Philip Road, Elizabeth – Holden cars and me

 

 

There was still a post-Coronation glow across the Commonwealth when Holden started making cars in Elizabeth, just north of Adelaide. Indeed, our Queen had only been in Buckingham Palace for a few years, and with this respectfully in mind, those mapping the satellite city instead decided that the thoroughfare next to the car manufacturing plant should be named Philip Highway, Elizabeth. I guess Philip Road, Elizabeth was a bit horizontal in tone, especially in the 1950s.

 

I’m not a petrol-head, but as a country boy, I was always going to buy a Holden for my first car. Purchased from solid farming folk near Greenock, it was a pale blue HR Holden complete with two-speed Powerglide. It had razor-blade thin tyres, which had the unfortunate habit of prolonged squealing as I gently rounded a corner, or accidently drove in circles at the intersection just up from the Kapunda Pizza Bar. Prior to buying an FM radio, for my driving pleasure I had a portable cassette player and a kazoo. The HR’s registration was REM-097.

 

 

Part way through my degree I upgraded to the model I’m confident was made in greater numbers than any other at the Elizabeth plant: a HQ Kingswood (white). In our little country town, there must’ve been twenty of these, and they were mostly driven by us young fellas. Sometimes there’d be three or more of these in a diagonal row, outside Nugget’s Clare Castle Hotel*, late on a Sunday. Owning one seemed almost compulsory, and it functioned as a type of vehicular uniform for our silly army. Its rego was UXA-100.

 

For a few months, my friends commuted to uni and back with me. Claire and Trish* were Abba fans and musical theatre devotees, and I now confess that I took fiendish, even megalomaniacal delight in controlling our musical accompaniment. They’d holler, “Put on the radio” and “We want SA-FM.”

 

Deaf to their words, I’d then lean over and pump up the volume on a ten-minute blues song like, “Key to the Highway.” Somehow, we’re still friends.

 

Nineteen. There may well be an age at which Australian males are more stupid, but I doubt it. With sudden and inexplicable urgency one Friday night, when I was nineteen, three friends and I decided that we needed to race down to one of the Kapunda main street’s four pubs (or possibly, all of them).

 

So, we left the home of the mate that for legal reasons I’ll refer to as Woodsy* and failing entirely to navigate the dirt road behind Kapunda High School, my left fender prised open about twenty feet of the corrugated fence like it was a tin of Whiskers*. The car came to an immediate halt. Our friend was studying electronic engineering at Adelaide uni, so I said, “Chris*, you’re smart, fix it!” He couldn’t.

 

Subsequent crash analysis revealed a major cause being the HQ Holden’s front bench seat on which, for now obscure reasons, all four of us were, for want of an ergonomically accurate term, sitting. Apparently, this lack of physical space made it difficult for the driver (me) to successfully operate the steering wheel.

 

 

 

Later, another mate, Crackshot* remarked that despite it being only eighteen months since I’d somehow won Kapunda High’s Paul Giles Memorial Prize for Character and Leadership, I still clearly wanted to make a lasting mark on my former school. In the cold light of Saturday morning, in grim conversation and looking at my Adidas Rome-d feet, neither the headmaster nor the town’s police officer, saw my yearning for scholastic legacy as a legally relevant issue.

 

The final Holden I owned was the most expensive of the three, and certainly the least likable. Heading off to the West Coast to teach I bought a VK Commodore from Hage’s in Tanunda. It drove well, if thirstily, but the stereo was terrible and the front speaker rattled like buggery whenever I’d turned up a tape, like Billy Joel*. Billy deserves better.

 

One evening after a prolonged cricket fixture and raffle-ticket selling duties in the Wudinna Club, the VK batted last and was dismissed, run-out by a Ford at a railway line on the road back to my farmhouse accommodation (I wasn’t driving). After extensive rehabilitation, during which I drove Jock* and Snook’s dune buggy, I sold it.

 

I didn’t know it, but my relationship with Holdens was finished. I’m unsure whether I’m yet to have my mid-life crisis, or if I’ve been having one all my life, but I often think that one day, I’ll buy myself an EH Holden.

 

I might even take it on Sunday drives, and do a lap of Kapunda High.

 

Thanks, Holdens.

 

*names not changed

 

 

About Mickey Randall

Late afternoon beer, Exile on Main St playing. Sport like cricket, most types of football, golf, squash, horse racing. Travel, with Vancouver my favourite city, but there’s nowhere I’ve not happily been. Except Luton.

