FIRST PUBLISHED MAY 1978 EPIC TALES FROM OUR ARCHIVES
Unrealistic was not what we wanted for Wheels’ Silver Jubilee issue – May 1978 – when I asked the top engineer and designer from both Holden and Ford Australia to look into the future and tell us where the car was going over the next decade. In hindsight, given the longer all-new product cycles, this meant that the Ford and Holden advanced styling and engineering groups were already looking 10 years out. Far too close for the creative people to be at all specific.
Instead, Leo Pruneau, Holden’s director of design, and Joe Whitesell, GM-H’s chief engineer, chose to look further out to a utopian world in which, they believed, cars would shrink in size, the choice of niche bodystyles would grow away from the idea of one car for all purposes (a trend that would take decades and, ironically, spell the end of the indigenous Australian car), and fuel economy and emission requirements would become the biggest technical issues.
In Pruneau’s vision of 2003, tiny electric cars, something approaching the Smart, dominated. Sadly, his prediction of improved visibility never eventuated, while the advent of SUVs as mainstream models refutes his prophecy that vehicles would be lighter. Cars, perhaps, but not the SUVs now so common in the suburbs.
Both men thought that cars would have changed out of recognition by 2003. Yet, even a decade later, the Commodore and Falcon remain true to their origins of a large-capacity front engine driving the rear wheels, while the more popular hatchbacks maintain the same layout first established in the 1960s. And both overestimated the time required to get technology out of the research labs and into everyday life.
Yet their predictions of huge changes to drivetrain have come to pass: today’s cars offer more fundamental mechanical choice than ever before.
In 1978, Leo, who retired to country Victoria and still drives a Holden Camira wagon, provided us with small illustrations by a little-known designer to accompany his story, who we duly credited. Who could guess that Tom Matano would move from Holden and eventually join Mazda, where he was one of the key people who styled the original Mazda MX-5?
WE HAD also asked Fred Bloom, the American engineer who came out of retirement to lead the local team developing the XD Falcon, to contribute his thoughts on the future of the car. However, Bloom told us: “Company policy will not enable me to engage in such an exercise. I have been associated with the Ford Motor Company for the past 25 years of my working life, and am privy to all future plans of the company. In view of this it was felt, with justification, that I would be unable to remove myself sufficiently enough from the Ford world to write an article such as you require. I am, therefore, unable to comply with your request.” We always wondered who in the Ford public relations department wrote that letter.
THIS issue, our Silver Jubilee, looks back at a quarter-century of motoring with drives of an as-new 1954 VW Beetle and a Citroen 2CV, as well as a chat with a 60-year veteran of the industry, Sir Laurence Hartnett. New-car tests include Volkswagen’s Golf GLD diesel and Audi’s 5E. We also look behind the scenes of some prominent motoring TV ads.
JUST months after predicting the Kingswood of the future for us, Holden turns to the Commodore that first saw daylight in October 1978.
A BOMB explodes at Sydney’s Hilton Hotel, host to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting. Three people are killed.
KEN Warby sets a world water speed record in his boat, Spirit of Australia.
The 510km/h record, set on NSW’s Blowering Reservoir, stands today.
We turn to our long-departed sister publication Sports Car World for Mel Nichols’ legendary 1975 tale of driving a Falcon GT-HO Phase III down the Hume Highway