Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
It was more than a coincidence that the FE Holden had a strong family resemblance to the 1956
Opel Kapitan, made by General Motors' German factory, given that the dies for some of the body panels were shipped from Germany. But important changes of detail gave the Holden a distinctive look of its own. With its bold tail treatment and pronounced dip in the fender line at the rear door, it looked longer, lower, more American.
For the time it also looked extremely modern. At a time when the grille was arguably the most distinguishing feature of any new model, the FE had a very attractive one. The engine was the same "grey
" as used in the FJ Holden
, although the FE was fitted with a 12 volt electrical system (replacing the previous 6 volt system) - the only visible difference was that a Lucas generator and voltage regulator were used, the ignition coil was attached to the block near the distributor (instead of on the bulkhead), and the high-tension wires from distributor to plugs were kept farther away from the engine, to preserve the insulation.
Other changes in the engine compartment included a side-mounted 12-volt battery
and two master cylinders on the bulkhead - one for the brakes, one for the hydraulic clutch, the use of bigger valves
, the inlet manifold was slightly modified and compression was lifted to 6.8:1 upping the power to 53 kW instead of the usual 45 kW. A fully sealed re-circulating-ball steering-box was now used – as seen in the FE launch commercial at the bottom of the page.
The front suspension
dispensed with the tubular cross-member of the FJ
, using instead a box section structure with a tongue forward to provide a three-point attachment to the sub-chassis that carried the engine and front end. Unequal wishbones were fitted, and the telescopic shock-absorbers were carried inside the sturdy coil springs
. There was also an anti-roll bar
The rear suspension
was by semi-elliptic springs and inclined telescopic shock-absorbers, which was the same as on the FJ
, but on the FE the spring leaves were narrower, and more rubber was used in the mounting on to the axle plate. No anti-roll or stabiliser bar was used at the rear. Strangely the wheels were smaller, but at the time this was very much a design trend, the 13-inch steel wheels of the FJ
being replaced by 13 inch versions, being shod with tubeless four-ply 6.40 by 13 tyres
as standard. But on the plus side, the wheels were now wider, at 4.5 inches.
Inside the FE Holden
Inside the FE the interior was appreciably roomier - and, of course, much lighter, thanks to the curved one-piece windscreen and wraparound rear window. The finish was generally improved, and the Special model offered attractive two-tone upholstery in an unusual design. The hand controls' had nothing unusual about them. The two-spoke steering wheel was not "dished" for safety, was the trend on most U.S. cars of the time. A plain, straight gear lever
worked the three-on-the-tree gearbox, but the designers did fit the FE Holden with another small lever, mounted forward on the steering column; to operate the turn indicators - although this was only standard on the Special. The handbrake was the then familiar T-shaped pull-out type, mounted under the dash to right of the steering column.
The foot controls remained unchanged: pendant pedals worked the clutch and brakes, while the accelerator was of the slab type favoured by U.S. manufacturers. But the position of the headlight dipper switch was placed in a different position, practically at the foot of the steering column, between (but forward of) the clutch and brake pedals. The dash had the instruments grouped in a raised panel in front of the driver, a handsome chromed radio grille in the centre and a locking glovebox on the left. The top edge of the dash had a rounded metal ledge over it, painted a dull, dark colour to cut down sun glare. The instrument panel looked neat, though rather plain for such a stylish car.
The instruments were recessed well into the panel, to prevent reflections on the windscreen. The speedometer, right in front of the driver, had a concave face and was graduated to 110 m.p.h. It incorporates a mileage recorder, but no adjustable trip recorder was provided. To the left was a fuel gauge, and the right-hand "window" grouped warning lights for oil, generator and water temperature. Knobs, left to right, operated the choke, screen-wipers and lights: the ignition switch had four positions - Lock, Off, On and Start. Which meant that it also operated the starter and acted as a thief-proofing device – obviously nowhere near today’s standards but finally there was some attempt to make it a little harder for the would-be car thief.
Other features worth noting were the self-supporting bonnet and boot lid: a roomy boot, with the spare housed upright on the near side; provision for fitting a second horn; push-button door-locks with safety catches; door-operated interior lights; and projecting weather guards along the forward edge of the front-door windows. The FE Holden Specials could be distinguished by their superior upholstery, armrests on the doors, grab-straps near the rear windows, two-tone finish (optional), and liberal use of chrome-work on the body – along with a chromed ashtray in the back of the front seat and a cigarette lighter on the dash.
Standard sedans lacked most of the chrome-work, and used a Bakelite ashtray and were offered in plain colours only. The Business sedan was much the same, but had a grab-bar on the back of the front seat. GMH
recognised that buyers wanted their cars to be an individual statement about themselves, and so introduced new colour schemes and models - in fact seven distinct models were now available including, in 1957
, the introduction of a station wagon (at the time referred to as a "Station Sedan"). After the rather limited colour selection of the FJ, the FE ushered in a much wider choice of colours, including pale green, pale blue, maroon, cream, black, and two-tones such as pale green body with dark green roof and off-white body with maroon roof. Nasco options included reversing lights, windscreen washers, and a front screen demister.