The Holden ECOmmodore

Holden has a history of quietly sneaking concept cars or forthcoming design changes into public view. Possibly its biggest hidden in plain sight concept of the last two decades was the ECOmmodore of 2000.

Ostensibly a four door coupe version of the VT Commodore, it would eventually point the way towards the upcoming rebirth of the Monaro after showcasing a concept in 1998. But the real talking point was the engine package inside the swoopy body.

Holden had joined the then burgeoning hybrid technology race, and in partnership with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, or CSIRO, put forward a petrol and battery powered engine combination.

The petrol side was a transversely mounted 2.0L four cylinder, replacing the 3.8L V6 normally found under the VT’s bonnet. An electric motor, complete with super-capacitors and lead-acid batteries, supplemented the four, with power rated as 50kW. The fuel tank was down to 45L yet the expected range was 800km thanks to a near halving of consumption. There was plenty of torque available for the hybrid with a total of 290Nm, but thanks to the electric motor, 100Nm was there on startup.

The transmission was a five speed manual and, because of the east-west engine layout, fed that oomph to the front wheels, not the rear. Emissions were said to be 10% of the normal V6 engine yet performance would have been within cooee of the existing engine and auto transmission.

The body was a slightly modified Monaro shell; not only were there four doors, it was fitted over the longer wheelbase wagon floorpan. Aluminium was used to replace sections of the steel floor, with other weight saving additions such as polycarbonate replacing the glass windows, strong but lightweight carbon fibre panels, and some fibreglass panels also.

Good looking 18 inch alloys were bolted to the reduced weight suspension components, with rolling resistance lowered by fitting narrower than standard tyres at 165/55. All up, the modifications lowered drag from 0.32cd to 0.28cd.

The ECOmmodore would star in the Sydney Olympics torch relay, leading the first 70km stretch from the heart of Australia, Uluru. Although never intended to be a production vehicle, costing showed that if it had been produced, it was at a $3000 premium over the VT at the time.

Ahead of its time at the time, the ECOmmodore foreshadowed other marques developing four door coupe bodyshells, and even more, it was 18 years ahead of a tantalizing piece of “what if” with HSV revealing that plans to electrify the ZB Commodore were being investigated.

The last known location of the ECOmmodore was inside The Powerhouse Museum.

What’s your favourite Holden concept car? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments sections below this article! 

The Falcon 300+ Prototype

Cars were simple once. Four doors, two doors, five doors in a wagon, three in a panel van. Australia’s own motoring history is full of variations on the theme, particularly of the two door variety. Holden had the Monaros and Toranas, Mitsubshi the Starion, Toyota the Supra and Celica, Chrysler the mighty Valiant, and Ford?

Ford had a “tudor” going back to the days of the XP Falcon, a beautifully proportioned and styled machine. Escorts and Cortinas bobbled in and out with two doors. There was the heavy hipped XA to XC coupes, and then….nada. And it stayed that way for some time, until a design proposal for an AU Falcon based coupe was put forward. Admittedly, the AU wasn’t the prettiest looking thing on the road, so a coupe?

Inspiration, in a way, came from brothers Troy and Clayton Hillier, well known in street machine circles. Based in Tenterfield, the brothers had, without attention and fanfare, converted an AU sedan to a coupe. Once Ford had been made aware of the car by W.A. based Advanced Engine Components, (AEC), and Millard Design in Victoria. Along with the soft approval of Ford, the car was put together in a relatively short time.

Showcased at the Melbourne Auto Show in 2001, the red and silver highlighted machine certainly grabbed plenty of attention. Power was courtesy of a supercharged 4.6L V8, said to produce 370kW and 660Nm (with varying figures for both, it must be said), thanks to the Sprintex huffer from AEC bolted on top.

Gears came courtesy of a six speed Tremec manual, that, when spun up, would join with the engine to see a 0-100 kmh time of 4.6 seconds, a rapid time in anyone’s book. Having 245/35 ZR19 and 275/30 ZR19 tyres to steer and grip certainly helped. Stoppers were four and two potters from Brembo.

But it was the styling that made this car, sadly a one off, stand out.  There was tacit support from Ford Australia, with the then head of Ford Motorsport, Howard Marsden, overseeing the build project. It was based on the TE50 sedan platform, and was given some serious massage work.

Computer Aided Design, or CAD, was employed. A redesign of the rear bulkhead and floorplan was undertaken to reduce weight and increase torsional strength. The rear guards were given a push outwards, but the main ingredient was the rearward movement of the B pillar by 200 mm. Naturally this meant the doors had to be lengthened and strengthened to suit.

In order to overcome what is called a “crown effect”, and working with an already bulbous roofline (which would be flatted substantially for the BA Falcon), visual and physical design cues were employed. The roof was flattened substantially, however a lower profile rear wing was fitted to assist in making the car, especially from the rear, look lower.

