With a payload exceeding 1.3 tonnes, the HQ One Tonner was built to work hard.

The iconic Holden One Tonner, launched in November 1971, not only showed what levels of refinement, performance and longevity could be achieved in a serious work vehicle – it was also a game changer.

It hardly seems 40 years have passed since the One Tonner arrived, when you could find at least two at just about every work site across Australia over the past four decades. Even today, some owners have quite happily paid for a second and third rebuild when there is still nothing quite like it.

The creation of the One-Tonner was an inspired move by then Holden managing director Max Wilson. Aware of the gap between the larger US cab-chassis models assembled or manufactured in Australia and the growing range of more accomplished but underpowered four cylinder cab-chassis models from Japan, he moved quickly.

Holden’s new HQ series, the first all-Australian, all-new model since 1948, was the ideal starting point with its hefty front perimeter chassis frame and upgraded six cylinder and V8 engines.

Wilson always preferred the brassy, in-your-face looks of big US models. Holden grilles from the late 1960s that looked like farm gates reflected this look. Wilson was no fan of the sophisticated styling and softer Euro-style front of the HQ passenger car range he inherited and made sure it was scrapped by 1974 – but not before the whole HQ range became the most successful Holden ever.

One Tonner's unique front really stood out from its HQ ute and van stablemates.

For his prized HQ light truck concept, Wilson wasn’t prepared to wait that long and insisted on fitting a painted egg crate grille over the HQ grille aperture; a smart move when every big truck had one. For Wilson, though, it still didn’t look tough enough.

Desperate to find a cost-effective measure to create that elusive ‘tough truck’ presence, he instructed his designers to unbolt a huge painted steel bumper from a Bedford truck assigned to the engineering department at the time and make it fit.

To everyone’s surprise, it bolted straight on and created the right work vehicle look that distinguished the One-Tonner from all other HQ Holdens, including the vans and utes. Separate park light/indicator units next to the grille replaced the vulnerable bumper-mounted items on other HQs.

The One-Tonner looked simple, rugged and easy to repair, an impression backed by reality. Unlike any before it, its wide track and low centre of gravity communicated stability, with or without a load.

 

One Tonner cab was attached to the chassis using insulating rubber mounts in true 'truck' tradition.

Holden exploited the HQ’s front perimeter chassis frame by grafting boxed chassis members over its ends under the passenger area, to create a full chassis that could support a huge range of work and leisure bodies behind the cabin.

The soggy coil springs of the passenger cars were swapped for hard-working rear leaf springs, supporting a tough Salisbury live rear axle unique to the One-Tonner.

Although Holden built its HQ commercials on the HQ Statesman’s longer 114 inch/2895 mm wheelbase, it was boosted to 120.4 inches/3058 mm for the One Tonner. Crucially, this added load space within the wheelbase – not behind it.

And like the sedans, it could also seat three full sized Aussie adults across the front; a big advantage over the narrow-gutted Japanese imports.

One Tonner was loaded with features, including generous flow-thru ventilation with the windows closed.

The iconic Holden One Tonner continued in production until 1985 with surprisingly few changes, which only proved how good the original concept and design was.

The low speed lugging power and low maintenance of Holden’s sixes were ideal for such a work vehicle. As Holden raced its sixes and V8s, tougher engine internals quickly found their way into the One Tonner for a variety of high speed and heavy towing applications.

 Long distance overnight couriers soon discovered that an extra rear axle, giant driving lights, bull bars and powerful, upgraded V8 engines running on LPG made it ideal for express deliveries over all roads to remote areas.

Even an ambulance pack with a quad headlight Premier front was offered. ‘No limits’ really meant something with the One-Tonner.

 

Versatile One Tonner design could be tailor-made to suit virtually any application.

The switch to the local Commodore eventually left the One Tonner nowhere to go and it took Ford to revive the concept and keep it alive with the similar AU Falcon cab-chassis design from 1999.

Holden briefly revisited the genre in 2003-06 with a cab-chassis based on the VY-VZ Commodore, but without the tough HQ starting point it lost something in the translation. TJ

 *The full Heritage story of the Holden One-Tonner coming soon to Truck Jungle

 

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