By any measure the Vauxhall Caleche is a rare Australian convertible.

Built by Holden from 1938 to 1951 it featured an imported British Vauxhall chassis, grille, bonnet and front mudguards.

From the firewall back Holden fastened a wooden frame to the chassis.

The frame supported thin metal panels.

Covering it all was a canvas convertible top.

It was a car built to a low price.

Creature comforts were sparse, even by the spartan standards of the day.

No wind up windows here.

This little gem had curtains that were fixed to the car with press studs.

No exterior door handles either.

Oh, and the windscreen folds down, like a world war two Jeep.

So how rare is a Caleche?  

Peter Sara’s immaculate 1940 model is believed to be one of only 15 or so still in existence.

“There’s not too many of them about,” Peter says.

In fact, Peter’s car is doubly rare.

Research suggests that it went down the production line on the opening day of Holden’s brand new factory at Pagewood in Sydney on February 16, 1940.

Car production ceased soon after and Holden swung over to war material production.

Peter bought the car in 2008.

The previous owner had acquired it 25 years previously with every intention to restore it.

Its ownership history before that is less clear.

“I’d like to find out who the first owner was,” he says.

The car was not in good shape when Peter put it in his workshop.

“It was pretty rough,” he remembers. “There was no interior, the engine and associated mechanicals were inoperable, the steering was woeful and the suspension needed replacing.

“AND the brakes did not work”.

It took Peter six years to restore the car to as-new condition.

On the road the 1.4-litre four cylinder engine copes well with suburban traffic, but the 80km/h top speed restricts its use on a freeway.

“You would not want to go that much faster in it anyway” he says, obviously reflecting the lack of side windows.

The word ‘Caleche’ has various meanings but in general terms refers to a fashionable horse-drawn carriage or the folded hood of a horse-drawn carriage.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos.com.au

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Burrell

David Burrell is founder and editor of Retroautos.com.au, a free online classic cars magazine. Dave has a passion for cars and car design. He's also into speedway, which he's been writing about since 1981. His first car was a rusted-out 1961 Vauxhall Velox. His daily driver is a Pontiac Firebird. Prior to starting Retroautos, David was an executive in a Fortune 500 company, working and living in Australia, NZ, Asia, Latin America and the UK.