IN October last year – and nearly 70 years after the release of the 48-215, Holden ceased Australian production which marked the end of an incredible era of homegrown automotive ingenuity. Here we take a look back through the brand’s rich history in part one of our comprehensive A-to-Z of all things Holden.
Created to celebrate 25 years of Holden, this custom show car was unveiled at the 1973 Sydney Motor Show. Sitting on American Racing alloys and painted red, white and blue, the 308Q sported a pair of enormous, Pontiac Formula-style bonnet scoops, a front spoiler with integrated flares and a hoop-style rear spoiler that rendered the boot lid useless – but sadly only a factory-spec 308 V8 up front!
Holden’s love of meaningless option codes has seen this seemingly arbitrary combination of letters and numbers take on a mythological aura; the very mention of the A9X sends most Australian car nuts go wobbly at the knees.
Developed from the fast but fragile LH-series L34 homologation special, the A9X Torana carried over the L34’s upgraded front brakes, 14-inch rally wheels and wild bodykit, with a similar kit created for the new hatchback. A floorpan patch panel taken from the forthcoming UC series allowed the inclusion of a tougher rear axle, Salisbury 10-bolt differential and rear disc brakes. But because the L34 308 didn’t meet didn’t meet emissions standards, road-going A9X cars were powered by the less grunty L31 V8. Bathurst entrants could still use the more powerful donk in their racing A9X though, as the L34 was already homologated.
The A9X yielded Bathurst wins for Peter Brock in 1978 and 1979, the latter by six laps, with Brock gaining pole, holding the lead for every single second of the race (including pit stops) and setting the fastest lap of the race on his last time around, just because he could.
A burly-chested, V8-powered response to Ford’s Territory SUV, the Adventra looked like a Commodore wagon with swollen glands, wasn’t that great off-road, and couldn’t drop a burnout on one. Due to the short lifespan remaining on the Ecotec V6, the Adventra was launched in 2003 as a V8 only. A V6 came with the introduction of the Alloytec a year later, but nobody really cared.
Built in Australia across four models from 1989 to 1997, the Apollo wasn’t a bad car; it just looked a lot like a Camry, drove a lot like a Camry and was actually a Camry.
Born of Holden’s mid-1980s love of space words, combined with its love of not building its own thing, the Astra was initially an Aussie-assembled 1984 Nissan N12 Pulsar, before being discontinued in 1989. It’s been resurrected more times than Freddy Krueger, being Opel-sourced variously via England, Belgium and Poland from 1995 to 2009, then returning again from 2015 following a brief stint here as an actual Opel.
An HSV-fettled Adventra with a Darth Vader-inspired bodykit, the Avalanche sold in tiny numbers, but was testament to then-GM chairman Bob Lutz’s faith in Holden. “Hit ’em with product!” he laughed, but when that product drank like a Kalgoorlie miner on payday, people literally didn’t buy it. Also came in Avalanche XUV – bigger and thirstier, but also ute-ier.
The old Barina has three claims to fame: it’s been six completely different cars (two generations each of Suzuki Swift, Opel Corsa and Daewoo Kalos respectively), the Sportsgirl version was driven exclusively by cute, perky chicks (at least initially), and the name was actually considered for the Torana. Did we dodge a bullet there? Or does ‘V8 Barry’ have a ring to it?
The base spec of every full-size Holden from HK through to HX, their carpet-less, radio-less, six-cylinder husks became perfect fodder for awesome street machines without butchering up now-priceless Premiers and GTSs!
Graduating as a stand-alone model from 1988’s VN (dropping the ‘Commodore’ prefix of the VK and VL series), there’s been plenty of love for the mid-spec rep-mobile over the years. Early versions could be optioned with manuals and V8s, eventually maturing into perfect streeters for those wanting more than poverty but lacking the financials for a Calais. The Berlina lasted for a quarter-century before being laid off in 2013.
Sure, the Brougham is cool now, but it took 30 years and $200,000 Monaros before anyone realised that. Sneaky Holden designers countered Ford’s LWB Fairlane/LTD twins with, uh, a longer boot. At least they were all V8-powered and pimp-spec inside!
