donk comes in. It’ll save me a whole bunch of messing about and running around because the thing has already been rebuilt with enough good bits to make it a viable swap when the time comes.

Meantime, I contacted Nev and we met at his workshop to see what we were dealing with. Sure enough, the block is a black-motor 3.3 and the head is from a fuel-injected version of same. Beyond that, though, Nifty didn’t know a whole lot about it, mainly because it wasn’t his when it was rebuilt. I’ll let Nev take up the yarn.


Never thought a set of headers could look sexy. I was wrong. The flange is my work, Pacemaker did the rest

"I saw this clean, straight VK Commodore sitting in a driveway…been passing it for months. What I wanted to do was use the body to build myself a Big Banger (think the Group C Commodore that won Bathurst in 1984 with P Brock and L Perkins at the helm) replica, so eventually I knocked on the door and made an offer. And that’s how I came by the car, complete with the rebuilt 202 in it. Of course, I’m planning to run a 355 stroker, so a black six wasn’t much good to me. Then I started reading about Project Duckshit and I thought: That’d be a good home for this motor. So I emailed the magazine and offered it up."

Holden -commodore -engine

The international symbol of power

Like I said; champion bloke, that Nifty. Of course, neither Nev nor I knew what was inside the rebuilt six, so he gave me the number of the bloke he bought it from and I made a phone call. Turns out, the bloke’s son was the previous owner of the VK and he’d had the engine rebuilt by a professional outfit in Gippsland to run a bit harder than a stocker but also to run on LPG. So the bottom end is all resized Starfire rods (the good ones) and the crank was reground and fitted with plus-sized bearings. The pistons are flat-tops (so I should be able to get away with pump fuel) and the block has been bored 60-thou, taking capacity to 208 cubes (Is this taking you back?)

Commodore -valve -sprints

These little stock valve springs ain't gonna cope with the cam we have in mind

The head has been fitted with hardened valve seats to cope with the LPG and the camshaft is, apparently, a bit of a grunter designed to also work with the gas. Of course, I’d like a bit of porting work done on the head and maybe bigger valves to get her breathing a bit deeper and I’ve had Clive Cams grind me up a new bumpstick that’s j-u-s-t back from XU1 spec  but should suit my purposes better than a gas cam. And it seems that will now happen, because my little brother (who’s also my race mechanic) took one look at the stock valve springs on Nev’s gifted engine and declared them too weeny for the camshaft in question. So it’ll be head off, valves out and die-grinders at 20 paces.

Commodore -3

This is how I know the engine was professionally rebuilt. The little button dobs you in if you've overheated the engine, and bingo...no warranty!

I’ve also obtained a lovely (and I mean lovely) set of Pacemaker headers and, like I said, I’m working with Hume Performance to come up with a new induction system that could change the way people think about modifying Holden’s evergreen 202.

But that’s a story for another time. Like I said: Watch this space.

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