Twin headlights were fitted inside the triangular housings up front. The bonnet was massaged to provide clearance for the Sprintex supercharger. Bodywork here was a change to a simple looking air intake and the ground scraping chin on the bumper.

Inside, the trim was lifted by fitting leather clad seats with red and grey trim. The driver binnacle was upgraded by using the Fairmont dash, however the overall dash design, complete with its soft organic curves, was untouched in real terms.

The build itself was effectively a joint venture between the three companies and relied on Ford to see the project through for a viable sales base. Allegedly there were fifteen orders for the car, and at a price of around $100,000, that was a substantial investment.

However, without the deeper pockets of Ford being available when they withdrew their support, the Falcon 300+ would remain an orphan, and a blip in Australia’s “tudor” history.

What has been your favourite Australian made prototype? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below this article. 

Craig Lowndes Motorsport Career

His Mum calls him Craig. His mates call him whatever they want. Fans call him CL, or Lowndesy. We know him as Craig Lowndes. During his racing career he would become known for not just his talent, but his ever present smile, a great sense of humour, and a deep appreciation for his followers.

In a (V8) Supercars career that started in 1996, the year of his 22nd birthday, Lowndes became a winner at Bathurst seven times, including the memorable win in 2006 where he and Jamie Whincup became the first to have their names etched on the Peter Brock Trophy. He’s a triple V8 Supercars champion, and, as of the end of 2018, no longer a full time competitor in the Supercars championship.

Born in Melbourne on June 21, 1974, Lowndes trod a path many others have followed when following a motorsport dream. Karting was the weapon of choice, and at the age of nine he was likely to be found at the Whittlesea karting circuit, some forty or so kilometres north of the Melbourne CBD.

It took less than a decade before racing success came his way. In Formula Ford Lowndes found a kindred automotive spirit, gaining valuable exposure in the Motorcraft Formula Ford “Drive To Europe” series in 1991. Other drivers that found fame in this series were Russell Ingall, Tomas Mezera, and Cameron McConville.

1993 and Lowndes wins the Formula Ford championship, propelling him into the vision of Formula Ford in Europe. The championship title eluded him, but not by much, with third being notched up.

Come 1994 and he’s in Formula Brabham, winning the Australian Silver Star. Also known as Formula Holden, the series itself was short-lived. The Brabham nomenclature was part of the series for just five years, from 1991 to 1995. V8 Supercars were coming and the bright lights beckoned.

Lowndes was added to the test team crew of the Holden Racing Team and competed, in what was meant to be a one off appearance, alongside Brad Jones for the 1994 Sandown 500. The drive was successful enough to impress team principal Jeff Grech enough to offer a seat that had become vacant to Lowndes.

The 1994 Bathurst 1000 race cemented Lowndes as part of the Australian racing landscape. Ballsy driving, a rookie error or two, and a second place in 1994 set him on the path to become a full time member of HRT, winning the championship with them in 1996. On his first full season with them, mind. It had Lowndes drive next to Greg Murphy, with the win making Lowndes the youngest driver to win “The Great Race” at the time.

Although Australian success was his, the call from his heart to return to Europe was strong. 1997 and the International Formula 3000 Championship saw Lowndes sharing team driving duties with Juan Pablo Montoya. The candle was alight but the success proved elusive for the Victorian, with just one season completed and Lowndes returning to Australia.

By this time the V8 Supercars category was established and in full flight, with Lowndes quickly returning to form on Australian circuits. The 1997 Sandown 500 was added to the trophy cabinet, with “Murf” his co-driver. The next year Lowndes and Mark Skaife co-starred throughout the year, and Lowndes took out the 1998 championship. 1999 promised a lot inside the new VT Commodore and consistent performance had Lowndes on track to win that year’s championship by the time round eight arrived.

The location? Calder Park. The result? A car written off, one of the most spectacular rollovers seen in Aussie motorsport, and one very lucky CL. Although the crash gave him just minor injuries and being forced to miss the Sandown race that year, his lead was such that the championship was yet again his.

Australia’s automotive brand rivalry was brought to the fore at the beginning of the 21st century as Lowndes went from a red lion to a blue oval on his car. Further colour changes came in the form of his AU Falcon being a combination of black, silver, and green, the latter on the headlight covers and giving the car the affectionate nickname of “the green eyed monster”.

As much a talking point the car was, it didn’t deliver for Lowndes. It wasn’t until 2003 when a move to FPR, Ford Performance Racing, that his first win with Ford and the first since 2000 came along. The tenure with FPR proved short in time, with Lowndes signing with Team Betta Electrical, or Triple Eight Racing, for 2005. This was partly spurred by a 20th place finish for the 2004 season.

