Whatever happened to the giant Aussie luxo-cruisers that sold by the thousands? Long in the wheelbase, with a big V8 stuffed up front, they were the ultimate local land yachts, just perfect for the big interstate trip. Now, they’re a relatively rare sight, which is a shame. Though they may be dinosaurs, these old bombers have a hell of a lot to offer, even today, decades after we stopped producing them. Join us as we meet some owners, and go for a guided tour of the pick of the litter.
HDT WB MAGNUM
(Note: exceptional cars will demand more)
It’s one of the joys and frustrations of buying a car like an HDT Magnum: trying to work out exactly what’s underneath the paint and how many were made. The thing is that HDT, at the stage this monster was built, could and would build whatever your little heart (and wallet!) desired. So whatever Magnum you own, there’s a good chance it’s just a little bit different to the one that came after it. We’re not talking production lines here.
What’s a Magnum? Essentially Brock’s take on a high-performance luxo tourer. Something that would comfortably cross the continent.
A Holden WB Statesman in DeVille or Caprice form was the starting point. From there HDT would and could do some minor upgrades, but to get the prized HDT build plate you needed to go at least with the suspension and engine modifications.
Exactly how many were built is open to conjecture. HDT’s current owners say the number is under 100, while we’re hearing under 120 from other sources. ‘Not a lot’ is correct.
The car you see here is a very good example of what you’d get if you went the ‘full monty’ with the HDT catalogue. To start with, the 5.0lt engine was upgraded to Group 3 specs, which meant a huge 50 per cent lift in power from 126 to 188kW (169 to 252hp).
That was achieved with a Quadrajet carburettor (‘blueprinted’ if you ticked the appropriate option) mated to a cold air intake, a different inlet manifold, bigger valves, altered combustion chambers and a 9.2:1 compression ratio. The transmission was a beefed-up Trimatic and you probably would have been well-advised to run the optional transmission cooler and perhaps the engine oil cooler as well. To cap it off, you could specify a 3.08 ratio limited slip diff, which is on this example.
As for the chassis, that received a lot of attention, too. The whole car was lowered substantially, and fitted with reworked Bilstein dampers, different rate springs, beefier roll bars, all in addition to altered geometry. That was completed with a Momo steering wheel.
The car also sat on (assuming you ordered them) 16 x 8-inch alloy wheels, running Pirelli P7 rubber.
As for cosmetics, you could mix and match whatever Holden offered across the Statesman range, while HDT could add its own touches such as changing the brightwork for colour-coded trim plus tinting for the windows and lights.
Fully kitted-out, you could easily end up spending mid $30-thousands on what would undeniably be a very special car. It was also about half the price of a house!
The example you see here belongs to Neil Peck and has proved to be an award-winner at assorted shows, not least of which was last year’s huge Brock anniversary gathering at Mount Panorama and run by the Brock Commodore Owners (bcoaa.com).
THE MARKET for older vehicles runs on a diet of everything except logic. That probably explains why a car with the space, looks and scarcity of an HDT Magnum has throughout its life struggled to match the money easily generated by Commodore-based cars.
Without options – of which there were many – the WB Statesman Magnum in 1984 cost $26,500. Those based on a Caprice and loaded with extras could exceed $35,000.
In 2005, just as HDT values were starting to spike, VK Group As were worth around $30,000 and Magnums $15,000. Four years later when the market had soared and slumped in the space of three years, Group As were still clinging on at $75,000 but a really good Magnum had moved minimally and was yet to crack $30,000.
Fuel costs cannot be an issue. Yes they are a big car and they use fuel but 18L/100km is probably realistic and most who buy a Magnum aren’t going to use it more than a few times a month.
With only 100 or so made and the number of survivors unknown, the clamoring should get intense whenever a topclass car appears for sale. Seemingly it doesn’t. A few fitting the description have been offered and we have yet to see a confirmed sale at more than $40,000. Bargain buying surely?
Neil’s search for this car began some time ago. “I’ve got a couple of friends who own Magnums,” he explains. “I decided I wanted one. I hunted around for quite a few months, rang the guy about this car, which was in Queensland, got all the history, and rang his mechanic. We did the deal over the phone. Within a week it was at my house. That was 10 years ago.”
The Magnum turned out to have a great history. It was ordered as a showroom display car by Zupps – then and now a huge dealer in Brisbane – and came with pretty much all the paperwork you could hope for. For example, there’s a copy of the sign-off sheet from Peter Brock, who took it for the test drive before it left the factory. “Good rig. Nice,” he wrote.
