(first posted 1/18/2013) In the rich history of the Australian automotive industry, few cars have offered so much hope–and have provided so much disappointment–as GM’s ill-fated Australian J-car adaptation, the Holden Camira. The first compact front-wheel-drive Holden, the Camira premiered in 1982 at the same time as its platform mates in the U.S. (Cavalier, etc.) and Europe. Where the Camira differed, however, was in its conservative, mini-me Commodore styling and considerably smaller model range. But that was hardly the full extent of its shortcomings.
The first Camira, dubbed the JB (Australia has always used these alphabetical model codes rather than a model year), came only as a sedan with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and either a four-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission. A wagon, but no new engines, followed in 1983. The Camira was marketed as Holden’s mid-size model, despite its compact status in the U.S. and the Commodore being a considerably smaller “full-size” Holden than previous Kingswoods and Premiers.
The Camira arrived to rave reviews. Wheels, Australia’s most-read car magazine, proclaimed it their Car of the Year for 1982. The compact Holden’s enjoyable handling and fine road manners, as well as its space-efficiency, were singled out for praise. The 1.6-liter “Family II” engine met criticism from many reviewers, but ultimately not enough to sink its COTY chances.
For a country brought up on relatively torquey six-cylinder engines in larger cars (and even the RWD Torana, which the Camira replaced), the revvy, 86 hp four was a different animal. However, for all the criticism leveled at the engine, the performance surpassed that of the 1.9-liter “Starfire” four in the VC Commodore. That Commo-four, with its whopping 78 hp/100 lb ft powering a heavier, medium/large sedan, was both a critical and a commercial flop, delivering far less performance than the six with equivalent fuel economy. It was, however, mostly a stopgap measure after the Sunbird/Torana, which the Camira replaced, ended production in 1980. After 1984 the Commo-four disappeared, never to return to Australian shores. It lingered for a little while longer in New Zealand, a country which was home to some obscure Holden products (as a side note, the weirdest would be a version of the VS Commodore called the Royale, sold with a small Opel six and featuring the front clip of the long-wheelbase Statesman)
With a compact, efficient package and a smart, small wagon–designed by Holden with a low, flat loading area, and exported to the UK as a Vauxhall Cavalier wagon – the Camira should have been a success. Ford’s Telstar, a rebadged Mazda 626 released around the same time, showed that Australians would embrace an efficient, FWD, mid-size package with an Australian badge. The Camira was certainly a far more modern design than the also locally-assembled RWD Mitsubishi Sigma, Toyota Corona and Nissan Bluebird; however, those three had one advantage: better quality control.
The JB Camiras rolling out of the Holden factory overheated and had smoky engines. A lack of proper drainage in the doors also created an embarrassing mess for owners. These quality problems caused the modern Holden mid-sizer to be ignobly dumped from Holden’s New Zealand range and replaced with the Japanese-sourced Holden Camira JJ (aka Isuzu Aska). A sporty “SJ” model, released in 1983 with no engine enhancements, was derided as a “standing joke”.
In 1984, a revised “JD” Camira (presumably JC was skipped to avoid alienating non-Christians) was released. This new Camira, with a sleek, grille-less fascia, packed a multi-point fuel-injected 1.8-liter engine with 114 horsepower and a standard five-speed manual. It arrived just before Australia’s switch to unleaded fuel; consequently, a catalytic-converter was added, and power went right back down to 84 hp, although the good fuel economy remained. By 1987, a JE Camira arrived with a 114 hp, 130 lb-ft, 2.0-liter fuel-injected four cylinder (which 10 years later would still be powering an Australian J-car, the Daewoo Espero). With some suspension tweaks, a more powerful engine, and even a snazzy new sport variant (the SLi 2000), the JE Camira looked more appealing than ever.
Australian buyers didn’t think so: Camira sales had steadily fallen after the early Camiras’ quality problems had become known. Whether that can also be attributed to the capricious nature of mid-size car sales in Australia is another question, and I wish I had some sales figures to back up that theory. For some reason (until recent years), small cars and the full-size Falcon/Commodore have generally enjoyed the lion’s share of the Australian car market, while squeezing the mid-sizers out. Ford didn’t actually field a mid-size entry for much of the 2000s, nor did Nissan from the mid-90s until now. Of course, now even our full-size cars are dropping in sales and the Aussie market is dominated by small cars (in particular, the Mazda3 and Corolla) and small crossovers.
