Holden EH

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Holden EH


Holden EH

1963 - 1965
6 cyl.
95-120 bhp
3 spd. man 3 spd. hydramatic
Top Speed:
82 mph
Number Built:
3 star
Holden EH
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3


1963 was a watershed for Holden, releasing what many people today still consider to be their greatest achievement, the eighth model "EH". The new model offered an impressive combination of style, power, refinement, ruggedness and value for money. Launched in August, it entered direct competition with the recently released Ford Falcon.

An immediate success, more than 250,000 were sold in the first 18 months of its release, making it the fastest selling Australian car - ever. A far more substantial facelift of the EJ than those that had been attempted before, the "EH" featured a far more commanding look with a revised roofline and clever styling which, to most eyes, improved its looks from every angle.

And the improvements were not limited to the exterior of the car. The biggest news with the new model was in the introduction of the new "Red" motor that used an oversquare design with a seven bearing crankshaft. These were the first Holden motors to use hydraulic valve lifters, and they featured the use of an external oil pump and oil filter that made servicing a dream.

So popular was the red motor that it remained in service until 1985, during which time it had been continually improved and was now a 3.3 litre with fuel injection, 12 port head and counterbalanced crank. The vast majority of EH Holdens built were "Specials", however a "Standard" model was available for the fleet and taxi markets.

Battle of the Wagons

By 1963 the Station Wagon had become an integral part of the Big Three's model lineup. The Ford wagon had remained popular, but by the time the EH was released Holden also faced competition from Chrysler - the Safari directly competing on price and power. In fact, Chrysler would have had a station-wagon version of the Valiant on the market years earlier if the sedan had not proved such an embarrassing success - the Australian plant's production facilities being incapable of expanding to produce another model variant.

It was the sedans success that inspired Chrysler management to invest in building a much larger plant, and it was only when they had the extra production capacity that they were able to introduce the Safari wagon. However, selling the Safari was not going to be as easy as it would have been a year earler when there was no EH Holden with 115 b.h.p, under the bonnet.

In an era when "extra features" usually meant a little extra chrome work or a fan assisted heater, the main differences between the two were in the body design - and on that count the EH and Safari wagons were almost identical. Side by side, the Valiant was both a little longer and lower, but when you looked behind the EH appeared to have been designed as a wagon, while the Valiant had a more "tacked on" look, afterthought appearance - somethng that had ruined the aesthetics of the EK. Valiant fans will tell you that, to their eyes, the back of the EH wagon dissolves into a maze of thick pillars, ridges, chrome work, handles, buttons and protruding tail lamps.

Chrysler tackled the tailgate arrangement of the Safari in much the same manner as Ford did with the Zephyr wagon and the then current Falcon. Instead of the Holden-style two-piece opening, the Chrysler's window had to be wound down into the gate before it could be undone with the lift-up handle inside. History would reveal that this was the better set-up, as Holden would switch to this arrangement on subsequent models. The main advantage was that the window could be wound to a position which provided good ventilation, and it was completely child-proof.

Since it was virtually impossible to open the Holden's top panel single-handed, the Safari also offered lightness of operation as a bonus. Road testers of the time noted that, in the closed position, the Chrysler's rear end seemed more rigid than the Holden's - and freedom of rattles in any station wagon was a big thing back then. There was also a restriction in the Holden's loading space: Oddly, its widest point was at the waistband, where it ran a shade over four feet, dropping to 3ft. 5in. at floor level. With the top hatch open (that's the way most people placed parcels, shopping and small cases in) the entrance measured 3ft. 9in. at the top, a shade over four feet at the bottom, with an overall depth of 1ft. 4in.

Waistband width of the Safari rear opening was less than the Holden's at 3ft. 8in. At floor level, however, there was 3ft. 9in. available. Top to bottom height was 2ft. 4tin. on the Safari, compared with the EH's 2ft. 4in. With the tailgate's window wound down, you got an opening one inch shallower than the Holden's. Because the tailgate contained the heavy winding mechanism for the window and the securing catches, Chrysler's engineers wisely spring-loaded the travel-limiting arms so that very little pressure was needed to lift the gate up.

On the score of internal load area, the Safari was miles ahead of the Holden. From the rear-seat squab to the tail gate, the Safari measured a staggering 4ft. 3in., whereas the Holden went to only 3ft. 8in. (we have taken both measurements at floor level). When the rear seats were folded down the difference was even more spectacular - Safari, 7ft.; Holden, 5ft. 6in. The Valiant did not do as well in width as it did in length. Between the Holden's wheel arches you got 3ft. 8in. of space, but the Valiant gave only half an inch more. The same applied to the above-arch width - 4ft. 5in. for the Holden, 4ft. 5½in. for the Valiant. Floor to headlining measurements, just behind the rear seat squabs, favoured the Holden at 2ft. 10in. against the Safari's 2ft. 8½in.

