Holden HZ Kingswood Wagon - Buyer's Guide

By: Guy Allen, Cliff Chambers, Photography by: Nathan Jacobs, Coventry Studios

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Holden's HZ Kingswood SL may have been the last of the line, but it was also the best

 

Holden HZ Kingswood/Premier Wagon

Holden famously considered continuing the full-size Kingswood line past the HZ and we can only wonder what we would have ended up with. Though the Commodore proved to be a worthy car in its own right, the big brothers that started life in 1971 as the HQ series had really developed into a well-sorted car. It seemed such a shame to cut them off in their prime.

Dealers sold something over 485,000 HQs, eventually replacing it in 1974 with the HJ range. Styling changes front and rear distinguished the car, which in turn was replaced with the HX in 1976. Unfortunately the latter were most notable for falling victim to new emission rules where power and efficiency dropped – probably not the intention of those who drafted the regulations.

Holden -hz -wagon -2Of more concern though was the deliberate ‘tuning’ of the series’ handling to severe understeer. That, combined with low-tech chassis components led to some fairly undesirable characteristics out of the showroom. As our own Cliff Chambers once described it, "Few people today will experience the true horror of an HQ-HX Holden on showroom stock springs and rubber. Virtually every surviving car will be running on radial tyres, and a lot will have larger wheels and improved shock absorbers." Indeed.

Iconic Holdens: WB Caprice

Where the HZ series distinguished itself was by having what the factory proudly dubbed Radial Tuned Suspension. Badges proclaiming this feature were fitted inside and outside the car, just so you couldn’t miss it.

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Essentially Holden re-engineered the chassis. As auto historian and UC contributor Dr John Wright describes it, then Holden chief engineer Joe Whitesell in May 1976 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. The HZ range arrived October 1977.

The difference was astounding. Here you now had a big car that went pretty much where you pointed it and maintained a comparatively flat attitude. It was no sports car, but was a far more reassuring experience on winding roads.

Holden HQ - WB V8 market review

What really distinguishes the series is what it was also often criticised for – that the overall package was pretty basic. Compared to some of the more sophisticated European offerings of the day, that’s true. However what was then seen as primitive is now regarded as a virtue. These are simple and relatively inexpensive cars to maintain, with the usual proviso that you find one with a reasonably rust-free body.

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Your engine choices were the 202 six, plus the 253 and 308 V8s. Trimatic autos were often the transmission of choice for families on everything bar the 308, which scored the robust Turbo Hydramatic 400. Three-speed and four-speed manuals were also on offer.

The car you see here is owned by Greg Armstrong and is a 1978 Kingswood SL in very close to stock trim. Its roof rack and rear window foil are period pieces, while the Premier hubcaps provide a little glam factor.

Holden -hz -kingswood -sideUnder the paint, there’s a 253 (4.2lt) V8 with Trimatic transmission. This was a very desirable combination back in the day – not spectacularly quick, but excellent cruising ability.

For Greg, there’s a strong family connection to this model. "My dad bought one from brand new and I remember driving around in it as a kid – so I’ve always had a soft spot for the wagons. I can definitely remember, I was five years old and riding around in the back of it. Unfortunately Dad sold it, but that’s just the way it is.

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"A couple of years ago I made the decision to get one and had a look around. I found it up in Newcastle – had been looking around for a few months and came across this one. I made an offer over the phone and went up a few weeks later. I flew up with Mum and drove it home. She was over the moon – it was a bit of a trip down memory lane.

"I haven’t had to do much to it. Replaced the exhaust system on it, otherwise it was good to go. It had 98,000km when I bought it, and I’ve got a lot of the paperwork to prove it. It’s a bit of a gem.

"I’m not afraid to use it: driven not hidden, that’s what I believe. I try to keep it out of the rain, but otherwise it gets out. I do a bit of surfing, so I’ll often load it up and take it down to the beach, or for a cruise down the coast.

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"It’s beautiful to drive, nice and smooth, like a big boat, that’s how they were. Dad had a drive of it and he says it’s almost like it’s brand new."

WAGON MARKET GUIDE

With more than 150,000 HZs made there should still be a decent amount of choice in the market. For some models that remains true but finding a really good station wagon is becoming a challenge.

