Curbside Classic: Holden Statesman DeVille (HZ) – If We Can’t Export Cars, We Can Export Their Names

(first posted 10/26/2011. Photos posted at the CC Cohort by Bryce)

Looking at Australian cars makes me feel slightly woozy, like I’ve just come down with a case of twenty-four hour amnesia. It’s like waking up in the morning and asking your life-partner of several decades: “you look so familiar, but what did you say your name was?” Or “I know your name, but you don’t look like her”. Perhaps that’s how a big chunk of the population sees cars. Like when a crime involves a car, and the eye witness describes it as “an older model sedan”. So helpful. Believe me, if you drove this Statesman around town here, you wouldn’t get a lot of looks or comments. And if so, they’d be “cool old Chevy, man”. Well, the DeVille badge might throw a few. Maybe this would be the perfect bank heist get-away car. “It was..a ..a…”

Australian cars were always hybrids: a mish-mash of American cast-offs, design cue, engineering, or just meddling, combined with a healthy dose of local Aussie know-how. And I hardly claim to be an expert; every time I think I have it figured out, something throws me for a loop. Like this DeVille; I mistakenly thought it was the top of the line of the Statesman family.

Silly me. Turns out the Statesman Caprice (above) is safely one notch above the DeVille. Ok; now I’m able to sympathize a little more with those folks who don’t while their hours away at sites like CC. And it just goes to show that when you export names overseas, you never know what they’ll choose to do with them.And to add a bit of more complexity, the Statesman was technically not a Holden, but its own brand, at least until 1990.

Of course, Ford created a bit of confusion too in Australia, and if you want the whole story, ateupwithmotor has a superb two-part piece on the long and complicated  life of the Ozzie Falcon. Until he does an equally thorough one on the Holdens, we’ll just have to muddle through in our cloud of ignorance. So how exactly did the Statesman DeVille end up being below the Caprice? What’s wrong with you Aussies? Must be from all that walking around upside down.

The Statesman appeared in 1971, as its own upscale brand, and replaced the very tail-happy Holden Brougham (above). Yes, to my knowledge, America was only able to successfully export the Great Brougham Epoch to Australia, although they tried pretty hard with their European operations.

The 1971 Statesman (above) was a nice styling job, incorporating a number of GM-ish themes in a rather harmonious package.

It has a helping of big Opel,

Along with a pinch or two of 1971 Olds 88. And you’ll probably find some other ingredients from the GM pantry. Anyway, the Statesman would have made a nice basis for the coming Seville.

Back to Australia. The Statesman was based on the also-new Holden HQ series, which included this Kingswood. Haven’t I heard that before? The Statesman sat on the longer wheelbase station wagon chassis, and had some distinctive sheet metal, especially at the rear.

The 1974 refresh (HJ) included the very Chevrolesque front end that is still very much apparent in our featured car, which to the best of my limited ability I peg as a HZ, from the 1977 -1980 era. I could very well be wrong.

Where the Statesman really diverges from the more predictable GM-family look is in its rear end. Now that looks very home-grown, almost home-baked. And not at all what was being done at the GM Design Mothership. Did Bill Mitchell have to sign off on these cars?

It reminds me of one car in particular.

Anyway, the DeVille was the top level Statesman from the get-go, replacing the Brougham. And in classic name-debasement style, the Caprice came along and muscled the DeVille aside for top honors in 1974.

The Statesman DeVille interior looks appealing enough, and certainly more GM than Studebaker. But check out the emergency brake; no flimsy foot operated pedal for the Australians. Never know when one might want to do a very quick U-turn. Don’t forget that the term “hoon” originated with them.

We certainly can’t ignore what’s under the hood, since it creates a similar response as the car: haven’t I seen you before? Well, no, actually, although according to one source, the Holden 253/308 V8 was designed by a couple of ex-Pontiac engineers, and supposedly most resembles it in certain basic architecture. But it’s a unique engine, and lighter than a Chevy sbc. And one that created quite legend for itself in racing.  And I suspect Bryce will give us a few opinions on it.

Like the mothership back home, Holden was putting a lot of attention to handling in the mid-seventies. The HZ benefited from a complete chassis make-over, with the familiar RTS (radial tuned suspension) moniker. They at least got that name right. This was part of a major GM push, and it certainly put them ahead of the competition at home, where Ford just wallowed along in that decade.

The HZ was replaced by the WB series 1980, which featured a new C-pillar with additional window. And a pretty posh front end, that looks less Caprice and more Lincoln. What’s going on here?  By 1984, it was all over for the big Holdens, and the smaller Commodore took over.

The Commodore was part of a downsizing in response to the energy crisis, and was based on a mish-mash of the Opel Rekord and Commodore, with another healthy dose of Aussie engineering to make it all work in their conditions and with their engines. That leaves the Statesman in a similar position as the big ’71 – ’75 US GM cars; relics of another time, although perhaps with fonder memories than the more familiar Caprice and DeVille of the era.