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Remembering the mighty Holden EH

About Thomas

I write because I can type. I can type because I have a keyboard.

I am a new age Australian resident that is experiencing this new continent with a fresh set of eyes. 

I write on a wide range of topics. Well, I write on food. There you have it, I write on a wide range of food as well. 

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While the EH Holden, even with its vigorous new engines, could no longer be called one of the best cars in the world, it was still probably the best car in the world for Australia.

Step out of a modern Commodore and into an EH and you’ll be shocked at how different life in an Aussie family car was 50 years ago. It feels tiny compared to a modern Commodore. There is heaps of headroom, but the whole thing feels narrow and terribly upright. Skinny little roof pillars provide an uncluttered view while the view over the bonnet clearly belongs to the square-rigged era.

The Australian Car.

The Australian Car. pic:www.tradeuniquecars.com.au

Something else that strikes you is the sheer simplicity of the car. Controls seem rudimentary, and the engine bay! Andy Enright stood staring as we prepared the car for a shoot, commenting, "This is exactly what you’d want to teach a kid about how cars work. It’s all laid out for you, isn’t it?" He’s right.

If you want to understand the appeal of older locally-made family cars as classics, the EH is a prime example. Simple, robust, easy enough to drive once you get used to the inevitably vague column shift manual and undemanding to maintain.

In their day (1963), the big news wasn’t the chassis or appointments – which to the uninitiated looked like EJ gear – but the new powerplant. The legendary red-series engine was making its public debut and was the product of a new plant at Fisherman’s Bend (Vic) which GMH priced at a heady 11 million quid.

By this time the old grey motors were still doing sterling service but were no longer competitive in the horsepower race against Ford Falcon and Chrysler Valiant.

The new seven-bearing pushrod unit (with hydraulic lifters) came in three variants: 149ci low-compression rated at 95hp, a standard 149 at 100hp and the 179 claiming 115 horses. Far more powerful than the four-bearing grey motor, it also claimed better fuel economy. It, of course, was eventually punched out to form the much-loved 202.

Initially, the 179 was only offered with the auto Hydra-Matic trans, which was regarded as strong if uninspiring. The three-speed manual transmissions had to be upgraded before GMH was happy to see them cut loose with the big engine.

Of course, the ultimate version of the EH was the Premier. John Wright, Unique Cars mag contributor and one of Australia’s foremost motoring historians, sees this model as being hugely significant in its day. In Special – the untold story of Australia’s Holden, he wrote: "Here was a truly desirable machine – quick, beautifully trimmed and finished, though in the Holden way, spacious and the height of 1963 elegance." He goes on to highlight some of its appealing features such as the Howe leather used to trim the interior, the metallic (‘iridescent’) paint, the 179 chequered flag badges (a popular target for thieves) and the manual transmission – only because it was so much more lively than the Hydra-Matic auto.

He summed it up this way: "The 48-215 [the original Holden] was not just the best car in the world for Australia, it was one of the best cars in the world, full stop. While the EH Holden, even with its vigorous new engines, could no longer be called one of the best cars in the world, it was still probably the best car in the world for Australia."

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