The Best Aussie Muscle Cars Ever Produced - Muscle Car

The Best Aussie Muscle Cars Ever Produced

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Written by Elise

2nd November 2020

The Best Aussie Muscle Cars Ever Produced
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The Best Aussie Muscle Cars Ever Produced

By Chris Williams

Having recently arrived in the UK from New Zealand, I have been taken aback at the popularity of muscle cars here. The classic muscle car scene is healthy in seemingly every county; those who do not own any American muscle still drool over them; one can even buy the new Mustang with a medium-rare, T-bone V8 no less. 

I shouldn’t be surprised. Muscle cars have an irresistible charm that belches from their exhausts and drips off their bodywork. They stir the soul and make us smile. Of course, at Muscle Car UK I am preaching to the choir. But while American muscle populates the scene here, those that hail from the land down under of beer, barbeques, and beaches are noticeably absent. 

Granted, also noticeably absent these days is the Australian car industry, but the fact that Holden and Ford Australia have both gone belly-up is a testament to the fact that both threw caution to the wind in a small market to produce some absolute rippers. 

What I wish to do here is canter through a few of the top cars in the Australian muscle car industry that fuelled the thong-throwing Holden vs Ford rivalry. And it isn’t just the old classics either: twenty first century Aussie muscle provided some of the best bang for your buck you could find anywhere—even if they were a bit uncouth. 

1970s Ford Falcon Coupe (XA, XB, XC series)

The Mad Max-mobile and three times Bathurst 1000 winner. Petrolheads are familiar with the two-door Falcon snorting its way across a dystopian Australian landscape and tearing up Mount Panorama. Crucially, however, the muscle car Ford Falcon Coupe makes the top ranks of Australian muscle because it is one of the best-looking muscle cars ever made. A point that has only become more obvious as time marched on.

Launched in 1972, this was Ford Australia’s first opportunity to style their own Falcon after the American one disappeared in 1969. What they came up with was a perfect take on the two-door muscle car shape: a three-acre bonnet that was even too big for the largest 351ci V8; an equally enormous but graceful sloping rear end; and wide, hulking shoulders. It wasn’t outrageous like the Plymouth Superbird but all the proportions were bang on point.

Did the Falcon Coupe drive as well as it looked? No. It was still a seventies muscle car, so dynamically it had the same capabilities as a hippopotamus: not bad in a straight line but diminishing in the bends. A big block 351ci with a sluggish 3-speed automatic would get to 62mph in around eight seconds but even when it was a new race car, reviewers gave the seventies Falcon a hard time on the body roll and understeer. 

Opening the massive doors, sliding down into the armchairs, and feeling the lazy off-beat block vibrating the whole car, you immediately get a sense this is a machine for the laid back, and the outback. 

All told there were around twenty thousand Falcon Coupes made but these days they are frightfully rare; their fans think only of preserving the top models. Any decent examples left sell for at least AUD$100,000. For a very long time, the Falcon Coupe has remained at the top of my dream car wishlist. 

Uncouth? Absolutely. Wonderful? Completely. 

1972 Chrysler Valiant Charger E49 R/T

The Valiant name is only familiar to Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, which is why the Valiant Charger is such an unknown gem elsewhere. 

A Falcon Coupe lookalike it may be, but this was a completely different recipe. The early seventies E49 proved for the first time in the Australasian market that a six cylinder could match the V8s for straight line pace. Such witchcraft was conjured from a 265ci Hemi that Chrysler went to surprising lengths to tune, but the net result was over 300bhp and 441Nm of torque – power figures unheard of from a period six cylinder. 0-60mph was around 6 seconds – a mere half a second off a V12 Ferrari Daytona

But the magic didn’t stop at the end of the straight. Unlike its V8 competitors, the E49 was blessed with accurate steering, short wheelbase, and bugger all body roll. Not to mention the weight saving at the nose to help agility. Heralding from a time when showroom cars were effectively the same as those that raced on the track, the E49 was one of the machines that epitomised the phrase “win on Sunday, sell on Monday”, even though the E49 did not actually ever win at Bathurst. 

The Chrysler Valiant managed third place in the 1972 race at Mount Panorama, but despite that it was clear how much more nimble the Charger was than the Falcons. Across the ditch in New Zealand, the Charger did see gold in the 500-mile saloon endurance race at Pukekohe, where it was unstoppable throughout the 1970s.

1974 Holden Sandman

I know what you are thinking, but this van/ute mutant was not aimed at tradespeople. The Holden Sandman, along with its Ford and Valiant counterparts, was designed with “fun n sun” in mind, as the above photograph portrays. As a two-seater sports car with lots of storage space, think of these unique panel vans as GT cars for people who have no interest in black tie events. 

The social snobs did indeed turn their noses up at the Sandman; but equally, the free-spirited and happy antipodeans gained exclusive access to a set of machines that were world leaders in being fun. 

For a seventies muscle car, the internals were fairly predictable: coil springs up front, leaf springs at the rear; six cylinder and V8 engines ranging from 173ci to 308ci; squidgy seats; and a radio for blasting Cold Chisel. 