The method of folding the back seats to get the maximum load-in space varied substantially between the two wagons. In the Holden the back cushion had to be swung forward (it was hinged from its leading edge) before the squab could be tipped flat. The Safari was a little simpler than this, but did not provide a padded area on the rear deck. Unlike the Holden, the cushion was fixed so that when the squab folded down and clipped on to the rear of the front seat squab. The floor was not completely flat since the back squab was at a slight angle.

Naturally, both wagons had four doors and bench seats back and front (at the time, if you wanted individual seats, you had to opt for the 'Premier' or the 'Regal', which also had carpets, heaters, screen washers etc), armrests on all doors, but none in the seat centres. Rubber matting was used back and front in both, although a couple of Valiant owners have shown us that one problem with their cars is that, when the seats are folded away to achieve maximum loading area, there is an expanse of painted metal which lends itself to endless scratching if the wagon did a lot of work. And whereas the Holden's deck was plastic covered with metal rails on top, the Valiant's protection was merely a loose rubber mat. The Holden's wheel arches were plastic covered, the Valiant's painted - and to our mind that means the Holden's interior was better able to stand up better to hard work than the Valiant's.

Neither the Holden nor the Valiant had heater or screen washers as standard. In fact, they were both quite stark apart from cigarette lighters and two-speed electric wipers. The Valiant had a couple of extra touches over the Holden, such as reversing lights (although these were only the blinkers wired up to illuminate when reverse was selected), two retaining positions for all doors, vanity mirror on the passenger's sun visor, and aerodynamic slats on the wiper arms, designed to keep them in firm contact with the screen at high speed. Compared with fussy lines of Holden's rear, the Valiant Safari was clean and simple. Both wagons had crash-padding on the dashboard, but the Holden had a large, lockable glovebox instead of the spring-loaded affair on the Safari, which was neither large nor lockable.

On The Inside

For years General Motors have steadfastly resisted giving the Holden any more instruments than a speedo, fuel gauge and a group of idiot lights. Chrysler were more generous with the Valiant which had a speedo, fuel, engine temperature and ammeter dials, all neatly calibrated with white letters on black faces. The driving position in both cars was about the same, where moderately long-arm techniques could be employed, but the slightly lower gearing of the Valiant (four turns lock to lock for 37¼ ft, circle compared with the EH's 3:8 turns for a 36ft. lock) made for a shade more wheel winding.

To be honest, we have only had limited time behind the wheel in either an EH or Safari in recent years, but our memory of the experience is confirmed with road reviews conducted at the time, the Valiant steering being lighter than the Holden's, but there was not much to pick between them. The automatic version of the Valiant was a little more special as it used a "press-button" automatic, the switch gear being located on the right hand side of the dash, while the Holden had a more conventional arm-type selector on the steering column. We would challenge anyone to pick the smoothest box - for their age those we have driven have been remarkably good - but for the sake of the argument we will give the nod to the Valiant as it's extra torque should, at least in theory, help the changes of ratio slightly.

Under The Hood

Perhaps the main difference between the EH and the then new competitor Safari lay under the hood. The engines were substantially different in design. The Holden rated a capacity of 179 cu. in. (2934cc) with a bore and stroke of 90.5mm, by 76.2mm, seven main crankshaft bearings, a compression ratio of 8:8:1 and hydraulic tappets. Being a fairly shallow engine (because of the short stroke) it sat upright under the bonnet. On the other hand the Valiant achieved its 225 cu. in, (3688cc) from a long stroke of 104·8mm, and a bore of 86.4mm. Its compression ratio of 8.2:1 was not too demanding on octanes, the tappets were mechanical and the crankshaft ran in five main bearings but with an overall area greater than the Holden's. The Valiant's engine had a tilt of about 30 degrees to keep bonnet height down.

Naturally enough the Valiant's 215Ib./ft. of torque at 2400 r.p.m. got it off the mark faster than the Holden's 1751b./ft. (at 1600 r.p.m.) could manage, and the Valiant held its edge quite comfortably all through the range, widening it higher up as Valiant's lower frontal area and extra cubic inches come into their own. Wheelspin was always easy to induce on tight corners in either wagon if heavy-footed teohniques were used. On dirt or in the wet the tail could be hung-out with surprising ease.

