CLASSIC Vinyl

FOUR-DOOR CLASSICS

WORDS GUY ALLEN * PHOTOS NATHAN JACOBS

ONCE UPON A TIME, VINYL-ROOFED V8s ROAMED THE EARTH AND NOW THESE LUXO EIGHTS MAKE BRILLIANT RETRO CRUISERS

With the prices of collectible cars steadily climbing, egged on by the shutdown of local manufacturing by Ford and Holden, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all over for the would-be collector on a modest budget. Not so – or at least not yet.

This is one of those stories that came about by accident. Staff photographer Nathan Jacobs was shooting his pet XB Fairmont on our shiny new studio when we got talking about his car and the equivalent Holden. It turns out one of the folk who lives more or less next door to our office, Geoff, owns a V8 HQ. So we knocked on his door and asked if we could borrow him and the car for a day, please.

What this exercise proved is that while prices for the ultra high-flyers of Aussie motoring history have long gone past the $100k mark, you can still get a damned nice up-spec Seventies sedan for around the $20k mark. That gets you a classic or a second-hand Camry – which would you rather have?

Let’s have a look at what you get for the money.

HOLDEN

Widely regarded as the most significant Holden car since the original 48-215, the HQ was a clean-sheet design that was manufactured in staggering numbers:

think 485,650 sedans!

In a piece written to celebrate the car’s 40th anniversary, author and UC contributor John Wright wrote: “The HQ Holden must be seen as one of the most important cars in the history of the Australian automotive industry. Despite being overshadowed in the public memory by the Bathurst glory machines (most notably the Ford Falcon GTHO Phase III), it was the 1971 Holden that compellingly showcased the potential of the industry which really began during World War I (when the danger to shipping led to the local manufacture of car bodies) but came of age on 29 November 1948 when the original 48-215 ‘FX’ Holden was introduced to the clamouring public.

“The HQ exemplified the brilliant ingenuity of the local industry. It was entirely Australian (as was the LH Torana which was released in 1974).

From the one platform, the product planners developed a range of sedans and coupes, a coupe utility and related panel van, a One-Tonner, the long-wheelbase wagon and luxury cars.

Here were formidable economies of scale and considerably more than half a million HQs were produced, including 485,650 Belmont, Kingswood and Premier sedans. Imagine if the HQ range had also been built in left-hand drive!

“It was perhaps the most beautiful series of cars ever developed in Australia. Even as a Belmont Silver Top, the HQ offered an eloquent statement of style. In Monaro GTS coupe guise it was nothing short of gorgeous. And the long-wheelbase Statesman De Ville made its Fairlane rival look almost gawky.”

That doesn’t mean the HQ was beyond criticism – far from it. While the exterior styling was almost universally applauded, the dynamics copped a roasting. The issue was the handling, credited to (or blamed on) chief engineer George Roberts. An American,

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HOLDEN PREMIER HQ 253 V8 (1971-74)

THE HQ ranks as the most visually exciting Holden of all time yet delivered minimal mechanical or chassis engineering advancement.

The smaller, cheaper ‘253’ V8 offered a useful marketing tool for dealers; combining decent economy with the attraction of some V8 rumble for not much extra money. Almost all of these 136kW V8 Premiers came with Tri-Matic auto transmission so a factory three or four-speed manual may interest collectors.

Even when new, you could almost hear the sound of rust bubbling beneath the paintwork or ubiquitous vinyl roof covering. A lot succumbed early to corrosion and the first priority when considering any HQ is close inspection of the body structure followed by floors and panels.

Prices for worn and/or nonoriginal cars begin below $5000 but anything worthwhile will be priced at $12,000 and above.

The values of a modified Premier depend on how any changes might impact the character of the car. An exceptional one will climb over $20k.

“WHILE THE EXTERIOR STYLING WAS APPLAUDED THE DYNAMICS COPPED A ROASTING”

VALUE RANGE

FAIR $5500 GOOD $14,500 EXCELLENT $21,500

GEOFF SARKIES MELBOURNE, VICTORIA

IT’S A 253 V8 sedan, three on the column manual with no power steering unfortunately.

The car was ordered new by my late uncle with a bench seat and integrated airconditioning.

All the cars he’d had before were three-on-the-tree and it wasn’t until a few years ago he bought his first automatic and discovered what he’d been missing all these years! I understand the manuals with the V8s in the Premiers are quite a rare car.

Without power steering it’s quite heavy to get off the mark, but once you’re actually rolling it’s a very nice cruising car. It’ll never blow anything off the road, but it’s a lovely car just to cruise down the road in.

It’s good in modern day traffic. It can keep pace with modern cars and you don’t have to worry much about the braking side of it – this one has the disc brakes on the front.

I did have another when I was about 21 – it was a wagon. It wasn’t all that old at the time and it was a bit of a lemon. That was enough to turn me off them for all these years. It wasn’t until my uncle passed on that this came down the family and I took the opportunity to buy it. This was a real eye-opener compared to the wagon and showed what a really nice car it is.

