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Introducing: Project Futility! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Colin Brassington (aka Brash)   
Monday, 27 June 2016 22:08

So for those who didn't know, recently I bought an old Holden ute. I've been toying with the idea of a project car for years, and have always been of the opinion that I'd get something after I'd bought a house (which will hopefully be towards the end of this year). But regardless, I was browsing various classified sites and spotted a white HZ ute. It was complete and cheap, and I wanted it. I spoke with the girlfriend who was most gracious with her response: if you want it then buy it.


We have the space and it's not like I'm spending our rent money on a car I don't need so I bought it and it was delivered to our place on the back of a tilt tray. Because buying cars that run and drive is overrated...

Project Futility is a 1978 HZ Holden with a 202 six cylinder and traumatic auto. At some point in her previous life she has had the factory bench seat swapped for a pair of reclining buckets that I've been told are from a Statesman and the red 202 has been swapped with a blue one. Other than that she's just like any other old Holden.

My logic for buying a HZ is fairly thorough, and even my dad agrees that I've done a silly thing the smart way.

You see, I've never owned a car older than me, or one with steel bumpers for that matter. The HQ-J-X-Z series of Holdens are plentiful and parts are cheap. Over the 14 years they were in production they changed both a lot and not much, so parts for them are basically interchangeable. They're a bit like a Lego car really, in that you can basically do anything you want with them. Not to mention that I'd really like to restore something properly special in the future - something like an E-Type Jaguar or an early 911 - and working on this will teach me a lot of the skills I'll need to know. Hell it may even teach me that I don't like working on old cars! (I’m sure that’s what my mum hopes anyway)

And this brings us to the point of what am I going to do with mine? Well the initial plan is to get it running and driving with the 202 and auto. Once the mechanical side of things is sorted we'll do the minimum possible amount of body work. I would like to just leave it all patina'd but unfortunately enough of the paint is missing for me to have to do more than merely wash it and clear coat over what's left of the factory paint. There will need to be some rust removal, but again, that will be the absolute bare minimum. (In fact, I mentioned to a mate today we will need to do some rust removal work on the ute and he responded with ‘what’s this “we” shit? You mean that you have some rust removal work to do…')

But where to from there?

Initially I toyed with the idea of building the six - port the head, big valves and a hot cam, triple carbies and maybe a shot of giggle gas and see if we can get the thing to run a 12 second quarter. After all, these engines are simple and between me and a couple mates we could rebuild it ourselves doing everything bar the machining in house. I know a couple of guys who could tune it for me and it would be cool to see a six cylinder still doing the work. The Holden six cylinder has been a mainstay of car culture in this country since forever, and while largely ignored in favour of V8s or later model and higher technology Japanese engines, there’s still a large amount of support for them and I would still love to go that direction.

But for the amount of cost involved in that, I could fit a V8. Now the lazy route would be to buy a complete and running VR, VS or VT 5.0L Commodore and swap the entire driveline over. This would be easy, the engine and gearbox mounts will all be easily available as the engine hadn't changed that much between the time of HQ in 1971 and the end of the iron blocks' reign in 1999. The V8 would respond better to mild modifications than the 202 and would probably return better fuel economy too. The V8 would be better for towing (not that this thing is a tow beast but certainly the occasional tow is in its future).

The 5.0L swap would be easy and parts for these engines are very easy to come by. Since this was a factory engine for these cars it wouldn't even need engineering. Hell, even if I went and found an early 308 with old heads and carby, the hardest thing about the swap will be replacing the cross member with a V8 one and getting the tailshaft the right length.

But on that point...what about an LS conversion? Indeed the LS swap is a contender too, and could be fitted for not much more initial outlay than a Holden V8 but so much improvement in every way.

Locally the all alloy LS engines have been available in Commodores since 1998, but in the US they have powered everything from Corvettes and Camaros to large pick-up trucks and SUVs. They're available with either a cast iron or alloy block, in displacements ranging from 4.8L to 7.0L and more and the massive range of parts and interchangeability between the engines makes them just as much like Lego as the car I may be fitting one to.

Detractors of the LS swap all say the same things. They make comments like 'just like a retard on viagra, they stick it in anything' and they speak of the relative lack of technology in the design. And they're both kinda right - LS engines have been an immensely popular swap candidate since they're launch, and they have found their way into all manner of cars, from older muscle cars and hot rods all the way to late model Japanese stuff like Silvias and RX7s. And yes the basic design of the engine is still a cam-in-valley, pushrod actuated 2-valve engine, but I don't necessarily see that as a problem. Let's be honest here, the Ford Coyote engine with its overhead cams and multi valve heads needs a supercharger to make similar power to the naturally aspirated LS3 fitted to contemporary HSVs. (But having said that, the Ford engine sounds way better..!)

The more I think about it, the more sense an LS swap for my project makes. It will make more power out of the box than I will likely ever see out of the 202, and it weighs significantly less than the iron 5.0L Holden V8. The LS will also return better fuel efficiency and emissions than either of the old engines (probably) and literally everything is available to make it do literally anything I want.

But here's the irony: all this talk of cutting up and pillaging running cars for their random bits. These days it's perfectly acceptable to buy an SS Commodore and remove most of the drivetrain and assorted other components and then scrap the rest. After all, Commodores are cheap and plentiful. That and a cheap V8 Commodore is seen as a menace to society, what with their unlimited 200+km/h top speed potential and cheap purchase price, they are literally killing inexperienced P-plate drivers. (As facetious as this sounds, I did recently read these exact words...makes me sad that such stupidity is able to be broadcast publicly).

But what I'm getting at is that nobody bats an eyelid if you pillage a complete and running late model Commodore. This is an amusing double standard for anyone who associates with fans of old metal. You see, the concept of wrecking a HQ for example is simply mad. 'I'm wrecking this HQ wagon, 202, 3 speed, bench seats' the fb post said. A simple picture of a Kingswood wagon accompanied those words. Yet an hour later the poster had been inundated with abusive comments, because why would you not simply sell if you didn't want to rebuild it? These old cars must be preserved!

As it turned out, the wagon in the above example was riddled with rust and was really too far gone to repair. But that wasn't the point, the people of the interwebs saw fit to tell the owner exactly what they should do with their car, despite not knowing the full story. Oh well.

As amusing as I find this behaviour, I must say that I sort of get it. I mean, they don't make these things anymore, and one that has been cut up, pillaged and wrecked means they will never be driven again. Consigning them to live out the rest of eternity in a wrecking yard or similar, until the time comes that they are no longer holding any useful parts, at which case they get crushed.

But there is also a finite number of V8 Commodores. Whether it be the alloy or iron blocked version, there are only so many of them available too. And why are people ok with me taking one out of circulation and not the other? Is it because plastic bumpered Commodores are still thought of as being relatively new, regardless of age? Who knows... Will we one day treasure a neat and tidy VR Commodore SS in the way that we pour over a HJ Kingswood? People forget that a VR is 20 years old now, and a VB Commodore is nearly 40 – it’s nearly a classic in it’s own right!

But as for Project Futility, we shall see. Let's get the thing running first. After all, it needs to be ready to help us move house later this year...



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