Australian Muscle Car
GM-H’s Super Chicken may have sounded like poultry in motion but it flew the coup before really catching on.
Holden’s Super Chicken may have sounded like poultry in motion but it ew the coup before really catching on
If you’ve never seen a Super Chicken in the esh you’re not alone. In fact, if you haven’t even seen a photo you’re not Robinson Crusoe either. And that was precisely the motivation for the owner of this HQ panel van feature car. Todd Martin is well known to car club enthusiasts. He’s the principal of Muscle Car Events, organiser of the recent Repco Round Australia Retrial and the many model-speci c Bathurst anniversary gatherings over the years. But despite attending hundreds of car events over the years, he’d never come across one in his travels.
“Why have I re-created a Super Chicken? No one else has done it. Simple as that,” Martin explains. “I’d seen an ad or two for it in car magazines from 1973. And I reckon I’ve only seen pictures of one or two cars on Facebook. But that’s it.”
AMC reprinted this ‘Introducing the Super Chicken’ advertisement in issue #76. The ad’s copy reads: ‘Here’s the brightest looking customizing idea in years. Specially designed for the younger Holden Ute and Van customer by GM designers. Using eight mind-bending colours! Order a ‘Super Chicken’ decal on your next Holden Ute or Van from your nearest Holden Dealer.’
The ads for the decals appeared in the May 1973 issues of Modern Motor and Wheels. The photos were taken on the famous turntable at the Holden Design Centre. We understand that a HQ ‘sin bin’ did the motor show rounds that year or the next.
AMC helper Jason Chaplin found an old copy of the HQ Holden parts manual, dated October 1973, which details the Super Chicken transfer package listed for the panel van and ute. Its part number, 9931991, comprised 12 sections, six for a vehicles’ right-hand side and six for the left. When combined, that’s one big decal.
Another series of transfers listed in the parts manual is called the Water Splash.
Inspiration for providing ute and van owners with striking decals came from, surprise, surprise, the USA. General Motors offered Chevrolet ‘truck’ and van buyers a number of vastly-differently themed designs for El Camino, Blazer, the Fleetside pickup and even the Vega. Headlining the Mod Bods range was an Eagle motif, with many of its design traits carrying over to the Super Chicken. Yanks could also buy the equally patriotic 1776, Hawk, Feather (the latter two in uenced by American Indian ornamentation), Flame, Rippler, Wheels and,
Inspired by an American radio serial about a crime fighting ‘chicken man’, the Super Chicken decal for HQ vans and utes was Holden’s first dabble in the ‘sin bin’ youth market. wait for it, the Sandman. Now you know where that, erm, Aussie icon came from!
In some instances these ‘wild new put-ons from Chevrolet,’ as the ad copy reads, came with rear decals for the tailgate.
“The Super Chicken was created at Holden by my good friend Peter Arcadipane,” recalls Paul Beranger, then a young designer and stylist at Fishermans Bend. “It was inspired by a late 1960s American radio serial about
a crime- ghting Chicken Man, before Peter moved across town to the blue team.”
Beloved comedy radio series The Adventures of Chickenman was created in Chicago in 1966 and attracted huge audiences in its day. Today it enjoys a cult-following via podcasted episodes.
So, in summary, Super Chicken was a lefteld decal option for light commercial vehicles inspired by a character from US radio, a nonvisual medium. Now we’ve heard everything!
“Funny thing is,” Beranger continued, “Peter ‘took’ his chook with him and then after some modi cations, Ford used it, rstly in large format on a show car which was exhibited at both the Melbourne and Sydney shows.”
That show car, of course, was the XA Falcon Superbird.
“Proving popular, this was later reduced in size and colours and became the rear-quarter panel graphic for Ford’s limited edition Falcon Superbird hardtop. Disillusioned with Ford, Peter then started his own studio/workshop in Heidelberg Melbourne, designing and fabricating bodykits, as well as contributing to the Mad Max movie car and the Torana-based Mystere coupe for Recaro in Sydney.”
Arcadipane’s mind was certainly fertile, although his original ‘chook’ was arguably too way-out for the market’s liking. Super Chicken didn’t exactly y off the shelves here in Australia. Similarly, Water Splash sales soon dried up, too.
The arrival of the Holden Sandman likely contributed to turning Super Chicken into an auto dodo. The fact it was such a rare bird all those years ago just makes it all the most interesting and desirable today, as Todd Martin explained earlier of his recently competed project.
Todd’s hunger to re-create the Super Chicken kicked in almost 25 years ago, but he lacked two important ingredients to cook up this poultry dish: a suitable plain white panel van and an original 9931991 decal kit. Acquiring the right vehicle was the easy bit.
“I’ve had this van since 2006 and the poor thing sat in my shed all that time,” he explained. “The van itself is an ex-Queensland Police forensics van. It’s a Belmont. It was a 173 six, but now it’s a 253 (4.2-litre) V8, column auto, in Glacier White. I’ve gone and spent far too much money on the Firestone wide oval radial tyres just to have the period correct look.”
A few years after purchasing the van, a set of the original Super Chicken decals came to his attention. The set was owned by a couple from Melbourne who had bought them from the Ballarat swap meet in the late 1990s and had intended to use on their own project car. Todd offered to purchase the decals on more than one occasion, but they weren’t for sale.
Yet 17 years went by and creating a Super Chicken never reached the top of the Melbourne couple’s ‘to do’ list and in 2015 Todd was offered the decals.
“That was four years ago and that motivated me to nally get the thing done.”
Todd elected not to apply the original decal set (opposite), instead used it to create a reproduction version for his van with the help of a mate who owns a local signage company.
It’s no coincidence that Holden’s Super Chicken bears an uncanny resemblance to Ford’s Superbird - they were drawn by the same designer!
“The only reason we didn’t use the original decal is that the application tape had deteriorated and was just too far gone. The actual decal remains in good condition. To preserve it we only used one half of it to scan in high-res. Then we duplicated it for the other side.”
As can be seen here, the nished product is stunning.
His Super Chicken panel van made its public debut at Charters Tower’s Van Nationals at Easter, where it proved to be an eye-catcher and a head-scratcher in equal measures.
“It’s funny. When you display old cars in public you always get people approaching you, saying something like ‘I remember these back from back in the day’ or ‘My dad had one of these.’ With the Super Chicken they say to me, ‘I remember these... [long pause]... actually, I might be thinking of something else,” Todd laughs.