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!