Holden Hurricane Review
Gale force: To quote Bob Dylan: "here comes the story of the Hurricane".
Imagine you're attending this year's Melbourne Motor Show and a manufacturer has just unveiled its new sports-car concept. The tiny two-seater is the length of a Volkswagen Polo and, incredibly, less than a metre tall, but is powered by a mid-mounted V8, so performance is supercar-strong. It has all the modern features you'd expect, such as navigation, automatic air-con and rear-view camera, but exotic materials keep weight to just 1000kg.
Like most concept cars, there are out-there features too. It has no doors. To enter it, the roof, windscreen and flanks lift up and move forward, as does the steering wheel, while the seats raise 25cm for easy access. Hop in and the pantomime act plays in reverse, the pedals sliding towards you electrically for a perfect driving position.
The car in question wasn't unveiled in 2011, but in 1969. And its creator wasn't some exotic Italian coachbuilder; it was Holden, whose most exciting product two years earlier had been a Premier 186S.
It's nigh-on impossible for anyone who didn't attend that '69 Motor Show to know what their reaction would be to the Holden Hurricane, a car clearly way ahead of its time. The outrageous proportions, the science fiction technology - it's safe to say the Holden Hurricane blew everyone away.
Forty-two years later, the Hurricane again glistens under the lights of Melbourne's Royal Exhibition Building, the venue in which it made its original appearance. Following a five-year restoration, Holden chose October's Motorclassica 2011 to publicly re-debut the Hurricane, the culmination of thousands of hours of work by designers, engineers and craftsmen, often in their own time.
The Hurricane was Holden's first concept car, built to showcase its all-Aussie 253ci V8. It was also the first public product of Holden's secret Research and Development Group, hence the car's codename: RD-001. Following the disbandment of R&D in the mid-70s, the car was placed in storage, slowly pilfered for parts and shuffled around various museums, including the Powerhouse Museum in the late-90s, before ending up at the Echuca Motor Museum, which is where Holden collected it from in 2006.
It was turned over to Paul Clarke, manager for creative hard modelling and the man who leads the team that creates Holden's concept cars. Clarke, recently retired chief studio engineer Rick Martin and long-time Holden engineer Ian McLeave reconstructed the Hurricane from archived photographs, technical drawings and anecdotes.
"It's amazing who comes out of the woodwork," says Clarke. "Guys within engineering [would] come in and go 'my dad worked on that car', then you question them and it gives you another lead to follow up."
Responsible for the physical rebuilding of the car, Clarke's task was like completing the world's most complex Lego kit with no instructions and half the pieces missing. But his task was made more difficult by having to undo work undertaken on the Hurricane during the 1980s.
"Apprentices in the Holden Training Centre had a crack at restoring it back in the '80s," explains Martin. It was during this time the car was painted silver. "It was pretty obvious what was original and what was restored because the restored stuff was like a first-year apprentice had done it," says Clarke. "No disrespect to a first-year apprentice, but maybe I would've started with a car that there is more than one of!"
The car was in very poor condition and a lot of parts were missing, including many of the features that made the car so unique. The epoxy-resin body was breaking down, its surfaces going concave; the original 253 engine was missing, as were the wheel trims and arms for raising the canopy, both made of lightweight magnesium; the rear-view camera, the reservoir for the oil-filled brakes, interior gauges and steering wheel, the list goes on.
Clarke and his team were forced to recreate most of the car, while resisting the temptation to introduce modern technology to make the process easier. "The temptation when you are doing a resto is to improve the vehicle … We were very conscious of not trying to make everything better." Creative hard modeller Marco Rech agrees, "For me the most important thing was if someone looked at a photo from 1970 and compared a photo now, that the character is still there."
The original body was recreated using a more durable polyester resin, then repainted in its original metal-flake orange by Lincoln Grey, the man also responsible for painting Holden's stunning Efijy concept of 2006. Unbelievably, the mind-blowing result is his first attempt at metal-flake, but still the subject of some debate.
