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By Steve Titcumb, 15 May 2015 Features


Some engines are just born special. Behold the story of one man’s relationship with a Holden 308

WHETHER hunting for that elusive “barn find” that your second cousin’s ex-girlfriend’s brother in-law put you onto, or in a car nut’s shed picking up bits you bought off eBay that you didn’t really need but were too damn cheap to pass up, you always seem to end up spotting a car you want but can’t bloody well have.

Hit with the dreaded “nah, it’s not for sale mate, I’m going to do it up one day”, you leave your phone number in case they change their mind and walk away thinking to yourself “yeah right dreamer, you’ll have to win lotto and live to be 150 before that ever gets finished”.

My first and favourite 308 was a blue motor in a light blue 1983 South Australian VH Commodore Interceptor; an ex-highway pursuit car with very long legs. flogged the absolute crap out of that VH for years and just couldn’t kill the 308; she was a tough old girl. I used her as a part-time tow car, and once even entered it at Summernats, though with only a valve bounce as a rev limiter she hated back tyres. Still, it went hard for a mild motor!

The VH was the most fun “street” car I’ve ever owned. Apart from a dodgy starter motor, that needed a kiss from a jack handle to wake her up from time to time, she was pretty reliable. She was a tough car – despite some under-bonnet heat issues – and sounded the part with a custom three-inch single exhaust that had a deep burble sound at idle.

Holden 308

I sold it off to pay the deposit on my first house, and missed that sound from the first day it left. I kept track of the car hoping to buy her back some day. Over the next decade, as the car went through several sets of hands, I tried to buy her back from four different owners (when I had the funds). But I always copped the old “no I’m keeping it mate, going to do it up one day”, only to see them sell it off to someone else when I had no money. It changed hands five or six times with each owner swearing they were going to do it up. Then it just vanished.

Driving near a local wrecking yard a few years later I spotted what was left of the VH. It was crumpled up and sitting behind a chain wire fence in the neighbouring vacant yard. It turned out the wreckers didn’t own it but they gave me the phone number of the bloke that did and, you guessed it, “no it’s not for sale, I’m going to do it up one day” was his answer.

For over two years I drove past it almost daily and there she was, my old baby all smashed up after an apparent high-speed crash through a table drain, just sitting out in the rain rotting away. To make it worse the bonnet was up and the carby was missing. Then one weekend she vanished.

I tracked her down again and told the latest owner that I really only wanted the motor and was given the same old, “going to do it up one day, yada, yada, yada”. I left my number with them anyway.

Holden 308

About a year later the phone rings: “Do you still want to buy your old car back? You can have it for $800 bucks, mate.” The VH was paid for and on the back of a truck 20 minutes later.

Then the seller mentioned the heartbreaker: “By the way mate, the engine’s stuffed, it’s had water in it, I pulled the sump plug and drained it and chucked a good battery in it but it won’t even turn, it just goes clunk.”

I wasn’t a happy camper, but took her home out of sentiment anyway. Once back at the workshop I stuck a breaker bar on the front of the crank and expected the 308 to be seized solid, but no, she turned.

Quick as a flash the battery went in and I turned the key, the dash lit up and the old girl slowly turned over. But at least it was turning off the starter. My blood was racing. Will she go?

After a quick search of the workshop, in went a dodgy old Quadrajet carby. I poured some fuel down the throat of the Quaddie from a long neck plastic Coke bottle and turned the key again. The bitch backfired hard, taking most of my eyebrows with it. At the other end she ejected a couple of very-surprised rats from the tail-pipe. (Their death was quick and painless going by how far they ended up imbedded into the office wall).

Holden 308

Once the dust cloud cleared and the stench of all things ratty abated, the key was cranked two more times and more juice was filtered down her throat (while keeping my melon a bit further out of the firing line) which saw a splutter as the fuel pump picked up fuel. When the fuel hit the carby she coughed, farted and slowly spluttered back to life. She ran noisily well below idle on about five cylinders for a whole 30 seconds or so before rattling madly and stopping dead. It wasn’t just a dry lifter rattle expected from old 308’s either, but more like a burnout engine throwing its rods; this was bad.

In my excitement to fire her up I probably should have pulled the dipstick and checked the oil level, but I wasn’t expecting the old girl to even turn over, let alone run. Pulling the dipstick soon showed the problem: No oil. This was followed by a “D’oh” moment even Homer J Simpson would be proud of: There was no sump plug. The previous owner had drained it alright, however he hadn’t mentioned putting the sump plug or any oil back in. Holy crap Batman! After all these years it looked like I’d killed her once and for all.

Hang on, what happens if I put some oil in? In went a sump plug and about three litres of very-used black waste oil from the burnout car. I hit the key again and, clunkety-clunk-clunk. Bugger, she’s stuffed. Wait a minute, what happens if I beat the crap out of the starter motor like the old days? Bang, bang, bang on the starter and the sucker turned over again, very slowly at first before it started turning a bit more freely. A gentle tap of the throttle and away she went.

Holden 308

She spluttered along on five cylinders; rattling horribly and really wanting to die, it was time to end the misery once and for all. I jammed the throttle wide open with a screwdriver, walked away and let the old girl try and rev herself to death. Popping, farting and carrying on, she slowly started to pick up revs and cylinders one at a time.

She climbed to about 1500rpm on five cylinders, then 2000rpm on six, then around 2500rpm on seven before cylinder number eight finally woke up and all hell broke loose.

For over a minute, at well past 7000rpm and valve bouncing at her finest like the good old days, she returned to a near-perfect idle when the screwdriver jamming the throttle bailed out. After over a decade, I finally had back my old 308’s rumble idling away in my shed. What a sound!

So where is she now? Well the car was truly rooted and went to scrap, but I kept the exhaust and the 308, which is sitting under my work bench awaiting a re-build. It has been there for over a decade now, and no, you can’t have it, “it’s not for sale, I’m gonna do it up one day!”