HOLDEN 1948 2017 HOLDEN MUSTER
AS OMENS go, it was encouraging. The forecast showers that seem to permanently blanket Melbourne during the final winter of Australian vehicle manufacturing mercifully hold out, as more than 50 Holdens make their way to the company’s 60-year-old Lang Lang proving ground near Phillip Island in Victoria on a chilly August Saturday.
Even the usual bracing southerlies blow a bit more sympathetically. Encouraging news for the proud, passionate folk filing in inside their Standards, Specials and Belmonts not fitted with Nasco heaters.
Examples of most shapes and sizes have come home to mark the impending demise.
But while the weathervane appears to be on the right side of history, a more telling omen looms.
Now, the rule is that what’s seen in Lang Lang stays in Lang Lang, but did any of those dyed-inthe- wool Holden owners notice or care about a mildly disguised German-made successor to the VF Commodore parked in plain sight on the way in? Didn’t seem so.
Still, we’re here to celebrate the achievements of the past. And not just the definitive FJs and HQs; the pleasingly original VB Commodore I follow in reminds me of how thin on the ground even the more modern stuff has become – an observation supported by the absenteeism of any VC, VH and VK examples. Once upon a time, Aussie streets were full of early Commodores.
Confession time. I’m driving a Camira. My 1985 JD SL 1.6 looked every bit the interloper, like some distant royal hanging around the Windsors. Yet the J-car is entitled. Besides being the first, it’s also the sole front-drive Holden present save for that ZB prototype. Which is poetic as they share a direct Opel lineage. Camira was based on the German Ascona that turned into the Vectra that became the Insignia/ Commodore. The writing was on the wall way back in 1982. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Not one but two ‘FXs’ – a gorgeous 48-215 sedan and 50-216 ute – graced the chalet area where several group shots were to be snapped. Based on a war-era Chevy proposal, they sound feeble for cars that were built so tough, but they’re just so evocative.
“The FX and FJs are my favourite,” ute owner Darron Mayberry tells me. “They don’t go, they don’t stop, they don’t handle, but they’re fun. And they’re reliable.” The surprise, though, is his optimism about the next Commodore. “It’s about accepting … in 1978-79 there was an uproar with the first and people complained, yet now they love them.”
Fair enough. The parade of early Humpy Holdens – which really also extends to a bevy of beautiful FJs, FEs, FCs, an FB, and EKs – speak of a post-war
optimism. Australia was booming and these models essentially commanded half of the entire car market.
Dominic Lentini’s 1958 FC Station Sedan was found “on the top of the street where I live” and has been lovingly brought back to absolute originality. Never having sat in one before I am struck by how period Chevy Nomad-esque this wagon-by-another-name seems. Grant Ward’s ex-Queensland ’61 EK, which was embarrassingly antiquated by the end of its lifespan against the swoopy XL Falcon and R-Series Valiant of 1962, revels in its form-over-function glory nowadays. I bang my head on one such stylistic feature clambering inside.
Modernity at last came to Holden with the EJ later that year. James Kent’s Special is the same vintage as him, and just as for many owners, it got under his skin after repeated childhood exposure. “Dad had an EH and my uncle an EJ; when we’d visit, my uncle would be polishing his every time.”
BY NOW the first group shot has been completed. It’s taken all morning but not a single person complains.
We’re all part of history here.
Bruce and Darla Spunner’s history with Holdens spans half a century. Bruce tells me how he fell for the HD after scoring a lift in a new one while hitchhiking.
Purchased eight years ago for $900, and driven to Perth and back, their ’65 Premier is a lifer. On the ZB: “Not really a Holden, is it,” Darla declares. Nor, frankly, is the original HB Torana of 1967, despite it being built here. Malcolm McNab’s ’69-er is a lovely starter classic, bought years ago after missing his beloved LC.
The Torana’s Coke-bottle waist was reflected in the ’68 HK’s stylish hips, and elegantly reworked in that first, sensational Monaro. Mark Fraser’s 186 with threeon- the-tree was bought from a mate’s mum years ago, and served as a labourer’s tool. For such a revered model, it is almost as delightfully basic as Mario Skoblar’s mint HT Belmont 161. Their whistle on the move due to poor airflow management was the family motoring soundtrack for ’70s kids like me.
