Like the idea of owning an Aussie reckon you can’t afford one? Fear not. Prices for the performance stuff telephone numbers, still good buying out there. We’re talking cars that won’t mortgage and which, we’re betting, still have a fair bit of room fact, right now, they’re outperforming a lot of shares.
Our brains-trust has come up with the advice on what to look covers everything into the noughties surprisingly big variety of Enjoy! o classic but reck P ultra-rare high may look like te but there is stil tal require a second mortg to grow in value. In fac probably outperformin c top five buys, plus adv for and what to pay. It from the sixties to well and spans a surprising motoring tastes. Enjoy
FAIR $11,000 GOOD $23,000 EXCELLENT $32,000 (179 Special Sedan)
Step out of a modern Commodore and into an EH and you’ll be shocked at how different life in an Aussie family car was 50 years ago.
It feels tiny compared to a modern Commodore. There is heaps of headroom, but the whole thing feels narrow and terribly upright. Skinny little roof pillars provide an uncluttered view while the view over the bonnet clearly belongs to the square-rigged era.
Something else that strikes you is the sheer simplicity of the car. Controls seem rudimentary, and the engine bay! Andy Enright stood staring as we prepared the car for a shoot, commenting, “This is exactly what you’d want to teach a kid about how cars work. It’s all laid out for you, isn’t it?”
If you want to understand the appeal of older locally-made family cars as classics, the EH is a prime example. Simple, robust, easy enough to drive once you bet used to the inevitably vague column shift manual and undemanding to maintain.
In their day (1963), the big news wasn’t the chassis or appointments – which to the uninitiated looked like EJ gear – but the new powerplant. The legendary red-series engine was making its public debut and was the product of a new plant at Fisherman’s Bend (Vic) which GMH priced at a heady 11 million quid.
By this time the old grey motors were still doing sterling service but were no longer competitive in the horsepower race against Ford Falcon and Chrysler Valiant.
The new seven-bearing pushrod unit (with hydraulic lifters) came in three variants: 149ci low-compression rated at 95hp, a standard 149 at 100hp and the 179 claiming 115 horses. Far more powerful than
LIKE THE koalas that once grunted from every gum tree but are vanishing fast, EH Holdens are also becoming an endangered species.
During the past half century many EH owners have undertaken ‘improvements’ ranging from bigger wheels and disc brakes all the way to wild body chops and V8 engine transplants. Cars that have been modified in ways that enhance their usable lives shouldn’t be penalised too harshly by the market, but wild customs are in strife and showroom-stock is still the best spec for investors to pursue.
A Premier in authentic condition with its leather trim preserved or replaced will be the most costly EH (apart from the S4) to acquire.
Exceptional cars now reach $50,000, with station wagons and three-speed manual versions most costly of all.
A Special or Standard with a non-original engine and rust will probably sell below $15,000 however any decent car with an original ‘179’ engine is likely to top $20,000.
the four-bearing grey motor, it also claimed better fuel economy. It of course was eventually punched out to form the much-loved 202.
Initially the 179 was only offered with the auto Hydra-Matic trans, which was regarded as strong if uninspiring. The three-speed manual transmissions had to be upgraded before GMH was happy to see them cut loose with the big engine.
In its August 26 media release, GMH claimed 14 models across sedans, station wagons, utilities and panel vans. This was the first time a Premier badge was attached to a wagon and you could say niche marketing had truly arrived at Holden.
Though looking very similar to the EJ, there were numerous detail changes: the sedan tail was restyled and provided a little more boot space, grilles were changed, the sedans had different rear windows…the list goes on.
Of course the ultimate version of the EH was the Premier. John Wright, Unique Cars mag contributor and one of Australia’s foremost motoring historians, sees this model as being hugely significant in its day. In Special – the untold story of Australia’s Holden, he wrote: “Here was a truly desirable machine – quick, beautifully trimmed and finished, tough in the Holden way, spacious and the height of 1963 elegance.” He goes on to highlight some of its appealing features such as the Howe
leather used to trim the interior, the metallic (‘iridescent’) paint, the 179 chequered flag badges (a popular target for thieves) and the manual transmission – only because it was so much more lively than the Hydra-Matic auto.
He summed it up this way: “The 48-215 [the original Holden] was not just the best car in the world for Australia, it was one of the best cars in the world, full stop. While the EH Holden, even with its vigorous new engines, could no longer be called one of the best cars in the world, it was still probably the best car in the world for Australia.”
While the Premiers are high on the desirability list, the pinnacle is GMH’s first-ever homologation special, the S4 (see our story at tradeuniquecars.com.au via tinyurl.com/ h38ou6b). Running the 179 mated to an upgraded driveline, it was designed to get on the front row of the local touring car championship and achieved just that.
Of the six examples that joined the pack at Bathurst for the Armstrong 500 in 1963, it was the car driven by Ralph Sach and Frank Morgan which came second behind the Ford Cortina MkI GT driven by Bob Jane and Harry Firth.
Though a lap down, it was a mighty effort. That was backed up with a second place in the 1964 touring car championships with Norm Beechey at the helm.
If you suddenly want one, the term ‘homologation special’ should have rung alarms bells. Just 120 S4s were built, so good luck finding a real one for reasonable money.
However, that’s no reason to lose hope. The EH series sold just shy of 270,000 units in its brief reign – so there should be enough left for you to find something special!
