Against All Oddities: How my Holden was stolen and used for crimes, Part 1
Matthew Anderson is a North Carolina native, professional engineer, and devoted crapcan connoisseur. He owns a Holden, a Citroën, a Hobby 600 camper, a Moskvich, a Studebaker, an Isuzu, and he thinks that’s it. We don’t ask him too many follow-up questions. –Ed.
I’m reluctant to even type this story. It’s just that unbelievable. Not in the common “wow, isn’t that great?” sense of the word “unbelievable,” but in the literal sense.
Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: The year was 2014, and I was in Australia. The 1987 Holden Commodore I’d recently purchased was stolen from my Melbourne hotel parking lot. As I looked for the car all over town, I discovered it was being used in a crime spree. Adding insult to injury, the perp was spotted wearing cowboy boots. My cowboy boots, which were in the back seat.
Look—if a random person told me this story in a bar, I’d patiently sit through it while my inner monologue screamed “BS” at the back of my eyeballs. However I assure you that everything I’m about to tell share concerning my stolen VL-generation Commodore really happened. So let’s start at the very beginning, just as I’ve done countless times around tables with my incredulous friends.
An affection for Australian cars reached me in unconventional fashion, during the summer before sixth grade, 1996. It was the intermission of a twilight capture the flag game in North Carolina, and I was speaking with a girl, my Australian expat neighbor. I was saving up to buy my own car, I explained. She already had one back in Sydney but forgot what it was called, she said. “Could you go inside, ask your parents, and find out?” I pleaded. This was important information. “Yes, right now, please.”
Go inside she did, and as she looked back through the sliding glass door, the word “Monaro” passed her lips. A 1969 Monaro GT-S 327, to be specific, I later found out when her father invited me into their garage the next day. The place was adorned with pictures of an HSV foive loita (that’s “five liter” in Aussie-talk) Senator sedan lifting a front wheel over an apex. There were more shots of the Monaro GT-S at the Targa Tasmania. It was an alternate automotive reality that beckoned to me with open arms. I’ve been obsessed with cars from Down Under ever since.
Nine years ago, the opportunity finally came: I was going to Oz. A business trip was the main reason, but I had enough saved vacation time tacked on the end to experience the place on my own terms. And, of course, bring back some souvenirs.
I wasted no time and made swift preparations. Using some contacts at Port of Charleston, I pre-arranged for a 40-foot shipping container to depart Melbourne for Charleston at the conclusion of my escapade. I had two weeks to fill it with upside-down muscle cars.
My search began the moment I landed at Tullamarine. There was no specific make or model in my sights; it just had to be registered, roadworthy, Aussie in origin, and cheap.
First, I test drove an ’80s XD Ford Falcon wagon, which still came equipped with a three-speed column shift. Cool, especially since you shifted with your left hand, but the engine overheated in the first 100 meters. No dice. Next I crawled around some early Holden Commodores; a manual-transmission example with the 253 V-8 would’ve been “sweet as,” but everything available was an auto or had the outdated leaded-fuel Holden 202-cu-in six. In Sydney I got to hear all the whooshes and zu-tu-tu noises of the VL Turbo, which was the final iteration of the first-series Commodore with a very special engine: the Nissan RB straight-six. A few sideways skids in the rain proved rather addicting, but I walked away from that particular car, which had red flags like exposed speaker wire and a cheap grey polyester carpet.
But then, a gift from the automotive deities Down Under. A suspiciously cheap candidate popped up: a VL Commodore with a manual gearbox, just not a Turbo. This particular one had been resprayed in Subaru’s WR Blue hue, was lowered a bit, and sported a set of headers plus a limited-slip diff and the all-important Interceptor steel wheels. It also had a rust hole in the roof, but this is a relatively normal demerit among my purchases. In retrospect, it was a totally unwise buy. Investment- grade only if you deal in scrap metal.
I should add that the car was parked down a literal back alley. Its owners, a father and son team, drove a hard bargain. I came in at two thirds asking price. They came back with a strong “yeah, OK, mate!” …Wait, what? That’s it? After snagging a temporary registration at VicRoads (think Aussie DMV), I was on my way in some hoontastic wheels. One car down, one to go, or so I thought.
