Home » Here’s A Tour Of Holdens And GM Imports In An Aussie Junkyard

Here’s A Tour Of Holdens And GM Imports In An Aussie Junkyard

Oz Junkers Holden Gm Ts2
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You can learn a lot about cars and society by driving around and seeing what’s on the roads. Like cutting into a tree and counting the rings, you can also learn a lot about automotive history by seeing what ends up in the junkyards. After my enjoyable jaunt talking about old Fords, I decided to head back out so I could show you all the other side of Australian car culture. That’s right, we’re talking Holdens, baby.

There’s plenty to relate to for the Americans and Europeans out there. Sure, there’s nothing more Australian than football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars. But Holden was a General Motors company through and through, and it succeeded (and suffered!) for that connection just as other global subsidiaries like Opel, Vauxhall and Daewoo. So, let’s dive in and see what’s what!

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

As you might expect, Commodores abound as Holden’s typical bestseller Down Under. As a generalist junkyard, most of the cars here are from the 1990s onwards, with much of the earlier cars having been stripped to the bare metal and crushed long ago. There’s actually quite a good mix of foreign and domestic-built content here. Some of it you might find familiar, some of it you might find totally alien!

Right off the bat, you’re gonna wanna know about utes, right? Well, I started off standing right next to one! As you can see in the video thumbnail, it’s got those rectangular black door handles and an Ecotec badge under the indicator. That means this is a VS Commodore built from 1995 to 1997, and on to 2000 for the ute models. Ecotec refers to the 3.8-liter V6 which Americans are more familiar with as the Buick 3800.

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Holden had a long and storied history with the Buick V6 engine. The engine’s American lineage dates back all the way to the 1961 Fireball V6, but the Australians came to it much later. The LN3 engine debuted in the 1988 Commodore VN Series, when the car went from mid-sized to full-size. It replaced the RB30 from the Nissan Skyline R31 that was used in the Commodore VL. Later variants stuck around until 2004 in the Commodore VY. The engine is instantly recognizable by its distinctive simple valve covers and high-mount alternator. The 2004 VZ model would then introduce the Alloytec V6, also known as GM’s High Feature engine.

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An Ecotec V6 living happily in a Commodore’s engine bay. This one has been modified with a dual-fuel LPG kit. Note the mixer which supplies liquefied petroleum gas to the intake. It’s fed from a tank in the boot (Australian for trunk). 

There was one older gem in the yard, though, which I never expected to see. It was a 1984 Commodore —a VH — looking splendid in green. Sadly, it had seen better days, and naught but the most serious restoration could save it. This isn’t the kind of junkyard that Roadkill visits for a laugh, though. This is a junkyard where near-worthless cars come to give up their last parts before their final date with the crusher.

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The color alone makes me wish this could be saved.
Aussie Junkyard History With Tk Holden 5 37 Screenshot
The Blue motor was built in 173 ci (2.8L) and 202 ci (3.3L) displacements, from 1980 to 1984. I can’t tell which one this is.

Indeed, that’s why it was so odd to see a VH Commodore here. Typically, cars rarely sit in these yards for more than a year or two before they have no more useful parts left. The shells are then typically discarded. A VH Commodore, even in poor condition, is now so old that its parts and body shell are actually ticking up in value again. The idea that someone sold it to this yard for a few hundred bucks is odd. In any case, I really appreciated it, and noted the Holden straight-six Blue motor and its cute little two-barrel carby manifold.

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Just like Ford, Holden was big into wagons. The Commodore was always available as one, with a big ol’ caboose out the back.  That was probably most obvious on the VT and VX, like this example seen below, with a truly cavernous amount of storage in the back. You could even get a seven-seat version, though access to the rear seats was, if I remember correctly, through the trunk. I got to sit in one back in 2000 on a playdate to Joshua’s house. Josh, I hope wherever you ended up, you’re doing well. I’m sorry that game I gave you didn’t work, I thought your mum’s computer would have WinZIP already installed.

