Holden HR 186S
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
Not Quite A GT Falcon – But Not As Far Behind As You May Think
From almost the moment it landed in Australia, Ford instituted an aggressive sales policy based on market diversification, multiplicity and variety of models with a distinct competition flavor. This was of course aimed at a large share of the dominant General Motors-Holden's market. Ford were able to wrest the performance mantle from Holden only after numerous initial setbacks and at the expense of financial prestige. GM sat quietly all the time, pursuing a policy of passive resistance - countering with new or different models only to shut the sales gates when Ford opened them just that bit too wide.
It was true that Ford had tried terribly hard in Australia to build the most appealing motor car for the best price. The Falcon GT
was its most dramatic bid to etch the glory from GM's hold on the glamor markets and have a race winner at the same time. And while the 186S manual did not compete with the Falcon GT, it was some $1200 cheaper and provided a sporting flavour. But before you scoff at the thought that a HR 186S could even be considered in the same sentence as the venerable Falcon GT, you may be surprised to learn how capable the former was. In terms of racetrack capability the 186S was surprisingly close to the Falcon GT
Wind the clock back to the 1960s and you can understand why Ford would have been worried by the warmed over red-motor
– given the apparent ease with which GM were able to churn out - and sell - 250 cars in a short space of time. Ford, on the other hand, had been weaving the Falcon GT
model into its XR range more than 18 months earlier. How GM pulled the four-shifter out of the air and dumped it on the market without so much as an official announcement must have taken Ford by surprise. It didn't resound around Australia like the Falcon GT
did when it was released, but Ford must have felt the impact of the new arrival.
Of course the 186S in normal “Special” trim state had none of the glamor gear of the Falcon GT. There was no tacho
, although there were some additional instruments - not beautifully jazzed-up by Stewart Warner and styled into a luxury console as on the Falcon. There were no special seats, accessories or dress-up items. Closer to basics there was no V8 engine, and the gear ratios were not sorted by an engineer with a relief map of Mount Panorama
as a starting point. But there were power-assisted disc brakes
which resisted fade (unlike the Falcon
) and there was a limited slip differential which most Falcons didn't seem to have. Unlike the Falcon with its special gearing, power boost and delightful wheel the Holden steering
was the same old awkward set-up you would have found on all Holden’s. It was not good at any speed and power assistance wasn’t able to fix it.
A General Purpose Workhorse – With Added Flexibility
There was no long loping stride to the HR 186S either – rather it was simply a general purpose workhorse that would fit into everyday life just like any other Holden
. If it had any racetrack attributes (and GM didn't deny competition wasn't somewhere in the back of its mind, however vague) they were based on the assumption that Bathurst came but once a year, or Series Production wasn't out of the question since it wasn’t difficult to sell 1000 Holden’s for homologation. And that is why the Holden
stacked up so well against the Falcon on a circuit like Oran Park. Stock ratios matched to a conventional circuit made sense. There was no 120 mph top speed, but you didn't get understeer with a capital BIG in the slow-down and turn area, either.
The HR 186S handled surprisingly well due to a big combination of factors: good power well spaced out through sensible gearing, and a limited slip differential for stability. You still had to learn to drive it - power applied through the lsd in large amounts was likely to send the car in precisely the direction the front wheels were pointing whether that the way you wanted the car to go or not.
Applying this to motoring round corners quickly could be done in two ways. For the brave but inexperienced who liked to punt a little harder on the twisty stuff, it was best to feather the throttle while correcting until the car was more or less back in shape - then poke it. But you still needed to be prepared for an additional unscheduled correction the other way, because there was enough shove, especially in the wet, to drive out of the first steer condition and into the next. The more experienced would learn to weather an oversteer attitude with lots of right foot and increased correction. In severe cases a momentary falter on the throttle would also help.
Either way a driver who chose this way out would have had to know a lot about progressive steering
correction or they would have ended up in more trouble than they started with. The Holden steering
, as was said earlier, wasn't exactly ideal for this, so practice was the secret: hurry slowly, or you may end up not hurrying at all. From a racetrack viewpoint the shift motion was also a little unsatisfactory because it was notchy at the lever and hard to swap ratios and keep the driveline running smoothly.
The reverse gate wasn't sprung nearly hard enough and coming back from third to second it was easy to go deep into the reverse selector plane and then have to feel your way gently out again. A lift-out like the Falcon GT
used would have been much better, but a stronger protection for that reverse gate would at least have been some improvement.
On the Road
On the road and pushing the HR at 9/10ths the limited slip diff would show its character: using fourth slot, full throttle and every inch of the road into and coming out of a bend, the Holden
was amazingiy fast. The car could be set up in a full understeer slide from left hand side right across the apex of the corner, finishing with the left hand wheels a fraction from the roadway edge. But getting straightened out of a lefthander wasn't so simple because of the increased understeer that developed with power application through the limited slip diff.
In the exit area of the right hander the correction would have the front wheels pointing distinctly to the right hand side of the road; the limited-slip-differential would keep the nose pointing that way alter exit so that a progressive correction was needed in the opposite direction to stop the car simply running straight off the road.
The pedal set-up was not ideal either, mainly because with power assistance the brake pedal didn't travel down far enough to allow heel-toe work. But, for those that saw the HR as a serious track proposition, this problem could be easily rectified. The HR Holden
186S came into its own on the open road, accelerating strongly, particularly in the top gears, with an appetite for consuming sweeper-style highway at the rate of a mile and a half a minute and yet putting 20 miles in the gallon with a cautious foot.
As a boulevard pose-machine the 186S didn't rate. We assume most people would have found it difficult to identify the warm Holden from the lesser models, the badgework was so unobtrusive. But if they wanted bragging rights at thd lights, they would have been well advised to not bother, unless of course they were behind the wheel of the Falcon GT
. The Holden was, of course, good on the open road, though roll movement may become unpleasant after long periods of hard going through twisting roads or mountain conditions.
While none of the HR Holden’s featured the specialised equipment of the Falcon GT
, the normal ascending range of finish options took the 186S four slotter up to the Premier range, which was as luxurious as its Fairmont (Falcon) equivalent. With bucket seats and all the other good trim this didn’t leave the Premier far behind the Falcon GT
in finish (which was basically a Fairmont anyway), although it trailed the Ford product significantly in price and to a lesser degree, performance. We're not seriously trying to compare the cars – Holden
fans had to wait for the HK V8
– but the 186S Holden HR did offer good performance for money.