Subsequently, the car’s owner took it to the Brock Shop in Queensland to be serviced, where one of the service sheets was signed off by Phil Brock.
In case you were wondering, yes, the Brock touches make a welcome difference to how the car drives. We had a little steer of it after the photo shoot. For something that size from that era, it’s an impressive rig. It points well and talks to you, keeps a nice flat attitude through corners and has plenty of grunt. You can well imagine that whoever first bought the thing would have been pretty damned pleased the first time they cut it loose.
These cars only pop up on the market occasionally and there is a lot of variation from one to another. If you were in the hunt, you’d easily be looking at $30k as a starting point for a well-specced solid example that was in need of a freshen-up, and we reckon you would go a very long way north of that for a really good example. Will we soon see $50k? Quite likely...
Magnums received no additional rust protection and need to be checked like any other WB. Initially check window apertures, rear pillars, the boot lid and section between the boot and rear window, floors, door skins and around the sill garnish strips. Check the headlights for chips because one set of brand new lenses that appeared were priced at $340. The rear stone tray and fuel tank are vulnerable to impact damage, so have a good look underneath. Parts that are now hard to find include rear mudguards, the bootlid, tail-lamp units and the grille. Kits of body rubbers cost around $1200, second-hand bumpers $300500 each. Magnum decal kits are being remanufactured.
These cars came generally with the same Group 3 V8 as the HDT VH Commodore. Alterations included modified cylinder heads and exhaust extractors but everything inside the engine is pretty much Holden; simple to obtain and repair. Oil leaks are common but only need immediate attention if it’s really gushing out of a rear main seal. Look at engine and transmission mounts for cracks and perished rubber. New mounts at under $150 a set are worthwhile. Exhaust manifolds can leak and exhaust systems are prone to being crushed by speed bumps due to minimal clearance. The transmission is tough and cheap to fix if it does fail. Jerky upshifts are typical but a ‘box that slurs changes or takes more than a second to engage gears is due for a rebuild.
NUMBER BUILT: 100 (est)
BODY: All-steel, integrated body/ chassis four-door sedan
ENGINE: 5048cc V8 with overhead valves & single downdraft carburettor
POWER & TORQUE: 188kW @ 5000rpm, 429Nm @ 3500rpm
PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h: 9.4 seconds, 0-400 metres 16.7 seconds
TRANSMISSION: 3-speed automatic
SUSPENSION: Independent with coil springs, control arms, telescopic shock absorbers & anti-roll bar (f); live axle with coil springs, four-link location, Panhard rod, telescopic shock absorbers & anti-roll bar (r)
BRAKES: Disc front, disc rear with power assistance
TYRES: 235/60VR15 radial
HDT uprated the springs on Magnums and fitted Bilstein shocks so a car with its suspension in good condition should sit flat through corners. That was 30+ years ago though so saggy springs, leaky shocks and collapsed bushings may need replacing. Check the steering box mounting points for rust and cracking and the unit for leaks. Reconditioned p/s units cost over $1000. Brake rotors last up to 100,000 kilometres, with new ones at $150250 per pair. 16-inch HDT alloy wheels are difficult to replace, standard Statesman alloys easier.
These cars used normal Statesman or Caprice trim so no special HDT parts to source except the optional Momo steering wheel. Stock fabric used in WBs isn’t all that common though and leather trim available in Caprice versions is expensive to replace. New carpet sets cost around $200. Dash ‘veneer’ is prone to peeling but good replacement dash sections have been sold for $150200. Internal door handles break but replacements are available from $20 each. Make sure the electric windows move freely and without excessive noise.
(Note: exceptional cars will demand more)
Our favourite story when it comes to the P6 Ford LTD of the late 70s is that of a hapless Melbourne priest in the Greek Orthodox Church. He happened to own one of these gentlemanly giants and, thanks to the ‘Rolls-Royce’ grille on the front, at least some of his parishioners became convinced he had his hand in the proverbial collection jar – how else could a humble priest afford a Roller?
The efforts were made to kill off the rumours and assure everyone it really was a Ford, and not a particularly valuable one on the second-hand market, but to no avail. He had to get rid of it. Sad.
The owner of this car, Kevin Crough, says he had one of these giants when they were a new car. “I used to work for the government, and I had one when I was raising four sons and it was great. You could fit everyone in, fit all the gear, it was comfortable, the boot’s ginormous.
“I said to my wife, when I retire I want to get one of those. So I found this car.” That was the beginning of a four-year restoration process, which we’ll talk about in another issue.
