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Dean Oliver: Artist; Rally driver: Raconteur; Holden Owner

The resident artist of the motoring radio program Overdrive, Dean Oliver, comes from a family that has had its passion for Holden cars.  We chatted about those early years and Dean as a young man with a craving for cars but not the financial responsibility that some would have liked.

DB Dean, your family did have some Holden’s how far back to the go.

DO Yeah. Thanks, David. Yes. Our family had a fairly small collection of Holden’s, but nonetheless a good one. My parents originally came through from a 1950s Austin A40 tourer, but my father used to deliver newspapers in. And then the big move was a 1962 EK Holden’s special. It was a station wagon and it had the two speed, hydromatic gearbox, which was brand new, and Dad used it to deliver newspapers around Shellharbour and that area of the south coast.

DB Now, that’s the reflection of the times, because when the first Holden came in, the biggest selling car was the A40 Austin Devon.

DO Well, yes, he certainly fitted that theory really well. But the old English |Austin was just no match for the rough potholes of the roads of country, New South Wales.

DB How did your father feel with that change? Because it was going to a bigger car, a more powerful car, and a more rugged car. Was he proud of that?

DO It was the pride of the family, David. There were photographs of the family standing beside it, beaming, smiling, and it was a spectacular looking thing compared to the old Austin. The Holden was bright blue and a strip down the side and the EK had those wonderful tailfins on the taillights which looked very American.

DB It was that era of the excess of the Cadillac reflecting the space race, really, wasn’t it? It was trying to look like it was a rocket.

DO Yes. But NASA rockets probably didn’t overheat with quite the same problem as the Holden did, especially on our trips up to Sydney.

DO Mom always packed a thermos and some sandwiches because the Holden would get pretty warm going up Mount Ousley from Wollongong and dad always had a race with himself to see if he could get over in third gear with changing back down to second.  About 50 percent of the time.

DB That’s another whole story of the hills in every capital city under which people tested their car or even in your cases, you’re saying some of the more rural roads, if you can get up the hill, then you know you’re doing well. Did they continue with Holdens?

DO Yes. And after almost ten years, the old EK gave way to a 1972 HQ Kingswood and it was a 253 V8. And I think my poor old dad might have got done over by the salesman at the Holden dealership. It was pretty well out of character for him to go for a smooth V8, and especially the HQ was the clour was Chateau Mauve, which was a metallic purple colour.

DB The 253 was the six cylinder pistons, but with eight of them, I believe.

DO That’s right, yeah. 4.2 litres. It had a bit more torque and a bit more power than the 202 six-cylinder and it went well with the trimatic three-speed gearbox. And it was it was a lovely smooth touring car, very soft, squashy suspension. And I think understeer was the name of the game when it came to handling, but it looked good. It sounded good. It started rusting from the day we bought it.

DB You then continued your first car, I think was a Torana, but it came with an unsolicited recommendation for financial prudence.

DO Well, I’ve got my first job and I was pretty keen on Holdens and the Holden Dealer Team and the Bathurst race and all that sort of thing. I had a job. I was getting a regular income and so it had to be a Torana. There’s no way I could have got an XU1 because insurance was just totally impossible for a young bloke in his early 20s. So my new car was a GTA Torana. A 1973 LJ model and it was wonderful and I bought it with a bank loan and I got a stern lecture from the bank manager about responsible financial management. And in hindsight, I think I borrowed about $2000. The car was about $3,400 new and I borrowed $2000 which dollars at the day was an enormous amount of money. So the bank manager was, I think, pretty horrified.

DB And of course, you should have kept it.

DO Should have done. I traded it in a few years later, got about sixteen seventeen hundred dollars for it and then I saw one at auction a year or two ago in pretty good condition. It was an LJ GTR Torana for about $30000.  Oh dear

DB Yes, but you would have had to keep it for a long time to get that.

DO It, too, had also started to rust.  We look at these cars through sort of rose coloured rear-vision mirrors. We were passionate. We loved the Ford versus Holden thing. The Japanese cars were sort of on their way in and we were very suspicious of the European cars, Alfa and Fiats and things like that. But in actual fact, the Holdens, they weren’t really all that well made.  They were low technology. GMH was slow to react, conservative company. But if I hadn’t kept winning those Bathist races, I don’t know what would have happened.

