Holden Commodore VN SS wheel bearings - Our Shed

By: Dave Morley, Photography by: Dave Morley & Guy Allen

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With the old girl now recommissioned a bit of wheel bearing work was required

A weird thing happened the other day. Ever since I’ve owned the VN SS, it’s had a gentle howl in the rear end. It sounded to me like a classic case of shot rear wheel bearings, possibly the result of the car sitting in the previous owner’s garage for something like seven years without moving. The problem, I figured, was that the top part of the wheel bearings had dried out and rust had moved in to pit the races and cause a general cock-up of the bearings.

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Iron Lion eight-banger

Of course, because I never drove the thing much and certainly no real distance, I never bothered about the whiny rear end too much. But now that I’ve recommissioned the old girl, there’s every chance I’ll take it for a decent gallop now and then, a job an injected V8 and a five-speed is actually still very good at.

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These spindly shafts transfer a  lot of power

So I had a yak to my mate Graeme at well-known local workshop – a proper one, complete with oily bits everywhere and blokes in overalls – Des and Gray’s in Ferntree Gully and we decided that he could tear into the old girl’s third member and swap out the bearings for me. I was going to have a crack myself, but I didn’t think my press has the range of adjustments to tackle the length of axle we’re talking about here. Plus, I’m a shiftless bastard at times. And this was one of those times.

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Morley’s butt troubles caught mid surgery

Anyhoo, Graeme calls me later in the day and tells me the VN is all ready to go for another hundred-thousand kays. So I rock around there on foot, grab the keys and five-five it down the street, happy that the job has finally been done. And I’m still clean. I decide I’ll celebrate by driving the SS home for the night which gives me the chance to scare the neighbours and make sure everything is hunky and/or dory.

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This will teach you to mess with me

But about half-way home, I start to hear a metal-on-metal scrubbing noise from the rear end. At first I put it down to a rubbing dust-shield or maybe the hand-brake has been adjusted and is now a fraction tight. No probs, it won’t be anything major and if it’s the hand-brake it’ll seat itself In a few kilometres. Next morning, and I’m due for coffee with the mob that wrangle this fine magazine every month and it’s raining, but I decide to take the VN anyway.

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Collapsed and mashed bearing

Thanks to a typical Melbourne summer downpour, the noise of Pirelli P Zeroes sopping up 10 litres of water every second means I can’t hear anything amiss in the rear end. But on the way back to The Melbourne Bloke Centre, I can, indeed, hear that all is not well in the Commo’s butt department. And then, half way back to base, I fell a slight thump and hear an awful grinding noise out back. I pull into a side street for a look, but can’t see anything. So I gingerly pull back on to the main drag and point the VN’s nose for Graeme’s workshop which, luckily, is just a couple of blocks away. And now I can also smell something hot.

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I still don’t know what’s happened as I explain the noises to Graeme, but he offers to tear straight into it. And then a couple of hours later, I got a phone call from him. "You better come around and have a look at this," he says (never how you want a mechanic to start a conversation, right?). Five minutes later and I’m stood in his workshop looking at what, just 34 kilometres earlier, had been a brand-new rear wheel bearing. Except it was now a scene of total devastation with the rollers ground flat and the bearing cage torn into a mangled spiral of pain.

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If at first you don’t succeed....

So what happened? Well, the only explanation is – according to Graeme – the bearing rollers somehow missed the hardening process at the factory. As such, they were too soft to support the forces against the bearing race and they failed. Once that happened, the rest of the bearing was free to heat up and destroy itself. Check the pics, they’re ugly.

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Aftermarket wheels look racy

Unfortunately, as the bearing failed, it allowed the brake disc to migrate outwards which then contacted the caliper, removing some of the cast metal that secures the brake pads. At that point, the brake pad could have been spat out if I’d hit the anchors hard enough. So now the car also needs a new rear caliper. And all this in just 34 kilometres of urban running.

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Banana bunch cover

Graeme assures me that the bearing supplier will be covering the cost of this carnage (including his extra labour charge) but I’m still thankful I didn’t try to drive to Ballarat or somewhere the same day I picked the car up. And I’m also thinking that I’m lucky I didn’t tackle the job myself after all, as I’d probably have blamed myself for the failure rather than being able to diagnose a dud bearing. Sometimes – just sometimes – it really pays to be a lazy bugger.

 

From Unique Cars #450, March 2021

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