Straight away I drove up to my buddy Bluey’s farm in the fun-to-say city of Yan-Yean. Over the course of a weekend, we did burnouts (shed skids, for the true connoisseur) in a ’60s Kingwood wagon, went to a burnout festival, then got back home and did burnouts a yet another Holden, this time a VH-series Commodore. I was then rather inspired by a ride around a track in a LS-swapped, hot pink VL. We cracked a few beers and got my new Commodore cleaned up, installing fresh front and rear bumpers to replace the obviously broken ones.
On Sunday night, I headed to my hotel in the Melbourne suburbs. I hadn’t felt like dragging my massive suitcase (with cowboy boots and surf gear) through the lobby, so I grabbed just my laptop and a change of clothes before heading inside. The concierge saw my slammed blue rattle trap Holden through the automatic doors and reminisced to me about all the questionable decisions he, too, had made in one. I was right there with him until we both realized I needed room keys. Exhausted, I walked a few doors down for a burger and retired to my room to prepare for a very early morning of work at the proving grounds in Anglesea.
“Joe, I’m gonna be late, can’t find my car,” was how my 6:20 a.m. phone call with a co-worker began. “Must have gotten towed.” End of call. There were zero other cars there on the surface parking lot, which seemed suspicious. I saw some gruff old chap, sitting on a lawn mower, with tats and long stringy grey hair. If anyone knew the early morning tow protocol, it would be him.
“Do they tow in this lot?” I asked.
“Nah, mate,” he assured me, his breakfast cigarette nodding in agreement. “It’s been nicked.”
Well, now what? As any concerned citizen would do, I called the cops. They took a report over the phone. No officer, there is no glass on the ground, no sign of the car, no footage of the theft, and the keys are still jingling in my pocket. My hopes were not high.
Wearing my only pair of clean underwear, I called back to work. “Joe, I think I’m gonna need that ride.”
Keep following Against All Oddities for Part 2 of this story. Until then, please enjoy the below selection of Matt’s Australia photos from that very same week in 2014.
When I read the byline of ‘stolen and used for crimes’, my first thought was “just like ours”. My parents had a silver VL 5.0L Berlina when they were new. It was stolen at least once every year they owned it. And because it was both a V8 and silver, apparently that was specific class of risk according to dad’s insurer.
We have a VL in the shed now. 6-cylinder auto. Needs work, a little rust, hasn’t been driven in a few years. Hopefully I’ll get some time to get it running this year
Monaro? He’s excited about a Monaro? It’s just a Holden with a big engine. Lousy suspension. I just am bewildered by this article.
There’s a reason why General Motors and the others quit building cars in Australia. They were all rustbuckets, painted exterior, raw inside. The government protected the Aussie car industry with huge import duties, but the unions were abusive, striking all of the time, and the costs were excessive. The quality of the cars mentioned in the article was poor. I really am confused as to why he bothered. American made heavy metal is the best among heavy metal.
I don’t own this stuff because it’s the best.
My mom had a red 1970s Olds Cutlass – not exactly a muscle car – but it did have the V8 and moved quite well. After she enjoyed it for a few years my dad took it over, but wanting something more suitable for a medical department chairman, he sold it through the paper, as one did back then. The new owned never registered it and the next we heard, a week or so later, it had been used as a getaway car for a bank robbery. I told you it was pretty fast. My mom and dad had to convince the cops they had not robbed a bank…
Probably the 310 hp 350. Faster than most chevelles… there were several 455s available too
I revived a nice 78 Ford Fiesta that had a burnt engine harness that was later sold to a friend. He sold it, it was later found abandoned and since it had not been registered, it came back to our friend. He sold it again, and we later found out that it was used for robbing banks. I would have chosen a faster car. Any car.
I knew a girl that drove a 67 Galaxy 500 fastback (this was in the 80’s so it was pretty rare for a girl) that I admired. It was stolen, and she said that if it was ever found I could have it. It was found, and my brother drove it for a while and sold it to a friend. It was stolen again and never seen again.
