White Hot Special
Much mystery surrounds Holden’s first option-package special – which played an important role beyond boosting sales – largely because survivors are thin on the ground. Finally, AMC found one...
Much mystery surrounds Holden’s first option-package special – largely because survivors are thin on the ground – which played an important role beyond boosting sales.
Holden’s White Hot Special holds a special – albeit largely unknown – place in Australian automotive manufacturing history. It was GM-H’s first limited-edition option-package special. Based on the Kingswood sedan, the WHS was released in September 1969, four months after the introduction of the HT Holden model.
Yet the White Hot Special wasn’t just about moving metal in the short-term. It was part of Holden’s longer term marketing strategy of convincing Aussies that eight-cylinder powerplants were what they really needed.
The option of a V8 engine had been introduced to Holden buyers in 1968 in the HK series, as GM-H embarked on a campaign to push the benefits of V8 motoring to the masses.
The WHS was released at the bargain price of $2718.55. No fewer than 5000 units were produced and by the start of 1970 they were all but gone. It was white in the sense that you could get one in any colour you liked so long as it was white and hot in that the car was burning up GM-H sales charts and posting record V8 sales.
The White Hot Special featured the new small 253ci V8 mated to the all-synchro three-speed column shift manual. Other equipment included: power front disc brakes, GTS wheel trims and white-wall tyres. Available only in Kashmir White and with Antique Gold or Twilight Blue vinyl interior trim, they were priced to compete with the opposition’s six-cylinder models of the time.
A television and newspaper blitz – the likes of which had not been seen in before, but common place today – ensured nobody missed out on hearing all about the product. The magazine and newspaper ads read:
“We knew we would need something right out of the box to beat last Spring’s record Holden sales. So we took Australia’s top-selling sedan, Kingswood in the top-selling colour, white. With the interiors most people ask for, blue or gold. Then we powered it with our economy 253 V8 that everyone’s talking about. Added disc brakes, sports wheel discs, and whitewall tyres. And tagged the package at $135 less than its regular and rightful price. Now you can move up to the smooth world of V8 driving for less than many people pay for a ‘six’. But you’d better move fast. We can’t keep this offer white hot for long.”
The V8 Holden back story
engines had been planned for inclusion in a Holden as far back as 1964 when the HK programme was in the initial stages of design. In keeping with the notion of the ‘all-Australian’ car, which naturally included the engine, GM-H embarked on a project to design and manufacture its own V8 engines to power the Aussie Holden. The forward thinking of the time was that eventually the bulk of cars sold in Australia would have a V8 engine under the bonnet – as was the case in the United States.
Delays saw the first production Holden V8 engine eventually fired up on October 15, 1968 – too late for inclusion in the HK series. The 253ci V8 engine would make its debut in the 1969 HT series as would the larger 308 variant, initially exclusively in the Brougham model. The 253 was the volume seller V8 engine in the range. The V8 engine plant at Fishermans Bend was officially commissioned on July 7, 1969, when William McMahon performed the ceremonial turning of the key to start an engine.
GM-H had invested to the tune of some $11 million in the new V8 plant, so in order to recoup their investment they needed to sell V8 Holdens in large numbers.
Whilst both Chrysler (at 318 cubic inches) and Ford (302 cubic inches) also offered buyers the option of a V8 engine, these were expensive imported units considerably larger than the Holden 253 V8. The Chrysler V8 came with the additional penalty of being tied to an automatic transmission.
Neither of the opposition V8s were worthy of any fuel economy claims, being largely a part of a ‘pack’ available in a limited number of configurations. The Holden 253 V8 was planned as being just one part of the car, and as a result was available on anything from the economy Belmont model to the luxury Premier. The buyer only needed to say that they wanted a V8 engine – they weren’t forced to take anything else if they didn’t want it.
Get ’em while they’re hot
Australian motorists as to the joys of V8 power in a family car began at the national release for the HT Holden at the Warwick Farm race circuit over May 25 and 26, 1969. Two press units were available as part of the wider line-up, although no mention was made of the White Hot Special name at the time. These two Kashmir White Kingswood sedans wore the Victorian registrations of KFU-424 and KFU-447.
The basic idea was for the 253 V8 to be given the chance of competing on equal economic terms with the volume-selling 186 six-cylinder engine. The benefits to the buyer were in vastly improved performance and driving ease, whilst not attracting the penalty of higher fuel usage. To communicate this, a testimonial programme accompanied the advertising campaign. In conjunction with Mobil, an economy test over 1000 miles around Tasmania was conducted that saw the V8 cars produce near identical fuel consumption figures to the six-cylinder cars. The 253 V8 recorded 25.39mpg while the 186 six-cylinder car produced 26.97mpg. These results were then widely publicised by Holden’s marketing operatives.
