1966 Holden HR Premier X2 wagon

By: Guy Allen with owner Denis French, Photography by: Mark Bean

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This exceptional Holden HR X2 wagon has literally been to the moon and back

 

Holden HR X2 wagon

The story of this car starts with what may seem like a familiar theme: owner Denis French swears he just went out for a coffee, and he came home with a car. It happens.

And what a car – try finding another black 1966 HR Holden Premier wagon in X2 spec, particularly in this sort of condition. Oh, and by the way, it’s done more than half a million miles. That’s right – miles!

Before we go too far, let’s take a step back and take a quick squiz at the where the HR came from. This was the year decimal currency was introduced in Australia, while the ill-fated Harold Holt (who disappeared one day in the surf off Portsea, Vic) was Prime Minister.

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It's had two make-overs across its life, but is largely still the original bits

Meanwhile the whole Holden versus Ford battle was hotting up. Ford’s Falcon was properly getting into its stride as a player and the parent company was even poaching dealers off the mighty Holden.

As for GMH, it had taken a hammering over the HR’s predecessor, the HD. The latter was accused of essentially being a wide-bodied EH with more power, and a rather unattractive one at that.

| 2019 Market Review: Holden HD-HR

Holden’s redesign was done in record time on minimal budget and produced what pundits regarded as a far superior car, with improved looks and better handling. The market forgave any earlier indiscretions and started buying HRs in record numbers.

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Its well-preserved, but the old HR still gets out for the odd long trip

This was also the generation that famously saw front lap-sash seatbelts introduced as a ‘safety pack’, accompanied by mounting points for rear belts. That innovation was famously publicised with a stunt where an HR was suspended over a Vauxhall Viva, secured by a single seatbelt. Sadly the crane driver may have been a little clumsy and the belt snapped, resulting in one flattened Viva. Oops.

| Buyers Guide: Holden HD-HR 1965-1968

If you had the cash, you ordered the top-of-the-line Premier and you could go nuts by ordering the X2 version of the new 186 powerplant. That was good for 145 horses (108kW), or a solid 20 more than the standard 186. Which is exactly what happened in this case.

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Owner Denis French takes up the story:

The car was ordered by a local Canberra guy. He wanted a white HR Premier wagon with red interior. There was a six-month delay. Dealers Beazley & Bruce contacted him and said there was a black one in Sydney if he wanted to take it. It was a special order car which he could have instead, which he jumped at.

He wanted X2 wagon because he was building a house down the coast and wanted the extra power, along with the disc front brakes.

The discs are DBA1, which is Disc Brakes Australia, part number one.

| Reader Resto: 1966 HR Holden

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He was in the process of trading it on a Falcon GT when I saw him at Gregorys Motors on a very cold July Canberra morning in 1977. It was in Braddon, inner city, I’d gone down there to get a coffee from Collins Bakery that was about four doors up from Gregorys and was just walking back to my car to head home.

He was just delivering the car to them. I saw it, spoke to him and the Gregorys guys and arranged to buy it. It was a bit of a mess but it was all there, still registered of course.

I dropped him back home to his house and went back for the car.

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It looks like it's ready for another half million miles, doesn't it?

He’d been using it to haul timber or whatever else. He’d bought it to be used and did just that. He’d done 160,000 miles when I got it.

I just loved the black station wagon and the X2 option sold it to me. Long before being regarded as a classic – just a Holden in ‘horrible black’.

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X2 engine with twin carbs claimed an extra 20-or-so horses over stocker

We used it a lot. It now has 523,000miles on the odometer and it was a work car for me as well.

There were lots of family holidays over time. It’s been to every state in Australia, except the Northern Territory, often with a trailer behind – it always had a towbar, until now.

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It was very reliable. The only thing it ever needed was regular maintenance, and it always liked to have a new set of points and plugs in it. You keep them up to it and it would go perfectly.

It’s been refreshed twice – once was just a quick blow-over. A quick respray and fresh seats, back in the early-1990s. It wasn’t a very good job, the paint started to go and develop crow’s feet and it was starting to get rust in the roof and quarter panels, so I had no choice but to do something serious with it. Or get rid of it, and that wasn’t going to happen.

This was 1999 and it took 10 years.

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The Premier interior  with bucket seats and centre console is special

I farmed out the paint a local bloke, while the engine was done by Bob Harris who’s been around the local car scene for a long time and used to have his own business here in Canberra.

As for the transmission, I did that myself. It’s a two-speed Powerglide, always has been. It works beautifully.

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The hardest part was the bodywork. With 523,310 miles on the clock it was very tired. Its body and suspension needed a full rebuild. Fortunately there wasn’t a lot of rust, but there was a lot of wear through age.

The fact it was kept busy helped hold off the rust. Its transmission always leaked slightly and the underside was very well protected by a nice layer of automatic transmission fluid. It was an absolute mongrel to get off, but it did help preserve the underside.

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Most of the badges came with it, I haven’t replaced anything unless it was broken. The door handles are original. I like to think I conserved rather than restored. The rear bumper has never been re-chromed, though the front has.

I like to have the way it was. The radio is the original and most of the accessories that are on the car came with it.

These days it has a fortnightly drive for between 20 and 40 miles to make sure the oil gets right around it and everything gets used.

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I’ll take it on trips, such as the nationals at Dubbo a couple of years ago. If it gets dirty, it gets cleaned.

My family loves it. Both my kids drive it and they have HDs of their own – my son has a sedan and my daughter a wagon.

And my wagon? It’s a family heirloom and won’t be going anywhere.

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1966 Holden HR Premier X2

Body 4-door wagon
Engine 186 K-block engine, dual carburetors
Power & torque 108kW @ 4600rpm, 249Nm @ 2200rpm
Performance 0-100km/h 14 seconds (auto)
Top speed 170km/h
Transmission two-speed Powerglide
Suspension:
Front – independent coils,
Rear live axle, leaf sperings.
Brakes f/r disc/drum

 

From Unique Cars #442, July 2020

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