Beaut Ute: 1955 FJ Holden Ute

I guess that every country produces cars that they would consider to be iconic, and one of the great icons of Australian motoring is the FJ Holden. How iconic is it? Well, there used to be a successful Australian rock band called Ol’ 55. The lead singer of that band legally changed his name to Frankie J. Holden, or FJ Holden, for short. The FJ marked the second Australian model for (General Motors) Holden, and like its predecessor, it was an enormous sales success. Barn Finder Jason H spotted this Aussie classic for us, so thank you for that Jason. The FJ has traveled a long way from its home in Caloundra, Queensland, to its current location in Oroville, Washington. It is listed for sale here on Craigslist, with an asking price of $8,054.

For an Aussie, it really doesn’t get a lot better than this: An FJ Holden, and it’s a Ute! As you can see, the FJ currently sits on a set of aftermarket wheels. These appear to be Australian Dragway wheels, which were popular in the 1970s and 1980s. The body of the FJ looks to be quite reasonable, which is important in what was actually a fairly light vehicle of unibody construction. The most pressing rust issue that I can see is in the rocker on the passenger side. However, it appears that the owner has done some shopping with an Australian firm called Rare Spares, who can supply an enormous range of replacement parts, panels, trim, and chrome. There appears to be a new set of inner and outer rockers there for both sides of the vehicle, along with a fresh tailgate skin. Some of the external chrome and trim is showing its age, and I think that a lot of it is due for a trip to the nearest plater. Otherwise, the body looks pretty straight, and all of the glass is present, and in good order.

The Aussie Ute was developed very much for the “man on the land,” and many of them saw a pretty hard life on farms, and as commercial vehicles. They were only rated to carry a load in the bed of around 770lbs, but many saw loads of more than twice that amount and carried these loads reliably. Build numbers for the FJ Ute were also very interesting. A grand total of 44,803 Utes rolled off the Holden production lines between 1953 and 1956. Of that total, the Australian Army took delivery of 404 vehicles for field use because they were rugged, reliable, and easy to maintain. The interior of the FJ Ute is quite spartan, with a vinyl-upholstered bench seat, vinyl door trims, rubber matting on the floor, and an all-steel dash. The interior of this one is looking a bit old, but trust me on this one, they really don’t take a lot of work to restore. The “big ticket” item in the dash is the blanking plate that covers where an owner could fit a radio. These used to be lost as people fitted their vehicles with aftermarket radios and cassette players, but this one still has the blanking plate firmly in place.

Powering the FJ is the venerable 132.5ci 6-cylinder Holden “Grey” motor. This received its name because the entire engine was painted in an uninspiring shade of grey. Later on, Holden introduced a Red motor, a Blue motor, and a Black motor. I’ll bet you can’t guess what colors those were painted! These engines produced a mere 60hp, but thanks that both the maximum power and maximum torque being produced at low engine RPMs, they acquit themselves quite well in these cars. They are capable of cruising on the open road at 60mph, and the engine is still capable of returning 30mpg, which isn’t bad. The engine is backed by a 3-speed manual transmission with a column shifter. This particular FJ still features its Grey motor, but it does look like it has received some performance upgrades. It has been fitted with an Offenhauser intake, dual Stromberg carburetors, along with headers and a more aggressive camshaft. These were all pretty popular upgrades on these motors, and it certainly dragged some extra power out of them. The owner says that the engine sounds sweet, and with that combination, I don’t find that to be at all surprising.

The FJ Ute. The stuff of legends. Not only did it eventually lend its name to a musician, but to the title of a movie. There are two things that I find really interesting about this particular FJ Ute. The first is that it has traveled such a long way from home. The second and more telling is the price. It now appears that it is possible to buy an FJ Ute for a lot less money in the US than an Australian can in its home country. It’s a funny old world.


  1. Fred W

    Google an image of a Chevy SSR pickup and put it next to this Holden. The resemblance is uncanny!

    Like 4
  2. Sam61

    Looks at little Studebakerish. Good call SSR

    Like 2
    • Solosolo ken tilly Member

      My first thought as well. The cab looks distinctly like my 1959 Pick-up.

      Like 1
      • Lachlan

        Sadly holden in Australia has shut down. if they went with a unique styling retro look like the Chevy SSR pickup they might still be going. Instead they tried to keep up with the cheap Asian imports look and cost and of course failed.

  3. Peter

    Grey motor had four bearing crank. Other colours were seven bearing. Largest capacity was the blue & black with 202 cu in. As I recall, black became the 12-port head while others were less. Also, I think black ended up with three webers for the hot versions and others had fuel injection. The most popular conversion was the red motor in either 149 or 179 cu in capacity with about 100 bhp and the aftermarket designers fitted them with 3 SU carbs. Lots of modification parts available in Oz including rack & pinion steering conversions & disc brakes.