PAUL WILLIAMS 1964 EH HOLDEN SPECIAL I HAD an EH when I was 19 and I liked the car, so now I just keep re-doing them.
I came across one eight years ago and I got it pretty cheap, it came up really well so I thought I’d do another one… and another one… and another one. I’ve actually got three EHs and an EJ, One’s a wagon which I’m getting back from the paint shop soon.
I just like the look of them, they had the red motor instead of the grey motor if you didn’t want to go up to the V8s.
This one was a full resto, like all of mine are. This one took about 12 months.
I finished three of them in 18 months.
The only things I don’t do are the paint and rebuilding the motors. This has been sandblasted and painted, brand new motor and gearbox and everything else has been done. ‘Bluey’ is the only one with the original interior, the others have all got new interiors in them. The only thing that’s been changed is the back, above the passenger seats, because they weather and crack.
I’ve tried to keep it as stock as possible.
I think it’s my favourite because it’s the first one I bought. It was all painted white. I think a grandfather owned it and gave it to his grandson. It was blue, but someone painted over it. I wanted it back to the original colour.
NUMBER MADE: 256,959 BODY STYLES: steel integrated body/chassis four-door sedan & station wagon, two-door utility & van ENGINE: 2442cc & 2934cc in-line OHV six cylinder with single downdraft carburettor POWER & TORQUE: 86kW @ 4000rpm, 237Nm @ 1600rpm (179) PERFORMANCE: 0-96km/h 11.2 seconds, 0-400 metres 19 seconds (179 manual) TRANSMISSION: three-speed manual or three-speed automatic SUSPENSION: Independent with coil springs, upper & lower control arms, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar (f) Live axle with semi-elliptic springs and telescopic shock absorbers (r) BRAKES: drum (f) drum (r) power assistance optional TYRES: 6.40 x 13 cross-ply
The vast majority of EHs in the market will have spent time in a panel shop and finding filler where metal should be is going to be almost unavoidable.
Places where you must be confident of having rust-free steel include all the floors, inner sills, sub-frame and rear spring mounts, around the front and rear windows and turret. Intact panel van sides without rust or window cut-outs are especially rare.
Used EH panels could once be found in sheds everywhere but prices are climbing.
New mudguards cost around $1500 a pair and body rubber kits range from $800- 1500.
The ‘Red Six’ engine range that generated such excitement when the EH was launched is a simple but adaptable engine. They cope well with performance tuning, even turbocharging, or can be reconditioned to standard specification for just $3000. Be wary of oil leaking from the rear main bearing and ‘kettle’ sounds from a struggling cooling system. Even when everything was new the EH manual shift-lever could flap like the tail on an over-excited Labrador.
Test that it doesn’t jump out of 2nd gear by accelerating then backing off a few times in quick succession.
The Hydra-Matic auto was a slow old thing but dependable. Diffs are almost impossible to break but do whine if they run out of lubricant. Look for stains on the housing.
Simplicity underpins the EH and there are seemingly no problems finding suspension parts.
The steering when in good condition is most kindly described as ‘indirect’ and once wear sets in you can find 75mm of free play at the top of the big plastic wheel plus lots of clunks and rattles.
Full kits of front-end repair parts including ball joints, idler arm and bushings come from various sources at $600-900. New front coil springs cost $200 per pair.
Rear leaf springs flatten with age and sometimes completely crack. Brand new at around $1000 a pair, new rear springs aren’t cheap but make sense if you intend keeping the car. Disc front brake conversions are a good idea.
Beyond the beckoning door of a basic EH lies.... well, not very much at all. If you’ve picked a Premier and want to duplicate the authentic pleated leather upholstery that is going to involve a specialist motor trimmer and some thousands of bucks to pay the bill; but vinyl for your bench seat Special is still fairly easy to find.
Minor repairs can be undertaken without replacing the entire cover. Electrics are very basic too, just be sure that the warning lights that signify low oil pressure or electrical issues do illuminate with the ignition. Otherwise they may have been disconnected. Electric wipers make these cars less horrific in the wet than previous vacuum models but a new wiper motor can cost $400.
FAIR $5,500 GOOD $14,500 EXCELLENT $23,500 (Calais turbo)
You can thank unleaded petrol for the VL Turbo. Specifically, the fact that Holden just could not see a way to make the old faithful 202 six-banger run successfully on the new brew. So rather than tear up otherwise useful money banging its corporate scone against a brick wall, Holden simply went shopping for a replacement donk. And what it found was the Nissan RB30, three-litre, SOHC six-cylinder which was also being fitted to locally-made Nissan Skylines. A deal was done and the VL Commodore of 1986 was the first full-sized six-cylinder Holden since the EJ of 1963 not to use what was effectively the old red motor.
And then a strange thing happened. Nissan of Nippon was also building a turbocharged version of the RB30 three-litre, but Nissan Australia wasn’t interested in it. Holden was, however. The turbocharged six got lower compression pistons, a different cam profile and a water-cooled Garrett turbo and found its way between the VL’s strut towers. No intercooler? Hey, what do you expect for less than 20-grand? In any case, the results spoke for themselves: 150kW, 296Nm a standing quarter-mile in a low-15 and a top whack of 220 or 230 kliks.
