Paul Gover concludes his three-part series looking at the best and worst cars ever on the roads. Today, he gives us his list of Australia’s 20 best cars of all time.
Generations of Australians grew up driving, admiring, riding in, and loving their locally made cars.
The Kingswood, Falcon, Commodore, P76, Pulsar, Camry and many, many more put Australians on the road and gave them the freedom to explore our wide open land.
And it’s not over yet.
It’s been more than a year since Ford, Holden and Toyota closed the last of their local car-making factories but classy Australian engineering lives on in everything from Cadillac engine bays to the Ford Ranger ute that was designed, tested and developed at Broadmeadows and You Yangs before being exported to the production line in Thailand.
David Brabham, youngest son of Sir Jack, has even developed a roadgoing supercar called the BT62 that is being built in Adelaide and will be sold around the world for $1.8 million.
So carmaking is not completely dead, it’s just different. Very different.
Pull on a pair of retrospectacles and it’s easy to see that Australian cars were local, special and different from the rest of the world.
The original Holden 48-218 introduced the idea of the “Big Aussie Six” and a family car tradition that continued right through to the very last VE Commodore.
Along the road, there were plenty of towering highs and dismal lows.
The legendary Ford Falcon GTHO Phase 3 was, for a time, the world’s fastest four-door sedan.
The Holden Monaro became the Pontiac GTO with exports to the US and was followed by a V8 Commodore that was badged, sold and raced in NASCAR oval-track competition as the Chevrolet SS.
For a time, there was even a Kingswood with a Mazda rotary engine that was sold in Japan as the Roadpacer.
Australian carmaking had a lot in common with the kangaroo and emu over the decades, as a high wall of protection from imports and government subsidies allowed the production of cars that were unique to Australia and uniquely Australian. The Falcon and Commodore, in their dying days, were local one-offs in a world that had moved away from big family sedans.
So the road is now closed for largescale local carmaking, but there is a rich history to explore, celebrate and in some ways mourn.
Top 20 Australian cars of all time
1 HOLDEN VE COMMODORE 2016
TRUE BLUE // WORLD CLASS // FITTING FAREWELL
The very last Australian car was also the best. Not just for Holden, but for car-making in Australia. The billion-dollar baby was big and modern and ticked all the boxes for driving Down Under. It also had the best of everything from Detroit and Fishermans Bend, so should also have led to a new generation of exports for America — until the Global Financial Crisis. The final VFII became a homage to V8 engines in Australia, and the last of the SS-V models — and the stars from Holden Special Vehicles — are already classics.
2 FORD UTE 1934 ORIGINAL // AUSSIE // LANDMARK
Australia gave the world something unique — a pick-up based on a passenger car instead of a truck — in 1934. The first utility car, long ago shortened to ‘ute’ in Aussie slang, was the response to a request from a country wife who asked Ford for “a vehicle to go to church on a Sunday and which can carry our pigs to market on Mondays” . One-tonne utes are top sellers and the successor to the original, the Ford Ranger, is the one to beat, with Australian engineering and Thai manufacturing.
3 HOLDEN 48-215 1948 AUSTRALIA’S OWN // BASIC // AFFORDABLE
The original Holden got Australia moving in much the same way as the Model T did the rest of the world. It was a simple car, but it provided freedom at an affordable price. It opened the roads to wide-open-sky travel at a time when many highways were little more than dirt tracks. The 48-215 (or “FX” ) also laid the foundations for a local car industry in Fishermans Bend.
4 MINI MOKE 1972 QUIRKY// FUN // UNIQUE
Born in Britain but now far better know as an Aussie icon and a getaway machine. More than 26,000 Mokes were built Down Under between and 1966 and 1981 and many still survive, with a special colony on Magnetic Island for holiday makers. The minimalist, fun-first local development of the Mini even became a firm favourite in places where its open cabin made a hat and gloves essential for travel.
5 MITSUBISHI MAGNA 1985
LANDMARK// FRONT-DRIVE // MEDIUM SIZED
The original Magna was a landmark car, made bigger in Australia and for Australia. It was a landmark mid-sized car and also made front-wheel drive acceptable to many family motorists. The Magna also cemented Mitsubishi as a local carmaker, and the first to arrive in a long time after taking over the assets of the troubled Chrysler Australia.
6 HOLDEN MONARO 1969 + 2001
HOMEGROWN COUPE // GREAT LOOKER // FUN DRIVE
This is two cars, not just one. The original 1960s Holden coupe was good, and won at Bathurst. But when it came back in the ’90s it really starred. The new Monaro was a design triumph for Michael Simcoe, now global design boss for General Motors in the US.
