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Engine Epic Part 5 - Aussie Engines

Here's the fifth installment of our series on modern hi-po engines. This week, we've focussed on Australian Holden and Ford motors ranging from 2.0 to 5.7 litres capacity. That covers engines from 85kW to 220kW.

By Michael Knowling.

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Here's a list of the latest high-performance motors that have been on offer from the traditional Australian car giants - Holden and Ford.

These companies have a widespread reputation for building extra-strong performance engines with bulk cubes. And here they are:



GMH's first injected 4.9 litre V8 was seen in the awesome looking VL Walkinshaw Group A.

Based on the old carbied 308cid V8, this motor was reduced in size slightly to 304cid to allow it to compete under domestic motorsport guidelines, but major performance gains were achieved at the same time. The VL Walky engine used a nodular crankshaft, just over 8.5:1 compression, increased flow, revised cast-iron cylinder heads, roller rockers and a lightened flywheel. The all-new dual staged throttle body injection system did wonders for breathing and a 16k GM-Delco engine management system brought the engine together. The result was 180kW at the engine along with a torque peak of 380Nm at 4000 rpm - enough to accelerate the 4-door sedan down the quarter in the 14s.

The next model Commodore, the VN, was the first that came released with a mass produced injected V8 under the hood. The base model was equipped with a 165kW output engine, which can be identified by its curled intake design (which is also quite restrictive). The drop from 180kW was mainly due to milder compression, lower grade heads, cam and air intake system.

Higher spec versions were however available from Holden's high-performance division - HSV (Holden Special Vehicles). Improved headers, valves, intake, cam and pistons gave their cars an increase in power to either 180kW or 200kW(the latter with 410Nm of torque at 3600 rpm). These engines became available in the limited edition SV89, SV5000, Clubsport and SV LE.

Yes, a full Group A spec engine was still available in the VN Commodore - though this time it pushed the envelope with 215kW at 5250 rpm. It varied slightly to the VL Group A motor by having revised heads, roller rockers, fatter pushrods, new cam, nodular crank, hi-po exhaust and revised mapping.

By the time the update VP was introduced in 1991, Holden had decided to offer a wide range of V8-equipped hot cars to make the most of a lack of market competitors (ie Ford). The VP saw the same basic array of engines as the VN, except the 215kW Group A was dropped and sort-of replaced by a 200kW single throttle body engine. This was available only in a variety of HSV inspired hot-ups, not Holden-direct cars. Also, the previously HSV-only 180kW engine became an option across the factory range.

The next model Commodore (the VR) lost the 200kW engine from the line up but the ante got upped to 215kW from none other than a 5.7 litre stroker. This motor made a monumental 507Nm at only 3600 rpm and it came bolted under the lid only of the flamboyant yellow GTS-R and the 5.7 Senator. The only other change to the V8 line up at this stage was slight re-tuning of the widely available 180kW engine - it now made 185kW.

The similar looking VS Commodore got the same engine smorgasbord as the previous VR, except that in the Series 2 the base V8 scored a cold air intake to give it another 3kW (making a total of 168kW).

Holden has been running the same choice of engines in their new style VT Series 1, but with several alterations - such as twin cat converters, a new cam, roller rockers, better heads and revised sequential fuel injection - power has been bumped up to 179kW. The upcoming VT Series 2 is set of for some highly improved performance thanks to its US based LT1 'Generation 3' 5.7 litre engine. It belts out an impressive 220kW and 446Nm! Featuring a one-piece composite intake system, all-aluminium construction amongst other things it is currently set to set the Australian V8 scene one helluva big shake up!

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In the early/mid-80s it seems Holden were trying to flog a dead (or very near dead) horse. In the '84 onwards VK series Commodores, the old 202cid straight six motor was revamped with electronic spark timing and various other small changes but delivered very limited success. However, an analogue injected version was also released to power the luxury Calais models with a vastly improved 106kW now on tap. Holden engineers at the time knew that they were near the end of what could be reliably extracted from the 202 by way of power and emissions - especially with the impending introduction of unleaded fuel in 1986.