Meanwhile owners like Kevin regard this as the last ‘proper’ limousine built by Ford Australia. Made from 1976 through to early 1979, they shared a lot of componentry with the Falcon and Fairlane ranges, but visually went all-out to get away from the Falcon look. Buyers said they wanted something distinctive and that’s what they got.
Obviously the big bluff styling is the clue, along with the ‘Rolls-Royce’ grille and the distinctive twin headlights. Oh, and here’s a bit of trivia – those hubcaps are from a Thunderbird. Some 5900 LTDs of this generation were made, including two special editions. One was the Silver Monarch (painted silver with red velour interior) to mark Queen Elizabeth’s silver jubilee; Plus the upmarket Town Car, intended to combat the Statesman Caprice. Some 250 and 400 were made of each.
Under the sheet metal, you scored some fairly high-end mechanicals. A 351 Cleveland 2V was appointed to shift the 1800kg lump, backed by a three-speed auto and a version of the company’s famed nine-inch differential.
You got four-wheel disc brakes all round, upgraded dampers and roll bars and variable-ratio power steering. If you ticked enough options, leather interior and electric seats were part of the fit-out.
Rear seat room in these things is generous – the rear doors are enormous (extended by some 12cm), though the front in this example was less generous with the optional electric seat adjustment in place. That can limit the range of the thrones, which is not an issue for average-sized folk, but tall drivers will find it a little more restricted than ideal.
ALMOST 6000 of the P6 series LTD were built (including 250 Monarchs and 400 Town Cars) and survivors are easily found in the used vehicle market. Cheap examples in decent condition are far less common and $12,000 is the minimum spend for a tidy car. Providing you’re not overly concerned about appearance, untidy but usable LTDs are available at $55007000.
LPG conversions are popular and commonplace but don’t add a great deal to values when compared to petrol-only cars of similar quality. A 118-litre fuel tank was optional but it’s rare to find a car with this bootshrinking extra. “There are plenty of LTDs around but very few really tight, well-kept cars,” Steve Koukouletas said. “When my uncle wanted to move up from a ZH Marquis we had to look for ages for this car and I can’t imagine they are any easier to find today.” Silver Monarch and Town Car versions aren’t yet booming with the same ferocity as Falcon GTs and V8engined Fairmonts, and enthusiasts seeking a car to preserve might still obtain an outstanding example for less than $25,000.
As was fashionable at the time, the LTD features a vinyl roof. Not only did it look the part but it also hid a component of the manufacturing. The chassis was cut and shut for extra length by around 12cm and the vinyl cover meant Ford didn’t have to spend too much effort tidying up the joins in the roof. Over the years, that becomes a rust trap.
Those little quirks aside, the big P6 is an impressive bit of kit. As Kevin suggests, it carries a huge amount of humans and gear, while being a pretty handy tow car. The interior is plush and you get the sense you could travel a long way in comfort.
Performance feels much the way you’d expect with the big lazy V8 up front. It gets away without hesitation and there’s plenty of poke on tap for overtaking. There’s a little body roll through turns, but not as much as you might expect in this well-kept example while the braking is better than average for the period. Back in the late seventies, this would have felt like a very special car.
Kevin says he spent a long time finding this example and ended up stripping it for a rebuild anyway. As a result, his view is there aren’t that many survivors – maybe 10 per cent of the originals, because owners couldn’t be bothered restoring them once they wore out. That could well be right.
We found a couple for sale, and the prices weren’t high. Really, they looked like bargains compared to something like an upmarket XA through to XC V8 Falcon. The catch would be to find something that’s not going to end in tears in the body shop, which is where a car like the one you see here – that’s already been restored – could easily end up fetching serious money.
Would you be happy if you owned one like this? I reckon so. Just point it at the opposite side of the country and stop when you see the ocean…
Rust attacks virtually everywhere but is most devastating in the lower firewall, rear spring attachment points, inner sills, floors and under the vinyl roof covering. Have a good look at the steering box attachment points for rust and cracking. Spare panels from the windscreen back are shared with the ZH Fairlane and not especially difficult to find. Front mudguards and especially that distinctive grille are scarce and must be in good condition. The heavy doors sag on their hinges and can be difficult to close. LTDs that have been used for heavy towing can stretch, so look for inconsistent or enlarged gaps between the rear doors and quarter panel and around the bootlid. Correct-pattern vinyl for Town Car roof covering is almost unobtainable.
Far better news here as the 5.8-litre Cleveland V8 is very durable and relatively cheap to rebuild. Oil leaks around the timing cover, from the rear of the engine block and cylinder heads but can be ignored unless severe. Power steering pumps leak and cost around $400 to replace. Soft or broken engine mountings will cause vibration under heavy acceleration. The heavy-duty transmission and differential are very tough and, if serviced regularly, can last for decades without need for an overhaul while the nine-inch differential is among the toughest ever diffs in existence.