What’s the Business? The 48-215 was offered initially in a single spec only: the ‘Standard’. So when Holden decided to offer a higher level of trim to people in the taxi business, there was no better name. Interior pull handles, seat kick-plates, heavy-duty seats, floor mats, an upgraded battery, boot lid handle and a teeth-breaking passenger ‘taxi rail’ completed the heady list of standard features.
For the FJ through to FC series, the Business sedan was the mid-spec model, bookended by the Standard and the Special, but for 80s and 90s kids, it’s astounding to realise the taxi industry used to buy vehicles that were specced up and not down!
Named for the northern French ferry port, the Calais replaced the Commodore SL/E, and brought an air of sophistication to the Holden’s mainstream range. Although available from the 1984 VK right through until the end of the VF, Holden achieved ‘peak Calais’ in 1986 with the beloved VL Calais Turbo, which included a five-speed option and, briefly, the choice of a wagon.
Who remembers the Calibra? No? It was the most aerodynamic four-seater car in the world for 10 years! Anyone? It had a drag coefficient of 0.26! Nobody? Anybody? Well, the Calibra did indeed exist, and with a boosted two-litre and all-wheel drive, the Turbo model was a grossly underrated little unit.
Poor Camira; it was a terrible car masquerading as a good car, and eventually became an actual good car, but by that time everybody still thought it was a terrible car. Sure, front-wheel drive isn’t everyone’s game, but GM’s J-body platform underpinned a bunch of volume-selling, medium-sized four-bangers across the world to great effect; over 10,000,000 Camira brothers have been built over the years, making it the fifth-best-selling platform in automotive history! Okay, ours were shaky, but the late John Taverna knew how to make them boogie!
Holden’s luxury range-topper slotted in above the Statesman from the HJ model and bowed out briefly with the discontinuation of the WB sedans in early 1985. Reintroduced with great fanfare five years later as the VN-derived VQ, the new Caprice was V8-only and immediately won fans. It took 17 years, but in 2007, it finally killed its only true rival, the Ford LTD, and even cannibalised its lesser Statesman sibling in 2010. Exported to the States from 2011 as the Caprice PPV; look out for them on Cops!
Mainly called ‘Craptiva’ by Ford lovers and, truth be known, most Holden lovers too.
Probably a car; not sure, never seen one.
John Harvey, HSV’s first employee, created the VN ClubSport in 1990 as a simple run of 60 cars, little knowing the model would become HSV’s volume-seller right through to the end of the VF. The original plan was a stripper special – race on Sunday, drive to work on Monday – but over the years the ‘Clubby’ got fatter and faster.
Was a called the Rodeo until Isuzu took its name back. Seems to appear in Holden’s adverts a lot.
Sounds like a meal deal, but is a combination of a Barina and a panel van. Probably handy for florists, but not for you (unless you’re a florist).
Released in 1978, Commodore took over from the Kingswood as Holden’s volume seller. But the mid-sized, Opel Rekord-based first-gen Commo lost a ton of fleet sales to Ford, eventually costing Holden its number one position on the local sales charts. Despite this, its lithe size and optional V8 led to a sporting prowess the Falcon couldn’t match.
The 1988 VN, a wider version of Opel’s Senator, introduced the dumb-but-unbreakable Buick V6 and an overdue EFI system for the V8. Even a basement Commodore Executive could be optioned up with a 165kW V8, enabling it to belt almost every other sedan on the road for sales rep money.
The big VT series of 1997 brought a new body and in 1999, the mighty LS1, optional across the entire Commodore range from 1999. By the VYII of 2003, the humble Commodore was the basis for two sedans, a ute, wagon, dual-cab, cab-chassis and coupe, along with AWD versions of the last four. Several bodystyles bowed out with the Australian-designed 2006 VE-series – perhaps a sign – but changes to Commodore’s market focus saw the wagon and ute sportified with a raft of refinement changes as years progressed. Governments and sales reps were no longer buying big sedans, but fortunately, consumers wanted to tick the V8 option box more than ever.
