A highly-coveted Holden and its nostalgic owner

A car purchased for fun and frolics has turned its owner into an accidental investor.

Words: Claire Finlayson  Photos: Kirsty Middleton

Hamish Evans is squirming a bit about having this conversation. It’s due to his automotive affliction: Rare Holden Imposter Syndrome. He’s worried that a car as cool as his should probably belong to someone else. “I’m not really a car guy. I feel like I don’t deserve it. So many proper ‘car people’ would look after it better than me.”

The vehicle in question is a highly coveted 1974 Holden Monaro GTS 350 (four-door, automatic). Though production numbers are uncertain, it’s known that very few of these cars were made — and fewer still made it from Australia to New Zealand. When Hamish bought it on Trade Me eight years ago at a friend’s suggestion, he had no idea how scarce this model was. He just knew that forking out $40,000 for it made him wince a little: “It was the top end of my budget.” Its current value makes him wince, too: it’s now insured for — gulp — $235,000.

“All I wanted was an old Holden to do a few skids in,” he says, with an air of apology. So, it was primarily purchased to carry out highly unscientific experiments involving rubber and traction? “Pretty much”, he says.

Other things sang to him about the car, though, right? “Yeah, I liked the colour — it’s a cool brown. We call it the ‘golden Holden’.” It’s a perfectly on-brand hue for a coffee baron (Hamish is the founder and managing director of Switch Espresso coffee company in Christchurch). “Yes, it’s a bit like an espresso crema.”

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The car’s distinct 1970s vibe also woos him. It is the decade of his early boyhood and when he first got behind the wheel.

“Our family had an apple-green Ford Falcon 500 station wagon. We needed a big car because there were six of us. When I was about four, my twin brother and I were left in the Falcon one day while Mum went into the supermarket. We were playing taxis, and I turned the ignition on. We bunny-hopped across the road and hit the gutter on the other side. Mum came out of the supermarket holding ice creams for us and wondered where her car was. We were screaming and in tears because we were so terrified. My parents never left the keys in the car again (it was the 1970s).

“We still got our ice creams, which was a surprise.”

How a man with a mild case of car apathy ended up with a classic Australian muscle car is a matter of great intrigue. One of Hamish’s school friends, Brendan Seal, has a theory. He remembers the delight of seeing Hamish pull up to collect him in his new Holden: “It’s one of those cars that can’t help but make you smile. We were both laughing like idiots before we even got out of the car park that day. Hamish may not be a ‘car guy’, but he is most certainly an engine guy.

“He’s always had a selection of engine-driven toys (a lawnmower racer, jet boat, golf cart), so it didn’t surprise me at all — it fits into the category of an engine-based toy that brings you joy. I always assumed that was his purpose in purchasing it, not as an investment. The fun factor.”

“The interior is so cool,” says Hamish. “It’s in very original condition and in bloody good nick. I haven’t done interior repairs other than the externally mounted modern stereo with Bluetooth. My kids love the wind-down windows and the old tapedeck but find the ‘door ashtrays’ very weird.” This Monaro has what car-savvy sorts call ‘matching numbers’ (where the digits on the motor match the manufacturer’s records). Hamish says this is what gives it added value. “It’s understood that only 214 were ever made — and only 160 with the turbo-hydramatic THM400 transmission. That makes it one of the rarest Holdens ever made.”

That fun has waned some over recent years. “Initially, it was so cool to drive. My wife Jen and our kids Poppy and Duke loved it too because it was noisy and fast. But the amount of attention it got caught me by surprise. People would stop and stare every time we pulled up at the lights.”

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He’s had to navigate car conversations a little deeper than he feels qualified to partake in. “You need a lot of spare time when you take it out because everyone wants to chat about it. I’m out of my comfort zone — I don’t even know what they’re talking about half the time, so I front-foot it and say, ‘I’m not a car guy. I don’t know much about this car.’ That gives them a great opportunity to tell me all about it.”

It’s not just the incessant ogling that’s taken the shine off driving it. “There’s also the fear of someone dinging it or stealing it — the badges alone are expensive, and people can pop them off. You can’t leave it outside the supermarket or on the side of the street.” So, no parking up and popping into a store for an ice cream? No Holden driving lessons for the teens?

“Hell no. It’s come to the point where it’s quite stressful to drive it. I no longer have the car I wanted — one I could cruise around in and not worry about. Instead of a couple of times a week, I probably take it out four times a year now. It’s terrifying.”

Hamish’s car ownership is very complicated. It involves a heady mix of buyer’s remorse and delight. “I’m forever grateful to my mate Glenn, who told me to buy it. But there’s a lot of conflict in my enjoyment of it now.” There are plenty of Holden zealots keen to release him from that conflict. “There’s a list of people who regret selling it — it’s called the ownership papers.”

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But ask this accidental investor about the Holden’s virtues, and he’s smitten again. “It’s so grunty. It’s a 5.7-litre V8 so it goes like stink. It’s automatic, but it has all the bells and whistles from its race days around the South Island, so it performs really well. It’s a beautiful car. It has that 1970s style that I love. The interior is so cool. And the acceleration is so much fun — it’s exhilarating.”

That almost sounds like proper “car guy” talk…

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.
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