There’s a street not too far from my office in Brisbane’s central business district that consists almost entirely of backpacker hostels, serviced apartments and other traveler-friendly accommodation. Being a local, I never had any reason to mosey down this street until a visiting friend started renting an apartment there. Given the popularity of Jucy and Wicked camper vans throughout Australia, I would have expected this street to consist entirely of tired old Mitsubishi Express and Toyota Hiace vans. I was pleasantly surprised to find I was wrong in that assumption.
Wagons! Lots of wagons! Looking rather dwarfed by its compatriots, the Holden Camira wagon was the one that initially caught my eye. The first time I came to this street, I snapped a couple of photos of Australia’s J-Body but the setting sun sabotaged my photos. When I went back to re-shoot, there were more wagons but fortunately this little Holden was still there. At the time, this wasn’t little: the Camira was Holden’s mid-sized offering, slotting below the Commodore but above Holden’s small car (depending on the year, the Nissan Pulsar-based Astra or Isuzu-based Gemini or both).
The mail-slot grille indicates this is a JE, the last in a line of Camira models that started in 1982. The JE revision of 1987 brought with it a fuel-injected 2.0 four-cylinder, the Family II, which was the Camira’s most powerful engine yet with 114 hp and 130 ft-lbs. The Camira had always been one of the best-driving cars in its segment and received critical acclaim upon its launch. However, various reliability and build quality issues sullied its reputation somewhat. By the time of the JE’s launch, the Camira had been pretty well sorted. For whatever reason, though, GM decided to go in multiple different directions for its J-Car replacements: GM Europe engineered a new platform for its Opel Vectra/Vauxhall Cavalier, GM North America stuck with a revised version of the existing platform, and General Motors-Holden dropped the Camira for a rebadged version of the locally-built Toyota Camry, the Apollo.
Given the shared wagon bodyshell and despite the unfamiliar name, the Camira probably looks familiar to our North American readers. This red wagon may not. It is a 1986-90 Nissan Pintara, a locally-built, four-cylinder version of the R31 Skyline, and it’s a model I intend to cover in more detail at a later date as it’s a rather curious Australian anomaly. Nissan had enjoyed such success with its simple, rear-wheel-drive Bluebird (related to the 810 Maxima) over the years that they offered both this four-cylinder Pintara and the six-cylinder Skyline, the latter ostensibly Nissan’s rival for the Falcon and Commodore.
The Pintara was priced similarly to and targeted at the Camira, despite the Nissan obviously appearing quite larger. The Pintara was also heavier and slightly less powerful. The main distinguishing factor between the two like-priced wagons? One was front-wheel-drive, the other rear-wheel-drive. The least distinguished aspect of the Pintara? Its stodgy, boxy styling.
The Ford AU Falcon has been featured on here quite recently and is the newest of this fleet. However, even though the AU was quite a comprehensive revision of the Falcon platform, the wagons still retained a live rear axle with leaf springs much like the 1994-96 EF Falcon wagon next to it. This AU wagon may be newer than the others, but it is very much at beater status. The wheels are from a Falcon Futura, but the grille is from a Falcon Forte. The paint has faded quite badly, as Ford Australia’s choice of paints in the late 1990s and early 2000s was lousy and many Falcons of this time have faded like this. These are all just cosmetic issues, though: these Falcon wagons were used and abused and it’s not uncommon to see some for sale with 200-250,000 miles on the odometer and still ticking. In fact, I’m a little surprised to not see an ex-taxi amongst these wagons: bought by those with the least amount of money to spend, you can generally tell an ex-taxi by the white or bright orange paint and the taxi company decals that have been removed in a half-assed manner.
The EF Falcon was the first major visual revision of the 1988 EA bodyshell. Much like the American Taurus, wagons were little changed aft of the A-pillars. Also much like American Fords, a lot of these Aussie Fords of the 1990s were painted in turquoise. Well, it was trendy at the time. You’ll also notice the paint has held up a lot better than that of the newer AU wagon.
Clearly, these wagons are proving to be dependable and practical transportation for travelers while offering better gas mileage and probably better ride quality than their contemporary SUV counterparts. Was it this blend of attributes that caused them to be selected by these young adventurers? Or was it simply because these are cheaper to purchase than SUVs of their eras? Sadly, the answer is probably the latter. At least these cheap wagons will educate their drivers on how compelling a well-sorted station wagon can be. Unless these travelers are from Europe and they already knew!
Curbside Classic: 1983 Chevrolet Cavalier Wagon
Curbside Classic: Holden Camira
Cohort Classic: 1987 Nissan Maxima Wagon
Today in the morning while driving uptown>>downtown with an ’88 Poncho Le Mans (before I opened this CC newsletter) I was thinking about…a same kinda Holden Camira.
Driving a korean-american-kiwi car in Europe while thinking about an aussie-kiwi-british estate wagon…which a few hours later greets me here. What a nice coincidence… 🙂
The Camira looks like an 82-86 Cavalier with a 90’s nose… What an oddball.
