vintage holden

What is the rarest Holden?

HOLDEN built 2.4 million Commodores between 1978 and 2017. The imported ZB added a mere 11,000 to that total over the past couple of years and will go down in history as one of Holden’s less common mainstream models, but it’s far from being the rarest meat on the barbecue.

Factory-supported tuners HDT and HSV created plenty of special editions; that was their jam. Holden itself wasn’t so keen on exclusive content, yet a few unusual variations slipped through the dealership doors over the years.

The most collectible of local cars will increase in value – some perhaps exponentially – and none more so than the models which have partaken of Bathurst glory.

Here is our subjective pick of the rare Holdens we think are worth collecting now. Some have already begun to rise in value, while the newest is still experiencing the initial depreciation plunge.

Top Rare Holden Cars

1953 FJ SPECIAL

Well before the FJ model was introduced in October 1953, Holden watchers had begun to anticipate a completely new car. Thus the modest facelift – promoted in GM-H advertising as the ‘New Look’ (which instantly rendered the original 48-215 the ‘Old Look’) – was a disappointment.

But the introduction of a more decorative ‘Special’ variant pretty much made up for it. This was Holden’s first departure from austerity.

With its chromed and stainless steel ornamentation, minuscule tail fins and offer of two-tone paintwork, the FJ Special (£1075) offered a taste of Detroit fashion and gestured towards the real coming of glamour for GM-H, the FE due within three years.

The entry-level Holden, essentially an updated 48-215, was now the standard and cost £1023, and there was also a Business sedan, aimed at fleet buyers and priced at £1052.

Leather (softer than the hide used in many 48-215s, others having grey cloth) was standard on the Special but – in a true sign of the times – made way for highly stylised (two-tone with buttoned square panels) ‘Elascofab’ vinyl in 1955.

Elascofab was more fashionable than leather in an era when mantle radios were stylised, and GM-H’s Nasco division provided such accessories as a Venetian blind for the rear window, chromed number plate frames and windscreen sunshade.

By 1953 memories of petrol rationing (which finished on February 8, 1950) were fading and there was evident demand for more comfort and style.

The evidence suggests that the majority of buyers who could find the extra £52 over the price of a Standard did so: some 80,000 Specials were sold, compared with 28,000 Standards and 9300 Business sedans; completing the FJ’s tally of 169,969 units were the utilities and panel vans.

1957 FE Special Station Wagon

The three-box FE Holden sedan, styled entirely in Australia by Alf Payze and arguably the best-executed car in the entire General Motors world and perhaps the most elegant of its size produced anywhere, was released in July 1956 to immediate public rapture. But the new Station Sedan variants would not be available until March 1957.

Few Australian cars are more reflective of their specific era than the FE Special Station Sedan. By 1957 a high proportion of the baby boomer generation was at school (the eldest already 10), the first waves of post-war immigration were changing the culture forever (and for the better), and many families wanted a vehicle better suited to their needs than the conventional sedan.

The longer and wider FE model with its big boot accommodated mum and dad and two school-age kids better than the 48-215 and FJ with their essentially pre-war body design. Still, the Station Sedan brought an entirely new versatility.

The Special variant supplied the kind of glitz and glamour in the family car that the new Astor television purchased for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games did for the lounge-room.

Wagons were uncommon on Australian roads in 1957, and no other maker offered one with a one-piece roof pressing, curved rear side glass, unique rear doors, lift-up rear panel and fold-down tailgate; old-fashioned barn doors were still the norm.

The FE Station Sedan ushered in a wagon craze just as suburbs such as Baulkham Hills, Glen Waverley and Acacia Ridge burgeoned. It was the perfect family car for the summer holidays.

It is also worth noting that the FE Station Sedan with its high ground clearance, short front and rear overhangs, peak engine torque at just 1200rpm and rugged construction could take the family over roads that would now be considered impassable except by a dedicated four-wheel drive.

1962 EJ PREMIER

When rumours circulated of GM-H having ordered a large number of bucket seats from a supplier, the easy conclusion was that Holden was about to launch a sports car. It’s difficult to imagine any outcome further from the truth.

No-one expected the Holden Premier. The introduction of the Special in 1953 had been GM-H’s gesture towards luxury, and even before the end of that car’s life, the standard leather upholstery had been ditched in favour of fancy-pants Elascofab vinyl.

