40 HR Holden 186S

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

We’ve cho­sen five Aus­tralian-built cars of the last five decades that blended into ev­ery­day traf­fic but went like the clap­pers. Our 1960s choice was, in re­al­ity, the first wolf in sheep’s cloth­ing avail­able in Aus­tralia. Theme song: Du­ran Du­ran’s ‘Hun­gry Like The Wolf’.

‘Not be­fore time’ is a com­mon enough say­ing. And so it was the case when GM-H fi­nally got around to mak­ing the op­tion of a four-on­the-floor gearshift avail­able in the Holden. From early May 1967 pro­duc­tion, two additional op­tions were in­cluded in the HR se­ries line-up – a new mo­tor called the 186S (re­plac­ing the pre­vi­ous 186 X2) and an all-syn­chro­mesh 4-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion fea­tur­ing a floor-mounted shifter.

Per­haps un­know­ingly, Aus­tralia’s largest car com­pany had cre­ated a real rocket in terms of se­ri­ous per­for­mance avail­able to the ev­ery­day driver – male and fe­male. Of greater in­ter­est is the no­tion that this car was in re­al­ity the first wolf in sheep’s cloth­ing avail­able in Aus­tralia. If you be­lieve the press re­lease of June 18, the fo­cus of the new 186S ver­sion of the 3049cc en­gine was in smoother run­ning and an au­to­matic choke, while the tar­get cus­tomer for the new trans­mis­sion was the owner who towed a boat trailer or car­a­van. Come on! That was only a small part of the story.

The one out­ward clue to what lurked within this plain-Jane Holden sedan was a small en­gine em­blem in the form of a cross. Was this a case of RIP for any­one who came across one of these cars in a traf­fic light derby? Ever since Hold­ens had been avail­able with an op­tional (and big­ger and more pow­er­ful) en­gine, a dis­tinc­tive badge gave the game away.

There were no ex­ter­nal clues to the trans­mis­sion fit­ted. Nor was there any real in­di­ca­tion when the en­gine was started.

For many years mo­tor­ing en­thu­si­asts had been pres­sur­ing GM-H to in­clude such a trans­mis­sion. Rightly so, they felt the car would be im­proved with a 4-speed. The EH 179 man­ual had shown the po­ten­tial of a rel­a­tively pow­er­ful en­gine in terms of over­all per­for­mance, but the car was al­ways limited in terms of ap­peal to the en­thu­si­ast who pre­ferred a four-on-the-floor. The fol­low­ing HD model of 1965 had the op­tion of an all-new 179 X2 en­gine fea­tur­ing twin car­bu­re­tors and other de­tail en­hance­ments in­clud­ing a very sporty ex­haust note, how­ever some­thing was still lack­ing

This car was in re­al­ity the first wolf in sheep’s cloth­ing avail­able in Aus­tralia

in terms of mak­ing the Holden a true ‘driver’s car’.

Even from within the or­gan­i­sa­tion it­self, pleas were made to in­clude such a trans­mis­sion in the spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Rally ace Bob Wat­son, an En­gi­neer­ing Depart­ment em­ployee, pushed for the avail­abil­ity so the com­pany’s rally cars were more com­pet­i­tive against the Fords. Be­ing a driver, Wat­son knew first-hand what was needed.

Whether it was a case of play­ing catch-up or merely teas­ing with a glimpse of what was com­ing in the 1968 HK se­ries, the in­clu­sion of a 4-speed man­ual on all pas­sen­ger mod­els in the HR range was well re­ceived. So well re­ceived, in fact, that the ini­tial build run (be­lieved to be 500600) was all but gone in­stantly the an­nounce­ment was made. Many in­ter­ested buy­ers had to wait for sub­se­quent pro­duc­tion in or­der to get be­hind the wheel of a 4-speed Holden.

Mo­tor­ing writ­ers were ex­cited with claims the HR 186S 4-speed was the “best Holden yet”.

The Sun’s Peter Liv­ing­stone tested such a car and recorded a top speed of just above 100mph and the very rapid ac­cel­er­a­tion fig­ures (for any 1967 car) of 0-60mph in 9.9 sec­onds and 0-70mph in 13.6. The stand­ing quar­ter-mile time was 17.1 sec­onds. This in a Holden!?

“Smoother per­for­mance and a gear­box that’s a de­light to use add re­fresh­ing va­ri­ety to the Holden sta­ble,” Liv­ing­stone en­thused.

