1968-69 Holden HK: The End of Holden’s Age of Entitlement
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1968-69 Holden HK: The End of Holden’s Age of Entitlement

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By JoeKenwright - 02 February 2015

The HK Premier wagon, after the Monaro, was the most impressive HK model as it was the first local model to offer four headlights and exclusive front styling at this level. The wagon was also completed after the HK’s second wheelbase stretch with a deeper rear section that was a much better match for the stretched front guards. Under Holden’s new options game, a Premier wagon very similar to this was depicted in the HK brochure. (Photo from gopixpic.com)

The January 1968 launch of the “New Generation Holden” HK series marked so many firsts. It was the first Holden re-defined by a rival in mid-development. It was the first to offer a V8 option, the first to offer a first gear synchromesh option on the base manual and the HK Premier was the first four headlight Holden. The striking Monaro which followed in July 1968 was the first Holden coupe and the first Holden to win Bathurst. Yet Holden was not ready to give up on its old ways completely.
 
None of these exciting new HK advances were standard on the most popular mid-range model despite its flash new Kingswood badge. If new Australian Design Rules hadn’t dictated the HK’s comprehensive safety package across the range, several of its new safety features may well have been an option as well. For evidence of that mindset, Holden postponed its first standard heater-demister in anything other than a Premier until the 1969 HT facelift as dictated by ADRs. To be fair, all HK models came with front lap-sash belts and GM’s new Saginaw fully collapsible steering column at a time when the XT Falcon had lap belts only and a crash pad on the steering wheel.

Apart from this example’s later mirror, this is how the HK Premier sedan presented on release in the popular Silver Mink metallic. With its “executive roofline” and exclusive front, it had far greater presence than its VE Regal and XT Fairmont rivals even if the mis-match between the HK’s original pointy tail and the elongated front guards was more evident. Optioned with the 186S, front disc brakes and radial tyres, it was a sweet car to drive and even better without the soggy two-speed Powerglide auto.

The HK also sent calls for front disc brakes on Australia’s growing family cars into overdrive. The HK’s big new 307/5-litre V8 option came with small 10 inch/254mm drums as standard. If you specified your HK V8 with Holden’s new air-conditioning and all its extra weight in the front, you couldn’t order the optional front discs. These calls would fall on deaf ears until well into the 1970s.
 
The HK marked the period when Holden sold you an empty hamburger bun then left you to fill it, at your cost. Specifying the HR’s entry 161/2.6-litre engine as the base level powerplant in the new mid-range HK Kingswood after it had grown from 2600lb/1179kg  to over 2800lb/1270kg  with a corresponding increase in carrying capacity could only be seen as another incentive to visit the options lists.
 
Even the HK Premier with the HR’s 186/2.9-litre six struggled to top 138km/h and cross the standing quarter line in much less than 21 seconds. 
 
If there was any justice in this list price plus, plus, plus approach, Holden couldn’t keep track of the two million combinations it generated.  A range of better-equipped HT models was the outcome.

The HK Kingswood as it left the showroom was plain with small extrusions on the bootlid vainly disguising tail lights that looked too small after the HK’s second wheelbase stretch. This shot highlights how effective the flowing C-pillar and bootlid crease were in disguising the extra rear headroom and boot height. (Photo from justcommodores.com.au)

In the meantime, the HK deserved much better.  It was too often judged on the bare bones underdone examples that left the showroom. The year 1968 was not a good year to start playing the options game based on a stripped-out 161 Kingswood. The XT Falcon 500 and VE Valiant both offered bigger sixes, extra instruments, extra body detailing and all synchro gearboxes, all as standard.  And you couldn’t get metallic paint on an HK Kingswood or a three speed auto to match the XT Falcon 500 or VE Valiant even if you were prepared to pay for it.  

The HK Holden was originally designed by Holden’s most senior designers approaching retirement inspired mainly by 1963-65 Oldsmobiles. The HD-HR series before it came from one of GM’s Advanced Studios and was a generation ahead of most US models. Despite the HK’s first modest wheelbase stretch over the HR, it risked looking like an older car than the one it replaced. Stretching the front guards and wheelbase ahead of the front doors by a further 3 inches/76mm gave the final HK the more recent short boot/long bonnet look of the Camaro/Mustang even after Holden ignored GM Styling Chief Bill Mitchell’s suggestion of making the tail lights bigger in the Belmont’s case. (Photo from galleryoldholden.com)

Yet hiding in the HK option lists were the goodies (full instrument packs, cloth seats, several steering and suspension specs, four speed manual gearboxes, front bucket seats, radial tyres, etc) that generated a number of outstanding HK combinations and they weren’t all Monaros. The extra size, new styling and extra safety were enough to maintain Holden sales domination (199,039 sold between January 1968-May 1969) while leaving enough room for Ford and Chrysler to get a bigger toe hold in the local market. Let the debate start here on which HK combination was the best!

