Australian Muscle Car


- Story: Steve Nor­moyle

Part Mini, part Holden, the au­to­mo­tive Franken­stein’s mon­ster that was the ‘Molden’

For­get your Prius – this is what a proper small hy­brid car looks like. Meet the Molden: part Mini, part Holden. The ba­sic con­cept for this wild hy­brid beast was lu­di­crous to the point of be­ing al­most unimag­in­able, and yet the Molden was real, and it did work – un­til it was stopped by the mo­tor sport au­thor­i­ties. This is the story of the most out­ra­geous Sports ever built.

We had heard sto­ries about this car. Much like the kinds of sto­ries you hear of strange bush-dwelling crea­tures which peo­ple swear are out there even though no one’s ever come up with the slight­est shred of ev­i­dence to prove their ex­is­tence.

We had heard sto­ries of a Sports Sedan Mini with six-cylin­der Holden power and front-wheel drive. Was such a thing even pos­si­ble?

Our ex­ten­sive search could nd no record or pho­to­graph of such a car. And yet we spoke to peo­ple who claimed to have seen it run at Oran Park.

And then by chance, a pho­to­graph taken of an odd-look­ing or­ange/green ma­chine at Oran Park popped up on the in­ter­net. Un­like the Yowie or the Blue Moun­tains Pan­ther, here was pho­to­graphic ev­i­dence that this beast did ex­ist.

We tracked the beast back to its nat­u­ral habi­tat, New­cas­tle, where 52 years ago Guy Thom­son and David Shel­don cre­ated it af­ter a kind of Franken­stein-es­que mo­ment of in­spi­ra­tion.

It was through a strange ap­pli­ca­tion of log­i­cal think­ing that the Novo­cas­trian pair dreamed up the idea for the beast, which they chris­tened ‘Molden MkI’.

“At the time I had an EH

Holden and Guy had a hot­ted up

Mini,” Shel­don re­calls. “We just thought, the EH goes al­right, and the corn­ing abil­i­ties of the

Mini’s al­right…”

“So we got a piece of rope and mea­sured the Holden mo­tor and gear­box,” says Thom­son.

“Then we opened up the doors of the Mini and had a look and said, ‘this’ll t.”

So, armed only with the knowl­edge that the Holden en­gine and trans­mis­sion could be phys­i­cally ac­com­mo­dated in­side the Mini shell, they forged ahead with build­ing what they hoped would be an in­ex­pen­sive but com­pet­i­tive Sports Sedan.

The Holden en­gine would be mounted lon­gi­tu­di­nally in­side the car. ‘In­side’ meant ex­actly that: the en­gine was wholly in­side the Mini’s cabin, with the rear ( ywheel end) of the in­line six fac­ing for­ward, so that it could drive the front wheels via a Holden three-speed gear­box, and through an adapted Holden diff. The front of the Holden en­gine pro­truded into the Mini’s boot area.

One of the var­i­ous ‘lo­gis­ti­cal prob­lems’ with shoe­horn­ing a Holden six in­side a Mini was that it left no room in the car for the driver.

With the en­gine fac­ing the wrong way around (com­pared to its nor­mal in­stal­la­tion in the front of a Holden) and sit­u­ated in the cen­tre of the car, the space where once the driver sat (in a nor­mal Mini) was now oc­cu­pied by the Holden six’s ex­haust and in­take man­i­fold.

“That’s why we had to make it left-hand drive,”

Shel­don ex­plains.

The en­gine was a 186 Holden taken out to 192 (3.1-litre). A typ­i­cal race-tuned Holden six in 1968 would have been good for around 150kW – which, in a light­weight Mini, would have guar­an­teed star­tling straight line speed. But Shel­don and Thom­son wanted more...

The su­per­charger came from a Detroit Diesel 6-71 en­gine the pair scrounged from a wrecked grader. It was mounted down the side of the Holden en­gine, and was chain driven. The in­take man­i­fold was a lump of three-inch tub­ing, on top of which sat a welded cross piece that mounted the four (stan­dard Holden-six) Stromberg car­bu­ret­tors. Later on they ditched the Strombergs for a four-bar­rel Hol­ley.