Even before tik-tok there were cars that people liked to steal more than others.
Back in the 60’s I owned a 56 Chev BelAire. One morning after working a midnight shift
my car was not in the parking lot. Police found it 4 days later in a ditch and out of gas.
I retrieved it from the towing company and took it home. The guy must have lived in it for those four days. He had ate, drank and slept in it. I cleared out the beer bottles, food wrappers and cigarette butts and disinfected the whole interior. Thankfully the was no body damage and the engine was fine. I guess he ran out of gas and found another car to live in somewhere else. I always used the key and locked the ignition switch after that.
So you are now a Australian criminal? Tune in next week for Part 2!
For several years, my daily driver to work was a 1985 Renault Encore. I drove the “heck” out of it. It had many maladies that I would band aid & keep on driving. The radiator leaked (add water from roadside puddles if necessary), the oil filter blew off once (made a mess of employers parking lot) but when the tranny started going I knew its days were nearing an end. Reverse was first to go so I had to be cognizant to park in a drive thru or be aware of the need to push it backwards (so don’t park nose in downhill).
I traded it to a guy (for a decent 280ZX!) and he drove it for awhile until he couldn’t stand it anymore and had it scrapped.
A few months later I get a call from the local police asking me about the car. Seems someone had stolen it from the scrapyard and attempted to rob a bank. That had to be one stupid crook … picking an Encore as a getaway car is bad enough but with no reverse?!
I mean, I totally get wanting an Encore…but for that purpose?!
Happened to me as well; I had one of the original Chrysler minivans and this one had tinted windows. I got up one morning and it was gone from the driveway. When I reported it and described the car I was told that this model is very popular to do B&E’s because it has lots of space and tinted windows. Fortunately it was quickly found. My wife had left it with an almost empty take of fuel, and when the crooks stopped to remove the back seats to give them room for stolen goods, they got stuck in mud, and ran out of fuel trying to get out. SO we got it back with little damage, and the thieves must have looked for another vehicle.
I have owned cars that were used for criminal activities. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that. 😉
Mr. Anderson says…”An affection for Australian cars reached me in unconventional fashion.” This was a typo–what he meant to say was: “An AFFLICTION for Australian cars…” LOL Good story–can’t wait to see the next episode.
I was stationed at the Air Force base in Las Vegas in the late 70’s, but living off base in a low end quadraplex apartment in a bad part of town. My 1968 Dodge Charger 383 4 speed turned up missing one morning. I reported the theft, but got no action from the police. I rode my 1973 Norton 850 Commando in place of the Charger. I found the car a few weeks later when I took a different route to the base. The Charger was very hard to start, and I surmised that the thieves hot wired the ignition and attempted to push start the car, got tired of pushing, and abandoned it.
Ok! I’m hooked. Can’t wait to read the conclusion. I hope it’s going to include catching the bad guys!
My co-worker had an Olds Cutlas that was in great shape for a 1970’s muscle car. He had cleaned it up and kept it running well. He decided to sell it and parked it on his lawn with a For Sale sign in the window. One day a couple of young guys came to look at it and checked it out. They said they were interested in it and would be back. Unfortunately by “be back” they meant midnight. The automatic porch light came on and he looked out to see them trying to get in the car, anf he yelled out at them as they ran down the street. The next night they were back and as my friend looked out, there was a tow truck on the lawn, attempting to load his car. He scared them away again, but the next night at 2:00 AM the tow truck was back and had succeeded in loading the Olds onto the flat bed. He never got his car back.
It’s a good thing they didn’t look in the garage. It held a restored 57 Belaire Convertible, a restored 56 Belaire Hardtop, and a semi-restored 55 Belaire Nomad. I told him he needed to get an alarm system, and buy a shotgun.
In the old days steal a man’s horse you get hung. Steal from a store get your hands chopped off. I’m in favor of the old ways.
I almost had my ’56 Healey 100M stolen. It was very cold out and the would be thieves had it properly hot wired, however they couldn’t start it. They did not pull the choke out!