Column Shifters - Revcounter 389

By: Guy Allen

Presented by

holden eh holden eh

Guido ponders the lost art of the loose change

The whole arrangement scared the hell out of me. Of the five cars we had lined up for a cover story feature one was a stand-out: the Holden EH. It was the one the owner (Paul) would cheerfully leave parked outside our palatial offices at 7.00am and sling the keys through the mail slot in the front door. You what? Seriously?

Car owners bend over backwards to help out with the mag and we try to respond in kind. Usually, they turn up with their treasure and supervise and engage with the whole shoot. They’re often shocked by the time, effort and resources that go into a feature.

To have one casually sling us the car and the keys is rare. I was up at sparrow-fart to ensure we crossed town in time to collect the toy minutes after it was parked. The idea of it being stolen was beyond the pale. It was still there at 7.10.

Now to get in and drive it. Fumble with the keys in the semi-dark (storms were threatening), clamber in and work out where everything was. How long since you’d driven a column shift? Years. But it came flooding back once in the seat – pull back and down for first (no synchro, so you might have to dip the clutch a couple of times to get it), then up and dogleg forward for second and down and forward for third.

The nice thing about these old steamers is you can drive on second and third in traffic, so long as the thing is moving. First is only a launch gear.

It brings back memories of a mate’s HQ wagon (which by then had synchro on first – such is the unforgiving march of progress) that had a typical problem. Every now and then you’d take off, throw the shifter at second and it would lock up. So you’d be stuck in first. The solution was to drive the car at near redline in first to the nearest layby (or just bleedin’ well stop in the middle of the intersection and hang the consequences), switch it off, pull the bonnet release, leap out, fling up the bonnet, jiggle loose the offending linkage, slam the bonnet shut, leap in, restart and drive on until it happened again. That was a serious pain in the arse.

I’m pretty sure EHs don’t do that.

By any local family car standard after 1970-ish, the EH is little and light. I’d forgotten that. It feels narrow and tall in the cabin. There are no seatbelts. And there are about three knobs to fiddle with: the choke, the headlights and the wipers. Oh, and the cigarette lighter, which looks like any of the other three.

It really is a different world. In anything vaguely modern you feel as though you’re sliding into a game console described as a car. It envelopes you and is a very comfortable place to be. But there are rules. You must have a seatbelt, and you should consider how you use the infotainment system.

In the EH, you’re just jumping into a little cabin cruiser that can take you somewhere. There are no rules as such, but if you cock it up you’ll probably get hurt.

It was with those thoughts in mind that I fired up the car, near enough to 12 hours after we collected it, to give it back. It was raining, the wipers and lights worked, and the recirculating ball steering reminded me that you have to be satisfied with pointing it in the general direction rather than finessing and constantly over-correcting.

The one thing that struck me was the 179 six in the snout was humming happily and, given I had a fuel card in my wallet, there was no reason (other than ownership) why I couldn’t point the thing north instead of south and head for Darwin. We’d make it.

A sixties column shifter? Yep, I’d have one any day…

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