The final-generation VF stands as perhaps the greatest car ever manufactured in Australia, especially in V8 form. Ford guys may beg to differ – the Barra six is epic, after all – but the blockbuster final-edition 6.2-litre Commodore SS offers supercar acceleration, handling belying its significant size and a five-star ANCAP safety rating, with enough room to fit two adults, three kids plus luggage.
We will never again see a car with this combination of power, handling, safety, size and value-for-money in this country, and although it’s disappointing that the Commodore nameplate will continue on an Opel-sourced import, it cannot take away the legendary status of the mighty Holden Commodore from 1978 to 2017.
The reintroduction of the Monaro in 2001 saw HSV waste little time bringing its own versions online. The HSV Coupe was available as the 255kW GTO and range-topping 300kW Callaway-fettled GTS. The bodykits weren’t to everyone’s taste, but nobody hated those horses.
When Mike Simcoe scribbled a VT Commodore coupe onto his loungeroom wall, he never imagined his creation would eventually become the basis of an AWD mile-muncher with Audi focussed directly in its sights. With only 134 built and hamstrung by an archaic four-speed auto and superseded LS1 with ‘only’ 270kW, it was never a true rival for the Ingolstadt product, but it looked the goods and stands as a testament to Aussie ingenuity.
The VE’s muscular shape leant itself to a coupe from the get-go, but history was doomed to repeat; sales of the V2/VZ Monaro flagged as they had with the two-door HQ-HX, cancelling any chance of a VE-based coupe. Regardless, Holden celebrated its 60th anniversary in style, chucking out a pillarless concept Coupe 60 that wowed the crowds at the 2008 Melbourne International Motor Show.
Holden management was feeling especially bullish in 2003, introducing several new models including Australia’s first dual-cab ute. The Crewman brought car-like ride and handling to a segment that remains steeped in compromised, truck-based family haulers. Eschewing the diesels popular with tradies, Holden’s Alloytec V6 did okay hauling around 1750kg, but the Crewman SS was the goods, able to munch miles as quickly as it did fuel. The AWD Cross8 munched miles and fuel even quicker, with the added bonus that it couldn’t bag it up. The Crewman’s pokey rear seat was much maligned, but they were otherwise a great and versatile rig.
The first Cruze of 2001, forgotten as it may be, was actually a semi-Aussie bastard child. Designed by Holden as the YGM-1 concept car, Fishermans Bend handled most of the engineering work and even came up with the name. Holden’s design crew then created the Cruze hatch, while the good men and women of Elizabeth, SA constructed Cruzes locally from 2011 to 2016.
Peter Brock created the VK Director as the pinnacle luxury model of the HDT fleet, while decades later Holden resurrected the name for their 6.2-litre luxury-spec 2017 final edition. But it’s the bespoke-tailored, exclusively hand-built VL HDT Director we all remember. That pic of Brock, leaning defiantly next to his wild creation – arms crossed, chest encased in a starchy tuxedo – has gone down in history, representing the moment Holden and HDT parted ways.
With a bodykit that made the Walkinshaw look tame and a pricetag to make a sheikh blush, Brock was able to build only 12, including two ‘World Test’ prototypes. Some cars were optioned with 5.6-litre strokers and some with Opel-sourced IRS rear ends; all had Brock’s Energy kooky Polariser installed.
In 1981, General Motors purchased a 5.3 per cent stake in Suzuki, opening the door for some of the most batshit-insane cars to wear Holden badges. Strangely though, this Suzuki Sierra-based ultra-small 4WD was not the craziest car that did so (see Scurry).
Despite cheapish fuel and the LS1 powering a significant amount of private Commodore sales, Holden was so self-assured back in 2000 it hooked up with the boffins at the CSIRO to make an electric hybrid concept. It was a driver too, the 2.0-litre, front-wheel-drive ECOmmodore escorting the Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch Relay halfway around the nation.
Part concept car, part showstopper, part good old-fashioned custom, the EFIJY project paid homage to the classic FJ series of the 1950s. Built on a modified Corvette chassis, the 6.0 LS2 was fitted with a Roots-style supercharger and could thump out 480kW; that’s the manufacturer stuff. The cartoon styling, airbag suspension and hideaway instrumentation was the pure custom stuff, showing that lead designer Richard Ferlazzo is just an old hot rodder at heart.
