A new breed of classics - What Do You Reckon 444

By: Glenn Torrens

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h plates h plates

With H-plates now eligible for cars of the 1990s, Glenn Torrens reckons the sun is rising on a great new era

One recent morning, on one of the Aussie car Facebook pages I haunt, a few thousand of us again had to endure the grumbles from yet another silly old bugger (with thanks to the late, great, ex-prime minister Bob Hawke!) about how his car is ‘a true classic’ and how ‘modern cars aren’t classics’ and ‘they don’t have the same character and they shouldn’t be on the road’ and ‘they’re going to wreck the system’ (of H-plates, I guess) and blah blah blah.

I’ve mentioned narrow-minded drongos such as this before; people who regard anything fresher than 40 years as ‘modern’ and who think the world crumbled when Ford and Holden began fitting round dials, radials and radios.

Nope… It didn’t.

In fact, with such a fat stash of different models – and encouraged by H-plate eligibility for about two-thirds of the Aussie population – I reckon the 1990s is, right now, emerging from being hidden in plain sight as the greatest-ever era of The Great Australian Car.

You could say it began in 1988 when Ford and Holden respectively launched the EA Falcon and the VN Commodore. Both had pretty-much all-new bodies and drivetrains forming the foundations for family and fleet cars for the next decade.

Without taking anything from that finely-styled Falcon, the 1988 VN Commodore was probably the more significant car as, being a hand-span wider than the older, smaller Commodore, it put Holden back into a fair fist-fight with Falcon for size and interior space.

Then came two terrific V8s: First, Holden announced its fuel-injected 5.0-litre V8 in 1989. In response, Ford launched an also 5.0-litre, also fuel-injected V8 to give Aussie Ford buyers a V8 option for the first time in almost a decade.

Those Holden and Ford V8s both offered around 165kW, 380Nm, low-15s over the 400m and holiday mileage of around 10 litres per hundred kays. Holden and Ford were in our history’s fiercest fight for buyers’ hearts, minds and money.

For Holden, there was also a return of the ‘proper’ Holden ute and the luxo Statesman/Caprice; important models that had been absent since the reign of 70s-era Kingswood-type models came to an end in late 1984.

By the time Christmas 1991 rolled around, Australian car nuts had the choice of two terrific showroom performance V8 models: Commodore SS and the Falcon S-XR8. The next year, Holden’s Special Vehicles and Ford’s Tickford Vehicle Engineering delivered us the GTS and GT; the magnificent ‘red v blue’ battle setting the scene for Aussie performance for the next quarter-century.

Just look at the choice: from Pursuit to Maloo to Manta to GT to Senator to XR8 to SS to XR6 to GTS to T-Series and Grange. Plus, all the GL/Exec/Fairmont/Berlina models to cruise for $50 a year. Many car enthusiasts love the cars from the era of their childhoods so today’s 20- 30- and 40-somethings have so many cars to hang H-plates from as a sunny Sunday cruiser, that it makes the grumpy old codgers’ 1970s range look lame!


From Unique Cars #444, Sep 2020

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