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Views, news and features about the Goulburn Valley. Showcasing a variety of local writers and their views.

Commodore? Smaller and without V8 Option

Commodore? Smaller and without V8 Option

"It's very soon coming," said Dr Neumann of the new Opel Insignia, suggesting it would be revealed within months.

Wheels magazine has already snapped pictures of the new Insignia testing and has reported the car will replace the Commodore.

When asked about how many would be sold in Australia, Dr Neumann said: "I don't know, as many as possible.

"I think the Australians will like this car a lot."

The next-generation Insignia (pictured above, cold-weather testing in Europe last month ) will be slightly larger than the current one (a car also sold here by Holden).

But it will be smaller than the current VF Series II Commodore; it will be the first time since the original Commodore in 1978 that the large Holden family car has shrunk in size.

It will also arrive without a V8 engine, making it the first Commodore to miss out on the high-performance option.

Instead, Opel will use a twin-turbocharged V6 to complement the four-cylinder engines that will also be available in the first-ever imported Commodore.

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The Sandman was a Love Child

The Sandman was a Love Child

Legend tells us that an entire automotive culture came from a mistake.  The run of Holden's uprated utilities and panelvans — Sandman — from the 70s is said to have started with an error on the floor of the Holden factory.

Many a terrified father can testify to that sinking feeling when the latest suitor turned up in a panelvan to take the daughter out to the drive-in.  Upgraded sound systems, mirror balls and shag pile carpet were part of the common treatment.

The yarn goes that in 1974 a GMH production guy wrote down the wrong codes for the next day's utility builds.  Instead of it being a regular build he wrote down the Monaro GTS code, R268, for the ute.  Half a day later a gleaming metallic green ute, complete with sports pack was sitting in the lay off area with people admiring it but scratching their heads.

The Sandman had been born by accident completely out of wedlock of the normal production rules.  It was an oddball that won the hearts of those on the shop floor and would soon prove to be a profitable line for Holden.  And soon others would follow ... creating their own version of Aussie iconology.

The Sandman captured the sex, surf and sand zeitgeist of the era perfectly, fanning a panel van customisation fad that lasted for a little while, and prompted Ford and Chrysler to release their own competitors – the now-forgotten Sundowner and Drifter. 

Powerful dealer Kevin Dennis had heard about the ute and immediately ordered half a dozen — the glory days of sports utes and vans were launching an entire culture.  The early marketing of these products was aimed at the youth male.  And the marketing gurus had decided to package it in surf and outdoor culture.  Despite the obvious reasons for owning a mobile bedroom, the Sandman had appeal as a recreational vehicle.

Holden got to work on completing the package with striping, bucket seats and sports rims.  The inspiration for the HQ Sandman stripes came from a US model the Pontiac Judge (which looks a bit like a Monaro).

The cool guys who owned Sandman's had shelled out nearly 150 per cent over and above the stock panelvan price.  Holden was making huge margins on these "rare" builds.  Next to the party was Chrysler, first with its Town and Country ute.  Again it was an uprated product, derived from a stock ute with bits of Charger and a vinyl roof and striping.

The Chrysler really dipped its toe in the water with the creation of the Drifter.  This was a head-to-head battle for Sandman's market that only lasted from 1977-78.  The Drifter van and ute were put into production and for a short while there was a Charger Drifter.  All of the Drifters had striping.  The van's was seriously over-the-top — making Starsky's Torino stripe pale into insignificance.

Ford's effort, last to the party and by all means a product copy of the Sandman.  it included options from the Falcon GS Hardtop, such as comprehensive instrumentation, bonnet scoops, slotted sports road wheels and driving lights, with side protection moulding´s and rear side glass deleted. Side and rear decals were included in the package.

Holden and Chrysler ceased production but Ford perservered with the last Sundowner appearing during the XD series.  For a short run, Ford also released an Escort panelvan dressed up in Sundowner striping.

One significant marketing effort was made by Chrysler, jointly with Coca-Cola and with Melbourne rock radio station, 3XY, creating the Denim Machine.  It was a Drifter on steroids (see photo) that created a lot of interest over the Summer with one lucky person winning the extreme machine.

And, just when you figured the Sandman was dead-and-buried, it popped up as a concept vehicle.  Holden toyed with the idea back when the VT Commodore-based VU ute range was released at the 2000 Australian International Motor Show in Sydney. Designed by Australian designers Mambo, just one van and wagon concept were shown, before the company elected not to take it into production.

And most recently, the VF series resurrected the old brand to try and maintain some interest in declining Holden sales.  A dressed-up ute and station wagon wearing the Sandman stripes and optional ghastly bright orange shag seat covers and parcel shag.

For me, there is nothing like the original Sandman, with the Drifter and Sundowner coming second and third.  Of the ute builds, the Town and Country by Valiant was the pick of the bunch.  All of them are becoming harder and harder to find in original trim and can pull some serious prices.

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