Holden would stick with big booty wagons right to the end of local Commodore production. However, the VF model did see a bit of a shrinking of the rear end, visually and otherwise. It made it look sportier to the detriment of how much stuff you could stick in the back. It’s hard to say whether it helped sales any, as the Commodore was well on its way out the door at this point.

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The big bulbous booty of the late 90s.
Pictures Holden Commodore 2013 4 B
The look had changed by 2013. Ironically, by this point, big butts were the latest fashion, just not on cars.
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I swear this is a Holden. It’s an Apollo, I swear!

If you wanted a Holden wagon but couldn’t afford a Commodore, there was another option. The Apollo! Does it look strange to you? That’s because it’s actually kind of a Toyota Camry. It was a part of a weird government plan to encourage domestic and foreign brands to swap models and rebadge them. The idea was to encourage globalism as the country cut import tariffs. Under the Button plan, the government wanted local companies to cut the number of models in production and rationalize their lineups by sharing.

Holden and Toyota teamed up as a part of this push under the banner United Australian Automobile Industries. Toyota got a VN Commodore and called it a Lexcen, while Holden got the Camry and called it the Apollo. It also got the Corolla with some distinctive tail lights and called it the Nova, which actually looked pretty good. It gave Holden some decent small cars, and Toyota a larger rear-wheel-drive model it didn’t really need. The arrangement eventually petered out, with customers seeing through the whole rebadge job pretty transparently anyway.

Aussie Junkyard History With Tk Holden 17 39 Screenshot
The Holden Nova.
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Don’t those tail lights look rad? In my opinion, the best factory taillight for this generation of Corolla. Somebody ask Torch what he thinks!
Aussie Junkyard History With Tk Holden 17 48 Screenshot
The 4A Toyota engine did a lot of work in Australian Toyotas, and Holdens. lol.

On the small car front, Holden was always scraping the pantry for cars. There was the Holden Cruze, which was at times a Suzuki and at other times a Chevy. In fact, in the latter case, it was one of the few times Holden built its own small car in Australia. However, the rest of Holdens small cars were all imported in its last few decades. The Holden Barina was a Suzuki Cultus, then an Opel Corsa, then it was built by Daewoo. Opel also provided the Astra and Vectra, along with the Holden Zafira minivan.

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Holden wasn’t afraid to color outside the lines, either. It even brought in the van version of the Opel Corsa as the Holden Combo. It offered a cavernous rear cargo bay with a cute little Barina (Corsa) front end, with the fuel-sipping benefits of a 1.4-liter engine. Unfortunately, one suspects heavy payloads were often too much for the little donk. A friend had one and it was an absolute mess of a thing, sadly.

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The Zafira was a rare sight in Australia.
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The Opel Corsa cum Holden Barina. These were everywhere in the 1990s and early 2000s – one of the biggest starter cars we ever had.
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Holden and GM’s strategy of importing cars to fill market segments was never super successful. Even if, like this Holden Barina cum Suzuki Cultus, they were importing rad cars.
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I kinda wanna build a hot Holden Nova now, but the fact that so many are auto will stop me. 
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Barina van! It’s a Barina van!
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Love the hood scoop.

The imports bulked out Holden’s range, but they generally didn’t connect with the punters. As the Commodore grew too expensive for the average Australian, they looked to hatchbacks and smaller cars. Sadly, Holden never really measured up in these segments. It had always suffered there since the Gemini became old hat in the 1980s.

With local manufacturing considered too expensive, and pointless given the locally-built Commodore was no longer selling, GM killed the Australian plants in 2017. Just a few short years later, the brand itself was put down. There was nothing else for it; to the Aussies, a Holden built overseas was never really a Holden at all. It’s a sad tale, but it’s the one the government and GM wrote for us.

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I still miss you every day.

