“It was just another time back then”. At least, that’s the only explanation I can find. The Holden Sandman became a huge success merely by offering the buying public a totally empty and stripped out cargo area – and I might add, it wasn’t intended for transporting goods in.
The first Holden Sandman was introduced to the Australians in 1974. From the word go, it was pitched at the thriving seventies customisation scene, where motorcycles, cars, vans and trucks were personalised usually in very vivid and psychedelic colour schemes. It was rather unusual for a manufacturer to have anything to do with custom cars – in fact it almost defies the whole objective. But their American parent company, General Motors, had found great success with their many special editions and limited editions, all based on ordinary mass-produced family cars. Now it was Holden’s turn.
In terms of custom cars, the Sandman was honestly a very gentle step in that direction. But it was rather special in a different way: While it didn’t boast about plush interiors or high performance, it instead made the connection between custom cars and the surf culture – oh, and not least sex! A subculture had already been created for vans within custom vehicles, and in Australia this was exacerbated further by insurance premiums increasing quite significantly for muscle cars, while vans enjoyed much cheaper insurance. This paved the way for a new market of V8-powered vans sporting alloy wheels, bucket seats, rev. counters and of course “four-on-the-floor” transmissions.
However, amusingly it was found that the cargo area was preferred entirely bare. The reason was that owners wanted to customise it to the own individual needs and taste anyway: Hi-fi systems, madrassas, mirrors (!) and of course a wide array of plush trim. With the cargo area covered in soft velour, the passengers could of course wear as little as possible. Goes without saying really…
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Sandman quickly became a huge success among young Australian men. And yes, it really was targeted entirely at the male costumer: The Sandman was a man’s car, and women belonged in the rear cargo area. As I started off saying: It really was a different time. Even the adverts for the Sandman played on this, and they weren’t particularly discreet about it either. Of course, the Sandman quickly got an image as being Australia’s ultimate “shag-van”.
The lifespan of the Sandman was relatively short however, and it had disappeared again by the time Australia entered the eighties. But it had managed to make its mark, and had become an outright legend within the Australian automotive mythology. So much so that Holden attempted reviving the concept in 2015. Why, I don’t really know, as the project was doomed before it was even launched. The mat provided for the boot was but a pitiful shadow of itself.
But it didn’t stop there. It was in fact much worse – probably largely down to the ever-present political correctness of the 21st century. The 2015 Sandman wasn’t even a van! Instead it had morphed into just another ordinary estate car with a rear seat and regular windows all round. Someone in the marketing development group clearly hadn’t done the history homework. At least the colour of that silly little mat seemed about right, but the go-faster stripes down the flanks of the 2015 Sandman seemed somewhat out of place – perhaps largely because the new Sandman was available only in boring black. All the seventies Sandmen came in fabulous primary colours, to ensure that all fathers were adequately warned that a Sandman was coming, so they could protect and lock away their sweet daughters in time. My favourite colour is the vibrant green called “Lettuce Alone” – says it all, doesn’t it?