But the Premier boasted bucket seats and two-tone Howe leather. There were twin horns. It had a white steering wheel befitting a Mercedes-Benz 220SE and, indeed, many EJ Premiers substituted for one of these or a Jaguar Mark 2 as second cars in Vaucluse or Toorak households.

Collectors have always preferred its EH successor. The EJ was the last Holden to be equipped with the old grey-painted six-cylinder engine – albeit it with 25 per cent more power – first seen in the 1948 48-215 original.

This outdated unit had its work cut out in the heavier Premier. Amazingly, but almost certainly in a misguided attempt to promote perceptions of the car’s luxury, an automatic transmission was the only type on offer.

On the road, the first Holden Premier could match the 1948 car neither on acceleration nor top speed (realistically 78 miles per hour rather than about 82).

But its successor got the new, more powerful 179 cubic-inch ‘red’ engine and automatic transmission added to the purchase price, the manual gearbox being standard, and three-pedal cars offered a top speed not far short of 100mph.

Despite a shortfall in performance, the EJ Premier was a classy and elegant machine. It had metallic paint – called ‘iridescent’ at the time, usually contrasted with a white roof, whitewall tyres, a centre console and folding armrest in the rear seat.

There was pile carpet throughout, and it was the first Holden to be fitted with a heater as standard equipment, but customers still had to pay extra for the Air Chief radio.

The EJ Premier represented a new point in a style and sophistication for what had started as a simple, utility car conceived in wartime. When Holden came to market, there were just one million cars on Australian roads.

The two million marks were reached in 1956. The millionth Holden passed down the line in October 1962, which indicates the enormity of Holden’s contribution to mass motorisation. Fittingly, the number 1,000,000 was a bronze EJ Premier.

1968 HK MONARO GTS 327

This car was even more of a surprise than the Premier. Not only was it Holden’s first coupe but it was essentially a race car with a rego label, its mission being to win the Bathurst 500.

You could buy the same looks, vibrant colours, stripery, wheel trims, lowered suspension and aftermarket tachometer mounted below knee-level in the six-cylinder GTS 186S or the automatic-only V8 GTS 307, but the 327 was bespoke.

Here was a Holden that could reach 125mph — unimaginable even 18 months earlier until Ford Australia, under marketing genius Bill Bourke, launched the XR Falcon GT.

As with the 307 variant, it used a Chevrolet V8. But it also got a close-ratio Saginaw four-speed manual gearbox, limited-slip differential, anti-tramp rods and 25-gallon fuel tank.

Unfortunately, less attention was paid to the brakes, and it was only because 1968 winner Bruce McPhee, who modified the system within the regulations, was such a canny engineer that he was able to fend off the XT Falcon GTs in his Monaro. Contemporaneous drivers reckon Holden was the better handling of the two.

GM-H did not officially involve itself with racing in line with international GM policy of the time but was delighted to claim whatever credit was on offer. Racing aside, any HK GTS Monaro is a beautiful car which utterly overshadows any other HK Holden variant.

1970 LC TORANA GTR XU-1

Even though both the GTS 327 and GTS 350 Monaros had beaten their Falcon GT rivals at Mount Panorama, three GM-H executives believed the key to future Bathurst victories was not to – in the words of the chief engineer Bill Steinhagen – ‘out GTHO the GTHO’ – but to create a David to tackle Ford’s Goliath.

Along with sales director John Bagshaw and marketing liaison Peter Lewis-Williams, he conceived a hotshot Torana.

The all-Australian LC (‘LC’ standing for ‘Light Car’) Torana range complete with six-cylinder variants headed by the GTR was launched in the last quarter of 1969.

Shortly after that year’s event and with the LC still in the motoring headlines, these three men met in Steinhagen’s office. The chief engineer was unwilling to launch an even more powerful Monaro which could be used on public roads.

A re-imagined Torana could use much of Holden’s componentry, dispensing for the need to obtain engines from Detroit. It could also be sold at a much lower price and doubtless, attract greater sales.

As well as being ideal for circuits, it could also be taken rallying, where its lighter weight and smaller size than the Monaro would prove advantageous. Additionally, it would be a hero car for the entire six-cylinder Torana range.

The Holden Dealer Team had been created earlier that year to bypass the issue of GM-H not being officially involved in racing. Harry Firth was the boss, and it seems that he combined all his experience from the Cortina GT500 (1965) with the knowledge of his new protégé Peter Brock, who had lots of experience of extracting maximum performance from six-cylinder Holden engines.

