(first posted 4/28/2016) There’s an interesting progression with Australian station wagons as they age. When new, they are unassuming family transport or handy fleet vehicles. After a decade or so, they are passed down to thrifty family buyers or retained by aging, pragmatic drivers because of their hauling and towing abilities. Another decade passes and many have fallen further down the socio-economic food chain and are looking rough. After another decade, most of the station wagons that still exist are lovingly restored.
Minivans never quite had their moment in the sun in Australia as they did in Europe and North America, but the Toyota Tarago (Previa) was a desirable if expensive people carrier in the 1990s. Will remaining examples in 20 years’ time be restored to as fine a condition as this Chrysler Valiant? How about today’s enormously popular crossovers, like the Australian-built and engineered Ford Territory?
While the original 1962 Chrysler Valiant was largely identical to the American market Plymouth Valiant, by the 1970s the two lines had deviated. The American Valiant and Dart sedans retained their straight-edged, dated styling while the 1971 Chrysler Valiant VH received handsome, new “fuselage” sheetmetal; a racy coupe version was also launched, wearing the Charger nameplate. It may have only grown a handful of inches in various dimensions, but the VH Valiant looked like a much larger, more imposing car. Even the wagon received a makeover, now looking much like the larger North American-market Dodge Coronet and Plymouth Satellite wagons. Dodge and Plymouth had dropped their compact wagons in 1966 and they wouldn’t re-enter the segment until the 1976 F-Body twins.
This Valiant would appear to be a 1976-78 CL or 1978-81 CM. By this point, Chrysler Australia was suffering from sliding sales and a lack of development money and was reduced to making only minor visual tweaks to keep the Val fresh. Although the death warrant had not yet been signed for big Aussie sixes and V8s, the late 1970s saw a considerable rise in sales of compact, four-cylinder sedans and wagons. Chrysler’s Simca-based Centura was a short-lived failure and the struggles of Chrysler Australia’s corporate parent meant the Valiant would finally croak in 1981, its lack of meaningful updates making it look like a relic next to the crisply-styled new Falcon and European-sized Holden Commodore.
A Ford fan lives at this house, clearly. This was the only time I have ever seen this 1976-79 XC Fairmont wagon on the street as it is usually parked on the driveway next to that XC sedan. Like Chrysler Australia’s Valiant, the Falcon was derived from an American car – the Falcon, of course – but increasing Australian engineering input eventually led to the US Falcon and Aussie Falcon going in two very different directions: the Aussie Falcon survived while the US Falcon died. Well, the Falcon’s platform lived on in North America under the cheapo Maverick compact. The 1972 XA Falcon was extensively redesigned with rounded, Torino-esque styling and a new hardtop coupe that has become a classic. The Falcon was Ford Australia’s core model and by far their biggest seller.
The Falcon range encompassed the aforementioned hardtop coupe, sedans, utes, panel vans and wagons, while the platform was also stretched to make the Fairlane and LTD luxury sedans. “Fairmont” was the name used for the highest-spec versions of the coupe, sedan and wagon, slotting in under the Fairlane and LTD in price and prestige. By the time the XC hit showrooms, Ford had axed its Falcon GT sedan and coupe. The Fairmont line was expanded to include a new GXL sedan, somewhat of an executive express with subtle styling, an automatic transmission and sport suspension. Despite minor visual tweaks like rectangular headlights on the Fairmont models, the XC was looking a tad dated. For 1979, it would be replaced by the crisp, rectilinear XD-series – looking awfully like the new European Granada – but under its fresh, new sheetmetal remained very familiar mechanicals.
But it was General Motors-Holden that reigned supreme during the 1970s (before the Falcon stole the #1 sales position in the subsequent decade). The venetian blinds in the side windows of this Kingswood wagon are an interesting touch. Whatever happened to these blinds, or those once-ubiquitous rear window louvers?
Come back! Alas, I couldn’t get a good shot of this Holden as it sped off but it’s clear even from these pictures that it is mint condition. This particular wagon sheetmetal was offered from the 1971 HQ until the 1977-80 HZ, and as wagon sheetmetal is revised far less frequently than sedans (and because the car was taking off from a red light), I can’t quite pin down the year of this. Holden wagons were offered, in most years, as a base Belmont, mid-range Kingswood or top-spec Premier. It’s the Kingswood name that is most remembered, however. It seems everyone had one and they were so ubiquitous and so iconic, they even inspired the name of a popular TV series.
It’s wonderful to see enthusiasts keep these old station wagons, such important parts of Australian automotive history, in excellent condition. I hope in 40 years’ time, I will spot a 2010 Holden VE Commodore Sportwagon or a Ford Territory – heck, even a Toyota Tarago – and smile warmly at the thought that someone has cherished a car that was once such a fixture on our roads and in our families.