Holden VB Commodore Wagon Suspension - Our Shed

By: Glenn Torrens, Photography by: Glenn Torrens

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Glenn Torrens banishes the bounce and kooky cornering from his Holden Commodore wagon

 

1979 Holden VB Commodore Wagon

The fact the left-front tyre scraped its mudflap on full-lock left turns – oh, and a tippy-toe nervousness through sweeping right-hand corners above 60 or 70km/h – alerted me to a problem. I’d replaced my VB Commodore wagon’s absolutely munted front dampers by installing a set of better (but second-hand) struts from the wreckers and while I was in the mood, I’d slipped on a set of cheapie new rear dampers, too… but there was something else going on…

Holden -commodore -suspension -4In most cars, the engine’s weight is supported directly by the cross-member so the donk had to be held up while the replacement cross-member was installed

Looking more closely under the car, I quickly found the reason for the kooky cornering: the front cross-member had suffered a big whack, denting the left-hand castor rod bush pad and allowing the left front wheel to migrate backwards around half an inch. It was hardly noticeable by sight, but very noticeable when driving!

Once again I was off to see my mate Greg at the wreckers.

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Thankfully, I found a front cross-member already removed from a Commodore sitting in the boot of another Commodore, saving me the labour of removing it. A hundred bucks? Shut up and take my money!

Replacing a Commodore cross-member is theoretically easy: it’s just eight bolts. However, two of those bolts hold up the engine, which weighs about a quarter of a tonne and must be supported while the cross-member swap happens underneath it. I won’t bore you with a step-by-step description of the process, but by placing a chassis stand under the engine, I was able to replace the cross-member without too much swearing.

Holden -commodore -suspension -8With the damage repaired and good tyres fitted, I treated the old girl to a proper wheel alignment so it drives the way Holden intended and won’t flog-out its tyres

While I was getting greasy, I fitted two brand-new, shed-find, original-condition, rare, patina, old-school, new-old-stock, factory-spec Holden front damper inserts and re-installed the original front springs; the second-hand struts I’d installed temporarily were past their best and had lighter-rate springs from a car without factory air-conditioning. One minor change from original-spec is the pair of Super Pro polyurethane strut tops that I retained from the second-hand struts I’d used for a month; the rubber Holden originals were saggy and I didn’t feel like shelling out $200 for a fresh pair.

With everything repaired, the change in my classic Commodore’s on-road character is astonishing and it really underlines just how mind-blowing the early Commodore’s dynamics were in 1979, when many Aussies were still daily-driving soggy bombs from the 1950s and 60s, and on cross-ply tyres.

Holden -commodore -suspension -9Even though this 15x6-inch Holden alloy wheel design apparently wasn’t offered on the Commodore wagon it’s a nice factory-look, era-correct upgrade

There was one remaining problem I needed to fix: the left-front tyre’s inner edge was badly worn. I wasn’t too keen about the 15-inch police-spec steel wheels that were on this car when I bought it, either, so I killed two birds with one stone by buying and refurbishing a set of factory Commodore SL/E 15-inch alloys. By retaining two of the tyres from the steelies and installing two fresh tyres, the Commodore is back on the road without too much expense.

 

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