But I digress. The Camira was a thoroughly competent car that could have been a great (or at least, moderate) success for GMH. Instead, slapdash quality of early Camiras killed the car’s reputation in the Aussie market, and it remains a target of derision. Only the wagons seem to survive in any reasonable numbers, although rust certainly was a problem. That’s a shame, as the Camira’s replacement–a Toyota Camry rebadged as the Apollo–was a similarly disappointing seller that has ultimately been forgotten. It would be interesting to see an alternate scenario, where an Australianized second-gen J-car had carried GMH’s mid-size torch.
I spotted this white 1984-87 Holden JD Camira SL wagon in an Aldi parking lot. Despite having photographed many cars over the years, I somehow forgot the whole “keep the whole car in the frame” rule of photography, and then the owner came walking out with his purchases. I assure y’all that I will be a better CC photographer in the future! This particular Camira looks a little rough, but it definitely gets used. The workmanlike wagons, with their nice, flat load floor (photo missing!), have survived in much greater numbers than the sedans–I can’t even remember the last time I saw a Camira sedan!
That’s a very interesting and well written article and I sincerely hope there will be more. I am really interested in the Australian market stuff and it is just sad to see so many of Aus’s unique models go away. Guess that’s the price of progress!
“An interesting and well written article” Not!! It is full of generalisations and errors and the “facts” presented seem to be entirely taken from very subjective motoring media reports and certainly not from talking first hand to people who actually owned the cars. For instance, build quality had nothing to do with the original Camira’s lack of sucess in New Zealand. Point of sale pricing certainly didn’t help the Camira’s prospects in NZ and in any case it was competing in a smaller market that was already saturated with similar sized albeit cheaper and older design vehicles in the same market segment. Oddly enough though, for a car that was supposedly so unpopular in NZ, the Australian Camira wagon replete with the revised nose was sold alongside the Aska sedan version and did quite well. In Australia one of the reasons the Camira failed to sell was because it was Holden’s first FWD medium sized car and something which Australians had difficulty accepting given that up to that time Holden was mainly known as a builder of RWD cars. As far as build quality went, the Camira was no better or no worst than that which was being offered by Holden’s rival’s including Ford’s Mazda 636/Telstar clone. Yes, it’s true that Camiras were prone to rusting but so too were the majority of other makes and models competing against the Camira. Indeed, the first FWD incarnation of the Mazda 626/Ford Telstsr clone was beset by structural weakness problems and not a good seller either, yet I can’t recall it being subjected to the same amount of derision that the Camira endured. The only mistake Holden made with the Camira was going with the 1.6 motor initially instead of doing what it should have done from the word go and released it with the 1.8 from the start. But that was a political decision forced on to Holden by GM in America. Yes, the motors [1.6/1.8/2.0] had a habit of blowing Cylinder Heads and gaskets but that was not due to any fault or poor quality control on the part of Holden. That was a design fault, the blame for which, should be laid squarely at the feet of GM’s Opel division who designed the motor originally. Current versions of the Family 2 motor now use a DOHC Head design which seems to have eliminated that problem. In its final guise, the JE model, the Camira was a good well sorted car, however regardless of its alleged poor sales record, GM had never intended the Camira to continue beyond the JE model in Australia because by the time the JE version had been released, GM had already come to an agreement with Toyota to produce and share each others models – both in Australia and the USA. The JE was merely a slightly revised stopgap until Holden could get its Toyota Camry/Holden Apollo clone on to the market.
These things all seemed to fail at the same time. If a dumped car was on the side of the road with no plates, in the early 1990s – you could guarantee it was one of these. By the late 90s, it was first generation Mitsubishi Magnas.
Now it’s Cruze and Captiva!
Awful cars- my brother in law had one as his first new car. I felt so sorry for him, because he always took care of his cars and this POS just looked bad after a year. The trim fell off everywhere, and even after that short time the plastics and paint were going off. He has never bought a Holden since.
