A Group of Group As

Four broth­ers. Four Com­modores. One com­mon build num­ber. A Group of Group As!

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

Four broth­ers. Four Com­modores. One com­mon build num­ber. A Group of Group As!

You’re look­ing at what may well be the rarest col­lec­tion of mus­cle cars in Aus­tralia, per­haps even the world. A com­plete set of sin­gle model des­ig­na­tion vari­ants – in this case four SS Group A Com­modores – owned since new by the one fam­ily. All have the same build num­ber, all have less than 5500km on the odome­ter, and one of the cars has never even been reg­is­tered.

The ‘one-owner’ sta­tus takes on even more sig­nif­i­cance when you re­alise that the cars were de­liv­ered to the fam­ily’s own Holden deal­er­ship, in the regional Vic­to­rian town of Kyabram (since re­lo­cated to nearby Echuca). If that’s not enough, the body kit on one of them was painted by an­other fam­ily busi­ness that was an of­fi­cial sup­plier to HSV.

The unique col­lec­tion be­longs to the D’Alberto broth­ers – Frank, Ezio, Ferdie and Al. If you think that fam­ily name sounds fa­mil­iar, you’re right. The first three are un­cles to Su­per­cars and Aus­tralian GT driver, Tony D’Alberto. The fourth, Al, is Tony’s fa­ther.

Ferdie is also a for­mer driver, hav­ing cam­paigned a To­rana Sports Sedan and Dat­sun 240Z Pro­duc­tion Sports Car. Al has worked with many high pro­file rac­ing teams, in­clud­ing the F5000 out­fits of Gra­ham McRae and Alfredo Costanzo, and the fam­ily ran its own Su­per­cars team for Tony prior to him sign­ing as an en­durance driver with DJR Team Penske.

Ferdie says the broth­ers be­came ‘Team Red’ trag­ics early in life when their fa­ther pur­chased an FE Holden.

“I re­mem­ber (Dad) got an FE Holden and I was amazed at how quiet and smooth it was, and the in­di­ca­tors self-can­celled. Later on we were in­tro­duced to mo­tor rac­ing by a friend’s un­cle who took us to Calder, and we also watched it on the telly. As the Bathurst era de­vel­oped so did our al­le­giance to the Holden brand.”

There’s an­other rea­son why Ferdie may be drawn to Holden, though he doesn’t give it too much cre­dence.

“My birth­day is Oc­to­ber 1, 1948 and an au­thor claims the first pro­duc­tion Holden came off the assem­bly line on the first of Oc­to­ber, 1948 – per­haps I was des­tined to be a Holden man.”

Af­ter the fam­ily moved into its own panel beat­ing busi­ness, they started buy­ing and sell­ing

used cars, which led to ve­hi­cle whole­sal­ing.

“We did busi­ness with the Kyabram Holden deal­er­ship and then it came up for sale and we bought it. That opened the op­por­tu­nity to purchase the Group As,” ex­plained Ferdie.

Ac­cord­ing to Ferdie, the HDT-built VK Group A was bought by the fam­ily busi­ness so tech­ni­cally it wasn’t his – but he was its cus­to­dian.

When the VL ver­sion was re­leased, the broth­ers de­cided to add it to the fam­ily fleet, and this time, Al claimed ‘own­er­ship’. As the VK build num­ber hap­pened to be 333, the D’Al­ber­tos re­quested 333 for the VL.

Then it was Ezio’s turn. He took pos­ses­sion of the next it­er­a­tion, the Walkin­shaw VL, while Frank com­pleted the set by pur­chas­ing the last of the se­ries, the VN. Both of these ve­hi­cles are also num­bered 333.

De­spite be­ing pur­chased as ‘daily driv­ers’, the cars have spent very lit­tle time on the road.

“I can’t tell you too much about what the cars are like to drive be­cause they haven’t been driven,” ad­mits Ferdie. “It is a dif­fi­cult thing to put any logic to be­cause (the VK) was meant to be my day-to-day car, but I was de­ter­mined to keep it as new as I could. I was driven by the fact that I had got to a stage in my life where I would have liked to have a brand new XU-1 in the shed but that wasn’t pos­si­ble. I loved that the XU-1s were ho­molo­ga­tion spe­cials built for rac­ing and as I couldn’t have a brand new one, own­ing this Group A was the next best thing.”