    Like 3
    • Adam Clarke Staff

      Peter, the Holden Red motor was a pretty decent piece of equipment. Many years ago I owned an EH Holden (which I should never have sold), that was fitted with a 186ci red. It ran the X2 intake with Stromberg carbs, roller rockers, a polished head, and an XU1 grind cam. That thing was scary fast, and I really do miss it. Of course, the 202 was the weapon of choice when Peter Brock won Bathurst in 1972, so they were a pretty decent bit of gear. The Black motor copped fuel-injection in the VK Commodore, but by that stage, the engine was getting pretty long in the tooth.

      Like 3
      • Peter

        Thanks for replying. I forgot about the 161/186 variant.

      • Garry

        The car in this feature appears to have been fitted with 13inch wheels from a later model. The rocker cover is also non-original. The capacity and power of the old grey was increased to 70 (or 75?) BHP for the FB (1959) model. Merv Waggott manufactured an excellent twin cam conversion for the grey motor. The letters in model identification represented numbers, thus F=5, J=3, E=6, B=9, H=4, etc. Thus FJ=1953, FE=1956, FB=1959, etc. The red motor was a completely different donk and commenced life as a 149 in the EH, the last model to use that series of letter identification. Here endeth today’s lesson!

        Like 1
      • Garry

        “Yella Terra” (? I think that’s the spelling) had a good head conversion for the red, blue and black motors. They had a conversion for the six cylinder Ford Falcon as well.

      • Garry

        The more “famous” of the red engines was probably the 179, many of those badges were relocated from cars to belt buckles, as were the “X2” badges. (Or is that “re-imagined” in today’s cool language?

      • Tricky

        Adam/Peter, I had the LJ Torana GTR XU1 with the 202, M20 4-speed and I replaced the triple SU’s with triple Dellorto’s . That thing was stupid scary fast as the car was so light. I later traded that in for a genuine LX SS Hatchback that I removed the 308 from and put in a worked 327 SBC. Funnily enough though, the 202 with triple Dellorto’s had worse fuel economy than my 327 SBC with a 4BBL Holley….!!

  4. Fossil

    Will someone PLEASE snap up this beauty OR post it back to where it came from so we can resurrect it!!
    A well restored Holden (G.M. inspired and made) Utility is worth a lot of money here in Australia.

    Like 5
  5. ruxvette

    “The most pressing rust issue that I can see is in the rocker on the driver’s side.” Actually, that’s the passenger side because the driver side is really on the passenger which truly is the driver side because…aw, hell, it’s a real cutie and seems priced right.

    Like 6
    • Adam Clarke Staff

      Thanks so much for pointing that out ruxvette. I get so used to writing about left-hand drive cars that I forget myself when I’m writing about cars from the home country. My truly whopping mistake there. I’ve jumped in and fixed that in the article.

    • Claudio

      Since no one seems to like the ssr, get a totalled one and mount the little ute and get the best performing and best looking combination …

    • Garry

      That model ute had a chassis, so rust isn’t such a big problem.

  6. Gay Car Nut Tacoma

    G’day mate. Lovely looking Holden Ute. I’ve always been interested in Australian built cars. I’d love to see more Aussie cars in the future. I’d buy one if there were any in Tacoma, Washington. :)

    Like 1
    • MikeH

      This one is only 5 hours away. Go for it!!

    • Fossil

      You may be a bit “hard pressed” to find an Aussie made car of recent vintage because we have now closed ALL of our vehicle manufacturing plants. Anyway, the older Aussie cars had character and some of them bring big dollars like the Peter Brock VK SS in racing livery. I had several of Peter’s cars but like everything valuable I have owned over the years, now gone to another home. Go look at our Bathurst race on YouTube held each year. It is most likely the very best touring car race in the world.

      Like 1
      • Garry

        Unfortunately the Bathurst race is no longer for real cars. It would be great to see it revert to its original format!

        Like 6
  7. Philip Bregar

    So…I’m assuming that the yellow Ute sitting next to the blue one isn’t an FJ? He states in the CL ad that it’s the only one in the US.

  8. MikeH

    I don’t understand the ad. It seems to be an ad for one car, but then he shows a picture of a completely different car. And then he states “clear Washington titles”, plural. Is he selling two cars, is the second car a parts car, or does he just not know how to write an ad?

    Like 2
  9. Tex260Z

    Hi, what a koinkidinkee, Dave was in attendance and selling his autobiography at our club lunch last month.

  10. Tex260Z

    Holden didn’t shut down completely, in fact they are designing American cars and systems, (as they were previously doing before they shut down manufacturing).
    In fact they are investing in major expansion:

  11. Tex260Z

    They have some pretty radical concepts on the drawing board as well, how about top speed 480 Kml per hour?

  12. Fossil

    That may very well be the case that the design teams are still operating, however all manufacturing jobs to do with the production of passenger motor vehicles, together with all of the component manufacturers has ceased. A significant decision to cease production had to do with the auto unions greedy push to pay workers and other factory staff far more then they were worth. The Australian Government was subsidizing the auto industry here for years, so it was inevitable that the plants would close eventually. So goodbye to the three heavyweights G.M.H., Ford and Toyota and hello to VW, Kia and the rest of them that are making their people wealthy on the backs of us Aussies!!

    • Garry

      Add to that tariff protection (backed up by union pressure) in countries that GMH wanted to export to.

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