Car Show Classic: 2017 Motorclassica – A Hall Of Holden History

As was fitting with the imminent closure of Holden’s Elizabeth factory (Adelaide, South Australia), Holden was one of the featured marques at Motorclassica 2017, and there was a reasonably comprehensive range of models on show to give an overview of the first half of Holden history.  Now in a somewhat unusual move, let’s start before the start…

By which I mean this car was built before the November 1948 start of production.  This is the first of two prototypes built in Australia in 1947, following the original 3 cars built in Detroit in 1946.  I can only assume that everything went to plan and there weren’t any significant redesigns required, with such a small number!

This car was sold to a GM-H employee in 1951, and a private owner in 1953, and then was owned by the Campbells Motors dealership in Preston, Melbourne for about 20 years before being sold to the York Motor Museum near Perth, WA where it spent over 30 years.  The current owner has done some light restoration work in the last 4 years.  Cars were simpler then – just a single tail lamp and a pair of tiny reflectors back here!

Here is a closer view, including the nicely fluted boot opening handle.

The front is quite simple too – the lack of badging is explained by the prototype status, while there have been some tiny turn signals added under the bumper.  It was about 1950 when turn signals, or indicators as they are called in Australia, became required equipment.  Otherwise the grille is very similar to the final product.

Here is the interior, in woollen cloth in those pre-plastic (vinyl) days.  The production cars were not much different to this, with just the bare minimum of instrumentation in the binnacle behind the steering wheel.

The first model 48-215 Holden itself wasn’t represented, but there were a pair of the 1953 facelift FJ model.  I don’t think it will surprise anyone that the second body style offered was the ute!  This had debuted in 1950, and proving as popular as the sedans.  The FJ grille consisted of fewer pieces than the 48-215’s and was much cheaper to produce.  Holden couldn’t afford to build the station wagon however; not necessarily from a financial point of view, but the main issue was the production lines were flat out!

The styling showcases GM’s ability to turn out beautifully sculpted cars when they were on their game, just look at the way the body line sweeps smoothly from the very front of the bonnet to the sides of the bed at the rear, thanks to some careful curvature of the top corner of the door panel.  Just fantastic.

If you thought the sedan rear end was simple, the ute is almost completely blank sheetmetal.  There is a tail light hiding under the tailgate next to the number plate, plus perhaps the most minimal bumpers you will ever see.  The closer one is slightly difficult to see against the aftermarket chrome exhaust pipe finisher.  But it does have a Holden badge!  Again the indicators are later additions.

Here is a closer look at the rear of the wagon.  Holden built just a prototype, but simply didn’t have the production capacity to build it, because they could not meet demand for their existing range.  Hence there were only about 20 wagons built by S.H. Cordell body builders in south-east Melbourne and a few others.

After the restrospectively-nicknamed “Humpy” Holdens, the next generation appeared in 1956, in time for the Olympic Games in Melbourne.  Styling of the FC model was somewhat reminiscent of the 1955 Chevrolet; one significant difference is the lack of wraparound windscreen as well as the taller body.  This is the 1958 FC facelift that added some better styled front indicators (turn signals), replacing the previous plain round units, and better availability of two-tone paint schemes, a signature of the Special trim level.

At the rear you can see that Holden took a conservative approach to the tail fins that reflects the early-1950s start of development, and then decided to add on some chrome fins rather than invest in new quarter panel stamping tools.  It didn’t hold them back much – in 1958 Holden took over half the total Australian car market, with just the one model!

The two-tone interior would make you feel Special too.  The size of the Holden was set around a 6-passenger cabin, and the evolution of the car for Australia shows in things like the cowl around the instrument cluster to reduce sun glare.

Continuing the theme of having the facelift of each era Holden, this one is a 1961 EK model Special which replaced the FB model of 1960.  There is a definite 1957 Chevrolet vibe to this one, which is neat but really gave the opening for the Ford Falcon and Chrysler Valiant.  Longer, lower, wider; well two out of three ain’t bad!  Width was unchanged; height was down by a whole inch (to 5 feet even), while length was up 5.5″ thanks to those sharp fins.

Inside we see an evolution of the species.  My great-grandmother owned one of these, and drove it until she was 90.  I don’t think I ever rode in it, just saw it through the garage window when we visited.

As you may have expected, the engine bay is pretty sparse.  Again things were pretty simple then, for an example I’d expect the whole wiring diagram is on one page, rather than a page per system as on even 1980s cars.  This was the second-last model to feature the original ‘grey’ motor, by now up to 138 ci (2.3L) from the original 132 ci (2.2L).  By now its modest 75 bhp was another opening for the Valiant (which only came with the 225 here), and even the Falcon’s 144.

The EH model of 1963 was the second of this bodystyle, after the EJ the previous year.  The white roof of the Special was a popular feature in those pre-air conditioning days, although it was no longer the top trim level; that was the Premier which had been introduced with the EJ.

The main stying change of the EH was at the rear, where a new more integrated tail light featured, really cleaning up the styling.  Clearly this was appreciated, with the EH selling more cars in a year than any other before or since.

