Curbside Classic: 1969-70 Holden Brougham – A Case Of GM Following The Market

Recently I shared this Holden Brougham that was hooked to the front of a classic caravan at the Historic Winton race meeting, and I took the opportunity to get some photos of the car with the idea of delving a little further into its story.

The Brougham was Holden’s flagship, having been introduced in May 1968 as a response to 1967’s Ford Fairlane and Chrysler Valiant V.I.P.  The Fairlane had the same physical relationship to the Falcon as in the US (5” additional wheelbase), however the market position was quite different in Australia.   The V.I.P. shared the standard Valiant’s body initially; it would add 4″ of wheelbase for the 1969 VIP model.

GM, Ford and Chrysler were still selling full-size North American sedans at this time – Chevrolet and Pontiac in the case of GM, the Impala, Laurentian and Parisienne all in the form of CKD kits from Canada due to an historical import tariff advantage with a fellow British Commonwealth country.  The cars were very well-specified with a 327/Powerglide standard; there was no room for lower-trim cars as Holdens filled that demand.

The Holden car had grown steadily with each new generation, but after the Valiant and then 1966 Falcon lifted the bar further, the 1968 HK model Holden (introduced in January that year) was a substantial 5” increase in wheelbase to 111” (matching Falcon and Valiant), a 3.7” jump in overall length and 1.8″ in width over the previous HR model.  Curb weight went up around 400 lb – this was a much more substantial car.

The interior is where this was most evident, with the 1.8” increase in width going straight into making life more comfortable for any centre passenger, front or rear.

The existing Holden body styles of sedan, wagon, ute and panel van carried over, as were the 161 (2.6L) and 186 ci (3L) six-cylinder engines.  Trim levels were the very basic Belmont, Kingswood and Premier.  The interior shown above is from this Premier, which also had a unique roof with a more upright rear window.

There were some big new additions to the Holden range, starting with a V8 engine available to match the Valiant and Falcon.  Holden somehow convinced the GM brass in Detroit that they needed to build their own V8, however it was not ready by the start of 1968 so a 307ci Chevy (pictured above) was used to initially.

The Monaro was the first Holden coupe, and it definitely made its mark but is really a story for another day.

Also debuting in July 1968 was the Brougham.  I don’t know if Holden had any knowledge that Ford would be releasing the Fairlane in March 1967, but 16 months is a pretty impressive response time.  In this light it is understandable that there wasn’t a corresponding wheelbase increase.  ‘Standard’ cars traditionally had much shorter rear overhangs in Australia for a reason, because they were used like SUV’s are today.

To gain the size necessary to compete with the Fairlane, Holden instead just stretched the boot (trunk) by nearly 8” for a total length of 192.1” from 184.8” of the standard cars.  This took boot (trunk) space up to a claimed 32 cu.ft.  The squarer roofline of the Premier was used to liberate some additional rear headroom.  Most would have had vinyl on top.

The interior was made quite a bit plusher, note the large panels of burl walnut.  Paul commented on the under-dash air conditioner in his Classic Capsule article – these cars were developed just slightly too early have adopted flow-through ventilation.  You can’t see the inch-thick underfelt or the nice cut-pile carpets that also extended to the boot.  I think the round instruments of this HT facelift model are partly a wider trend, but surely show the influence of the sporty Monaro.

The radio is an interesting piece; it has radio station call signs to mark the stations rather than frequencies.  In the eastern states at least it was normal to have just the ‘local’ stations shown rather than the 80+ stations on the faceplate here.  Unless you were familiar with interstate stations surely it wouldn’t help much anyway.

Interestingly the rearward travel of the front seat was restricted to ensure legroom for those in the back.  The top of the rear seats are protected against our notorious UV rays, which is good because this looks immaculately original with just some shrinking of C-pillar vinyl trim to give away the car’s near-50 year age.

The brochure didn’t really address the lack of additional legroom, but did drop the 32 cu ft boot/trunk capacity.  The model chosen bears a resemblance to Sir Robert Menzies, who was Prime Minister of Australia for 17 years, up to 1966.  With the chauffeur, the brochure does present a certain image for the car, which was unlikely to have been matched in reality.  Anyone employing a chauffeur in late-1960s Australia probably owned a much fancier car than a mere Holden, no matter how much GM-H would like to believe otherwise.

The wheel covers are an interesting design, being a more elaborate version of those on lower models.  Do they look familiar to American eyes?  The V8 was standard, together with automatic transmission, power steering and power front disc brakes.

The HT facelift of May 1969 saw some extra differentiation for the Brougham over the rest of the range, with the extra grille below the bumper.  The new Holden 308 V8 debuted in the Brougham slightly ahead of the rest of the range.  Because it had a 4-barrel carburettor the 308 was rated at 240 hp at 4800 rpm and 315 ft-lb at 3000 (compared to the –barrel 307’s 210 bhp at 4600 and 300 ft-lb at 2400).

I’m not sure what was changed for the HG model of July 1970, apart from the 2-speed Powerglide transmission being replaced by Holden’s new 3-speed Trimatic (TH180) automatic.  Either way, sales were still pretty low.  I haven’t seen any figures but all accounts state that sales were a fraction of what the Fairlane did, and that the Brougham only continued because there were completed body shells in stock.  Apparently some leftovers were even crushed when production ended.

So the Brougham was an interesting if ultimately unsuccessful car, and it did serve the purpose of flying the flag for Holden in the emerging local luxury car market.  This was important because US cars were losing their place in the market; the 1968 GM models were the last with assembly continuing into 1969 and sales lasting until 1970, while Ford and Chrysler continued for just a few more years.

The 1971 HQ Holden series featured a long-wheelbase sedan, in Statesman and Caprice form, which went from strength to strength until an entirely different set of circumstances saw it on hiatus from 1984-1990, after which it continued on until the end of Holden production in 2017.


Related Reading:

Classic Automotive History Capsule: 1968 Holden Brougham – A New Philosophy Of Luxury: Boot(y) Augmentation

Curbside Classic: 1980-85 Statesman WB by General Motors-Holden – What a Beaut

CC Global: A Celebration of Holdens On The Day the Very Last One Rolls Off the Line