The Holden Sandman is the celebrated 1970s sin wagon and iconic Aussie panel van. From when it first left the production lines in 1971, is was an instant hit with the younger generation. It was initially produced as a Holden Kingswood van, but by 1974, it had been rebadged and upgraded as the Kingswood HQ Sandman. This was available in two body shapes, the ute and panel van, and it was a more hip, stylish wagon than its more functional predecessor, with modern lines and bright, luminous colouring.
To encourage people to buy the Sandman, the adverts actively encouraged the free loving, sand, and surf culture of the time. While the van’s large cargo area was notorious for all forms of nefarious activities of the day, and with straplines like ‘Move Me Sandman’ on their advertising, it was plain to see where Holden saw its niche market.
Holden included many options of the sporty Monaro, such as the GTS dashboard, bucket seats, and rally wheels. There were minor changes in 1974 to the front, but with the HX range, the Sandman received the new Kingswood grille, unlike other utes in the Holden catalogue. These vehicles are also readily identifiable by the ‘Sandman’ logo on the tailgate and side stripes.
The final Sandman facelift came with the HZ model when it was fitted with a V8 engine, had an updated 4-headlight rig and grille, and front air dam spoiler added. By late 1979, the gloss had gone off the Sandman range and sales were dramatically down. Its exotic options were pushing the price to half as much again as that of a basic HZ van. October 1979 saw the last of the Sandman vans roll off the lines and enter into classic car folklore.
The Sandman HQ came with the options of either a 2.8L or 3.3L V6 and the 4.2L or 5.0L V8 engines. Although by the time of the HX models, the 2.8L engines had been discontinued. The 3.3L engines were capable of 88kW, while the 4.2L V8 produced 120kW, and the largest engine in the range, the 5.0L, ran at 161kW of power. At its best, the Sandman had a top speed of 201km/h, while the 5.0L could take the van from a standing start to 100km in 9.6 seconds, and even the 3.2L managed the distance in 13 seconds.
There were a number of transmission possibilities with the Sandman range, 3- and 4-speed manual gearboxes, either the wide or close, 4-speed floor control, or the M40 Trimatic and later the TH400 automatic transmissions.
A contemporary view of the car's suspension was summed up in Wheels Magazine in 1974, when they described it as softened and not sporty, advising buyers that, ‘the sport was best confined to the mattress in the rear.’
The standard features on the HQ Sandman were all based around the sporty GTS features found in the Monaro range and included GTS flared wheel guards, deep comfy bucket seats, GTS instrumentation, and rally rims. The HJ and HX ranges added to its package with full-length headlining trim, GTS headlight bezels, door armrests, and a standout black or white ‘Sandman’ decal package. The ultimate HZ models came with all of the above, plus windscreen blackouts, twin headlights, and body-coloured door mirrors.
Even in the earlier HQ model, the options packages included power steering, automatic transmission, rally wheels, and air-con. This was still the age of a car’s looks; most drivers customised their car’s interior, and some customised the Sandman in very exotic and outlandish ways.
Holden had created such a consuming image with the Sandman that it was inevitable that others would try to follow its popularity, and the Ford Falcon Sundowner and Chrysler Valliant Drifter did just that.
There was something about the era, the style, and the promotion of the Sandman that were of its time. It lived up to the sexy, fun-loving image of its advertising, and still today many of the vehicles on the road have colourful paint work and imaginative interiors. This was never meant to be a family car doing the school run; it was made for endless days and crashing waves. Anyone looking for a piece of 1970s motoring nostalgia need look no further than the Sandman; nothing else comes close.