40 HR Holden 186S
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.