General Motors’ Holden brand is understandably excited by today’s announcement about the 2014 Chevrolet SS: after all, the Australian division is chiefly responsible for both designing and producing the vehicle that will soon be sold to North American consumers.
But is this news really all that new? Hardly. Five years after the first Holden FX rolled off the line in 1948, GM’s Australian outpost began cranking out large batches of cars to ship and sell in other corners of the globe. Africa? Malaysia? Thailand? Korea? Japan? The Middle East? Brazil? Holdens have been sold in each of those markets — albeit occasionally with a different brand’s name and logo affixed to the exterior.
Since this tradition remains a key part of the brand — and, for what it’s worth, key to providing V-8-powered, rear-wheel-drive muscle machines to GM’s North American portfolio – we rounded up some of the most interesting badge engineered Holdens to be sold outside of Australia. Enjoy.
Lest you think Chevy’s rash of new global small cars (i.e. Spark, Sonic, and Cruze) were the first to have ties to GM Korea/ Daewoo, allow us to introduce you to the Chevrolet 1700. Launched in 1972, the 1700 was essentially a Holden LJ Torana that was completely manufactured in South Korea by Shinjin Motors (which, in 1983, would change its name to Daewoo). The car’s clean styling was left unfettered, seeing as modifications were limited to using a bespoke 1.7-liter I-4 and slapping a bow-tie on the grille.
The venture wasn’t exactly successful. Between 1972 and 1976, it is estimated that GM Korea sold roughly 8000 cars. In 1976, the car was facelifted, renamed the Camina, and given a 1.4-liter I-4 – but even this wasn’t any more popular. Only 1000 Caiminas were sold before it was dropped from the lineup in 1977 in favor of a badge-engineered version of the Isuzu Gemini, which rode on GM’s global T-car platform.
Every relationship is a two-way street – and while GM’s partnership with Japan’s Isuzu Motors Limited allowed Holden to sell Isuzu commercial vehicles as Bedfords in Australia, it also allowed Isuzu to – for whatever reason – create a flagship luxury sedan by rebadging the HQ Statesman DeVille.
The large, hulking DeVilles were sent in completely-knocked down (CKD) kit form to Japan, where they were assembled for domestic consumption. Isuzu’s models boasted unique wing mirrors, emblems, and interior fabrics (notably a horrid paisley seat trim), but otherwise mirrored an Australian-spec DeVille. Power continued to be provided by a 5.0-liter V-8.
While this large car/ large engine formula worked well for GM luxury barges in America and Australia, it wasn’t as successful in Japan. Finite information is near impossible to come by, but several sources suggest no more than 250 cars were sold over the course of three years.
Isuzu wasn’t the only Japanese company to try selling a large Holden sedan in its native country, but Mazda’s approach was certainly unique. Like Isuzu, Mazda sought to add a large sedan to its portfolio to serve as a flagship model, but apparently felt its flagship needed to boast the company’s flagship technology: a Wankel rotary engine.
Thus, the Roadpacer AP was born. Mazda bought HJ/HX Premiers from Holden (allegedly in CKD form), but skipped buying an engine. Instead, the company’s 13B two-rotor Wankel – the same engine used in the RX-4 and Rotary Pickup. The engine was smaller, smoother, and lighter than anything Holden had to offer, but with only 135 hp and 135 lb-ft on tap at 6000 and 4000 rpm, respectively, it lacked the power needed to move the hefty Holden four-door at an adequate pace. And while it met new emissions standards in Japan, it also drank fuel like an eight-cylinder.
To further instill a premium feel, Mazda packed the Roadpacer with all sorts of techno-baubles, including a Dictaphone, refrigerator, auto-reverse tape deck (hey, it was somewhat advanced for ’75), and automatic central locking. With a price tag that works out to roughly $77,000 in today’s market, it wasn’t surprising only 800 were sold. Today, it’s a collectible in the eyes of Mazda and Holden enthusiasts alike, and several have apparently been imported back to Australia, as evidenced here.
In North America, Buick continues to work towards shedding the spectre of frumpy, traditional luxury sedans cast by its large rear-wheel-drive barges built decades ago – but in China, it appears such a vehicle is exactly what Buick shoppers are looking for. In 2005, the brand began importing the large WL-series Statesman sedan as the Royaum. That model was replaced in 2007 by the Park Avenue, which was a lightly revised WM Statesman (a close relative to the Caprice) sedan.
Buick wasn’t the only GM brand to sell Holden’s luxury machines in Asia during this time frame. Daewoo imported and sold the Statesman in Korea from 2005 until 2007, when it too switched to the WM Caprice, and named the resulting product the Veritas. Production ceased in late 2010 when GM phased out the Daewoo brand name in Korea.
On paper, the reborn GTO had everything to make a muscle car fan swoon. V-8 power? Check. Rear-wheel-drive? Check. Manual transmission? Check. Good handling? Check. Yet sales numbers in North America never exactly lived up to GM’s original expectations. What happened?
Blame the dowdy styling if you’d like, but we think pricing had a bigger say in the matter. Delays in tweaking the Holden Monaro for North American consumption were compounded by a strengthening Australian dollar. Product planners had originally hoped to sell the car around the $25,000 mark, but by the time it officially launched in 2004, that figure had grown to above $30,000.
Despite GM’s attempts to tweak styling and the addition of the more powerful LS2 6.0-liter V-8 in 2005, sales never took off as GM hoped. Still, had it not been for this program, there’s a good chance our market would never received the Pontiac G8, or even this new 2014 Chevrolet SS sedan. As former GM vice chairman Bob Lutz recounts in his most recent memoir, the GTO “transcended the disappointed sales numbers: it had gotten two engineering groups together and convinced many previous skeptics that maybe, just maybe, there were other parts of GM that also knew how to engineer outstanding automobiles.”
Fun fact: Holden also saw fit to export the two-door Monaro to a number of other countries, including a handful in the Middle East. There, the car was known as – of all things – the Chevrolet SS. What a coincidence.