The HK Kingswood’s best angle with its subtly blacked-out grille, almost flush curved side glass/lower body, wheelarch blisters and subtle Coke-bottle hipline all visible. Despite the old school square sides at the front, it was more imposing than its rivals and provided a great starting point for Holden’s young Australian designers who were let loose on the HT and HG facelifts. (Photo from justcommodores.com.au)

Troubled Beginnings
 
Holden’s idea of pushing the EH’s engine forward of the front axle line to make room for the HD’s bigger body flopped over the EH’s narrow track to create extra cabin space suggested an overdeveloped sense of entitlement to Australian loyalty.
 
Back in 1965, Chrysler was not in any position to force Holden’s hand on the issue as it was dependent on a US Valiant that suffered the same shortfalls. And Ford was locked into recycling variations of its 1960 model with the US 1964-65 models still to go. Or so Holden thought.
 
It was in this context that the HK was originally defined with only a modest increase in width on a wheelbase somewhere between the 108 inches of the VE Valiant and the 109.5 inches of the XK to XP Falcon series. This would have represented an increase of 2-3 inches over the HR model’s 106 inches. This partly explains why the HK Holden appeared with a width of only 71.6 inches/1819 mm compared to the even 70 inches/1778mm of the HR, not the full 73.8 inches/1875mm of the XR Falcon. 
 
Holden knew that it couldn’t fudge on the track after the problems with the HD/HR handling. The HK track was set at 57.1 inches/1450mm front and rear. Even if it was again short of the full 58 inches/1473mm of the XR/XT Falcon, it was a reasonable figure given the HK was over 2 inches/51mm skinnier. The HK’s front track was lineball with the VE Valiant’s, which the HK originally matched in wheelbase.

This Modern Motor scoop got it wrong when it lined up the HR and HK profiles at the front. In reality, the HK tail was where it all lined-up before two wheelbase increases were added ahead of the rear wheels for a final wheelbase that was 5 inches longer than the HR’s. Without the second wheelbase increase, the HK would have been the same length as the HR but with a much taller rear section for extra boot height after all the extra wheelbase was allocated to the cabin. Until the HK front guards were stretched after the second wheelbase increase, the HK would have arrived looking short and stumpy with a similar profile to the HB Viva/Torana.

Without the VE’s narrow 55.6 inch/1412mm rear track, the original HK would have looked as confident and as stable as the Falcon on the road.
 
Peter Nankervis, the Australian Holden designer who returned from the US to help finish the HK range, has since confirmed that the initial HK design with its wheelbase of around 108-109 inches was changed as soon as the XR Falcon hit Australian roads in 1966. Not only did the XR’s extra track and width generate major concerns, its V8 option across the range, its extra wheelbase and the sporty short boot/long bonnet styling were regarded as serious threats.

This shot highlights just how far the front guards were elongated to cover the extra wheelbase ahead of the front doors. Imagine this guard with 3 inches cut behind the wheelarch and that is how the HK was originally meant to appear. And yes, Holden did show the HK in the brochures with red walls as a factory option. (Photo from justcommodores.com.au)

Back to the Drawing Board
 
The decision was immediately made to add an extra two to three inches in wheelbase between the front doors and front wheel arches. This is an important distinction as it led to several critical downstream changes in Holden’s thinking. It also delayed the HK. The HR’s April 1966 to January 1968 model life was agonisingly long for this era of annual facelifts.
 
The second wheelbase increase not only restored the handling balance removed from the HD-HR Holdens, it made the new HK’s engine bay and renewed handling balance compatible with Chevrolet’s big inline sixes and small block V8. The HK body would soon be re-engineered with South African front styling to look like a Chevrolet with the full-size Chevrolet inline sixes and V8 engine options under the bonnet for the South African market.

Holden’s rejection of the small block Chevrolet V8 for Holden’s own V8 was justified on the basis that it wouldn’t fit in the smaller Holden. By 1968, the larger HK made that argument redundant but it was too late to abandon Holden’s new V8. The HK’s second wheelbase stretch meant that the Chevrolet V8 could sit relative to the front axle line where it needed to be for far better handling balance than anyone anticipated.  The large power booster/dual master cylinder for the optional disc brakes created problems for the HK’s new air-cond option with its huge old school compressor.

