1985 Holden Commodore HDT Group A VK
The toughtest and most revered first-GEN Commodore of them all was the VK group a SS of 1985. Words Dave Morley. Photos Alastair Brook & Nathan Jacobs.
BROCK BEAST! PB'S GREATEST WORK | HDT VK GROUP A
BLUE MEANIE THE BEST BROCK?
If you want to draw a line in the sand when it comes to Aussie muscle cars, you could do worse than split the contenders into two camps: Those that were racing homologation cars, and those that were not. And from that first group would come the machines most of us believe to be the Chosen Ones.
THE 1985 HOLDEN COMMODORE HDT GROUP A VK BLUE MEANIE WAS BUILT FOR HOMOLOGATION
Stuff like XU-1 Toranas, E38 and E49 Chargers and, of course, the GT-HO Falcons (and others, of course). Look, I’m not dissing the cars that missed out on being the homologation basis for that year’s touring-car racing, but back then racing mattered, and so did the cars that made it possible. It’s a simple acknowledgement of the fact that some muscle cars are created more equal than others. That’s what happens when motor racing is based on production cars that punters could buy and drive on the road in the day, as opposed to the tube-chassis, flop-moulded bodies we see rasping up the side of Mount Panorama these days.
And although it was late to the homologation-special party, the toughest, most revered first-gen Commodore of them all, the VK Group A SS of 1985, the legendary Brock Blue Meanie, does indeed fall into the category of Cars-that-happened-so-we-could- go-motor-racing. In fact, while GT-HOs, XU-1s and assorted Chargers were designed to conform to (or, if you were Harry Firth, take advantage of) local racing regulations and specifications, the Blue Meanie took it a step further, tackling a strange new global formula we called Group A. Suddenly, it was the Brockmobile versus the world.
These days, the hype surrounding the Formula Blue Group A SS tends to be centred around the vast sums of money required for a change of ownership. And there’s no denying that the auction sale earlier this year of P Brock’s own, personal Blue Meanie for a reported $1.057 million (plus buyer’s premium, dontchaknow) brought that sharply into focus. But it’s important to remember what a dead-set revelation these things were when they started hitting the street back in 1985. I mean, they’re not worth the huge coin they are today by accident… And that’s the point.
So here’s a bit of that background. Even a bog-stock Commodore SL with the optional 308 V8 was a bit of a superstar back then. But it was a distinct also-ran compared with any Brock car, of course, including the previous VK-based efforts from Brock’s HDT skunkworks down in Port Melbourne. Those consisted of the SS and the SS Group 3, and with the Brock-ified engines and general aura of specialness, they were dream machines. But when the blue VK struck in May 1985, trust me when I say all bets were off. The Blue Meanie had just ceased production (March 1986) when I first wandered into the editorial offices of Car Australia (now MOTOR magazine) as a shit-kicker with no idea in mid-86.
But the red, VL Group A SS hadn’t been launched yet, so we didn’t know anything about polarisers or lame 137kW outputs at that stage. And anyway, the Blue Meanie was still the current king of the hill, so it was still turning up in our car-park from time to time as a test-car and was still very much the machine of the moment.
Ah yes, the Car Australia car-park. Okay, that sounds a lot grander than it really was, because most of the time, we had permission to park test cars (which could be anything from Ferraris to FSM Nikis) in the loading bay of The Age newspaper (we were owned by The Age at that time). But because The Age still ran its own fleet of cars for reporters and photographers, the place was staffed by people who really understood four-wheeled machinery and how to apply bearing grease. They were old school tappet-heads, led by a bloke called Jeff who, if you caught him in a good mood, would even let really special cars stay in the safe, secure underground part of the car-park where the bowsers and mechanics lived.
And I don’t mean these guys were merely car fans; nope, they were die-hards, most of them owning modified Holdens or Fords, and one in particular (g’day Sarge) willing to help out a dopey journo-kid with a dream to race a HQ he’d dragged out of a paddock in the bush. Yes, that kid was me, and it’s a testament to the depth of enthusiasm in that car-park/workshop that the race engine in my HQ was, in fact, assembled on those premises after hours with company tools and company cam-lube when Jeff wasn’t looking. Not that I reckon he’d have been against the enterprise: He was the one who kept an eye on the bowsers through the day and, if you were filling up a test Sigma or Camira, you were on your own. But burble alongside the pump to fill something a bit special and Jeff would be there with a d’ya-need-a-hand-mate? (If it was Friday, you’d politely decline and fill the car yourself so that you could trickle-fill it and get right through the weekend without touching your own, cadet-journo-thin wallet, even if it meant an on-fumes commute come Monday.)
