White Hot Special

Raise a glass to the Aussie V8

At Cars4starters we are raising a glass of amber fluid in celebration of a true home grown automotive achievement.

It’s the 50th anniversary of the release of Australia’s first, mass-produced locally developed and engineered V8 engine.

I speak of those hallowed numbers: 253 and 308.

They are the cubic inch capacity of the two V8s which Holden commenced developing in 1964.

You see, back then the product planners at Holden noted that in the USA, Chrysler, Ford and GM were shoehorning small capacity V8 engines into their compact cars — Valiant, Falcon and Nova — and sales were booming.

Holden’s forward thinkers reckoned that Chrysler and Ford would also want to insert a small V8 into their local Valiant and Falcon.

In fact they estimated that by 1970, 35 per cent of the local market would be V8 powered.

And so they started to work on a locally designed V8.

Why local?

Well, government mandated local content rules financially rewarded those who built things here, with local labour.

Holden’s engineers went to the GM parts bin and evaluated small V8s from Oldsmobile, Chevrolet and Buick.

By combining the best of each into one unit they developed what became the 253 or 4.2-litre V8.

By increasing the bore they could take it out to 308 cubic inches or 5.0 litres.

The 253 weighed just 37kg more than the Holden “red” six and had plenty of torque and power : just right for towing a caravan or speedboat.

It debuted in May 1969, where it was the centre piece at the release of the HT Holden model.

To convince new car buyers that V8s would be a commonplace in the future, just about very brochure photo and newspaper advertisement for the HT showed the car powered by a V8.

To stimulate V8 sales Holden developed a budget priced “White Hot Special” (WHS) package.

Five thousand 253 equipped WHS HT sedans were built.

They came in just one colour — yep, white.

To emphasise the “ordinariness” of the V8 the WHS had the standard, three-speed column shift manual transmission and disc brakes.

By 1974 the engine had found its way into the mid-sized Torana and created what was essentially an Australian version of the Pontiac GTO.

The 253 and 308 were part of Holden’s engine line up for 31 years achieving commercial and road racing success.

That’s why we are celebrating!

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos.com.au

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