Bourke and back in a day

PETER ROBINSON’S FIRST PUBLISHED APRIL 1972 EPIC TALES FROM OUR ARCHIVES Classic

PETER ROBINSON

LONG-TERM TESTS HAVE BEEN A WHEELS STAPLE, ONE OF THE MAGAZINE’S MOST POPULAR READS. HOLDEN’S FAILURE TO WIN COTY WITH THE HQ – THE CHRYSLER CHARGER TOOK THE HONOURS IN 1971 – DIDN’T PREVENT IT FROM AGREEING TO PROVIDE US WITH A KINGSWOOD FOR WHAT WE CALLED A ‘WHEELS CONSUMER TEST’.

The highlight of our time with DBQ-714 was a marathon drive from Sydney to Bourke and back. Our intention was not to break speed records, or set a high average speed, but rather to see if it was possible to drive 1000 miles in a day, with time enough for lunch and photography. By the time we returned to Sydney just before midnight, we’d done 1098 miles (1768km).

Accompanied by Wheels snapper Uwe Kuessner, we departed Sydney at 4.00am, the casualness of the drive typified by the fact that it wasn’t until half-way to Parramatta that we realised we didn’t have a map. Not that navigation was ever an issue; most towns in rural Australia are linked by only one road.

Our lime-green HQ had sporting pretensions. Except it didn’t drive that way. It had a wide-ratio gearbox, a slow-revving, inefficient six that developed maximum power of 101kW at just 4400rpm and peak torque at 2000rpm, low-geared (4.3 turns) and heavy manual steering, and the HQ’s notoriously soft suspension.

The wonderful (before speed limits) Bell’s Line of Road over the Blue Mountains instantly exposed the HQ’s handling flaws: body float, strong understeer and vague steering. I wrote: “Pleasant to drive slowly but requires a firm hand and big heart to push hard … The basic stability of the HQ is excellent – the problem is simply that the car doesn’t like shifting off line.”

Even by the standards of 45 years ago, neither the performance nor economy were outstanding. The best our HQ recorded for the standing-quarter (400 metres) was 18.9sec; amazingly, using only third gear for the entire run added a mere 0.3sec. Fuel economy? Try a range between 14.0L/100km (cruising at 100km/h) and 19.0L/100km (at a steady 4000rpm at 145km/h).

Still, we praised the excellent ride comfort, forward visibility (compare the HQ’s thin windscreen pillars with those of today’s Commodore), fine bucket seats, body solidity, superb dust sealing and terrific flowthrough ventilation (for reasons long forgotten, we stupidly didn’t order air-conditioning).

Reading the story today, it’s clear we didn’t fall in love with the HQ. It took six years, a new chief engineer and the HZ’s major suspension corrections before Wheels truly appreciated Holden’s beautiful HQ-HZ range.

“IT WAS NOT A TRIP I WOULD LIKE TO REPEAT EVERY DAY BUT IT PROVED THE SUITABILITY OF THE HOLDEN TO AUSTRALIAN CONDITIONS” – - – PETER ROBINSON, 1972

Optional extras

We played ‘tick-the-options-box’ when ordering the Wheels HQ Kingswood. Almost impossible to believe in 2016 – when Australia’s cheapest new car (the $12K Mitsubishi Mirage) provides airconditioning, a five-speed manual and power steering as standard – that in 1971 customers paid extra for just four speeds, power steering and air-con on Australia’s best-selling car. Front disc brakes were also on the HQ’s options list, along with a laminated windscreen, ‘sports wheels’, reclining front bucket seats and front head restraints. Even the basic radio added $110 to the purchase price. Still, if DBQ-714 survives, we’d love to hear from today’s owner.

ALSO IN WHEELS, April 1972

Ford’s new XA Falcon revealed; first image of the locally built Morris Marina; driving from New York to California in a $900 Mustang; gas turbine-powered Rambler Hornet goes on sale in the US, running on rum; first drives of the hotshoe Mazda 808 and RX-3 spell “big trouble for the opposition”; quickest little tin-top around, the Torana XU-1, goes even harder; full test of Lamborghini’s 150mph four-seater, the Espada

THE WAY IT WAS

7 ’ 2

Best seller

The 15,007,034th VW Beetle rolls off the production line, eclipsing the record set by the Ford Model T.

Lookin’ good

Aussie fashion designer, model and news presenter Kerry Anne Wells is crowned Miss Universe, while Belinda Green is named Miss World.

Bowled over

British TV icon David Frost describes Australia as a place where “McMahon is prime minister, Her Majesty is queen and Dennis Lillee is king”.

The Yanks needed an epic drive to test the Subaru Outback. John Carey takes them on a trip they’ll never forget Next issue