As a nod to the safety Nazis, Holden insisted you take your VL Turbo with the FE2 suspension pack and mandated 15-inch wheels to take the bigger front brakes. The good news was you could have your Turbo with either the four-speed auto from Nissan or a five-speed manual. And you could tick the Turbo box on everything from the Calais right down to the lightweight, povo-pack SL model. What was even crazier was that the Turbo Commo absolutely aced the five-litre V8 version when it finally arrived a couple of months later with a half-assed ULP
IF SOMEONE claims that young people aren’t into older cars any more, just take them along to a gathering of VL Commodore owners. Turbo versions of all kinds are hugely popular with under-40 enthusiasts and the Calais with its half-lidded headlights seems to have particular appeal. Prices are climbing and not just for cars that have been extensively and expensively modified.
Quite the reverse.
Standard VL Turbos are highly sought-after, so expect a feeding frenzy.
A preserved Calais Turbo with its original trim and paint is well worth pursuing and spending considerable money to acquire. Outstanding cars have been sold at around $30,000.
Basic SL and Berlina models offered in the marketplace probably won’t have all of their original mechanical components. Expect to pay around $12,000 for one of these in good condition.
Ex-police vehicles or “interceptors” identified by the BT1 designation on the data plate and either 80, 85 or rare 90-litre long range fuel tanks are highly desirable and are often cloned.
Excellent modified cars fall in the $15-20K bracket but original/ unmodified cars are thin on the ground and would command a significant premium due to their rarity.
conversion on the old 304 and a wheezy 122kW (and a three-speed auto). Again, it was the first time since the 1960s that the fastest Holden you could buy was a straight-six.
Eventually, the costs of using fully-imported engines purchased against a predatory exchange rate forced Holden to rethink the whole idea, so the next model Commodore, the VN, was engineered for the trusty old pushrod Buick V6 which was not really much more technically sophisticated than a 202 with Efi (and no bloody smoother) but had been built in huge numbers in the US where unleaded had been a reality for many more years. So the VL Turbo ran only from August 1986 until the same month in 1988. But in the process, it really carved out a name for itself and is still remembered fondly by blokes like me who road-tested them in the day.
Mind you, `fondly’ only applies to the powerplant, really, because the rest of the deal – in standard trim – was less convincing. The stiffer FE2 suspension was a nice idea, but it was underdone in terms of taming the VL’s wayward chassis. Oh the steering was nice enough at first but the front end lacked balance and the rear end lacked everything…mainly grip. One drive on a wet road had you reaching for the Hail Marys and the wooden stake. Obviously,
tyres weren’t then what they are today, but even on good rubber, a stock VL Turbo was a real handful. It lacked lateral grip, it lacked power-down and while the bread-and-butter atmo model was bad enough, combine those traits with the Turbo’s rushy delivery and you had yourself a big old bag-o-cats.
Inevitably, P Brock sniffed the air and built himself a batch of VL Turbo-based weapons, one of which I was lucky enough to sample. It was a pale metallic green five-speed and with a few undisclosed Brock tweaks it was a genuine missile. I never found out what its top speed was, but it was definitely, ahem, north of 250. And even thought the five-spoke Momos were lovely (and still are) details like the skanky velour roof lining and fiddly switchgear stamped even a Brock Turbo as very much a product of the 80s.
Beyond Brock, the Turbo’s ultimate fate was at the hands of the tuners who, as an emerging breed in this country, were still on a pretty steep learning curve when it came to forced induction, yes, they built some rockets after a while, but they also rooted many a perfectly good stocker in the process. So no change there, then.
TURHAN PEKER MELBOURNE, VICTORIA I’VE ALWAYS been interested in VL Turbos, I think it’s one of the best things Holden did back in the day. They ran out of time to find a motor to build for the VL, but Nissan had the straight-six three-litre motor with the turbo. I think that’s why these cars are still as popular as they were when they came out. Especially the BT1 Interceptor, it’s the iconic police car. As a member of the Victorian Police Historical Society I do a lot of events, so over time I’ve met a lot of people currently serving, or who drove these back in the day. They always say how good these cars were, that they were like a rocket on take-off.
I found out about the society through Victoria Police, and contacted them to tell them what car I have and to ask if they’d be interested in restoring it to what it once was back in the day. It’s been a continual project to get it back to how it was. I think the most interesting thing has been trying to source the parts the car would have had as a police car.
I think the one thing that stands out is that the bars have clear-coat on them, when they should have a satin finish.
That’s something I’m working towards getting done. The average person probably wouldn’t know anyway, but it’s just about paying attention to the finer details.
NUMBER MADE: 150,400 All models (approx. exc. HDT/HSV) BODY STYLES: steel integrated body/chassis four-door sedan ENGINE: 2962cc in-line OHC sixcylinder with, turbocharger & EFI POWER & TORQUE: 150kW @ 5600rpm, 296Nm @ 3200rpm PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h 7.6 seconds, 0-400 metres 15.3 seconds (Executive 5 speed) TRANSMISSION: five-speed manual, four-speed automatic SUSPENSION: Independent with coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers & anti-roll bar (f) Live axle with coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers (r) BRAKES: disc (f) disc (r) power assisted TYRES: 205/65 HR15 radial
Even a car that has been dutifully maintained will, after 30 years, be suffering deterioration of body rubbers and sealants and perhaps some crash repairs as well. The VL seems less susceptible to rust than earlier Commodores and vendors may claim their car to be ‘rust free’ but look at the turret, lower edges of panels, the boot channel, the boot-lid and wagon tailgate.
Check the front and rear winsdscreen surrounds for visible rust. Not long ago, a Turbo that suffered major mechanical failure might have been wrecked for its body and interior parts, but today that rarely happens and replacing worn Calais trim or unique front sheet metal is challenging.