I agree… possibly the worst car ever built and hideously dangerous. I owned one (from new) and after about 2 years, the engine kept stalling when I was driving, several times when I was going at over 100km on highways. As it was an automatic, everything would shut down and I had no control. Fot the next two to three years, I kept taking it back to Holden, who gave me a hundred different reasons at to what was wrong with it, but never fixed the problem. In the end I took it to a wreckers as I would not inflict that death trap on anyone else. Many other Camira owners had similar problems I have learned, so I would suggest word-of-mouth experiences of the vehicle also helped its demise. In the 20 years since, I have never bought another Holden, nor an automatic.
Great article William! As an Aussie, I haven’t seen one of these shitboxes for years, they died really quickly.
GMH got it right in the end, but it was all too late.
Great article,let’s see some more Aussie iron!You guys made some brilliant cars(and some not so good ones like this) that lots of us don’t know about
Interestingly Opel’s J car – Opel Ascona – had a solid reputation, dependable, reliable, spacious. No idea why such different perception of quality if it shared the same platform, I can hardly believe Opel’s factories had much better quality control – it is the same GM after all.
The facelifted Camira’s front end looks so much like Ford Sierra’s front end.
West German cars were nicely made. They weren’t all brilliantly engineered for various reasons, but they all had nice fit and finish. There is an illuminating book by Brock Yates called “The Decline and Fall of the US Auto Industry” that details the choices GM made in order for the Ascona to be a good car and the US J cars to be…not so good cars. Local suppliers were used in many cases too, further influencing quality.
I believe the overall lower volume may (and should) have something to do with better assembly quality in most circumstances. It seems that western Europeans have a low tolerance for “it’s good enough” assembly quality (in most circumstances) . . . .
You don’t know much about Australians do you. We Australians are just as demanding about an item’s build quality, whether it be cars or other products, as any European buyer might be. The easy going, take it or leave it attitude you depict Australians as having is largely an image myth that belongs way in the past. One reason there was buyer resistance to the Camira was that it was promoted as being of European design at a time when Australians were still very wary of anything designed in Europe and lots of Australians had heard horror stories of European cars breaking down in some remote place and the owner having to wait weeks for new parts to get to them.. Typically, back then if you were to ask an Australian what they thought of European designed cars the answer would have been mostly negative because the perception was Australia has unique conditions and European cars were never designed for Australia’s harsh conditions and therefore weren’t up to the job. Ford’s competitor to the Camira, the Telstar didn’t suffer as much from buyer resistance simply because most buyers knew its origins were Japanese, which is ironic considering that the Camira whilst originating as the Opel Ascona, was in fact a reworking of the original design, by Isuzu [Japan] and Holden engineers working together, and widely acknowledged amongst all of GM’s world divisions as being superior and better engineered than the Ascona.
Opel Ascona is more simple and lacks plenty of features than lots of its other GM siblings.
So should we start to believe the GM has always meant Gargantuan Miss. Between this, Ed’s vega, and the Saturn it would seem that way. I do think some of their current offerings show promise but I am not holding my breath. Shaft me once, its your fault. Shaft me twice, it’s mine.
William, are you saying that the J-body wagon was Australian developed (for global consumption)? Or was it just the Holden/Vauxhall variations of the J-body wagon that was Australian developed?
Either way, it’s nice to see ones (J’s) from Australia & New Zealand. It’s kind of like meeting long-lost cousins, there are familial resemblences, but everyone IS different. I haven’t seen a J-body wagon (here in the US) in a long time, but I do live in rust country…
Three of my fantasy garage early J-bodies (all US market, though): 1986 Z-24 Cavalier fastback, 1992 Sunbird GT with 3.1 V6, and early 1990’s Cavalier Wagon with 3.1 V6. The wagons were sleepers…
Both Camira and Commodore wagon assemblies were exported to the UK
Not true – there was already an Opel Rekord wagon in Germany, which formed the basis of the Vauxhall Carlton, which was assembled in Luton in the UK until 1982. The Vauxhall equivalent of the Opel Commodore, the short-lived Viceroy, didn’t have a wagon version – as it happens, the Opel Commodore came about because Holden’s engines didn’t fit the Rekord, resulting in it having the Senator front end.