It was Nissan's RB30E and ET engines that saved the next model Commodore, the VL. We've covered these engines in Nissan section of our Engine Epic series - but for interest's sake these were listed at 114 and 150kW respectively.

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In 1988 a more compact and powerful engine was brought into service - the 3.8 litre Buick-based V6. A vast increase in response and torque promoted the new VN Commodore to a new performance level. With a punchy 127kW of power it could rival Ford's engines for the first time. The immense success of this car has lead to the continuation of the 3.8 V6 engine right up until today - albeit with a few mods along the way.

The first set of tweaks came just months into the VN's life span, with a revised ignition system and various small tuning differences that made the engine much more refined. Widespread criticism in regard to engine harshness prompted this swift improvement. The VR model V6 received a new 32k ECU, higher compression (9.0:1, up from 8.4) and some fine tuning to give it a peak power figure of 130kW. It was also considerably more smooth and refined.

The next model, the VS, got an all new ECOTEC engine that featured a new block, heads, manifolds, hot wire airflow meter and improved mapping capable of sequential injector firing.

The result was improved fuel consumption, lighter weight and smoother and quieter operation. That's not surprising considering when you hear ECOTEC stands for Emissions and Consumption Optimisation through TEChnology. The net result of these changes gave a cleaner engine that used less fuel and made another 17kW - a new total of 147kW.

Later in the model run, a non-intercooled supercharged version of the engine also became available in the luxury models. This engine had its compression reduced to 8.4:1 (from 8.5) to accommodate the Eaton M90 blower, which let it push out 165kW.

From the release of the VT Commodore until today, Holden has had two different specification V6 engines on offer. First is the naturally aspirated 3.8 ECOTEC engine making the same 147kW and 304Nm as the VS.

More interestingly, today's blown version of this engine delivers a substantial amount of torque over the entire rev range. It now makes a maximum of 171kW and 375Nm thanks to minor revisions. It is also suggested Holden have deliberately limited this engine's power output so it doesn't interfere with sales of the V8s...

A Four
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Released in Australia in the JE Holden Camira, this 2.0 litre Opel-designed (but manufactured in Australia) motor used a single overhead cam, 2 valves per cylinder, 8.8:1 compression ratio and a 16k AC-Delco engine management system to help it push out its maximum of 85kW. It also had quite strong toque for its day. This Family II engine is still manufactured for overseas markets, with complexions up to 2.2 litres and DOHC.



Mr Henry Ford's first injected performance V8 to grace Australian roads came in the early 90s EB Falcon. Sure, the injected 5.0 V8 did come in the big F150 commercial, but this was only set up as a hi-torque towing engine rather than a high performance engine.

The EB model GT and also the late '90s EL GT both share the title of the most powerful injected V8 ever offered from Ford Australia. These SVO GT40 302s both sport a compression ratio of 9.0:1, EEC4 management and hydraulic lifters to assist them on the way to making 200kW and a generous 420Nm of torque. However the difference is that EB GT pushes this at 5250 and 4000 revs respectively, while the EL is barely ticking over at only 4700 and 3700. So no, the EL GT didn't need to rev really hard to punt itself along...

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However the entry level injected V8 in the EB Fairmnt/XR8 was a fairly tame bit of gear. It used a fairly low static compression ratio, conservative intake and exhaust systems and it made a base Holden V8 equaling 165kW at 4500 rpm with 388Nm at 3000 revs. Ford fans were mortified when the EB GT (and its engine) was dropped from the range so soon, leaving this 165kW engine as the sole V8 FoMoCo representative. Alas, Ford picked up the baton again and released the up-spec'd EB XR8 Sprint. The intake system and exhaust was revamped and power rose to 192kW - enough to power the in excess of 1500kg car down the quarter in 15.08 seconds. The following EF and EL Fords got the same 165kE engine, but unfortunately lost the option of the 192kW Sprint. To make up for it was the aggressive looking EL GT with its low revving 200kW output.