In the meantime, the HK’s larger engine bay and extra wheelbase allowed Holden to offer bigger Chevrolet V8 options immediately. The much smaller and lighter locally-designed Holden V8, originally designed to fit the HR’s engine bay, was not yet ready and would have to wait until the HT facelift. 
 
The original 253/4.2-litre version of the Aussie V8 was to be pitched at the over 3.5-litre sixes of rivals. This explained the big and unfilled gap between the HK’s 186S-145bhp and 307-210bhp V8 options when it didn’t arrive as expected. An Aussie 308/5-litre V8 was still under development as a direct replacement for the HK’s 307/5-litre V8. Both versions were held over for the HT. 
 
This explains why no one saw the Chevrolet 307/5-litre or Monaro GTS 327/5.4-litre V8s coming in the HK, as magazines were confidently predicting that Holden would follow Chrysler’s lead and peg any V8 option to around 180bhp/134kW. This was correct but only if the shorter HK wheelbase and the local 253/4.2-litre V8 were still on the radar.

From this angle, the HK dash looked sensational with class-leading glovebox and three spoke safety steering wheel but a closer look revealed old fashioned rectangular instruments restricted to the usual fuel gauge and three idiot lights of the first Holden.  Yet Holden made sure there was now an HK option to cover it, a ploy that came undone when there was nowhere left for a GTS tacho.

Once the HK wheelbase went up another notch, it has since been revealed that Holden saw no point in waiting as the back-up and training for the 327/5.4-litre engine were already in place to support local Chevrolets and Pontiacs. The everyday 307/5-litre Chevrolet V8 HK option came with 210bhp/157kW. In service, it was no different to the 283/4.6-litre V8 on offer in Aussie Chevrolet Bel Airs since 1960. It was just as well as Ford made its new 302/4.9 V8 available later in 1968. 
 
Peter Nankervis is also insistent that the HK was locked-in from the windscreen back before the decision was made to increase the wheelbase a second time to match the Falcon’s 111 inches/2819mm. The HK’s front wheelarches were therefore initially intended to be up to three inches/78.2mm closer to the front doors. For an example of a before and after HK profile, look no further than the LC Torana 4 versus the LC Torana 6. 
 
This second wheelbase increase generated a full-sized Holden with unprecedented handling balance. It should have set Holden up to be the handling leader for years to come but more of that shortly. 
 
This extra wheelbase also delivered a real packaging advantage to the HK unmatched by its XT Falcon and VE Valiant rivals. The passenger compartment and boot of the HK Holden had already been designed to maximize boot and cabin space on a wheelbase of 108-109 inches in a vehicle much shorter than the VE Valiant. Before the second wheelbase increase, the HK Holden would have been a full 12 inches/305mm shorter than the VE Valiant as it did not share the VE’s long overhangs front and rear on a similar wheelbase. 

The HK Kingswood and Belmont were restricted to an acrylic lacquer solid colour range with mainly pale bush colours that tolerated the Aussie sun and owner neglect. This red was one of the few exceptions and needed the white roof if you were not to be confused with the local fire chief. Along with the metallics of the Premier and Monaro, the red needed constant care to survive with a shine. Providing the rear springs hadn’t sagged, the HK retained Holden’s usual go-anywhere ability with short overhangs. (Photo from gopixpic.com)   

Because the production HK’s length was only 184.7 inches/4691mm (still much shorter than the VE Valiant’s 193.7inch/ 4920mm length but near identical to the XT Falcon’s 184.6 inches/4689mm) following its second wheelbase increase of around 3 inches, it is clear that the HK in its early stages was to be no longer than the HR’s 181 inches/4597mm even after the first wheelbase increase of 2-3 inches.  
 
The architecture of the production HK suggests that this initial increase in wheelbase from the HR’s 106 inches to the HK’s earlier 108-109 inches was to be allocated entirely to the cabin if the overall length was to stay the same as the HR.  And even if this did deliver class-leading cabin space, it would have done little to improve the HR’s lead-tipped arrow handling balance for the HK sixes which would have been only just tolerable with the smaller Aussie V8.