The Epica replaced the Vectra, was sourced from Daeweoo and, weirdly, ran a transverse straight-six motor; just like an Austin Kimberley. But probably with worse build quality.
Offers 90s-HSV levels of power from a 2.0-litre turbo in a 1500kg SUV. Will probably shift okay, but do you want one?
The Isuzu-designed TF-series Rodeo is one of those cars that spawned a billion versions across the globe; in fact, you can still buy one new, ex-Isuzu China. But while the Holden Rodeo remains well-loved, the two generations of Frontera, both cut from the TF mould, have been less fortunate.
Holden’s T-car variant was a massive sales success and even garnered the Wheels Car Of The Year award for 1975. Initially available as a sedan and coupe, the range expanded in 1978 to include a wagon and van with rear panels, floorpan, doors and even the firewall sourced from Vauxhall in England.
Built in Queensland’s Acacia Ridge plant from a combination of locally sourced and import parts, the humble ‘Gemi’ was a strong seller from 1975 to 1985 across six models (seven if you include the FWD RB Gemini that nobody remembers). It remains a popular car to chuck a skid in, although finding a good one can be hard, as they did love to rust.
As Holden and HSV sought to differentiate their products, they gradually dropped shared model names, with HSV’s Statesman version becoming the Grange in 1997. Naturally, the Grange bulked up in line with the Statesmans on which they were based, from the relatively lithe VS series through to the velvet warships of WH, WK, WL and WM. The outgoing WN Grange packs a 340kW LS3; an AMG may be faster, but nothing this side of $100 grand can give this turn of speed while carrying five politicians in comfort.
Following the single-spec VC HDT, Peter Brock allowed punters to tick as few or as many boxes as they wished for the VH-series. Tellingly, the SS Group 1s and 2s didn’t find many buyers; most just kept on ticking! For the Group 3, Irmscher wheels, a blueprinted 4.2-litre V8 and wild bodykit were all included; however a few went full Brock and ordered the High Output 5.0. While both the Group 1 and 2 were dropped for the VK and VL, the Group 3 continued.
The ‘Group A’ name was born of homologation requirements, as CAMS dropped the all-Aussie, big-banger Group C category in favour of the international Group A rules. Some of the most revered (and most frequently cloned) Commodores of all time include the ‘Blue Meanie’ VK SS Group A and VL SS Group A from HDT, and the HSV Group A SS Walkinshaw and VN SS Group A. All run comprehensive aesthetic and mechanical upgrades, and all fetch big bucks in this day and age.
Half-truths and mythology have pegged Holden’s would-be Corvette-beater somewhere between a mere design study and a full-bore production model, cancelled at the last minute.
Holden built three bodies; the 253ci V8-powered example was destroyed, while the six-cylinder GTR XU-1-powered prototype handled motor show duties. It received an unsympathetic spruce-up in 1981 and was fully restored to original for Holden’s 50th anniversary in 1998. A third body was never fully finished and was allegedly crushed, but appears to have surfaced in private hands.
Holden’s decision to shift focus from the heavy-hitting Monaro to the lithe Torana for motor racing duties gave us the epic GTR XU-1 Torry. It performed spectacularly in rally racing, but had mixed results on the track; the XU-1 favoured corners and lots of them.
The LC XU-1, packing triple Strombergs and a 186ci six, struggled to deliver results, especially at Bathurst, but an upgrade to 202ci power and larger triples for the LJ series did give Brock his first Bathurst win.
The mighty HK Monaro GTS may have come first, but by the HZ series both the coupe shape and the Monaro name were dead, the GTS graduating to standalone model status until 1980. A decade later the GTS triumphantly returned – as the VN-based NZ-only HSV GTS V6!
The modern GTS properly became legendary with a run of 130 VP-based sedans in 1992, the nameplate since being rolled out for an exclusive run of HSVs with each subsequent model, culminating in the fierce 430kW Gen-F HSV GTS of 2013 – the ultimate of the breed.
The first GTS-R of 1996 was a crazy thing, painted ‘XU-3 Yellah’ (a hue it seemingly shared with Melbourne taxis), albeit with a 215kW Harrop stroker V8 and a rear spoiler stolen from a V8 Supercar.
