THE REAL THING

DAVE MORLEY FIRST TOOK A LOOK AT THIS ICONIC SS BACK IN JULY 2012. HERE’S WHAT HE FOUND

I t’s the oldest trick in the book; if you want to look tall and slim, make a beeline for, and stand right next to, the 150kg dwarf. Trying to appear sophisticated and urbane? Get along to a ute muster and mix right in.

And if you’re a muscle car, the best way to look as muscly as possible is to make sure that at least one of your identifiable stablemates is a bit light on in the cojones department. Which could help to explain why the HDT VH Group 3 is still the absolute biz and, believe us, it is.

Next to the other ’80s Brock-cars, the VH range of HDT-modified cars was a bit more subtle than either the big-hair, big-flares VC that started the Brock-car dynasty that went before the VH or the what-you-looking-at naked aggression of the VK Blue Meanie.

But in the context of the VH range, the Group 3 is the mutt’s nuts.

Then again, any Brock car from any era is going to be a collectible set of wheels thanks to that famous name on the compliance plate. But also, with a great power-to-weight ratio and torquey V8 power typical of these smaller Commodorebased machines, you’re on a winner in a driving sense, too.

The real ring-in in the hot VH line-up was not actually a Brock car at all. It was the SS and, as cynical marketing exercises go, it was up there with diet cigarettes.

The SS was more or less a Commodore SL with a 4.2-litre V8 and four-speed manual box. The cynical bit amounted to a set of spidery alloys and a coat of the same red paint that Brock was painting his road-burners. By the time you added the very Brock-esque paint black-outs and body-coloured grille, Holden suddenly had a car that looked like a Brockmobile but was actually a repmobile. God alone knows what P Brock thought about it.

For his own part, Brock was having a couple of bob each way, too. Rather than put all his performance eggs in one marketing basket, the actual HDT stuff in the VH range came in three strengths.

The Group 1 package was based on that Holden SS and even retained stuff like the wheels. To Brockify it, the HD Team added a larger air-cleaner (with a go-fast chrome top) stiffer suspension, a bigger master cylinder for the fourwheel- discs and a set of Uniroyal tyres.

What you didn’t get, meanwhile, was any exterior HDT identification (there was a small dash-badge, though and a HDT gear-knob) and crucially, there were no mods to the 4.2 V8 or the bodywork.

The next step up was the Group 2 (surprise, surprise) and it added to the Group 1 deal with some rather more serious hardware. We’re talking about tidied-up (blue-printed in other words) cylinder heads, extractors, and a gas-flowed inlet manifold. It also looked a bit flasher with chrome rocker convers under the lid,

VH HDT Group 3

a body kit and those wild wind-splitters down the top of each front guard. Did they actually do anything? Maybe at 250km/h-plus, but otherwise, probably not. Looked trick, though.

The thing is, you’ll be hard pressed to find either A Group 1 or Group 2 these days, because only tiny numbers of them were made. How come? Because the step up to the Group 3 wasn’t that big a financial jump and, even back then, folks kind of figured that when it came to Brock cars, the biggest, baddest one was the one to have. They were dead right, too.

Which brings us to the Group 3 you see here before you. Strangely, the standard engine in the Group 3 was still the 4.2-litre unit, but pretty much everybody who ordered one ponied up for the five-litre option. A handful of 4.2 Group 3s did make it out the door, however, so they’re real oddities these days.

Regardless of engine capacity it was blue-printed even further including the ignition system and power of the five-litre version was – depending on who you talk

Brock’s web of intrigue

YOU wanted a blueprinted engine in your Brock? No problem. In fact, engine tweaks were probably the most popular of all the behind-thecounter mods and the only real limit to the HDT mods was the size of the punter’s wallet.

All this sounds like a great way to get a factory hot-rod, and it was, but it also meant that cars homologated with a particular engine for emissions testing weren’t necessarily what were being presented at the motor registry office for a set of plates. And as the years passed and legislation got tougher, Brock’s laissez-faire approach caught up with him.

Back in 1987, with Brock about to launch his VL-based Director, Holden was getting jittery about the HDT operation. Outwardly, Brock’s infamous polariser got the blame for the angst, but secretly, Holden’s lawyers were nervy about Brock’s penchant for building potentially non-compliant hotties and then flogging them through Holden dealerships.

to – around the 180kW mark. But given the VH’s kerb weight of about 1435kg, this was still a handy device, especially when you consider it had something like 430Nm of torque at its disposal.

