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The first Holden performance special

Holden’s EH was a sedate family sedan, but it was soon turned into a performance variant not before experienced by an Australian make.

The S4 may not have won Bathursts, but it began a revolution leading to the highly publicised ‘Supercars Scare’ of the early 1970s.

Featuring a pushrod 179 cubic-inch straight-six engine, three-on-the-tree shift, drum brakes and thin steel wheels, the S4 was soon spruiked as a potential race winner in what was son becoming Australia’s most prestigious race at some hill in Bathurst.

Jaguars were dominating circuits nationally at the time, which included the single-event Australian Touring Car Championship, but these were ineligible to compete in the Armstrong 500 due to the price limitations placed on the event.

Following the first three editions of the event at Phillip Island, Mount Panorama in Bathurst was the new home for the race in 1963 where Holden aimed to take out victory both overall and class with the S4.

It needed to be covertly done due to General Motors’ strict no-racing policy, so the EH with its performance equipment underneath the skin provided this subtlety.

In its early guise, Holden engineers were worried the gearbox wasn’t strong enough to handle the 179 engine, so the three-speed featured a new bell-housing in addition to stronger gears and a heavy-duty clutch, while driveline was strengthen through a thicker tailshaft among other componentry.

A Repco-PBR VH24 brake booster helped the S4 stop, while skinny tyres featuring strong steel centres sourced from Holden vans provided extra confidence in this area.

Blueprinting and balancing were undertaken on the 179 engine, while the larger radiator from automatic version of the model aided reliability.

Holden failed in its quest to win at the Mountain with the S4 as Ford’s Harry Firth outfoxed his opposition to win in his Cortina.

In fact, Holden was just two minutes behind with Frank Morgan and Ralph Sach sharing an S4 in second.

Although success at what was soon to be termed as The Great Race fell short, it remained a weapon driven by greats including Norm Beechey for years to come.

More importantly though, it kicked off a revolution in the Australian motoring landscape.