STEEL BUMPER: VALIANT VH CHARGER As a kid I messed around with Holden sixes, ’cos they were everywhere and they were cheap. Which was fine till the day I drove a mate’s VG Val with a 245 Hemi on board. At which point I was like “How long has this been goin’ on?”. That led me down the Valiant route and finally to my fave early Aussie six, the VH Charger.
I know they aint perfect, and the torsion-bar front end can be a bit underdone, while the cart-spring rear end is kind of stone-age as well. But if there’s a tougher looking local car (the A9X hatch gives it a run, I’ll admit) out there, then I can’t think of it. The other thing is that a Charger with a six-banger is not – unlike a six-cylinder Monaro, Torana or Falcon – second-best. The hottest Hemi six was the Bathurst version, so there’s no apologising for not having eight pots under the lid of your Charger.
PLASTIC BUMPER: FALCON XR6 TURBO BA, BF, FG; I don’t care. All I know is that the blown Barra six in an XR6 Turbo is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best locally-designed and built engine this country has ever produced. Big statement, I know, but there we are. Take it or leave it. Back in 2002 when the thing first hit the road, the XR6 Turbo would clean up an XR8 over the first 200m and could even give the LS1 in a Commodore SS a big fright. Plus, it was smooth, refined and could return decent highway fuel economy if you didn’t go stupid with the right clog. This is the car that not only kept Ford Oz in the game, it proved that a good straight six was still a viable thing, long after the rest of the world had given up on it. It’s cars like the Falcon XR6T that will be the strongest reminders of what we’ve lost with the death of local car-making.
TWO MUST haves for me are the Holden Torana GTR XU1 and the Nissan Skyline GTS.
Has there ever been a better or more iconic six-cylinder Aussie than the Holden Torana GTR XU1?
Not to me.
The XU1 T’rana was under Brocky when he won his first Bathurst, several Rallycross titles and the early rounds of his maiden Touring Car title in 1974. In many ways the XU1 was the making of Brock.
Does anyone remember the Holden Dealer Team ‘Beast’? The XU1 with a Formula 5000 engine agriculturally stuffed in it, with most of it alongside the driver, in the cabin, for better weight distribution. Brock tamed it.
I owned an orange LJ Torana XU1 with a lumpy cam and concrete suspension. Every trip was at warp factor nine and if technology had been around there would have been several Kodak moments. I loved the sheer power and rawness of the XU1. Mine used to rev to just on 7,000rpm, its worked engine whacking out well over 200 neddies. It had a regular diet of avgas and an oil and filter change every 3,000 miles.
I recall the offset driving positon, full swag of gauges, SAAS steering wheel, stubby, short throw gear lever, slippery vinyl seats and the race harnesses I fitted. And the guttural noise of the six working hard was heaven to my ears.
Most of all I remember a giant grin every time I drove it or looked at it. It was a very special car. Wish I’d kept it…
The other six I have to have is another that was in my possession for a time. The Series II Nissan Skyline GTS. The red one with white wheels, a body kit and Scheel
Now I’m the first to admit it wasn’t much of a looker, but Nissan was smart with its Special Vehicle Division, run by Paul Beranger.
Instead of throwing a bunch of feel good bits at it like an ear popping sound system et al, they enlisted the development and driving prowess of team drivers Jim Richards and Mark Skaife. These two ensured the money was spent in the right areas. Making it go, stop and handle. And it was brilliant at all three.
While marketers have cranked on about their cars being developed by racers, the Skyline GTS really was. Back in the day there were few cars that could stick with a GTS, regardless of cylinders, on flowing roads. The way you could fling it at corners and how it would simply eat up the miles are what I remember best about the GTS.
WHICH SIX? This decision is pretty much a no-brainer for me. Okay, there is a vast gallery of great Aussie sixes out there and we really are spoiled for choice. However there are a number of stand-out cars rolling all the way back to the sixties that offer that something special.
So which ones? In my case, there’s already a bit of a fleet developing, so the daily transport chores are more than amply covered. While V8s currently outnumber sixes in the driveway by four to one (how did that happen?!), it’s the old straight six 633 Bimmer that really puts a grin on the dial on a sunny Sunday Having an Aussie six to go with it would round out the bloating shed.
