Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
Not Just A Facelift
Many thought the HR Holden was basically a face-lift of the previous model, with GM's US stylists redesigning the somewhat unpopular HD shape to come up with one much more appealing to the Australian public. And that was to some extent true, the redesign including vertical tail-lights, a sharper nose and moving the front parking lights from under the bumper to become integral with the grille.
The track was now wider, and the bodywork
featured a new rear window, a reworked roofline and squared off headlamp surrounds. Inside, Holden developed a more luxurious trim which included wood grain for the Premier, the addition of front seat belts, a shatterproof interior mirror and windscreen washers. On top of these standard features, the NASCO range of accessories increased to include such options as power steering
, front-wheel disc brakes
and a limited-slip differential. Immediately more popular than the outgoing HD, the resultant sales surge saw many more HR's being sold than HD's.
The HR was also afforded a longer production run than the HD
, being manufactured between 1966
, and was the first to offer capacity enlargement in standard engines since the introduction of the red motor in the EH Holden
. The 179 became the 186, and the 149 was increased to 161 cubic inches. The factory performance option, the 'X2', was continued with the HR, now pushing 145 HP thanks to the increase in cubic inches.
The HR Style Changes
The HD Holden
was the least successful, least popular Holden
ever, with Holden dealers having to work very hard to move them out of the showroom. But the Holden design team were determined to make amends with the HR. As mentioned above, first on the list was to remove the controversial “pedestrian slicer" front end. Another change was to the suspension, which improved handling
considerably. And to ensure the HR’s success, Holden introduced a new range of engines giving all six new models, even more power and performance.
Styling wise the exaggerated fender projections of the HD were trimmed back on the HR, and were remarkably similar to the front fender line of the Vauxhall Victor 101. In keeping with this front-end restyling, the rear fenders were also been changed. The almost square tail-light clusters of the HD were gone, and in their place were vertical lights which, although neater, were considerably more vulnerable to damage. The grille was changed so that it incorporated combined parker/directional flashers, and carried the Holden nameplate.
Headlight surrounds were squared off to the point that it almost made the headlight lenses themselves look square - as was then the trend on some Continental cars. Other styling changes included new badges on the Specials, new chrome rubbing strip on Specials, and a satin chrome panel across the boot of Premier models. One sensible that was more than cosmetic were the new three-piece wraparound bumpers. They were cheaper to repair and provided more protection. The boot also had a lower sill which made loading easier.
Inside the HR Holden
The interior of Premier was distinguished by the addition of mock wood-grain panels to dashboard, central console and doors. The dashboard of the Specials had a new satin silver finish. Although difficult to detect, the rear window was slightly wider, improving vision to the rear. A new range of colours was introduced with the HR, together with new expanded vinyl upholstery called Sadlon. It looked something like corduroy – and it was a case of love it or hate it - a matter of taste, just the same. Two-toning of the station sedans was such that the tailgate carried the roof colour and contrasted sharply with the body colour. Other inclusions were the addition of front seat belts, a shatterproof interior mirror and windscreen washers.
HR Holden Suspension and Brakes
The most serious flaws in the HD were excessive body roll in fast corners, rear brake locking in severe stops (together with spring wind-up in the drum brake versions), and heavy steering
. The changes incorporated into the HR to overcome these failings included low profile tyres
which lowered the car overall by a half inch, a wider track - the front track was increased by one inch and rear track by .4 of an inch, and front suspension
modifications which included the substitution of ball joints for king-pins. As a result of these changes the HR Holden's handling was considerably improved. However, rear brake locking remained a problem, though not as pronounced in the optional front-disc brake version as on the all-drum brake cars.
HR Holden Engines
All the Holden engines were upgraded - in power output as well as cubic capacity. The small 149 cu. in. was enlarged to 16I cu. in. and the 179 went up to 186 cu. in. As a result of this increased capacity, compression ratio was up, too - to 9.2 to 1 on all three versions. Power output was 114 bhp at 4400 rpm on the small motor with 157ft./lb. of torque at 2000 rpm; the basic 186 motor developed 126 bhp at 4400 rpm, and 18 lft./lb. of torque at 1600 rpm. In X2 form it produced 145 bhp at 4600 rpm and 184ft./lb. of torque at 2200 rpm. Major internal change was enlarged bores. The 161 cu. in. job had a bore of 3.375in. and the 186 a bore of 3.625in. - making the Holden more oversquare than ever.