The wagons at least superficially seem to resemble their North American cousins. The greenish one in the second picture from the bottom looks a lot like an Oldsmobile Firenza.
The only variation of the North American J-body that sold decently in station wagon form was the Chevy Cavalier. Pontiac, Olds and Buick all offered wagons, but they were all gone by the end of the ’80s. About ten or fifteen years ago, I knew somone who owned Cavalier wagon that had a mismatched tailgate which was not only a different color from the rest of the car, but also carried Buick badging.
There is quite a difference – the Holden version has the load floor below bumper level, and the bumper is attached to the tailgate. The same arrangement was carried over to later Opel Vectra wagons.
Actually, the Holden version’s load floor, along with the vauxhall and Opel versions, was level with, NOT BELOW, bumper level
Just came across this comparison from an article in RetroAutos, from an interview with Leo Pruneau who styled the Australian Camira and still owns one.
9 years since first published and Ive hardly seen a Camira since they are literally extinct
Yep, think I’ve seen one in the last 5-6 years, and that was an Aska-bodied one so could have been an Isuzu import anyway. So weird how cars that were once so common become extinct…
I’m not sure about the US J-cars, but the Camira wagon was definitely Australian-designed by Holden. Vauxhall liked the design, so used it for their UK wagons – importing the rear panels from Australia. This was a reversal of what happened when the original Holden Commodore wagon was introduced in Australia/NZ, as it initially used imported Vauxhall rear panels.
The wagon body panels were from the B Piller back designed by Holden. Both Vauxhall and Opel used these Australian produced and exported panels.
The American J cars also had a wagon version but I can’t say with any certainty that they used the Australian panels. I suspect not as there were other differences between the European and Australian versions of the J Car to that of the American J Cars For example American J Cars didn’t use the Family 2 motor until the final year or 2 of their production run.
Opel never had an Ascona wagon – it wasn’t even sold in RHD Ireland, much less LHD West Germany or other LHD markets.
I beg to differ; the first generation Ascona had a 3-door kombi.
I stand corrected – I meant to say the last generation of the Ascona never had a wagon version.
It was well known that to observe the entire range in one convenient location only required a trip to Pick-A-Part, row upon row all untouched except by grudge wielding vandals until crushed by the yard who similarly could see no value in them. I once worked in an office with a white 5 speed JE wagon, everybody hated that thing. There was (possibly an urban legend) a story about that the early 1.8s were assembled using the wrong rod bolts which contributed to the general unhappiness surrounding the car.
Wow a Camira my dad a lifelong GM fan bought a JB in 84 I rode in it once to the airport when I left for OZ he later traded it for a Japanese Isuzu Camira and a bigger POS has yet to be marketted. The Oz version had quite good roadholding for the day the japanese version had no roadholding qualities at all check the Cohort and The Wiki page thats my Dads Camira very rare cars wiki told me yeah no shit they were crap new and I saw my first Camira for ages 2 weeks ago even in NZ there are none. Interesting to note you mentioned the unique NZ models there are many more that did not appear in OZ . The GTS badge was in use in the late 80s early 90s in NZ and Royale models are in the lineup from the VB onwards. The Hybrid Vauxhall with Holden badges I think you’ll find was a Singaporean model, NZ has the Vauxhall Opel and Holdens versions of these cars including the 2door coupe VBCHK series. Good to see some downunder cars here.
Yes, the Holden Royale with the Statesman front and the Opel engine was indeed Singaporean. Most of them were imported and sold by Ebbett Holden. Ebbetts have had a long history of purchasing cancelled GM RHD export orders, they also imported and sold all the RHD Cadillac CTS sedans that were meant for Cadillac’s worldwide launch in ’08ish.
I’ve noticed your Dad’s Camira on wikipedia before, and thought it was a great looking example. Was it on trademe after it was crashed? I could swear I’ve seen the crash photo before too!