Pick of the bunch is going to be a V8-powered Premier but they are now thin on the ground and more expensive. With the values of high-performance Holdens rising as well, anyone with a V8 of any kind is likely to be holding on or at least holding out for more money.

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Prices for usable cars needing work begin below $5000 but anything worthwhile will be priced around $15,000. Jumping to the upper reaches of the range, good V8 Premier wagons start appearing when the money on offer hits $20,000. However, anyone serious about snaring an excellent 5.0-litre is likely to be investing the thick end of $30,000.

HZs during the 1980s-90s were cheap and often altered to some extent. Dropping a V8 motor into a 3.3-litre car was a quick and cheap way to boost performance, so be wary these being presented as genuine V8s.

If concerned, have a vehicle ID check done.

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VALUE GUIDE: Holden HZ Wagon
Fair: $5000
Good: $16,000
Excellent: $27,500
(Note: concours cars will demand more)

BUYER'S CHECKLIST

BODY & CHASSIS
With the earliest HZs now eyeballing their 40th birthdays, a bit of body deterioration is inevitable, even in cars that have been scrupulously maintained. If a car looks well-kept and there are no obvious bumps and bubbles, start a close inspection around window apertures, the lower section of the tail-gate and base of the door shells, Blocked drain holes can rot the door structure while the outer skin still seems fine. Makes sure that the wind-down tailgate window does so without needing excessive force and the glass isn’t scratched. Depending who you ask, replacement HZ bumpers will cost from $350-600 each but renewing just the rubber inserts will lighten the wallet by $100 per bumper.

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ENGINE & TRANSMISSION
Locally-made Holden V8s are under-stressed and durable. These engines can stand modification and serious improvements to output without significant risk of component failure. A Holden V8 needing work will be suffering oil leaks around the cylinder heads, timing cover and rear main bearing seal. After-market extractors help performance and economy but make sure a previous owner hasn’t fitted a massive four-barrel carb that is pouring money down the exhaust pipe. Tri-Matic is the most common transmission option, especially where the HZ you’re considering has a V8. These cars were rarely seen with a factory four-speed transmission and converting from an auto isn’t always successful. If offered a manual HZ, check its authenticity.

SUSPENSION & BRAKES
The vast majority of HZs felt the benefit of Holden’s move to ‘Radial Tuned Suspension’ and even the bulky wagons can be set up to corner entertainingly. The mistake some people make is fitting lowered springs, unyielding bushes and low-profile rubber then wondering where the ride quality went. Sagging front springs are common and easily fixed. Investing $400 in a full kit of bushes, ball joints and tie-rod ends will also make an amazing difference to how the car steers and corners. Examine the brake rotors for score marks and press the pedal lightly when slowing the car to check for warped discs. New ones cost $60-350 each and master cylinders around $300.

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INTERIOR & ELECTRICS
Good quality trim used in these Holdens ensured that original seats, consoles, dash and door trims can still be found intact. A car with huge dash cracks, torn or collapsed seats has likely endured a hard life. Check that bench seats haven’t twisted on their runners and won’t move. Replacements for peeling mock timber dash panels need to be found second-hand but authentic carpet sets are available. Air-conditioners if you have one need to have been converted to R134a refrigerant. If this hasn’t been done or the system isn’t working, allow up to $1500 for repairs.


SPECIFICATIONS

HOLDEN HZ KINGSWOOD/PREMIER WAGON

NUMBER MADE: 154,155 (all HZ)
BODY STYLES: steel integrated body/chassis four door station wagon
ENGINE: 3310cc in-line six cylinder, 4142cc & 5048cc V8 with overhead valves & single downdraft carburettor
POWER & TORQUE: 120kW @ 4500rpm 325Nm @ 2600rpm
(4.2 V8)
PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h
12.9 seconds, 0-400 metres
19.8 seconds (4.2 V8 auto)
TRANSMISSION: three or four-speed manual, three-speed automatic
SUSPENSION: Independent with coil springs, control arms, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar (f) Live axle with coil springs, locating links, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar (r) 
BRAKES: disc (f) drum (r) power assisted
TYRES: ER87SR14 radial

 

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