50 HDT VK SS and SS Group 3

Australian Muscle Car - - Con­tents -

The first VK Com­modore mod­els of­fered by HDT Spe­cial Ve­hi­cles cel­e­brate their 30th birth­day in 2014. They might live to­day in the shadow of the later ‘Blue Meanie’, but they hold a sig­nif­i­cant place in Holden’s mus­cle car her­itage in their own right. Theme song: David Bowie’s ‘1984’.

The first VK mod­els of­fered by HDT Spe­cial Ve­hi­cles cel­e­brate their 30th birth­day in 2014. The HDT VK Com­modore SS and SS Group 3 might live to­day in the shadow of the later VK Group A – aka the ‘Blue Meanie’ – but they hold a sig­nif­i­cant place in Holden’s mus­cle car her­itage in their own right.

Body by Holden, Soul by Brock

When Gen­eral Mo­tors said ‘no more rac­ing’ to its Aus­tralian out­post at the dawn of the 1980s, the Holden Dealer Team squad was re­born, log­i­cally enough, as a race team funded by deal­ers. In re­turn for se­cur­ing Holden’s tin-top rac­ing pres­ence, the 57 con­tribut­ing deal­ers got ac­cess to the orig­i­nal race-re­lated, high­per­for­mance Brock Com­modore, the VC.

The Peter Brock-fronted HDT Spe­cial Ve­hi­cles op­er­a­tion was an im­me­di­ate hit. HDT SV may have been sprin­kled with lots of Brock magic, but its suc­cess was mas­ter­minded be­hind the scenes by Ade­laide busi­ness­man Vin Kean, whose ex­pan­sive au­to­mo­tive em­pire, United Mo­tors, in­cluded one of Aus­tralia’s two big­gest Holden deal­er­ships.

“In the wake of the suc­cess of the VC HDT, says for­mer Holden de­sign direc­tor Leo Pruneau, “other deal­ers now wanted to get in on the act, be­cause not all the Holden deal­ers sold the orig­i­nal VC HDT, the only guys who could sell that car were the guys who put money into the rac­ing team.”

Holden re­sponded in 1982 with its first SS (‘sports sedan’) Com­modore – the 4.2-litre V8pow­ered VH SS – which was later mod­i­fied by the Holden Dealer Team road-car op­er­a­tion to cre­ate the HDT VH SS.

How­ever, with the Fe­bru­ary 1984 ar­rival of the VK Com­modore, Holden dropped the

SS vari­ant, aban­don­ing the high-per­for­mance road-car mar­ket. Mean­while, arch-ri­val Ford’s 351 Cleve­land-pow­ered XE Fair­mont Ghia ESP had van­ished by the end of 1982 and the Blue Oval, faced with the fact that big en­gines were out of favour with oil-shocked buy­ers, had of­fi­cially binned the bent-eight in ’83. The out­look was bleak for lovers of lo­cal mus­cle…

With the VK Group C racer set to de­but in the sec­ond half 1984, HDT Spe­cial Ve­hi­cles stepped in to keep the race-road ties alive by adopt­ing the pre­vi­ously aban­doned SS badge and ap­ply­ing it to a po­tent road-go­ing VK.

By this stage, Vin Kean was out of the pic­ture. The South Aus­tralian told AMC for this story that his di­rect busi­ness in­volve­ment with Brock ended in June 1984.

Kean is full of praise for HDT SV direc­tor and ef­fec­tive pro­duc­tion man­ager John Har­vey, who he de­scribes as be­ing “a very set­tling in­flu­ence” at a time when the Mel­bourne op­er­a­tions was stand­ing on its own two feet.

Har­vey high­lights that 1984 was a big year for the HDT on and off the track and that ab­sorb­ing the SS was a big un­der­tak­ing.

