To say the early Holdens were successful is a huge – and obvious - understatement.
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of postwar car history in Australia will know that Holden came to dominate the market soon after its release.
In the 1950s, Holden held close to half of the total new car market for much of the decade.
Even the arrival of challengers in the form of Ford’s Falcon and Chrysler’s Valiant in the early 1960s saw Holden’s position remain strong.
However, with so many Holdens in circulation at that time, it should come as no surprise that there were owners looking for a way to individualise their vehicles - to make their Holden stand out from the flocks of similar vehicles on Aussie roads.
GMH serviced a good portion of this market themselves with their NASCO range of factory accessories. NASCO provided everything from sunvisors to headlight guards, wheel spats and various other chrome doo-dads. And that was just the outside.
NASCO goodies for the cabin included radios, heaters, storage options, venetian blinds and a wide variety of other knick-knacks.
While NASCO cosmetic parts and accessories continued to be offered into the 1960s, the ’50s was arguably their golden era.
As such, NASCO accessories are highly sought after by Holden restorers looking to give their FJ, FE or FC an additional dose of period style and authenticity.
But NASCO weren’t the only players in this game.
Motor City Style
Mention the name “Tilli” today and you’ll probably get a blank look, even amongst classic car enthusiasts, but 60 years ago, they were akin to AutoBarn or Supercheap Auto.
Offering a range of automotive accessories, most Tilli products were cosmetic add-ons for owners and DIY types to bolt or screw on to their cars, but the range did include some more purposeful items like heaters, weather shields, fender guards and mud flaps.
However, Tilli’s best known – and most visual – products were their range of striping kits.
Produced mainly to suit Holdens, Tilli kits were also available for Volkswagens, as well as other European and some British makes, but were simple enough to be applied to just about any car from the 1950s and 60s.
A Tilli kit consisted of a range of pre-cut and shaped stainless steel strips, which were designed to be attached to the bodyside using supplied clips.
The strips added style as is, but were also created so that contrasting or complementary colours could be applied within the strips’ boundary to give the car a dash of additional eye appeal.
In the case of the FE Holden, a range of four different Tilli kits were available, identified by evocative names like Detroit, Victoria and Dart. Tilli extended the same basic premise to the FC, FB and EK Holdens, too.
With names like Florida, Californian, Miami and Hollywood, it’s clear these kits were trying to bring a bit of American style to Aussie cars that didn’t match their cross-Pacific cousins when it came to swathes of chrome and multi-coloured bling.
As mentioned, most Tilli kits were applied by home enthusiasts, but Holden dealerships fitted them, too, sometimes to clinch a sale or give new stock the impression of extra value, while second-hand car dealers used them to tart up older trade-ins that were proving hard to budge from the yard.
How many ’50s- and ’60s-era Holden were fitted with Tilli kits and similar striping kits from other manufacturers is unknown, but survivors today are few and far between, so when one turns up, it’s worth a closer look.
Sunshine State Survivor
Currently owned by Greg Hawkes of Bargo, New South Wales, this 1957 Holden FE Special sedan was bought by Greg’s father Dennis in 2012 and came after Greg’s purchase of a 1959 FC Special almost decade earlier and Dennis’s acquisition of a 1962 EJ Special in 2009.
The FC has some history behind it (see separate article) and the EJ is a superb example, thanks to a drawn-out restoration, followed by rectification work done by the Hawkes family that has returned it to original condition and specification.
As good as those other two cars are, the FE is the jewel in the Hawkes family crown.
This car’s provenance can be traced back to December, 1957, when it was purchased new by a Mrs Hilda Laidlaw in Brisbane.
Greg’s research discovered that the Tilli kit – a ‘Detroit’ stripe in this instance – had been requested by Hilda for fitting at the dealership before delivery, with a fill section in Corsair Tan over the factory Shoreline Beige duco to complement a similar two-tone treatment of the interior.
“It was only driven sparingly by her until it was sold to a Mr. Sid Guglielmo, also from Queensland,” Greg explained.
When Sid purchased the car in 1991, the odometer showed only 42,000 miles – that’s less than 1,300 miles (2,090kms) for each of the 34 years she owned it.