The com­bi­na­tion of the 145 horse­power (108kW) 186S en­gine and the four-on-the-floor trans­mis­sion was avail­able in all HR Hold­ens ex­cept com­mer­cials. The 186S could be spec­i­fied in a ute or van, but not the trans­mis­sion.

Deemed a lit­tle too frag­ile for se­ri­ous heavy duty commercial work, the in­her­ent ‘weak­ness’ in the Holden ap­pli­ca­tion was known. Al­though a Ger­man Opel di­vi­sion de­sign, the trans­mis­sion was orig­i­nally de­vel­oped for four-cylin­der ap­pli­ca­tions. Putting it be­hind the 186S was per­haps stretch­ing things a lit­tle too far, as some own­ers would learn in time.

Also avail­able were power disc brakes and a limited slip dif­fer­en­tial that would en­sure all the power got to the ground ef­fec­tively.

This was a com­mon build con­fig­u­ra­tion and the best pack­age, as far as per­for­mance went, in ei­ther the Spe­cial or Pre­mier sedans. Codes were as­signed to be at­tached to the base ve­hi­cle des­ig­na­tion to make the task of or­der­ing ve­hi­cles sim­pler than in­di­vid­u­ally spec­i­fy­ing each com­po­nent from the Or­der­ing Pro­ce­dure.

The ‘magic’ code for the 186S en­gine, 4-speed man­ual, 3.55 LSD axle, and power disc brakes was 1746. When added to ei­ther HR225 (Spe­cial sedan) or HR235 (Pre­mier sedan), the de­sired ve­hi­cle was pro­duced. Easy. Many other build con­fig­u­ra­tions were on of­fer, in­clud­ing the al­ter­na­tive 3.36:1 rear axle, but 1746 is the one we will fo­cus on here as most of the GM-H road test cars were equipped with this ‘go pack­age’. Disc brakes en­sured it stopped as well as it went. The over­all gear­ing en­sured swift ac­cel­er­a­tion, ef­fort­less over­tak­ing, a high cruis­ing speed and rea­son­able fuel econ­omy.

The Au­gust 1967 is­sue of Mod­ern Mo­tor out­lined the 1746 pack­age’s per­for­mance fig­ures. And an ap­pro­pri­ate com­par­i­son, as this same is­sue also had a full XR Fal­con GT test – the only other ‘big three’ car with a 4-speed at the time.

The Fal­con GT was an out-and-out wolf, no ques­tion. Mod­ern Mo­tor noted, “We have no way of fore­cast­ing just how well it will go in com­pe­ti­tion – specif­i­cally the Gal­la­her 500 for which it was de­signed – but as a road car it is great.”

The all-im­por­tant fig­ures ob­tained for the XRGT were: 0-60mph in 9.4 sec­onds and 0-70mph in 13.1. Top speed was 110mph with the stand­ing quar­ter-mile in 16.0 sec­onds. Fast for 1967, but one could have ex­pected more from a V8 with a man­u­fac­turer’s claimed out­put of 225 horse­power.

The same is­sue in­cluded a test of the HR Spe­cial sedan with the all-im­por­tant 1746 code.

“Best Holden yet” was the bold claim with the added tag line: “Long-awaited four-on-the­floor op­tion, plus sin­gle carb re­place­ment for X2 en­gine, make the 186S a real siz­zler”.

It was a rather ‘spe­cial’ Spe­cial sedan, with men­tion made of the noise level.

“The ex­haust ar­range­ments of the 186S dif­fer from the X2. Twin head­ers of some­what dif­fer­ent de­sign are re­tained, but the crisp muf­fler of the X2

has been re­placed by one whose note will not of­fend any­one.”

Mod­ern Mo­tor cov­ered 0-60mph in 11.3 sec­onds and 0-70 in 15.2. Top speed (one way) was 98mph with the stand­ing quar­ter­mile cov­ered in 17.5 sec­onds, just 1.5 sec­onds be­hind the XR GT, which sported 80 horse­power more. “They make the Holden in this guise a very rapid mo­tor car,” the story ex­plained.

“Sure it doesn’t have the tow­er­ing per­for­mance of the Fal­con GT, but it’s cer­tainly no slouch…” Be­low: Holden’s fac­tory rally driv­ers, in­clud­ing Bob Wat­son, used the 186S 4-speed to good ef­fect. (Non rally) cars change hands to­day for around $40,000.


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