Straight to the wreckers the old man ordered a VL 3L 5speed then went to Toyotas when he retired. Those Caddy CTS were for the Australasian launch it was cancelled Ebbetts got those cars by tender with a clause they must be sold on the KIWI market none went to OZ the second shipment were UK spec.
I think you’ll find the Hoden Royale was in fact the Korean Daewoo built version. “Royale” as spelt in that form being one of Daewoo’s registered trademark model names that it used on it’s home market cars.
All NZ’s Royale-badged Commodores were Australian-built by Holden, including the Opel-engined straight-6 and V6 models. Holden Australia has a long (and relatively unpublicised) history of building export versions of Commodores that were and are often quite differently engined/specced to the domestic Australian market versions. For example, NZ received 2 litre VK (4 cylinder starfire), VL (6 cylinder RB20) and VN (4 cylinder Family II) Commodores. The Middle East gets their Australian-built Commodores LHD and Chev-badged.
The Royale badge was used on limited edition NZ-market Commodores from the VH until the VX. For the VH/VK/VL it was simply a badge applied to a specced-up Commodore. The VN was 2 litre Family II engined. The VR and VS Royale were slightly different in that they were cancelled Singapore orders and were built with the Statesman front end. The VR had the Opel straight-6; the VS had the Opel V6. Regardless, all I note above were built by Holden Australia. Wikipedia has more info, and is largely accurate.
Export versions of the Comodore to NZ indeed did have the Family Two motor as well as the Nissan motor albeit the smaller capacity unit as opposed to the Australian home market larger capacity version but no export version of the Comodore built in Australia had Opel motors. If it has got an Opel motor in it then it’s a Daewoo built version. Daewoo’s version of the Comodore used Holden manufactured panels but as was Daewoo’s long standing practice, used Opel motors in place of the Holden motor. Daewoo did the same with the version of the Holden LJ Torana they produced for the Korean home market, the Chevrolet 1700 and the Camina, fitting the Opel motor in place of the Holden 4 and 6 cylinder motors Holden never ever imported Opel 6 motors to Australia even for fitting to export versions of the Comodore because the exchange rate between the Aussie Dollar and the German Deutche made doing so prohibitive.
Our Opel-engined Royales were definitely Holden-built in Australia. They were batch-made by Holden, the last lot being made in August 1997 and bound for Singapore and Malaysia, where they would have been badged as the Opel Calais.
From my January 1995 issue of Wheels magazine: “Holden has…given Calais the same nose treatment as its upscale long wheelbase models. But you won’t be seeing it in your local Holden dealerships — yet. This car is the new 2.6 litre Opel engined Calais destined for Singapore and Malaysia, where Holden currently sells about 40 per month. This is despite a price tag in Singapore of a mere $200,000 thanks to tariffs, taxes and a mandatory ‘certificate of entitlement’ which costs $100,000 per car. In Malaysia the Calais is a steal at $76,000. The simple but effective make-over involved fitting a Statesman bonnet with integral grille, and a Statesman front bumper.”
When those cancelled ‘Calais’ came here, rebadged as Royales, GM advertising also confirmed they were Holden-built in Australia. And the final way to confirm that our VR and VS Opel-engine Royales weren’t built by Daewoo is the simple fact that Daewoo stopped building Royales in 1993 – replacing it with a rebadged Honda Legend. They never built VR/VS Royales.
I’m not going to argue with you. I worked in Administration at Holden during the time period in question, so I have first hand knowledge of what Holden actually did or did not do. But you go ahead and believe what you’ve read on wikipedia and in the car mags. No skin off my nose.
Since the article came out I’ve looked under the bonnet of several VR and VS Royales, and the build plates confirm they were built by Holden with imported Opel engines. Like I said, Daewoo never built VR/VS Royales, so it’s not a matter of believing what I’ve read, it’s actually what’s true, and nothing beats an actual car with an actual Holden build plate built by Holden in Australia. I guess not everything went through the admin team…
There are a few Vauxhall versions here too Holden wasnt alone in building these, Vauxhall Senators were used as motorway patrol cars though with only 138mph top speed there were things that could get away. Any way there are quite a few here in New Zealand
Ok I dont have much time for Camiras …..but they are quite strong my dad spun his thru a barrier and end for ended his down a 65ft bank and cut his wrist he climbed the bank with his briefcase and hitched a ride to work the car as you can see was totalled, Strong junk from GMH
Nice writeup William. I always love to read about OZ and NZ cars; they are so similar yet so different to US variants. Interesting to see an Aldi down under too–there is one just down the street from me here in IL.