“The ex­haust was this beau­ti­ful sweep­ing sys­tem that came off the side and went right through where the driver sits,” Thom­son says. “It was two branches of three pipes that went into a mega­phone, with two three-inch pipes ex­it­ing straight out through the boot. It sounded ab­so­lutely magni cent!”

The equiv­a­lence fac­tor for forced in­duc­tion in mo­tor­sport com­pe­ti­tion meant that this 3100cc en­gine with 10psi boost from the 6-71 blower was of­fi­cially rated at 5200cc in ca­pac­ity.

So then, a 5.2-litre, six-cylin­der Mini… Ac­cord­ing to Thom­son, they spent a lot of time low­er­ing the com­pres­sion ra­tio, so that it ‘didn’t blow the head off it’: “We had a pretty schmick head for it, with di­vided ports, and we had Wag­gott cam – we told them what we were do­ing and they ground a cam up to suit the en­gine with the su­per­charger.

“When we rst ran the en­gine, we started it up and gave it a rev, and it just went KABANG! Stopped ab­so­lutely dead! I thought a span­ner or some­thing must have fallen in­side the en­gine – I couldn’t be­lieve you could stop an en­gine dead like that from about 4000 revs! We started pulling it apart, and all it was, was a lit­tle bit of mill scale that had come off the in­side of the man­i­fold and got down into the blower vanes, and it just stopped the blower. Didn’t dam­age the blower, didn’t even break the drive chain. We just cleaned it up, put it back to­gether and it was ne!”

The three-speed Holden gear­box fed into a Holden LSD, with the diff hous­ing cut short at each end. The diff was mounted up­side down (so the Mini wasn’t left with three re­verse gears) where the orig­i­nal Mini en­gine had been. The dis­tance be­tween the gear­box ex­ten­sion hous­ing and the diff was so short that a con­ven­tional tail­shaft was not re­quired. Shel­don re­mem­bers that the drive to the diff went straight off the orig­i­nal tail­shaft yoke. Austin 1800 CV joints were adapted to t the cut-down Holden diff hous­ing. They made their own drive­shafts and front sus­pen­sion arms.

“We welded some square tub­ing across the sill pan­els and made up some solid brack­ets for the diff,” Thom­son says. “When you opened the bon­net, you’d see the master cylin­ders for the brakes and clutch, with a power booster, the bat­tery sit­ting on top of the diff, and a ra­di­a­tor in front of that.”

The stan­dard Mini rub­ber cone sus­pen­sion was re­tained for the rear, but they made up stronger rear sus­pen­sion arms out of a length of steam pipe.

“I made the wheels,” Thom­son says. “They were 13-inch by 8.5, with solid 3/8-inch plates with holes drilled in them for the cen­tres. We bought a set of R7 Dun­lop rac­ing tyres that had been on John Har­vey’s Brab­ham for­mula car.”

As the pics show, those huge wheels and tyres sit lit­er­ally out­side of the Mini shell it­self!

Like any good Cooper S, it used two fuel tanks. How­ever, Thom­son had to mod­ify the right side tank be­cause it sat in the path of the ex­haust pipe.

“I went and bought a brand new Cooper S tank, took it home and cut the side out of it so the ex­haust could t through it!”

With the driver sit­ting right along­side the clutch, they made up a sturdy scat­ter shield out of quar­ter-inch (6mm) steel plate. Other­wise the en­gine was boxed in alu­minium.

There was no roll cage as such. Rollover pro­tec­tion con­sisted of a sin­gle hoop roll bar. The driver’s seat was a thin-walled alu­minium seat from an ex-air­force am­bu­lance – not much more than a glori ed gar­den chair! Such safety stan­dards seem laugh­able to­day, but in this way the Molden was prob­a­bly typ­i­cal of most late-‘60s Sports Sedans.

