PH Bloodline: Aussie tribute

Seen from this side of the planet, it's easy to imagine the domestic Australian automotive industry as being comprised mainly of one thing: large saloon cars equipped with even larger petrol engines - often with brilliant, offbeat names. Or else the Ford Falcon XB GT Hardtop from Mad Max.

But the reality is that in order to maintain car production, you need volume sales. Which meant that the Australian divisions of major manufacturers tended to spend much of their time turning out the mundanely affordable stuff that the average buyer really needed in a country comfortably bigger than continental Europe.

Nevertheless, the standing requirement for dross meant that when the Aussie engineers were really let loose, something truly idiosyncratic would usually result. At least it did before the Australian dollar soared, wages went up and the industry's wider gallop toward globalisation caused the plug to be pulled and importer status cemented.

Nevertheless, for the second hand buyer, there are decades yet to enjoy the fruits of Aussie labour. We've scoured the treasure trove that is the PH classifieds to pay homage to the good, the bad and the ugly of the last nine decades...

Toyota Corolla
A case in point. Searching out a five-door eighties-era Corolla for purchase now would be like looking for the specific plastic shopping bag given to you by Sainsbury's six months ago. This particular car wasn't actually made in Australia - but rest assured a version of it was; cranked out by a facility in Port Melbourne, not far from Toyota's Australian headquarters. Fun fact: the world's largest carmaker bought into the market by taking over Australia Motor Industries, which used to make domestic versions of the Standard Vanguard and Triumph Herald.

The Toyota Corolla you see here isn't the haloed AE86, but it is an AE82 liftback, which has an automatic transmission, an original cassette player, and comes in a very fetching shade of 90 day white with brown velour upholstery. Tasteful.

Holden Clubsport R8
The car which became the VXR8, seen here in its pre-Luton format and endowed with a number of upgrades, as well as a motor capable of burning E85 fuel. Probably at a rate similar to that of a Saturn V, given the supercharged 6.2-litre V8 runs a custom engine tune. The tuneable nature of the unit is of course legendary, but it is the atavistic, rear-drive character of the model around it which has ensured a healthy fan base in the UK.

Volkswagen Camper
Produced in Australia for a time, the VW Kombi (as it was known) is arguably a prime example of the sort of rugged, and ultimately uncomplicated, machine that worked well in the vast and sparsely populated expanse of Australia's interior.

The Beetle was produced locally since 1954 in Clayton, Victoria, as a complete knock down (CKD), and this 1971 Camper will have been built in much the same way; the firm having reverted to building German CKD kits after it tried its hand at building Volkswagens from scratch.

Holden Senator
Another variation on a small-block V8 engine in a big saloon (sorry, sedan) body, but this one is a much posher Senator in signature trim. When I say posh, there are still some oddities to it, like why are the electric window switches left in the middle of the car and not on any of the doors? At least it does have a 6.0-litre V8 to get it down the road. They should have tried selling it to UK traffic police, especially those with fond memories of their Vauxhall Senator 24v motorway patrol cars.

Volkswagen weren't the only ones to produce complete knock down kits, Lord Nuffield had been doing it with Morris Minors and Oxfords since 1950. By the time the Mini arrived on Australian shores in 1961 - the same vintage as our admittedly very English example - Nuffield had merged with Austin Motor Company of Australia, and become a proper manufacturer. In fact, the so-called Morris 850 was so successful that the engineers embarked on improvements ahead of the UK; the Australian variant gaining novelties like wind-up windows years before its British counterpart, and was the first to use Hydrolastic suspension.

Vauxhall Monaro
After a break of more than twenty years, the Monaro name returned with this VX Commodore based two-door coupe, a not so distant relative of the Vauxhall Omega. You could either buy it as a CV6 (supercharged 3.8-litre V6) or as the much more popular CV8, which bore the more familiar 5.7-litre V8. This one is a later VZ CV8 which gets a bit more power - and not just under the bonnet, the sound system was uprated too. Although why you would want to try and drown out the sound of that V8 is beyond us. The irritating thing is, this car proves that Vauxhall could have put a V8 into the Omega, giving us a remake of the legendary Lotus Carlton of the early nineties. An opportunity lost perhaps...