The Holden, like the Cortina GT500, got twin fuel tanks (which could be filled simultaneously to halve the time required). Firth had given the Cortina large air scoops under the front bumper to direct air onto the brakes, and the XU-1 got a spoiler designed to do the same.

A modified 186S engine with the new cylinder head, higher compression, bigger valves and hot camshaft, equipped with triple carburettors and a sports exhaust system gave 160 brake horsepower. For the 1971 ‘evolution’ variant, further modifications took power up to 180bhp.

But outright victory in the Bathurst 500-mile race would not come until 1972 when Peter Brock famously outdrew all rivals in the rain to take the flag in his LJ XU-1.

1971 HQ MONARO GTS 350 COUPE

With racing duties bequeathed to the GTR XU-1, the Monaro GTS 350 had little purpose in the range. This is one reason why the last of the Chevrolet-engined Monaros of last century remains relatively underrated.

Opinions vary, but I think this is the most beautiful Holden ever made. Like every other HQ variant, the flagship was much more refined than its predecessors and, even though plagued by the dreaded plough understeer beloved of chief engineer George Roberts, was a brilliant interstate cruiser and, at least, unlike many HQs, it came with radial tyres as standard.

It could be specified with a manual transmission or – to be preferred – Turbo-Hydramatic auto.

This was the penultimate Monaro GTS coupe. Its HJ successor was stylistically compromised by retaining the gorgeous HQ rear styling with the blunt, unsubtle nose of the HJ.

All HQ Holdens are appreciating in value, but none will be coveted like this one.

1971 HQ STATESMAN DEVILLE

It took GM-H more than four years to introduce a serious rival to the Ford Fairlane which, like the Falcon GT and, indeed, the entire XR Falcon range, was a product of Bill Bourke’s marketing nous.

The Statesman and Statesman DeVille superseded the faintly absurd Brougham (almost literally: old carriage), which was essentially a Premier with the longer boot, vinyl roof and garish brocade trim. Yuk!

Even the Statesman (finally with a long wheelbase) laboured under some pretension. Like the 1948 Holden, its hubcaps were inscribed ‘General Motors’.

That decision was taken before Holden was named (and monikers such as ANZAC and GM-H were being considered). The name Holden did not appear on the car, the idea being that ‘Statesman’ was a brand of its own; the market took a different view.

With the Australian 308 cubic-inch V8 engine and automatic transmission as standard equipment and its elegant, formal design, the Statesman De Ville was a fitting flagship for the HQ range.

A small number of these cars had the optional 350ci Chevrolet engine (with Turbo-Hydramatic auto), which gave them a serious turn of speed.

1977 TORANA A9X HATCH

A 1977 Holden Torana SS hatchback optioned with the rare A9X performance package has come up for sale in Sydney for nearly half a million dollars.

The A9X package makes this Torana one of the most sought after Holdens ever made, with only 100 hatchbacks produced with the option, and only two built-in this Atlantis Blue paint and Tan vinyl interior combination.

Holden added the A9X option as a way to help the Holden Dealer Team win more races in the Australian Touring Car series. At the time, race cars had to be based on road car models.

The changes, available only to SLR 5000 sedans and SS hatches, includes a reverse-cowl bonnet scoop, rear disc brakes, uprated axles, and a heavy-duty differential. All of which helped Peter Brock to take the A9X to victory on its debut at Sandown Raceway in 1977.

The A9X went on to dominate the Australian Touring Car series in the following years, with Brock winning the 1979 Bathurst race by six laps and famously setting the lap record on the final lap.

The $495,000 price tag of this hatchback would make this the most valuable road-going Torana ever sold, with the current record being set at $365,000 in 2018. As well as a full history of the car, this Torana also comes with the original GMH ‘Hatch Hutch’, making it the most expensive tent ever sold.

It doesn’t make it the most expensive Torana, however, with a former Bathurst race car driven by Bob Morris selling at auction in 2017 for $715,000.

CarAdvice understands the current custodian of this A9X has had the vehicle in his collection for two years, where the Torana lived alongside a Ford Falcon GTHO Phase III. Phase III lays claim to being the most valuable road-going Australian car ever sold when one reportedly changed hands for more than a million dollars (including buyer’s premium) in 2018.

HSV GEN-F GTS

It is often noted that Holden Special Vehicles has struggled to sell cars which cost upwards of $100K and the Gen-F GTS suffers from this syndrome.

