TG’s guide to concepts: the Holden Hurricane | Top Gear
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TG’s guide to concepts: the Holden Hurricane

Holden’s groundbreaking mid-engined concept was out of true blue

  • What’s this, then? Another mid-engined Italian concept?

    Nope – this one’s from a land down under.

    While the supercar revolution swept Europe in the 1970s, it’s pretty easy to imagine Australians deciding to give the whole thing a miss. After all, those terry towelling hats weren’t going to wear themselves to a test match at the Gabba.

    But, even in the land of wombats and sunburn, dinky-di Aussies were exploring the low, the svelte and the sleek. In this case, it was those plucky blokes at Holden.

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  • Hol…den?

    Holden, for those of you who don’t know, started off as a saddlery in 1856. But, as the new-fangled horseless carriages came into vogue, they decided to make a go of the automotive game in 1908.

    After a couple of decades building cars, Holden became a subsidiary of General Motors in 1931. So, it’s a very similar story to Vauxhall, just with a lot more people saying ‘mate’ halfway through proceedings.

  • Vauxhall never did anything this lairy…

    Neither did Holden, up until 1969. Try to imagine the depth of the shock wave when a bunch of blokes named Kev, Trev and Bruce unveiled Holden’s first ever concept car: a mid-engined weapon that could stand toe to toe with Bertone and Pininfarina.

    Okay, we’re not going to argue that it’s as pretty as the peak of Italian car design, but it certainly is a bit of a looker, especially by Holden’s standards. It’s the automotive equivalent of going to a Wetherspoons and getting a Michelin Star-worthy meal.

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  • So, is it quick?

    Well, certainly by 1960s standards. A 4.2-litre Holden V8 was set ahead of the rear axle, with a four-speed transaxle sending nearly 260bhp to the rear wheels. This made for a rather brisk bit of kit. 

    And, given the Hurricane’s slippery shape and the fact that it was just 99 centimetres tall – less than the original Ford GT40 – it wasn’t going to run into a lot of air in its quest for sizeable top speeds.

  • So, who was the designer? And did he have a difficult-to-pronounce last name?

    Er, possibly. The thing is that no one at Holden can definitively remember who deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the Hurricane. So, it could be Nankervis, Schemansky, Schroeder or Daharsh. So, difficult enough to pronounce, we guess, but no real answers there. 

    But whoever’s responsible, they certainly did a fine job – especially when it came to the details.

  • The details, eh? Enlighten me

    You’ll notice that the Hurricane has a single-piece roof/door arrangement. But the brains behind it go even further. The canopy is hydraulically actuated, so it’s actually easy to use, and, when the canopy is opened, the seats rise up and the steering wheel tucks away to make ingress and egress easier. The pedals can also move 15cm back or forth to get the driving position just right. 

    In all, you get the sense that the Hurricane was seriously thought through. 

    Other touches seem fairly humdrum now, but were the cutting edge of forward thinking in the 1960s – inertia-reel seatbelt, climate control, a rear-parking camera and a rudimentary sat nav. Like we said, very standard fare by today’s standards, but when you consider that the rear camera was hooked up to a black-and-white CRT screen (because that was the best tech available in Australia at the time), it’s perhaps more impressive. 

    Even better is the ‘satnav’, which, because satellites were in their infancy (and tended to be reserved for military use, or have a man in a big suit hanging out of them), used implanted magnets in the road surface to feel its way around the road network and feed directions to the digital dashboard.

    Oh, didn’t we mention that? Yep, before the digital heyday of the 1980s, there was a little car manufacturer from the other side of the world, doing it first.

  • What else did it have?

    Things like foam-filled fuel cells and oil-cooled, four-wheel disc brakes tend to fade into the background compared to the almost prophetic inclusions of satnav and rear-view cameras – gizmos that wouldn’t be technology du jour until nearly five decades later. It was a seriously advanced bit of kit.

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  • So, what’s the story of the Hurricane?

    Well, it never made it past the concept stage – costs of production and all that – and instead was chucked in the back of a shed for decades, before an eventual restoration in 2011 brought it back to showroom condition. 

    It’s a shame that a Holden that could compete on the world stage never got the chance to, and even more of a shame that Holden didn’t take the best real-world features of the 1969 concept – all-round disc brakes and climate control, for instance – and carry them over to their production models.

    It’s the age-old dilemma – engineers and designers create a piece of forward-thinking, almost prescient genius, only to have their plans summarily dismissed by the cold, hard realities of a balance sheet.

    Then again, Holden’s inability to move with the times was one of the reasons why it’s now been relegated to little more than importing and rebadging other companies’ products. The depth of engineering and design has always been there, just strangled under low budgets and bad management decisions – Holden Camira, anyone?

    Maybe, just maybe, if they were let off the leash to create snippets of genius like the Hurricane, Holden could have been a global phenomenon, not just the last name to fall in the protracted death of Australia’s car building industry.

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