Again his tilt at the championship was looking good; he’d taken the most victories, and the most pole positions, but incidents such as a wheel smashing his windscreen at the 2005 Bathurst race had him place second behind Russell Ingall. However, there was a highlight for Lowndes in the form of the Barry Sheen Medal. Voted upon by motorsport writers, former drivers, and commentators, it was a recognition of Lowndes in that he’d won without being the year’s championship winner.

Perhaps the most memorable of wins for Lowndes was at Bathurst in 2006. Just weeks after the tragic passing of his friend and mentor, one Peter Brock, Lowndes and Whincup muscled their way through for the win to finish just a half second ahead of second placed Rick Kelly. Lowndes capped off that year by winning the Barry Sheene medal for the second year running. 2006 would also see he and Whincup take the first of three Bathurst victories in a row, making them just the third pairing to do so, with Brock and Larry Perkins, and Brock with Jim Richards the others.

In a flagging of what was to come, Ford Australia cut their motorsport sponsorship. Lowndes made the move back to Holden, with whom he would become the first driver to reach 100 wins, win his fifth Barry Sheene medal, and his third most popular driver award. 2015 saw him win his sixth Bathurst 1000.

2017 would be perhaps his career lowlight, with no wins to his name. Although this spurred talk of retirement which was denied, in mid 2018 Lowndes, CL, and Craig to his mum, along with his ever present smile, announced he would retire from full time competition.

What was your favourite Lowndesy career highlight? Head on over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comment section below this blog! 

History of the LS Engine

There’s a saying in the automotive world: “There’s no replacement for displacement.” Somehow, that tag became attached to an engine, in a vee shape and packing eight cylinders, made by Chevrolet in America.

In the late nineties General Motors and Chevrolet debuted a new V8. Dubbed “LS” for “Luxury Sport” it’s this name and engine that have popularized the above saying. First seen in the 1997 C5 Corvette, the all “aluminum” block, called the LS1, was also known as the small block Gen111. It replaced the LT or “Luxury Touring” engine that had been a mainstay for some time.

It was what’s called a clean sheet design; essentially a start from nothing design, the only common points the LS had with the LT was bore spacing and conrod bearings. Even in the LS range of engines themselves items such as the bore centre, at 4.40 inches, cross bolted six bolt main bearing caps, and a four bolt per cylinder head bolt pattern are common.

Alloy blocks are used for performance oriented vehicles whilst blocks made of iron are used for SUVs and trucks.

At 5.7 litres or 350 cubic inches in capacity, as the most common iteration is seen in, it produced 257 kilowatts or 345 horsepower. Maximum torque was 470Nm or 350 pound-feet, found at 4400rpm. It was bolted into a substantial range of cars such as the Corvette, Firebird, and of course in Holden and HSV cars like the Statesman and Senator Signature.

LS6 is the name given to a higher output but same capacity engine largely found in the C5 Corvette Z06, with production starting in 2001. Peak grunt was bumped to 287 kilowatts and torque to 522Nm initially, with further development lifting both to 302kW and 540Nm.

There were also smaller engines based on the same architecture. Engineered for use in passenger SUV and trucks, the LS1 4.8L and 5.3L blocks have a 3.78 inch diameter for the bore.

In 2005 GM unveiled the GenIV or LS2 engine. There were bigger capacities, cylinder deactivation technology for improved fuel savings, and variable valve timing. Capacity went to 6.0L (5964 cc in real terms) or 364 cubic inches. Base engines made 300kW and 542 Nm. Holden and HSV saw this installed in cars such as the Monaro and Grange.

L76 is the designation given to the LS2s fitted with Active Fuel Management or AFM. It was some time before Holden chose to use the feature; from 2009 it was installed however only in cars with an automatic called the 6L80. Power was rated as 260kW and maximum twist of 510 Nm came in at 4400rpm. Designed to assist in bettering fuel economy by shutting down firing in four cylinders, the engine gave rise to the L77. This designation defines the LS2 as being ethanol fuel compatible.

Various engines with names such as LY5, LH6, and LMF were produced and seen in SUVs such as the Chevrolet Trailblazer and GMC Savana.

LS7 was a rarely seen engine in Australia. It was intended to be produced for a specific HSV car here called the W427. Corsa Special Vehicles beat HSV to the punch here, with their engine producing 400kW and 600Nm. HSV’s version, first shown at the 2008 Melbourne International Motor Show, offered 375kW and 640Nm.

A supercharged and slightly capacity increased engine, at 6.2L and called LSA, was released in 2009. This was first seen in the ballsy Cadillac CTS-V and Australia had it in the GTS, GTS-R, and Maloo R8 LSA, just to name a couple. 480kW was the peak power and an amazing 754Nm of torque. These came courtesy of a block with revised compression, cast pistons, and a “blower’ of 1.9L in capacity.