DB You have some photos of it on a dirt road doing a little bit of oversteer?

DO Well, I don’t know what I was thinking at the time, David, but I lent my Torana GTR to you to drive and on a dirt road just so I could get photographs of it. It. There were good photographs I thought at the time, I think we might have put them on on your website.

DB I’d note at one stage here I was probably in the groove because I had a Terry towelling hat on.

DO Well, even rally drivers in those days just wore terry towing hats probably to keep the dust out of their hair.

DB You said you followed the Holden Dealer Team. Did you have a certain balanced view or were you somewhat one-eyed?

DO I would have thought I was pretty balanced, but in hindsight, I can think it was really kind of a strange fanaticism.

DO I had a scrapbook and I used to diligently cut out all of the photographs that I could find of winning Holdens: Bathrust, racing, and rallying. And they were the days of the Holden Dealer Team with Colin Bond and Peter Brock and Harry Firth. And so each week I’d cut the photographs out and stick them in my scrapbook and on the odd occasion when I got a good photograph but unfortunately, the Holden might have come second. I painted out the Ford in front of the Holden: painted it out with black paint. My scrapbook looked a bit like a redacted security document with big black patches all over it.

DB You could work for the administration in the American political system.

DB I might have seen a few spy movies in my time.

DB You threw those scrapbooks out, didn’t you? Was that cathartic?

At the time it probably was. But now, I really, really regret doing that. I mean, I mean, my memories of those days are really pretty good. And I’d like to go back and see them again. I think those photographs and how I treated them, it was good fun. And cathartic? Yes. Well, cars represent important milestones in a young bloke’s life.

DB It wasn’t a Torana, but you may have noticed that picture I’d put on the Overdrivecity Facebook site of the yellow Monaro with the lady getting out of it in a jumpsuit, a skin-hugging jumpsuit.

DO I did notice that, and I think I might have had a copy of that advertisement pinned up in my bedroom somewhere.

DB Loosely related to motoring.

DO You could look at it in two ways. I think he could have looked at that ad.

DB  Well, I think it had. What was it? A double entendre with one meaning.

DO Yes.

DB Have you continued a passion for Holden?

DO No. No. The cars after then became a succession of Datsun 1600s, Honda Accords, Subaru Forester and of course, trusty Volkswagen Kombi van As I get older,.

DO You rallied to 1600

DB Yes. Yes. And you, of course, were my trusty navigator. And we had a great time. It was cheap. The cars were rough and tough, and it was great fun.

DB You have an element of great culture about you. I remember sitting in the passenger seat to navigate and looking up to the note, well, a little piece of paper you’d cut out of a program and stuck on the roll bar. The program, I believe, was a ballet presentation,.

DO It was a concert or a ballet and I think with a notice in the program said “please remain seated during the performance”.

DB The only time I wanted to get out was for all the wrong reasons and nothing to do with your driving but to do with my inability to keep my head down reading while the car was bouncing all around me.

DO David, all the best navigator suffered from car sickness.

DB It was a lovely time. I can’t see a picture of an old Torana, particularly a Holden Dealer Team often on the circuit, but also in rallying, that doesn’t evoke within me a mystical significance.

DO Yes, certainly. Hindsight’s always terrific and I can look back and think how wonderful the times were. And they certainly were. It was a simpler time, cars were simpler, our lives were simpler, dirt roads were closer to the city. There’s not a dirt road within an hour’s drive of the centre of our cities. Now it’s just not fun.

DB I’ve appreciated, over the many years, your tolerance for my idiosyncrasies and your great kindness in allowing me to drive your Torana GTR on a dirt road.  I thank you for that and I thank you for your patience and ongoing trust.

DO It’s a pleasure. Let’s get together again soon and cry on each other’s shoulder.

DB And that’s Dean Oliver. The artist in residence for the Overdrive program, former Holden GTR Torana owner and driver, and the one who has kept his eye on things of broad culture and base Holden’s.

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