On The Highway

When the EH or Safari settled down on the open road they could be cruised up around the 90 m.p.h. mark for hours on end without signs of mechanical hustle under the bonnet. For vehicles capable of 100 m.p.h. before a favorable wind or down a slight gradient, the brakes could have been better - and to our mind this is the first thing we notice when jumping out of a modern car into a classic (although there are some notable exceptions). On the Valiant they worked pretty well, resisting fade adequately and stopping rapidly. With a load aboard they would lose efficiency through heat build-up if used hard and fast. But they were definitely a great deal better than the Holden's.

No doubt we will receive some emails letting us know how wrong we are - but the facts speak for themselves - the Valiant Safari had 153 sq. in. of lining area and weighed 25cwt., but the Holden made do on 95 sq. in. for 24cwt. The stopping just did not match the performance potential of the 179 EH wagon. A little hard use - even a gentle mountainside descent - would cook the brakes pretty quickly. Both the Safari and the Holden had slightly beefed-up back springs to cater for heavier than normal loads.

Deciding which was the better on the highway is very subjective. We wanted to confirm our own opinions with others, but the differing opinions did not lead to any firm conclusion. It does not matter too much today, but when these were shiny new and in the showroom we wonder how the salesmen would have been able to convince the buyer to choose one over the other. The Safari was a little smoother, the EH perhaps a little "choppy" over corrugations, but both did a fair job and will surprise anyone who takes a ride in a car that is, shall we say, entering the "mature age". The lower overall height of the Valiant and its torsion bar front suspension reduced body roll to a minimum. The Holden could be pushed through corners about as fast, but in a rather spectacular fashion, with obvious body lean and considerable tyre noise.

Rough road ability was also about equal. Both wagons absorbed shocks and jolts with a minimum of fuss, although again the Safari's torsion bars did the job a little more silently than the EH's. Ground clearance was good on both, too - 7.3in. under the Holden and 7.2in. under the Safari. By using a 14¼-gallon fuel tank, Chrysler gave the Valiant a cruising range of about 280 miles, but the limitation imposed by the Holden's 9½-gallon tank meant a fuel stop every 190 to 200 miles.

Perhaps then the argument for buying one over the other came down to price. We have retail prices at March 1964 with the Holden 179 automatic Special wagon at £1336, while the automatic Safari was £1445. The cheaper Safari, with three-speed stick shift, but otherwise the same as the auto, sold for £1320. But there was another reason to go for the EH. At the time, Chrysler were incapable of building enough Valiants to keep up with orders, and with a waiting list of several months at best, the 179 EH was so close on performance and ability that only the die-hard Valiant aficionados would have been prepared to wait.

The EH in Motorsport

The EH 179M came about thanks to Victorian Holden dealers Bill Patterson and Bib Stillwell, who reckoned that the Armstrong 500 would make a good competition debut for the EH. They obviously had friends at GMH's Fishermen's Bend plant, who understood that a competition version of the EH was necessary – and it would be preferable if it were to include such additions as discs, a floor change four-speed box, bucket seats, larger fuel tank, etc. The 179 cu. in. engine had modifications including improved breathing and exhaust. But Holden were keen to stress that their decision to build the necessary number of cars to make them eligible for racing should not have been misconstrued as an official entry into motor sport. At the time of the EH, GMH were duty bound, as were the entire GM global conglomerate, to abide by the agreement among American manufacturers (Ford excepted) not to support motor racing.

At the time GM were far and away the world's biggest automotive corporation, and many considered that, had the organisation have backed motorsport, they would have steamrollered all opposition, and the sport would have suffered. So, while GMH were not officially into motorsport, they were following their successful pattern in the States, where you could buy a Chev or a Pontiac in various stages of tune and with various extras. The EH 179M, judged historically, can be seen as nothing more than an attempt to gauge the extent of the growing market of pseudo-racers. But such was the demand for the 179M that the General was soon to release the (officially designated) EH 225 M-S.4 with its 179 cu. in. engine.

The EH 225 M-S.4

A limited edition sports version, the "S4", was made although only in the order of 120 were actually produced. It was identical to the EH 225 M except for a rear axle ratio of 3.55:1, a PBR servo brake unit, small clutch changes which included a different lining, a slightly modified steering column gearshift mechanism, a .25in. increase in the tail shaft diameter, and a 12 gallon fuel tank which was achieved by enlarging the lower half. The S4 featured twin Solex carburettors, upgraded brakes (using competition sintered metal brake liners), cylinder head modifications, semi-blueprinted engine parts, a toughened clutch and tailsharft and a larger fuel tank.

There were five prototypes in all, the project code-named the S22, and the intention was to make a model run of 100 so that the competition version could compete in the 1964 Armstrong 500. However GMH 's top executives at the last moment decided against releasing the competition car. The new engine was estimated to develop 135 bhp, giving the car a top speed or around 110 mph. Even less known than the S4 was the S5, of which only 10 prototypes were made. Officially it was done to test production facilities, but actually a plan to have GM-H dealers enter the racing S5 in the Armstrong was shelved. These cars later formed the basis of the 179 manual Holden.