Reading. Writing about family, sport, music, the stuff that amuses me. Conversation. Wit. Irony.

McLaren Vale cabernet sauvignon, Barossa shiraz, Coopers Sparkling Ale. Jazz and especially Miles Davis. Lots and lots of music.

I live in Adelaide with my wife Kerry-ann and our boys Alex and Max.

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    At around 4pm every afternoon, the dreaded “Holden’s traffic” formed a two mile long northbound metallic chain along said Philip Highway, leaving us marooned at the South Shops until there was a suitable break and we could scarper across to the United Motors side of Elizabeth South’s dress circle thoroughfare. I should have waited at the Rose and Crown, I’m sure Merv Waite would have slipped me a lemon squash, or popped into Librandi’s Fruit and Veg for one of the apricots that we’d sold to them earlier in the week.

    Our regular excursions to the “Holden’s” factory introduced us to the secrets of spot welding, spray painting and that funny doover that they used to splice in the rubber seals around the windscreens.

    If we didn’t see someone’s Dad, or the local U/11s coach or half of the Centrals Seconds, we weren’t looking too hard.

    We didn’t aspire to end up there ourselves, but even then we knew how important those three shifts a day were to the health of our City.

    I’ve only ever had little Holdens and I don’t think that any of them were built here. We were a Ford family mainly. My first car was a very dodgy XP, rust ridden, with welsh plugs that leaked more than Caro’s moles on the AFL Commission and a fuel pump that was as reliable as the Crows forward line in late September. RTG-371

    The XR that I bought from Mum was a much better conveyance. RAG-976

    The TD Cortina, red with a beige vinyl roof, SAY-496, 3 on the floor, after-market cassette deck, kept me going for a couple of years until that drunk pr*ck ran up my clacker outside the Bridge Hotel, opposite the Para Hills cop shop.

    That’ll do.

    Thanks for the memories Mickey. GMH – RIP

  2. Good stuff Mickey. My family inherited a HD Powerglide, which failed miserably to pull the skin off any rice puddings. We also had an FC which could be driven without the key, if you previously removed your father’s key with the ignition in the right position… Disappointed no 8 track cartridge player in the HQ though, de rigeur for a short time there!

  3. Luke Reynolds says:

    Love it Mickey.
    Despite knowing very little about, and taking next to no interest in cars, I’ve only ever owned Holdens.
    My first car, a red VN Commodore, is still my favourite. Though had a terrible rattle in the front left speaker that didn’t make for great cassette listening.
    Drove a twin cab Rodeo ute for many years, the final winter where the heater stopped working was when the call was made on it’s future and a contract extension not offered.
    Currently driving the VS Commodore we’ve had for a decade, while Mrs R looks down at me while driving her Captiva.

    “I guess Philip Road, Elizabeth was a bit horizontal in tone, especially in the 1950s.” One of your very, very best lines M.Randall. Well played.

  4. Earl O'Neill says:

    We had an HR when I was a kid. Dad switched to Fords, my first car was an HG panno w bucket seats and mag wheels, my second an HJ panno. I wasn’t bothered by the water that would splash thru the hole in the floor but had to get it fixed when my Cuban heel got stuck in it.

  5. E.regnans says:

    Love it, Mickey.
    Through family donation* my first car was an HK station wagon.
    Outstanding.
    Bottle green in colour. Except for the driver’s door – which was pale blue.
    3-on-the-tree. The creatively-spring couch you write of. Magnificent.
    Three of us drove her from Melbourne to Darwin one summer.
    Watching the fuel gauge drop waiting at traffic lights.
    The wind-up window mechanism on the tailgate sheered off at Streaky Bay (SA) camp ground.
    Trawled the wreckers at Port Augusta for a replacement to no avail.
    Spent the rest of the trip opening/closing that rear window using pliers.
    We rolled her just out of Threeways.
    She died that day – parts sold off for more than my purchase price, with thanks to the Tennant Creek speculatives.

    Second car an HQ sedan. White, except for a brown roof.
    Memory: Steam billowing from under the bonnet on a dash from Melbourne to Yarrawonga for the Rockalonga Australia Day music show.Emergency stop along the Hume, and cross-country expedition on foot, scooping water out of barely-full farm dams – required for re-filling the parched radiator. Limping into Yarrawonga showgrounds, full of utes and Bundy stickers, as The Cruel Sea reached their climax – well stocked and pleased with ourselves in time for the closing act – Midnight Oil.
    “Hello everyone. The Oils love playing under the mighty Murray Redgums.”

