Holden Em-Care Six-Wheeled Ambulances (1973-1985)


  In the late seventies a need was identified for a large capacity custom designed ambulance that had a greater payload than the existing Holden panel-van type ambulances.  As patient care become more critical and resuscitation techniques evolved St.John and Moeller Industries, then located at Port Road, Cheltenham developed the Em-Care (Emergency Care) ambulance based on a specially modified six-wheeled Holden cab-chassis unit, fitted with a 308 cu in (5.0L) V8 engine and having a two-tonne GVM (gross vehicle mass).  The Em-Care allowed the attendant to sit (or stand) next to the patient who was lying on a stretcher that, unlike most ambulances before or since, wasn’t folded flat near the floor.

  Em-Cares were notable for their twin rear axles.  Unfortunately only the front pair had any drive through a conventional differential which meant that if a crew were unfortunate enough to back across a ditch, or gutter, they might find their two-tonne plus ambulance was suddenly stranded – a potentially quite embarrassing scenario.



HX Holden Em-Care Fleet 121 (in the driveway of Campbelltown Centre) with single front siren and beacon on the front air-conditioner (photo supplied by Steven Schueler).



Six-wheeled Em-Care parked alongside the ambulance workshop at Hindmarsh Centre around 1980.  An extremely distinctive and impressive vehicle.  Note the single red beacon on the roof in front of the air-conditioner and protruding siren horn.  The four-headlamp font is indicative of a special model, as normally this was a feature of the Premier models, like the Holden HJ Premier (Photo taken by Kevin).



Fleet 129 (rego SXJ-223) the archetypal six-wheeled Holden Em-Care from the St.John Ambulance Council Emergency Care and Transport Manual resplendent with narrow wall tyres, chrome hubcaps and a HJ premier front clip.  This unit has the air-conditioner in front of the bathtub on the roof and the repeater beacon in front of the radiator grille.  Unlike the unit in Kevin’s photo above the beacon is on top of the front air-conditioner unit. This vehicle was based at Prospect St.John Centre.




One of Les Brazier’s craftsmen (Les says its Bill) putting the finishing touches on an Em-Care (rego SLE-487) at their Elizabeth workshop after doing some refinishing for St.John around 1975 (photo courtesy of Les Brazier).


  The Em-Care Ambulance’s specifications as noted in the St.John Emergency Care and Transport Manual of 1982 were;

1. At the rear of the standard drive axles, an additional set of independent rear axles is fitted which allows for extra vehicle length and stability.

2. Total length of the Em-Care is 5.87 metres, of which the patient compartment occupies 2.97 metres.

3. Access to the patient compartment is via the rear door, the bottom portion of which drops down to provide a ramp.

4. A patient is loaded feet first, so that the ambulance officers have the maximum possible room to administer treatment.

5. Head room in the work area is 1.78 metres, and permits ambulance officers to stand on either side or at the head end of the patient.



Rear view of the same Em-Care at Hindmarsh Centre about 1980.  The beacon repeater lamps are in evidence. The rear windows and side windows are tinted to ensure patient privacy and reduce heat loadings for the air-conditioner in a state capable of 40 degrees Celsius in summer (Kevin).



Fleet 177 with a St.John ambulance officer (Kevin himself) sporting the tunic and cap that was the issued uniform to all St.John Ambulance Officers right up to the early 80s.  Indeed every respectable officer was required to wear a cap, even while driving (but not when attending a patient).  Note that the front beacon is mounted on the air-conditioning unit.  The reflective decals are also shown to good effect (Kevin).



Another view of Fleet 177 this particular vehicle has two siren horns mounted on the front. All of these shots were taken at Marion Centre in 1981. Note the white narrow-wall tyre on the front, and the typical ‘caravan-towing’ style rear-view mirrors.  Please note the differences between this version of Fleet 177 and the version below without the ‘bathtub’, air-conditioner, and single siren (Kevin).



A rear view of Fleet 177 showing the upright stretcher and the interior lights.  The top and bottom opening rear doors are evident in the photo.  The Laminex wood panelling used around the bottom of the patient compartment was quite fashionable in the 70s (Kevin).