In 2013 HSV equipped its new VF Commodore-based GTS flagship with a supercharged 430kW/740Nm 6.2-litre Chevrolet engine, as seen in the most powerful Corvettes.

With its six-speed automatic transmission and immense brakes (six-pot callipers front and rear), it was not only the fastest Australian car to date but also the most accomplished.

For the first time in its history, HSV had a vehicle which could equal or better a Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG — not just in acceleration (standing 400m: 12.7 seconds) but also in dynamics.

Brand-new, this GTS commanded $92,900. But because you can still buy a later version of the same car brand-new or with very low km for $100K or less, four-year-old examples are now available for less than $70,000.

Soon, a new or late model HSV will be a thing of the past, and prices of pristine GTS models are likely to appreciate.

VC SL/E WAGON

THIS early-bird luxury wago-barge is one of those editions shrouded in mystery. Launched for sale exclusively through Melbourne and Geelong Holden dealers, a specific number of 67 was touted in the brochure, with three colours available: Nocturne Blue, Firethorn or Nutmeg. Enthusiasts believe far fewer were built; 25 to 27 is the estimate, with Nutmeg examples nowhere to be seen. Of the 121,807 VC Holdens built, the SL/E wagon represented 0.02 per cent of total production.

VH SL/E T30

BACK in the 80s, Holden was bleeding money, yet GM-H still knew how to reward its star performers. Throughout ’82, each of the top 30 dealers nationwide saw a Commodore SL/E T30 land on their doorstep. Featuring all the major SL/E options, unique Shadowtone Duco and an extensive cassette stereo system, they were powered by a 5.0-litre built to VC HDT specs and backed by a bulletproof Turbo 350 trans. Only 30 were built. We wonder how many dealer principals still have theirs.

VF SV6 & SS-V RESERVE EDITION

THE Reserve Edition VF Commodore was built to order, as to buy one you had to be employed by Holden as of December 31 2013. Workers could opt for an SV6 in sedan or wagon, with the V8 SS-V adding a ute. A mere 171 Reserve Editions found homes, and of those, 93 were SS-Vs. Five people bought utes, and of them, only one committed employee ticked the option for a six-speed manual. One of one; it doesn’t get rarer than that!

VL CALAIS WAGON

WITH HDT offering unofficial VL Berlina-to-Calais wagon conversions throughout ’86 and ’87, the notion of a Labrador-capable Luxo-Holden was not lost on Fishermans Bend. With the new VN model waiting in the wings, April ’88 saw Holden release a run of just 200 VL Calais wagons to boost sales and clear parts. Forum chatter suggests a breakdown of 50 naturally aspirated sixes, 75 turbos and 75 V8s. Growing up, all I wanted to be an Evening Blue VL Calais Turbo five-speed on a set of colour-coded 16-inch Walkies – long roof edition. 

VY & VYII SS WAGON

IT WAS 2003 before Holden whacked SS badges on its bootylicious third-gen wagon. Powered by an LS1 and backed by either an auto or manual, the $51K family spaceship featured all the kit of the SS sedan while borrowing side skirts and 17-inch alloys from the load-bearing SS ute. Available in Phantom Mica or Redhot, Holden shifted 500 units before the VYII came long. Quicksilver replaced Redhot for the second series, which added another 350 cars to an exclusive total of 850 – more than some examples on this list, but still not many.

VZ ONE TONNER CROSS6 AWD

DESPITE Holden offering a staggering range of products throughout the VZ era, Australians were falling out of love with large cars as the 2000s soldiered on. With sedans, LWB sedans, utes, dual-cab utes, wagons, coupes and cab-chassis Tonners all spun off from the Commodore platform, along with AWD versions of the latter four, it’s no surprise some variants struggled to sell. The rarest of the rare? The One Tonner Cross6. Of the 261,238 VZ Commodore-based vehicles built, a mere 50 exited the factory as cab-chassis, all-wheel-drive, go-anywhere work rigs.

Forgettable Holdens built from the 1980s onwards don’t fetch that much – with Camiras hardly deemed desirable as a locally-made version of GM’s unloved global J-car.

The auction benchmark was set two months after the last Australian-made Holden, a VF-series Commodore, rolled off the production line at Elizabeth, in Adelaide’s north. 

That record was surpassed just four months later, in April 2018, when a 1988 VL Commodore SS Group A model sold at auction for $340,000 through Burns & Co. 

General Motors announced on Monday that the Holden brand would be killed off in 2021, ending a motoring legacy that began in November 1948 with the first 48-215 model. 

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