An a child of the 1960s, I had a childhood obsession with Italian sports cars and Australian muscle cars. A strange mix, some might say, but while the allure of European thoroughbreds is obvious,
I believe my contrasting fascination with local draft horses is justifiable.
Our roads were once dominated by Holden, Ford and Chrysler, and it was a fabulous time for diverse styling, as each brand had its own genetic code. Their individual personalities set the stage for fierce brand loyalty and dogmatic barbecue repartee. My father’s pride and joy back then was his Holden EH Special with a 179 Hydramatic. Perhaps it was this early indoctrination that sent me down a complicated path to a career at Holden.
Without dismissing some of the important earlier work, it’s fair to say that automotive design really got serious in Australia in the late 1960s. The Big Three had new design centers and under the tutelage of more experienced American design executives. , local talent helped create our own unique interpretations. So, let’s put all myopic brand rivalry aside for a moment and say hello to some of the great Australian car models of the past.
Although based on the American-designed XR, the local Falcon XW-XY models were handsome roosters. The XY in particular was a very well resolved design with an imposing position and excellent detail. The butch proportions translated effortlessly into one of the world’s finest GT sedans. At the same time, Holden had launched the local HK architecture and it was heralding the first generation Monaro. Sleek and clean with a pillarless roofline, it gloriously captured the vibe of the ’60s.
Step into the 1970s and Australia is spoiled with three new Australian launches; Holden HQ, Ford XA and Valiant VH. Three very different design languages, although influenced by their parent company’s philosophy, but executed in a unique Australian way. I would say the proportions of Australian cars were often better than their oversized American cousins. And the best part was that all three brands offered locally designed coupe variants.
By any objective measure, the Monaro, Falcon Hardtop, and Charger were superb designs in their day and each flexed their muscles with individual bravado. The Monaro was sculptural and elegant, with fluid surfacing and iconic fender blisters. In a bold contrast, the Falcon Hardtop was a beast with intimidating bulk around the rear quarter, asking only for huge wheels to fill the arches. And the svelte Charger had a sharp, chiseled profile, complemented by the soaring buttress pillars and distinctive duck tail.
All three were style triumphs and exemplified the heyday of automotive design in this country, consolidating our folklore of automotive culture and motorsport. Unfortunately, after this peak period, the automotive landscape has changed and corporate strategies have moved away from this genre.
Nonetheless, the industry struggled and a resurgence occurred in the late 1980s. In 1988, the VN Commodore and the EA Falcon were released. Once again, the two brands have hung on and the EA deserves a place on the podium for one of the most stylish Falcons. It was crisp and bold, with a modern product design feel, despite the initial low-tech drivetrain.
Holden’s real rebirth was the VT Commodore and its derivatives like the Statesman and the third-generation Monaro. Export markets have opened up, making it the launching pad for the VE-VF architecture; the first entirely new architecture since HQ and arguably the best Australian car ever developed for its respective period.
While the recent record auction prices for historic Australian cars may be fueled by nostalgic investment speculation, I am inclined to believe that we are finally appreciating the importance of our great automotive history.
And so, it turns out Australian cars have held onto their resale value after all.
Richard Ferlazzo is the former design director of GM Holden