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...

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

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

V8

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

Ed­u­cat­ing

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

The

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

74

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.

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