Peter Robinson puts the Holden HQ through the toughest consumer test imaginable.
Long-term tests have been a Wheels staple, one of the magazine’s most popular reads. Holden’s failure to win COTY with the HQ – the Chrysler Charger took the honours in 1971 – didn’t prevent it from agreeing to provide us with a Kingswood for what we called a ‘Wheels consumer test’.
Read Peter Robinson’s classic story, as published in the April 1972 edition of Wheels.
The highlight of our time with DBQ-714 was a marathon drive from Sydney to Bourke and back. Our intention was not to break speed records, or set a high average speed, but rather to see if it was possible to drive 1000 miles in a day, with time enough for lunch and photography. By the time we returned to Sydney just before midnight, we’d done 1098 miles (1768km).
Accompanied by Wheels snapper Uwe Kuessner, we departed Sydney at 4.00am, the casualness of the drive typified by the fact that it wasn’t until half-way to Parramatta that we realised we didn’t have a map. Not that navigation was ever an issue; most towns in rural Australia are linked by only one road.
Our lime-green HQ had sporting pretensions. Except it didn’t drive that way. It had a wide-ratio gearbox, a slow-revving, inefficient six that developed maximum power of 101kW at just 4400rpm and peak torque at 2000rpm, low-geared (4.3 turns) and heavy manual steering, and the HQ’s notoriously soft suspension.
The wonderful (before speed limits) Bell’s Line of Road over the Blue Mountains instantly exposed the HQ’s handling flaws: body float, strong understeer and vague steering. I wrote: “Pleasant to drive slowly but requires a firm hand and big heart to push hard … The basic stability of the HQ is excellent – the problem is simply that the car doesn’t like shifting off line.”
Even by the standards of 45 years ago, neither the performance nor economy were outstanding. The best our HQ recorded for the standing-quarter (400 metres) was 18.9sec; amazingly, using only third gear for the entire run added a mere 0.3sec. Fuel economy? Try a range between 14.0L/100km (cruising at 100km/h) and 19.0L/100km (at a steady 4000rpm at 145km/h).
Still, we praised the excellent ride comfort, forward visibility (compare the HQ’s thin windscreen pillars with those of today’s Commodore), fine bucket seats, body solidity, superb dust sealing and terrific flow-through ventilation (for reasons long forgotten, we stupidly didn’t order air-conditioning).
Reading the story today, it’s clear we didn’t fall in love with the HQ. It took six years, a new chief engineer and the HZ’s major suspension corrections before Wheels truly appreciated Holden’s beautiful HQ-HZ range.
We played ‘tick-the-options-box’ when ordering the Wheels HQ Kingswood. Almost impossible to believe in 2016 – when Australia’s cheapest new car (the $12K Mitsubishi Mirage) provides air-conditioning, a five-speed manual and power steering as standard – that in 1971 customers paid extra for just four speeds, power steering and air-con on Australia’s best-selling car. Front disc brakes were also on the HQ’s options list, along with a laminated windscreen, ‘sports wheels’, reclining front bucket seats and front head restraints. Even the basic radio added $110 to the purchase price. Still, if DBQ-714 survives, we’d love to hear from today’s owner.