Holden Rodeo

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Holden Rodeo KB

1981 - 1988
4 cyl. Petrol / Diesel
1548cc P / 1951cc D
110 kw
5 spd. MT
Top Speed:
Number Built:
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Holden Rodeo KB
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1

The Original Holden Rodeo

The original Holden Rodeo, the KB, went on sale in Australia in February 1981 and in doing so scored two 'firsts' for General Motors-Holden's Ltd. It was the first vehicle to bear the Holden name to be built outside Australia, and it was the first four wheel drive vehicle to be marketed as a Holden. Pick-up and cab/chassis bodies were available in both the two and four wheel drive versions, with the 2WD being on a 2,995mm wheelbase chassis, and the 4WD on a shorter 2,650mm frame. Power was from either a 1,584cc petrol motor or the optional 1,951cc diesel.

While the two and four wheel drive vehicles - known as the KB26 and KB41 respectively - were direct descendants of the Isuzu KB25 and KB40 released by GMH in Australia in 1980, they were far from being simple styling updates. Aside from obvious aesthetic improvements, extensive development took place in two areas where most criticisms were levelled at the earlier model. The cabin was enlarged and refined, while the rear suspension had all but lost the kidney-jarring harshness of un-laden light commercials.

Effectively only one criticism remained. The Rodeo still sat on relatively small 14 inch wheels, while competitive Toyotas and Datsuns had much greater ground clearance with 16 inch wheels. There was of course a trade-off here in that the smaller wheels did keep the overall centre of gravity down and made it more stable on the highway. The lack of ground clearance probably only concerned a small number of potential KB41 owners who ventured into very rugged terrain.

The Rodeo Recreational Pack

Externally the Rodeo had clean crisp body lines, with aerodynamics having been given special attention by Isuzu, resulting in an eight percent drag improvement over the earlier model. The bonnet hinged at the rear, offering better access to the engine bay. Doors were wider and swing open further, giving better ingress and egress. A recreational pack was offered as an extra on the KB41, consisting of rectangular headlamps, body stripes, cloth trimmed bucket seats, carpeted cab, AM radio and tinted glass.

Isuzu improved body noise and vibration aspects, and used then new technology paints to lessen corrosion and stone chips. Seven body colours are available, with two metallic tones available with the recreational pack. The rear glass in the cabin was now curved, reducing distracting glare back from oncoming cars. At the time, the new Rodeo meant that GMH could offer the largest cabin in the mini pick-up class, with a bench seat standard and buckets available with the Rodeo recreational pack.

Behind the Wheel

Behind the wheel the dash layout was crisp and uncluttered, with the glovebox area ahead the passenger kept quite shallow, giving good knees-up' room. Only basic instrumentation and controls were provided, with even the cigarette lighter deleted from the inventory of fittings. With the exception of a diesel warm-up hand throttle, all the controls fell well to hand and were light and easy to use. For off-road applications the hand throttle could prove dangerous as it could not be quickly turned off. Petrol models did not have the hand throttle. On the move the Rodeo gave two initial impressions. First and foremost, the ride was excellent even un-laden, secondly it was quiet on rubble loose surfaces. All noise seemed to come from the rear wheel arches.

A newly developed air-mix type heater and ventilation system allowed passengers to keep the windows closed on even hot days, further reducing road noise. Both the heater and ventilation functions were very efficient. It was fortunate the air system was good, because on the road at speed the external mirrors directed a very distracting blast of air straight into the occupant's faces through open windows. Comfort was good in comparison with other mini pick-ups courtesy of the two stage rear leaf springs and bias mounted rear shock absorbers. This system also helped prevent 'tail out' cornering on corrugated surfaces, and also rear wheel lock-up under braking - both bad habits of un-laden small utes.

Power assisted brakes were fitted - disc at the front, drum at the rear. The handbrake operated on the rear wheels, not the tailshaft as was the case with many four wheel drives. The Rodeo had a brake load proportioning valve which adjusted rear axle wheel cylinder pressure according to load distribution. This system worked well under most conditions, but some motoring journalists who performed emergency stop braking tests found that the front wheels tended to lock up - indicating that bias was a little too much in favour of the front. This could cause problems if a change of direction was required under hard braking, or on wet or loose surfaces.

Front suspension was independent, with double wishbones torsion bars and a stabiliser bar providing good suspension travel and wheel control. Steering was recirculating ball. A separate rigid chassis was used on both the two and four wheel drive models, with six cross-members on the long wheelbase and five on the shorter four wheel drive. A two piece rear tailshaft helped dampen vibration and harshness transmitted from the drive train to the body, and also improved ground clearance for the four wheel drive version. In all other areas the Rodeo was a very controllable vehicle. Handling was quite neutral on both sealed and loose surfaces, with a hint of roll oversteer replacing normal understeer when the vehicle is suddenly flicked in the middle of a corner. Cross-ply tyres did nothing to enhance high speed driving or road noise, however the Rodeo was a (small) truck after all, and owners undoubtedly replaced the cross-plies with radials.

Off The Road

The off-road capabilities of the 4WD Rodeo were equal to anything in its class, with the exception of ground clearance where the 14 inch wheels handicapped the vehicle in certain terrains. As with all light 4WDs, a lack of weight allowed tyres to spin on very steep and slippery tracks, even though there was sufficient power and a well spaced dual range four speed gearbox. Free wheeling hubs were standard.

Unlike it's rather old fashioned looking predecessor, the Rodeo was a very real competitor for the equivalent vehicles from Nissan and Toyota. Finish quality was excellent and the vehicle was very sturdy in areas which normally allowed hard used light commercials and four wheel drives to prematurely accumulate old age rattles squeaks and groans. Pricing was competitive too, with the long wheelbase two wheel drive cab/chassis and pick-ups having a 1981 release sticker price of $5,710 and $6,023, while the short wheel base four wheel drives were $7,325 and $7,659 respectively for the cab/chassis and pick-up. The optional diesel motor available on all models was listed at $4997.
Holden Rodeo

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