Looking forward to more of your finds.
A revised “JD” Camira (presumably JC was skipped to avoid alienating non-Christians)
The alphabetical model codes sometimes have to skip a few letters to avoid controversial combinations.
When the first Commodore launched in 1978 it was known as the VB, followed by the revised VC. To the disappointment of humorists, the next edition was called the VH.
Ditto the Aussie Valiant: it jumped from 1966’s VC to 1967’s VE. I seem to recall reading there was a reason why they went from VH to VJ too, but not sure there’s anything humouress about VI!
Funny this should appear today as on my way home from work I spotted a Chevy Cavalier wagon on the road and it occurred to me that you hardly ever see J-wagons of any brand anymore. It’s actually a good looking vehicle as a wagon. I had a Skyhawk wagon in the mid 80’s and liked its ability to swallow up a whole lot of stuff. It’s too bad they came with such crappy drivetrains and brakes that ate front pads every few thousand miles.
I actually saw a late one in that early ’90s teal in a parking lot yesterday. You’re right, the wagons are scarce. Even the pre-’95 sedans and coupes are getting thin on the ground around here.
An extremely well-written article William! It covers all the bases, and I really enjoyed reading it, thank you 🙂
I can’t remember the last time I saw an Aussie-built Camira here in NZ, but there’s still the odd Camira JJ around – being an imported Aska, they had way higher interior spec than the Aussie ones, and it almost made up for the inferior handling. I personally preferred the JJ’s styling over the Aussie Camiras. It looked sharper and more modern to me, especially the rear door’s vertical rear window line (vs the Aussie model’s curve).
Although the Camira was replaced by the Holden-badged Camry in Australia, in NZ it was replaced by the Opel Vectra (initially badged as an Opel, but later rebadged as a Holden in 1994.
My local Holden dealer, Ebbett Holden, was responsible for the import and sale of most of the odd hybrid Holdens, including the VS Royale and more recently the RHD Cadillac CTS sedans. Although it was just the VS that Ebbetts sold, I’ve also seen Singaporean VR Commodores here too – with the Opel straight-6 engine. There’s a Royale on trademe at the moment: http://www.trademe.co.nz/motors/used-cars/holden/commodorevs/auction-551949961.htm
Interesting to read where the “Aussie” Cadillacs ended up! I wonder how close they got to launch before the pin was pulled.
Ebbets have bought shiploads of UK bound Cadillac and sold them in NZ without all the ridiculous markup they slot into the Holden price structure at about mid point.
Great article William.
The real problem with the Camira was the engine. The most common problem was the head gasket blowing which then lead to the head warping and so on.
However the problem was actually caused by oil leaking from the rocker cover onto the the myriad hoses buried beneath the intake manifold.
Because the hoses were so well hidden and there were so many of them the hoses got saturated with oil and burst, the engine overheated, perhaps many times which then lead to the more serious problems. The actual mechanicals of the Camira were almost bullet proof in normal service except for the fact that no one noticed the heater hoses were about to burst.
The JD update was horrible and during its short model life was afflicted with three different engine types which lead to further disenchantment.
The JE was a huge improvement in looks and featured just one engine, the 2.0 MPI but by then it was all too late and the Camira was cursed with the Vega disease.
Mate O mines GF had a JD auto they commuted from Bathurst to Sydney(PittTown) daily 200km each way it went for nearly 6 months before the trans gave up, me mate reckoned it was gutless over Victoria pass but good on gas replaced with a l6 Commodore as usual.
My cousin had a later model Camira wagon, I think a JE model with the 2 litre. I don’t think he had any particular problem with it, after a few years it was relegated from the main family car to his commuter-mobile.