The M21 four-speed was the box of choice and an automatic option was never officially listed. The ubiquitous 3.08:1 final drive ratio was installed in the diff and a single-plate clutch was the man in the middle. The 63-litre standard tank was what you got unless you ticked the box for the optional 90-litre bugger.

Those time-warp 15x7 inch Irmscher alloys were the standard fitment on the Group 3 but there was also an option of 16X7 Centra rims.

Like the mechanical spec, pinning the Group 3 down to a single interior and exterior trim specification can be tricky, too. Many had the Scheel buckets fitted but there were two types of steering wheel fitted across the car’s life. The reverse bonnet-scoop was a Group 3 inclusion (but could be optioned on Group 1 and 2 cars as well) but some cars even had VC-style wheel-arch flares fitted at the factory. The Group 3 also got the guard splitters and rear spoiler of the Group 2 but added the front spoiler, side skirts and rear apron.

Which ever way you cut the deck, the Group 3 is a great looking thing even (especially) now and there’s just something about those black paint-outs against the Maranello red body colour that just, um, works. But there’s another thing; while most were indeed that lovely shade of deep red, some VH HDT cars were white, just to confuse the train-spotters out there.

Driving an early Commodore now is an interesting experience but for all the right reasons. Perhaps because we’ve become accustomed over the last decade or so to Commodores that weigh north of 1800kg, the light steering and agile side-step of an early-girl is a revelation. And, again, while we’re now used to 300kW engines and six-speed trannys, the fact that the old five-litre produces its maximum power at less than 5000rpm and max torque at about 3500rpm means that it’s super flexible and always feels frisky even below warp speed.

The M21 can be a bit of a handful (especially when it’s cold or filled with the wrong oil) but the ratios are about right and the Group 3 will gallop to 100km/h in about seven-and-a-half ticks of the Rolex.

Like any Brock car, the Group 3 wasn’t exactly cheap in its day, but it did carry off that Aussie muscle-car stunt of offering huge performance for the price. While the basic, Holden-badged SS cost about $13,500 (a couple of grand more than a Commodore SL with the 4.2-litre donk) the Group 1 added another $2000 or so, the Group 2 a further $1500 and the Group 3 topped out at about $18,400 with the 4.2 and a not inconsiderable $19,149 with the five-litre snuggled between its front rails. Either way, that step up from 4.2 to 5.0 has got to be the best $750 anybody has ever spent.

While subsequent Brock cars might have made the Group 3 and its brothers look a bit tame back in the day, the years have been pretty kind to the VH, we reckon. It still looks sharp, that red paint is still stunning and those wind-splitters that could have become the K-Tel Record Selector of aerodynamics have actually emerged as an icy cool thing to have. Just like the rest of the car.

I Own One

ZORAN PAVLOVIC and his brother are the keepers of the Group 3 on these pages, and it’s a car that has been in family since 1988. Back in 1988 Zoran’s big bro had a VH SL/E Commodore, and when he upgraded to the Group 3, the SL/E became Zoran’s. Eventually, his brother upgraded again to a Brock Blue Meanie, and the Group 3 became joint property of the brothers Pavlovic.

Back in the day, of course, the Group 3 was a special car, but it wasn’t the precious collectible it is now. And those Pavlovic boys, they used it. Hard.

“In the old days, we enjoyed the Group 3,” recalls Zoran. “We didn’t mind driving it as it was meant to be driven, either. These days, of course, it’s different and you can’t do that anymore”.

“We smashed it and we bashed it for a few years actually, and then in the ’90s we decided to restore it. We thought about selling it, but people were making stupid offers, so we decided to keep it.”

Nowadays, though, cars like the Group 3 have reached maturity in the collectability stakes and the car doesn’t get the frequent or the high-speed gallops it once did. In fact, it lives in storage now and gets used very rarely, and Zoran reckons that simply doesn’t do it justice.

“We don’t drive it much now… we just don’t get time. It doesn’t do it any favours sitting around in storage, either. Right now the starter motor is playing up through lack of use.”

The other problem is the car’s rarity and the shrinking availability of parts for anything as old as the VH.

“You just can’t get parts any more.

Even headlights and tail-lights – good ones, anyway – are getting scarce and the HDT body parts are impossible to find. And then kids in modern cars want to sit an inch behind you or race you at every red light.”

We hear you, brother.