With Holden ceasing local manufacturing in late 2017, the LS engines are now only to be found in cars already on Australian roads or in vehicles allowed to be imported from the US to Australia.

For now….anyway. Stand by for Camaro.

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A Look into the Career of Allan Moffat

Although Australian motorsport has its fair share of locally grown heroes, there’s one that hails from Canada. He’s a name with a familiar voice to many thanks to his 1970s TV adverts for Ford and Victa but it’s his on track prowess that he’ll be remembered for. He is, of course, Allan Moffat.

Born in the double tongue twisting city and state of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in November 1939, Moffat became an Australian citizen in 2004. He had been eligible since the early 1970s but said he’d never bothered to follow it up. It was in the mid 1950s that Moffat and his family arrived in Australia, after his father, who worked for tractor manufacturer Massey Ferguson, was transferred to Melbourne.

Moffat commenced his racing career, which would span twenty five years, in 1964, co-piloting a Ford Lotus Cortina. The venue was Sandown Park and the race, the Sandown Six Hour International, was a precursor to the Sandown 500. What was called the Australian Touring Car Championship saw Moffat enter for the first time in 1965, again driving a Lotus fettled Cortina.

Travelling to the USA and back kept the taciturn Canadian busy for the next three or four years before finally settling down full time in Australia. It was 1969, the year of the first manned lunar landing, that would cement Moffat into Australian motorsport history. An interview with the US based head of Ford motorsport at the time after a ballsy approach by Moffat had one of seven Trans Am Boss 302 Mustangs become his drive and enabled him to take a tilt at the ATCC crown. The “Moffstang” as it’s now popularly known, was soon to be decorated with his new, and first, major sponsor, Coca-Cola. It’s history now that the car, although a race winner, never did win the championship for him.

Rule changes in the early 1970s saw the Mustang effectively retired from competition however Moffat had already established himself as a driver to beat in other Ford cars. 1969 was his first year in the Bathurst 500, driving a Falcon XW GTHO, and courtesy of a recalcitrant gearbox managed to miss the traffic jam that grew after the now famous Bill Brown rollover at Skyline.

1970 and 1971 were marquee years for Moffat, winning back to back at Bathurst, and also stamping his authority on the event by becoming the first driver to lead from the start and win. The car? The now fabled Ford Falcon XY GTHO Phase Three.

Moffat, although known for driving and promoting “Blue Oval” products, also made his mark in other marques. The 1980 Le Mans had him in a Porsche 935. His co-driver was a soon to be famous Bobby Rahal. Moffat also drove a Porsche in the 1980 Australian Sports Car Championship. 1981 brought with it a change of direction for the bespectacled Moffat. Enter Mazda and its ground breaking Wankel rotary engine.

Four consecutive top six finishes, a second and a third in 1983 and 1984, and wins in the Australian Endurance Championships, plus his fourth Australian Touring Car Championship win in 1983 have this car and its timeframe in history etched in Australian motorsport folklore.

Of his friends and rivals, it was perhaps Peter Brock that would be rated the highest in Moffat’s opinion. The pair would race together on numerous occasions, including one memorable outing at the 1986 Spa 24 Hour event. As part of a two car team from HDT they won the Kings Cup, an award for a team that had the highest overall placings for at least 3 of their cars at the end of the race.

After Holden cut ties with Brock in 1987, Moffat bought a car, a VL Commodore SS Group A that had been readied for an assault on the World Touring Car Championship to be held in Europe. The car placed seventh yet after a remarkable protest saw the top six cars, all factory backed BMWs, disqualified, Moffat and co-driver John Harvey were declared the winners.

A return to the Blue Oval came in 1988, in the form of the Sierra RS500. Although a troubled car, Moffat did win in one in 1988’s Enzed 500 at Sandown. What was then called the “Toohey’s 1000” would be Moffat’s last at “The Mountain”. Driving with Gregg Hansford and along with Ruedi Eggenberger and Klaus Niedzwiedz, the car would retire with a blown head gasket and a cracked block with just 32 laps remaining.

It was his friend and co-driver Brock that would present the still strongly Canadian accented Moffat his Australian citizenship papers in 2004. After his 1989 retirement from driving, Moffat would go on to continue his strong association with motorsport in areas such as team management and television commentary. And, like his now departed colleague, Moffat has long lines of fans awaiting his time and signature when he appears at events such as the Muscle Car Masters. And forty years after that famous 1-2 victory at Bathurst in the XC Falcon alongside Colin Bond, Sydney Motorsport Park immortalized him by naming the super-fast Turn 1, Moffat Corner.

What are your memories of the great Allan Moffat? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comment section below the article.