Ignoring a brief splutter that saw the GTS-R badge revived on a Monaro-based concept car in 2004, it would be 21 years before the GTS-R returned to showrooms. The ‘new’ GTS-R sedan and ute twins were not HSV’s V8 swan-songs; that honour is left to the LS9-powered HSV GTS-R W1. Packing a staggering 474kW and 815Nm, enormous brakes, stiff suspension, a 0-100 in the low fours and a quarter-mile under 12 seconds, those that baulk at the $170K sticker price can buy an AMG E63 – for $100 grand more.
Displayed at the 2002 Sydney Motor Show, the HRT 427 saw a Monaro bodyshell completely modified into a road-going race car. Powered by a 7.0-litre (427ci) LS7 Corvette motor producing 418kW, it had the ability to run to 100km/h in 4.4 seconds and reach 299km/h terminal velocity.
Aside from four similarly specced race cars, only two road-going examples were built and only one was sold, the other retained by Holden. The one in the public domain garnered over $790K the first time it sold and $350K the second, but being one-of-one, it’s surely the ultimate collector Holden.
The mighty Hurricane was Holden’s first proper concept car. Never intended for production, it was pure fantasy: low-slung, mid-engined, with a CRT rear-view mirror, full lift-up canopy door (Purvis Eureka, anyone?), alloy wheels and Holden’s as-yet unreleased, 4.2-litre V8 connected to a transaxle gearbox.
After suffering the indignity of an unsympathetic upgrade during the 1980s, including silver duco and VL Turbo wheel covers, a team of dedicated restorers reapplied the deep orange-flake paint and restored the 39-inch-high concept to its former glory, allowing the Hurricane to re-debut at the 2011 Motorclassica in Melbourne.
After a brief appearance as an Opel in 2012, the Insignia was re-launched as a Holden in 2015. The 2018 replacement is the new Commodore, but plenty reckon the Insignia name should be kept, if only so the Commodore can bow out on a rear-wheel-drive, Aussie-designed, optional 6.2-litre V8 high.
Some bored boffins at Holden worked up an LS1 with 255kW, then threw it at a short-wheelbase Jackaroo for this concept-only, fully driveable Tonka truck. Lift kit, rollcage, leather Monaro pews, 16-inch alloys and Mickey Thompson Baja Claw tyres; why couldn’t they release this now? It would sell like buggery.
“There’s nothing you can’t do in a Holden Jackaroo” said the 1980s TV advert; they were about right. Isuzu’s Australianised Trooper/Bighorn range did well on our shores, selling strongly across two generations in both petrol and diesel, long-wheelbase and short. The second gen Jackaroo sold shitloads between 1991 and 2002 and is still a regular sight on our roads. The 158kW 3.5-litre V6 hammered but drank like a fish; just don’t mention the 79 HSV Jackaroos built in 1993.
For those of a certain age, sitcom character Ted Bullpitt’s anguished cries of “Not the Kingswood!” ring through our heads at the merest mention of this iconic model. Despite the name and even the font being pilfered from Chevrolet’s Impala wagon variant, the Kingswood encompassed the very essence of 1970s Australiana. If you saw an HK-T-G or HQ-J-X-Z sedan, wagon, ute or van, it was a ‘Kingswood’ until closer inspection proved otherwise.
The Kingswood enjoyed many claims to fame; it begat the long-wheelbase Statesman brand, was the basis of two generations of Monaro coupe and saw export across the globe, most infamously as the CKD Roadpacer built by Mazda.
By 1980 the Kingswood name appeared on the ute only, and by the mid-80s, it was gone.
Seldom are mere option codes held in such high regard as the L34. Ticking the option to replace the LH Torana SL/R 5000’s standard L31 5.0 didn’t just result in more motor. For a start, you had to be someone, or know someone before you’d even learn that it existed; the L34 wasn’t widely advertised.
If you were someone enough to get on board, your SL/R 5000 L34 came with 14-inch GTS-style wheels, larger front disc brakes, 10-inch rear drums and a pair of round headlights so the rally boys could whack a pair of halogens in there without rooting around. The brutal bolt-on flare kit to complement the SL/R 5000’s standard ducktail rear spoiler meant total business and left plenty of room for Group C racing rubber.
