Thunder from Down Under – 5 Aussie Cars That Should Be on the Car Collector’s Radar
Updated December 14, 2016
Every major car-making country seems to have certain traits that go along with the cars they make. Italy? Bonkers speed with luxury craftsmanship, but with questionable reliability. Japan? Reliable performance at low prices. Germany? Precision and speed, if not a little bit on the chilly side.
So what do you think of when you think of Australian cars? Judging by these five classics, you have a lot of crazy going on down there.
1971 Ford Falcon XY GT-HO
If you look at the specs on the Phase III, you’d think you were looking at a Mustang. 351-cubic-inch V8. 300 horsepower. 380 ft-lb of torque. Capable of hitting 60 miles per hour in just a tick over 6 seconds.
And a body that was firmly planted in the 60s, despite the evolution of the American bodies to the longer, sleeker two-doors.
At the time of its production, the Phase III held the title of fastest production four-door in the world. The HO part of it, which stands for Handling Options, helped to keep that power grounded – previous Phase I and II models weren’t exactly the most docile. Sitting on narrow 14-inch wheels, with only drum brakes to slow it down, the GT-HO was hard to control but certainly rewarded those who could bring it in line.
1974 Holden Torana SL/R 5000The 1974 Holden L34 is the grail of Torana lovers, for a good reason – they were fragile and temperamental, so few of them survived. However, the slightly-less-powerful (and tougher) SL/R 5000 versions that the L34s were based on are still well-represented, and they are just as unique.
Another 4-door, the Torana seemed to crib from the best of Europe and America. Under the hood, it sounds like American muscle – a 308-cubic-inch V8 with overhead valves and a four-barrel, kicking out 240 horsepower and 315 lb-ft of torque. Apparently the Aussies gave zero shits about reducing their engines to save oil – this is the same year the Mustang II was vomiting out a pathetic 105 horsepower as one of America’s “muscle cars”.
On the outside, the design was reminiscent of German sedans, at least in body shape. The rest of it was pure Australia – outlandish colors and two-tone combinations, oversized bolt-on wheel arch extensions. The fact that it was a four-door sedan certainly helped rev-happy dads to squeak it into the garage as a family car, but don’t get it wrong, this was a performance machine – as evidenced by the Torana becoming a premier racing car in the late 70s.
1971 Valiant Charger R/T“Don’t you mean the Dodge Charger?”
Yes, the Valiant Charger was part of Chrysler’s push into Australia, but the Valiant Charger was a different beast. To begin with, the Valiant Charger was shorter and thicker than the Dodge, with an abbreviated nose and a taller front fascia. In all honesty, it has a body that 70s MOPAR products wish they had.
It also had a fun little party trick under the hood – one of the most powerful V6 engines not found in a Porsche. The E49 engine was a 4.3-liter V6 that still managed to produce 302 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque – more power than in any of the V8s available in the Charger. This allowed the Valiant Charger to be lighter, yet just as powerful as its eight-cylinder competitors. Coupled with a 4-speed manual transmission, this all equated to a 6-second 0-60 time and a top speed of 140 miles per hour.
1974 Ford Falcon 500 UtilityYes, this is another Ford Falcon. Sorry, Australia doesn’t have a wide variety of home-grown models in its past, but it certainly has great depth.
You can’t ignore the importance of the ute to Australia. While America had the Ranchero and El Camino “carrucks” that burned out in a decade or so, the Aussies have been in love with these useful little vehicles for decades, and utes are still incredibly popular.
The Falcon XB series is a legend in its own right – it gave birth to “The Last V8 Interceptor” after all. The Falcon 500 Ute came with the boring but sufficient 200-cubic-inch V6 as its standard engine, but the fun-loving tradies loved the 302-inch V8 that helped the ute haul more gear during the weekdays, and haul more ass on the weekend. While 240 horsepower and 305 lb-ft of torque aren’t monster numbers, compare that with the lower-compression engines offered in the Ranchero – the 351-cubic-inch engine in the ’74 Ranchero sputtered along at 148 horsepower. Proof positive that the pursuit of cleaner emissions absolutely gutted the American muscle cars category for well over a decade.
1974 Holden Sandman Panel Van
Panel vans don’t usually make Top 5 lists. Unless you’re talking about “Top 5 Vehicles We Don’t Care About.” But that’s because there are very few panel vans like the Sandman.
Actually a surf-inspired version of the Holden Kingswood panel van, what sticks out to start with is that the Sandman is based around a car – a far cry from the truck-based vans that have always been dominant. Unlike the rest of the list, the Sandman isn’t iconic for its performance, but for its style. Not saying its performance was lackluster – after all, the available 308-cubic-inch V8 put out an admirable 240 horsepower and 315 lb-ft of torque. But a true Sandman is all about the look.
Even today, a look at a classic Sandman is sure to trigger acid flashbacks and Dazed and Confused references. The trippy 70s lettering, weird decals available straight from the factory, garish paint colors. An available tail tent for some long nights on the beaches. The Sandman was tied in to free love and surfboards, with room for a mattress in the back.
Move me, Sandman.