The squared-off styling gave Holden a significant advantage over the Falcon or Valiant; the boot space is excellent, and no doubt triggered responses from Ford and Chrysler.

Here is the typical 1960s dashboard, with some additional gauges added as well as some of the period accessories.  Newer seat belts have been added too.

Here is the ‘red motor’, the larger option available at 179 ci (2.9L, the base engine was 149 ci or 2.4L), although this example is 208 ci which represents an overbore on the later 202 ci version.  The brake booster would have been added when this car had later HR front disc brakes installed.

The HD model debuted in February 1965, and the new body introduced curved side windows for better interior space, but it was controversial due to the ‘kidney slicer’ front guards (fenders).  There were 178,927 HD Holdens built in 14 months, so while the HD is regarded as a dud it only represented a minor hiccup in terms of sales.

The interior has some pretty nice leather upholstery, making a comeback to replace vinyl.  Perhaps the novelty of the new wonder material wore off, and people realised that the early iterations of vinyl weren’t that great.

Styling was influenced by other GM cars including the Opel Rekord, and more modern than the EH.  This car has been extraordinarily well preserved with just 13,000 miles on the clock.  It even has the original tyres!

The 1968 HK Holden could probably be described as the first all-new car since 1948, with everything changed.  The car was significantly larger (5” longer wheelbase) to follow the 1966 Falcon, and it had larger engines including the first V8’s.

I don’t know the interior appears larger than the earlier cars, but it should!  Look at the extra width allocated to the middle passenger in the front seat.  The transmission tunnel is bigger too, but every effort has been made to preserve legroom.  That is to say, dashboards have changed a great deal in 50 years!  Can you even buy a car these days with no centre console whatsoever?  With just a radio (AM), heater, headlights and wipers this car probably still has fewer controls than a modern one where most stuff is accessed via a touch screen!  And it is almost the highest trim level too, surpassed only by the Brougham (of the 7” extended trunk).

Speaking of trunk, it is still fairly commodious although there has been substantial changes to the layout of the fuel tank and spare tyre compared to the EH where both items were under the floor.  I’m not sure if the esky (cooler, or chilly bin if you are from NZ) was made by Holden, but I do recognise those anodised aluminium cups as our family had the same type for car trips and picnics.

The HK model debuting with a 307 Chevrolet V8 because Holden’s new V8 was not ready in time.  The story goes that Holden wanted to build their own V8 and the project started without official permission from head office.  It was justified on the basis that the small block Chevrolet would not fit in the Holden engine bay.  That might have been true for the earlier cars (although plenty of Chev engines have subsequently found their way in), but not the larger HK Holden.

For some reason Holden used the metric engine capacity for the 307 ci V8 only; they would not make the permanent change until 1978-79.  Other engine options were the 161 and 186 ci inline sixes and the 327 ci if you bought a Monaro GTS.

Speaking of Monaros, this is the 1970 HG facelift, which had the new Trimatic automatic transmission.  I think that is the most remarkable point about a fairly routine update.

The Monaro GTS was a better update than most though, thanks to the pressure of racing at Bathurst each October.  To stay ahead of Ford, the engine was bumped to a 350 rated at 300 hp (with the 4-sp manual at least).  It did not work, and marked the Monaro’s last appearance at Bathurst in this era.

There is no denying it is a pretty attractive vehicle though!

For a change of pace, there was another 1970 Holden at the show – an LC model Torana GTR.  This was Holden’s most serious attempt at a smaller car after earlier importing the Vauxhall Viva and then building the locally, with their own changes such as a four-door body and adding the Torana name.  Torana means ‘to fly’ in one of the Aboriginal languages.  The LC model of 1969 had a stretched nose to fit the local six-cylinder engine.  To provide a cheaper entry into the sporty/muscle car field Holden added a carburettor and other tuning tricks to produce the GTR.

The interior adopted the hounds-tooth trim from big brother Monaro and things like a console for the floor-mounted shifter for the four-speed gearbox.  Note the AM radio has the stations marked, instead of just the frequencies, which are grouped on rows by state.

With a fair degree of local input, it is only natural that the Torana’s styling was at home in a showroom next to the Monaro even if it was not a hardtop.  Unlike the Monaro, it was the entry-level body style.

I think this is a good place to stop – you can see the other cars in the post from the Tour Classica that ran before the show started, the HQ series onwards have had a reasonable amount of coverage, and the Torana deserves its own story.  Having said that, Holden did send along the first example of each generation of Commodore to roll off the production lines, so I will do a post on those plus another on the pre-Holden Holden-built GM cars.


Further Reading

Cohort Sighting: 1953 Holden FJ Ute – In Memoriam

Curbside Classic: 1956-58 Holden FE Special Sedan – The More Australian Car

Curbside Classic: Holden EK (1961-1962)

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

Curbside Classic: Holden HR Ute – It’s A Beaut

Curbside Classic: Holden HG Monaro GTS – Heavy Metal on the Grassy Plain