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How the HD Holden got its front guards

1965 Holden HD clay model.

How it got those guards is one of the great stories of Australian automobile folklore. The HD was shaped in Detroit by Leo Pruneau and Don Laski in mid 1962. Ironically, Leo became Holden's design supremo in the early 1970s.

Speaking to Carsguide Leo told us the HD story: "In 1962 Don and I had just finished the 1965 Opel Diplomat and Admiral and Bill Mitchell, boss of all of General Motors (GM) design around the world, gave us the job of doing the HD. We used many of the Opel styling themes on the 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: "Originally we had the car with front mudguards very similar to the Opel's, and the HR Holden's, which were flush with the grille. But 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 Oldsmobile Toronado. Well, Reg Hall protested that it would be too hard to manufacture and told us cut them back.

Then a week later Mitchell came back to the studio and ordered us to lengthen them again. 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".

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 a full year before the HD hit the show rooms, so someone was hedging their bets! When Leo was later transferred to Holden the first car he wanted to see was the HD "and those damned front guards!" he says today.

David Burrell is the editor of www.retroautos.com.au