One interesting inclusion in the package was front disc brakes. As a way of making the White Hot Special available in all states and territories into 1970 if required, this one concession had to be added. That’s because from January 1, 1970, all new V8 vehicles presented for registration in New South Wales required this mandatory inclusion. Up to this point, it was possible to have a Holden V8 with the standard drum brakes in New South Wales – in fact, the HT Premier sedan press units (five in total) were all 307 V8 automatics with power drum brakes!
The White Hot Special comprised the standard V8 Holden driveline – 253ci high-compression V8 engine; standard all-synchromesh three-speed manual transmission with column shift selector; 3.08:1 rear axle – in fact, nothing flash as far as a
performance offering went. The car was definitely not about performance as such.
There were no options available per se, however the friendly GM-H dealer could add any of the huge range of NASCO accessories available in order to satisfy a fussy customer’s request for something a little different.
For many people, the thought of a V8 engine under the bonnet spelt the makings of a fast car. In this case though, the 253 V8 provided a moderate level of performance that was governed mainly by the rear axle ratio. This aspect alone accounted for the near identical fuel consumption with the 186 engine with its 3.55:1 rear axle ratio. At any given speed, the V8 car was running at considerably lower revs making for a much quieter and relaxed ride as well.
But one benefit of a V8 engine is the prodigious torque output for the capacity. Prior to the HT series and the availability of the 253 V8 engine, all V8 Holdens featured a limited-slip differential (LSD) as a mandatory fitment in the rear axle. It didn’t matter whether the car was a Belmont wagon or a flashy Monaro GTS, they all had an LSD as part of the make-up. The White Hot Special did not, and neither did any other vehicle in the range with the 253 V8 engine. Available only in Kashmir White, but with your choice of Antique Gold or (as pictured here) Twilight Blue vinyl trim, the WHS was a simple equation.
The LSD was available as an option or as a NASCO accessory though.
What this did was to turn the sedate looking sedan into a real rubber burner in certain situations. The HT Holden was softened in the suspension department over the HK and as a result tended to lean more in the corners. When approaching the limit and with enough throttle applied, the inside (or unladen) rear wheel would spin profusely and produce copious amounts of white tyre smoke. It was a classic case where the power output (or more accurately the torque output) of the engine was in excess of the chassis design parameters. An LSD completely cured the situation, but this wasn’t a standard inclusion on the White Hot Special.
A standard 186 manual had a top speed of 92mph and a 0-60mph time of 14.5 seconds. Quarter mile time was 19.5 seconds.
From an outright performance perspective this was a regular Holden that had quite an edge over the six-cylinder version. Wheels magazine reported a top speed of 111mph with a 0-60 time of 9.4 seconds. The White Hot Special cut the quarter mile in 17.6 seconds at nearly 80mph. Not bad in any language for what in essence was a basic family sedan. To really show it up required the top-of-the-line Monaro GTS 350, or a 351 V8powered Ford from the opposition. No other car in the Falcon line-up could be optioned with an engine larger than the 302 V8.
While the White Hot Special could never be referred to as a muscle car in any way shape or form, at least not in this author’s estimation, it did have an element of muscle in terms of the power-to-weight ratio. The 253 V8 added A 253 cubic-inch V8 dropped into a plain-Jane family sedan. Was this the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing? just over 90 pounds to the all-up weight. Taking into account the jump in power output of 55 horsepower (130bhp for the 186ci and 185bhp for the 253), it is easy to see why the car performed in the manner observed and when compared to the 186.
In a way, it created a car that had the ability to smoke the tyres any old time of the day. Something that might have been seen as OK for Dad to do in one of those rare ‘show-off’ moments of spirited driving while taking the gang to footy practice. While this behavior may have been more at home in a hairy Monaro GTS that looked like it was meant to perform such feats, the thought of Mum doing the groceries and leaving the shopping centre car park doing a ‘wheelie’ must have brought a smile to the faces of many a young lad with an interest in cars!
Sold like hot cakes
power of television cannot be ignored here. In what was the first of its kind national advertising campaign run in Australia, GM-H very cleverly took advantage of the recent increase in television set ownership thanks to the moon landing. Saturation coverage of viewing times on virtually every station in the land ensured nobody missed out on seeing the product. And it worked.
The White Hot Special was a winner; a big time winner at that. Of the 5000 units produced, 3300 had been sold to November 1969. Where these numbers really come into play is in
Very few White Hot Specials live on today, despite the fact Holden made and sold 5000 of them. It took AMC almost two years to find one in near original spec. You’ll have to excuse the fact it’s not as pristine as our other feature cars.