BMW M-powered FJ Holden Special sedan

This all-Aussie icon gets some high-tech German performance

Photographers: Tony Rabbitte

It’s the dying hours at a show and a few punters are waiting for the trophy presentation. Then a two-tone blue FJ sedan cruises in. A bit of controversy breaks out as to what’s powering this beast. “Lumpy red motor,” offers one bloke.

The owner lifts the bonnet. It’s a BMW donk!

First published in the December 2004 issue of Street Machine

Humpy Holdens have been powered by all manner of engines — grey motors, red sixes, just about every V8 brand. There was even one with an Allison aircraft engine. But European drivelines are new.

Bob Hamilton is a 55-year-old rev head with a difference. He’s the managing director of a food company which specialises in spices and his 1956 FJ Special has more German spice than you could poke a sauerkraut at. This humpy served as a taxi from 1957-’62, racking up 300,000 miles before going private. Bob bought it for $125 in 1974, as an unfinished project, and returned it to factory Grotto Blue over Breton Blue. The grey motor stayed in service until 1985 when the car got a revamp, with power from a hot 179 bored out to 197ci backed by an Opel four-speed, and HR front and rear ends. Bob even painted his red motor grey and fitted a grey tappet cover, just to confuse the viewers.

For the new millennium, a quick measure of a BMW in-line six and a phone call to light vehicle inspector John Kean gave the project the green light.

A burnt-out 1999 BMW M3 Coupe donated its EVO 3.2-litre, injected, inline six that’s now rated at 398bhp. This was delivered to Graeme Bevis at Street Rod Solutions with the tired Humpy and the instruction: “I want the car to look as original as possible but corner, stop and go like no other FJ.”

So where’s the power from? The inlet venturis and Bosch injection are standard BMW M3. Premium unleaded is drawn from a deepened FJ-style tank by a BMW in-tank high performance pump. This is delivered via six 50mm throttle bodies, which suck air through a K&N high-flow filter from a cold air intake fabricated by Bevis to look like a factory GM installation.

A twin cam, cross-flow aluminium head packs four valves per cylinder and each cylinder has its own ignition coil above a platinum spark plug. A MoTeC M800 ECU manages the sparks. Handcrafted extractors, five mufflers and twin cats expel the spent gases. Keeping the mill cool is a BMW 328 radiator with a full-flow oil cooler behind the stock FJ grille.

Cog swapping is via a Getrag Schmehl six-speed from a 1998 model, also burnt out. The BMW shifter has been shortened to suit the FJ. Clutch and heavy-duty pressure plate are BMW with Kevlar lining and heavier springs. One-off items include a telescopic tailshaft and adaptor to marry the transmission flange to the shortened V8 Commodore Borg Warner 4:11 LSD rear-end.

The car still uses the HR Holden front but it’s been upgraded with a shortened VB Commodore rack and pinion. A collapsible VK steering column replaces the old ‘lung skewer’ as Bob called it but the original FJ tiller remains and is now pearl grey.

Up front, 318mm BMW discs and calipers mount on custom hubs. These, and the Commodore rears, are activated by a VK Commodore master cylinder split system and pendulum pedal set-up. Koni adjustable shocks and custom springs keep rubber on tarmac.

The wheels and tyres suggest the FJ’s built for cornering, with Michelin Pilot tyres wrapped around BMW Motorsports alloy rims. Lap times around Qld Raceway are respectable 1:25s. The quarters aren’t shabby either, with a 13.5@101mph.

Dawson Automotive Refinishers handled the body. The front wheel arches were altered 25mm and the car was stripped to its birthday suit. After sorting imperfections and rust it was re-sprayed in factory livery, using German Glasurit two-pack.

Inside the Humpy, the front bench has made way for two Recaros re-trimmed in two-tone grey vinyl to mimic the rest of original-style interior. Schroth three-point harnesses help Bob keep his place. Keeping tabs of the upgraded driveline are classic Smiths gauges, upgraded to digital function but still reading analogue style. The rare Smiths analogue tacho has been converted with digital components by Otto Automotive instruments and has a rev range out to ten grand — the BMW redlines at 9000rpm!

Next up, Bob says the wife’s HT Monaro is getting some updates but that’s under wraps for now.

Quarter pounders

Remember the days when sex was safe and drag racing was dangerous? The weapon of choice back then was the Humpy Holden — apart from being iconic they were light, plentiful and cheap.

One of the oldest survivors of these early strip warriors is Captain Nitrous, formerly known as Mr Terrific. It was built for class racing in 1967. Later, with Rob Sloan at the helm, it established (and still holds) the national record for the old GMP class at a scorching 15.13-seconds!

Bob’s owned Captain Nitrous since 1981. Mates persuaded him to retain the period-perfect look with its 60s lace paintwork and sign writing.

So how does 300hp from an old grey motor sound? It’s been achieved by Bob’s own design multistage nitrous injection system — good for 12s over the quarter. Aside from the four-speed box, diff and bucket seats this is as full bodied as it gets — the car still has all its original trim and steel bits like panels, suspension and motor!

With the aid of original crew Lindsay Wilson and Geoff Park, Bob has decided to run the side plate one last time for all those who missed the 12-second pass. Wait and see if the old girl still has it.

Bob Hamilton
1956 FJ Holden special sedan

Colour:Glasurit Grotto Blue/Breton Blue
Engine:1999 BMW 3.2-litre, inline six
Head:Twin cam, cross-flow, aluminium, four valves per cylinder
Induction:6x50mm throttle bodies drawing cold air from custom airbox
ECU:MoTeC M800
Ignition:Distributor-less, one coil per cylinder
Exhaust:Hand-made extractors, dual cats
Gearbox:Getrag Schmehl six-speed
Tailshaft:Fabricated, telescopic
Diff:V8 Borg Warner LSD, 4:11
Suspension:HR Holden, custom springs and sway bar (f); leaf spring (r)
Brakes:318mm BMW M3 rotors, custom hubs and adaptors (f); V8 Commodore discs (r)
Shocks:Koni adjustable all ’round
Wheels:Alloy BMW Motorsports, 17×7.5 (f), 17×8.5 (r)
Tyres:Michelin Pilot 225/45/17 (f), 245/40/17 (r)
Seats:Recaro, re-trimmed in two-tone grey vinyl with Schroth three-point harnesses (f)
Instruments:Smiths analogue converted to digital function
Wheel:Stock, pearled FJ
Sound:Alpine CD unit, four three-way speakers

Graeme Bevis, John Kean, John Dawson, Greg Sommerville, Ron Linortner, Lindsay Wilson, CNJ Motorsports and my wife, Terry.