With Ford gone, and Holden dead, the grand temple of Australian car culture crumbled into dust. It still breaks me up every time I think about it.

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Image credits: Lewin Day, Holden

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GrahamClayton
GrahamClayton
1 month ago

Under the Button plan, the government wanted local companies to cut the number of models in production and rationalize their lineups by sharing”

The cars of the Button Plan deserve their own article!

Morgan Thomas
Morgan Thomas
6 months ago

Sometimes older stuff that seems unlikely to have been sold to a mainstream wrecker gets in the yard a different way. It used to be that ‘abandoned’ or ‘dumped’ cars left parked unregistered on the street would be stickered by the local council to warn it would be towed, and after 28 days if it was still there would be towed to the council
impound yard’ at the back of a local council depot, where it would wait for a specified amount of time (can’t remember how long) for the owner to reclaim it – if not reclaimed it would be auctioned off. I used to rort the system by parking some of my parts cars in the street, and regularly swapping the stickered ones for unstickered ones after about 24 days (My neighbours loved me!) It was also a good way to score parts cars cheap – a firind’s dad accumulated a big stash of spares by buying Leyland P76s at council auctions for often a minimum $5 bid, and stripping them of anything of value.

Another of the odd badge-swapped Holden models had what I always thought was one of the cutest and most descriptive renamings – the little kei-style (but not actual Kei spec) Suzuki Carry vans that were sold here as the Holden Scurry!

Morgan Thomas
Morgan Thomas
6 months ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

The statute of limitations is long past, so I can verify they are easy to tip – a pizza place near a mate’s house had one painted up as a billboard and parked outside their shop. We discovered 2 moderately strong people could tip it on its side easily, and proceeded to tip it on its side every night for nearly a week until the business put up a CCTV camera!

Parsko
Parsko
6 months ago

Is it difficult to move to Australia??? My wife and I hate Trump, and we want to get ahead of his win by just moving to Australia. Do you guys like Trump down there? Please say no. I can deal with spiders and boxing animals.

Rod Millington
Rod Millington
6 months ago
Reply to  Parsko

Depends on your professions. There is a list of in demand professions that allow you to fast track getting a visa to emigrate to Australia permanently.

Alternatively, there is the tried and true method that my wife used. She married an Australian.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
6 months ago
Reply to  Parsko

Just remember: speeding cameras EVERYWHERE.

FlavouredMilk
FlavouredMilk
6 months ago
Reply to  Parsko

I’m going to avoid getting too political, but let’s just say that we watch American politics with popcorn in hand.

Australian politics is in shambles as well, but it’s nothing on what I’ve seen from over there. If you move near the cities, you’ll likely find similarly minded people, out in the sticks, people’s opinions are more… divided, but if you’re genuinely just looking for better living conditions, I think you’d find them here.

David Escargot
David Escargot
6 months ago
Reply to  Parsko

FlavouredMilk pretty much summed it up… basically if you have people living around you they’ll all get on no matter their view on politics… I’ve personally never encountered any arguments there, even at election time…

Getting in may be the tricky bit

Parsko
Parsko
6 months ago
Reply to  Parsko

Thank you all for the replies. And, I’m not kidding. I really can’t think of another place that would suit my wife better. She reallllly hates cold, and it’s making it more difficult as we get older. The biggest issue is the side of the road you drive on. After 46 years, it’s a tough nut to retrain, and probably the biggest psychological barrier I have with it.

Ford_Timelord
Ford_Timelord
6 months ago
Reply to  Parsko

You’ll be fine. Once you are get in the wrong side of the car a few times sitting on the right side of the car will constantly remind you what side to drive on.
And we have those monster trucks here on the road recently so you will find yourself right at home haha.

Greg R
Greg R
6 months ago
Reply to  Parsko

If you are serious about moving down under with us, do your research. There are many places in the southern states that get by our standards fairly cool/cold. Hobart would be the only capital city that really gets any snow though. The further north you go along the east coast and in the Northern Territory the more humid it gets. The west coast is much drier and is quite remote to most Australians.

