1963 EH Holden Premier station wagon.

EH Holden not so special

The EH Holden is celebrating its 60th anniversary. 

The various EH clubs around Australia will no doubt ensure this milestone is given publicity.

But please excuse me if I refrain from joining the festivities.

You see, in my experience the EH is a very ordinary car, cleverly disguised by sheet metal.

The first time I saw an EH was in early September, 1963 when my father drove a brand new Special up our driveway. 

He’d traded in a 1955 FJ Holden that was full of rust and mechanically challenged.

Our EH was powered by the all-new 149 cubic inch/2.4-litre “red” six-cylinder engine attached to a HydraMatic transmission.

My dad had wanted the bigger 179 cubic inch/2.9-litre engine, but there was a waiting list for those, so he took what was on the showroom floor, such was his eagerness to dispose of the FJ.

There is no doubt that the 149 lacked power when attached to the HydraMatic.

This deficit of grunt meant overtaking cars on two-lane highways needed careful planning.

Then there were the brakes.

The small drums had little impact on forward motion.

The interior was as uninspiring as the performance.

The dashboard was a carryover from the previous model.

The seats were covered in uncomfortable vinyl, which was burning hot in summer and cold in winter. 

Our EH survived until early 1968.

By then the HydraMatic was causing trouble, one rear window would not wind up or down and rust was starting to appear. 

Dad was keen to trade it in.

It was replaced by an HK Kingswood which was a better car by a factor of 20.

And yet, the EH was Holden’s bestselling car on a monthly basis.

A massive 256,959 were sold between August, 1963 and February, 1965 when the HD appeared.

I believe the EH’s appeal was that, for the first time, Holden’s customers were offered a choice of engines, acceptable performance and appealing styling.

Just as importantly, it gave those who might be considering the more powerful and better equipped Falcon or Valiant a reason to pause and reconsider. 

So many were sold that it became a plentiful, cheap second and third hand used car.

Increasing the 179’s performance was easy and, with lowered suspension and wider wheels, the EH became a preferred first car for many of our nation’s youth in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

At the same time and for the same reasons it was also a popular choice for up-and-coming dirt speedway racers, capable of delivering a top five placing in feature events.

Such are foundations on which an automotive icon is created.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos


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