Curbside Classic: Holden EK (1961-1962)

holden EK _wagon_frunt_3_4_bootiebike

Here is an EK Holden daily driver I found in Orange, New South Wales, Australia.

The ‘EK’ model was on the market from mid-1961 to mid-1962. It was a slightly facelifted version of the ‘FB’, which had been available for the preceding 18 months. Note the seemingly random Holden model naming system. Australian cars don’t have an annual model change, and they are usually dated by the year of manufacture, not model year. Holdens (and local Ford Falcons and Valiants) also had a code name to distinguish the model, as production was not confined to any particular year. If the car in these pictures was made in 1961, it would be a ‘1961 EK Holden’. EKs made the year after would be ‘1962 EK Holdens’, but they were superseded midyear by ‘1962 EJ Holdens’.

Holden EK _wagon_frunt_bootiebike
The changes to the EK over the previous model were mainly very cosmetic or unseen, such as the windscreen wipers being powered by an electric motor instead of a vacuum pump. The big difference was the availability, for the first time, of an automatic transmission. The automatic was marketed as the ‘Hydramatic’, but I believe it was the three-speed with torque converter ‘Rotohydramatic’. The only engine available was Holden’s OHV ‘grey’ motor. This was based on the original Holden engine, used since the first Holden, the ‘48/215’ (often called ‘FX’), was introduced in 1948. In the EK it was enlarged to all of 138 ci. It was entirely conventional; similar to other GM OHV engines in its basic configuration.

It was pleasant to drive, with a nice torque curve, but was quickly becoming a liability, as the Valiant (sold in Australia under the Chrysler name) had the 225 ci slant six, and the Ford Falcon would soon be available with a 170 ci engine. The Holden grey motor was replaced by the ‘red’ motor (of 149 ci or 179 ci) in the EH model of 1963.

Holden EK interior_bootiebike

This EK Holden is a ‘Special’ wagon with standard three-on-the-tree and plain Jane grey paint. The Special was the deluxe model with chrome trim and a few, very basic, interior ‘refinements’. Also available was the ‘Standard’ model with none of the above. The grey paint of this car was commonly seen on government and other fleet cars, but I think they were more likely to be the Standards rather than Specials.

EKs were available in the usual Holden body styles: Sedan, wagon, ute and panel van. Note that it is badged as a Station ‘Sedan’, and that at this stage Holden was still using the same rear doors on its wagons as on the sedans. (In my opinion, subsequent Holden wagon bodies were the most neatly integrated 4 door wagons, anywhere.) It sports an accessory sun visor, wheel trims and external mirror, and the registration is not original. I can’t account for that multi-hued interior. Bryce will know.

Prior to the arrival of the Ford Falcon, Holden had had a virtually unassailable hold on the Australian market. The Falcon took a while to catch on, as many Aussies were suspicious of the newcomer, and its suspension gained a reputation for being fragile (i.e. not up to unpaved bush roads). I think, however, that GM-Holden gave Ford the
leg up it needed with the dated FB model, and even more so by replacing it with the barely changed EK.

Holden EK _wagon_rear_3_4_bootiebike

Up until the introduction of the Falcon, GM-Holden could afford to be complacent; it was effortlessly raking in the millions and had no need to invest heavily in revised product. The result is the FB/EK, with long-in-the-tooth mechanicals and dated styling. Either GM-Holden wasn’t talking to head office or (more likely) they just didn’t care,
but they came to regret it. They would remedy the mechanical and styling shortcomings with the next few models, but in the meantime the Falcon had the chance it needed to establish itself, and that car went on to become almost as much an institution as the Holden.

Of course, all this will end in the next few years as GM, Ford and Toyota follow Chrysler, Nissan and BMC/Leyland in ending production of their Australian models. It will be the end of an era and the much-loved ‘parallel universe’ will become but a memory.