This profile shot highlights how the second stretch in HK wheelbase gave the HK a profile more in keeping with 1968, not 1964-65. The early 1960s style tail lights which survived unchanged were shallower than the HD’s and highlighted the mis-match between the pointy tail and the extended, squared-up front. The HT facelift showed how easy it was to fix with larger tail lights that gave the rear a squarer, deeper look. The HK hubcaps had black centres, the white centres on this HK belong to an HT. (Photo from oldholden.com)

A New Benchmark in Handling Balance and Packaging
 
The HK’s second wheelbase increase remains an important distinction between the HK and its XT Falcon and VE Valiant rivals. Despite the many new panels and structure, the VE Valiant was a modest Aussie stretch of the smaller earlier Valiants. Back seat space was still tight. The XT Falcon (as was the XR) was still a US Fairlane with a shorter boot and 5 inches/127mm chopped out of the wheelbase, all of which was lost behind the rear doors. 
 
Even if the Falcon’s 111 inch/2819mm wheelbase still ended-up longer than the VE Valiant/early HK proposal, its rear seat hip and leg room were both tight and the truncated boot was left shallow and short. Ford Australia was forced to disguise the tight rear seat space with a shorter rear seat cushion and a complete re-design of the US Falcon’s boot and fuel tank. The local Falcon’s compromised spare location and exposed fuel filler pipe defined the local Falcon and Fairlane for generations.

Holden’s HK brochure set a new standard for creating a uniquely Aussie context for the new range with clear accurate photos. In 1968, an HK wagon would have been used as a mini-bus in this context. The relatively deep side-glass and clean single pane rear doors gave it a fresh, modern look for 1968.

Because Holden was starting afresh with the HK, it was given a clever rear door and C-pillar design that allowed rear leg room to be maximized even further. Although testers noted that Holden had eliminated the rear quarter pane in the HK’s rear doors, no one asked why. 
 
The inside line of the HK’s C-pillar was unusually upright which allowed a higher roofline and a bigger, more rectangular rear door aperture. This allowed the entire side window glass to drop into the door without requiring a quarter pane to shorten it. This in turn allowed a higher and more rectangular rear door aperture. 
 
By disguising the extra rear cabin height with the HK’s wide and flowing outer C-pillar line, Holden could position the HK’s rear seat further rearwards before the heads of rear occupants hit the rear screen. 
 
As a bonus, this rear door and C-pillar design also allowed Holden to apply a more upright outer C-pillar line to the HK Premier generating “sporty” and “executive” rooflines for HK sedans, another first for an Australian car. Although the HK Brougham was justifiably criticized for sharing the same 111 inch/2819mm wheelbase as the HK Premier, the formal rooflines of the HK Premier and Brougham generated as much rear leg room as the long wheelbase Fairlane, as they allowed a more rearward back seat location.

Before the four wheel drive wagon replaced the Aussie wagon as a go-anywhere family and work vehicle, the HK raised the bar for this type of vehicle. Styled after the HK’s second wheelbase increase was locked in, the wagon with its new vertical tail lights exploited the extra height over the sedan’s rear wheelarch for a deeper rear section to match the front.  A new one handed rear seat release, long tail gate and a much longer and deeper load area made the HK wagon a real step forward. (Photo from Five Starr Photos)

Where the rear seat backrests of the Falcon and Valiant were ahead of the rear door openings, the HK’s rear seat backrest was behind the rear door aperture. This initial work allowed all of the second increase in wheelbase to be dedicated to not only restoring the handling balance Holden lost with the HD, it set the Holden range up for a powerful new range of V8 engines without upsetting the handling.

After young Aussie Holden designer Peter Nankervis lost the battle to deliver a coupe ute with extra glass behind the door, the rear pillar was more generous than usual offering extra cabin space and protection from the sun. The HK wagon’s different tail lights and higher rear profile allowed a taller cargo bed than usual. (Photo from richardlewis.org)

Extra Width without Bulk
 
The extra hip room in the HK’s narrower body over both the Falcon and Fairlane was also the product of a much newer body design. There was no ledge between the HK’s curved side glass which continued into the lower body sheetmetal in a constant curve. 
 
Any wasted space between the inner door trim and outer door skins of the HK was at least half that of the XT Falcon and VE Valiant (both of which had prominent ledges at the top of each door) making it the roomiest six-seater of its kind, depending on where you measured the width. Because the average inside cabin width was identical for the HK Kingswood and XT Falcon despite the XT Falcon’s extra 2.2 inches/56mm in body width, the XT Falcon cabin was denied all this extra width by its old school door design hence the importance of a similar design for the XA Falcon
 
Road tests at the time confirmed that the HK also had the most front seat travel, the most rear leg room and the most comfortable driving position for drivers who needed to stretch their arms behind the steering wheel. 
 