“We knew that the Group A (VK Com­modore road car) was com­ing but that was a year or so away,” Har­vey, the 1983 Bathurst 1000 win­ner, ex­plains. “It was partly our idea – HDT: Peter and my­self – but Holden gave us a lot of sup­port.”

Au­gust marks 30 years since that car went on sale – 1984’s HDT VK Com­modore SS. Back then, to the ca­sual ob­server, the stock-bod­ied VK SS

might have been mis­taken for a warm V8 vari­ant from Holden, with its un­der­stated colour-coded bumpers and grille, mod­est SS de­cals and 15-inch Aero al­loys. How­ever, with HDT’s mus­cle men in charge, that cer­tainly wasn’t the case…

‘Holden V8 Com­modore SS. Noth­ing even comes close’ read a con­tem­po­rary mag­a­zine ad­ver­tise­ment by way of ex­plain­ing the red 911 Car­rera pic­tured along­side a white VK. It was true enough – the SS was more pow­er­ful than the Porsche and just about ev­ery­thing else on sale in Aus­tralia in 1984. Cu­ri­ously, the fact it was a HDT model didn’t rate a men­tion. How­ever, the tagline put the VK SS suc­cinctly – ‘Body by Holden. Soul by Brock.’

De­spite the wolf-in-wool look, the 177kW VK SS was up 40 per­cent com­pared with the reg­u­lar 126kW VK V8, which gave it per­for­mance more like that of the ul­ti­mate, high-out­put 5.0-litre HDT VH SS Group 3, and far in ex­cess of Holden’s own out­go­ing VH SS.

A month af­ter the VK SS, with the ar­rival of the body-kit­ted SS Group 3, the new HDT model had the vis­ual ap­peal to tell the un­der-bon­net story.

In 1985, the ad­vent of Group A rac­ing reg­u­la­tions gave rise to Ber­tie Street’s ul­ti­mate, rac­ing ho­molo­ga­tion VK SS Group A. With its eye-catch­ing For­mula Blue hue and evoca­tive Group A des­ig­na­tion, the Blue Meanie has al­ways over­shad­owed the ear­lier VK HDT of­fer­ings, and com­mands the big bucks in Brock Com­modore cir­cles. How­ever, the hum­ble VK SS and Group 3 had much the same me­chan­i­cal makeup as their more fa­mous sta­ble mate and de­serve their share of the spot­light.

Af­ter all, it was the VK SS and Group 3 in show­rooms on Mon­day, Oc­to­ber 1, 1984 await­ing buy­ers buoyed by the HDT’s day-glo 1-2 dom­i­nance of that year’s in­stal­ment of our Great Race. Brock’s 1984 VK vic­tory with Larry Perkins would be the last time he’d grasp the win­ners’ tro­phy on the ros­trum.

In a road-car con­text, the VK SS and Group 3 were the last to be pow­ered by the ven­er­a­ble 308, which had been in pro­duc­tion since 1969. They were also the only Com­modores to be of­fered with both the 5.0-litre and the 4.9-litre 304.

Re­duc­ing its ca­pac­ity was an ex­er­cise in sneak­ing the rac­ing Com­modores into the un­der-5000cc Group A clas­si­fi­ca­tion so that they car­ried less weight. The legacy of the Group A was that the Holden V8 con­tin­ued as a 4987cc en­gine from June ’85 un­til pro­duc­tion ceased in 2000. The VK model also farewelled the Holden straight-six, which had been in pro­duc­tion ever since 1948.

Styling the six-win­dow, plas­tic-bumpered evo­lu­tion of Aus­tralia’s Opel-de­rived Com­modore – in­clud­ing the HDT it­er­a­tions – was Holden de­sign boss Leo Pruneau’s last project be­fore leav­ing the com­pany.

His job wasn’t dif­fi­cult in the case of HDT’s en­try-level VK Com­modore SS.

“It still looked more like a Com­modore,” says VK SS owner and Brock Com­modore Own­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralia com­mit­tee man Dave Sciber­ras. “It didn’t look like a Group 3 – it didn’t have a bodykit scream­ing ‘Look at me!’”

