Although it started as a saddlery in the gold-rush era, Adelaide-based Holden soon worked out that the future was with the motor car. The company moved fast and by 1913 was making side-car bodies and by 1924, was the sole Australian body builder for General Motors. Which, of course, was the start of a beautiful relationship.
General Motors Holden’s Limited was born in 1931 when GM stepped in and bought the operation, moving production to Fishermans Bend in Melbourne in 1936. The company was a major manufacturer of military hardware for the duration of World War II, but it was just after the war that GM-H managing director, Laurence Hartnett, began talks with the federal government with a view to building Australia’s own car.
Despite Laurence Hartnett being effectively sacked by GM in the run-up to the launch of the 48-215 (as the FX was properly known) Holden Number 1 rolled off the line at Fishermans Bend on 29 November 1948, overseen by an almost-smiling prime minister Ben Chifley.
Holden had been clever enough to design the FX to suit local needs and tastes. As such, it was fast enough to cover typical Aussie distances, fuel efficient enough to be cheap to run, and very, very tough and reliable. In early testing it proved to be much tougher than the equivalent Chevrolet cars GM was using as benchmarks. The legend was emerging.
While Holden did revise the styling of its cars in the early years, not much changed mechanically. Why would it? By 1957, the Holden was being exported to 17 different markets and by the end of the 1950s, more than half of all new-car handshakes were happening in a Holden showroom. Australia really was Holden country.
The EJ (and subsequent EH) models of the 1960s represented the first real modernisation of the Holden, and were a response to the much more contemporary designs now being built locally by arch rival Ford. Things continued to improve for Holden buyers and in 1968, Holden launched the mighty Kingswood badge. By now, of course, the Japanese car-makers had started to make their mark, but the Holden was still king. In fact, the HQ model built from 1971 to 1974 was the brand’s most-successful-ever model with almost half a million sales.
By now, it was Holden and Ford and daylight third, and Australian motoring life had begun to revolve around the two brands. In fact, after your footy team, your preference for Ford or Holden was probably your strongest allegiance. It truly was about as tribal as Aussies ever got. From the schoolyard to the front bar, everybody had made their choice. Such fervour also made folk heroes of race drivers like Peter Brock and kept motorsport spicy and interesting.
The Commodore replaced the Kingswood in the late 1970s and with the new car came a new level of driving dynamics. And that theme continued right through to the very last Commodores in 2017 which were – dollar for dollar – among the best big, rear-drive sedans you could buy anywhere in the world. However…