The humble station wagon has been the cornerstone of Australian family transport for over half a century.
However, since Ford stopped production of the Falcon wagon back in 2010, your only option for a locally made, sedan-based hauler has been the Holden VF Sportwagon – in both Commodore, and Calais guise.
But sadly production of this too is due to cease in a few years time, so we thought it was the perfect opportunity to wind the clock back 50 years and take a look at a car that is both iconic and important to Australian history, the EH Holden wagon.
The EH Holden is exactly 50 years old, and in 1964 Australia was a very different place. Our population was roughly half what it is now, at about 11million, we were still two years away from decimal currency, the Beatles visited but most importantly – Eddie McGuire was born.
The $2,720 EH Holden (for a Special, automatic wagon) was Australia’s best selling car and was offered in three trim levels. The Standard, the mid-spec Special like our test car and the top line Premier that had such luxury items as leather seats.
There were two 6-cylinder engine options – a 149 cubic inch (2.4-litre) motor and the big 179ci (2.9-litre) producing 85 kW of power and 237 Nm of torque.
The car was designed in and for Australia. Even the color palette represents our nation, as our car today is Gundagai grey.
On the road, the first thing you notice about the EH is the lack of seatbelts. Anchor points were required in 1964 – but not the belts themselves. In fact it was not until 1970 that wearing seatbelts was made compulsory in Victoria, with other states following swiftly.
There are no airbags, headrests, no blind spot detection, no automatic braking – in fact you have to actually drive the car and pay attention while doing so.
The Holden ‘Red’ motor feels pretty good on the move. At 40mph (65km/h) the car motors along with more than enough power, the EH feels light and floaty but never dangerous or unsettling.
The thing is, you are not tempted to push this car. You don’t feel like you want to throw it into corners or accelerate and brake as hard as you can – its just a lovely car to drive.
The EH Holden would have been pretty standard Australian transport back in the 60s and 70s and it puts a lot of fun back into motoring. It is from a time when the drive was as much about the journey as the destination and generally, is a very fun place to be.
On long trips, there would have been lots of games of I-spy, with children no doubt fighting in the back – but no headrests mean they are always within easy reach of mum and dad up front!
While visiting the past is undeniably cool, you can take a step into the future with the $59,990 (plus on roads) VF Calais Sportwagon.
The Calais immediately shows you just how far we have come in terms of noise and comfort and overall quietness of the car. It feels like a cocoon compared to the EH.
Inside there is everything you need – eight-inch touch screen, colour heads up display, a raft of safety equipment, and plenty of power with a 260kW/517Nm six-litre V8 engine up front – more than three-times the power of the EH.
The car weighs a bit more – over 650kg more – but you can’t feel it (for the number crunchers – VF Calais V Sportwagon is 1,832kg and the EH Station Sedan is 1,178kg). The Calais is very much at home on long touring highway miles – it is a very comfortable and rewarding place to be.
Even with the V8, we are sure the VF uses less fuel than the EH (the Calais claims 11.7L/100km on a combined cycle where research on the EH notes a slightly more thirsty 12.4L/100km), although the price of petrol in 1964 was a bit less than it is now (about $0.07 per litre).
I’m sure there are a great deal of fond Australian memories that come from the back of a wagon. I personally remember a trip in a duck egg blue VH Commodore Vacationer down the Hume highway – before it was a freeway.
And while there have been huge steps forward in terms of safety, performance and economy, there are some areas where the old car does it better. There is more room in the EH with the rear seats up than in the VF (1,140L vs 875L) and instead of measuring space with litres – in the 1964 Holden catalogue, the EH was listed as having 6”10 of sleeping space.
When local production of the Holden Commodore ends in 2017, the VF Sportwagon will be the last wagon to be produced in Australia.
To make this really hit home you have to say it to yourself. The VF Commodore will be the last-ever Aussie built wagon.
Now this is a sad thing – it is a fantastic car. But, it is a world class product.
So ending the heritage of Australian built wagons and the wonderful memories that wagons provide, with this car, we are absolutely going out on a high note.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser
Thank you to Rommy for the use of the beautiful EH wagon.