A $400 body kit, which in­cluded side skirts and a slightly smaller ver­sion of the Group 3 boot spoiler, was an op­tion on the $17,995 base SS, but it came with the three-slat Holden grille rather than the Group A let­ter­box grille. The lat­ter was a pop­u­lar retro-fit by own­ers.

How­ever, it turns out the let­ter­box grille wasn’t even part of Pruneau’s plan for the Group A car. “How that let­ter­box front-end got into the pic­ture I’m not ab­so­lutely sure of that, be­cause that came

later, af­ter I left,” he says with his char­ac­ter­is­tic Mid­west Amer­i­can twang. “I think the guys did that for Brocky be­cause he wanted a dif­fer­ent front-end.

“Af­ter I left, things got a lit­tle bit scram­bled up there be­cause Brocky kept want­ing to do things on his own and he wouldn’t come to Styling to see if we thought it looked al­right. Any­way, it didn’t make that much dif­fer­ence but he kinda got off on his own bat af­ter I left and it both­ered me, quite frankly. It started (with the VH SS) as only red cars. It was just go­ing to be a one-colour model much like the Lo­tus Corti­nas – they’re al­ways white with a Bri­tish Rac­ing Green stripe down the side. But later on, the more Brocky got into it, he started adding other colours.”

The re­lo­ca­tion of Pruneau’s de­lib­er­ately-placed SS side de­cal might have been yet an­other vig­i­lante Brock styling ef­fort. “The SS name got low­ered on the body side,” re­calls Pruneau. “I had it up orig­i­nally just ex­actly where Fer­rari put their lo­gos on the side – I thought if Fer­rari can do it so can we!” he chuck­les.

For the VK model, rather than in­cor­po­rat­ing af­ter­mar­ket wheels such as the Ger­man Irm­scher al­loys used on the VC and VH, Pruneau sketched up the 15- and 16-inch Aero wheels.

“By the time VK came around I was able to do a wheel for Peter. It was based on the same prin­ci­ple that Porsche used for cool­ing the brakes on their Le Mans cars. There were a se­ries of vanes cast into the wheel and it pumped air across the brake caliper,” Pruneau ex­plains.

In­ter­est­ingly, the wheels were di­rec­tional – left and right side wheels had their vanes cast in op­po­site di­rec­tions so as to be ef­fec­tive on their re­spec­tive sides of the car. Thought­fully, the spare wheel was of the more eas­ily dam­aged kerb-side de­sign.

“We de­signed it with the idea that we could use it with a cap cover or with ex­posed wheel nuts. We thought we’ll do that be­cause for Bathurst we want the best aero we can get so we’ll put the cover on for the Bathurst ver­sion,” Pruneau adds.

The Aero wheels and ‘moon caps’ quickly be­came cult fea­tures, but as it turned out, the HDT didn’t use the wheels at Bathurst, opt­ing to use five-spoke Momo wheels in­stead, although the Mo­bil-liv­er­ied racer – or a replica of it – ap­peared in pro­mo­tional pho­tos wear­ing white Aero wheels. Brock’s fa­mous sig­na­ture sealed the SS. “Since the SS car was re­ally a Holden model and Brocky was go­ing to do some­thing ex­tra to it, we re­ally ought to have his sig­na­ture on the car,” says Pruneau. “Peter came in one day and I said ‘Just sign this, Peter’, and I told him what I was go­ing to do. I picked out the one I thought looked the best then pho­to­graph­i­cally en­larged it and made a de­cal.”

The cre­ation of an HDT VK be­gan with a spe­cially-spec­i­fied, four-speed man­ual, pow­er­steer Com­modore ar­riv­ing at Ber­tie Street from Holden’s Dan­de­nong plant, says Brock Com­modore ex­pert, Sciber­ras.