The very limited-run ’72 SS (one of the early Belmont-based sedans) is a rare beast indeed, accompanied by a brace of other HQs that also include the handsome wagon, beautiful Monaro and iconic Sandman van. It was a time of diversification for Holden as the Japanese carmakers were gaining a foothold within a changing Australian landscape.
Gough Whitlam’s ’72 federal election win is somehow encapsulated by what the HQ represented.
Meanwhile, the earlier Torana sixes were the voice of younger, rebellious Australia. That folklore says the flagship XU-1 was banned from showrooms for being irresponsibly fast adds to their sex appeal. Darryn Carr and Steve Maloney’s respective LC and LJ GTRs are, stylistically, like Australia’s version of Steve McQueen’s Mustang from the film Bullitt.
It took a V8 and the evocative LH SL/R to generate similar allure in later Toranas, culminating in the incredible A9X that claimed the top eight spots in the 1979 Hardie-Ferodo 1000. At the other end of the spectrum, the German/Japanese Gemini econobox,
Notable Aussie-Holden absentees from Lang Lang included the HX of 1976, a selection of Commodores (’80 VC, ’81 VH, ’84 VK, our ’93 COTY-winning VR, and ’00 VX), as well as a bunch of four-cylinder models, starting with the ’74 TA Torana, Geminis TX (’75), TC (’77), TE (’79), TF (’82), TG (’83) and RB (’85), Sunbirds LX (’76) and UC (’78, including the Torana ‘6’ version), Camiras JB (’82) and JE (’87) and the JS (’98) Vectra. You could also argue the Nissan N13 Pulsar-based LD Astra (’87) on the basis of its GM-H engines and transaxle, but the Toyota-cloned Nova and Apollo (from ’89-’96) were Holdens in name only. Our group also failed to include a Cruze hatch or sedan, despite 126,255 being produced at Elizabeth since 2011.
complete with ‘HOLDEN-ISUZU’ badge, were to become the rites-of-passage cars for many young Aussies of the ’80s and ’90s.
GM-H’s embracing of internationalism, of course, was most profound with the VB Commodore. Doug Hughes says he’d been convinced of the Opel design’s merit back in the ’79 Repco Trial, where Peter Brock led a 1-2-3 victory.
“We saw them coming through the forest in Tooborac [Victoria],” he reminisces. Thus Doug reckons the new ZB should be AOK. “It will be a Commodore to me, because they originally came from Germany.”
Of the V-series models, it’s Tim Hatfield’s Nissanengined VL Turbo from ’86 that draws the most admiring comments.
“I fell in love with them when I was in my teens,” he tells me. “My first was a regular VL, I’ve owned a VN, VS, VS SS ute, VX SS and VY Calais, but I’d never driven the Turbo until I bought this … and when Holden brings out the  turbo it will appeal to somebody like me.” He also owns an FG Falcon XR6 Turbo, bravely referring to it on such hallowed Holden turf as “a modern-day version of the VL Turbo, really.”
Good for him.
While the larger, second-gen V-series Holdens are only represented by Glenn Torrens’ ’89 VN Calais V8 and a lone mid-’90s VS wagon belonging to Andrew Alkemade, the proving ground was thick with the hugely diverse VT-derived models. They include Kerri Weeding’s high-mileage SS daily driver, an ahead-of-its-time Adventra owned by a 17-year-old dent remover named Tom, Ernie Correy’s Crewman (the lengthiest production Holden ever) and, perhaps, the company’s last genuine Aussie superstar, the reborn V2 Monaro of ’01. A late Series III of ’04 and an end-of-line VZ reflect an era of unbridled optimism in an industry that was about to face a barrage of mortal blows.
Export hopes made and ultimately broke the succeeding VE of 2006, the first all-new and truly Australian Holden since the HQ. Yet the VF, designed and engineered to attract North American sports sedan buyers, still feels world class today. As Belinda Douglas’s formidable SS-V demonstrates.
In fact, many of the assembled owners of older Holdens currently also drive a VE or VF, and most plan to never let the last of the Australians go.
“I’ll never sell the VF SS-V Motorsport Edition I’ve ordered because there’ll never be anything like it again,” one HQ owner remarks.
And with that, the overriding sentiment of our day at Lang Lang is captured right there. People love Australian-made Holdens to the core. It’s an omen that can go both ways as the imported ZB nears.