Curbside Classic: Holden HR Ute – It’s A Beaut


(Submitted by bootiebike)

Years of being a gear head and of reading this blog have left me aware both of vintage American car-truck hybrids and of American car buffs’ appreciation of the evergreen Australian ute.  So when I bumped into this HR ute, the first I’d seen in years, in the car park outside a vintage clothing fair, I knew I had to take pictures and share them with my fellow CC-ers.  As is the case for many fans of the American El Camino, the sight of it brought me back to my late ’70s youth, when these were the bangers of choice for first-time drivers like myself.


The HR Holden was made from mid-1966 until early 1968. It was a facelifted version the previous ‘HD’ model (CC has an item on the HD wagon). Many people didn’t like the styling of the HD, and it was a relative failure, so General Motors-Holden must have been relieved when the HR turned out to be a success.

Screenshot 2014-07-31 14.36.25

‘Relative failure’ should be understood in the context of the Holden’s dominance of the Australian market in the 1950s and ’60s. For a while it had around 50% of the market, and for a long time its only real competition came from the Ford Falcon and Chrysler Valiant. I can remember how in the early seventies one could look down the street and see that two of every three parked cars were Holdens, Falcons or Valiants of various vintages; of those, most were Holdens.


The HR was available in four body styles: four door sedan, four door wagon, utility (‘coupe utility’ or ‘ute’) and panel van. Above the basic trim level, which was very basic indeed, one could opt for the ‘special’ and ‘Premier’ versions. The Special name was replaced by the iconic ‘Kingswood’ moniker on subsequent models.


The HR was powered by the ‘red’ Holden engine, of 161 or 186 cubic inches. The red engine debuted in the popular EH model in late 1963. The red engine was made in 138, 149, 161, 179, 186 and 202 cubic inch sizes. Most had a single Bendix-Stromberg downdraft carburettor, but tuned versions were available in certain models over the years.  Only when Australia moved to unleaded fuel in 1986 were this engine and its derivatives replaced by the Nissan RB straight-six.


The transmission in the HR was either a three on the tree (with no synchro on first), a Powerglide automatic or, for the first time, a four speed (sourced from Opel). Ball joints replaced kingpins and front disc brakes became available, but suspension was conventional, with control arms up front, leaf springs at rear, and recirculating ball steering. The wheelbase was 2692 mm (106”), and it weighed roughly 1220-1260 kg (2600 to 2800 pounds). The build quality of Holdens from this era was variable, and they often rusted well and without delay.


The coupe utility, or ‘ute’, always was very popular, especially in rural areas, and vintage utes are now much sought after. The HR ute shared a new front clip with the other models in the HR range, but the rest of the body was the same as the superseded HD ute. The same applies to the panel van.


This example appears to have its original registration plates, but those wheels are non-original; ditto the T Bar shift and the seat upholstery.


This sedan has been quietly rusting away in a carport in Rozelle, Sydney, for as long as I can remember. It has non-original registration plates which (I guess) date to the mid-1990s. Its a Special, with 186 cubic inch engine and Powerglide.


I think that aftermarket side trim looks anachronistic on a 1966-67 model. I’m surprised no one has snapped it up this ripe old HR–I imagine the (likely elderly and eccentric, judging by the premises) owner has rebuffed many offers.  Hopefully someone can persuade them to change their mind.


Related reading:

Curbside Classic: 1965-66 HD Holden Special Station Sedan: The Down Under, 3/4 Scale 1962 Oldsmobile