“Holden sup­plied VKs in XV2 spec which is a bit like a BT1 (po­lice pack) – it had things like Ber­lina-spec tail­lights and colour-coded bumper bars and door han­dles and black moulds,” Dave Sciber­ras ex­plains.

The first VK SS was build num­ber 1354, built in Au­gust 1984.

A four-speed man­ual was stan­dard. How­ever, the T5 five-speed was a $2850 op­tion cour­tesy of Brock’s ap­point­ment as the Aus­tralian dis­trib­u­tor for Borg Warner. “All the VKs came ID-plated as an M21, but you know if the car came with an ex-HDT T5 gear­box in it from the build sheet,” says Sciber­ras.

“There were no au­tos, un­less some­one wanted to put the auto in later on,” he adds. “I know that HDT did do that for one cus­tomer. He bought the car for his wife – she couldn’t drive man­ual. Six months later they got di­vorced and they put the man­ual back in.”

The 9.2:1 com­pres­sion pushrod V8 was fed by a cold-air in­duc­tion sys­tem and a four-bar­rel Rochester car­bu­ret­tor atop a port-matched in­let man­i­fold. The head was mod­i­fied by Mel­bourne’s Per­fec­tune, and fea­tured larger in­let and ex­haust valves. Ex­hal­ing via ex­trac­tors and a free-flow­ing ex­haust, it pro­duced 177kW at 4800rpm and 419Nm at 3500rpm. By com­par­i­son, the 196kW Group A en­gine, with ad­di­tional mod­i­fi­ca­tions largely lim­ited to dura­bil­ity com­po­nents such as screw-in roller-rock­ers, de­liv­ered its ex­tra kilo­watts thanks to a more ag­gres­sive camshaft.

In a con­tem­po­rary test, Modern Mo­tor con­cluded that “Peter Brock’s car-mak­ing ven­ture looks like it has struck gold with this, its third se­ries of spe­cial Com­modores,” af­ter prais­ing the HDT VK’s turn-in will­ing­ness, bumpy-road grip, ride qual­ity and “in­stant re­sponse to the ac­cel­er­a­tor.” The mag­a­zine recorded 7.6 sec­onds to 0-100km/h and a 15.7 sec­ond stand­ing 400m.

HDT’s in­te­rior up­grades in­cluded a Momo Flyer steer­ing wheel and a pair of well-bol­stered Scheel front seats, as well as a Eurovox Mi­cro Com­mand au­dio.

The sus­pen­sion of front struts, and a rear live axle lo­cated by trail­ing arms and a Pan­hard rod, was up­graded with shorter, stiffer springs with oil-filled Mon­roe-Wylie front strut in­serts and gas­pres­sure rear shocks.

The brak­ing pack­age con­sisted of 281mm discs – ven­ti­lated at the front and solid at the driv­ing wheels.

Fi­nal drive was via a 3.08:1 lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial. HDT built 517 of the base SS vari­ant in Alpine White and 213 in As­teroid Sil­ver, wrap­ping up pro­duc­tion with build num­ber 3383 in Fe­bru­ary 1986.

The Group 3 ar­rived a month later than the VK SS, in Septem­ber 1984, and the first car – build num­ber 1409 – was de­liv­ered to Larry Perkins.

“Larry was run­ning the race team at the time so it was a road car, but it had a real bang­ing en­gine in it,” says Sciber­ras.

The Group 3 name was car­ried over from the HDT VH SS, but Pruneau says it wasn’t Brock’s first choice.

“Peter wanted to call them Phase one, two, three,” re­calls Pruneau. “I thought, that’s too close to Ford, so we agreed on the name ‘Group’ – Group one, two, three.”

