Leo Pruneau

Posted on Shannon Club, October 20, 2022


When we ask Leo a question, you know you are going to get an answer!

From Missouri to Melbourne—via London, is the story of Leo Pruneau. From selling Studebakers as a young man in the family business, then as a young graduate from the Art Centre College of Design in Los Angeles, to designing the 1965 Chevrolet Impala Coupe—Leo was destined to have an impact on the car world. He designed the US Solaris—a design which would ultimately become the Holden HD and a style that influenced every GM model globally at the time.

When Leo arrived in Australia, fortunately, he liked what he saw, and when Leo got behind the design desk, something special was always on its way.

Only Leo could create a luxury Holden Statesman Caprice inspired by Rolls Royce and Aston Martin—with a hand-made front grille. When Holden discovered they had 600 plus HX coupe panels left over—they needed a quick and cheerful special offer package. Instead, Leo raided the spare parts and some of the wheels and accessories from the GM world and produced the now highly collectible LE Monaro coupe.

Leo was never a guy who did things by halves. When Holden decided to adopt the smaller Opel Rekord based VB Commodore, it was Leo who styled the early Australian VB – VC – VH and VK Commodores—including the HDT Brock Commodore.

In his typical fashion, Leo speaks out on Peter Brock in this episode. “With the VB HDT Commodore, everyone thinks Brocky did them. Peter never even saw the car until the covers came off.”

Watch as Leo reveals how after an afternoon visit from the Holden race team boss Harry Firth, he created the legend of the A9X styling with a bonnet-scoop design he borrowed from Corvette and how together with the A9X flared wheel guards, Holden created a huge explosion in modified customer vehicles. This started the HDT and HSV customized vehicles.

Although Leo Pruneau retired from Holden in 1988, he says “I could not get the gasoline out of my blood.” And nothing has changed to this day.

“Shannons are proud to commission this landmark series to celebrate the rich design heritage of the cars we all know and love. While Shannons plays a key role as Australia’s leading insurer for motoring enthusiasts, we also believe it is very important to preserve our automotive history for future generations” said Mark Behr, Executive Manager, Marketing for Shannons.

  1. I worked with Leo in the late 70s at GM design when we were putting the X-Car program together which involved designing a number of front wheel drive cars. We were trying to sell the corporation on front wheel drive. Leo came back to the states from his latest assignment in Australia and worked with us. He worked for Clare MacKichan, who was a strategic genius. Leo was a great help on the design side.

    I didn’t know that he was involved in the design of the 1965 fastback upper. That certainly is a classic that had a huge impact on GM design history, a more dramatic version was carried on in 1967.

    I have emailed Leo a few times but do not get a response so I am happy to see that he’s still out there with gasoline in his blood. Certainly he did have it. Great fun working with him and Mack just a few good people like Leo turned to GM around.

  2. Jason Houston

    One great advantage cars built in South America and Australia had, is freedom of continued design evolution. While our government was putting the kabash on auto innovation in 1973, Ford, GM and Chrysler were still free to let their styling evolutions continue unabated into the 1980s, 1990s and beyond. If you ever wondered what Chevrolets and Fords would have looked like had the normal styling evolution been allowed to continue from the 1960s, do an Internet search on 1970s cars from Australia and South America. It will blow your mind!

    I think it’s still available in Brazil, where you can buy a styling-enhanced 1966 Galaxie 500 4-door sedan, which has a 2v 292, manual transmission, and runs on low-octane fuel. And it’s RHD, to boost your enjoyment. They also come in attractive colors US producers have long forgotten.

    A number of colleagues graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. They went on to design everything from the 1955 Thunderbird to modern golf carts. Californians are lucky to still have such a institution in their state, so far removed from Detroit.

    PS: I never cared a lot for the ’65 Impala but after reading about Leo Pruneau, I have found a new level of appreciation for the car. Thank you.

  3. Peter Robinson

    My friend Leo remains as enthusiastic as ever. Always willing for a chat to journalists – his “Goddam bean counters” is now part of Australian folk law – and the source of so much Holden history. As well, he’s a lovely bloke. We worked together as judges on the Wheels magazine Car of the Year during the 1990s. Always a career highlight.

  4. Lou Battaglini

    I was working for electrical wholesaler/manufacturer in the ‘90’s (Australia). Leo phoned looking for a particular product, he was having trouble finding in retail outlets. So I sold it to him direct.
    I later recognised his name so I begged him for a ‘thumb nail sketch’: he sent me a very good rendering. Thanks Leo
    I still own it today.

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