  The Em-Care ambulances were eventually phased out with the introduction of the Twin-life ambulances although many survived in country centres for several years until the mid eighties.  There are a few on the road being operated as private vehicles even now, over thirty years later.



A rear view of a former Em-Care now privately owned and for sale in the Trading Post in Adelaide in November 2007.  The rear-opening door and bottom-opening ramp are clearly evident in this photo.  The Em-Cares have proved to be an extremely distinctive and durable vehicle as evidenced by the fact that this vehicle is still performing over 30 years later.


  Andrew M who used to work at Hindmarsh in the 1970 says that “The Em cares were very maintenance heavy, they over cooked their trans in summer and broke many axles. They scrubbed rear tyres like there was no tomorrow and were hard to stop.  Brake pads could never be found good enough to slow its weight without being cooked. . I would not like to have paid the fuel bills for the 5.0 litre.  Those gas units some had proved very hard to manage and could be describe as risky business back then.  The Emcare was a great idea but there were actually better choices interstate at this time which would have done a better job.  The black rubber step in lining on the rear fold down tail gate cost them dearly in civil claims for injuries having many officer slipping on them.  These emcares nearly lost their Road traffic roadworthy certificate and permit to be on the road at one stage... But that's another story. “


  The St.John Museum at the old Unley St.John Ambulance Centre has an extensive collection of Em-Care photos that Kevin has provided me with copies of, some of the Em-Care pictures are reproduced below;





Fleet 54 (rego SAY-796) note the absence of the front air-conditioner in front of the ‘bathtub’. The normal SA registration number was used in the era before St.John had special SJQ number plates.  This vehicle doesn’t have the small black disruptive filler behind the cab. This appears to be a HQ era special front clip (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).



Em-Care patient compartment.  Neat use of polished aluminium and white Laminex.  The raised stretcher is evident, as is the sphygmomanometer and the clock on the bulkhead, and the small electric fans (prior to the front air-conditioner unit) (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).



Another view of an Em-Care patient compartment.  This view shows the St.John decals and rear tail-lamp units on either side of the rear door.  The fixed upright Em-Care stretcher is in evidence as is the oxygen compartment as above (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).




Em-Care Fleet 37 (rego SYK-744) alongside a standard ambulance.  This vehicle has an air-conditioner in front of the ‘bathtub’ unlike Fleet 54 above.  A later model HJ style premier front end (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).

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Em-Care brochure showing the overall dimensions – Australian Bodycraft Sales, an alternative supplier to Moeller (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).



Em-Care Fleet 168, interior lights on and reflective tape showing to good effect, with narrow white sidewalls evident.  The crew are getting ready to load the patient (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).



Another view of an Em-Care (probably Fleet 168 as above) showing the attendant lifting the patient, on the upright stretcher, into the rear up the bottom ramp (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).




Another Holden Em-Care showing the driver and attendant loading the patient on the upright stretcher.  In this era the crew wore hats and had the traditional St.John oval badges on their tunics (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).



Another view of a Holden Em-Care again showing the driver and attendant loading the patient feet first on the Em-Care stretcher.  Again wearing hats and tunics.  The rest loops under the ramp are shown to good effect (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).




Rear view of a Holden Em-Care again showing the rubber coated bottom ramp, but no rear reflective tape.  This unit has fluoro tubes in-lieu of the oval lamps in the later type vehicles (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).



The Em-Care stretcher as shown in the St.John Emergency Care and Transport Manual.  The wheels at the head-end (left of the picture) have brakes on them (as seen above in the loading photos) for some reason the pillow is at the wrong end in this photo.  Note that the corners of sheets are carefully mitred hospital style to discourage them un-doing (St.John EC&T Manual).



St.John driver conducting vehicle check on an Em-Care ambulance.  Vehicle checks were and are an essential part of the start of a shift at the ambulance centre, to ensure that no faults have developed that may impact on the immediate readiness of the vehicle (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).


