The Soutern Earlys FX-FJ Holden Car Club are featuring different members each month. We hope you enjoy hearing about them.
Behind the wheel Tony Hitchen
I got the bug for old cars whilst helping my father repair and maintain his string of Hillman, Singer, MG, Rover and Vauxhall’s. Post war Britain saw the continuation of many pre-war production vehicles and by the mid-sixties these cars were still plentiful and affordable. Being attracted to their character and looks, but not their puny power plants, I bought a Ford V8 Pilot and joined the All American Car Club UK. With its agricultural steering and suspension (transverse leaf – a la Model T) and sub 10 mile per gallon fuel consumption I quickly realised that looks aren’t everything!
Shortly afterwards I was introduced to a garage owner and Hudson enthusiast who repaired customers cars under a railway arch in South London. It wasn’t long before I bought my first Hudson, a 1937 Terraplane sedan. This was followed by a second one for spares then a 1938 Coupe and finally a long wheelbase 1937 Hudson Six with and “Electric Hand” vacuum gear change.
Later an old school friend told me his father was thinking of selling his immaculate 1937 Buick CO 90 Limousine. Being seduced by its straight eight engine, gleaming black paint, glass passenger divider, leather trim up front (for the chauffer) and unmarked Bedford cord in the rear I was hooked. I became its new owner for the princely sum of £80.
Where all this was going I will never know……as it was then that I met Christine.
Previous work life?
I’ve spent most of my working life in Local Government in the UK and Australia. When I met Christine she was on a working holiday from South Australia, living in London. We married in 1972, and ran a news agency in Kent before moving to Devon for three years where we spent our spare time renovating an old stone railway workers cottage,
After we moved to Australia in 1977, having sold all my old cars, Christine worked in the insurance industry and State Government. I had a ”working holiday” grape picking and then as a brick layer’s labourer until it was suggested that it was time to get a proper job; so it was back to Local Government for me.
First FX or FJ owned:
I looked around for something with character and something that I, as an untrained, yet aspiring mechanic could fool around with. Having had a liking for American pre-war cars my interest was caught by the first Holden and I was amazed to learn that they could achieve around 30 mpg whilst seating six, powered by a 21.6 HP six which matched the specification of my 1937 Terraplane – except for the fuel consumption, which was nearly double that of the Holden.
I found my first “Early” in 1988, an FJ-215, in a shed at the back of the VIP car yard on South Road. It had been taken as a part exchange and was partly dismantled. It had had some body repairs which were still in grey primer with large areas of faded green still evident. I towed it home on a trailer with our two daughters, 8 and 6, amused to watch the car travelling so close behind. They named the FJ “Friendly” due to its smiling frogmouth appearance and missing grill bar.
Some weeks later, we were returning from Alice Springs on the Ghan when our eldest daughter, Kate exclaimed
Look, there’s a car like Friendly”. She was pointing to the wreck of an abandoned FJ in what seemed the middle of nowhere. A lady sitting in an adjoining seat commented that her parents, and elderly couple, who had bought their 48 Series Holden new from the Bute Holden dealership in 1953, were thinking of selling it. That car turned out to be a 48-215-257.
The Business Sedan had been well looked after, was rust free, complete and original, aside from regular maintenance and a respray in its original Lithgow Cream. It still wore its dealer fitted Bates Visor and Taxi-bar. The original engine ran well but was a little tired so it was removed, reconditioned and refitted. The car took on a new lease on life and we enjoyed our family jaunts in it until a 1957 Chevrolet took its place.
The Chev underwent a five year restoration, followed by a succession of other early Holdens which were bought, repaired, enjoyed and sold on. The 215 was always a keeper and has sat at the back of the shed for 30 years, waiting its turn to shine. With all the body repairs completed, it is at the painters awaiting a fresh coat of its original Surf Green paint.
Do you currently own any old Holdens?
My 1954 FJ Utility is currently under restoration and will be making its appearance in time for the Nationals in Murray Bridge, hopefully. Bought in 1989 it did excellent service until the passenger door started flying open when making right hand turns! My most recent acquisition, a 1954 FJ 225 underwent some restoration and modification by its previous owner before it was consigned to storage in the early 70’s.
What are the most frustrating things about owning old Holdens?
Aside from such shortcomings as 6v ignition, being more sensitive to hydrocarbons than others it seems, I have yet to own or drive either an FX or FJ that didn’t emit fumes that permeated the cabin. Either exhaust fumes, due perhaps to the poor breather design, or petrol fumes in sedans, due to a leaking seal in the fuel sender. The latter is easily fixed (once the five screws retaining the float assembly have been persuaded to cooperate!). However, even with a completely rebuilt engine, new door and boot rubbers, pedal cluster felt bushes and bulk head grommets fitted, a fume free cabin still seems difficult to achieve.
What is something interesting that someone has said about any old Holden you had at the time?
A Tarragon Green FX 1 once owned was featured in the film Black and White, starring Robert Carlyle (of Full Monty fame). When it was inspected for suitability the nice young man pronounced it was in too good condition and “would need to be roughed up a bit”. Having spent a couple of days getting her looking better than she ever had whilst in my possession, I was somewhat perplexed to hear this!
Nevertheless, I obliged by removing the nice shiny new chrome work, replacing it with some dowdy looking parts that had seen better days. We then had a very serious conversation about how it was to be looked after and what cosmetic treatment it could be given to achieve the tired, down at heel look that would reflect the status of Robert Carlyle’s character. The alpha numeric number plates were removed and black & white number plates fitted in keeping with the era (SA 13335 from my ’55 FJ-215) and she was ready for action. (a copy of Black and White is available for loan from the Club library).