Had 3 – yes, 3 – Camiras. JD SLE leaded, JD SLX unleaded (Dad’s) and JE. Can’t comment on JBs, except that co-workers often came in in 1982-83, soaked with rain from walking after their JB Camira had broken down. Screaming, “I’ll never buy a Holden again.” They probably never did.
Dad’s ’87 JD (new) was a lemon that had an electronic ignition issue that Holden couldn’t solve (mysterious cut out/refusal to actually start). I resolved it once (but now can’t remember how). The RH door speaker would only operate…with the door open.
But the ’85 JD (leaded, fairly quick with a 5-speed manual) and ’87 JE we owned were very good cars. They were very cheap – which is why we bought them. They were also about 13 years old at time of purchase, but were routinely thrashed, maintenance was usually ignored and, yet, they never broke down once.
There was nothing wrong with the JE when it was sold in favour of an E28 BMW 528i. The JD had been rear-ended while parked and written off.
As other posters have said, Holden resolved most of the problems in the end – but too little, too late.
We’ve actually got a JD sedan, which was owned by my grandmother before she passed away. Nice to drive, but is very low on power – it lacks any accelerarion, and can’t handle hills very well at all (we’ve got the automatic which might have something to do with this). Also we are constantly plagued with electrical problems, from the ecu to the dash to the aircon. Rust is a major issue too. Anyway, the point of me leaving this comment was to point out a small mistake in your article – our camira has the 1.8 litre fuel injected engine, but it is only single point injection, not multipoint. I sincerely wish it was multipoint as that would probably give it more power, but alas it is not so. A technicality, but still… 🙂
I had a cheap rental Camira before we left Tassie we’d sold everything or shipped it cars included and this thing was buttons per day it had the TBI engine and traumatic trans aircon p/w it had been once upon a time a class act, that was long before I got to drive it though it was a POS I ditched it at the airport 9 years ago and had forgotten it till now.
I bought an sj as my first brand new car, it was a blue one. A piece of crap had nothing but trouble with it from 2 weeks after I got it, from the engine blowing to the clutch pedal coming of the fire wall, I have never bought a Holden since because of that experiance
I have a 84 jd camira SL/E Sadan great car only had services for no problems that are listed above with the car I got it in 96 still driving it today
I saw an orange JD sedan on the road a couple of weeks ago – the first Camira I have seen on the road in a long time!
I was given the last model Camira wagon by the South Australian government car pool when doing some short term work in 1988/89.It was an automatic gearbox and 2 litre engine.The day I collected it there was light rain,stopped at the red light to turn left,when the lights changed to green,gently touched the accelarator pedal,nothing happened,so put my foot down a bit more and despite power steering,the Camira almost tore the steering wheel from my grip.It is torque steer and they were renowned for it.Very dangerous for the unwary.Many people I know crashed their Camiras.
I have a 84 jb camira. 105××× orginal Ks on the clock. Three owners and near mint condition. Great little beast. I’ve looked around and can’t seem to find a single other one in nz. Very few parts. Could my car actually be worth anything
Loved the article
I was just thinking about Camiras the other day and noticed I haven’t seen one in about 20 years!
I think they must’ve been the most unreliable and accident prone vehicle ever built thanks anyway
Okay, I’ll go out on a limb here and say the Camira was a misfit for the Australian market.
First problem: downsizing. Downsizing was never really much of an issue in the Aussie market as our manufacturers always offered a range of cars. A Falcon buyer could move down to a Cortina, a Valiant buyer to a Centura, or Sigma, a Holden buyer to a Torana. The big move to medium-size cars had already happened by the time the Camira came to market. There was no need to downsize the Torana very much. It just needed the weight taken out. And a decent engine; the 1963-vintage six was gutless, thirsty and noisy in emissionized form, and the four derived from it should never have been allowed off the drawing board. So we needed something a bit smaller, definitely lighter, definitely FWD, and with a good engine. Holden was overdue for some good engines.