Providing the straight six hasn’t been pushed beyond its considerable limits these engines hang together pretty well.
However there is always the temptation for owners to fit bigger turbos, inlet and exhaust systems and bumper-mount intercoolers and then ask extra money for features that are detrimental to durability.
Turbochargers rarely ‘pop’ without warning so look when test-driving for exhaust smoke indicating failed seals while listening for a whining noise when accelerating.
Manual and automatic transmissions are shared with other Nissan products, durable and far nicer to use than trannies fitted to previous Holdens.
VL Turbos with stock springs and standard shocks are very difficult to find and comments based on the standard setup are pretty much irrelevant. What we can say is that not every ‘uprated’ suspension will suit the subsequent buyer’s needs so test drive under a range of conditions before deciding to buy. An associated issue is large diameter wheels with ultra low-profile tyres. These provide minimal cushioning and send shock loadings into the suspension; they can also damage rims so check the inner edges for dents. Standard VL brakes were good and many will have been upgraded.
Beware a soggy pedal or pulsing from warped rotors.
Second-hand seats for lower-spec cars aren’t hard to find but that may not be the case If you’re hoping to refurbish a trashed Calais cabin.
Vinyl trim parts, hood lining and carpet are available but try to find a car that doesn’t need its seat trim replaced. Seat belts having been exposed to sun and trapped in doors for 30 years can be dangerous and it will be worth investing $500 or so in a set of new belts and inertia reel mechanisms. Calais headlights need to be checked a few times to ensure the covers raise and lower in unison and without catching. New light units are available for just $50 each but the mechanisms are difficult to replace.
FAIR $13,500 GOOD $24,000 EXCELLENT $34,500 (CV8-R)
Do you like Cinderella stories? Well here’s one for you. Back in the late 1990s, a group of Holden designers and engineers were sitting around one arvo after work, shooting the breeze on what a two-door coupe version of the current Commodore family car would look like. You know; the usual sort of stuff people like us usually talk about. But then things got a bit out of hand and, before you knew it, there were enough raised hands in the room that a lump of clay was dragged out and you could hear the slide-rules snapping at 30 paces.
Before long, a prototype called the Holden Concept Coupe was taking shape, behind closed doors and after hours, and it was starting to look sharp. So sharp, in fact, that somebody high enough in the organisation decided it needed to be the star turn at the 1998 Sydney Motor Show. Thing was, it was still a monster trade secret and even the Holden brass didn’t know about it. In fact, nobody outside the secret circle did, and it wasn’t until the dust sheet was pulled off on show morning that the reality was revealed.
Up to that point, the concept car had been designed as a gift to Holden from the design department to celebrate 50 years of local car production. But the public’s reaction to the two-door stunner put paid to that notion.
Suddenly, Holden was faced with a decision to make: Did it disappoint a lot of car-buying folks who wanted a slice of the action, or did it commit to production of a car it didn’t even know existed until that morning?
No-brainer, right? And equally obvious was what the name just HAD to be: Monaro. The production version was unveiled at the 2001 Sydney Motor Show and, just to prove that it didn’t know everything about Monaro buyers, Holden launched with two versions. The CV-6
THE REINCARNATED Monaro led a troubled life with flashes of brilliance and an undeserved, premature death. Notoriety can create interest in flawed cars (Ford’s Edsel and the Leyland P76 among many) so values may eventually climb.
However the cost of maintaining and housing a car for 20 years may absorb any profit.
When hunting for a V2 Monaro good enough to tuck away, pickings grow slimmer and prices balloon. You could in the current market spend $50,000 on a 245kW Series III with just 20,000 kilometres on the clock. Wads of documentation are mandatory to prove authenticity because only cars of that quality and provenance will be saleable in 20 years’ time.
Buyers today are more likely to view a CV8 as an interesting bit of 21st Century indulgence and a cheap ticket to enjoying some Holden heritage. $15,000 will currently buy a decent 2002-03 CV8 with ‘My Daily Drive’ stamped across its ample backside.
got the supercharged Buick V6 and auto-only, as well as the CV-8 with the all-alloy, 5.7-litre V8 and a choice of auto or six-speed manual.
After just a couple of years, the CV-6 was quietly dumped from price-lists, leaving the V8 to continue for another three years. Being based on the VX Series 2 Commodore at launch meant that the first V2 Monaro got a 225kW version of the Mexican-built V8, the now very dated dashboard layout and some pretty lairy trim colours. As the years passed, the upgrades applied to the Commodore found their way on to the Monaro and the final version, the CV8 Z got the snappier interior, sharper exterior lines and a 260kW tune for the LS1.
HSV had a dip, too, although the body kit it applied to its Coupe GTO and Coupe GTS allegedly horrified the prototype’s designer Mike Simcoe (who has just been appointed GM’s global head of styling, so the bloke is no mug). It’s hard not to side with Simcoe, too, as the spoilers and skirts of the HSV stuff don’t do the sleek two-door any favours at all. And the less said about HSV’s try-hard AWD Coupe 4 version, the better.
One drive of the new Monaro when it was new was enough to convince you it shared a lot of
engineering with the equivalent Commodore.
And it was also clear that Holden still had a very active Production Tolerance Variation Department on its payroll, because one Monaro could be a dog while the next was brilliant.
