Despite the EJ Holden
being below par in the performance stakes, Holden still enjoyed around a 40 percent market share. But their top flagship models, the Premier sedan and wagon did not put forward a compelling case in the value for money stakes. Things didn’t improve all that much on the EH, except, that is, for sheer performance. With the big 179 cu. in. (just under three litres) engine and automatic transmission as standard equipment, plus a weight penalty of nearly 100 lb. each over the equivalent Special models, both Premiers were considerably faster than any permutation of the 149 cu. in. engine in lighter bodies.
A hundred brake horses and the smaller engine were, for the time, very exciting: when you got behind the 115 b.h.p. job the difference was obvious. The Premier sedan had a top speed of 96 miles per hour, and the wagon was a little slower at 91.8 m.p.h. Zero to 50 m.p.h. would come up in 9.9 sec. and 10.2 sec. respectively, 0-80 in 27.3 sec. / 32.2 sec., with fuel consumption to the order of 19.1 m.p.g. Those figures were mighty impressive in 1963, and put it into the same league as the Valiants, who had long enjoyed the title of Australia’s true performance family car. The Chrysler and the Holden were very close performance wise, and Ford had yet to catch them.
Outstanding things about the 179 red engine
were its smoothness, quietness and accessibility. The seven-bearing crankshaft gave it one of the toughest bottom ends in the business. It was not grossly oversquare: it could hang on at low revs and was a perfect match for the General’s Hydramatic transmission. There was less noise from the engine compartment than with the previous grey engine
. The Premiers would really only get noisy when entering the eighties - a cruising speed well within their capabilities - when wind noise and body drum could build up uncomfortably. There was something lacking in body and suspension
insulation – but you had to be breaking any Australian speed limit to notice.
As with all Holdens from this era, accessibility was brilliant. Everything was easy to get at - even the oil pump and its full-flow (cleaned all the engine oil all the time) came out on four bolts and would literally drop into the hand. The electrics were located high up, the plugs, fitted with waterproof covers, offered better starting in wet weather and more reliability in flood conditions. The fuel pump was easy to hand, too. Perhaps the only complaint was the position of the dipstick, located well to the rear so that you needed to lean over a guard rather than approach from the front.
Use MS Oils Only
Owners were soon to discover the most important thing to note under the bonnet was a label on the rocker cover which said "Use MS oils only." MS oils (an SAE standard, not a proprietary term) were highly detergent oils. It was absolutely essential to use them so that the hydraulic tappet gear stayed at top efficiency. Unlike the grey engine
, on the red
it was important that the oil remain absolutely clean at all times. The hydraulic tappet arrangement was perhaps the one questionable feature of the new engines. From the engineering point of view lots of carmakers had tried them and abandoned them. Even the mighty Rolls-Royce in their spectacularly unsuccessful pre-war V12. On the other hand they did work well in the then current Chevrolets and Pontiacs.
The big advantage was that, broadly speaking, the valve gear never had to be adjusted. A column of fluid oil worked the valve train instead of a complete link-up of mechanical parts. As the mechanical parts worked by the oil wore down, so the oil automatically readjusted them by taking up the slack, so to speak. When a mechanical train wears the faces of the rocker arms (o.h.v. engines) and the valve stems become out of truth by scooping into one another. So a feeler gauge, a flat strip of metal, cannot account for the clearance when pushed between the two surfaces, because they are no longer flat like the gauge. The remedy was to strip the gear and grind it true again. The problem many saw with the switch to MS Oils was not so much that the engine needed them, but the availability in remote parts of Australia, where inevitably the EH Holden would find itself.
On the Road
of the EH Premier, so far as suspension
and weight distribution were concerned, were first class. The suspension
did remain unchanged from the EJ Premier, but the new engine was about 15 lb. heavier and its weight slightly farther forward. This gave a small, comforting amount of understeer at normal cornering forces and a slow, safe, tail-wipe sideways if you shoved the wagon around. The tail would let go sooner in an unloaded condition: loaded the onset was delayed, but when it did come you needed to work the wheel a bit. With the extra power this meant that you could really enjoy punting the Premier around twisty roads. With the intermediate hold in you could get quite a bit of steering way with the accelerator.
The back springs on the wagon remained too soft for big loads – a complaint it seems that most voiced since Holden introduced their very first Station Sedan. It could have been easily fixed if the General had fitted an overload spring to give a stiffer rate as weight depressed the back beyond a certain point. According to the brochures from the era, GMH claimed the steering was lowered to "3.28 turns lock-to-lock." Not many noted a difference over the EJ so we will have to take their word for it.
The anchors had a very small reserve of stopping power. While the clutch and driveline in the EH
was up to the extra power of the red engine
, regrettably the brakes
were not. The increased performance and the additional temptation to make regular use of it could overtax the paltry 95 sq. in. of lining area. But around town, where you would not be carrying too much speed, the brakes
were ideal. The pedal pressure was light and there was never a doubt that the brakes
would do their job well. But spirited driving along twisting roads would quickly bring them undone.
The lift from those extra power of the red engine
could bring you into corners 15 or 20 m.p.h. faster than the EJ
ever could. That extra speed had to be disposed of through the brakes, which failed to dissipate the heat quickly enough and road testers and owners alike told of having rock-hard pedal and no stopping power outside the gearbox. The days of drums with so little friction area trying to stop an 85 m.p.h. car weighing 25cwt. were thankfully drawing to a close – but on the EH
that was what you got – and many considered it the worst point of an otherwise brilliant car. If you needed proof, you only needed to look at the "competition" Holdens developed for the Armstrong 500, which used sintered iron linings and power units.
The Hydramatic transmission was as smooth as most, except when peaking at 62 in intermediate when the pump emptying the fluid couplings took over a second to do its job and allow top to come in, and a valve setting that allowed top to come in at 15 m.p.h. on a light throttle. Safety wise the EH Premier was fitted with a zone-toughened section windscreen, in front of the driver, so that you could still see should the glass have shattered. The windscreen wipers were now two-speed electric and the blades were lengthened to sweep even more of the screen.
On the Inside
The Premiers only came with the bigger, 179 cu. in. engine and automatic transmission, and it developed the same 115 b.h.p. as it did when specified with cheaper models. The automatic transmission had the same ratios, the back axle and the gear-change points were the same. According to the price guides from 1963, a Premier would cost you about £200 more than for the comparable Special models, yet the performance was slightly down because of an extra weight penalty of about 100 lb. So it was up to the interior to justify the extra coin. Thankfully there was plenty of extra kit - heater-demister, carpets, leather-faced seats, separate at the front and with folding armrests at the back, manifold-type windscreen washers with control incorporated in the wiper switch, iridescent finish, handbrake warning light, plastic-lined tray in the wagon. The instrumentation was the same for both Special and Premier – and that meant a speedo
and fuel gauge.
Things Not So Good
While comfortable, the front seats on the Premier were so thick they restricted seat adjustment and cramped what was otherwise a good seating position. There were no baffles in the fuel tank, so it was noisy when half full. The heater fan was prone to become noisy after a few years of use. The handbrake warning light switch was a crude and not built with longevity in mind. The handbrake itself was not all that good – not that other cars from the era could boast of having effective ones. There was still no outside mirror as standard – and on the Premier at least, even though it was back in 1963 – should have had this fitted as essential safety equipment. The clips that held the back seat squab when folded are very flimsy. But that was about it. These were really only minor niggles that we were able to find from many road tests, reader reviews and speaking with owners, past and present. In every way, however, the EH and particularly the EH Premier was a great car. No wonder then that they are so highly prized by collectors today.