It looks like a stocker from the outside but George Starkey's Holden FX hides some old-school technology
This article was originally published in the February 2006 issue of Street Machine
A QUICK look at this Plain Jane-looking Humpy and the last thing you would expect is some high-tech wizardry under the bonnet. Okay, it’s not exactly the latest and greatest in computer-controlled, multi-valve engineering, but back in the mid-50s it was about as hot as you could get.
You see, sitting under the smooth black bonnet is one of only nine Waggott twin-cam heads ever built. George Starkey is a big fan of the early Holdens and when it came to building this latest one, he just had to have the rarest — and arguably the best — when it came to grey motor hot-up bits.
With the most legendary of old-school powerplants under the bonnet, George tried to keep the rest of the car as true to the era as possible. The only immediately visible variations from stock are the widened rims, lowered stance, gauges and indicators.
“I wanted to keep it as period in appearance as possible,” says George, “that’s why there are no modern rims, gauges or fittings.”
But once George parks the car and pops the bonnet, it’s like bees to honey, he reckons. And that’s no surprise with a donk that most people — even the most die-hard of early Holden fans — have never seen in the metal.
“As far as we can tell, it’s the only Waggott head that’s ever been on a registered car. All of the others were on race cars or boats,” George says. No wonder most people have never seen one!
So where the hell do you find the Holy Grail of grey motor hot bits? Well, George won’t get too specific, just that he got it from a collector who’d had it for many years.
“The things are practically priceless. Only nine were built and only eight ever left the factory. Peter Waggott (Merv’s son) knows where seven of them are and blokes just don’t sell them,” says George, “so I was pretty lucky to get this one. Everything’s for sale for the right price!”
Although he finally had his hands on one of the super-rare pieces, it wasn’t just a matter of bolting it on. George had the head, cams and top half of the front cover, but was missing the bottom piece. So he turned to Peter Waggott — who still runs Waggott Engineering at Alstonville in Northern NSW — for help with the missing cover.
“It was cracked and warped but we put it in an oven, straightened it out and welded it up,” George says. That’s the kind of commitment required if you want to run this hard-to-find gear.
Waggott also supplied a seven-bearing conversion to keep the bottom-end together but George went one better by getting Stan Dare at H&B Sales to sort out a more bulletproof solution than even Mr Waggott managed.
Even though it’s only a four-bearing unit, a brand new billet stainless crank was machined with knife-edged counterweights and big-end journals the same size as a 327 Chev. Replacing the four main caps is another chunk of stainless which has been whittled into a one-piece cradle that encompasses all four big-ends. Cool eh? To fit it all, the sump was modified and now holds a bit of extra oil for good measure.
That wasn’t the only hurdle George faced. As most of these heads were designed for hydroplanes, not much thought went into a cooling system suitable for everyday road use. Thanks to some very clever thinking and engineering by Peter Sugden at Olden Engineering, a neat set-up was created. Up front is a V8 Commodore radiator turned on its side and re-configured with new outlets and cap location by Eckersley Radiators. From there the water heads to a stock water pump, remote-mounted on custom brackets. It then flows to a distribution block that sends equal water pressure to the block via the old welch plugs which have been modified with o-ring seals and special fittings. The coolant then passes through the block and heads, out through the middle of the head and back to the radiator via some more copper pipe.
With the engine really breathing, the old single-barrel Strommie was out of its league. George figured a trio of 40mm DCOE Webers would do the trick nicely — as did Merv back in the day. Out the other side of the head is a custom set of extractors. The 2.5-inch single system was put together by Vari Flow Technologyand has a slight turn-down at the rear so the game isn’t given away by the big-bore pipe.
That makes a lot of grunt for a basically standard FX, so a lot of consideration also went into making the car stop and handle within the limits of 60s technology — no disc brakes or rack and pinion swaps for this car! The upshot is that the front subframe was boxed and welded for extra rigidity and the nose of the standard FX crossmember extended to meet the subframe. EH drums were fitted front and rear, craftily modified to allow the fitment of the early Holden wheels, which use a different bolt pattern to the EH. Out back is an EH LSD, with wider rear springs, XU-1 axles and 32mm lowering blocks. Up front are re-set coil springs, with Koni adjustable shocks all ’round.
Enough of this early high-tech goodness; how does it go?
“It flies! The only place I’ve really been able to open it up is Eastern Creek. Coming onto the main straight we were doing about 90mph and must have got to about 145mph down the straight. It was off the tacho and that goes to eight-and-a-half grand!” says George.
With flawless black paint by Terry Smith, near-stock interior and simple black steelies and caps doing a good job of hiding the modern 15-inch rubber, this is one old Humpy that might catch a few people unawares when the lights go green.
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Street Machine is the bible of Aussie modified auto culture, celebrating wild muscle cars, customs and hot rods – and the incredible humans who create them.
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