So while these panel vans were not specifically aimed at being work vehicles, some people like my grandfather used them as such. He used a V8 Ford Falcon panel van as his weapon of choice for his rural newspaper deliveries. His van was also fitted with the GS Rally Sport pack. Combine that with rear wheel drive, loose-surface country roads, and an enthusiastic right foot, my grandfather had the best job in the world as far as I’m concerned.  

2008 Ford G6E Turbo

This Ford looks like a taxi; a nondescript saloon for unimaginative people. Under the bonnet was a turbo-charged 4 litre straight six, coupled to a six-speed ZF automatic but the power figures were somewhat underwhelming at 362bhp. 

However, on closer inspection, one notices the extremely subtle boot spoiler, nineteen-inch wheels, and a couple of small red ‘turbo’ badges. The G6E Turbo’s power figure may have been a bit meek, but this car’s secret to success was in the torque: 450Nm at 1500rpm, and peak 533Nm from 2000rpm. Consequently, the big G6E Turbo could do a 0-60mph sprint similar to a period BMW M3, and for the equivalent of £30,000. 

But this car was at its best cruising rather than sprinting in the true Australasian approach to life, which is what I liked most about driving it. The interior was spacious and plastered with leather; the steering was weighty and direct; the ride favoured comfort over dynamism and thank goodness for that; and although the brakes were certainly no carbon ceramics, they were good as gold for the road and coped fine with some occasional zealousness. 

The G6E Turbo’s overtaking ability was splendid. A prod of right pedal, the revs slid into the torque band and along came this addictive thrust of linear grunt accompanied by a wonderful jet-like whine from the engine bay. Then the revs held steady while the speedo climbed ever higher without faltering.

Sadly, there are very few G6E Turbos left. There were not many in the first place because in the age of crossovers, everyone decided to buy a Hyundai SUV instead. Of those that were sold, most found their way into the hands of people who either didn’t understand the monster they had bought or modified them. The result is that most G6E Turbos have since exploded or have been wrapped around a tree. 

No-one since seems to have thought it worthy as a collector’s car. The position of non-V8 modern Aussie classic has been awarded to the G6E Turbo’s outlandish sibling, the Ford Performance F6. 

The F6 had even more power and torque which was tremendous, but with bright colours, stripes, and a lairy body kit, was about as subtle as Grace Jones. A major part of the G6E Turbo’s appeal was its undercover performance to give drivers a surprise. The G6E Turbo was a quiet flash in the pan that some of us got to savour while it lasted.        

Australian Car Industry 

Ford began building cars in Australia in 1925, and General Motors Australia formed in 1926, importing American chassis for Holden designs. In 1931, GM bought Holden outright to create General Motors Holden Ltd, or as non-board members called it: Holden. 

Following the end of the Second World War, the Australian government saw nationalistic value in its local automotive industry and initiated the first government support for Australian car makers. The local market boomed during the during the 1950s to the extent that a third of all cars on Australian roads were Holdens by 1955. 

The badge also exported to Malaysia and Thailand and assembly plants popped up in New Zealand and Indonesia. There was such a post-war boom that Volkswagen, Jaguar, Rover and even Rolls Royce began sending models to Australia. Moreover, in the fifties and sixties, Volkswagen, Renault, Peugeot, Citroen, Toyota, Nissan, and Mitsubishi all set up assembly plants in Australia.  

Despite a post-war boom however, Australia’s automotive industry has since been held up by the taxpayer, which is not unusual of course. Even though a huge portion of cars in Australia and New Zealand were locally made, they were still small numbers. 

Uneconomic numbers, really: Ford Australia’s best sales year was 1984 at 155,000 cars; Holden’s was in 2004 at 165,000. Not surprising given the current combined population of New Zealand and Australia is only 30 million. 

But the end of Australia’s car industry began in 1984 when the industry minister decided to remove import tariffs, which opened the floodgates for cheaper, often better-equipped, imported cars. Unfavourable trade deals also made exports impossible. Other nations protect their auto industries, whereas Australia trashed theirs. 

As a consequence, in 2017 the last Holden car factory closed down while Ford Australia had ceased production the previous year. Earlier in 2020, GM dropped the Holden badge completely and the Chrysler Valiant name disappeared a long time ago in 1980. What remains now is Holden’s former performance division, HSV, now making right-hand drive conversions for the Chevrolet Camaro and Silverado; Ford Australia has a large research and development centre. Tuners such as Tickford and Walkinshaw still do business down under, tuning Camaros, Mustangs, and Ford Rangers. 

The demise of Australian auto industry is not all that surprising. But what is surprising is the multitude and range of affordable performance cars that were churned out. In the few years that separate the extinction of Australia’s blue collar heroes and today, nothing has managed to fill the market gap, with the possible exception of the Kia Stinger. The sad reality is simply that fast saloons and crazy utes aren’t what anyone wants anymore.  

Author: Chris Williams

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