The build took nine months. For Shel­don and Thom­son, this was a se­ri­ous pro­ject: such was their ded­i­ca­tion that they made a pact not to drink or to have any­thing to do with women un­til

the car was ready to race. Some long nights were spent in­side Shel­don’s mother’s sin­gle-car garage where the Molden was built – much to Mrs Shel­don’s an­noy­ance.

“She would com­plain when we were weld­ing be­cause it would up­set the TV re­cep­tion,” Thom­son re­calls. “When­ever we were work­ing on it late at night she used to threaten to call my mum if I didn’t go home!”

Though young, the pair weren’t mo­tor­sport novices. Shel­don was older and had raced a va­ri­ety of cars, but Thom­son had done some ral­ly­ing and raced TQ midgets at the lo­cal Salty Creek speed­way. In­ter­est­ingly, they had be­come ac­quainted with Peter Brock around that time. This was be­fore Brock shot to star­dom with the Holden Dealer Team, when he was still rac­ing his Holden-pow­ered Austin A30 – a car not too

dis­sim­i­lar to the Molden in its ba­sic con­cept, if not quite so far out on the weird­ness spec­trum.

“I used to talk to Brocky about our car and what we were do­ing when he was run­ning his car at Oran Park,” Thom­son says. “His car wasn’t as wild in the wheels as ours was, but that thing went pretty well. I also knew Ross Bond, who ended up buy­ing that car off Brocky, and he just couldn’t drive it. He said to me once: ‘Christ, I don’t know how he drove it; it zigs and zags – it’s a piece of shit!.’ They pulled it apart and found one pis­ton was big­ger than the rest – when Brocky had it, they must have bored one cylin­der out and put one big pis­ton in! They must have scored the bore in one cylin­der and didn’t have the money to do all of them.”

The Molden was ready by early 1968. The pair ap­plied for and were granted a CAMS log book, is­sued on Fe­bru­ary 22, 1968 (above). In the log book it was classi ed in the Group B Sports Rac­ing/Closed cat­e­gory (soon to be re­named Sports Sedans).

The log book records the weight as 1512 pounds. That equates to a mere 685kg. While the en­gine was never dy­noed, with a su­per­charger of a size more suited to a ve or six-litre V8, the Molden must have had at least 240kW. The num­bers are com­pelling: so much power, so lit­tle weight, front-wheel drive – the thing surely must have been a beast to drive…

That’s cer­tainly what we’d heard speak­ing to peo­ple who claim to have seen the car on track. It zigged and zagged vi­o­lently, we were told, and seemed in­ca­pable of go­ing straight in a straight line.

And yet… ac­cord­ing to Shel­don and Thom­son, it was ac­tu­ally very easy to drive.

“It drove like it was on rails,” Shel­don says. “It never felt like it was go­ing to bite you.

“It was dif­fer­ent from other cars in that, say through En­er­gol Cor­ner at Oran Park, even once you were in the mid­dle of the cor­ner you could steer it out to­wards the wall, or steer it back in to the apex. And it would do noth­ing but go around the cor­ner.You couldn’t do that with other cars.

“It braked well, it was easy to drive. It was quick in a straight line. In the­ory, at 7000 rpm it was do­ing 150 mph.”

Thom­son’s rec­ol­lec­tions of driv­ing the car are sim­i­lar: “If I was to de­scribe how it han­dled, I would say it was neu­tral. It was sur­pris­ingly good. The mo­tor was right in the mid­dle of the car, and with these mas­sive wheels stick­ing out­side the car, it han­dled re­ally well. It was spooky to drive, but only be­cause you got in it and the en­gine’s right there next to you, and there’s this roar from the su­per­charger…”

There were some teething trou­bles rst time out at Oran Park. The guards were rub­bing on the tyres. It also had a ten­dency to veer to the right when the driver backed off, but that turned out to be a wheel align­ment is­sue.

