Pop the bonnet of a six cylinder Holden between the years of 1948 and 1986 and you will notice, amongst many other changes over the years, a change in the colour of the engine block itself. This wasn’t because Holden wanted to pop down to the local hardware store to take advantage of a paint sale. With every change of colour came a change to the engine. Some were significant changes, some weren’t.
The first colour used for the first engines produced was grey, just like a Grandfather. Known as the Grey motor, it was built between 1948 and 1962. During that period, the Buick based block changed very little. This is significant because effectively with the Grey motor, it was one colour for one block. In the production period following the Grey, it was many colours for one block.
Starting out as a 132 cubic inch (2.1 litre) on the 48-215, or Holden FX, between 1948 and 1953, it remained unchanged through to the FJ Series (1953-1956) and FE Series (1956-1958) until the FC Series (1958-1960). Come 1960 and the start of the Holden FB’s, the 132 leapt to a mighty 138 and stayed this way through to the EK (1961-1962) and finally to the end of the Grey series with the EJ in 1963.
By this stage, the development of the Grey had run its course and it was time for an engine that was entirely new. Enter the mighty Red motor. Produced between 1963 and 1980, this was a game changer. Powering the EH Series onwards, it initially came in two variants: the 149 cubic inch (2.4 litre) 100 BHP version and the 179 cubic inch (2.9 litre), putting out 115 BHP. The Red also came in 161 and 173 cubic inch versions.
A host of changes occurred throughout the Red motor including displacement changes up to 3.3 litres, better known as the 202. It was used in a host of models. These included: the EH, HD and HR Standard, Special and Premier Models between 1963 and 1968; the HK, HT, HG, HQ, HJ, HX, and HZ Belmont, Kingswood and Premier Models between 1968 and 1980; the legendary LC, LJ, LH, LX and UC Toranas between 1969 and 1979; the CF Bedford between 1971 and 1979 and finally, the VB Commodore between 1978 and 1980….phew!
The next colour motor to hit Aussie roads was the Blue motor. Unlike the change from Grey to Red, which was an entirely different engine, the Blue series was more of a refinement of the Red and included: changing from a nine port head to a twelve point head, the addition of a fully counterweighted crank and stronger con-rods. Released as 2.8 and 3.3 litre, it was used in the WB’s (1980-1985) along with the VC (1980-1981) and VH (1981-1984) Commodores.
The final instalment of Holden’s programme of coloured engines for its six cylinders (Holden’s V8s were also painted in different colours but that’s for another day) ended with the Black. Introduced in 1984’s VK Commodore, it ran until 1986. Changes from the Blue to the Black included modifications to the ports and valves, however the most significant change to the 3.3 litre power plant was the introduction of an EFI (Electronic Fuel Injection) version, the manifold and rocker cover of which was actually painted red.
Sadly, due to emission control requirements, in 1986 the VL Commodore’s home grown six cylinder donk was replaced with the Nissan RB30 and RB20E engines from Japan. They say all good things must come to an end, however Holden’s coloured series of engines is yet another fascinating example of the Australian car industry.