To most Australians, this looks like a pretty standard Holden HQ ute. But, look closely at the grille and you’ll notice the familiar Chevrolet ‘bowtie’. Nothing strange about that either, as plenty of Chev fanbois in Australia have performed some minor cosmetic surgery on their favourite Holden models, excising the Holden lion and replacing it with the Chevrolet badge.
Except, this isn’t one of those minor transplants.
Instead, what you see here is one of the lesser-known Aussie exports to South Africa. Yes, it is in almost every way a Holden HQ ute, but to South Africans it’s a Chevrolet El Camino.
But wait, what? Isn’t the El Camino a completely different style of ute hailing from the good ol’ US of A? Yes, yes it is. But not in South Africa.
South Africa, like Australia is a right-hand drive market and that made it ripe for Holden exports.
To understand how we got here, it’s worth looking back in time. General Motors South Africa (GMSA) had a long history, forming in 1913 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of General Motors. And for ever so long, GMSA distributed Chevrolet vehicles in its domestic market.
By the 1960s, its portfolio of brands had expanded to include GM stablemates, Opel, Vauxhall and Holden, usually arriving in the country in knock-down form and then assembled at GMSA’s Port Elizabeth plant.
By the late 1960s, however GMSA looked to establish itself under one unified brand. And that brand was Chevrolet which meant Opel, Vauxhall and Holden product was rebadged with the Chev bowtie.
Holden, for its part, sent over its HK model, including in ute form. Now called the Chevrolet El Camino, the HK ute received a completely new front, with a redesigned grille housing quad headlights. From the front, it looked like a different car to Australia's HK ute.
While the HK underwent a major facelift for the South African market, the follow-up was barely changed. By the time the Aussie Holden Kingswood made its way to South Africa, it was known as the Chevrolet Kommando. Similarly, the Holden Statesman morphed into the Chevrolet Constantia while the venerable Aussie workhorse HQ ute continued as the Chevrolet El Camino.
Details of the El Camino are scant other than it received a new grille festooned with the famous Chev logo. Under the skin, the South African El Camino (internal code AQ) was powered by a choice of engines including a 202ci (3.3-litre) inline-six, a 250ci (4.1-litre) straight-six or Holden’s 308ci (5.0-litre) V8.
Both six-cylinder options were available with a manual transmission, although the 4.1-litre variant could also be optioned with Holden’s three-speed Tri-matic automatic transmission. The V8 model was only available with the Tri-matic.
The HQ range represented Holden’s last hurrah in South Africa for around 20 years, with growing unrest over that nation’s Apartheid policy the impetus for global trade and economic sanctions. By 1978, Holden was no longer exporting to South Africa.
Holden resumed exports to South Africa in 1998, this time sending Holden Commodores, including utes, rebadged as Chevrolet Luminas. By the end of 2017, General Motors South Africa closed its doors for the last time.
And next time you see a Holden on the street with a Chevrolet badge, remember the South Africans did it first, and did it better.
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