"[The paintwork] was a contentious thing," says Clarke, "Did it have that much coarse metallic? We believe it did … We're fairly confident that it matches the colour of the original." Matching the colour from archived photographs proved extremely difficult as the Hurricane looked a slightly different shade in every picture, but a 1/3-scale model from La Trobe University held the secret. Like the full-size car, the model had been repainted numerous times, but chipping off the layers, the team came across a sample of the original paint, which was then used to match the new paint developed in-house.
To ensure a perfectly smooth body surface, the elegant black side-stripes are incorporated into the paintwork. "The colour was painted, clear-coated, blocked back, decals, painted [then we] re-cleared the whole car. Put your hand over the Hurricane you don't feel where the graphic is," explains Clarke.
With the body taking shape, attention turned to the mechanicals. As the original 253 was missing, a replacement needed to be found. You might think that finding one of Holden's iconic small-block V8s would be a piece of cake, but the Hurricane's engine was a bit special.
Rick Martin explains: "The original engine had some pretty funky bits on it. It had an external cam drive - similar to a late-model Jesel system - a marine-style water pump, four-barrel carby and the air-conditioning had some pretty funky drive-belt systems on it. There were a lot of special parts that made it not just a production engine. We located a very early HT block [but] really we'll have to find that original engine one day!" The four-speed manual transaxle was taken from a Pontiac Tempest, the bellhousing adapted to the Holden block.
The HT Holden and the Hurricane were bedfellows in more ways than one - unsurprising when you think that they were being developed at the same time. The Hurricane's radical, oil-cooled brakes were being trialled as a solution to the Monaro's Bathurst braking woes. The front brakes feature five viscous plates, cooled by automatic transmission fluid stored in a reservoir inside the front crossmember.
An HT (this time a station wagon) was also the test bed for arguably the Hurricane's most jaw-dropping feature, the Pathfinder navigation system. Quoting the original press kit: "The Pathfinder magnetically codes signals picked up from magnetic sending units in the road lanes and compares them against instructions electronically stored on punched tape containing directions for the shortest route to a desired destination." The magnets used to test the system are still buried at Holden's Lang Lang Proving Ground.
By far the most difficult part of the restoration was recreating the bespoke interior. The original seats were strengthened and re-trimmed, but most parts had to be built from scratch. Pattern makers were called upon to make the magnesium arms that raise the canopy, the replacements being cast in the same foundry that would have made the originals in 1969.
An HJ steering wheel was found (it looked most like the missing original), but most parts had to be fabricated using photos as a guide. Clarke and his team created clay models to ensure that the proportions were right before bolting everything together, just like they would for the interior of any other Holden concept.
To do justice to the original, the Hurricane always had to be a fully functioning concept. Before final assembly, the semi-completed car was taken for a test drive. "We got it to the point where it was a driving chassis and took it out the back of our facility to make sure that it ran - with numerous fire extinguishers close by!" Clarke adds with a grin.
The car was completed by April so Clarke's team could move on to other projects, but there are tentative plans to return to it next year. "Is any restoration ever complete? There are things that I'd like to get done even now," admits Clarke. "Lighting is one - if you've seen the reveal you'd have noticed the lights didn't pop up. They work, but we haven't got it to a point where they are fully controlled."
That said, Clarke is justifiably proud of his team's efforts in recreating the Aussie icon. "We're pretty confident that what we've delivered is true to the original concept. I'd like to think that the car is within millimetres of the original. It was really satisfying to do a car that involved the whole of Holden."
Future plans for the Hurricane have yet to be put in place - for the moment it sits with its descendants in Holden's Port Melbourne gift shop. Even surrounded by cars designed to wow the world's media at motor shows, the low-slung orange coupe commands your attention.
Holden's first concept car may have been the last to return, but its heritage collection is now complete.
ENGINE: 4142cc V8, OHV, 16v, four-barrel carburettor
POWER: 194kW @ 6000rpm
TORQUE: 352Nm @ 3800rpm
GEARBOX: 4-speed manual
BRAKES: Oil-cooled multi-disc (f), discs (r)
0-97km/h: 5.3sec (estimated)
0-400m: 13.0sec (estimated)
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