“HQ RACING REMAINS ONE OF THE MOST ENTERTAINING CATEGORIES”

he was accused of introducing Cadillacinfluenced ride and handling, which was undeniably plush but vague and suffering from serious understeer when pressed. Some within the corporate structure preferred to see this is a safety feature, where the car’s front tyres would squeal loudly long before the machine’s cornering limits were reached.

It took until the HZ of 1977-80 and the fitting of RTS (radial tuned suspension) for the handling of the series to be sorted, though there are plenty of retro-fit upgrades available.

Typically for the period, the buyer was confronted with myriad choices as they sat down to order a car. You could have packages starting with the Belmont, working through to the Kingswood, the ritzy Premier or the sporty GTS. Engines came in 173 or 202-cube sixes, plus three V8s: 253, 308 and 350. Neither of the sixes really impressed the critics in this large car, though the 202 did go on to power an entire races series. HQ racing remains one of the most entertaining categories on the planet.

The Premier on these pages is a little unusual in its spec. While the 253 ‘baby’ V8 was a popular choice and fairly economical on the highway, this car has a bench front seat and three-speed manual column shift transmission. In addition to the motor, the other big luxury was the integrated airconditioning.

Normally you’d also expect to see bucket seats and a Trimatic auto plus, very likely, the power steering option box ticked as well. If you had any sense, you’d then go for

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the optional ventilated front disc brakes, which by all reports worked well.

With the more usual spec, what you had was an upmarket family car, driven by the mid-level company exec or business person who was starting to experience a bit of success. The distinctive dual lamps up front clearly announced this was not just another Holden, while the vinyl roof spelled luxury cruiser rather than sports car.

Fans of the HQ series reckon a combination of a 253 with manual four-speed and bucket seats is the combination to have if you want a car that’s fun to drive though we can see heaps of appeal in a Premier with a more stately intent.

S M A R T B U Y E R ' S T R O U B L E S H O O T I N G

FORD XB FAIRMONT V8 (1973-76)

If during the 1970s you rated a company car-space and a Fairmont with ‘air, steer and a V8’ then your star was certainly ascending in corporate Australia.

Most of the Fairmont V8s sold came with 4.9-litre, ‘302’ cubic inch motors which delivered solid performance even when hooked to a three-speed automatic.

Good thing for towing too and as a result a lot also dipped their tails in the briny while launching Mr Divisional Manager’s recreational ski-craft. The resulting rust saw many XBs trashed.

Rust, especially in the rear panels, floors and under vinyl roof coverings will quickly push the cost of saving an afflicted car beyond the means of most buyers.

Options such as air-conditioning, a sunroof and working eighttrack sound system will enhance collector appeal. A GS dress-up pack can boost value.

XBs with a V8 and in need of significant renovation will likely cost $6000-8000. If a car is good with no obvious bubbling and a decently-preserved interior the asking rate jumps quickly to around $15,000. A manual Fairmont V8 wagon in mint condition will likely generate offers in the $35-40k range.

FORD

Ford’s XA-XB-XC series had a pretty hard act to follow: namely the successful and now highly-prized XW-XY series.

The latter had done much to recover the brand’s reputation after a shaky start with locally-made product in the early sixties, but there was no doubt that hot competition from both GMH and Chrysler meant the next generation would be critical.

With little other than the basics of the XY floorpan (albeit with altered track) to work with, Ford created what was for the time a dynamic ‘coke bottle’ profile that was both less elegant and less conservative than the rival Holden. In corporate history, its real significance is that it’s regarded as the first all-Australian designed car, even if much of the development physically occurred in the Ford’s Dearborn facility. The reasoning was, at the time, there was nowhere locally that offered the space required for full-size clay modelling. While located in the USA, the project was led and managed by Ford Australia personnel.

The reception of the cars was less controversial than for the HQ, though they weren’t immune to criticism. You’d have to wonder at the persistence with leaf springs on the rear when the Holden had gone to coils – though the more traditional design hung on for a decade

“YOU’D HAVE TO WONDER AT THE PERSISTENCE WITH LEAF SPRINGS WHEN HOLDEN HAD GONE TO COILS”

VALUE RANGE

FAIR $7500 GOOD $15,500 EXCELLENT $23,500

“THIS GENERATION IS ARGUABLY THE PICK OF THE STYLING LITTER”

and had plenty of supporters. (As an aside, I mentioned this to resident Ford fan Angelo the Artist, who promptly informed us that Ford tried rear coils – actually designed to accommodate air suspension – for one year only in the 1958 Thunderbird. Don’t say we never give you any trivia to chew over!)

