BACK IN the ’80s, my first VW Beetle project body cost me $175. You can add a three or a four in front that these days, but the going rate was more like $750 so I couldn’t get the cash out quick enough.


Well, no, because after I got the shell home and took a closer look, I discovered the minor rust wasn’t quite so minor and the shell needed around $1000 worth of welding to make it good enough to be restored. So, I’d invested around $1200 in a body that would never be as nice as the $750 rust-free shell I should have bought… It wasn’t a total waste as I still own that car three decades later…but building that Bug as a teenager was a lesson in spending money wisely.

So as a grown-up, you’d think I’d know better!

This time it’s a 1992 V8 Commodore. I’ve had an idea for a while that I’d like to re-power my brown 1979 VB six-cylinder Commodore wagon with a later-model fuel-injected V8 engine. Holden’s 1989-1999 VN-VT V8s (of which I’ve owned a few and driven dozens more) are a favourite of mine. Under their great-looking bunch of bananas intake manifolds, these Holden V8s offer lovely old-school V8 character and aren’t too bad on the juice. In fact, the 3.3-litre six-cylinder donk in my cool old Commodore wagon uses more fuel than the EFI 5.0-litre V8 in my VN Holden Calais… and it has about half the grunt!

So I went looking for an untidy V8 Commodore I could kill for its driveline. The first one I enquired about quickly sold… and I’m happy to say that I have since discovered that ex-police VP Commodore is now being restored to its NSW Police Highway Patrol glory by All Marques Body Repairs in Sydney.

I soon found another and – as I have in the past – drove my buy home on an unregistered vehicle permit.

But by the time I’d arrived home, I’d decided the donor Commodore didn’t deserve to die. The loose door rubbers were an easy fix, as was the minor rust in the body. The shitty 1990s body kit could easily be replaced with good second-hand standard bumpers from the local wreckers, as could the damaged driver’s seat.

Checking the front-only electric windows with some known-good switches revealed they worked. That V8 engine ran well and the gearbox seemed OK (I’d driven it 800km home) but the lowered springs would need to be replaced, as would the SuperCheap steering wheel. The remainder required little more than some paint to make it look great again.

So I parked my other Commodore project (a blue VC SL/E) and got stuck into tidying the VP V8 during winter with the intention of selling it for a modest profit after cruising it for the summer.

Trouble is, all those little bits required – door rubbers, a headlining, a pair of front seats, two bumpers, front and rear windscreens, a grille, a flip of some tyres onto original type rims, intake manifold gaskets (the old ones weeped coolant), a bonnet release cable, a rust-free bootlid and bonnet, a pair of nice tail lights, rear springs, an air-con regas (that became a major and expensive dash-out task!) a hand brake cable, two pairs of new brake pads and a pair of good second-hand rear discs, all cost a couple of hundred bucks here and a few hundred bucks there… and because it’s tax time, I’ve just added them all up. The actual total of all those little bits and pieces is more than what I thought I’d spend and probably more than what the car is now worth…

You’d think I would’ve learned by now, huh?!