Australian Muscle Car

Su­per Chicken

GM-H’s Su­per Chicken may have sounded like poul­try in mo­tion but it flew the coup be­fore re­ally catch­ing on.

- Story: Luke West

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.

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Im­ages: Peter Abra­ham
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Todd Martin
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