By David Burrell
If ever a car has penetrated the psyche of the young Australian male, then the Holden Sandman panel van and utility ranks right at the top.
Combining youth, freedom, power, sun, surf and sex, the Sandman had it all. There was nothing subtle about a Sandman when it hit the streets in 1974. Its bright primary colours and Sandman decals screamed out a warning to fathers that their daughters might not be safe. It was a sales success right from the get-go. Years later it was immortalised in a postage stamp.
Its genesis came when Holden’s product planners noticed the ever-increasing sales of V8 panel vans and utilities to younger customers. At the same time Holden’s design department, led by Leo Pruneau, had watched the increasing trend of customised panel van interiors and wild exterior paint jobs. You and I know them as “shaggin waggins”
Leo tells the story: “During the HQ model run I asked Peter Arcadipane to do some decals for us and some long side stripes. We put Monaro front guards on a Belmont panel van, blacked out the headlight surrounds, added a Monaro GTS steering wheel and stood back as they flew out of the dealerships.”
Based on that experience, Leo and his team picked the brains of some van customisers. “We found they wanted a van with a Monaro GTS sports interior with bucket seats, a wide choice of engines and transmissions and a bare bones panel van section out the back. That was because everyone wanted to customise the back themselves, with stereos, carpet, mirrors and a mattress. So that was what we did with the HJ onwards” remembers Leo.
“We also put a huge Sandman decal across the tailgate. In fact, when we showed it to the directors they just looked and shook their heads and asked if we were really serious,” says Leo. “You bet we are” he told them.
Leo also wanted to have a mattress as an official Holden option. The then CEO said NO to that idea. But Leo did get a tent to cover the rear tailgate on the options list.
The advertising folks did not hold back either. “Suddenly your car becomes your personal pleasure machine” said the brochure. “Lean, lithe and ready to go” shouted the print advertisements. It was a toss-up if they were describing the car or the occupants because none of the advertisements seemed to contain a fully clothed person over the age of 21.
Ford and Chrysler quickly followed with their Sundowner and Drifter respectively, but the Sandman always topped the sales charts. When the HZ ceased production in 1980, so too the Sandman. These days a Sandman from the 1970s are prized classics. Original and tidy V8 manuals go for upwards of $25,000.
David Burrellis a former CarsGuide contributor and classic car writer