Holden had one more trick up its sleeve for the HK body design. The Falcon and Valiant both had flat boot lids and relatively shallow boots dictated by underfloor fuel tanks and spare wheels, with wasted space between the rear wheel arches. Holden used the HK’s wide C-pillar to hide a much higher waist line and deeper boot under the parcel shelf. It allowed Holden’s first full-sized 16.5 gallon/75 litre fuel tank (the same as the Falcon and about 8 litres bigger than the Valiant’s) to be positioned over the rear axle. 

As soon as it was decided that applying the HK sedan’s rear styling to the wagon wasn’t going to work, Holden turned to Oldsmobile and Buick wagons current at the design stage for a consistent styling theme. By 1968, Detroit was moving to smoother and more radical wagon styling but this earlier 1964-65 approach was a better fit for local dual purpose applications.  Where Holden used a crease line to maintain some continuity with the sedan, Oldsmobile linked its lower tail light section with an extrusion similar to that found on HK sedans. Should Holden have finished the job with this one’s Vista-roof? (Photo from forum-auto.com)

This generated a much deeper boot floor in the HK behind the fuel tank. It also allowed the spare to be tucked up inside the driver’s side rear guard where it was both out of the way but still accessible with a packed boot. Providing you ticked the 186 option, the HK Kingswood was not only significantly more economical (up to 20 per cent according to tests at the time) than its Falcon 221/3.6-litre and Valiant 225/3.7-litre rivals, it had a much longer fuel range.
 
This extra range was a good enough reason on its own for a country buyer to choose the Holden. The performance deficit against the Falcon’s bigger 221/3.6 six was tolerable but against the Valiant’s 225/160bhp option the gap in performance was too great for some to ignore. 
 
If there was a downside to the HK’s clever boot design, it was the transverse muffler under the boot floor that could heat up the boot’s contents.
 
To ensure the HK’s high bootline didn’t make the tail look stumpy, Holden gently tapered the HK’s bootline towards the rear. Because both the Falcon and Valiant had relatively horizontal bootlids, they had to start at a lower point than the HK’s. 
 
As a bonus, this sloping bootline set the Monaro up for its striking roofline. The HK Brougham was not so lucky as it was this same tapering bootline that made the Brougham look silly as soon as it was extended. Even on the standard HK Belmont/Kingswood sedans, this pointy rear end from some angles could look too small for the HK’s elongated front, an impression created by tail lights that were no longer big enough for the longer car. 

This HK Kingswood ute was a first for Holden as it could be optioned up to almost Monaro level with a V8, GTS wheelcovers, full instruments and bucket seats. It was the starting point for Holden to become king of the sports utes. This shade of blue made the HK look fresh and new and was a popular choice. (Photo from car.mitula.com.au)

When Mustang-Bred Was Not an Option
 
Although Peter Nankervis has confirmed that the XR Falcon was the catalyst for the HK’s second boost in wheelbase and its short boot/long nose styling, there was no way Holden could play that tune in 1968.
 
The initial styling, according to Nankervis, was a combined effort between Holden’s new design chief Joe Schemansky with his former ties to Pontiac and Cadillac and veteran local Holden designer Alf Payze. The HK styling confirmed that the Oldsmobile Toronado which Holden imported late in 1965 was not just to sell the HD’s kidney scoop front styling. Because Nankervis was later given the job of completing the HK wagons and commercials, he confirmed that several Oldsmobile models were the prime influence on the HK especially the unusual front and rear wheel arch blisters. 

This photo of the HK four door models showed a level of front and rear styling differentiation never seen before in an Australian model range and established exactly where you were on the spending scale. Although this philosophy kept the upper levels aloof of fleet purchases, it also meant that the HK image was set by the cheapest and most common models. As a strategy, it was progressively dismantled over later models. (Photo from richardlewis.org)

This Oldsmobile flavour was consolidated by visiting US designers who came here to complete the HK Monaro including John Schinella, Ted Schroeder and his wife, a GM interior design specialist, Marjorie. 
 
For a conservative Holden design, the wheel arch blisters combined with the squared-up sides of the mid-range Buick and Oldsmobile models generated the more stable if dated look required to differentiate the HK over the HD-HR. The HK would have, in its original proportions, arrived as a simple but solid-looking three box design with just a hint of GM’s corporate Coke-bottle hip line and rounded sides to stop it looking like 1963 revisited. With less overhang than a VE Valiant, its boot to bonnet ratio would have been similar to the XP Falcon and therefore more reliant on the HK’s sportier C-pillar and raised hipline to generate the latest look.
 
