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