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Australian Cars: Automobiles of the Outback

Today, we’re going down under and taking a look at some of the awesome Australian cars that American’s never got… plus a couple that we technically did.

ADM: The Australian Domestic Market

We’ve covered Japanese, Korean, and plenty of our localized American cars here on the blog, but we’ve yet to cover one of my favorite car markets, Australia. We’ve made our connections to Australian automotive culture when it comes to the term “ute” in a couple of different articles, but we haven’t actually looked at the Australian car market itself. So, we’re diving into some of the obscure Australian cars that Aussies love to drive, but didn’t make it to the American market. We’ll also take a look at some Australian cars that we did get in America, but were disguised with some minor fascia changes and a badge swap.

Kangaroos, Red Sand, and Utes

Vehicle driving in the Australian Outback
Vehicle driving in the Australian Outback

Let’s start with the unique car culture in Australia itself. While there are large cities like Sydney, Brisbane, and Perth that feature your typical city drivers like the Honda CR-V and Toyota Corolla hatchback, a majority of Australians prefer the choice of a light truck or off-road capable SUV. The Aussies like to vacation with caravans (camper trailers) so they need a vehicle that can haul. They also need a vehicle that has a higher ride height and can tackle the elements when needed, especially when taking on the Australian Outback.

Car and caravan
Car and caravan

Over 70 percent of Australia is known as the Outback and it’s basically nothing but red sand, brush, and some sad looking trees. The driving conditions of the Outback are made up of open highways, tons of dirt roads, and sometimes no road at all. Cities are few and far between, so larger gas tanks are needed as well as room to carry necessities like water and food. There’s also plenty of wildlife around, especially the kangaroo, which basically acts as Australia’s version of the deer here in America. That’s why nearly every vehicle traveling outside of the city features a bullbar, or a “roo bar” as Aussies call it.

Australians weren’t always fond of just trucks and SUVs though. They had a local automotive brand that brought about some of the coolest Australian cars ever made.

Holden: THE Australian Car Brand

Holden was one of the largest and longest running car brands in Australia. The company started as a saddle maker back in 1856, moved to early automobile repairs and re-body work in the early 1900s, and eventually released their first car, the Holden FX 48-215 sedan, in 1953 with the help of General Motors. From there, Holden continued to innovate with the help of GM and held true to their idea of cars made by Australians, for Australians. Here’s some of the great examples of Australian cars to come out of Holden.

Holden FX Utility

Holden FX Utility - shannons.com.au
Holden FX Utility - shannons.com.au

The Holden FX wasn’t just the first Holden, it was also one of the first popularized utes in Australia. In 1951, Holden unveiled the 50-2106, otherwise known as the FX Utility. It carried the same front end of the sedan model, but threw on a bed in the rear. From this model on, any vehicle in Australia is considered a ute if it features a utility bed, even trucks.

Americans don’t consider trucks a ute, but the American automotive market did take note of the FX Utility’s success. This Australian car led to the creation of the Ford Ranchero and Chevrolet El Camino models here in the states.

Holden Monaro

Holden Monaro - holden.com.au
Holden Monaro - holden.com.au

Following the introduction of the Ford Mustang, Australia had its own pony car push in 1968 with the creation of the Holden HK Monaro. The Monaro featured a lot of similar elements to GM’s Camaro and Nova models of the same time, but Holden made it their own despite carrying similarities.

The Holden HK Monaro was originally available with some Holden sourced 161 CID and 186 CID straight-6 engines and a 307 CID Chevrolet V8. An exclusive GTS 327 trim was planned to be produced with a 327 CID Chevrolet V8, but engineers feared it was too large for the engine bay of the Monaro. They eventually made it work, but Holden engineers decided to create their first in-house V8 engine, now a staple in Holden cars.

2004 Holden Monaro - netcarshow.com
2004 Holden Monaro - netcarshow.com

The Monaro was brought back in 2001 and GM made sure to spread the design over to the states. The last generation Pontiac GTO was actually a third generation Holden Monaro in Pontiac guise, so you can thank the Australians for one of Pontiac’s last great vehicles.

Holden Sandman

Holden Sandman - holden.com.au
Holden Sandman - holden.com.au

In 1974, Holden introduced the Sandman. This was a version of the ute and panel van Holden Kingswood models that gained some of the Monaro’s sporty options. These utes and panel vans gained sporty interiors with bucket seats, some cool rally wheels, and the powerful V8 engine options the Monaro had. Sandman models also gained some cool exterior decals with the hippy looking sandman logo on the tailgate. The Sandman was a youth culture icon that’s still fondly remembered by Aussies today.

Holden Commodore

Holden Commodore - holden.com.au
Holden Commodore - holden.com.au

The Holden Commodore was one of the longest running models to come out of the Australian car company. This family car started in 1978 and only recently ended the namesake in 2020 when the Holden company finally ended (I’m sad about it too). The Holden commodore proved to be the iconic Australian car as it could be found everywhere in the country and had lasted for generations.