The Pintara, I know all about… My cousin in the Philippines had an 87 Pintara and an 82 Bluebird SSS. Both cars drove great and had quick acceleration.
No idea, if he still has either car. That was back around 1997.
Delete the Suzuki in the first picture and I am thrown back to my visits to Australia in the mid-80s. I am amazed you still have such vehicles on the road in everyday use (which have all but disappeared in Europe and even in Israel (if you discount Palestine)) but then your weather is kinder than most.
Every now and then when I’m on Craigslist I look at what is available in the wagon body style. I found an 86 full-sized LTD (but not a Country Squire) a few weeks ago that would have fit in well among the wagons here….but for it’s huge size.
Unfortunately, in this area (and others?) older wagons are disappearing. Locally, there are a couple of 90s Caprice and Roadmaster wagons and last week I was passed on the street by an early 80s Fairmont Futura for sale. But aside from HHRs and PT Cruisers….that’s it.
I feel like I see a fair amount of Taurus wagons and 1st-gen Focus wagons, plus of course quite a lot of Volvo wagons of all types. 245, 745, 945, 855, V70, you name it. The big GM b-body wagons aren’t extinct but they’re getting uncommon. That’s about it other than the odd German luxo-wagon and legions of Subaru Outbacks.
That green Falcon is interesting! Here in Brazil Ford never was well accepted because that “rounded design fever” in the 90’s, Taurus and Mondeo lost most of its public due to the design, specially the Taurus catfish if compared to the previous model, which was very popular in its segment.
I wonder if it Ford brought this Falcon to replace that Taurus… That Falcon would fit perfectly to the Brazilian standards of a nice Ford at that time. GM – Brazil already started to import the Holden Calais from Australia, it wouldn’t be a big problem to Ford to do the same.
Lots of Volvo wagons here on CL also…a few big GMs and Fords, more Escorts than big Fords, and the occasional crappy old J-body wagon…there was an early 80s Cavalier wagon recently…low miles, CLEAN base model cloth interior but lots and lots of body rust.
Very familiar old dungas in that street 20 years ago they would have been all 70s Falcons Holdens and Valiants all end of life cars doing one more lap of Aussie, Those old Falcons will run forever especially if they are registered where there are no inspections the just keep on keeping on, I rented a Camira wagon that model with auto trans, awful car underpowered and tedious to drive, the Pintara I wouldnt drive again as a gift they are as awful as the Bluebird that preceded them and values plummeted rapidly from new sending them to dunga status very early in life, the corresponding Ford Corsair was equally bad then suddenly Nissan folded their tent and ran back to Japan due to disintegrating sales.
The Ford Falcon station wagon is The official car of backpackers and remote blackfella communities. And for good reason too, virtually bulletproof, a ready supply of cheap parts and the ability to take punishment that would instantly kill normal cars. Throw in plenty of room for 5 and their luggage, ability to cruise all day at speed and plenty of sheet metal in front for cleaning up the local wildlife.
I’d take the Camira over the Pintara and either over the boring AU. Twin spark Pintara was like the Starfire Corona and Commodores mentioned today, 6 cylinder car with a 4 cylinder engine; ssllooww. Styling of Pintara/Skyline of the time, inside and out, seemed dated. I wasn’t impressed with the build quality either. AU easily the best car out of those three, but just so dreary 🙁
I’m not up on my mid 80’s to late 90’s Nissans as they rusted away quickly up here in the rust belt. I looked at the first picture and thought why does he call a HB Pulsar(?) a wagon? Then from the side I see it as a 5 door pulsar they’ve added a foot after the rear wheel without changing the rear hatch.
I couldn’t believe the styling of those Pintaras and Skylines when they came out – just so old-fashioned. Generic Nissan, but so square! Were they going after the Volvo market? And the engine was no ball of fire in the smaller Bluebird; in the Skyline body it really struggled. Wonder if it would have done better with the RB20 two litre six instead?
The Camira always seemed to me like a more of a Gemini replacement. It looked so much smaller than the ‘medium-size’ two-litre cars it was supposedly aimed at and only came with a 1.6 initially which reinforced the ‘small car’ idea. By the time it did get a two litre, nobody was paying attention.
Yes, the R31 styling was incredibly old-fashioned. We didn’t get the Pintara versions here (Kiwis adapted well to the FWD Bluebird) but we did get the RB30 Skyline. My late Uncle bought one (a Ti) new in early 1987, it replaced his 1982 Audi 200T, and as a 13-year-old I was puzzled – surely a newer car should look newer?! I was quite conflicted about Uncle Bill’s R31, the exterior was so square and so dull (without even the hot-plate tail-lights of the JDM models), and not overly well made. It was a very pretty blue colour though. The interior was just as square as the exterior, with the exception of the loose-pillow bordello-esque seats which were super-soft and didn’t match the rest of the car at all. The JDM R31 GT Passage hardtop showed that it was possible to make an R31 look half-decent; such a shame that the Pintara/Skyline didn’t…
RB20 Commodores go ok, another model that was NZ only.