The HD Holden had a colourful history.
Everyone has an opinion about the 1965 HD Holden, especially its controversial blade-sharp front mudguards.
How it got those guards is one of the great stories of Australian automobile folklore.
The HD was shaped at General Motors styling studios in Detroit by Leo Pruneau and Don Laski in mid 1962.
Ironically, Leo became Holden’s design supremo in the early 1970s.
Speaking to the Motoring Guru, Leo gave us the background to HD story.
“In 1962 Don and I had just finished designing the 1964 Opel Diplomat/Admiral and Bill Mitchell, boss of all of General Motors (GM) design around the world, gave us the job of doing the HD,” Leo said.
“The Opel styling was based on a secret concept car that Don and I had designed in October and November 1961.
“It was called the Solaris. It was never seen publically and was a test car for all sorts of different styling ideas. We used many of the Solaris styling themes on the Opel and then re-worked them for the HD Holden, including the rear window which is concave in side view and convex in plan view.“
Holden sent their top engineer, Reg Hall, to Detroit to watch the clay prototypes of the HD sedan and wagon take shape.
This smart idea meant the designers and Hall could overcome any engineering issues created by the styling as they went along.
Leo picks up the story again: “Originally we had the car with front mudguards which were flush with the grille, very similar to the later HR.”
“Bill Mitchell thought the car looked too short – he liked really long cars – so he told us to make the front guards jut out ahead of the grille, like the Solaris concept.”
Reg Hall disagreed.
He protested that it would be too hard to manufacture and told Leo to cut them back. Leo tells us what happened next.
“Then a week later Mitchell came back to the studio and ordered Don and I to lengthen them again.
“After Mitchell left Reg told us to cut them off. Anyway, this lengthening and shortening argument went on for a couple of weeks and Don and I would cut them off and stick them back on again.”
“Of course, Mitchell was always going to get what he wanted because he was the big boss. He convinced Holden’s management to go with them and that’s the way the HD went into the showrooms.”
Leo was also in the approval meeting when the HD was given the code “HD”.
He tells us what happened.
“Originally the HD was given the code EF, which meant “1965” in Holden’s code book. Anyway, Bill Mitchell always thought these codes were quaint and in the approval meeting he turned to Holden’s boss, David Hegland, and joked ‘hey David, how about we call this thing the DH – using your initials’?”
“Well, David was mortified and said no. Mitchell was not a man to say no to, so he said ‘ok, we’ll call it the HD, for David Hegland backwards’ – and that is how it got the code HD.”
Initial sales of the HD were strong but the styling was too futuristic for conservative Australians.
When sales started to slow Holden brought forward its next model, the HR, with its blunter front end.
Confounding the urban legend that HR was styled after the HD went on sale, photos in GM archives clearly show the HR shape was locked away in 1964, a year before the HD hit the show rooms – so someone was hedging their bets!
When Leo was later transferred to Holden in the late 60s the first car he wanted to see was the HD and “those damned front guards”.
David Burrell is the editor of retroautos.com.au