But even a decent one displayed the usual Commodore traits of soggy steering, a V8 that was soft off the bottom end, too-tall gearing and rear suspension that could toast a set of rear tyres quick-smart.
But one original V2 I recall was a dusty-purple colour and it was a dead-set peach. It was quick in a straight line and could hold its own even at a tight circuit like Winton. But more than that, it was a talkative drive. Yet, in a way, that only seemed to prove that not all Holdens were created equal back then. And get a `bad’ one and you were in for an engine that burned oil and rattled from day one.
But as a collectible, the sheer ravishing looks of the V2 will ensure it a spot at the big table.
And once you’ve sorted any glitches and got it working right, it will remain an Aussie classic that is good to drive. Like all Cinderella stories, of course, the pumpkin is never too far away. In this case, the move to the all-new VE Commodore for 2006 and the shift to the Zeta platform it was based on simply soaked up too much money, leaving no budget for a niche, two-door model.
GEOFF THURING MELBOURNE, VICTORIA MY PREVIOUS Monaro was a CV8 Z as well, but that car had been through a couple of hands and had been modified. It had been played with to the point where perfectionists wouldn’t like the car. With this car, the previous owner had really looked after it and went out of his way to keep it as standard as possible. This one was appealing because it’s a low Ks, one-owner car.
In my case, with the cars that I like to have and hold on to, originality is important. I don’t like when people modify cars to be not necessarily to everyone’s taste, but I do have other cars such as HSV Coupes that I’ve modified just to add that extra performance for driving.
With this particular car here, I’d probably add a supercharger to it, because that’s my business. I’m one of the directors at JHP. We work with performance Holden vehicles, so I know what can be gained out of a 5.7 with just a simple supercharger on there. The power and the torque really makes the car perform to today’s standards, with a pretty reasonable five-or-so seconds to 100.
My first car was a ’72 Monaro, I’ve always been following the Monaro brand, right thought the whole range from HQs to current model Monaro coupes. It’s an iconic, Australian performance muscle car, and the twodoor shape is really attractive to my eye.
It’s Aussie, and I like my Aussie cars.
NUMBER MADE: 12,000 (approx) BODY STYLES: steel integrated body/chassis two-door coupe ENGINE: 5665cc OHV EFI V8 POWER & TORQUE: 245kW @ 5600rpm, 465Nm @ 4400rpm (5.7 Gen III) PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h 6.1 seconds, 0-400 metres 14.2 seconds (Gen III manual) TRANSMISSION: six-speed manual, four-speed automatic SUSPENSION: Independent with Macpherson struts, coil springs & anti-roll bar (f) Independent with coil springs, trailing arms and telescopic shock absorbers (r) BRAKES: disc (f) disc (r) power assisted with ABS TYRES: 235/40R18V radial
Long, heavy doors that sag with age combine with indifferent build quality to make Monaros with consistent panel gaps a rare find. Poor fit can also signify a poor crash repair, so stare down beside the engine or from underneath for chassis rail and innermudguard repairs.
Blocked drain holes also cause chassis legs to rust. Check for water leaking into the boot from a damaged seal, window apertures for staining or rust bubbles and feel for damp carpets inside due to water leaks.
Cars with a sunroof were recalled in 2011 for replacement of bonding material that could allow glass to separate from the frame.
Neglected maintenance and defective components were responsible for major mechanical problems with early LS1 V8s. Most by now should have been replaced or rectified but valve train noise or chattering from the front of the engine can signify malfunctioning lifters or a loose timing chain. Cars that are hard to start or feel sluggish when accelerating may be suffering a range of conditions including fuel pump issues, clogged injectors, faulty anti-theft system (starts then stalls) or clogged catalytic convertor.
Faulty sensors also afflict older 5.7-litre engines. The T56 manual gearbox is tough but baulky to use around town. Most cars are automatic and should upshift under full power without slurring or shuddering.
If the rear wheels on a V2 are splayed and the tyres edge worn, money is going to be needed to fix rear suspension issues. Clunks at the front when changing direction suddenly, sharp reactions to bumps and steering that doesn’t react as it should are symptoms of more problems up front.
The four-disc brake set-up is very good when working properly and not bad even when in average health; a soft pedal or pulsing from warped disc rotors are annoying but not insurmountable as brake upgrades are available and priced from $1500 for complete sets of rotors, calipers and pads.
Problems with electric seat adjusters prompted a recall during 2003 to prevent shorting and possible fires.
Then, a couple of years later, the same cars were back at the dealer having another wire that could accidentally trigger the air-bag resited.
Check service history to ensure these important repairs have been undertaken. Noisy, slow or shuddering power windows can cost plenty to fix and the sunroof – where fitted – also needs to move smoothly.
Leather trim that has been maintained should still be in decent condition.
A car that shows scuffing or heavy creasing to the seats will probably be neglected in other respects too.
FAIR $7,500 GOOD $17,000 EXCELLENT $28,000 (HQ 308 Sedan)
At a time when local makers are abandoning ship, it’s enough to bring a tear to the eye to read the media release put out by GMH in October 1974 for the launch of the HJ. Here it is, in part: “The complete model line-up has benefited from a significant overall upgrading of interior appointments and mechanical equipment, resulting in increased comfort and driver convenience.
“The Managing director of GMH, Mr D Martin [not the popular singer – Ed], described the new models as a ‘major refinement of the HQ concept’.
“HJ builds on the major engineering changes introduced with HQ. We have built and sold nearly half a million HQs – more than any previous model Holden.