Needless to say, any Brock car, but especially a Blue Meanie got the best underground spot Jeff could conjure up (often at the expense of an ad rep’s parking space) and would be magically filled up before you needed to even go anywhere in it. The price of all this was the unspoken, but very real, requirement to give the thing a mighty bootful as you headed for Lonsdale Street up the bluestone laneway that separated the garage from our offices. A 16-valve salute to the car loving men and women of The Age workshop, if you like. They reckon frogs are a good indicator of the health of a particular eco-system. I still say The Age mechanics were a wonderful litmus-test for the worth (or otherwise) of our test cars back then. If they liked it, you could go to the bank on it.
But all this, too, was a measure of just what a phenomenon this loud, blue VK from Port Melbourne was. Long before anybody thought we’d be paying a million bucks for one, those who knew and believed and understood such matters were worshipping at its altar. Hell, even non-Brock people got it.
Then, of course, there was the actual driving experience. Actually, just the idling experience had me, Jeff and the boys hyper-ventilating. Now, I’m not saying HDT ever slipped us a warmed-over version of their current model for testing, but if all Blue Meanies were as good as the ones we drove, then the rest of the Group A world had cause to be worried.
The VK Group A SS was, you will recall, the first of the Holden five-litres to be destroked by a single millimetre to arrive at a displacement of 4987cc, thereby pulling the engine to a gnat’s below 5000cc and allowing the car to race at 1325kg rather than 1400kg had Holden stuck with the 308’s original 5044cc. PB also added a larger, port-matched intake manifold, Yella Terra heads, tubular headers from HM, a double-row timing chain, a tweaked version of the Rochester four-barrel carb and a cold-air intake system. Crucially, there were also roller rockers and, also from Crane, a different camshaft. And by different, I mean pretty radical.
The engine didn’t really come on until about 2500rpm, but when it did, hoo-eey, you suddenly felt every one of those 196kW and 418Nm. That lopey feel was exaggerated by the lightened flywheel and the whole thing emitted an evil, hissing kind of presence just sitting there warming up. Besides giving you an idea of what was about to happen next (ref: Bluestone laneway) it was just wonderful theatre of the sort that has been lost with turbocharging and computer engine control.
The other thing about a drive in a Blue Meanie was just what an uncompromising sonofabitch it was. The ride was – frankly – pretty dreadful and going quickly on any sort of secondary road meant hanging on tight and learning to trust it not to go hurtling off into the mulga. That’ll be the low-profile 16-inch tyres (on white or silver Aero rims) and the sharper Bilsteins shocks, then.
And possibly a pretty aggressive front-end alignment geometry. Tame it was not. Which, while attracting its share of criticism at the time, is probably a big chunk of the magic of the Meanie after all these years. As car-makers – even back then – were trying to make their cars greener, more comfortable and more broadly appealing, the Brock VK was the one car that said ‘Screw you Crumble-Crutch, let’s race’.
Inside, it was classic 80s with the Momo tiller and Scheel seats, but even then, who’d have thought the VK’s square dials and that bright Cerulean Blue interior would have aged as well as the have? And let’s be honest, without the Meanie’s halo, maybe that stuff wouldn’t have stood up as well over the years.
And, again, that’s the point here: It’s one thing to worship a car because it now costs the same as a decent house. But it’s another altogether to recall that even when it was brand-new and unproven (and relatively attainable) it was good enough to carry our motorsport hopes on the global stage and make people like you and I weak at the knees just seeing one idle between red lights. Now show me a current-model car that can pull that off, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
“INSIDE, IT WAS CLASSIC 80S WITH A MOMO TILLER AND SCHEEL SEATS”
“THE REST OF THE GROUP A WORLD HAD CAUSE TO BE WORRIED”
ABOVE White HDT wheels offset the blue hue LEFT SS is the Birthplace. ABOVE Holden’s best salesman and fan favourite. LEFT A dip in the rear means loud pedal time.LEFT Momo HDT leather wheel. ABOVE Impregnated HDT logo.
RANGE HT VK GROUP A
- FAIR $120,000
- GOOD $180,000
- EXCELLENT $270,000
(Note: exceptional cars will demand more)
- NUMBER BUILT: 502
- BODY: Integrated body/chassis four-door sedan
- ENGINE: 4987cc or 5044cc V8, overhead valves with single downdraft carburettor
- MAX POWER: 196kW @ 5200rpm (Group A 4.9)
- MAX TORQUE: 418Nm @ 3600rpm (Group A 4.9)
- PERFORMANCE: 0-62MPH (0-100km/h): 7.65 seconds,
- 0-400 metres 15.6 seconds (Group A 4-speed)
- TRANSMISSION: 4 or 5-speed manual
- SUSPENSION: Independent with struts, coil springs and anti-roll bar (f); live axle with trailing arms, Panhard rod and telescopic shock absorbers ®
- BRAKES: Disc (f) disc ® with power assistance
- TYRES: 225/50 VR16 radial
SMART BUYER'S TROUBLESHOOTING
BODY & CHASSIS
These are a very special car but intrinsically a Holden. No special attention was paid to rustproofing and your Group A early in life may have suffered damage that was repaired in accordance with an insurance company’s miserly allotment of hours. Rust, if it exists, will be most easily seen in floors (look from underneath as well as above), sills, lower door skins, around the windscreen and in the panel separating the rear window and boot aperture. Some rust repair sections are being remade and aren’t expensive. Replacement body-kit sections are available, but costs and quality vary alarmingly so best to choose a car with all its add-ons intact. The front air-dam needs particular attention to detect cracks, loose or broken mounts.