Stroke remained unchanged on both - still 3.00in. The X2 used special quality main and crank pin bearings, while the basic 186 had engine bearings intermediate between the X2's and the standard carry-over bearings of the 161. All engines incorporated a water-heated inlet manifold for speedier warm-up. Connecting rod forgings have bigger web sections for increased big-end strength. Exhaust manifolding was redesigned to improve breathing. Larger diameter pipes were used throughout, and the tailpipe was shortened. The X2 exhaust
, distinguished on the HD by a particularly "rorty" note, was redesigned for quieter running.
The HR Holden Options List
There were some new and thoroughly worthwhile options offered with the HR. The options introduced on the HD model
continued unchanged and included power steering
, power-assisted disc brakes, power-assisted tailgate (wagons), whitewall tyres
and, on the Premier, a vinyl covered roof. New to the list was a tinted windscreen and limited slip differential. The Premier was, as you would expect, the pick of the HR lineup. The larger engine was mated to GMs well proven powerglide transmission, and if your wallet was big enough you could option disc brakes
and power steering
. The individual front seats on the Premier held the body firmly and comfortably, and together with the three-point safety belts provided, located occupants securely in vigorous cornering.
Holden’s power-steering unit was similarly impressive. It lightened steering
effort considerably, without completely eliminating road feel. Even on twisty dirt sections, it was always an easy matter to tell in which direction the wheels were pointing, although the steering
was well-and-truly damped, and feed-back almost completely absent. Apart from the evidence provided by rubber hoses attached to the inlet manifold, the power-assistance gave its presence away by squealing faintly whenever the car was being manoeuvred in tight corners.
On the Road
To some the HR proved something of a disappointment in terms of get-up-and-go – the anticipation of the all new engines not producing the expected performance machines many lusted after. In 186 Premier Powerglide guise it had a top speed of around 88 miles per hour, and would do the standing quarter in 19.2sec. These figures were respectable rather than breathtaking. While the HR may not have been a street brawler, it would cruise effortlessly at 80 mph and, with the aforementioned suspension
changes, it would do it while instilling confidence in the driver. Anyone who had driven the HD at similar speeds knew the HR was way in front, being much more sure footed. It may not have had the taut ride found on some European sedans, but it did corner with more comfort and confidence than its predecessor.
The Dunlop B7 Pluses on the faster tighter corners were prone to tyre
squeal – but other than that the handling
of the HR was good with understeer predominating. On dirt roads it was an easy matter to hang the tail out, and then bring-it smartly back with an application of opposite lock. You could only make the tail break away on bitumen under provocation. The rear drums were prone to lock up solid under severe braking, but the disc/drum setup was a gem and much better suited to the size and performance of the HR. Unlike the all-drum arrangement that was prone to fade and would become unpredictable after multiple emergency stops, the discs provided reliable braking under all circumstances.
The powerglide transmission was a smooth one, and coupled nicely with the 186 motor. Believe it or not, the low cog in the powerglide would take the 186 all the way to 60 miles per hour – not to many cars can claim they are capable of exceeding the highway speed limit in 1st gear! But on tight, twisty uphill conditions the transmission would tend to hunt if not locked in to low, and the maximum speed under kick-down was 49 miles per hour, so you needed to manually pull it into the lower gear above that.
As with the HD, the X2 was optional on all models, and vehicles fitted with this motor also received a special instrument cluster with proper gauges for monitoring engine temp, oil pressure, amps and volts instead of the usual tell tale lights. The HR came standard with a three speed manual or with an optional two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission
. Also, for the first time by Holden, a floor shift 4 speed manual was available as a special order. The gearbox used was actually an Opel box, and proved unreliable and not up the power of the six cylinder Holdens, especially when fitted to the performance motors.