7 LEYLAND P76 1973
ADVENTUROUS // BOLD // FAILURE
The P76 is probably the most contradictory car in our motoring history. It was a great idea, a great design and a top drive, but let down by lousy quality and poor acceptance with Ford and Holden buyers. It could have starred but never got the time to survive.
8 FORD FALCON GTHO PHASE III | View GT351
FAST // FAST // FAST 1971
Icon. Legend. $1 million superstar. That’s the Phase 3, rightly regarded as the high-water mark in Australian V8 muscle cars. It won at Bathurst, helped create the legend of Allan Moffat and was, for a time, the fastest four-door car anywhere in the world. GT351
9 VALIANT CHARGER 1971
SURPRISING // YOUTHFUL // POPULAR
A bold thrust into the two-door coupe world that looked good and drove pretty well. Chrysler was the tailender of Australia’s ‘Big Three’ carmakers and the Charger would have really fired if it had come from Ford or Holden. It was close but not a legend.
10 FORD RANGER 2018
AUSTRALIAN // IMPRESSIVE // BENCHMARK
The Ranger provides the proof, like the booming $11 billion aftermarket business, that Australia still has a car industry. Designed, engineered, developed and tested at Broadmeadows in Melbourne, the Ranger is a great ute and sells incredibly well.
11 HOLDEN WB KINGSWOOD 1984
Yes, the Kingswood. It was big, and a bit primitive, but it was exactly what a lot of Australians wanted until 1978 when the Commodore hit Holden showrooms. The best of the breed was the very last of the WB Statesmans, a giant barge of a luxury car, but even the most humble cars were solid and dependable workhorses.
12 FORD TERRITORY 2004
This was a triumph of local engineering and the commitment of one man, the late Geoff Polites. He believed Ford could spin a family SUV from the basics of the Falcon and he was right. It was a very good thing, tough and reliable and right for its time. If it could have been exported it could have changed the game for Ford Australia.
13 MITSUBISHI SIGMA 1980
When Chrysler Australia folded up its tent in Adelaide, it was Mitsubishi that bought into local car-making . The Sigma had been a Chrysler then was rebadged to reflect its real roots. It was a mid-sized car at a time when they were just starting to fire, and laid the foundation for the success of the later Magna.
14 HOLDEN EH 1964
Holden ruled Australian roads in the 1960s and the EH was one of the reasons. It was stylish for the time, quick — especially as the S4 sports model — and could handle anything from racing at Bathurst to rallies and family commuting. It helped introduce many Australian families to their first affordable car.
15 BOLWELL NAGARI 1970
The Nagari deserves a spot on looks alone. It was effectively a “kit” car, using Holden or Ford mechanical pieces that were wrapped inside the gorgeous fibreglass Nagari bodywork. It was stonkingly quick for the time and there were plenty of people who wanted one.
16 FORD FALCON XD 1979
The Commodore was a year old when Ford responded with its big and brawny XD in 1979. It fired at first, and people loved the 351 V8, but was cut down by the first of a series of global oil crises, which had people looking for something less thirsty.
17 NISSAN SKYLINE GTS 1986
This is not the car called “Godzilla: but a local development of a six-cylinder family car from Japan. Nissan wanted a local hero for its factory in Clayton, Victoria, and enlisted a development crew headed by designer Paul Beranger and Mark Skaife. The result was a subtle upgrade that was a delight to drive.
18 TOYOTA CAMRY HYBRID 2016
The Prius is Toyota’s hybrid star but the arrival of a petrol-electric Camry opened the door for a lot of Australians including a generation of taxi drivers. It was surprisingly sporty to drive, really economical, and an opportunity to spread the hybrid message. The only real fail was that it could not be fitted with a tow-bar .
19 GOGGOMOBIL DART 1959
This little oddity is now the butt of jokes in ads for Shannons Insurance, but was once a reflection of Australian ingenuity and skill. Developed in Sydney as an affordable sports car and runabout. It used a fibreglass body over a German mechanical package, but a two-stoke engine worked against it. Only 700 were made.
20 HOLDEN HURRICANE 1969
It was never built but is still a striking supercar a full 50 years after it was created. The Hurricane was intended to be Australia’s first true supercar. The most radical piece of the V8-engined package was a canopy that lifted up off the cockpit, replacing doors. One prototype survives, at Holden in Fishermans Bend.
Source: The Herald Sun Digital Edition: TOP 20 CARS FROM DOWN UNDER
Greatest hits: Top 20 Australian cars of all time
Paul Gover, Sunday Herald Sun
June 29, 2019
This is the final instalment in a special three-part series by Paul Gover that began with his Top 50 Cars of All Time.
Recap the Top 50 Cars of All Time here.
Check out Gover’s list of the 10 biggest Aussie car flops here.