Production of Australian cars has officially come to an end. Here are ten of the greatest motoring achievements to come from Down Under
On 20 October the last ever car to be fully assembled in Australia rolled off the GM Holden production line in Elizabeth, a suburb of Adelaide where cars had been made since 1963. It was a red V8-engined Commodore SS-V Redline sedan, a car that epitomised the brawn and muscle for which Aussie V8s were once proudly famous.
To mark the occasion, we have put together a list containing ten of Australia’s greatest motoring achievements:
1. The Ute
Never say ‘but it’s just a pick-up isn’t it?' to an Aussie. Even though most of them will struggle to outline the precise physical differences between a Ute, a South African Bakkie, or a pick-up (and discussions over what came first could spark a war), the Ute is a symbol, a way of life. Most likely devised by Ford Australia designer Lew Bandt in the early 1930s – some time after very similar vehicles were available in the USA – it is short for Utility and traditionally based on a passenger car platform with the rear ‘tray’ is integrated into a more comfortable closed passenger section so farmers could get by with only one vehicle. Nowadays there are huge Ute meets, even races, and the breed has culminated in the fearsome 168mph Holden HSV Maloo.
2. Ford GTHO Falcon Phase III
Gosford Classic Car Museum
Released in 1971, this variation is the ultimate expression on the Ford Falcon XY theme and is a contender for best-ever Aussie muscle car. Looking very similar to the base model, the Phase III used a specced-up 351ci Cleveland engine, a four-speed top-loader ’box and a Detroit ‘locker’ diff. Producing well over the official 300bhp, the Ford won at Bathurst in 1971 with Allan Moffat at the wheel and, in topping out at 142mph, held the title in period of the world’s fastest four-door production car. With only a third of the 300 built said to remain, the Phase III is the Holy Grail for Aussie muscle car collectors and regularly sell for between AUS$500,000 and AUS$1million.
3. Bolwell Nagari (MkVIII)
The Nagari was the peak of the Bolwell family’s contribution to the motor industry, followed as it was by the ‘reimagined’ Golf that was the Ikara. The Melbourne brothers Campbell and Graham Bollwell allegedly spun their motor business out of making composite parts for video games and the Nagari, which was in production for four years from 1970, is their most famous creation, so much so that its name was revived in 2006. Even though just 100 coupés and 18 convertible versions of the shapely lightweight Ford V8-powered handful were built it is an Aussie legend.
4. Goggomobil Dart
Yes, Goggomobil was a German company, but it took faraway and far-thinking Aussie Bill Buckle to turn its dumpy microcar into a shrunken sports car. Buckle’s Sydney-built tiddler (it was 10ft from end to end) was shaped by Stan Brown and was in production for two years from 1959. It weighed just 345kg thanks to its lightweight glassfibre body, allowing its 300 or 400cc two-stroke to push it along with refreshing pace via four forward ratios. Some 700 were built in all and when RM Sotheby’s sold the example from the Weiner Microcar Museum in 2012, it made just over $54,000.
5. Holden Monaro
While everyday Holdens such as the FJ put Australia on the road, the original Monaro in GTS form was the Ford Falcon’s greatest rival, the HK variant giving the company its first Bathurst 500 win in 1968. Many argue that the jewel in the crown was the HT GTS or the HQ from the second generation Monaro that ran from 1971-’77, but any GTS is special. Powered by a 350ci V8 for many it pushed the equally accomplished straight-six Torana GTR XU-1 into the shadows. The Monaro name was revived at the turn of the millennium result in some fiery muscle cars best of the lot being the 7-litre HSV W427. The GTS was rebadged as a Vauxhall for the UK market, and the Brits offered a limited edition VXR 500, which added a Harrop supercharger to the 6-litre LS2 engine. Bonkers.
6. Leyland Force Seven
The Leyland P76 (designed to get an oil drum in the boot) may have been a well-intentioned failure that demonstrated Leyland’s woeful lack of understanding of its second market, but it did spawn the Force Seven. Designed to add some glamour to the range, this coupé shared no panels with the base model and Leyland collapsed before the Force Seven was even production ready. Despite that, nearly 60 cars had already been built, most of which were scrapped – leaving only a handful of survivors, all of them V8-powered.
7. Lightburn Zeta
Taking inspiration from Bill Buckle’s Goggomobils, the Lightburn Zeta came from an unlikely source, an Adelaide company best known for white goods, although it did also make cement mixers. The range of 324cc and 494cc Villiers-engined (mainly) plastic fantastics was sold from 1963 included the ambitiously named Sedan, so small and rear-hatchless that the seats had to be removed to access the cargo area. Even more ambitious was the Utility version that, clearly unable to do the work of a proper Ute, was limited to fewer than ten examples. Best-known Zeta is the Sports, which was based on the Meadows Frisky. Despite being very cheap, they failed to sell even 500 Zetas of all types.
8. Brabham BT19/20
While racing specials are some of the most interesting cars to come out of Australia, they can’t compete with the success of Brabham. Jack Brabham and Ron Tauranac had known each other since the early 1950s and following Black Jack’s international success with Cooper, he persuaded Tauranac to come to the UK and set up Motor Racing Developments with him in 1961. Although the company was technically English, all credit for the Brabham Racing Organisation’s success in its first incarnation belongs Down Under. It was fitting that when Brabham became the first and only driver to win a World Championship in a car bearing his own name in 1966, it even had an engine from Down Under, the Repco 620 3-litre V8.
9. Holden Hurricane
This 1969 concept car didn’t even go into production, but the rear-mid-engined rear-wheel-drive 4.2-litre V8-powered was at the vanguard of design (like the following year’s Bertone Zero and Vauxhall SRV and 1972’s Maserati Boomerang) and could be said to have had a global influence. Lower than a Ford GT40, it was a rolling laboratory featuring a Probe-like canopy instead of doors, a Pathfinder guidance system, vented disc brakes and a rear-view camera. After many years in the doldrums, the Hurricane has now been restored. Also worth checking out is the more practical Torana GTR-X concept.
10. Chrysler Valiant Charger
The perpetual bridesmaid as Holden and Ford fought over Bathurst glory, the E38 or E49 hi-po versions were the Charger to have. Launched in 1971 and staying in production for the best part of a decade, the bogan’s favourite probably saved Chrysler Australia, but couldn’t do better than third (with Doug Chivas in 1972) at Mount Panorama despite the involvement of Leo Geoghegan in its development. Engine choices for the two-door coupé included a range of sixes and eights, but the most powerful was the 265ci six-powered R/T in E38 (280bhp) and E49 (302bhp) guises.
Words: James Elliott