“Had it not been for the persistent shortages and disruptions to production of the past year, we would certainly have passed the half million mark months ago.”
That somewhat grumpy release is a glaring contrast to today. There’s a company that’s antsy because it could only average around 130,000 sales per year of its HQ series. Do you know how many Commodores were sold last year? Just 27,770.
The HQ through the HZ series represents a golden period for GMH. Sales were big and, though there was some loss of confidence by the time the bluff HZ rolled into town, the company was doing well. It’s hard to know which of this series is the pick of the litter.
Many people regard the HQ as the best-looking of this line, while the HZ – with its Radial Tuned Suspension set-up – was easily the best handling package.
As for the mid-models, such as the HJ pictured and its immediate successor the HX, they represented incremental upgrades.
The most noticeable difference is the big
GOOD LOOKS made the HQ Premier a popular car when it was new but even V8 versions have become relatively difficult to find in the specialist car market.
Perhaps there are survivors out there, in sheds and under houses owned by people who just cannot bear to part with them. But time is fleeting and cars hidden away can deteriorate to the point at which they become uneconomic to save.
If you do find a 1970s Premier in showroom order or close to it, values can be staggering when compared with the money they brought just a few years ago. Up to $40,000 is possible for a 308 Trimatic with extras and in ‘time capsule’ condition. $20-25,000 is realistic for very good V8s that have avoided significant modification.
HJ-HX versions didn’t sell nearly as well as the HQ and accordingly are more difficult to find.
They also bring decent money, with very good six-cylinder Premiers likely to cost $15,000 and the 4.2-litre V8 $5000-8000 more. The HZ is a little easier with excellent 5.0-litre V8s below $25,000.
square-framed snout on the HJ, which was far less delicate than on the HQ. The next styling giveaway was a similar squared-off raised section on the boot of the HZ.
By the time the HJ came along, you could get four engine variants: 2850cc six (in the base Belmont), 3.3 litre six, plus the 4.2 and 5.0 litre V8s.
From there, your options were three or four-speed manual (the latter was available in two sets of ratios) plus the Trimatic on sixes and 4.2 V8 or Turbo-Hydramatic autos on the 5.0 litre engines.
With rare exceptions, Premiers were generally ordered with the 3.3 or 4.2 matched to a Trimatic, aka the ‘Traumatic’ given their propensity to cook when used for towing behind V8s. The solution is to fit an oil cooler.
Spotting a Premier is pretty easy, thanks to the distinctive twin headlights. While one critic described the HJ Kingswood interior as “spartan and soul-less”, the Premier buyer luxuriated in bucket seats with centre console, a remotecontrolled mirror on the driver door and inertia reel seatbelts. Road testers also noted the HJ series had much-improved internal ventilation.
In February 1975, Modern Motor magazine noted a Premier would set you back a whopping $4980. The car it tested had a long list of extras, including the 4.2 V8, air-con and power steering plus a few other options (like radial tyres and radio!), which hiked the price tag to a stratospheric
$6293. The mag pointed out that you were then only $72 short of buying a base model Statesman, which it regarded as a much better car. Staff were also a little sceptical about the 4.2 eight, suggesting it did the job no better than the 3.3 six and suggesting that if you had to have a big engine, the 5.0 litre was a better choice.
So what did they reckon about the test car overall? “Taken all round, the Premier is relatively luxurious, comfortable, quiet, roomy and reliable.
It is fairly easy to drive and certainly it’s the best-styled member of the HJ range…it’s not good value for money. But bit it offers the well-known GMH solidarity and reliability.”
In most respects nothing has changed. Get in a car like the lovely six you see on these pages and you quickly realise they’re still a comfortable and bullet-proof cruiser that’s very easy to live with. One aspect has improved for the better: the value for money factor. You can get one of these with a heap of spares for 20k – we know, because this one is up for sale at tradeuniquecars.com.au. In the classic car world, that’s solid buying.
PETER GAVRIEL MELBOURNE, VICTORIA DAD BOUGHT it in 1976, he worked for Holden so I think he got a special deal at the time. He bought this after his EH played up on him. He didn’t buy another car, he passed away at age 85 and this was his daily drive.
It was the family car, it was still the car he drove to work, the shops, and church… the usual story you hear. I remember many things from my childhood, but the day he rocked up in the driveway I ran outside in my pyjamas and sat in there and went ‘this is just unbelievable’.
If I had the storage and the ability to put it somewhere and keep passing it on to the next generation, I’d keep it. At the end of the day I miss him, not the car. It’s kind of letting all that go, but it’s a toughie.
When he was in hospital, before he died, he was still worried about the car. He said I needed to do a service on it – just an oil and filter change, which was something I could do. I did that in his driveway before he passed away because he thought he’d be okay and the car would be ready and serviced.
It’s got 280,000 and he serviced it every 5000… That’s a lot of oil changes.
His theory was that if it had good oil the engine would last, and it has.
NUMBER MADE: 767,514 (all versions except Monaro) BODY STYLES: steel integrated body/chassis four-door sedan & station wagon ENGINE: 3310cc in-line OHV six-cylinder, 4142cc or 5044cc OHV V8 with single downdraft carburettor POWER & TORQUE: 101kW @ 4400rpm, 263Nm @ 2000rpm (202) PERFORMANCE: 0-96km/h 13.8 seconds, 0-400 metres 19.3 seconds (202 Auto) TRANSMISSION: three or four-speed manual, three-speed automatic SUSPENSION: Independent with coil springs, control arms, telescopic shock absorbers & anti-roll bar (f) Live axle with coil springs with four locating links and telescopic shock absorbers (r) BRAKES: drum or disc (f) drum (r) power assisted TYRES: 6.95 x 14 cross-ply0
With those bulbous panels and a complex structure, Holdens of this vintage frequently fell victim to rust and few that survived have been truly and properly repaired. Bubbles or signs of repair around the front and rear windscreens are warnings of more costly horrors to find.
