1965 Holden HD Panel Van - Reader Rides

By: Andrew Cassidy/Rob Blackbourn, Photography by: Shaun Tanner


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Whether it was for work, rest or play – a Holden van could do it all back in the day

1965 Holden HD Panel Van - Reader Rides
Edgy ’65 styling. The front sheetmetal was jumped on, for safety concerns.

The HD model broke new ground for Holden at its February 1965 launch – ‘Australia’s Own’ family car was suddenly bigger, more stylish, newly curvaceous and just a bit sexy. Its super-successful predecessor, the EH model, was a boxier and more utilitarian looking car. So the degree of change was significant, even a little confronting to some, but it barely challenged the brand loyalty enjoyed by Holden.

The motoring media’s initial response to the HD was positive toward its all-new look, technical upgrades and ‘full-six-seater’ interior space. As a result HD sales for the first few months blitzed records set by its much-loved EH predecessor. Buyers shelled out for 19,000 new HDs in May of 1965 alone!

Unfortunately for GM-H the HD arrived around the same time as Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed. It seems likely that the idea of accusing the HD’s front sheetmetal of presenting a risk to pedestrians surfaced when sections of the local commentariat looked for ways to jump on the ‘safety’ bandwagon – so the leading edges of the front ’guards soon picked up the ridiculous ‘kidney-slicer’ tag.

Other aspects of the HD began to draw criticism. Its handling was said to be compromised because its wider body rode on underpinnings, largely carried over from the narrower EH. Objectively, the HD driving experience was as sure-footed and generally competent as its predecessors and entirely appropriate for a general-duties family car.

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X2 adds street cred.

Sure the HD exhibited understeer in hard cornering, but that was a GM-vehicle handling-trademark long before and after the HD Holden. Nevertheless mud stuck and sales suffered, prompting GM-H to cut short the HD’s model run with the introduction of the HR (‘Hurriedly Revised?’) in April 1966.

However, any doubts about the HD’s rightful place in Holden history are soon put right by Andrew Cassidy, the owner of this stunning ‘Reader Rides’ HD Panel Van. 

"I have always loved Holdens and when I was a teenager, I wanted nothing more than to have my own classic Holden," Andrew tells us.

"Dad had a Kingswood when I was younger and my mother had an LJ Torana. I longed for those days to return after Dad switched to Volvos," he said. 

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Big bench easily takes three despite only two belts.

Having nailed his colours to the classic-Holden mast, Andrew happily admits to becoming pretty obsessive about the HD model in particular over time. 

"The unique styling of the HD was something I always loved," he revealed. "For me, the styling of the HD Holden cannot be beaten and those front ‘guards, with the way the bumper bar is designed to hug the corners, make me smile." 

Back in 2014, Andrew and his dad John had been looking around for a project they could share. Then an advertisement by a Holden enthusiast who wrecked HDs and HRs as a hobby caused a strong enough blip on their radar to draw them to this HD Panel Van. 

Andrew explained: "I loved Holden panel vans, especially the Sandman version, but I also liked the unusual bare-bones style of the basic Holden commercial vehicles, especially from the ’60s. They had no radio, the smallest possible motor and only one internal sun visor! This idea was what attracted us to the HD van as a shell almost 10 years ago. Although we toyed with the idea of creating a ‘Premier’ Panel Van, we decided on going original." 

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A proper commercial workhorse.

The HD commercials, the ‘half-ton’ HD2104 ‘high-roof’ Panel Van and HD2106 utility, important HD-model variants, had a delayed arrival on the scene, finally being released in July 1965, some five months after the passenger models. Consequently they both featured the ball-joint front-end set-up that had replaced king-pins across the HD passenger vehicle range only the previous month, making the front disc-brake option applicable to commercials from Day 1.

Like all HD models, the vans also offered the optional uprated, twin-carburettor X2-179 engine and the indestructible two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission (superseding the EH’s dated three-speed Hydramatic auto). 

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The only specific previous-owner info for Andrew’s van came from remnant sign-writing on its side windows showing it had been an electrician’s van at some point, providing a poignant reminder of the way things used to be during the current ‘HiLux/Ranger-era’ …

Andrew’s poverty-pack ambitions for his van project remained pretty much intact with one exception: "When the opportunity arose to buy an X2 motor, we jumped at the chance and decided to do the full X2 running gear," he said. 

This deviation from ‘Plan A’ was well justified in Andrew’s mind by the pleasing performance of the X2-Powerglide combo on an interstate run from Melbourne to the ACT. 

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No debate here. It’s a red motor.

Describing the ups and downs of the project, Andrew said: "We found the biggest thing with the restoration was to be patient. There were so many intricate things that we were unaware of, but we have slowly built up our knowledge. Not being particularly mechanical, the restoration process was tricky for us. We relied on many wonderful people for assistance to assemble the car and we really do thank them all. Our panel-beater/painter did an extremely good job as an after-work project for a more than reasonable price. We are very grateful to him for his amazing work and to the numerous other professionals who have helped us.

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The work area has come up a treat in the resto.

"Finally, we have met some wonderful people in the HD / HR Holden Club of Victoria. We have been made to feel welcome and now both Dad and I have roles on the committee and we assisted our club to host the HD HR Holden Nationals in Benalla last year. Seeing upwards of 120 HDs and HRs in one place was incredible. We can’t wait to get to Murray Bridge for the HD HR Nationals this year." 

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