Parsko
Parsko
6 months ago
Reply to  Greg R

Great advice, thanks. I’d say the chances of me actually moving down under are like…. 3%. It would be much easier if my kids were out of the house.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
6 months ago
Reply to  Parsko

Must you bring up this topic? Since you have brought up this topic that isn’t related to the automobiles or automobile-related, I will return the favour…

What I see is that you are suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) thanks to the heavy gaslighting from the legacy media, unhinged leftist politicians and activitists, and celebrities who have nothing better to do other than being the mouthpiece for the globalist agenda and fraudulent green ideology. I am sure you pine for the days when everyone has to wear masks, maintain the social distancing, receive the Covid-19 vaccine. This way, you can bully the people who don’t comply. I am sure you enjoy the escalating fuel and food cost, flooding of migrants that taxes even the most blue of Democratic cities, and so forth. I don’t need to go on because it’s really tragic how the Democrats have run the United States to the ground while people are oblivious to the tragedy.

Is Resident Biden any better than Trump? Empirically no.

Richie R
Richie R
6 months ago
Reply to  EricTheViking

One president mandating social distancing as a precaution to save people’s lives vs ex president telling his followers to take over the capital for his own narcissistic needs doesn’t exactly help your argument on how the democrats have run the US to the ground.

Groover
Groover
6 months ago

It’s a great video, takes me back. Mum had a Holden Apollo haha.
I wonder why dude keeps putting his hand on his chin though…

Flatisflat
Flatisflat
6 months ago

“The LN3 engine debuted in the 1988 Commodore VN Series, when the car went from mid-sized to full-size. It replaced the RB30 from the Nissan Skyline R31 that was used in the Commodore VL.” – WUT?!?! What a weird OEM cross-pollination I never would have expected to be even considered.

Silent But Deadly
Silent But Deadly
6 months ago
Reply to  Flatisflat

It was considered because it worked really well and it was a cheap alternative to adapting a GM 6 cyl engine at the time. They were a very good car.

Tinibone
Tinibone
6 months ago
Reply to  Flatisflat

I believe it was because the chassis was designed with a straight 6 in mind, but the old red/blue motors weren’t able to run on unleaded so Holden borrowed a motor from another local (at the time) manufacturer!

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
6 months ago

Lots of learning stuff about Oz here. About that “Ecotech”, the real tell that it’s a 3800 is that coil pack. They’re so distinctive-looking you would never mistake it for something else.
And as an XV10 fetishist, I’d probably have a lot of fun with those Apollos. I had no idea they existed, it’s too bad GM didn’t sell an XV10 Chevy here. Certainly woulda been way better than the Lumina or Corsica.

Chronometric
Chronometric
6 months ago

It is fascinating to see the genealogy of different product lines across countries. I liken this to the spread of species across continents. You can find some North American GM DNA in a Holden and vice versa but by and large the vehicles evolved in their own ways to best meet the rigors of the local environment.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
6 months ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

It wasn’t just GM. I have an ancestor from England who emigrated to the US very late, in 1900. Because of this, I have 4th and 5th cousins all over Oz.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
6 months ago

Pick& Pulls are such melancholy places for me now. And I own old, slightly niche cars that won’t be found in them in any reasonable shape, so there’s no reason for me to go.
That little NOVA definitely speaks to me, though

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
6 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

I like the little Nova as well.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
6 months ago

Two things that really strip my gears:
1. So many salvage yards are no longer accessible to search for interesting finds.
2. Obama’s Cash for Clunkers destroying so many cars, that were not even available for parts, even interior and fittings, even rare optional pieces.