ENGINE & TRANSMISSION
Many of these cars haven’t been driven any very far in decades and neglect can be more harmful than abuse. Some will be fired up in the garage and trundled around the block but rarely for long enough to properly warm lubricants before being shut down again. Check service history, not only for the years when the car was new but also recently, to see how often and where engine and transmission oils have been changed. Look for cooling system hoses that are perished, oil and fuel leaks. The optional T-5 gearbox is less challenging and a bit quieter than the four-speed but neither ‘box should howl or clunk. Nor should the differential. The clutch which was easy to trash but can be replaced for around $1600 by a quality unit that copes more easily with abuse.
HDT VK GROUP A SUSPENSION & BRAKES
HDT did wonders with a basic system of struts, coils and a live axle but keeping a VK’s ride and handling on the money can get costly. Original springs will be tired and if they’ve sagged to differing degrees the car may not sit squarely.
Springs are available and during the past 35+ years, lets hope someone has replaced the suspension bushes and shock absorbers. Replacements may have been cheaper and less effective than the HDT-spec Bilsteins but given the current value of Group A VKs, a set of the correct shocks and inserts at $1500-2000 is a no-brainer. The brakes were amazing but age may have affected their performance, have the brake system tested by a specialist.
INTERIOR & ELECTRICS
Standard HDT seat fabric was durable – some owners even found them harsh — but 35 years’ exposure to heat and sunlight plus the effect of occupants slithering across side bolsters will cause wear. Make sure as well that the seat frames remain intact and the adjusters work. Plastic components like the dash, console and switchgear deteriorate with age as well, so look for cracking and fading. Compatible interior plastics can still be found but they won’t be cheap. A new Momo Monte Carlo wheel, correct to the Group A, was offered at $1490 and if that deal is genuine, somebody snared a bargain.
HDT VK GROUP A MARKET REVIEW
Automotive icons come but rarely go and one model that has stood tall ever since its 1985 debut is the VK Group A. Painted Formula Blue and nicknamed ‘Blue Meanie’, this was the car Peter Brock believed could challenge Europe’s best by contesting iconic Touring Car races and thereby putting his products on the world motor sporting stage.
Reducing the stroke of Holden’s 5044cc V8 to comply with international capacity regs did nothing to harm the engine’s output or tractability. To complement its 4987cc, the ‘Meanie’ motor featured roller rockers, a dualrow timing chain, L34 connecting rods, a revised camshaft and inlet manifold. In stock trim it gained 20kW on the larger engine, with improved response across the rev range.
To qualify for World Touring Car Championship contention, HDT needed to build a minimum 500 examples of the VK and there was no shortage of buyers wanting to help meet the requirement. Survivors aren’t difficult to locate either, however many owners are reluctant to part with their piece of the Brock legend while values keep bubbling.
The ‘boom’ of 2005-2007 sent VK values – along with many others – soaring before plummeting at equivalent pace. If you climbed aboard a Group A just as the world emerged from its Global Financial Crisis hibernation, chances are you bought a low-kilometre example for around $80,000. That same car, three years earlier, would have been bringing $125-150K.
Holding onto this lump of rolled gold Holden heritage would not only have brought immense enjoyment but a significant boost to the owner’s net worth as well.
By 2020, the money being bid for exceptional cars was pushing past $300,000 and that was even before Brock’s Own VK with 77,000km on the clock hit the auction block. As a result, the $1 million barrier got skittled for the first time by a road-spec HDT. Not many road-going Brocks are likely to top that price, however there will likely still be Group As hidden in sheds that haven’t been traded in years and must rate a good chance of clocking $500K or more.
‘Replica’ or ‘tribute’ HDTs were generally created many years ago when the donor cars were cheap and getting the details right didn’t matter much.
Today, with genuine Group As bringing massive prices and even V8 SLs or Berlinas worth way more than they were 20 years ago, taking a fake VK back to its original state could be smarter than persevering with a half-arsed Group A ‘tribute.’
ABOVE HDT approved you know. BOTTOM Clean simple lines of the VK. LEFT Not the sportiest tone for a muscle car interior. BELOW Purposeful and Powerful.
ABOVE The 4.9lt heart of the matter. LEFT Relatively conservative spoiler. TOP All important HDT build number. BELOW Cassette deck stereo… swish.
“NEEDLESS TO SAY A BLUE MEANIE GOT THE BEST UNDERGROUND SPOT JEFF COULD CONJURE UP”
“WHEN THE BLUE VK STRUCK IN MAY 1985, ALL BETS WERE OFF”