It was ostensibly a replacement for the Torana. Now the Torana was almost as much of as Aussie icon as the FJ. It had made its reputation in motorsport, with hot sixes and later V8s. Fantastic reputation as a race car, which naturally rubbed off on the street cars. Never mind that almost nobody actually bought a V8 in an S or SL; it was available, and almost exclusively went into the SLR and SS models. It had been around in its current iteration since 1974, so was overdue for replacement. The range got dumbed down with the last UC models, but the heritage was still there: it was a Torana, with all that the name implied. Overbodied for the times to cope with the V8 torque, but not thought of as being oversized. And now that one-time Torana buyer was expected to happily jump into a smaller Camira? Hmm…..
At launch the engine was only a 1.6. That was a Laser/Corolla/Gemini size small-car engine; other mid size sedans had 2 litre engines, with up to 2.4 (Toyota) and 2.6 (Mitsubishi) options. Giving it only a 1.6 made it seem it was a replacement for the Gemini, but Isuzu had its own Gemini replacement in the pipeline, which showed up in Holden showrooms with a 1.5, which seemed to underline the point. Whether it could do the job or not, the engine seemed too small. Later engines addressed this, but Holden badly fumbled the unleaded petrol conversion. which further cemented the in people’s minds that the Camira was Best Avoided.
The Camira’s 1.6 thrived on revs. That wasn’t the Aussie driving style. That wasn’t how Holden engines had worked. They had always been about torque, not top end. So in addition to a smaller car with front wheel drive, a new driving style was required, which to most Aussies would seem to be “thrash the daylights out of the thing” – which was tantamount to mechanical abuse in our minds. That wasn’t how we’d been taught to drive; in fact it seemed pretty much what we’d been taught not to do. And now Holden brought out this car which needed it, to give its best.
So the Camira had all this loaded against it from the start. If it had been well-built, with no nasty issues in service, it might have overcome these difficulties, but we know how that worked out.
All correct and accounted-for, Mr W.
The local COTY was completely justified, as the magazine gave it to one specific model – mid-range, four-speed – and as a machine, it was well ahead of the things it might compete against. It had locally-designed steering, and various suspension bits, and it handled, rode, and steered not miles short of the benchmark good Euro stuff of the day. (Yes, the Oz version of the dreaded J-car was dynamically only just short a 3-series BMW of the time, I can personally testify, even if I’d still prefer the Bavarian).
Alas, it was manufactured badly, really badly, and every fault noted above was real. If the Holden middle-class average consumer bought a wagon, automatic, with A/C, he’d not only to endure 18+ secs to 60mph, but a shitty unreliability bewilderingly removed from the great praise the COTY the ads had had. But the COTY, of course, had gone to the un-aircondioned, whippy 12-sec four-speed manual that handled nearly like an Alfasud (and they really did do the dynamic stuff well). Aussies weren’t much interested in 6K rpm to get the party started, and frankly, given their love of a long tranche of bad-handling locals, didn’t really know or care anything about handling either.
The last models, the JE from 87-’89, had 2 stout litres of 8.5-second injected power, the same really good dynamics, and, quite understandably, no buyers at all.
The (rightly) much-maligned Camira name does stand as testament, however, to the fact that the J-car’s basics were not horrible at all, and could be made into a really good car.
I had a friend with a manual JB wagon in the late ’80s. Not sure whether it had AC. Geoff’s wagon was a nice looking car, but already by then an unusual sight. Gosh, it must have been four years old at most, but it was already blowing smoke.
The JE engine was what it should have been released with in the first place. Or even the early JD’s good 1.8. In Australia the Japanese entries had pretty much defined the medium-size class, and had since the days of the Datsun 180B/610. Datsun dropped the ball with the 200B/710, and class leadership passed to Mitsubishi’s Sigma. Mazda’s 626 was up there too, but hamstrung by import quotas. Against a class background of anvil-like reliability, you had to really be a Holden fan to buy a Camira – while technically interesting and thoroughly up-to-date, it was perhaps the first unreliable Holden. So much for the advertising slogan.
A previous neighbour of mine in North-eastern Melbourne was still driving a Camira that I assume he bought new. It was a JE, and he looked after it very well. This was in 2018-2021. Despite the affluence of that area, quite a few people drove survivors, and kept them in good condition.