Be especially wary of cars that have had the underside freshly painted and look for welds in strange places where patches may have been inserted. You would think given the number destroyed in HQ racing that bumpers for these cars would be scarce, however plenty are still available and good ones start at $200.
Six-cylinder Holden engines from 1971 increased in capacity but durability remained exceptional.
The ‘173’ and ‘202’ will still leak oil and rattle like angry snakes when the oil level gets low and starves valve lifters but little else goes awry. Pre-HX cars developed 101kW but that was slashed by 20 per cent when new emission controls were adopted.
Sometimes the emission equipment will have been removed but this risks failing a roadworthy inspection.
Overheating afflicts six and eightcylinder Holdens but a new water pump and reconditioned radiator total around $500. The vast majority of these cars will be Trimatic and displaying no transmission problems unless they have been abused.
Once the springs have cried enough, coilsuspended Holdens sag at both ends and occasionally at opposite corners. Dud front shock absorbers react badly even to slight bumps and a car with worn suspension components will be difficult to drive in a straight line. HZs with ‘Radial Tuned Suspension’ roll less and require smaller steering inputs than preceding models but are still nasty to drive once chassis components start wearing out. Good news is that you can replace virtually everything including springs for around $1000. V8s and most six-cylinders will have disc front brakes but if you believe the stoppers are no longer up to the job, upgrade kits are available and the whole job including certification should cost less than $2000.
Split seat stitching, torn headlining and carpets worn through to the underlay are sights you won’t want to see in a car that the vendor believes to be worth $10,000-plus but are nonetheless common.
Good news if you do find a 1970s Holden that’s decent in other respects, the interior isn’t costly to revamp. Recent on-line offerings have included rolls of correct seat vinyl at less than $40 per metre, carpet sets from several suppliers for around $200 – just be wary of quality – and excellent second-hand consoles at $250.
FAIR $6,500 GOOD $15,000 EXCELLENT $24,000
By the late 1970s Australians had become oblivious to the sight of sedans with European badges and sporting pretensions let loose on our roads. The shock would hit though when a car with those attributes would find its way into a Holden showroom.
The German-sourced Commodore represented the biggest marketing challenge and social risk in Holden’s history. The company desperately needed some up-to-date design technology but lacked the money or market size to justify a stand-alone design of the Commodore’s sophistication. It was also nervous about the reaction of a parochial buying public to new mainstream models coming from ‘over there’.
Top of the tree and in effect replacing the outmoded Monaro (and SS Torana too) was the SL/E. Not a stripe, black-out panel or machine-turned dash to be seen, but those who drove a V8 SL/E over any distance couldn’t avoid being impressed by the car’s competence as a long-distance tourer. OK, it came from Germany but this compact, feature-packed sedan with an Aussie engine crammed between its strut towers was a serious player.
Not all of Opel’s sophisticated chassis design was going to work here - at least not without significant modification. One ex-rally man who was involved in testing V8-powered ‘mules’ recalled cars being pounded through rough terrain in the Flinders Ranges that threatened to punch their front suspension struts straight through the bonnet.
Extra strengthening helped but it’s pertinent to note that Holden when developing its entries for the 1979 Repco Trial - which it dominated - specified six-cylinder engines.
Dust sealing was another issue of which the
THE MOST significant new Holden in 30 years took almost as many years to generate collector market recognition. Just six years ago when a VC SL/E decorated the cover of Unique Cars’ 2009 Value Guide cover, VB and VC V8 automatic values averaged $7500 and manual ‘308 pack’ versions were worth $10-12,000. Look where they are headed now.
Finding a fourspeed manual SLE is difficult and becoming expensive. Values of up to $40,000 have been suggested for a manual, 308-engined VB in showroom stock condition. 4.2-litre automatics will generally cost 30 per cent less than a 5.0-litre car and the 3.3-litre is cheaper again.
Colour can have an effect as well. Some of the drab-looking metallic blues, green and gold lost their sheen very quickly so buyers preferred the darker, solid colours.
Later versions with ‘Shadowtone’ two-toned paint have become very scarce, perhaps because when they needed a repaint due to fading or damage the owners chose to save money and revert to a single colour.
Europeans knew very little.
People who encountered an SL/E quite often approached it like a star-ship that had zapped in from another world. This was not a Holden, surely? Replace the badge and it could be a BMW and how’s that going to get on in a land where the regional dealer only knew how to blow grit out of a clogged carby and weld busted spring hangers?
Scepticism soon turned to adulation, especially once the coves at the golf club who had stumped up $12K for an SL/E with all the whistles started raving about them.
The velour-trimmed seats didn’t exude much class but they were way ahead of the hounds tooth inserts to which Monaro owners had become attuned. The dash looked classy enough with lots of dials including a quartz clock and big tachometer that was easily visible through the two-spoke steering wheel. Even the radio/cassette system was branded ‘Eurovox’.
