Book review: “The Passion for Muscle Cars” by Joel Wakely

It almost seems like a case of ‘local boy makes good’, as local resident Joel Wakely has just published his third book which is to be officially released at the Harrington Library at 2pm on Friday, September 7.

It is Joel’s third book and seems destined to follow the success of his two previous works ‘Legends of the 48-215’ and ‘The Passion for Holden’, both of which were also released at his local library.

Clearly Joel does indeed have a passion for his subject and is well across his brief. In this book he expands on his passion for ‘The General’s’ iconic classic, and branches out into the other Aussie built top end models in the high performance stakes.

With the passing of locally built cars, it’s perhaps timely to be reminded of just how good we were in knuckling down and creating some memorable muscle cars in what is a relatively small market in an industry now dominated by ‘global’ models.

The book which comprises some 200 pages, raises the bar to a new level over the author’s previous works, and the new ‘coffee table’ format does wonders for the many high quality images spread through the book, many of which come from private collections and others courtesy of corporate/ manufacturers libraries and have not been seen previously.

Suffice to say ‘It’s London to a brick’ that the eye catching cover almost sells the book, and if left casually on your coffee table when family or mates drop by, they will not be able to resist the urge to have a squiz. The shiny purple Ford 351 GT, flanked by an equally shiny lime green Monaro 350 GTS, and a red Charger R/T has that effect on lots of people!

The book is divided into 11 chapters, with chapters 3, 4 and 5 being devoted to ‘top end’ competition models from the ‘Big Three’, Holden, Ford and Chrysler.

Obviously, there’s plenty in between, with Chaper 11, enticingly headed “Epilogue: Back to the Future”, so not too hard to guess where my reading started.… but more of that later!

For Holden, the horse power race kicked off in the early 60s with the release of their new 7 bearing, “Red Motor’, after several years of enthusiasts getting extraordinary performance from the old feeble 60hp ‘Grey Motor’. By 1963 things were on a roll, with the new 6s being reliably tweeked to produce 150/200hp.

1968 saw GM introduce their newish small V-8s ‘down under’ and the game was on.

Meanwhile over at Ford’s long established plant in Geelong, in 1962 Ford introduced their now iconic Falcon to the market, and it was a stunner, if not a little fragile for local conditions, a minor problem local engineers soon had sorted.

With Ford’s long experience with V-8s, from their sturdy but aging Y block engines, it wasn’t too long that their new 289 cu.in. donk found a home in the Falcons, courtesy the company’s then new Mustang.    

Meanwhile at Tonsley Park in Adelaide, Chrysler had just invested $36 million expanding their assembly plan, and decided to get a slice of the action in the now booming Australian market, where they had been assembling their Valiant R and S models since 1962.

But their ‘Piece de Resistance’ was released in 1964, when local production began on the game changing AP5. Sharing the same drive train with the earlier Vals, its 225 cu.in. Slant 6 engine, raised the entry level in the horse power stakes to a leisurely 145 hp.

And before you could say ‘Hey Charger’, Mopar’s small block V-8s were readily available, and the ‘Muscle Car’ race was now headed north for the Big Three.

So, although it records the end of an era for local manufacturers, it’s a nice way to remember the golden days of Aussie Muscle cars, especially for those of us who lived the era.