Ford Falcon XR6
Ford's production history in Australia dates back to 1925 and the ubiquitous Model T. The Falcon is almost as famous down under though, having been around in one form or another since 1960, and very much at the centre of the notorious rivalry between Holden and Ford fans. This one features the Barra 195 4.0-litre straight-six, non-turbo charged engine, which puts out 265hp. It must be quite under stressed here, as there was a turbocharged Barra 325T version putting out 442hp - more with the 10 second overboost facility - in the limited production run FG-X XR6 Sprint. Much like the Holden Commodore though, Ford replacing the Falcon with the European Mondeo, thus killing a nameplate which has been around for almost 60 years.

Max Adams


P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (44) Join the discussion on the forum

  • robm3 23 Oct 2017

    It's interesting why the manufacturing shut down, yes it's a small market but it had always survived, and with greater automation, global vehicle platforms, significantly reduced supply chain costs and faster knowledge transfer (thanks to IT developments), there's a strong argument it could have continued.

    However dig a little and you'll see there was a lot of 'transfer pricing' occurring from the subsidiaries back to the parent companies throughout the 90's and 2000's. This ensured the manufacturing ran at a loss, but why do this?
    Because then the Australian government stepped in to subsidies the industry to the tune of $200-400m per year. It was very political because the industry was highly unionised (yep, that means expensive too, sounds familiar, BL?) and we had a Labour government at the time.

    Then a Liberal Government came to power (our Tories) and pledged to end the subsidies (under the guise of balancing the budget but personally I suspect it was a war they were waging on the unions at the time) the automotive makers called their bluff and proceeded to close down. What is really galling though, is the Liberal Government then reneged on ending the subsidies and pledged to continue them until the final vehicle runs off the lines. Madness!

    Anyhow, it's had an impact on many tier 2 and 3 local suppliers and the ripple effects are yet to be truly felt in Aus.

    Slightly Off Topic but what my fellow Aussies have failed to notice is that GM and Ford have both built many new plants in China.... Clearly that's a far more interesting market for them and no doubt we'll all be driving cars made from there. Although I think this is a naive mistake because the Chinese are notorious for plundering IP and Design and the manufacturing knowledge GM and Ford bring will flow straight into the fledgling Chinese Automotive Industry....

  • Mr225 24 Oct 2017

    It is sad to hear that no domestic vehicles will be produced in Australia for the foreseeable future, I have always seen them as uniquely appealing, exotic in an aspirational and achievable sense that many of the contemporary cars of Europe and the states are not. Powerful, muscular cars and utes for everyman, they seemed to remain firmly grounded without falling victim of the elitist and unobtainable standards set by their continental counterparts.
    As an aside, and to prove the point, I suppose, my brother is currently restoring an Australian ford landau, essentially a rebodied 70's mustang which is one of only two in the UK.....

  • DBRacingGod 24 Oct 2017

    £20k for a leggy XR6?

  • Coatesy351 24 Oct 2017

    As an aside, and to prove the point, I suppose, my brother is currently restoring an Australian ford landau, essentially a rebodied 70's mustang which is one of only two in the UK.....

    It's not really a rebodied mustang i doubt any part of the chassis is interchangeable just the major mechanicals. Rare in Australia too it's basically an XA coupe with a p5 LTD front and interior. The side quarter window opening is modified hence the vinyl roof the hide the join.

  • RBH58 24 Oct 2017

    A friend's mint Landau...

    ...athough for me it will will never match the GT it's based on which I still reckon is the best looking Aussie Muscle Car...

View all comments in the forums Make a comment