As with Holden, you could order a wealth of variants from the XA-on range. The basic package was Falcon, then Falcon 500, Futura, Fairmont and of course the GT. Engines started with the somewhat uninspiring 200 cube six, the far more competent 250 six (with two levels of carburettor), plus eights in 302 and 351 guise.

Ford Australia undertook some clever redevelopment of the 250, 302 and 351 engines, extracting better performance and in some cases producing a smoother package.

With the killing off of the Phase IV GT-HO, it was left to the RPO83 to carry on the four-door performance flag. However the coupe was the real performance flagship in the eyes of many, with three Bathurst wins to its name, including a famous Moffat-Bond one-two result in 1977. Cementing the coupe’s place in local folklore has been actor Eric Bana’s long term affair with his XB.

The XB you see here is a very typical upmarket Falcon of the period. This generation is arguably the pick of the styling litter – visually toughened up a little from

NATHAN JACOBS MELBOURNE, VICTORIA

IT’S A factory 302 with three-speed auto on the tree and aftermarket air.

I’ve had the engine reconditioned so it’s nice and healthy.

I’ve had it for three years – Dad always had an XB Fairmont, so I’ve always had a love for them. I just had to have one and it had to be a V8.

It’s really nice to drive – sits in traffic beautifully and doesn’t overheat. It’s got air-con and power steering, so it’s a real pleasure to drive.

Now it’s only really a weekend cruiser. I had a 1964 XM station wagon, white with a red interior. That was a really pretty car but it had a few rust issues, so it was time to move it on.

This one is easy to look after, it doesn’t need much, a bit of a polish now and then and that’s about it.

If you’re looking for one, try to get one with minimal rust. It’s pretty much impossible to get one rust-free these days unless you’re paying big dollars. And just look for something original. A lot of these are tampered with, so it’s hard to find them with original parts.

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the XA. It also claimed one important technical advance, disc front brakes were now standard across the range. Popularity was no issue, with 220,765 XBs of all types built.

As a drive, they had a reputation for being sharper than the HQ. There was a yawning gap in the power figures for a Holden 253 and Ford 302 (185 horses versus 240), but the two cars were dead even on that front if you specified the Holden 308. Inside the Falcon seems a little more plush, though the under-dash airconditioning on this car is a stark reminder of what we often saw in local cars of the time.

As for pricing, it was a hard-fought battle, as you’d expect. A basic HQ Belmont of 1971 started at $2730, while that quickly climbed well over $3000 as you ticked “Premier’ and a few option boxes. The Ford? An XB Fairmont was listed at a starting price of $4044, so add a bit for a car with the spec of the one you see here.

Average annual earnings in 1973 (the year the XB was introduced and when the HQ was still current) were $5242 compared to $59,450 in 2015. When you compare car prices to salaries, you could argue you now get more for your money in cars than you did a few decades ago.

“WHEN YOU COMPARE CAR PRICES WITH SALARIES YOU COULD ARGUE YOU GET MORE VALUE THAN YOU DID A FEW DECADES AGO”

AND NOW?

It’s funny to watch how the very same car can change roles over a lifetime of 40-something years. When new, the HQ or XB would have been a prized possession that you would have been proud to have in the garage. In fact you might be tempted to leave the door open so the neighbours could see you’d ‘arrived’ – you could afford a big upmarket local car.

As they move on to their second owners, they’re still cherished, but are no longer the new kid on the block, but rather a nice late-model transport. Typically the car will move through successive owners, deteriorating along the way, until it becomes the old clunker that no-one’s too bothered about.

Funny thing is though, for many of these cars, the kids who might have been a bit embarrassed to be seen in ‘that old thing’ when they were little, are now big enough to drive and are pulling them out of the shed.

The Premier and the Fairmont these days qualify as good solid classic cruisers that are simple enough to maintain and still provide a hell of a lot of fun. Keep an eye out for the rust fairies and you shouldn’t go too far wrong…

SEE THE PERIOD XB . P R O M O !

1975 FORD XB FAIRMONT

NUMBERS BUILT 220,765 (XB series) BODY 4-door sedan ENGINE 302 V8 POWER 175kW @ 5000 TORQUE 414Nm @TRANSMISSION 3-speed auto SUSPENSION Front: independent with coils, shocks. Rear: live axle semi-elliptic springs, shocks BRAKES discs front, rear WHEELS 14x6 (optional) PRICE WHEN NEW 000 2600 peed nt: s, tele e with , tele drum onal) $4100

SEE THE PERIOD HQ . P R O M O !

1971 HOLDEN HQ PREMIER

NUMBERS BUILT 220,765 (XB series) BODY 4-door sedan ENGINE 253 V8 POWER 138kW @ 4400 TORQUE 355Nm @2400 TRANSMISSION 3-speed manual SUSPENSION Front: independent with coils, tele shocks. Rear: live axle with four-link arms, coil springs and telescopic shocks BRAKES discs front, drum rear WHEELS 14x5 (standard) PRICE WHEN NEW $3700