With that xed they tested it a few more times, at Oran Park and at Ama­roo, in prepa­ra­tion for its race de­but. Nei­ther driver re­calls any speci c lap times, but the car was cir­cu­lat­ing well enough to at­tract the at­ten­tion of its op­po­si­tion…

“A few of the Sports Sedan guys saw it on one of those days we were prac­tis­ing,” Thom­son says. “Then we got word that they were hav­ing a meet­ing to dis­cuss the car – some­one rung us to clue us up that some­thing was go­ing on. So we drove down to Syd­ney on a Tues­day night and went to the Sports Sedan meet­ing. They brought in a rule that said, if it was a front-en­gine car, it had to re­main front-en­gine, if it was a rear-en­gine car it had to re­main rearengine. And the front and back of the car was de­ter­mined by the cen­tre­line be­tween the front and back wheels – which was right where we had our mo­tor.

“We said, ‘come on, beat us on the track, don’t beat us with pis­sant rules like that! This, what we’ve done, is the same as what you’re all try­ing to do – you’ve all dragged your mo­tors back through the re­wall, or jammed them through the back seats if they’re rear-en­gine cars, to get the weight in the mid­dle – that’s what you’re all try­ing to do, and that’s all we’ve done.’

“They wouldn’t lis­ten to us. One of them said,

just put a VW transaxle in it, and that will move the en­gine for­ward a bit.”

With the rules duly changed, the Molden be­came in­el­i­gi­ble for Sports Sedan rac­ing. The car never raced.

“It was only Barry Sharp’s mob that stopped us,” says Shel­don. “Barry Sharp used to do all sorts of thingsto old Austins and Fords, cut­ting them up and putting V8s in them, and then we did the Mini and he says, ‘nah, can’t have that.’

“I mean, that cat­e­gory was just, build what­ever you can and make it go. Which is what he was do­ing!

“We were ba­si­cally ready to race it. I’m still an­noyed to­day about not get­ting to race that car. That car was re­ally good.”

“We built it well, it was neat and tidy,” says Thom­son. “It’s just a shame we weren’t al­lowed to race it.”

Soon enough it was time for the pair to move

on from the Molden.

“I had to get rid of the thing as I was mov­ing to Canada with my wife and kids,” says Shel­don. “The en­gine ended up in a Speed­way EH. I lent it to the bloke while I was in Canada, and as far as I know he’s still got it. One day I might front up with an in­voice for it!”

The wheels ended up on a beach buggy; no one knows what hap­pened to the body. There was one story that it ended up as a drag racer.

We’ll never know how the Molden would have fared in Sports Sedan rac­ing. But as a still-born race ma­chine, it’s one of those rare cars in Aus­tralian mo­tor­sport his­tory so in­no­va­tive that it moved the au­thor­i­ties to change the rules. Like the Frank Gard­ner/Al­lan Grice Chev Cor­vair Sports Sedan or, in tour­ing car rac­ing, the R32 Nis­san GT-R.

That’s at least some claim to fame for the Molden.

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 ??  ?? Above: David Shel­don (left) and Guy Thom­son with their Franken­stein-es­que cre­ation, the Molden. Be­low: Dr Jekyll meets Mr Hyde?
Above: David Shel­don (left) and Guy Thom­son with their Franken­stein-es­que cre­ation, the Molden. Be­low: Dr Jekyll meets Mr Hyde?
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 ??  ?? Those huge tyres were needed to cope with the power from a su­per­charged 192 Holden six. Driver’s seat can seen (right), with the en­gine along­side and turned the wrong way around in or­der to drive the front wheels. The right side Cooper S fuel tank had to be cut so the ex­haust could pass through it.
Those huge tyres were needed to cope with the power from a su­per­charged 192 Holden six. Driver’s seat can seen (right), with the en­gine along­side and turned the wrong way around in or­der to drive the front wheels. The right side Cooper S fuel tank had to be cut so the ex­haust could pass through it.
 ??  ?? Above: At­tract­ing a crowd while on dis­play at the lo­cal Salty Creek speed­way.
Above: At­tract­ing a crowd while on dis­play at the lo­cal Salty Creek speed­way.
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