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
6 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I know it’s still fashionable to this day to closely associate Obama with Cash for Clunkers; heaven knows he delivered plenty of glowing praise and promotion for it. But it really wasn’t “his” thing. It was very much the darling of the Big Three automakers and the beleaguered US auto industry in the throes of the 2008 economic crash. They needed to prop up sales desperately, and getting older cars off the road and no longer cannibalizing the sales of new cars, lease turn-ins, and late-model used cars predominantly sold by the used-car lots associated with the new car dealers.

There was also a considerable push in years leading up to 2008 by the automakers wanting to limit the parts supply for older models to no more than ten years back. Taking older cars off the road plus aggressively crushing and disposing of them helped kill demand for older parts, and mooted the arguments against it.

It was all about profits for the automakers, verging on being anti-consumer in the long run.

And here we are, still clawing our way out of the supply and pricing mess since 2020. I wonder if things might have been a little different if more of those older cars had remained both on the road and in junkyards to keep the survivors still on the road. Maybe there would have been more alternatives to scarce and overpriced new and used cars for those of us who know how to wrench.

I did my part to save the survivors in the face of Cash for Clunkers — I bought a rusty old squarebody Chevy pickup that was on the verge of being a basket case. Paid a little more than I normally would have, but CforC had pushed up prices for older used cars a bit. Still a lot cheaper than crappy late-model used cars of the time. Got the old beater fixed-up and running well, and it served me faithfully as a work truck and daily driver for several more years before advancing frame rust took it out of service. And the salvage value wasn’t bad, either, because the salvage guys were eager to pull every last useful or even semi-useful part off of it to keep more old squarebodies on the road — the way things should be.

Last edited 6 months ago by UnseenCat
Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
6 months ago
Reply to  UnseenCat

I don’t know enough to be sure. I am sure even if not behind it the Big 3 certainly wouldn’t have opposed it. But if my memory serves BO and his party certainly claimed credit for it constantly, and the Environmentalists certainly pushed for it, so Strang bedfellows indeed. Might be a good book if everyone involved actually agreed and worked together on it, we need more of that. Not that getting DT quality rust buckets off the road was a bad idea but parts for well maintained vehicles was done a disservice, as well as the poor that couldn’t afford better.

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
6 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

It was perfectly fine for the wrecking yards to sell anything but the engines. Of course they engines weren’t really useable due to the requirement for them to be killed before they left the receiving dealership.

Lockleaf
Lockleaf
6 months ago
Reply to  Scoutdude

I worked at Oreilly Auto Parts during that time. We sold a “chemical” to shops called “Engine Seize”. The instructions were to empty the engine oil and replace it with this Engine Seize product, then run the engine for 15 minutes. Turn off engine, allow to cool. Attempt to restart. If engine turns over, repeat the process until engine seizes. Personally, I think it was dyed water. I gave a copy of the advertisments for it to a friend of mine who put it on his toolbox at his shop. I didn’t keep one for myself though, which I have regretted.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
6 months ago
Reply to  Lockleaf

I believe it was sodium silicate—same stuff in the head gasket repair in a can sold everywhere. Once it cooled, it started solidifying
-> not an in-the-know insider: grain of salt, etc

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
6 months ago
Reply to  Scoutdude

I never saw parts for the VX come available and I was looking for some very specific interior items.

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
6 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Well one problem it did create for the wrecking yards that received them was it often overwhelmed their available space in the yard. That meant some cars had a short time in the yard or went straight to the crusher if it wasn’t a model that the yard thought they would sell a lot of parts from.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
6 months ago
Reply to  Scoutdude

But we are looking at yards showing parts from years ago. Where are my parts. I demand them.

Tinibone
Tinibone
6 months ago

Growing up in more of a Holden family it’s always good to see them represented, but also crazy to think that the Kingswood are now too old/valuable to be seen in the yards!

Also makes me sad that Sydney no longer has any DIY yards so I’ll never get the full DT experience ????

Martin English
Martin English
5 months ago
Reply to  Tinibone

Re DIY yards near Sydney … lookup Dapto Pick A Part. No personal association, apart from the occasional visit.

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