Holden HQ SS 40th Party
HQ SS anniversary knees-up in Victoria
HOLDEN HQ SS 40th
It was pretty hard to miss – nearly 30 Holdens painted in lurid ’70s colours sprawled across the centre of the otherwise quiet and genteel country town of Avoca in Victoria. It was as if someone had dumped some industrial-strength mescaline in the water supply and given the townsfolk a lifetime supply of spray cans. The occasion? The 40th anniversary of the Holden SS, aka the budget-muscle version of the mighty HQ.
Organisers Hayden and Margaret Pilgrim were hoping to get 40 cars along for the event and fell just a few short of their target. Still, it wasn’t a bad result given that just a few hundred of the original 2816 built are estimated to be current runners.
Even more remarkable was the line-up of top ex-GM-H people who had been roped in as guest speakers for the celebratory dinner (and cake cutting!) at the Pyrenees Function Centre.
It included Leo Pruneau, the outspoken Canadian-born former head designer for the company; Phil Zmood, who penned much of the exterior; Ken Foletta, who worked on the interior, plus Norm Darwin who was involved in tracking the costs of the car and has written several books on GM-H history.
They provided a fascinating insight into the trials and tribulations of getting a good-looking car into production during that era, and there was much swearing about the ogres in finance who kept slamming shut the corporate wallet.
Based on the humble Belmont base variant of the HQ series, the SS was intended from day one to be affordable. You could walk into a dealer and buy one for just $3295, or $3500 on the road. If you were quick, that is.
A quick PR and advertising blast had dealer order books filling up fast – too fast. GM-H originally planned a run of 1500 cars, which turned out to be woefully inadequate, so the company was forced to produce a second batch of 1300.
Hayden remembers the time well: "Of course, they sold like hotcakes. The dealers took too many orders, so they were up shitters’ ditch and had to do another run."
Even then, demand was barely sated. "They were so hard to get, you really didn’t get a choice of colour – you couldn’t go to your dealer and say, ‘I want a red one’, because the dealer got what he
got." And those colours?
They had quirky names to go with their lack of subtlety: Infra Red, Ultra Violet and, weirdly, Lettuce Alone for green. All three colours were unique to this first model SS.
Aside from the riotous plumage, the package that rolled out the factory door was surprisingly humble. It had the 253-cube V8, backed up by an M20 four-speed gearbox and 3.36:1 Monaro diff. That package claimed 185 horses, which produced a fairly leisurely 0-60mph time of 10 seconds, while the standing quarter was crossed in around 17.5.
As for fuel consumption, Hayden reckons his car did 30mpg (9.5L/100km) when new and still does today. However, the lead-footed road testers of the day were getting closer to 20mpg.
Inside you got bucket seats and the full Monaro dash, plus a distinctive steering wheel, but from there the specification was surprisingly sparse.
"It was a Belmont," explains Hayden, "So no interior light, armrests or cigarette lighter." That could all be ordered as dealer-fitted accessories, along with power steering, air-conditioning and a few other trimmings.
The distinctive houndstooth seat trim was fitted to all the first-run cars, but the material ran out. Second-run examples often have a small check pattern or full black vinyl seat covers.
Hayden and Margaret’s own example was the demo car sent to Motor Manual magazine back in 1972. Clearly happy with the SS , the tester concluded: "It is a commendably well-integrated package which does all that it should do in a refined, well-balanced manner… we think GM-H should start the countdown for production of batch two without delay." A prescient prediction.
After it survived that trial, the car was sold to a GM employee who, a year later, sold it to Hayden. "This one has been with the family all that time," says Hayden, "Three kids have been brought up in it, they’ve stuck bloody ice-creams in the roof, the whole thing."
He confesses it’s also survived a few cosmetic rehashes. Over the years it scored fat wheels ("With no power steering, Margaret could barely park it.") and even a bullbar at some stage in its life. Fortunately, the couple had the foresight to keep the original parts. Now it lives a somewhat easier existence, as a prized pet, taking centre stage in the shed, as a working part of a growing museum where its owners host the odd car club event.
Original SS HQs are still affordable. A complete one needing restoration can be had for the low teens, while a really good original will set you back closer to $40,000. Hayden says the trick is to double-check the ID, which is based on a Belmont.
As for this group, there’s no formal club surrounding the event, but the Pilgrims have an email list and are thinking of another get-together, possibly in South Australia, for 2014. You can contact them via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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