The HK’s deep recess in the lower tail panel and the small wraparound tail lights replicated similar tails on earlier Buicks and Oldsmobiles. They were intended to give the HK more of a big car presence without an increase in length.

This collage of HK Premier features shows how differentiation had to increase at the top level after items like bucket seats and carpet could be optioned into the cheaper models. New trim patterns and fabrics as introduced by US interior specialist Marjorie Schroeder became far more important.

The second wheelbase increase changed all of that overnight. Holden would soon be presenting a new Holden with the proportions of a Mustang yet the HK shared nothing of the smooth, rounded lines of the Camaro, GM’s Mustang rival. That didn’t stop Holden from exploiting the Camaro during 1967 even if the process was more subtle than planting Mustangs across the dealer network as Ford did. 
 
The Camaro featured prominently in press advertising as RHD versions were trickled onto the Australian market through those GM-H prestige dealers who stocked the locally-assembled Pontiacs and Chevrolets. 
 
All major motoring publications ran Camaro impressions in 1967 dutifully stating that the Camaro (which was much closer to the final HK in size than the original HK) provided a glimpse of how the new HK would appear. If nothing else, it established a desirable link between Holden and the Camaro that didn’t need to be as close as it was between Falcon and Mustang as one was a Holden, the other a Chevrolet.

This 1963 Oldsmobile highlights where at least some of the HK Holden styling cues came from including the grille cross-bar specified by Bill Mitchell, long since removed from 1968 Oldsmobiles. (Photo from barrett-jackson.com)

Complicating this process was Bill Mitchell’s late input on the final HK design. The HK was scheduled to appear with a simple fine horizontal bar grille with a Holden badge on one side, not unlike the VE Valiant’s. Mitchell correctly identified that it would be too plain for the bigger HK and suggested the Oldsmobile cross-bar overlay that appeared on every HK with a blue and red centre spine. 
 
The Premier grille was updated to the latest egg-crate pattern seen on a range of premium GM models. Belmont, Kingswood and Monaro were differentiated by blacking out different bars in the original grille. Yet all carried the same Oldsmobile cross-bar. 

The attempt to distinguish the HK Premier’s rear with longer fake tail light extensions was less successful than the GTS Monaro as the central script jammed in between made it all look like the last minute solution that it was. (Photo from oldholden.com)

Mitchell was less happy with the tiny tail lights which only presented the red section from side-on. Too late to rectify them with the deeper split-level HT tail lights that needed to be there, he suggested they should at least be extended across the boot as genuine tail lights. 
 
According to Nankervis, the bean counters won on that issue after Holden was forced to add fake extruded strips in red to create the effect of bigger lights depending on model. The HK Belmont showed how the original lights were meant to appear on their own while the Kingswood, Premier and Monaro GTS had different lengths of red extrusions according to where they fitted in the pecking order. The strips quickly faded and exposed them as the cheap last minute fix they were.
 
Hubcaps were also an issue as Ford had been offering full wheel covers for some time and were now expected at Premier level. Holden designed and pressed its own full wheel covers for the first time for the HK Monaro. Nankervis recalls that these special Monaro wheelcovers which continued on the HG until 1971 were designed by Phil Zmood. 
 
Although Holden worked on a better fastening system, their sharp edges could be a hazard on rough Australian roads if they flew off and bowled down the road. Until the HQ’s sports wheel arrived, Holden had little choice but to go that way for the HK Monaro GTS. 
 
The problem was not the wheel rim flexing when it hit a bump and squeezing the wheel cover out as popularly thought, according to Nankervis. Holden engineers found that the weight of a full wheel cover would cause the clips on the impact side of the wheel to compress as the wheel reached the bottom of the pothole. This removed the tension from the top clips and the wheel cover would simply unhook itself in that split second. Although Monaro owners might have put up with this for appearance sake, Holden was not prepared to impose this shortfall on its more conservative rural buyers.

What looks like just another innocuous hub cap and trim ring combination was anything but. By 1968, Holden was under pressure to fit full wheel covers to its premium models except they had a bad habit of springing-off on atrocious local roads then spinning out of control like unattached rotary saw blades. Holden’s solution for three series of Premiers and Broughams was this Mercedes-Benz inspired cap and trim combination attached by the centre hub cap lugs while looking like (almost) a one-piece full wheel cover. (Photo from galleryoldholden.com)

As a result, Nankervis recalls having to develop something special for the HK Premier and Brougham. At the time, he was restoring a Mercedes-Benz 220S “roundie” and noted how its hubcaps and surrounding wheel trims were designed to look one-piece. The HK Premier and Brougham were therefore given a Mercedes-style hubcap and wheel trim combination that looked like it was a one-piece full wheel cover except it was held in place by the centre hub cap lugs and didn’t fall off. Nankervis concedes that they probably didn’t fool too many people but they at least looked better than the usual accessory wheel trims.
 
