CAMIRA SUN­RISE

WHY THEY MAT­TER

Unique Cars - - CONTENTS - WORDS BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS PHO­TOS UNIQUE CARS AR­CHIVES/WHEELS AR­CHIVES

Fe­bru­ary will see the re­lease of the first all-new Com­modore since the VE was launched in mid 2006.

Many peo­ple ac­cept the ZB will have a trans­verse­mounted en­gine and – in the main­stream ver­sions – front-wheel drive. Oh, and un­like any past or present Aus­tralian-made Com­modore, the fu­ture one is a Ger­man mi­grant, cour­tesy of Opel.

For fans of large Hold­ens, it rep­re­sents a brave if un­cer­tain new world.

Ex­cept GMH has been here be­fore. Some 39 years ago to be spe­cific. And with a model that is the di­rect an­ces­tor to the Com­modore – a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Opel In­signia that di­rectly re­placed three it­er­a­tions of the Vec­tra, which in turn took over from the Euro­pean As­cona line that served as the ba­sis of the JB Camira.

So the Camira is the 2018 Com­modore’s great, great, great grand­fa­ther. Holden, un­der­stand­ably, would hate us point­ing this out, but we’re just join­ing the dots, folks. This is what it must feel like to find out your dis­tant an­ces­tors were con­victs.

Ex­cept, we’re here to serve what is prob­a­bly the most-ma­ligned car ever (Ley­land P76 and AU Fal­con aside) some jus­tice. Be­sides, you’d reckon some­thing name-checked in The Cas­tle would com­mand greater re­spect!

At the time the most ad­vanced ve­hi­cle ever made in Aus­tralia, the 1982 JB was part of Gen­eral Mo­tors’ global J-car pro­gram cre­ated to achieve mas­sive economies of scale per­fected by Ja­panese brands. As a re­sult, the bon­net, front mud­guards and rear screen were the only pan­els unique to the lo­cal ver­sion. The ‘world car’ was all the rage back then.

It also served up sev­eral firsts. For starters, Camira was Holden’s first FWD; the first any where with vari­able-ra­tio steer­ing; the first to ex­port body pan­els to Europe since the Port Mel­bourne-de­vel­oped wagon was made only here; and its Fam­ily II en­gine was the brand’s first to be exported, by the mil­lions over three decades. All were huge achieve­ments by GMH.

The Camira was also the first FWD in the then-boom­ing lo­cal medium-sized – or 2.0-litre’ – seg­ment, dom­i­nated by the Mit­subishi Sigma, Nis­san Blue­bird and Toy­ota Corona. Con­se­quently it seemed space age against such dated com­peti­tors, of­fer­ing greater cabin space util­i­sa­tion, lighter con­struc­tion for bet­ter per­for­mance/econ­omy bal­ance and defini­tively stronger dy­nam­ics – some­thing Holden en­sured by re-en­gi­neer­ing the As­cona for Aus­tralian con­di­tions. Don’t for­get; the Opel ri­vals weren’t Ja­panese dross but Re­nault, Fiat and Volk­swa­gen.

In a move rem­i­nis­cent of to­day’s down­siz­ing fever, the Camira fea­tured an ad­van­ta­geous power-to-weight ra­tio to achieve per­for­mance akin to a 2.0’s, and thus came in at more than 100kg un­der its RWD ri­vals. Re­sult? The JB’s car­bu­ret­torfed 64kW/125Nm 1.6 equalled or bet­tered most. At least on pa­per...

“YOU’D RECKON A CAR NAME-CHECKED IN THE CAS­TLE DE­SERVED SOME RE­SPECT”

Out in the real world, how­ever, such bold clean-sheet en­gi­neer­ing was bound to cre­ate is­sues, and the Camira de­liv­ered its fair share – sloppy work­man­ship, Holden’s in­ex­pe­ri­ence with plas­tic com­po­nents that un­der­mined qual­ity, glitchy elec­tron­ics, over­heat­ing, en­gine woes, struc­tural fa­tigue, rust… and more. Care­less or ig­no­rant ser­vic­ing for what is es­sen­tially a so­phis­ti­cated Euro­pean-de­sign pow­er­train didn’t help ei­ther.

Still, all that was in the (near) fu­ture. Sweep­ing all oth­ers aside with its bold moder­nity, the JB won Wheels’ COTY award, nabbed class lead­er­ship and swayed non-trad Holden buy­ers. Don’t for­get, it be­lat­edly re­placed the an­ti­quated Sun­bird nee-UC To­rana.

Along­side the Camira sedan and mar­vel­lously pack­aged wagon (fea­tur­ing a bumper fixed to the tail­gate for a low f loor-level load­ing height – bril­liant!), a five-door lift­back as per the As­cona was also con­sid­ered. A shame GMH’s cash-f low prob­lems pre­vented that.

Later, Holden ad­mit­ted that go­ing 1.6 alien­ated con­sumers as it was deemed too small, adding that the de­ci­sion was made at the height of the 1979 global fuel short­ages. The rem­edy came with the strik­ingly nosed JD of late ’84, gain­ing an in­jected 83kW/146Nm 1.8 op­tion – though manda­tory un­leaded-petrol saw the ’86 de­tuned ver­sion lose 20kW! – as part of wide­spread re­fine­ments that also fixed many of the grem­lins plagu­ing the JB.

How­ever, sales slid rapidly. Even the gutsy 85kW/176Nm 2.0 that her­alded the lightly re­vised JE the fol­low­ing year wasn’t enough. Yet this was the Camira Holden should have built from the be­gin­ning. Af­ter 151,807 ex­am­ples, pro­duc­tion ceased in ’89.

Ul­ti­mately, Holden was forced in a model-shar­ing mar­riage with Toy­ota bro­kered by the gov­ern­ment to help make the lo­cal in­dustr y more ef­fi­cient, but the re­sult­ing Camry-based Apollo barely reg­is­tered. The Camira’s DNA did live on with the now-largely for­got­ten (but oh-so very aero-el­e­gant) Cal­i­bra coupe of the 90s, while the 1997 JR Vec­tra be­came the Aus­tralian-as­sem­bled third-gen grand­child that ac­tu­ally sold in rea­son­able num­bers.

How will the 2018 ZB Com­modore fare? Spare a thought for the 1980s J-car from which it de­scended. Camira’s place in Holden his­tor y de­serves greater recog­ni­tion.

BE­LOW Aus­tralian de­signed wagon showed Citroen in­flu­ence in tail­gate de­tails.

TOP It says some­thing that ‘Peter Per­fect’ was happy to share the lime­light with a Camira.

ABOVE Gemini fans – we haven’t for­got­ten you. Look for an up­com­ing fea­ture on these light­weight gems.

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