NUMBER BUILT: 5896
BODY: all-steel, integrated body/ chassis four-door sedan
ENGINE: 5.8-litre V8 with overhead valves, single camshaft and four-barrel downdraft carburettor
POWER & TORQUE: 162kW @ 4500rpm, 429Nm @ 2700rpm
PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h – 10.6secs, 0-400m – 17.1secs
TRANSMISSION: three-speed automatic
SUSPENSION: Front – independent with coil springs, control arms, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar. Rear – live axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs and telescopic shock absorbers
BRAKES: discs front and rear with power assistance
TYRES: FR78S14 radial
Contact: Fairlane & LTD Social Club
Noisy, creaking front suspensions are typical of older Fords and shouldn’t eliminate an otherwise good car from contention. All of the parts needed to return these Ford front ends to excellent health are available and affordable. Rear leaf springs that sag can be reset but cracked leaves need to be replaced and a complete spring set bought second hand could be in the same condition or worse than the one needing replacement. These heavy cars are hard on front brakes; squealing and a pulsating pedal denoting worn pads and warped disc rotors.
Lots of low-priced LTDs appear in sale ads wearing sheepskin on their seats and that’s bad news for buyers. Retrimming the interior in leather and to ‘show’ standard will cost the better part of $10,000. Electric windows that are slow or jerky when activated may, according to Steve Koukouletas, need nothing more than renewal of the mechanism’s nylon bushes.
(Note: exceptional cars will demand more)
Ever heard of the mythical ideal used car, that was only ever driven to church on a Sunday by a little old lady? Well, you can all relax now, we’ve found it. Actually it was a little old man, who lived in Sydney. True story. That’s according to ‘new’ owner Adrian Poole who bought this gem not so long ago, with a mere 47,000km on the odo.
“His name was Frank,” says Adrian, “And he only took it to church if it wasn’t raining.” There was also $47 in change in the ashtray, which I don’t dare take out of it.” Plus there’s an open-ended spanner sitting on top of the radiator mounts to make it easy to disconnect the battery. That’s all been left as-is.
Built late 1975, this is one of a couple of hundred 50th anniversary cars that left the factory and is probably as good an example as ever you’d find.
The ZG ran 1973-76 and representated a major upgrade for the Fairlane series, despite which it was copping criticism for being too similar to the XA-XB Falcons. Ford eventually responded by laying on more standard features such as additional carpet, chrome and bumper over-riders, plus of course a vinyl roof.
However it was under the trim where the significant changes were made. Alterations were made to the chassis, including a suspension upgrade that claimed a little more ride height and stiffer damping. Those latter changes were intended to tidy up its behaviour while providing a little more comfort.
Ford offered three engines: the 250 six, plus the 302 and 351 V8s. Really it was the eights that you wanted, though a lot of 351s over time found themselves hauled out of Fairlanes and into either race cars or project Falcons.
In the Fairlane, those engines were generally matched up to a three-speed auto and with the ‘limo’ diff rather than the nine-inch.
So what makes a 50th anniversary edition? Leather seats, power windows and some special badging. Plus you got the LTD-style wheels and hubs. There was also a distinctive material used for the vinyl roof. This car has the 302 engine, which Adrian says is just fine for cruising down the highway.
It’s anybody’s guess how many are left. Apparently Frank’s brother owned a similar car, but it got written off one day as he backed out of the driveway. So that’s one less...
Special editions aside, there are still a good number of ZGs out there and condition should be the big decider if you’re in the market. All vinyl roofs are rust-magnets, while local cars of this era are prone to damage in all the usual areas.
Because of their star quality and the ongoingdemand, you will pay a premium for a 351, so a 302 could conceivably offer better value.
(Note: exceptional cars will demand more)
You can easily imagine the internal struggle someone might go through when presented with the choice between Fairlane and Statesman. Both were popular with business owners, commercial travellers and anyone who had (or wanted) to rack up long miles in a big comfortable car that wasn’t going to let them down. So Holden and Ford made sure the choice wasn’t easy.
Of course this was much less of a drama is if you had some sort of sentimental allegiance to a particular model. For Con Raphael, it was all about buying back something he regretted selling. There had been a gold Statesman parked in his driveway many years ago and he eventually traded it. That turned out to be a mistake so, about a decade ago, he went hunting and bought the closest thing he could find to his first.