Along with the Premier’s quad headlights, the different HK grille and tail light treatments  marked an unprecedented level of differentiation for an Australian model range.

The HK panel van came as a Belmont only and its extra height and wheelbase made it quite useful as a police divvy van like this one. Note correct Belmont grille with no black-outs. Side strip and mirror are later additions.

The HK Wagons and Commercials
 
Peter Nankervis recalls that the initial plan was to run the HK sedan’s deep recess across the base of the wagon tailgate and use the same wraparound tail lights. After a number of proposals, it was decided that this approach wouldn’t work. 
 
Nankervis was cleared to design the first Holden wagon and light commercial range with its own set of vertical tail lights. Again, he looked to a current Oldsmobile wagon as a starting point. To maintain continuity with other HK models, a slight crease line survived at the base of the tail gate.
 
Because the trend towards a sports ute with optional V8 and other luxuries was just emerging, Nankervis completed a design proposal for a proper coupe utility with an extra side window behind the door. It was rejected (the HK Monaro was already costing a bomb) and replaced by the usual flat side pillar and rear screen although a Kingswood version of the ute with a range of engine and cabin options was offered for the first time. 
 
The wagon arguably looked the most balanced out of all the HK range as its deeper rear panels and extra glass area compared to rivals made it look less like a hearse. Although the HK commercials looked less sporty than the XT Falcon, their load areas were deep and wide. 
 
The HK’s extended front section also seemed a better match for the deeper wagon rear section than the sedan. The squared-off wagon rear end matched the squared-off front far better than the sedan’s pointier rear. Given that the rear section of the HK wagon and the commercials were the only HK mainstream models (apart from the Monaro) completed after the second wheelbase stretch, Nankervis had the advantage of knowing what he was dealing with.

Early proposals for the HK Coupe by a visiting US team had a strong Pontiac flavour at the front and an Opel-style roofline at the rear. Although this version established the Monaro’s direction and some details, a second US team inspired by the Oldsmobile Toronado basically started again using the production HK range as a starting point.

The Monaro
 
This was a separate design exercise commenced under a visiting US exchange program, with three US staff headed by Eddie Taylor. Nankervis recalls that the need for a coupe inside Holden was gathering momentum by HK as many believed that Australians would soon follow the US in wanting a more personal model as they became more affluent. The XM-XP Falcon Hardtop had prepared local buyers for something sportier. 
 
Eddie Taylor’s team developed a standalone coupe that looked similar to a small Pontiac with a vertical headlight treatment minus the lower headlights. Its fastback roofline sat above the body like an Opel Rekord coupe from that era (or a Rambler Marlin).
 
The arrival of John Schinella and Ted and Marjorie Schroeder from the US then revolutionized the thinking around the Monaro. Redefined as a full four seater on the HK’s extended wheelbase, the HK Monaro had the benefit of an extra seven months thinking and development. Again, the Oldsmobile Toronado was the inspiration for the Monaro with its fastback roofline flowing seamlessly into the rear quarters. 

The transformation of the HK into the first Monaro was inspired with its exotic Oldsmobile Toronado styling details. Even the extra wheelbase in the front guards was exploited for the gills. Because the new body would still seat five and carry their luggage, Holden could offer a Monaro as an alternative to a Kingswood as well as the GTS version covering off all owner groups and both genders.

Because it was developed after the HK’s second wheelbase increase, the Monaro rear section looked like it belonged to the extended front. The square rear door line of the HK sedans allowed a far greater level of differentiation than was achieved with the HQ Monaro. The HK’s longer wheelbase allowed the Monaro roofline to maintain headroom for rear passengers and normal bootspace before swooping into the HK sedan’s rear. The clever styling allowed buyers of all ages to enjoy the Monaro without having to sacrifice too much practicality. 

The 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado was setting the agenda inside Holden as early as 1965 and provided many styling cues to lift the HK including the wheelarches plus the grille and badge positioning of this 1967 facelift. The Monaro’s seamless rear pillar treatment and extended tail light panel were a direct lift. Significantly the HK also shared its long bonnet, sloping tail look which worked better for the Monaro than the sedans. (Photo from cardomain.com)

The Monaro GTS was also the only HK model with a boot which had a tail that looked like it belonged to the front. After the HK’s deep recess at the rear was filled with black paint and a full width tail light strip, it all made sense and had the visual weight to match the extended front. Or it did until the centre strip faded and lost its red finish. 

