Market Watch: Aussie Americans

By: Cliff Chambers, Photography by: GM/Ford/Chrysler/AMC


Australian derived yank tanks were once top of the class.

Market Watch: Aussie Americans
Aussie Americans

In 1960s Australia, if you wanted to create an impression and flaunt personal success, an American car was almost essential.

The tradition of building local versions of US designs dated back to the 1920s, but the currency-strapped 1950s, saw the proportion of North American car sales fall in our market.

The words ‘North American’ were important, because most of our US-designed cars came from Canadian factories where they were built in right-hand drive. They were also sold under Commonwealth Preference agreements, which made Canadian cars cheaper than the same models sourced from US factories.

Corporate and government sales were vital to local survival of large American cars. Look at new footage of Federal Parliament in the 1960s and there would be lines of Bel Airs, Dodges and Galaxies awaiting their ministerial cargo.

Slightly smaller models such as the ‘compact’ Ford Fairlane, Rambler Rebel and Studebaker Lark, also sold in significant numbers but for less glamorous existences, becoming ambulances and police pursuit vehicles.

Owning an Aussie- assembled American car remains affordable and convenient. Maintenance costs won’t starve you and a lot of repairs can be done in the home garage. 

Parts are mostly compatible with items being made for multiple suppliers to the US collector market, and scarcity shouldn’t become a problem for years.

FORD GALAXIE/LTD 1965-73

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In 1965, Ford began assembling the Galaxie in Australia, making changes to suit local conditions and adding as much local content as possible.

In common with Holden dealers selling Chevs and Pontiacs, big American Fords came from Canada and sold through the Ford dealer network.

Local assembly ceased during 1969, with US-sourced cars converted to RHD prior to sale. Government and fleet business kept Galaxies viable until 1973, when the Fairlane-based LTD took on the flagship role. Galaxies built here came with 4.7-litre engines, but anyone wanting to tow a big boat or van could opt for the 390 cubic-inch, 6.4-litre V8. 

Galaxie sedans were Australian-assembled, however two-door Galaxie Hardtops, convertibles and wagons have arrived over the years as private imports. Today they cost only a little more than local products, in similar condition.

Values during the past 10 years have surged and taken the cost of a good, mid-1960s sedan from around $16,000 in 2013-14, to over $30,000 by 2023.

CHEVROLET BEL AIR/IMPALA 1960-69

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For decades, Australia assembled US-made Chevs before sourcing them from Canada, due to RHD availability and to preserve Australia’s limited stocks of US currency.

By 1960, all Australian-assembled Chevs had V8s, a 283ci (4.6lt) in Bel Air sedans and 327ci (5.3lt), after 1964, in the pillarless Impala Hardtop.

Marketed as prestige models, some had leather upholstery, but few other luxuries.

Features included a heater/demister, a cigar lighter, but they had wind-up windows and no air-con, unless buyers bought an aftermarket system. Disc brakes appeared in 1966 after appearing on lower-priced Holdens.

There are many locally built 1960s Chevs available, plus fully imported Impala two-doors and Caprice versions. 

Values have climbed steadily during the past 15 years, gaining around 50 per cent during that time. A late 1960s Impala in excellent and largely authentic condition should currently cost $50-60,000, however, they can be harder to find than two-door imports, of similar age.

PONTIAC PARISIENNE 1963-70

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Aussie-built Pontiacs look very different to Chevrolets of similar vintage, but under the skin they were remarkably similar. 

Canadian-sourced Pontiacs used the Chevrolet ‘B Platform’ chassis which was shorter than the US chassis. 

They also shared 4.7-litre (283 cubic-inch) and 5.3-litre (327 cubic-inch) Chevrolet motors, not Pontiac’s more potent 6.6-litre V8. Local cars used the two-speed Powerglide transmission in place of the North American, Hydramatic three-speed.

Local Pontiacs were still seen as more prestigious than Chevrolets and were also more expensive. In 1966 an Impala Hardtop cost $5836 against the Parisienne Sport at $6076,
but equipment and fittings were very similar.

Local Parisiennes are now harder to find than Chevs in the current market, with US import Bonneville two-doors generally easier to source than a late-1960s Parisienne four-door. 

Values are up on the levels of 10 years ago and it is now reasonable to pay $40-45,000 for a local Pontiac in excellent condition.

RAMBLER REBEL/MATADOR 1967-78

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These products of American Motors rank as the most ‘Australian’ of all the big US imports, but will generally cost less.

Ramblers were assembled since the 1950s by Australian Motor Industries in Melbourne and with progressively increasing levels of Australian content. 

Kits from the American Motors plant in Wisconsin came with body panels, mechanical components, suspension and electrics. Other parts including trim, tyres and glass were sourced from local suppliers.

Local Ramblers – the name remained in use for a decade, after US versions were renamed as AMCs – were also painted in a range of colours not offered in the USA; colours found on Toyotas and Triumphs, which were also assembled by AMI.  

Ramblers have, for many years, been the most affordable of American-sourced cars. However, greater awareness of their capabilities has increased demand and helped push prices of well-kept cars to around $30,000. Matador wagons with seating for eight can make even more.

DODGE PHOENIX 1960-72

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Show your Phoenix to an American and the reaction would very likely be, ‘nice Plymouth.’ 

When sourcing cars for CKD (Complete Knock Down) delivery from North America, the local Chrysler operation had to take whatever was available and alter what arrived, to suit local market needs.

During the early years of the 1960s, Phoenix styling changed regularly and was usually based on the previous year’s Plymouth.

Four new shapes in five years would have sent spare parts departments nuts, however from 1969-72 the sheet metal remained consistent, with only the grille and hubcaps changing.

Our 1960s Dodges struggled with standard 5.2-litre engines and three-speed Torqueflite trans. The year 1967 brought a stylish Hardtop with a 383 cubic-inch (6.3-litre) V8, but weren’t available in sedans.

Front disc brakes were a welcome addition too; fitted as standard from 1969, but able to be retro fitted to earlier cars.

Pre-1965 models have, over the past 15 years, become significantly more expensive, with some in the current market topping $50,000.

The 1965-67 models are generally cheaper, although 1967-68 Hardtops exceed $35,000. That's where you should find 1969-72 ‘Limited 400’ cars.

From Unique Cars #485, Nov 2023

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