Australia’s Most Iconic Vehicle the 1963 EH Holden

holden

The EH Holden hit the market in 1963, taking Holden into unchartered and exciting territory. Buyers were drawn to the EH’s modern new look. Moving on from the Holden EJ, the EH Holden had clean lines, and sales quickly soared, hitting a quarter of a million by the time production stopped in 1965.

Although the EH Holden was discontinued, in many ways, it heralded a new start for Holden. With the EH, they launched a new engine family to the market. One that would become synonymous with the brand for two decades.

The new ‘red’ engine replaced the ‘grey’ six-cylinder which had been under the hoods of Holdens since 1948. The manufacture knew the time had come to provide more performance edge if it were to hold its own again the Falcon and Valiant.

What made this new six-cylinder motor stand out? Along with being more powerful, it was also smoother. The EH Holden kept some features from the ‘family’. Some of the panels were kept unchanged, for example. However, the rooflines were crisper, and the rear was changed considerably. These and other details made a vast difference.

The EH’s impact hasn’t been forgotten, and it holds its own today as one of the all-time favourite Holdens. It is particularly popular with collectors and Holden enthusiasts.

EH Holden model

Consumers had a choice between three models, each of which was available as a sedan or wagon. They were Standard, Special, and Luxury Premier, similar to those introduced with the EJ.

Features:

  • The base engine (2.4-litre) was available in low or high compression versions. The 2.9-litre was standard on the Premier and available as an option on the Standard and Special.
  • It featured new designs for pistons and cylinder heads.
  • It had drum brakes.
  • The front suspension had a kingpin
  • It had a generator (with an optional alternator).

With seven main bearings, the oil pump was external. The valve lifters were hydraulic, and it had an oil filter.

Power:

The EJ had offered Holden customers 75 (56 kW) horsepower. The new ‘red’ delivered real change. The low compression 149 came in at a reasonable 95 horsepower (71 kW), with the 179 offerings serious punch at  115 (86 kW). What was behind this power? Let’s look at some of the details:

The 179

  • The introductory Hydra-Matic auto trans was upgraded at a later stage when the gearbox was designed to handle the bigger engine’s torque. It was then made available with a three-speed column-shift manual trans.

The 149

  • This version was available with the three-speed manual or optional auto. The manual had synchromesh, but only on second and third gears. The first gear was non-synchro.

The EH Holden S4

Another triumph of the EH was that it brought Holden’s first sports model to market. The remarkable Holden S4 was designed to be a highly competitive contender to its rivals.

Designed specifically to take on the competition in the sports market, Holden designed the S4 in time for the 1963 Bathurst, NSW. As the company’s first sports model, it was an exciting shift for Holden into new territory. Only 120 S4s were manufactured by Holden, making them a rare commodity and sought after by Holden enthusiasts today.

Powered by a standard 179 cubic inch ‘red’ six, it had other features that gave it the edge, better braking, and the ability to last longer on the race track. Some of these were:

  • stronger clutch and gearbox
  • larger tail shaft
  • tougher diff carrier
  • power brake booster
  • sintered iron brake linings
  • larger fuel tank

Shoptalk: The EH Holden

Collectors looking to get hold of these 40-year-old beasts should stick to those that don’t have serious problems, rust or worn-out mechanics. Look for rust in typical hotspots like the front and rear guards and potentially the plenum chamber, which is expensive to repair. Also, check for holes through the panel on top of the glove box.

Red flags to look out for with the ‘red’ motor are issues with the fibre camshaft drive gear. They are prone to stripping the teeth. If you find this, replace it with an aftermarket alloy gear. You may discover that three-speed manual or auto gearboxes have been replaced with four-speed manual ‘boxes or Trimatic autos.

The rear axles are known to be exceptionally soft and can break, but you’ll find replacement parts reasonably easily. Note that drum brakes need regular maintenance. Fitting disc brakes will improve braking performance and solve this issue.

So what should you be budgeting for if you’re on the lookout for an EH Holden? Prices range from $2,400 to $4,620. If you’re a beginner enthusiast, you’ll be happy to hear there is a ready supply of affordable parts for the EH. The powerful, smooth and reliable engine can be tuned for more power or replaced with a Holden six, and with other modern upgrades, it holds its own as an option for everyday driving.

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