How­ever, the Group 1 and 2 weren’t pop­u­lar. “I don’t think any­one bought one of those,” he says. For the VK SS, which was al­ready equiv­a­lent in per­for­mance to the high-out­put HDT VH, Group 3 sig­ni­fied sus­pen­sion and aes­thetic up­grades – there were no en­gine changes from the VK SS. Mean­while, the Group 1 and 2 spec lev­els were dropped.

The Group 3 brought a larger 27mm front sway bar and gas-filled Bil­stein dampers sup­plied by Mel­bourne’s Quad­rant Sus­pen­sion, as well as an up­grade from 15- to 16x7-inch Aero al­loys with cen­tre caps.

The $24,635 Group 3 got a full bodykit – side skirts, boot spoiler, and bon­net scoop. A lot of them were pro­duced with­out a bon­net scoop, says Sciber­ras, and front guard wind splits were an op­tion.

The base SS’s Cerulean Blue trim colour car­ried into the Group 3, but up­grades in­cluded cut-pile car­pet, rear head­rests and a cen­tre arm­rest, match­ing door trims, and a Eurovox graphic equaliser sound sys­tem.

The 63-litre VK fuel tank was en­larged by HDT sub-con­trac­tor Brown Davis, who welded in a band of steel to in­crease the ca­pac­ity to 90 litres.

In the Holden line-up, in the VK era, run­ning changes ruled – the se­ries-two mod­els didn’t be­gin in un­til much later. But there was a se­ri­estwo Group 3, which in­tro­duced the 4.9-litre V8. It was re­vised with triple-pleat seats in place of se­ries-one her­ring­bone trim and is dis­tin­guish­able by its in­te­rior door locks, which are of the slide type rather than up/down but­tons.

HDT pro­duced 214 Group 3s in Alpine White and 56 in As­teroid Sil­ver, which made 1000 VK SS and Group 3 in to­tal, plus a cou­ple of one­off cars in Venus red (build num­ber 1672) and Tuxedo Black (2000).

“The red one was used in the brochures. It had red wheels, red wiper arms, and red head­light pro­tec­tors,” adds Sciber­ras. For com­par­i­son, HDT built 502 VK SS Group As and 48 Group A/ Group 3 LEs.

Since 2007’s mus­cle-car-boom, SS and Group 3 val­ues haven’t fallen as far as those of the Group A, says Sciber­ras (val­ues of the lat­ter peaked at more than $100K, and have set­tled around $65K). He says to­day you’ll pay around $35-40K for an im­mac­u­late VK SS and $50K for a Group 3. “Be­fore Brock died, you could buy a VK SS for un­der 10 grand!” he says.

We’ll let John Har­vey have the last word, by way of his thoughts on the prices that HDT’s cre­ations now change hands for, even if he does un­der­state the late great’s place in Aussie tin-top leg­end.

“That’s life isn’t it, that’s his­tory. You build lim­ited num­bered cars, in this par­tic­u­lar case that car­ried the Brock name, who was prob­a­bly the most fa­mous rac­ing driver we’d had for a few years, and one of the first to get into the build­ing of spe­cialty cars at that level, and with that back­ground. So they were ex­tremely pop­u­lar.

“We couldn’t build enough of them, and in some cases we could have – and prob­a­bly should have – built more.”


Big Banger the­ory: Holden en­thu­si­asts want­ing a hot Brock Com­modore in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the HDT’s crush­ing 1-2 vic­tory at Bathurst 1984 had the choice of the SS and SS Group 3.

Main: Many buy­ers of the en­try level HDT SS (As­teroid Sil­ver) op­tioned their cars with the $400 bodykit.

Vin KeanLeo Pruneau

Peter Brock got a bit cheeky in re­lo­cat­ing Leo Pruneau’s strate­gi­cally placed SS de­cals. There was no chang­ing the very 1980s Cerulean Blue trim, fin­ished off with Scheel seats and Momo Flyer steer­ing wheel.

Top: Aero al­loy wheels and caps were in­spired by Le Mans sportscars and de­vel­oped for the rac­ing Com­modores.

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