Today Ford retains the big 5.0 V8 to power its optioned up luxury, hi-po cars and now even the humble Falcon ute! It remains essentially the same as previous models except it scores direct fire ignition and makes 10kW more than the previous engine, with its 175kW at 4600 rpm and 395Nm at 3200. The Tickford-tweaked XR8 engine takes it further with a high flowing exhaust system complete with manifolds and improved intake breathing to help give it another 10kW - making a total of 185kW at 5000 rpm and 412Nm at 3500.

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Ford Australia's first injected six was released in the early 80s, and it was built up from the traditional 250ci crossflow engine. On this injected motor, a set of six aluminium intake runners curl back over the valve cover and the head was also revised to help the 4.1 litre donk pump out a maximum of 121kW (as found in the late XF model). The next injected six that became available was the single-point injected 3.9 litre OHC engine from the base model EA Falcon. It made only 120kW at 4250 rpm.

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But thankfully, the more common version of this engine is equipped with a more sophisticated multi-point fuel injection system. With improved flows mainly through the intake, this engine made another 19kW over the throttle body injected engine, and it also made 338Nm of torque at 3500 rpm. A high-spec version of this engine came out in the EB XR6. With improved breathing and compression, the up-spec six made 161kW - just 4 short of the heavier XR8.

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The every-day six fitted to the next model EF Ford then grew slightly from 3949cc to 3984cc - it went from just being a 3.9 to a 4.0. The new Intech engine got some internal mods that bumped up the compression slightly, improved head flows and some accompanying ECU recalibration to increase the base output to a creditable 148kW. The fairly short-lived EL model Ford also had some minor intake and exhaust tinkering done to achieve a maximum of 157kW at 4900 rpm (as in the current base model AU Falcon).

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Today, that same 4.0 engine comes in various forms. The ultimate is the XR6's VCT Tickford enhanced engine (with its red valve cover) that makes an impressive 172kW at 5000 rpm alongside 374Nm at 3500. A less flaming version of the VCT engine can be found in the luxury Ghia range, still with 168kW and 370Nm of torque at the same revs as the hottie. Obviously, the gains of Ford's EEC4 controlled variable inlet cam timing is huge when compared to the conventional engines.

These conventional Intech motors create 157kW at 4900 rpm (with 357Nm), while the Tickford XR6 engine manages to pull 164kW at 5000 rpm and a maximum of 360Nm. This 7kW increase is thanks to a high output head, revised cam and larger intake ports.

Holden and Ford performance motors at a glance...



Base model Holden 5.0


HSV enhanced 5.0s


VL Group A 5.0


VN Group A 5.0


GTS-R/ Senator 5.7


LT1 Generation 3 5.7



Injected 202ci


3.8 litre V6


ECOTECH 3.8 litre V6


Supercharged 3.8 litre V6


A Four

2.0 litre SOHC (Family 2)




Base 5.0




EB XR8 Sprint


Current 5.0


Current Tickford 5.0



Injected 250ci

Up to 121kW

SPFI 3.9 litre OHC


MPFI 3.9 litre OHC


Tickford XR6 4.0


Intech 4.0 OHC


Tickford Intech 4.0




Tickford VVT 4.0


Engine Epic Part 8 - Mitsubishi Engines
Engine Epic Part 7 - Mazda and Honda
Engine Epic Part 6 - Jaguar
Engine Epic Part 4 - Subaru, Daihatsu, Suzuki and Isuzu
Engine Epic Part 3 - BMW
Engine Epic Part 2 - Toyotas
Engine Epic Part 1 - Nissans

In the next Engine Epic is the big Euro cat - Jaguar!

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