    *not quite, but generous, nevertheless

  6. Holden man myself Mickey.

    This reminds me of the old joke about Prince Charles opening a car making factory in Australia many years ago. He was wearing a fox hat. Someone asked him why. He said:

    “Well I was talking to mother last night on the telephone. She asked me where I was. I said I was opening a car factory in Elizabeth, just north of Adelaide. I’m not completely sure what she said because the line was bad, but I think she said ‘Wear the fox hat’. So I did.”

    Boom, boom.

  7. Nice one Mickey. Shades of Spike Milligan – “GMH – My Part in their Downfall”.
    As a former Camira owner I am precluded from commenting further until the class action is settled.

  8. Brilliant stuff, Mickey. Loved it.
    And as the comments above attest, many of us have Holden stories.

    My first car was an EH Holden wagon, brown, 3 on the tree, 186 motor, reg CAA 141 – had some wonderful times in that old beast. I bought it for $400 in the Trading Post, the owners had relocated to Pasco Vale from Adelaide so I had to get the SA plates changed. Which meant taking the car to the old police pits in Carlton so they could give her the once-over before issuing a road-worthy certificate.
    Unfortunately, the left-hand indicator would just stay on rather than blink, so I had to manually flick the arm up and down whenever I turned left. There was also a leak somewhere in the brake lines, which meant it leaked brake fluid like a sieve – I had to carry a container of brake fluid in the car. There is nothing that makes you reassess your life choices more than when you approach a stop sign, put your foot on the brake pedal, and said pedal quickly plunges straight to the floor; in a horrifying split second you become aware that the stop sign is merely aspirational.
    One night on the way to footy training, I was driving down Melbourne Rd Williamstown when the differential unexpectedly seized up, instantly locking the rear wheels and causing me to wildly swerve uncontrollably over the road – thankfully, there were no other cars in my proximity. That was the end.
    My current vehicle is a 2016 Holden Commodore ute – 6.2 litre V8, red, and the best car I have ever owned.

  9. John Butler says:

    My first car was a Valiant Ranger (cousin to a Charger).

    So I have no right to express any further opinion. :)

    Cheerio

  10. Thanks to everyone for their comments. Lots of great memories here about first cars and old cars and less than ideal cars.

    I saw that local lad Jimmy Barnes sang the assembled workers a few tunes (nice link to David Wilson’s excellent book review) before they were set loose. I also caught a glance at a piece that suggested one of the longest serving employees had the honour of being the last to leave the factory floor. His name is Mick Randall (no relation).

    If I can believe the radio story I heard yesterday the 2018 Commodore equivalent will be build in Germany.

    I’m sure there’s an entire story in it, but to my fifteen year old self, nothing spoke of adulthood, freedom, driving and other pursuits like a Sandman wagon cruising an esplanade with music blaring.

    Cheers.

  11. Pamela Sherpa says:

    It certainly is a sad end to an era. Your article made me reflect on the significant part the family car played in our lives. It seemed to be the done thing back in the 50’s and 60’s to have our picture taken next to the family car. Your article made me go and look back through the photo album. Thanks for the reflection.

  12. Cat from the Country says:

    A sad end to a great Aussie Icon.
    Thanks for the memories.

    My father- in-law Ray had an HK which his wife Inez enjoyed driving on the corrugated dirt roads to town.
    Terry and I had a Torana in Tassie in 1972-74
    Had an HD on King Island 1977-79 with holes in the floor and lots of rust! It never left the Island when we did.
    I am not “into” cars but really enjoyed the stories here.

  13. Pamela and Cat

    I was most surprised at how emotional a dispassionate fellow such as I was at various points yesterday. I’m not a car-bloke, but of course, this is not really about the cars. In a way, we’d let something be tugged away by the tide, as we stood on a windswept jetty…

    As Swish has suggested Holdens has been central to Elizabeth, and vice versa. The impact has gone beyond the immediate geographical area.

    Cars are obvious, blunt symbols, and many of us attempt, subsequently, to define our fragile selves in different ways, but ultimately return to these items of our youth, often when we least suspect it.

    Thanks so much for these comments.

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