Owner Review

1963 Holden EJ Special review

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I had a desire for a long time to buy a classic old Holden – we've always been a Holden family. I came home from the hospital as a baby in the back of an FE, grew up in the back of a HR, and learned to drive in the HR and a VB. Fords were bad, just on principle, regardless of any actual merit.

Viewing the rise in old Holden prices with alarm, I did lots of online research. I decided to only buy a car within reasonable driving distance of Sydney. My faith in human goodness did not extend to depositing a large amount of money in a stranger's bank account and receiving a vehicle that in any way resembled the (often blurry) photos.

When a decent-looking EJ came up for sale in the ACT, I took the plunge. I arranged a viewing and bought it the same day. I know, it's not the sainted EH that Jesus would have driven (worship the icon EH!), but I support the underdog.

I bought it from the granddaughter of the man who bought it in 1964 – it had been in the same family for 52 years. Its colour scheme is Atherton Ivory roof over Namatjira Red body. The motor was basically stuffed. The car was driveable in the same way that a brick falling from a height is flying. It had rusty floors and plenum chamber – I put new floors and did my best with the rest.

I kept the paint original, and the seats needed a re-trim, in vinyl of course. The interior and suspension were stripped out, cleaned, painted, rebuilt and reinstalled (save the headlining, which is original). The underbody was painted in many coats, after a thorough stripping of the oil-mud-bitumen layer that preserved it quite well.

I received considerable help from friendly mechanics near where I work. They had the motor, gearbox and propshaft out in about 20 minutes, and have assisted with other tricky bits needing special tools and knowledge. The rebuilt grey motor went back in – 56kW is not quite enough in today's world, nor are the four-wheel unassisted drum brakes.

Total restoration time was under 12 months. The car looks like a survivor – the paint is far from good, though it still has a lot of gloss. I think it was repainted in antiquity. The three-speed manual column-shift crash box ensures that you anticipate the traffic flow with a concentration bordering on obsessed. Once moving, you effectively have a two-speed as first has no synchro and doesn't like being selected until you stop.

A few 'luxury' items lacking when I bought the car include cigarette lighter, heater, reversing lights, and radio. It did have carpet and seatbelts, though these were not factory-fitted. I had to source replacement panic straps as mine were probably robbed for another (newer?) car. There are no dash vents nor ventilation fan. The car now has a heater powered by fresh air when the car is moving, and a lighter (for the GPS).

The speedo was broken but I got a better one, slightly less broken. Blinkers work about half the time – I'll fix that one day. Parts prices for old Holdens are very high. If people are selling anything, it's usually a reject from their own project, but they still want a lot of money.

My approach is that if some aspect of the car was crap originally, then I want it crap today. It's all a matter of managing expectations. People said 'put a V8 in it', do all disc brakes, lower it, fatter tyres, air-conditioning, blah, blah, blah. Hell no. Back in the day they'd get in it and drive to Melbourne, Adelaide or whatever. Olden days people were not wimps.

It doesn't go, it doesn't stop, it doesn't handle, it's very hot and noisy, and quite hard to drive, but I love it.

All mirrors – internal and external – are tiny and loosen up frequently with the vibrations, so they point to the ground after a short time. The brakes are very wooden and need a good shove to stop the car. I will fit a brake booster but not yet.

I am trying to keep the car away from water – the bodywork doesn't need the competition. It lives in my factory under something optimistically called a Show Car cover – it allows good airflow and keeps the dust off. I put a tub of Damp-Rid in the cabin just in case any moisture should intrude.

As I sit at the lights trying to judge the optimal moment to slam the column shift into first gear and gather speed (the word 'accelerate' seems crude), I console myself with the knowledge that among all the modern Mercs, Hyundais, Mazdas et al, one of us is probably not losing money on depreciation.

Driving an 'Oldun' makes me aware of how colourless and dull most of today's cars look. They are boringly alike – you often need to read the badges to tell what they are. The EJ is laughably antique by modern standards, but it's a survivor, it's distinctive, and that's okay by me.