CC Capsule: The Bakkie Is Back

It may not be obvious to readers from outside Australia, but this is not your everyday Holden ute.  Technically it is not even a Holden, but rather a South African market Chevrolet El Camino that has somehow found its way back to Australia.

Holden utes were first exported to South Africa as CKD kits from 1959, and sedans in 1960.  HR model Holden sedans were exported from 1966, and the 161/186 Holden six cylinder engine was substituted for the 194/230 Chevrolet unit from 1967 – which required some extra room be found in the engine bay.

GM in South Africa had two dealer networks, one selling Chevrolet/Oldsmobile/Vauxhall cars and the other Pontiac/Buick/Opel.  As the 1960’s progressed, a combination of local content requirements increasing and the cost of the Canadian-sourced North American cars increasing saw sales drop.  An engine plant was opened in 1965 to increase local content in CKD-assembled cars, and from 1969 the large North American cars were replaced by new Holden-based models, the Kommando, Constantia, De Ville and El Camino.

For a short time Holden-badged cars ran alongside these, but they were soon superceded.  This saw the introduction of a Chevrolet SS – but this one was a hardtop coupe!  There really is nothing new under the sun.

This grille treatment is completely different from the Australian market cars, which is why it is surprising that there are the little add-on reflectors underneath the bumper; I would have thought they could have integrated those better.  The big difference is the orange grill level wrap-around indicators (turn signals), which would not feature on Holdens until 1974.  The original Holden indicators are those under the bumper, which would have made a good location for the white reflectors in addition to what were presumably the parking lights.

Something that is surprising is this 308 V8 badge, because this was the new Holden V8 instead of the 307 Chevrolet it replaced.  I gather that the local content rules that dictated the South African Holdens using Chevrolet 6-cylinder engines instead of the Holden six did not apply to commercial vehicles, but still from a parts supply point of view I would think that introducing a different engine was not economic.

I believe this rear window is an aftermarket item, and it is not something that is really seen in Australia.  Compared with ‘normal’ pickups the much lower height of the passenger car-based ute means it is much less useful.

Looking at the interior, the bench seat looks much more plush than what I would expect to see in a ute.  This may be a South African-assembly thing, but possibly more likely it has been swapped in from another vehicle.  Otherwise things are very basic, apart from the added gauges.  From what I have read about South African Holdens, the column-shifted auto may have been standard, with no manual gearbox available on the 308 V8.

Another difference that really stood out was the full wheel covers, usually on an Australian ute you would see basic dog-dish hub caps, or perhaps (very) slightly more fancy ones, but nothing like these.

Conveniently there was an equivalent HT Holden ute just a short distance away for comparison.  Apart from the different front end, the other interesting thing is the aftermarket mag (aluminium alloy) wheels that have 6 slots instead of the usual 5.

Finally, it was while looking into information for this post that I found GM is pulling out of South Africa completely by the end of 2017, including selling the Port Elizabeth factory, which is also known as Struandale, to Isuzu for the continued production of pickups and commercial vehicles.  They are getting out of selling vehicles completely, not just manufacturing as in Australia; truly the end of an era.