What happens when a car company gets so big that its vertical management structures don’t consult? The tacho ends up on the floor! The lack of horizontal collaboration between various Holden departments would almost send Holden broke before it was fixed even if the GTS tacho was returned to the dash for the HT facelift. Note the intricate stitch pattern that was a world away from anything seen on the HR.

This level of detailing was exquisite for Australia in 1968 with Schinella contributing the assymetrical body striping. Marjorie Schroeder’s influence was not only seen in the new textures and stitch patterns in the Monaro, she was also responsible for new cloth options in other HK models that were another first for the HK series. 
 
Last but not least was the expectation that the 250bhp GTS 327 would be too big a jump from the HR’s most powerful 145bhp 186S six in one series not to generate a public outcry. This never happened for several reasons. 
 
The HK Monaro, with its vastly improved handling balance, extra safety features and bigger size was never mentioned in the same breath as any HR model. Because of the race track antics of a certain Norman Beechey in various Chevrolets powered by the same 327, Australians had no reason to question this engine in a car of this size.
 
It is also worth noting that on the arrival of the GTS 327 any further links with the Camaro as a hero model were redundant. 

Another last minute fix forced onto the HK series by Ford was the Brougham, Holden’s answer to the Fairlane without that car’s 5 inch boost in wheelbase. Instead, Holden fitted a dummy panel behind the Premier’s rear screen and moved its short boot lid rearwards. This in turn dictated an extension of the sloping rear side panels which looked sillier the longer they became and generated the impression that the Brougham rear was bending under the extra weight. Far better say some insiders if Holden had created a special Premier edition (similar to the VE Valiant VIP and later Fairmont Ghia) with different tail lights as the HK Premier’s four headlight front, rear cabin room and boot space almost matched the Fairlane already. The Brougham also killed HQ Statesman sales as it took some time to convince HQ buyers that Holden had not pulled the same stunt again.

Conclusion
 
Although the list could go on and on covering further HK advances (14 inch wheels, bigger but still inadequate brakes, new cabin hardware, wraparound front parking lights etc), its biggest legacy was the new handling balance. In all 1968 road tests and comparisons, the HK set a new benchmark for its sharp steering, forgiving but superior handling and ease of driving.
 
Because the HK was completed under Holden’s suspension engineer Hugh Videon before the arrival of a certain American chassis engineer, it was the best handling Holden up until 1968 and would not be bettered until the HZ RTS program.
 
Hugh Videon’s team already had the knowledge by the HK series to develop a proper radial tuned suspension range with standard front disc brakes and the geometry to match radial tyres. The HK was Holden’s first platform with the inherent balance that could allow this to be exploited fully. The team responsible for developing the GTS 327 for Bathurst soon highlighted this new potential in the HK range even if the front disc brakes were quickly exposed as too small.
 
This all had to be abandoned on the arrival of the American engineer who insisted on changing Holden’s entire handling philosophy and isolating the suspension and steering from the driver. Holden engineers have often joked over the years that he believed that a car that wouldn’t go around corners and scared drivers into slowing down was a safe car. It can now be revealed this was not a joke.
 
Not long after he arrived, he set up a demonstration where he presented a Holden which instead of turning into a corner, lurched straight ahead in a series of fits and starts before it came to a stop of its own accord. He presented this as a serious safety advance. Better tyres and brakes were not so critical in this equation and the subsequent cost savings would partly explain why this new approach was adopted. 
 
Several experienced Holden engineers left soon after while others learnt to hold their tongues for five years until this approach was exposed by a visiting US team who were alarmed to discover that the LH Torana SL/R 5000 conformed exactly to this philosophy. 

If there was a plus, the HK Premier was a far better car for its time to mark the 2 millionth Holden than the EJ Premier was for the first million even if the HT was just around the corner. The matchstick standard cross-ply tyres fitted to this landmark HK Premier confirmed that Holden still had a long way to go on what were rapidly becoming life and death issues on these much bigger and more powerful Holdens.   

In this context, it is not unreasonable to ask whether the HK Holden was the last Holden for almost a decade that may have kept Aussie drivers out of trouble, given the road conditions of the time with so many single lane major roads and trees and poles close to the roadside. Because the culture that followed wasn’t eliminated until the arrival of the Radial Tuned Suspension program almost 10 years later, the HK remains something of a landmark. 
 
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