Em-Care Fleet numbers (Info from Kevin)


“Emcares - The first Emcare, 177 which was on a HQ Holden did not have the raised roof which was affectionately called the bathtub. The models after had the bathtub, which gave the extra raise in the patient area. The first and older Emcares had the recessed rear side windows, note in the picture of car 54 if you had one then the later versions had the flushed windows in alignment to the bodywork, as in Fleet 50. The last 10 or so Emcares, Fleet 177 [the latest 177 Emcare], 23, 47, 2 and Unley fleet 12 had the first 2 windows in patient areas flushed to the bodywork and the last two windows at the back were sliding louvre configuration.  I will point out the differences when we catch up and also I can remember what fleet was where.  From Memory, Fleet 23 which was on a HZ chassis was the last Emcare made and from memory it was the best one ever made as it seem to have improved suspension.
Hindmarsh 91 and 41     Marion 50 and 177   Noarlunga 54 and 2 Torrens 4 and 47
Unley 168 [rolled] and 12, Port Adelaide 22 and 13, Modbury 17, Prospect 129, Campbelltown 121
Elizabeth 48 and 19 Mt Gambier 42, Murray Bridge 24, Victor Harbour 128, Clare 29,Kapunda 36
Keith 37, Pt Augusta 165, Gawler 102,101



Fleet 177 without ‘bathtub’ or front mounted air-conditioner.  This vehicle has HQ Premier front clip and earlier style siren, very different to the Em-Cares in the colour photos above.  The uniform shorts would have been have been a necessity in this unit without adequate air-conditioning (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).




Another, slightly blurry view of Fleet 50 as featured on the home page (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).




Fleet 54 rear quarter view without reflective tape, as on blurry Fleet 50, that is a feature of all of the other ambulances featured on this site up to the current Mercedes Sprinters (now of course green, yellow and red) (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).




Another view of Fleet 54 from the rear quarter, the decal stating that Lions Club has supplied the vehicle, was a common feature when community organizations supplemented St.John Ambulance’s operating budget as they received no government support (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).

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Rear view of Fleet 54 showing the maker’s nameplate “Moeller Industries Pty Ltd Bodybuilders Adelaide”.  There were three handles to turn to open the two doors, and the rubber stoppers are visible on the ramp rest brackets (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin)




Fleet 54 photographed at the wharfs at Port Adelaide (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).



Fleet 54 photographed at Port Adelaide with a ship as an unusual backdrop (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).



Fleet 177 from the front – the HQ front end is quite noticeable (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).




Another view of Fleet 177, the bumpers around the tail lamps are different to later style modules, as are the more noticeable hinges, on Fleet 54 the top door hinges are concealed (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).



Em-Care front bulkhead showing the locker under the sphygmomanometer and clock.  There are oxygen controls in the middle and spares and a small jack below that (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin)




Holden Em-Care front of patient compartment – note the fire extinguisher on the left (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).




The oxygen compartment (the CIG Entonox and O2 cylinders and regulators) in an Em-Care showing the older style facemask with an inflatable rubber seal.  I believe this was similar to that used on the CIG oxy-viva (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).



St.John Nursing Officer and attendant with patient in Em-Care, note that both are wearing seatbelts (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).




Em-Care left hand side of patient compartment (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).



Holden Em-Care resuscitation locker, showing the spare masks, airways and tubing (St.John Museum photo copied by Kevin).



Holden Em-Care Aldinga and Southern Districts Volunteer First Aid Unit Fleet 904  (Photo supplied by Kevin Marsland).



Another view of the Holden Em-Care Aldinga and Southern Districts Volunteer First Aid Unit Fleet 904  (Photo supplied by Kevin Marsland).



Woodville Division First Aid Unit with original number plates SJQ 959. This photo was taken at the newly adopted home of the Woodville Division circa 1989 (Photo supplied by Adam Gregus).



Woodville Division First Aid Unit after the number plates were changed to VGT 874. This photo was taken while on public duty somewhere in the Flinders Ranges in the early 1990's (Photo supplied by Adam Gregus).



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Updated 23 May 2010