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The Holden Camira was a mid-size car produced by Holden, the Australian subsidiary of General Motors (GM) between 1982 and 1989. It was Holden's version of GM's J-body family of cars—GM's third "global" car platform.

After an initial good sales run, Camira sales dropped significantly, and was discontinued in 1989. The Holden Apollo, a rebadged Toyota Camry was introduced as the Australian market replacement, with New Zealand instead offering the European-sourced Opel Vectra. In all 151,807 Camiras were built (85,725 JBs; 36,953 JDs; and 29,129 JEs).

JB (1982–1984)

The original Camira, the JB series, was introduced in 1982 with a major trans-Tasman marketing campaign. The Camira replaced the Sunbird and Torana, although an interim four-cylinder version of the Commodore bridged the two-year production gap.

A station wagon version was introduced the following year, and its bodywork was exported to Vauxhall in the United Kingdom for the Cavalier wagon. Some Camiras were also exported to right-hand drive markets in Southeast Asia, such as Indonesia and Singapore. The wagon variant was specifically a Holden design, and was actually a major demand Holden had in the overall "J-car" program. A five-door hatchback, based on the Opel Ascona/Vauxhall Cavalier "J-car" was proposed for the Camira, however due to Holden's financial losses at that time it never made production.

There was only one engine, the carburettored, naturally aspirated, transversely mounted 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine delivering 64 kilowatts (86 hp). The transaxle offering was a four-speed manual on the SL and SL/X, with a five-speed unit specified to SJ and SL/E variants. A three-speed automatic was optional on all models.

The Camira was Wheels magazine's Car of the Year for 1982. While superior to most other cars of the day in terms of ride and handling, the 1.6 litre Camtech engine was regarded as "underpowered" by much of the motoring media. While partly true, the powerplant produced similar power levels to many of its rivals, but the actual power delivery differed. Unlike traditional Australian engines that had reserves of low down torque, the Camira required a very different driving style that required revving the engine.

The Camira suffered from a litany of quality control issues, which included smoking engines in early models, insufficient drainage holes in the doors, poor paint quality and lack of adequate fan cooling, resulting in overheating in JB Camiras fitted with air conditioning. This tarnished the Camira's reputation.

Specification levels

  • SL: entry-level variant, with no air conditioning or power steering, though it is possible to find some with dealer-fitted air conditioning.
  • SJ : sporty version based on SL with a five-speed manual transmission. Other changes constrained to cosmetic upgrades.
  • SL/X: received several additional extras over SL including cloth trim, extra chrome, and other cosmetic upgrades.
  • SL/E: top-of-the-line model with richer trim, full instrumentation, and alloy wheels as standard. These alloy wheels were styled similarly to those of the VH Commodore SL/E wheels (however using a four spoke/four stud design rather than the Commodore's five). Despite being available in all other "J-car" models, power windows were not available in the Australian Camira models until the JE version, however, air conditioning and cruise control were optional as was a trip computer.

JD (1984–1987)

The second series JD Camira, released in 1984 received a facelift, with a more aerodynamic front-end and the absence of a conventional front grille. The differences were not only cosmetic, the engine was upgraded from 1.6 to a multi-point fuel injected 1.8-litre on the SL/X and SL/E models. These changes combined allowed the engine to deliver 85 kilowatts (114 hp). The new 1.8 litre engine was mated with a close ratio five-speed manual transmission, as opposed to the four-speed fitted to the 1.6.

In mid-1986 new emissions regulations required that all cars manufactured in Australia run on unleaded petrol. This forced another reworking of the engine (all variants prior to this ran on leaded petrol), during which time Holden was operating at a loss. The result was that Holden dropped the multi-point injection and reverted to single-point, akin to a carburettor, and altered the tuning of the engine to suit. A power-robbing catalytic converter was fitted, and power output was reduced by 20 kilowatts (27 hp) to 63 kilowatts (84 hp).

This engine was also used in Holden's locally manufactured compact car, the LD Astra (1987–1989), a badge engineered Nissan Pulsar (N13; 1987–1991), as well as the Pulsar itself. This was the result of a model sharing alliance between Holden and Nissan at the time, where the Nissan body was used in conjunction with GM powertrains. Running on unleaded petrol, this engine had an output of 79 kilowatts (106 hp). The Pulsar's 1.8 litre engine contained the same basic internals as the JD Camira's 1.8 litre engine, with the main exception being the block casting and smaller ports/valves on the head, and smaller intake manifold. Both the Camira and Astra/Pulsar engines were powered by a Delco Electronics engine control unit. This caused problems of its own, as with age, the fine tolerance of the circuitry and componentry have a tendency to fail unexpectedly, and on failing, the engine will cease to operate, or operate with a crippling loss of power due to incorrect tuning and fuel delivery. The external engine mounts are better placed on the Pulsar, and hence result in longer engine mount life.

