EH S4 Holden History 

Members of the EH Car Club and the EJ-EH Owners and Drivers Club of NSW held a combined club run to Mt Panorama at Bathurst earlier this year. Apart from providing a great day out, it served as a pilgrimage to the world famous motor racing circuit to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Holden’s first serious entry at Bathurst in October 1963.

Cars from the two clubs – predominantly EHs of course – formed up on the starting grid and did several laps of the circuit which, apart from the addition of the chase near the end of Conrod Straight, is the same layout as the first EH encountered in 1963. Members also visited the Mt Panorama Motor Racing Museum located at the track adjacent to Murray’s corner leading on to Pit straight. Apart from video movies and still photography from past years there is also an excellent collection of real and replica racecars especially from the `60s and `70s.

The ‘Great Race’ as it is known today, began as the ‘Armstrong 500’ for stock standard sedans at Philip Island in November 1960. Back then, the race was for locally manufactured or assembled cars only, imports were not eligible. It was held at this circuit for the first three years until changing its venue to Bathurst and its date to the October long weekend for 1963. Whilst one EK was entered in 1961, and a lone EJ for 1962, the old ‘Grey-Motored’ early models couldn’t keep pace with the competition in those years. But 1963 was altogether different, with the new 179 ‘Red-Motored’ EH ‘S4′. The Scuderia Veloce entry of Brian Muir and Spencer Martin was the fastest qualifier for that year (Holden’s first), edging out the more nimble factory team of Cortina GTs. In the early days of the Great Race, cars were classified in groups according to their retail price and were started off the grid in these groups; hence there was no `Pole Position’ or ‘Outright Winner’ as such. The Muir car dropped a tail shaft and eventually finished ninth. However, a private entry at the hands of Morgan and Sachs claimed second.

The EH 225 179M-S4, to give it its official title, was Holden’s first ‘toe in the water’ exercise into production racing. Many myths exist about Holden’s first ‘Sports car’.

There were no disc brakes, wide wheels, suspension mods, multiple carburettors or floor shifts. When the EH series was first released, the previous US ‘Grey Motor’ (or `Sideplater’) was replaced by the new 149ci and 179ci ‘Red Motors’. The larger 179 was available only with GM’s Hydra-Matic automatic. Holden’s 3-speed manual box, basically unchanged from the EJ, wasn’t up to the task. There was, however an upgraded gearbox in the planning stages and the S4 was used to trial the new stronger gearbox. It was still very similar to the old box, having the same ratios and synchromesh only on second and third gears. The clutch was increased in diameter, as was the tail-shaft.

Aside from slight carburettor alterations (to suit the manual drive-train) and the removal of the transmission cooler from the radiator the S4’s engine was standard issue 179. The only other modifications to the cars worthy of note were the upgrading of the brake shoe retaining springs, the enlarging of the fuel tank from 9 to 12 gallons and the addition of a PBR VH24 vacuum booster to the brakes. This would make the EH S4 officially the first Holden with power brakes as standard equipment. A manual version of the 179 was made available across the entire EH range in early 1964 utilising the new `box, clutch and tail-shaft, but without the brake mods and the bigger tank.

One interesting S4 item was the more comprehensive tool kit. This was brought about by one of the Armstrong race rules, which stipulated that all work on the car, for the first half of the race was to be carried out only by the driver and using only the tools provided in the car’s tool kit. This applied whether the car broke down around the track or actually in the pits.

Research into some of these cars has shown that a certain amount of factory ‘blueprinting’ was carried out. Greater than usual care was taken with sizing and assembly of many components. Cylinder heads were chosen for their more even casting in the port and combustion chamber area, so as to have the same size for each cylinder and to be closest to the maximum available compression ratio. Blocks, pistons, conrods and crankshafts were also picked for matching machining, weights and sizes. Suspension components came in for similar treatment, all springs, coils and leaves were chosen at the maximum end of factory tolerance, and front control arms and uprights were precisely measured to attain the desired alignment specs, once again at the required end of the factory tolerance.

GMH only built around 120 S4s, to cover the racing requirement for proof of a minimum of 100 identical vehicles sold and registered to the public, making them reasonably scarce these days. Apart from the six units made in Melbourne, there were exactly 120 S4s manufactured at GMH’s Pagewood plant in Sydney, with sequential engine numbers starting at M14000. The only other identifying numbering is ‘S4’ stamped on the firewall body plate. This stamping alone however does not make an S4. I have found other EHs with S4, S9, and S12 etc stamped on the body plate referring to various option packs suited for taxis, police cars, fleet vehicles, etc. If you are trying to verify the authenticity of an S4 check for all the equipment and all the numbers or better still join an EH car club. Some EH clubs have members with a wealth of knowledge on these cars.

Reprinted from Australian Classic Car Magazine December 2003. Article written by Terry Bebbington