When it came to Sid, the FE was your typical ‘little old lady’ car, still in remarkably good condition thanks to being covered up when not in use, as well as rigid adherence to the service schedule.
“She treated it very well and ensured it was always serviced on time in accordance with the Owners Manual for all of those 34 years.”
As a member of the FE-FC Car Club of Queensland, Sid knew the value and rarity of the car, treating it with the same sort of care as its first owner.
After 15 years and an additional 13,000 miles in Sid’s ownership, the FE entered the next phase of its life.
Headin’ Down South
The car’s next owner was John Slater, a member of the FE FC Car Club of NSW.
As purchased in March, 2006, the FE was still in good condition, but on the eve of its 50th birthday, it was starting to show its age.
After John took the FE to the 2006 FE FC Holden Nationals at Phillip Island, (where it scored the ‘Entrant’s Choice – Most Original’), some areas of concern became apparent.
“In November that year, after finding rust in the nearside front floor, John decided to undergo what he described as a preservation, rather than a full restoration,” Greg said.
That preservation work covered not only rust repair, but a complete engine rebuild, a new stainless steel 2-inch exhaust system and a refurbishment of the engine bay back to original specification and appearance.
A front end rebuild was also on the menu, along with authentic whitewall crossply tyres and rare ‘thumbprint’ wheel trims.
The Tilli strips were removed and refurbished, too.
when new, fitting a ‘Detroit’ stripe like this one required almost 200 holes to be drilled in the body, so removing the trims and replacing those dozens of clips without damaging the original paint would have been a time-consuming and nerve-wracking process!
“John put the car on club reg during this time, but after a much-expanded list of work was completed in September, 2011, the car spent more time in the shed than on the road,” Greg said, adding that John had moved away from Aussie classics by this time and was showing interest in larger American cars.
The FE came to the attention of Dennis Hawkes via Greg and his mates in the FE FC Car Club of NSW, who already knew about the car before it was spotted amongst the consignments at Shannons Sydney Summer Classic Auction in February, 2012.
One can assume that John was inspired to consign his car after a similar FE Special, also with the rare Tilli Detroit stripe, had sold for $26,000 at Shannons Sydney Spring Classic Auction the previous September.
As consigned, the car was still fresh from John’s preservation work and it should be noted at this point that the interior was original – the same Egret Ivory and Morocco Tan trim that Hilda Laidlaw fell in love with more than 55 years ago.
Dennis was looking for a good FE or FC, so he could go on club runs with Greg, and the Slater car looked ideal for that purpose.
A winning bid of $24,000 secured the FE, which soon joined the FC at the Hawkes’ home base.
Soon after purchase, Dennis sorted out a few mechanical issues, added a 3.55:1 diff centre and replaced the factory points and condenser with electronic ignition.
Floor mats were made and colour-matched to suit the interior, with a driver’s side mirror and period-look rego plates also added.
Improved, Used, Adored
“Recently, the remainder of the diff housing, along with the rear springs, spring hangers, etc., were repainted to reflect the tidiness of the rest of the underside,” Greg explained.
“The boot interior was also refreshed and given a new coat of paint.”
Last year, the car was transferred to Greg’s ownership and from full reg to NSW concessional club registration, which allows for 60-day concessional usage through the FE FC Car Club.
On those club runs, the car doesn’t miss a beat and never fails to draw attention.
The latter also applies at car shows, where the FE has continued its trophy-winning ways, scoring ‘Best Original’ on five separate occasions.
When we asked Greg what he loved about this car, his answer was simple and straightforward: “I love its great condition and low mileage.
Also, the rare combination of Shoreline Beige and Corsair Tan.”
When asked if he’d ever sell this car, Greg’s answer was equally simple and straightforward: “No”.
They say you shouldn’t end a story on a negative, but in this instance, that ‘no’ is a positive, as this rare and original FE Special looks like it’ll be a part of the Hawkes family garage for a long, long time.
Thanks to Greg Hawkes and members of the FE FC Holden Car Clubs of Australia. A special thank you to Dennis Hawkes for assistance in compiling this article.