Australian Muscle Car
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
“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,”
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.