Cars from down under
I love Australian cars
By Paul Daniel
Unfortunately after next month there will no longer be anymore built after Ford closes the doors on its plant following the lead from GM who shut down its Holden plants. At one time this was a booming market cranking out just over 400,000 vehicles in 2004 but it dwindled down to 175,000 in 2009. Why did all they pull out? Mostly political tax stuff that I’m not going to get into here.
A little history first
Holden manufacturing dates back to 1856. They were the first to introduce the “ute” and Australians ate it up. It became a huge market. It may have also inspired the El Camino and Ranchero built by Chevy and Ford in their U.S. Plants. See my blog entry, history of the El Camino and Australian “utes”. The Holdens, in my opinion, are the fastest and best looking cars produced in Australia. In 1925, Ford Australia’s first products were, of course, Model Ts assembled from knock-down kits. Ford is best known in Australia for the Falcon, not the same as the one produced here in the U.S. Chrysler also played in the Australian market but only stuck around for a much shorter time.
The GTO, fast car that went out slow
Stay with me here and we’ll get back to Australian cars. The GTO was a muscle car that pretty much set the bar for the category back in the late 60’s-early 70’s. Now picture this, a X-body 1974 Pontiac Ventura with equipped with a 350 cu engine putting out an anemic 200 hp even with a 4-barrel carb, a functional “shaker” hood scoop, GTO decals, rally wheels, and special grill-mounted driving lights. Lipstick on a pig this car was to the GTO fans and the brand goes out with a whimper. As a frame of reverence on the collector market I found two GTO’s on for sale on Hemmings.com in six figures. This ’69 GTO Judge for $134,900 offered by Legendary Motorcar Company (great show on Velocity) and this ’65 convertible for 100 bucks more. Where does the ’74 fall in pricing? Well, like a rock. According to pricing provided by Keith Martin (another good Velocity show) they go for $11,000 to $14,000 for essentially a fancy Chevy Nova.
The Holden Monaro becomes the new Pontiac GTO
I think Bob Lutz is the Einstein of the auto industry. He spent time with all of the Big Three at the time plus BMW and has written three books chronicling his time in the auto business. Love the title of his first book Icons and Idiots: Straight Talk on Leadership (Portfolio, June 4, 2013). I also like him because he’s a pilot. He used to get to work in his own MD-500 helicopter and also owns and pilots an Aero L-39 Albatros, one of my favorite jets. He also collects motorcycles that include, or have included a bunch of BMW’s and a Suzuki Hayabusa!
After the Camero and Firebird and were gone at GM and Lutz and was the boss, his light bulb goes on how to get Pontiac back into the performance business. He turned to Holden and utilized their the Monaro bringing back the GTO in 2004. The Monaro was almost perfect because the performance version already had a Corvette LS1 engine, a six-speed stick, independent rear suspension, and a cool look. But it wasn’t as easy as just slapping the GTO logo on the Monaro. It needed to be converted to left-hand drive, meet U.S. safety standards which included moving the gas tank resulting in a small trunk. To make it look like a Pontiac, designers gave it a split grill and GTO badging. It sure didn’t look like its older cousins but it screamed, lots faster. With a six-speed GTO, Car and Driver got 0-60 in 4.8 seconds and the quarter-mile in 13.3 seconds at 107 mph with a six speed. It was a great deal too at about 34 grand. But the sales were never there and after three years GM pulled the plug. Too bad.
But they gave it another shot, importing the GTO’s four-door version, the Holden Commodore, as the Pontiac G8 in 2008. It won praise but also failed to sell, and it went down with the Pontiac ship when GM decided to pull the plug on the division in 2009. Not wanting to give up on Holden cars, that same year, Chevy’s fifth-generation Camaro arrived using the Holden-developed “Zeta” platform. And the Holden Commodore, meanwhile, came back, first as the Chevy Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle (PPV) and today as the Chevy SS for civilians. I’ve heard an SS. What a sound.
My friend, and fellow slot car racer, Neil Besougloff, has one the GTO above left and I love the sound when he starts it up. Of course he revs the engine. He has first-hand knowledge of the tiny trunk. His he says is the same footprint as the actual trunk lid. There’s no “extra room” behind the back of the rear seat. Suitcases can’t lay down, they have to stand up or stand on their side.
The other weird thing he told me is that going from right-hand-drive to left-hand-drive, they left the “auto down” power window feature (like when you pay tolls) on the right side and just added the same thing to the left (driver side). So both my windows have auto-down button features. Also my parking brake is on the right side of the center console away from the driver, and the radio knob is on the far right side of the radio, again away from the driver.
Want one of the Holdens and an even cooler one? How about one of their “utes” like I mentioned above? Companies like LeftHandUtes.com are bringing them in. Of course you’ll have to pay a bit more but it all comes down to how bad do you want one.
If the vehicle is at least 21 years old, there are no EPA compliance requirements upon importation. A motor vehicle that is at least 25 years old can be lawfully imported into the U.S. without regard to whether it complies with all applicable DOT Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).