The S4 had a central gear lever operating the normal three-speed gearbox. Experiments had proven that the 149 cylinder head on the 179 block gave the best results, and added to this was a specially-fabricated induction manifold carrying twin carburettors. The compression ratio was 9 to 1, and camshaft overlap was improved. Other changes included a modified carburettor, float chamber, larger clutch housing, which also made it necessary to revise the exhaust pipe attachment bracket, etc. Since the race rules permitted competition brake linings, the car was fitted with sintered iron linings on the front and Mintex on the rear.

A fire-extinguisher, a lap belt and a laminated screen were required for competition, and were fitted to the S4 EH. Armstrong shocks were naturally a must for the race, and the Holden used competition Armstrongs all round with adjustable on the rear. Sintered iron linings had already gained a good reputation, thanks to Norm Beechey's racing Impala, and many considered them as effective as discs. The S4 was probably 1964's worst kept secret, but Holden continued to deny the existence of the car, while at the same time it was discussing with Victorian Holden dealers the possibility of building such a competition unit. Holden were approached by race team Scuderia Veloce who wanted it, but they switched to an entry of Vauxhall Vivas.

Had the S4 made an appearace at Bathurst in 1964 there is little doubt that it would have been the outright winner, as it could out-perform the Cortina GT in both acceleration and top speed. Top speed of a normal Cortina GT was 93-95 mph, but in 1963 the Firth/Jane car was reaching 106 mph in Bathurst's Conrod straight. The new Holden competition version was expected to get very close to 120 mph in the race. The company's top executives undoubtedly decided against entering the S4 in the Armstrong so that the "no competition" image could be maintained. Instead it was left to the less powerful 179 version, which was beaten by the GT Cortina. Holden fans were disappointed, but at least they could see that Holden's interest in racing was developing.

EH Holden Quick Specifications:

  • ENGINE: 6-cylinder, o.h.v, bore 90.5mm: stroke 76.2mm., capacity 2934c.c.; compression ratio 8.8:1; maximum b.h.p. 115 at 4000 f.p.m.; maximum torque 775Ib./ft. at 7600; single Stromberg downdraught carburettor, mechanical fuel pump; 12v. ignition.
  • TRANSMISSION: Hydramatic three speed automatic; ratios, first 3.57:1 to 2.93:7; second 7.57:7; drive 1:1; rear axle 3:55:1.
  • SUSPENSION: Front independent, by coil springs and wishbones; semi-elliptics at rear; telescopic hydraulic shock -absorbers all round.
  • STEERING: Recirculating-ball; 3¼ turns lock-to-lock, 36ft. turning circle.
  • WHEELS: Pressed-steel discs, with 6.40 by 13in. tyres.
  • BRAKES: Hydraulic, 2 I.s. front; 95 sq. in. lining area.
  • CONSTRUCTION: Unitary.
  • DIMENSIONS: Wheelbase 8ft. 9in.; track (front and rear) 4ft. 6½in., length 15ft., width 5ft. 8in., height 4ft. 10½in.; ground clearance 7.3in.
  • KERB WEIGHT: 24cwt. FUEL TANK: 9½ gallons.
  • PERFORMANCE: Maximum speed: 93.1 m.p.h. Flying Quarter Mile: 89.9 m.p.h, Standing Quarter Mile: 20.9s. Maximum in Indirect Gears: 1st 35 m.p.h.; 2nd 63 m.p.h. Acceleration (from rest through gears using drive range and full kick-down): 0-30, 4.5s.; 0-40, 6.9s.; 0-50, 10.9s.; 0-60, 16.1s.; 0-70, 22.2s.; 0-80, 34.8s. Rolling Acceleration (using drive range and full kick-down): 20- 40, 6.4s.; 30-50, 6.6s.; 40-60, 7.0s.; 50-70, 7.9s.; 60-80, 14.8s.; 70-90, 22.3s. Braking: 33ft. 6in. to stop from 30 m.p.h. in neutral.
  • FUEL CONSUMPTION: 19 m.p.g. oyer 180 miles. Speedo: 2 m.p.h, fast at 30; 4 m,p.h. fast af 60mph.
EH Holden Standard Sedan and Wagon
EH Holden Special Wagon

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Also see:

Holden EH Specifications
Holden EH Brochure
Holden Red Motor
Holden History
Early Holden Advertising
Holden Car Commercials
Nasco Holden Accessories Commercials
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