Curbside Classics: The EJ (1962-3) and EH (1963-5) Holdens – The Aussie 1954 and 1955 Chevrolets

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Meet the EJ Holden Standard, spotted here in the wilds of Richmond, an inner suburb of Melbourne, Australia. Not a rare car, but not too common either, the EJ was the first entry of an extraordinary double act aimed at belatedly dragging the brand into the 1960s.

The second entry was the EJ’s replacement, the EH model. The EH became an instant classic, reducing the proud EJ to a forgotten footnote of Holden history. Until now that is.

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The EJ was a revelation when it was released in July 1962. The model it replaced, the EK, was very old fashioned by then – even in its time it looked like a pocket parody of various mid-1950s Chevrolets.

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The EJ featured a wrap around rear window with just a hint of the cantilevered rear roofline seen on some of its American cousins. As for the rear clip, to me it looks as though it was originally based on the 1958 Chevrolet, but the designers changed their minds and smoothed it over to disguise the fact. It seems the droopy, nondescript result didn’t overly detract from the overall effect, as road testers of the day had nothing but praise for the new shape.

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There were no obvious mechanical changes. As it turned out, it was the last model to have the ‘grey’ engine that had powered Holdens since the 48/215 in 1948. The grey engine was originally of 132 ci, but enlarged to 138 ci in 1960. (The example in the photo appears to have been repainted.) The EJ came with a three on the column or a revised version of the ‘Hydramatic’ introduced with the EK. Some thought was given to safety, as the EJ had duo-servo brakes, foam padding on the edge of the dash, and seat belt anchorages.

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The EJ was available in the usual four Holden body styles: Four door sedan, wagon, ute and panel van. The wagons once again had their own rear doors (they were the same as the sedan on the earlier FB/EK wagon), allowing for a nice, clean design – in my opinion the EJ wagon is a much better looking vehicle than the sedan.

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The EJ came in three trim levels: ‘Standard’, ‘Special’ and the new ‘Premier’. All body styles were available in the hose-out ‘Standard’ trim (as with our featured car). The wagon and sedan could also be had as a ‘Special’ (and most were), but the Premier was sedan-only.

The ‘Premier’ came with standard auto, metallic paint, leather seats (buckets up front), lots of chrome and all the doo-dads General Motors Holdens (GMH) could muster. It even had (thin) whitewalls, a feature that never quite found a place in the Australian motoring landscape. The ‘Premier’ was to remain the flagship standard-wheelbase Holden in subsequent models until the end of the 1970s.

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The metallic paint of the Premier extended to the dash as well as much of the interior. These days of course the idea of painted steel is not the stuff of luxury, but I think a metallic green painted dash in an early Premier looks quite the part (especially with a snazzy white steering wheel and shifter knob). This little touch of Hollywood contrasts with the corresponding expanse of depressing dark grey in the cheaper models – I can recall that EJ/EH Holden smell just thinking about it. Note the shaped, foam padding along the edge of the dash.

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The EJ Holden dominated the market in its day, as did earlier Holdens, and over 150,000 were produced in about 12 months – indeed, the 1,000,000th Holden was an EJ. But time has not been kind to them. Largely forgotten, they’ve never had a great following.

And for that you can blame the EH.

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The EH is the classic early Holden. Introduced in August 1963, it has the same body as the EJ, but (to Aussie eyes) tidied up to perfection, with squared-off lines replacing the EJ’s nebulous rump and flanks, and a wider, straight-sided C pillar (perhaps in response to the XL Falcon – is the EH yet another car influenced by the Thunderbird?). The EH was replaced by the HD in January 1965.

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The changes to the front are probably not that obvious to the uninitiated – mainly just a new bonnet (hood), grille and trim; more a case of tidying up the rough edges than anything significant.

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But the rest is clear enough. (This DD example seems to be undergoing some ongoing repairs to the bootlid)

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In line with normal GMH practice, the EH ute and van received the updated front but made do with the hand me down rear styling of the EJ. GMH usually made each major body design last for two or three models (in this case the EJ and EH), with a nip and tuck along the way. But they were loathe to spend on the vans and utes. (I think the EJ rear suits the commercials anyway, especially the flamboyant, almost gothic looking, panel van.)

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The styling alone would have endeared the EH to posterity, but that was only half the story, as it came with the long-awaited new engine. Of similar layout to the contemporary Chevrolet six, the first ‘red’ engines were available in 149 and 179 ci (about 2.5 and 3 litre) capacities. The smaller one boosted power by about a third over the grey engine, the larger by more than half.

It’s just a shame GMH didn’t see fit to increase the available braking power – which wasn’t too generous to begin with – to match the increased engine power. (I believe many survivors have been fitted with the front suspension crossmember from the later HR model, with disc brakes and ball joints.) Anyway, that little detail wasn’t sufficient to prevent the EH selling at an even greater rate than the EJ, and for a longer time. Over a quarter of a million were sold in 18 months, in a country with a population of just over 11 million.

With styling to suit Aussie tastes, plenty of power, and a package of just the right size (2690mm/106” wheelbase, weight around 1120kg/2500lb), the EH Holden became a legend. The EH could be compared to the 1955 Chevrolet, which time has also shown to have the right combination of size, styling and power. The 1954 model may have been popular enough in its day, and it no doubt still has its following, but its the ’55 that gets the glory.

And so it is with the EH, the old Holden that never quite disappeared from Australian roads. Although not as common as they once were, these 50 year old cars remain an everyday sight in Australian cities, seldom attracting a second glance.