Holden Panel Van Ambulances


From the 1950s onwards-modified station wagons and panel-vans (that should more correctly be termed window-vans) were used by St.John in South Australia (and other ambulance services around Australia) right though to the 1990s.  Many of the most popular vehicles were the Holden Kingswood panel-vans that that were specially modified to have a third door on the passenger side (left-hand in Australia).  The advantage of the panel-van ambulance was that it was less cumbersome and more road able than truck type or even the Em-care ambulances.  HQs and later model vehicles were fitted with V-8s.  There may have been some (4.2 litre (253 cubic inch displacement) engines used, but the majority, certainly in the later models used 5 litre (308 CID) engines.  There were still WB Kingswood panel-vans on the road into the 1990s, albeit relegated to use as First Aid Units (see below).  Panel vans used in Victoria looked very similar to those used in South Australia, however there were some modified by Les Brazier at Javelin Auto Bodyworks that were made to look less panel-van like by having a small fibreglass panel above the windscreen displaying the illuminated ambulance sign.



An illustration of Fleet 8, one of the “standard” St. John Ambulances.  Note the simple roof mounted siren and the single large dome shaped rotating beacon.  The livery of this example from the 1970’s is a lot simpler that the later type ambulances featured on the web site. Notice that the reflective markings have not yet come into widespread usage on these vehicles.  As time progresses, the coverage of reflective tapes becomes quite gaudy.  We believe that this picture comes from the St.John Casualty Care and Transport Manual.  Notice that the dutiful St.John Ambulance officer was expected to wear his cap at all times except when attending to the patient (in case it fell off).  This regulation still applied in the late 1980s but was rarely observed!


Many of the Holden panel-van vehicles were still used as ambulances in South Australia until the late 1980s, predominantly in country areas as they had been replaced in the metro area with ford Transit van ambulances well before then.  Their road holding and the long legs provided by the Holden V-8 engines were well appreciated on the open road.



One of Kevin’s photos of Fleet 82, in the 1980s.  This vehicle has a Premier front end and is a HJ Kingswood, and has a repeater lamp mounted above the front bumper.  There is no door on the driver’s side, and the vehicle appears to have no roof-mounted siren.



Fleet 950 was a WB Kingswood panel-van ambulance that was being used as a First Aid Unit at Meadows during the late 80s until the early 90s.  At this stage of the design the twin beacons are evident as is the moulding above the windscreen that originally would have had the ambulance sign. The WB Kingswood has an extremely neat and well-proportioned front-end design, with modern rectangular headlamps.  The third rear door was specially engineered into the bodywork of the vehicle; they were not four-door station wagons with the panel van room grafted onto them.



Interior of Fleet 950 showing the AWA ambulance radio and siren control mounted under the dash.



The patient compartment of Fleet 950 showing the resuscitation and trauma kit and the folding stretcher.  The blue attendant’s chair and split rear tailgate are visible in this view.



Fleet 134? An HQ Kingswood panel-van ambulance, with the tailgate open.  As with Fleet sporting a single domed beacon, a roof mounted siren horn and sun visor over the windscreen.



Front view of Fleet 134? showing the repeater beacon and fog lamp.  In spite of careful maintenance a Hindmarsh a drip tray has been provided perhaps to catch drips officers are topping up fluids as required during vehicle checking.



Driver’s compartment of Fleet 134? showing the AWA radio and the siren control, possibly a Heathkit siren.  Note the old metal toolbox kit compared with the later plastic tackle boxes that were used in the 80s.




The right side patient compartment of Fleet 13#? at Stirling Station in the 1980s.  The Ferno-Washington folding stretcher is clearly visible using the original style latching that was not as accident proof as the later types.  The frame with the knobs on running along the bottom of the window frame is a Jordan lifting frame for lifting patients with possible spinal injuries



The left side patient compartment of Fleet 13#? The oxygen cylinder is located in a rack against the left-hand side wall with the Hare traction splint (for treating fractured femurs) and the soft black bag is probably a resuscitation kit.  The well-padded ceiling is also in evidence (for sound deadening and head bump protection).


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