Take the body shell of the HJ Monaro, stick the HX bits on it because it took a while to get organised, install a plush interior, eight-track cartridge player and emissions-strangled 308ci V8, paint them all maroon (‘LE Red’) with pinstripes and sell 580 of them to retirees who want to roll on gold honeycomb Pontiac alloys.
An Indonesian-designed and built, Holden-badged, fibreglass-bodied, rear-wheel-drive Jackaroo-based SUV, with the dodgiest door handles this side of an XD Falcon paddock-basher. If you knew about this car before you read this list, we want to hear from you.
Akk but one of HDT’s heavyweight WB Magnum options were applied to either a Statesman or Caprice, so it’s pretty random Holden decided to resurrect the name to apply to their final-edition ute. But still, a 304kW, 6.2-litre LS3 engine has seen Holden label it the ultimate ute; except for HSV’s GTS-R ute, they’re right!
Chevrolet screwed together 3,117,403 of these bastards between 2000 and 2016, but Holden barely shifted a few thousand since 2013. Ford enthusiasts have the Corsair; Holden enthusiasts have this.
If sir would like his ClubSport with two seats and a tray, the Maloo was it. The first VG-based Maloo set the precedent: fit some Clubby bodykit bits, relocate number plate to the tailgate and install stonking V8. The formula did not change much over the years and the 2014 Maloo GTS proved itself the ultimate of the breed, with a 430kW LSA V8, six-piston brakes and, in a world first for a ‘truck’, a torque-vectoring system that countered understeer with an automated dab of inside-wheel rear brake.
Everyone has to start somewhere, and for aspiring HSV owners, the Manta was it. The most basic HSV, introduced with the VS, was available as both a sedan and wagon, but the budget Manta skirted dangerously close to Commodore SS territory, resulting in it being canned before the VTII upgrade and, fortuitously, Steve Irwin’s death.
No Holden has had more written about it, is more revered , and has attracted more serious coin than the Monaro.
Those who reckon the ‘new Monaro’ of 2001 was nothing more than a two-door Commodore forget that the original Monaro, in its base form, was a two-door Kingswood, and was even specced as such, with the 1971-onwards Monaro LS handling Premier-spec duties.
That’s taking nothing away from the classic coupe that has graced our magazines, race tracks, and for the very lucky amongst us, our driveways since the HK-series of 1968. Legends were born in the options list, with the Monaro GTS 327 becoming among the most highly desired of classic Holdens. For some, it was the later, Camaro-esque lines of the HQ Monaro coupe that created the chubbies, but by July 1976 the two-door party was over; the Monaro lived on as the GTS four-door sedan until 1977, when the HZ-series dropped the name altogether.
A quarter of a century later, there was enough leftover Monaro love for Mike Simcoe’s ‘Commodore Coupe’ concept to get a 2001 release under the classic nameplate and garner a whole new set of millennial enthusiasts, until it was canned for the final time in 2006.
Although Holden’s big coupes were on hiatus between the HX LE of 1976 and the V2 Monaro of 2001, it almost wasn’t that way. Peter Brock’s chance drive of an Opel Monza got him thinking; surely, he could jam some Aussie stuff in the stylish, Opel Senator-based coupe and make a two-door model line unique to HDT?
A Monza was duly dispatched to Australia, where it was stripped of most of its Opel-ness, the 3.0 straight-six swapped for Holden’s (lighter) 5.0 V8 motor, along with a VK Commodore grille.
The result was a tough and stylish coupe, but one that would cost a bomb – around $45,000 in mid-80s money. The HDT Monza, one of the coolest cars to escape Bertie Street, remained a one-off.
Borrowing an iconic Chev nameplate, the Holden Nova was a Toyota Corolla, but you knew that because they looked exactly the same. Early versions were built alongside their Corolla brethren, not at Altona but at Holden’s Dandenong factory in Victoria, so maybe that makes them more legit? Nah.
But wait, there’s more…
We look at more Holden models ranging from O – Z here in part two.