De­spite what his broth­ers may or may not have had in mind for ‘their’ cars, Ferdie was de­ter­mined that the cars wouldn’t find their way onto the D’Alberto Holden used car lot.

“To me, they were never go­ing to be sold. They were al­ways go­ing to be a set. It’s not some­thing that can hap­pen eas­ily be­cause you can’t do it unless you do it from the start. Ob­vi­ously, when you move on from this world, you can’t take them with you, but if I could, I would. That’s the way I feel about them.

“Frank has a slightly dif­fer­ent men­tal­ity to me and at one point he de­cided to sell the VN. When we got wind of that we had to stop him. (But) as much as I talk about the blue one be­ing mine, I have to re­mind my­self it is not mine; they are all part of the group. They are owned by the com­pany so they be­long to all of us and no­body has the right to say they are go­ing to sell or not sell. It has to be a joint de­ci­sion.”

In­ter­est­ingly, the VN sports a body kit that was painted by the D’Alberto au­to­mo­tive re­fin­ish­ing busi­ness, Bell­mont when it was a sup­plier to Holden Spe­cial Ve­hi­cles.

Clearly this Group A col­lec­tion tra­verses the Peter Brock/HDT-Tom Walkin­shaw/HSV di­vide, though Ferdie has never ex­pe­ri­enced a feel­ing of split loy­alty.

“I fol­low the brand, not the driver,” said Ferdie. “When the ugly Holden-Brock split hap­pened I con­tin­ued to fol­low the Holden brand, but it is not like I aban­doned Peter. To me he was still the man.

“As far as the cars go, com­par­ing a Brock car to an HSV, I think, is pretty dif­fi­cult. You have got to think an HSV is prob­a­bly a bet­ter car and that is sim­ply based on bet­ter base prod­ucts – in­de­pen­dent sus­pen­sion and fuel in­jected en­gines. I cur­rently own a GTS 300, the Monaro-based HSV coupe and I think that is a good car.”

“Ob­vi­ously, when you move on from this world you can’t take them with you, but if I could, I would. That’s the way I feel about them.”

VK – 2336km

“I prob­a­bly haven’t driven it since 1990; I can’t even re­mem­ber the last time I did,” Ferdie D’Alberto pon­ders. “I found it quite a good car to drive. It is all based on the tech­nol­ogy of the day, there was noth­ing overly trick about it. Much of its ap­peal is vis­ual, with the in­te­rior, the paint­work and the strip­ing.

“A lot has changed since then. If I was to drive it today I might see it dif­fer­ently but at the time, I liked it. Yes, it had per­for­mance, but it was also a nice car to drive.

“One of the things that stands out, and I wasn’t there at the time, my wife Nola did a wheelie in it. She wasn’t pop­u­lar! But it was a pure ac­ci­dent. Nola had never done a wheelie in her life un­til then.

“These cars have a rel­a­tively high first gear but once you get go­ing it’s fine, so that was no real big de­par­ture from nor­mal. That is what I like about the blue one – it is the most pure, the most nor­mal, what we grew up with.

“I fit­ted an elec­tric aerial and while it’s not stan­dard it doesn’t re­ally change any­thing. I still have the orig­i­nal aerial so I can put it back at any time. The aerial touch but­ton pad on the dash works, but to keep the orig­i­nal ap­pear­ance, it isn’t marked with the fac­tory-fit­ted elec­tric aerial sym­bol. As far as I know, that’s the only any change on any of the cars.”

VL (HDT) – 5279km

“I think the VK and VL are very sim­i­lar,” Ferdie says. “Both cars have car­bu­ret­tors and a sim­i­lar body struc­ture, though the wheels, body kit and paint colour are very dif­fer­ent. The main dif­fer­ence is that it has a dif­fer­ent gear­box – the VK has the Aussie four­speed box and the VL has a Borg Warner T5.