It’s a 1977 HX, with a 308 V8 running a Quadrajet and Turbo 400 transmission. A mechanic by trade, Con reckons the red 308 is ultra-tough and easy to look after. Keep up the oil changes and you’ll be right. The blue version of this engine runs a single instead of a double-row timing chain, which flogs out sooner. If that’s the case with yours, he suggests doing the (easy) conversion.
Emission regulations were taking effect by 1977, which had an impact on power output.
As for the transmission, the T400 is tough though it does suck up more power than the later T350.
This model was built just before the introduction of GMH’s radial tuned suspension, which did a lot to tidy up the handling of this and the Kingswood series. However the HX, with some fresh bushes and dampers, can be made to behave respectably.
Something that caught our attention was the unusual ‘sports’ dash and steering wheel, plus a few other little cosmetic upgrades. Had someone been getting creative in their shed? Apparently not. Con reckons the car was ordered by a Holden staffer, who specified the Monaro dash and wheel, along with a few extras normally reserved for the more upmarket DeVille.
The basic shape of this car went back as far as the HQ Statesman, which in turn enjoyed some strong Cadillac influences. In HQ form it sold over 18,000 units – a respectable number. It subsequently went through HJ, HX, HZ and WB variants, the first two of which were largely cosmetic updates.
If you’re in the market for one, there is a pretty substantial fleet still running around and, as with all of the luxo bombers, the devil will be in the state of the body and how much of the original trim survives. With some judicious buying you can do very well.
SEDAN $ 5500-28,000
(Note: exceptional cars will demand more)
Back when Chrysler Australia was seeking approval from head office to develop the new VH range, it ended up with a problem. That was, it had a miniscule budget, said to be just $22 million, to develop a sedan, wagon, ute variants and, by the way, some sort of luxury range. That in itself was to include a sedan, plus a hardtop.
Chrysler could hardly miss that Fairlane and Statesman were rumbling out of showrooms at a decent clip and clearly wanted part of the action. The pimped VIP sedan from the previous series went some way to answering the call, but didn’t really do the job.
With the new series, the cars were to be longer and very well specified, while any mention of the Valiant family car name was dropped. Enter Chrysler by Chrysler, which were richly appointed for the time and came with a choice of two engines: the premium 265 in-line six with a Borg Warner type 35 auto, or the 360 V8 with a Torqueflite 727. Just 2500 were made in 1971-76.
As Cliff Chambers reported in 2016, when we first looked at the coupe you see here, owner Sean Morgan understood why these models would have struggled in the showroom. “The Charger was a really exciting car, well marketed and a huge success,” he said, “But Chrysler had two coupes and the long wheelbase coupe was living in the shadow. All that expense and cost, such as the tooling for those huge rear quarter panels and the long rear deck, it was a bit of a failure.”
What’s the appeal now? “I think the rarity, particularly in the Australian Chrysler fraternity... I think there would be less than 200 V8s left as original.”
When we started putting this story together, we asked the question, what are the coupes that make the cut? This is definitely one of them. Your biggest issue will be finding one...
EXCELLENT $ 69,000
(Note: exceptional cars will demand more)
In something that reads like a sort of dramatic tragedy, the Ford Landau was conceived for a local niche market that was unproven (luxury hardtops, or personal luxury vehicles in American-speak), while it borrowed heavily from USA influences for its spec and styling. It was the latter that would prove to be its downfall – just a bit too much for local tastes.
This is of course said with the benefit of hindsight. On paper, the Landau was an attractive proposition. A two-door alternative to the fairly successful LTD sedan, it carried similar mechanical spec: 351 Cleveland powerplant, three-speed auto, nine-inch diff and (unusually for local cars) four-wheel disc brakes. The 290hp power claim suggested reasonable urge, though the car was running a positively lazy final 2.75 final drive that worked on the highway but clipped its acceleration.
Inside you were treated to air-con and power steering as standard, along with reclining bucket seats and a richly-upholstered interior done out in Howe leather.
Pricing was up there. When a GT Hardtop with auto would set you back around $5600, a Landau was priced at a hefty $6900.
Aside from the overall brutish looks, the one cosmetic feature that really stood out was the crazy-looking wheel covers. They’re in fact a Thunderbird item, with a colour-coded sticker over the centre. You can still buy them as new-old stock in the USA, albeit with a different centre.
The history of these cars is similar to quite a few oddball locals. Initial sales were slow, with just 1385 made. There was a period there where you couldn’t give them away and the very desirable mechanicals were pulled out to power other projects.
Now? Everyone wants one and the prices have taken off again. Timing is everything...