1979 Holden VB Commodore - Our Shed

By: Glenn Torrens

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holden vb commodore 1 holden vb commodore 1

Despite having no kids, Glenn Torrens jumps into an iconic family truckster

My dad didn’t own one and – oddly for my teenage years in the 1980s – neither did any of my mates’ dads. It’s not a V8. But when I saw this 1979 VB Holden Commodore SL wagon for sale just 10 minutes from home last summer, it seemed to cast a spell.

It’s not like I wanted – or needed – another car!

Showing a little less than 141,000km, the test drive revealed a sweet-running engine – well, as sweet as these hoary old Holden 3.3-litre Red six-cylinder donks can possibly be – and an obedient Trimatic transmission. But the air-con didn’t work (it always says: "needs re-gas" in the ads, doesn’t it?!) and the (power) steering, brakes and suspension needed work, sore evidence of the fact that in Queensland, where this car had apparently spent most of its life (including, apparently, 16 years unused in a shed) there are no annual vehicle safety inspections. Behind the wrong cop-spec wheels the front dampers were absolutely rooted and the rears weren’t much better. I’ll bet they must have been that way for most of the 20 years this car had been sharing sunshine-state highways, if the 16-years-in-a-shed tale was true.

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And I reckon it is: The Commodore’s characteristic cord cloth trim and the dash are terrific – I’d score them a 8/10 – and the bright alloy trims around the windows, often tarnished on these early Commodores, appear to have lived a sheltered life despite the fact the oh-so-70s caramel-metallic paint being past its best with surface rust on the bonnet, door skins and turret.

But repairing it is within my ability as a keen car fixer-upperer, so I thought ‘why not?’ and figured it would be yet another cool cruiser on which to hang historic plates and drive for one or two days a fortnight.

Sold!

My first task was to replace the cheap, nasty sports steering wheel – thankfully the Commodore’s original was included in the sale – and give the interior a once over: Did you know that dusty, lightly-stained carpet can be removed from the car, degreased and pressure-washed to make it look almost new again? Now you do!

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One headlight needed replacement; easy with a spare I had. The last service sticker on the windscreen is from 2001 and the dipstick showed jet-black syrup so, of course, I changed the oil and spun-on a new filter.

The grabby front brakes and rattly suspension were fixed with second-hand parts from my local wrecker’s yard (thanks, Greg!) and with the car safe and defect-free for the first time since – probably – the 1980s, I traded-in the daily-driver rego and screwed-on a set of historic plates.

Fixing the air-conditioning wasn’t quite so easy. My mechanic mate Juddy discovered a cross-threaded air-con pipe while attempting a re-gas. There were no spares at my local wreckers’… but a bloke on a Facebook page was parting-out an early Commodore with air-con so I organised for the required pipe to be mailed. Juddy installed it with new O-rings – as he did to the other junctions in the system – and with icy cold air-con, I’m looking forward to lots of cruising, Cars & Coffees and regional car-show camping in my caramel Commodore wagon.

 

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