By the time the VH arrived in 1981 the trim had gone from glam to garish, with two-toned cloth screaming in unison with the ‘Shadowtone’ exterior. However the SL/E was now regarded as a genuine prestige purchase with fast glass on all four windows, optional air-conditioning and a useful if awkward trip computer. At a third the price of comparable Benz, BMW and offerings it should have had buyers of those cars really questioning their motives.
Less apparent but significant was driveability that outshone the bigger Premier and even the lighter but less comfortable A9X Torana. ‘308 Pack’ cars came equipped with the four-speed manual ‘box, 125kW engine, four-wheel disc brakes and the first set of 15-inch wheels to be seen on a Holden in many a moon.
As the years rolled by and subsequent versions of the SL/E were introduced, the head-swivelling attraction of those original VBs was muted.
Two-toned paint was seen as a gimmick and by the time the series was stood aside in favour of the VK Calais its contribution to dwindling Holden sales must have been minimal.
Subsequent years weren’t kind to SL/Es, leaving few cars with all of their original equipment, wheels, trim and paint still in place. Still fewer have been maintained or restored to the kind of condition where they can snatch show trophies from the grasp of owners with earlier models.
Plastics and other ‘modern’ materials share some responsibility for the deterioration and demise of SL/E Commodores. Equally significant however has been apathy, even discrimination that has seen these cars left to rot while money is lavished on earlier, less competent Holdens.
Too late now to do anything except diligently preserve the cars we still have and acknowledge the early Commodore’s significance as an agent for change in Australian motoring.
BEN WADDLE MELBOURNE, VICTORIA MY DAD came home from golf one day and said a mate of his was selling his wife’s VH, so I told him to go buy it without thinking about it too hard.
He bought it home and everyone was pretty rapt with it. He probably drove it for about two years on and off and then he passed away. I took it off the road and stored it at a mate’s place and that’s where it stayed for a couple of years.
Eventually, I started driving it on a regular basis. Then I decided I was going to get married, so I took it off the road and stripped it back and did all the work myself.
It was back on the road and there for my wedding, so Dad could be there for it.
It’s a 253, so a 4.2 litre V8. It’s a sad excuse for a V8, really.
It’s more a glorified six. It’s pretty plush, it’s velour everywhere.
Burgundy velour. It’s even got a burgundy dash.
It’s a killer. You actually get in it and it’s small. That was a family car back in the day. They stayed that size until about the VN.
It’s something I’d never part with, it’ll be in my family for a long while.
When someone passes away you don’t really want to let go of everything they had, especially now that I’ve put so much work into it.
NUMBER MADE: 346,000 All models (approx. exc. HDT) BODY STYLES: steel integrated body/chassis four-door sedan ENGINE: 3298cc in-line OHV six-cylinder, 4142cc or 5044cc OHV V8 with single downdraft carburettor POWER & TORQUE: 126kW @ 4200rpm, 325Nm @ 2600rpm (VC 5.0-litre) PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h 10.4 seconds, 0-400 metres 17.1 seconds (5.0-litre auto) TRANSMISSION: four-speed manual, three-speed automatic SUSPENSION: Independent with Macpherson struts, coil springs & anti-roll bar (f) Live axle with trailing arms, coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers (r) BRAKES: disc (f) disc (r) power assisted TYRES: BR60-H15 radial
Check sills, floors and windscreen surrounds for rust. Also the sub-frame for cracks, rust and kinks due to cheap crash repairs.
Non-functioning headlight wipers are pretty normal but a car with them working is likely to be pretty good in other respects. Due to poorquality paint, very few of these cars will have escaped without a respray but try to avoid – or pay less for – cars that have been painted nonoriginal colours. New bumpers are available at $350-450 and full kits of body rubbers for $1000-1200. Check that the plastic grille hasn’t been glued back together after cracking.
As with engines in other Holdens, the SL/E’s locally-made V8s and 3.3-litre six leak oil, suffer from noisy valve-trains and the consequences of overheating. In severe cases this can manifest in cylinder head warping or cracked piston rings with excessive oil consumption. Rebuild are simple with all parts including secondhand engine blocks available and cheap.
As the engine bay of a V8 SL/E is tightly packed and heat has nowhere to go, the cooling system must be maintained. Most SL/Es will be threespeed automatic but some were built originally with the longserving M21 manual gearbox. As manual cars are desirable and conversions not difficult, verify any car claimed to be a genuine four-speed V8 before handing over cash.
Although the Commodore was designed in Europe, its suspension owes little to the chassis engineers at Opel.
The Commodore strut towers needed reinforcement for Australian conditions and the complex trailing-arm rear suspension was changed. A car that continues to bounce for some distance after a bump or won’t stay straight without steering corrections has major – perhaps structural – problems.
Normal maintenance is easy and parts are available.
SL/Es came with front and rear disc brakes and neglected cars will pulse through the pedal under light brake applications or pull to one side. If a disc is cold to touch after the car has been driven for a while it isn’t working at all.
Big issues here even though previous owners may have cared for the car very well. The power windows – where fitted – literally fall to bits and are very hard to repair. The die-cast frames crack and jam the mechanism, then the cables that move the glass come adrift and are a nightmare to replace. Check that air-conditioning outlets are blowing cold and not just cool air and that all the instruments and warning lights are connected. Vinyl for seat bolsters and door-trims is available in a range of colours but matching the cloth seat inserts will involve hunting down suitable fabric – perhaps via a trimmer who specialises in older Holdens.