“Of course, there were two ver­sions of the Group A; this car isn’t fit­ted with the Plus Pack, so it doesn’t carry Peter Brock’s sig­na­ture or the in­fa­mous En­ergy Po­lariser.

“The Holden-HDT split was an un­for­tu­nate sit­u­a­tion but I don’t think Holden re­ally had any choice but to do what they did. Most peo­ple at the time thought it would work it­self out, but as we know, it didn’t pan out that way.

“Hav­ing an engi­neer­ing back­ground, I strug­gle to see how Peter (Brock) was cor­rect in his claims about the Po­lariser. I can un­der­stand Holden’s point-of-view about it. I don’t think there is any­one in this world who knows ev­ery­thing, but there was no sci­en­tific rea­son why it would work, so I couldn’t un­der­stand why Peter went down this par­tic­u­lar path.

“I tried to un­der­stand why, and some­times I think it was be­cause he was un­der so much stress as he had to be ‘Peter Per­fect’ all of the time. He had to rock up at ev­ery pro­mo­tional event go­ing and he prob­a­bly didn’t have any time for him­self, but even so, I couldn’t work it out.”

Walkin­shaw – 1271km

“Un­like the VK and VL, which only had the usual sort of body kit parts, the Walkin­shaw was re­ally in your face,” Ferdie en­thuses. “Some peo­ple un­kindly called it the ‘Plas­tic Pig’. Other than that I don’t think any­one got too sav­age about it, but it was seen as quite an ugly car. I think be­cause of that, and the fact they were con­sid­ered quite ex­pen­sive for a Holden, they were very slow sell­ing. “From a driv­ing point-of-view, you have prob­a­bly got to give it to the Walkin­shaw. They have bet­ter tech­nol­ogy with a fuel in­jected en­gine. “This car has done just over 1200km. It was driven to Mel­bourne and back – about 600km and it has never been reg­is­tered. Ob­vi­ously we didn’t drive it much but we bought an­other one – a sec­ond-hand car – and that was re­ally nice to drive, although the front lip is very low and prone to dam­age, which is why it was sup­plied as a loose part for the owner to fit. “Be­ing a fuel-in­jected car it doesn’t have any ‘cammy-ness’ about it – it will idle at 1000rpm and pull away from 1000 as smooth as you like. It will also cruise at 60km/h no prob­lem but then it also has the ex­tra power. It is def­i­nitely a big im­prove­ment over the carby-en­gined cars. It also has air-con­di­tion­ing and the electrics had been sorted by then. It is like a lux­ury car, whereas the VK and VL are quite stripped out.”

VN – 1830km

“Like the Walkin­shaw this car has SV badges even though it was built by HSV. Hav­ing a fuel-in­jected en­gine it drives like the Walkin­shaw and it is much tamer in ap­pear­ance than its pre­de­ces­sor, more like the HDT cars. In­ter­est­ingly, our paint­ing busi­ness, Bell­mont, had a con­tract with HSV at the time so we ac­tu­ally painted the VN body kits, in­clud­ing of course the one on our own car. I de­cided to go down there and pho­to­graph our car at var­i­ous stages while it was be­ing built,” Ferdie D’Alberto ex­plains.

“This car has a 6-speed ZF gear­box in it, with fifth and sixth gears be­ing over­drive ra­tios. I drove it from Mel­bourne to Co­bram, where my older brother was at the time, and it was okay but it was so over-geared. I think at 100km/h in sixth gear it was barely do­ing over 1000 revs. You couldn’t drive it, it was just mas­sively over-geared. It was a bit strange.

“I as­sume it was all about get­ting a gear­box into a race­car that suited a race­track and not a road car, so it was sort of com­pro­mised. That’s what I re­mem­ber about them. They were quite com­pro­mised with the gear­box. The VK was just a tra­di­tional four-speed, with a di­rect drive on fourth.”

1991 Top left: Ferdie D’Alberto vis­ited Clay­ton to take shots of the freshly-built beast. Note ‘D’Alberto’ and ‘333’ chalked on the wind­screen and the HSV I.D. pole.

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