While a full-house 265 E49 Charger with the triple Webers is definitely out of my price range, I reckon something like the lightly modified XL Charger taken out to 265 (like the one featured) would be just fine thanks. Those hemi sixes, even with a single two-barrel carb on board, sound terrific and have tons of grunt. Plenty to play with there.
Probably any XR6 Turbo, though the collector in me says go for the first generation, the BA. And it would need to be a hero seventies-style colour. These things are a serious performer with decent road manners.They aren’t worth a fortune at the moment, so I reckon they could be good buying. What a great thing to put away and play with occasionally, if you had the space and time to look after it.
And here’s a curve ball. One option that I’d look very hard at any day is the locally-made Nissan Skyline GTS. They’re buggers of things to find in decent condition, but the powerplant is a gem and the styling is emblematic of the period. A nice clean manual would be welcome in the shed.
GTS SERIES 1 Regular readers might understand why nothing is likely to dislodge the all-white Skyline from top spot on my Ultimate Aussie Six list.
From late 1993 until mid 1997 I was the proud owner of SVD GTS #88. I found it in an Ipswich Road (Brisbane) car yard and pounced without a second thought. With something this rare there was barely time for a cursory test drive and no room or for haggling on the $18,990 asking price.
Heading home to the Gold Coast, the car felt and sounded alive, with a sense of urgency that was never apparent in the GXE five-speed wagon I had owned some years earlier. The specification sheet confirmed a slight power boost from 115 to 130kW and revised gearing but it took time and familiarity to fully reveal the SVD’s character.
The cloth-trimmed Scheel seats combined comfort and loads of lateral grip. The leather-bound wheel and uprated power steering worked in perfect unison; delivering messages to and from the massive (for their day) 16-inch alloys and 50-profile rubber. The brakes with their Nismo rotors were unbelievable.
Mechanically, the Skyline engine remains simple to maintain, or even tweak to unleash some additional power. Parts remain available so the GTS can be can still be driven to its potential without fears about damaging something irreplaceable.
Defining the money you might spend on a GTS Skyline is difficult. The internet occasionally turns up ‘candid’ pictures of abandoned or neglected cars but they are rarely being sold. Some owners just prefer to hoard cars this significant until they are beyond the point of economic restoration.
At the opposite end of the scale are a handful of showroom-quality – or better – cars being carefully maintained by doting Club members. They seem equally reluctant to part with their cars but an offer around $40,000 might shake a few loose.
A Charger fed by multiple Webers and defined by extensive striping is a wonderful thing. However, prices of E-Prefix Chargers have grown beyond exorbitant and the only place their performance can be exploited (legally anyway) is a race circuit.
Look further down the VH model listing and you find the XL model. It was pretty basic with a sparse cabin and steel wheels but could be specified with the same basic engine as the E38. A three-speed manual gearbox was standard with auto optional. When the VJ model was announced the option sheet expanded to include a four-speed manual and disc front brakes came standard with the bigger engine. If you wanted sports wheels with fat radials they cost extra too.
Power from the single-carb 4.3 was down by 70kW on the Weber-fed cars but that still meant 148kW available in a 1330kg body.
Once drivers adapted to the clunky floor-change and dog-leg 1-2 upshift, the gearbox was quite a fun thing. First gear was tallish but got you clear of the traffic and beyond 70km/h before fishing for second. Mid-range overtaking using second gear only was quicker than in many V8s. Top speed, depending on whose figures you trust, ranged from 174-182km/h.
Yes there were downsides, including handling that couldn’t decide if it should under or oversteer or change its mind mid-bend. Then there were brakes that normally locked the front tyres first but occasionally chose to smoke the rears just to make life interesting.
The seats were flat and pretty terrible things to occupy for more than a few hours at a time. The driving position was a bit strange too but owners today are unlikely to be in the car for extended periods. Now look at the price. At $50-60,000 an outstanding XL Charger 265 costs a third of what’s being sought for E38s.