Holden HZ Premier: Future classic

By: John Wright

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John Wright looks at the Holden HZ range, and why the Premier could be a future classic

Holden HZ Premier: Future classic
Future classic: Holden HZ Premier

 

Holden HZ Premier

Two pieces of commonly held automotive wisdom apply more to the HZ Holden than any other car I can think of: (1) the final version of any model is the best and (2) the first version of any model is usually the purest in terms of style. The 1977 Holden HZ range was in many respects what the 1971 HQ should have been in the first place. An HZ Premier beneath the gorgeous clothing and jewellery of its HQ Premier would indeed have been a car to reckon with – in 1971 or 1977.

In 1968 then-Holden chief engineer, Bill Steinhagen, conceived what was to become the HQ. So many elements of the design broached early 1970s perfection. The elegant glasshouse with ultra-thin A-pillars gave brilliant vision. Ride comfort was outstanding and road noise very low. The HQ was both strong and beautiful. While the newest Holden since the first 48-215 ‘FX’ retained many of the marque’s virtues and added some others, in terms of handling it was a big step backwards. Steinhagen’s successor was George Roberts who had an obsession with Cadillac’s soft-ride comfort and believed that plough understeer was an active safety feature, telegraphing (in the HQ’s case, bewilderingly) early warning that the limits of handling were nigh.

On 1 January 1976, Charles (‘Chuck’) Chapman became managing director of GMH. Early on he replaced Roberts with Joe Whitesell. Like Chapman, Whitesell came to Holden from Opel. These two engineers played a key role in transforming Opels from dull to dynamic and would do a similar job at Holden.

In May Whitesell invited Peter Hannenberger, Opel’s chassis whiz, to come to Australia as his assistant. Hannenberger’s brief was to redesign every suspension system fitted to a Holden. An acronym tells the story: RTS. The first Holden with Radial Tuned Suspension was the Sunbird, which went on sale just eight months after Hannenberger started his job.

The HZ range arrived in October 1977.

Naturally, RTS was the most important badge fitted to any of the variants. But the second most important was GTS and, frankly, by late 1977 the whole Premier concept was a little tired. Nasty faux wood, vinyl trim, an absentee tachometer and steel wheels did not a luxury car constitute. And the standard 3.3-litre six was anaemic; even the 4.2-litre V8 was ordinary and you needed the topline 5.0-litre unit for respectable urge.

Although the Commodore SL/E which arrived a year later trumped the HZ Premier’s ace, history increasingly favours the older car. The SL/E had snazzy cast alloys, velour trim, full instrumentation and much more. But there is no doubt that the HZ was better built than any early Commodore. With its wider front and rear track, the big car feels more poised and displays no rear roll-steer. It also has more charm and road presence.

Great examples can still be secured in the low teens but prices can only rise.

 


*****

More reviews:

> Reader resto: Holden HZ Premier

> Buyer's guide: Holden HQ-HZ Premier

> Feature: 40 years of the mighty HQ


 

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