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It was so fondly remembered in fact, the final Commodore ever produced in Australia recently sold for $750,000 dollars at auction. That’s $720,001 over its starting MSRP in 2017, just to put in perspective how ludicrous the love for this Australian car is.

Holden Commodore - holden.com.au
Holden Commodore - holden.com.au

Americans technically received a couple versions of the Holden Commodore. It first lent itself to the Pontiac GTO since the third gen Monaro was a coupe version of the Commodore. Then it showed up as its 4-door self as the Pontiac G8. Following the collapse of Pontiac, the Commodore was introduced as the Chevrolet SS. Finally, the last generation Holden Commodore from 2018 to 2020 was built from the sixth generation Buick Regal, so not technically Australian built, but you could import some Holden exterior parts to change up the Regal’s looks.

HSV (Holden Special Vehicles)

Holden HSV Clubsport - hsv.com.au
Holden HSV Clubsport - hsv.com.au

Created in 1987 as a joint venture with race car driver Tom Walkinshaw, HSV is where Holden let its engineers loose to have fun with designing their products. Want Commodore with more power and sports car performance? You get the HSV ClubSport. Want that same car with a tuned 6.2L supercharged LSA V8 engine under the hood, better handling, and some added aero? There’s the HSV GTS. Want all of that in a ute form?! Then the HSV Maloo will fit the bill.

HSV didn’t just keep messing with the Commodore to make it cooler though. The team also created right hand drive versions of the Chevrolet Silverado, Camaro, and an awesome Colorado version called the SportsCat.

Some Other Australian Cars

While Holden was the Australian car brand, there were some models that just never made it out of Australia from other well-known manufacturers. Ford, Chrysler, and Toyota built factories in Australia and they produced some models that were specific to the region due to either market testing or for pandering to Australia’s unique demographic.

Ford Falcon

Ford Falcon - ford.com.au
Ford Falcon - ford.com.au

While the Ford Falcon we knew ended in 1970, Australian’s loved the Falcon so much that Ford Australia continued to update and redesign the car up until 2016! The Ford Falcon experienced seven generations in Australia, was available in multiple body styles including a ute, and had some awesome performance Cobra models made. Ford also built a more luxurious version of the Falcon called the Fairmont that predated and lasted longer than the one you may know in the states.

Chrysler Valiant Charger

Chrysler Valiant Charger - CarTorque on YouTube.com
Chrysler Valiant Charger - CarTorque on YouTube.com

Chrysler had some influence in the Australian automotive market with their popular Chrysler Valiant, but they didn’t have any muscle cars like they did with Dodge in America. For 1971, the company took the Valiant sedan, shortened the wheel base, made it a coupe, widened the fenders, and packed in different versions of the Australian Hemi straight-6 engine and the Chrysler LA V8. This new Australian muscle car they molded was dubbed the Chrysler Valiant Charger. The Valiant Charger was a hit in the early 70’s, but subsequent years saw the model fall off in popularity similar to the American car scene following the Oil Crisis.

Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series Ute

Toyota Land Cruiser 70 - toyota.com
Toyota Land Cruiser 70 - toyota.com

Aussies love two things when it comes to their cars, off-road capability and the ability to have a truck bed installed, even if the vehicle was originally intended to have one. Toyota Australia knows this audience well and they chopped the rear off of the Toyota Land Cruiser and added a utility bed. These makeshift trucks are sweet and they’ve been known to take on some of the harshest environments. The Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series Ute is what I consider the epitome of Australian cars. It’s the physical embodiment of the Aussie accent.

Same Rules Still Apply

Like JDM, KDM, or any international domestic market, Americans can’t legally get their hands on these vehicles until they’ve been around for over 25 years. That’s the length of time before we can import vehicles not originally tested and classified for the America car market. There is a small glimmer of hope though if you were looking to get your hands on products like the HSV Maloo. While recent Holden cars can’t come over yet, you can retrofit their parts on their American GM counterparts. There are even some shops out here in the states dedicated to changing your Pontiac GTO, Pontiac G8, or Chevrolet SS into the Australian ute of your dreams. Haven’t come across anything for the Land Cruiser yet, but let me know if you do!

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Jesse McGraw

Jesse McGraw brings his life-long car obsession into his writing. A fun childhood that involved growing up around race tracks, working on a rusty ‘99 Dodge Dakota held together by zip ties, and collecting Hot Wheels developed into a strong appreciation for automotive history. If there is an old, obscure, or rare car, he wants to know about it. With a bachelor's degree in Web Development & Design from Dakota State University, Jesse can talk shop about car or computer specs, focusing on classic cars, imports, and car culture.

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