Specification levels

  • SL, SL/X, and SL/E: as for JB.
  • Executive: introduced in 1986 as an option pack for the SL/X. The Executive was first seen on the VK Commodore in 1984.
  • Formula: first seen on the JD model, the Formula pack was optional to any model which had special pin striping and side skirts, this pack sold in limited numbers.

JJ (New Zealand 1984–1987)

In New Zealand the second generation Camira was marketed as the Camira JJ. This consisted of two entirely different J-cars: the sedan version was a rebadged version of the Isuzu Aska from Japan. This decision was made by General Motors New Zealand as sales figures of the Camira JB were poor for this market, however the wagon version which was built and sold in Australia was retained and assembled locally.

JE (1987–1989)

The JE was the final series of Camira. By this time, many of the Camira's early quality problems had been addressed, and Holden now fitted the multi-point fuel-injected 2.0 litre engine to replace the 1.8 litre unit. The 2.0 litre unit delivered 85 kilowatts (114 hp) at 5200 rpm and 176 newton metres (130 lbf·ft) of torque at 3200 rpm. The automatic transaxle in the JE, the Turbo-Hydramatic 125 C, sported a lockup torque converter. Styling changes were minor from the JD with the addition of a thin grille up front, revised bonnet, larger 14-inch wheels and new wheel trims.

After Camira production wound up during 1989, Holden replaced the Camira with the Apollo, a rebadged Toyota Camry. This was a result of the Button car plan introduced by the Australian Government, which encouraged a reduction in the number of Australian carmakers and models. Holden New Zealand was not affected by this scheme and instead replaced the Camira with the European-sourced Opel Vectra, which after 1994 was rebadged as the Holden Vectra. Holden continued to produce the Family II engine for export well after the Camira was discontinued. Over three million variants were produced, in 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 litre configurations, with the 1.8 and 2.0 litre variants being fuel injected.

Specification levels

  • SL, SLX, Executive, SLE: as for JB and JE series, except the SLX and SLE nameplates no longer featured the "/" symbol, as in SL/X.
  • Vacationer: was a special edition, based on the Executive, painted light blue metallic (an HT Monaro colour) with red and white decals, SL/X trim, and SL/E roof racks (wagons).
  • SLi 2000: was unique to the JE, being a "sports" package based on the SLX. Major differences were the addition of side skirts, a small spoiler and distinctive orange and silver pin striping. In somewhat of a marketing ploy, the SLi was only available in red, in the sedan body shell with a five-speed manual transaxle, and with a grey interior from the SLX. Despite its sports-oriented nature, the SLi 2000 was powered by the same Family II engine fitted to all other JEs, hence providing no extra performance.
  • Formula: was, like the SLi 2000, and could be optioned across the entire sedan range. Skirting and pin striping were also options. Buyers did have the freedom to choose the colour, however all versions had manual transmission and "Formula" headrest inserts.

The SLi 2000 and the Formula were sold in limited numbers and are subsequently rare today, as were cars built with central locking and automatic boot lid releases.

Common issues

All Camira models suffered from some common issues. These issues are one the reasons why the car never garnered significant sales figures.

  • Rust is evident in almost all sedan models underneath the rear windshield. On wagon models, rust is usually evident in the bottom of the tailgate due to the lack of water drainage.
  • Models equipped with a manual transmission had a clutch firewall cracking issue, where the clutch mount would tear the firewall mounting structure. This is easily rectified or prevented early on, but advanced stages of cracking are difficult to repair due to the awkward location and welding requirement.
  • On models fitted with an automatic transmission, the lockup torque converter switch malfunctions and keeps the torque converter locked in third gear when slowing down, stalling the engine upon the car coming to standstill. This is due to the poor durability of the plastic switch.
  • The engine control unit is notorious for problems. Cracks in the printed circuit board will often cause the engine to stall at speed if the board bends, for instance through heat expansion.
  • Engine mount breakages are known to occur, especially when driven roughly. This problem is particularly pronounced in the later fuel injection developments, which resulted in increased power and correspondingly increased stress on the Camira's rubber mounts.
  • The water manifold at the back of the engine is made of hard polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and can split after many heating and cooling cycles, necessitating replacement.
  • The cylinder head gasket is prone to warping, especially when driven frequently. This problem is particularly pronounced in the later fuel injection developments, with increased engine temperatures and increased stress on the Family II engine's cylinder head.

Safety

The Used Car Safety Ratings, published in 2008 by the Monash University Accident Research Centre, found that 1982–1989 Holden Camiras provide a "significantly worse than average" level of safety in the event of an accident, in a comparison to other "medium cars". The safety rating was not calculated solely on the basis of the protection of the vehicle's occupants, but also included protection for "cyclists, pedestrians and drivers of other vehicles" to give a "better guide to the total community impact of vehicle safety."