I hope readers of the antipodean persuasion will not be offended when I confess, from the get go, that I’m way out of my depth here. Australian brand, GM alphabet-soup bodies, ‘80s metal – none of these would be one of my majors at the Niedermeyer Institute for Automotive Blogging. But when life throws you a J-Body – especially one you haven’t seen before – you just have to walk the walk until you step up to the plate, grasp the nettle by the horns and give it a whirl up the flagpole.
So here goes. I found this car at the Chaeng Watthana Government Complex, one of those dystopian administrative hellholes that occurs pretty much all countries. It’s a huge M.C. Escher-designed series of office blocks that houses all manner of government agencies, ministries and other mind-numbing bureaucracies. Going there, getting something stamped and getting back home can easily take a whole day. But huge isolated office blocks usually have a lot of parked cars, so I went on a post-prandial CC prowl.
I was not disappointed – there was enough CC fodder out there for a few posts. I was about to retire to the air-conditioned belly of the complex when I glimpsed a familiar shape in the underground section of the car park. The GM genes were evident, but that mug was not one I initially recognized. “Hold on, c’mere… Huh?”
And so I got acquainted with the Holden Camira. I was only very dimly aware of its existence (chiefly thanks to this pair of CC posts by William Stopford) up to that point in my CCareer. Finally, some Aussie metal! And a J-Body wagon, to boot. The J-Bodies more familiar to me were Opels or Vauxhalls, but the Opel Ascona did not come as a wagon. Neither did the Isuzu Aska, the Cadillac Cimarron and the Brazilian Chevrolet Monza. Some J-Bodies are more equal than others.
There have been many a number of CC posts on the venerable (but not quite likable?) GM J-Body, though we might still be missing a few flavours. Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Holden, Isuzu, Oldsmobile, Opel, Pontiac, Vauxhall – take your pick. There were even a Bertone-styled Daewoo version and a “Toyota Cavalier,” at some point in the ’90s. I won’t bother re-hashing this famous platform’s history or quibble about its places (namely here and here) in the GM Deadly Sins pantheon, but this whole thing started (badly) in 1982 and, in the US, Asia and Europe, lasted well into the ‘90s, which is relatively a long time. But it didn’t last that long in Australia.
This Camira business went through three series and our feature car is from the last of these, the 1987-89 JE series. Esthetically, it was a quick’n’cheap nip’n’tuck of the previous JD series (1984-87), which had pioneered these big (and almost Ford-like) headlamps. These really looked novel to my eyes. Compared to the other ‘80s J-bodies’ squared-off features, this Holden almost has an aero look to it.
The rear is not the most outstanding feature of the design, but it is much more GM – and Lego-like in its boxiness. I even started having memories of the paternal ’86 Pontiac 6000 wagon as I took these tail pictures. Ford in the front, Pontiac out back and Opel in the middle. The Camira was turning more into a chimera by the minute.
The other conundrum was the very presence of this car in Bangkok. How and why did this Holden wander out of its assigned hemisphere? I’ve probably seen half a dozen Holdens in my entire life – a few sightings in the UK, at least one in Burma and this Camira wagon in Thailand. The British ones make some sense and the Burmese one – a rather tired HK Brougham, which I did not catch on camera – may have been imported by the Australian embassy back in the day. But this one?
Who loved this wagon so much that they would take it to Thailand, where GM’s presence is not that great (except for Isuzu pick-ups and trucks), instead of buying an equivalent Mazda or Toyota? No idea. I really doubt these were ever officially imported though. First time I see a Holden here, though I’m just one pair of eyes in a city of millions. Now that I think about it, I reckon it’s also my first J-car in this country. Two birds with one post!
Curbside Classic: Holden Camira – The Short-Lived Australian J-Car, by William Stopford
Curbside Classic: 1982-89 Holden Camira – The Thrill Of Writing About J-Cars, by William Stopford