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The Holden car in Australia

The manufacture of the first all-Australian motor vehicle in 1948 not only signified an important moment in the country's industrial development it also produced a brand of vehicle - the Holden - that occupies a special place in the hearts of many Australians.

The birth of the Holden

Photo of a Monaro Series II CV8

Monaro Series II CV8. Image courtesy of Holden.

The Holden name first appeared in Australia in the 1850s with J A Holden's leather and saddlery business in Adelaide, South Australia. From 1885, the Holden and Frost Company repaired and produced horse-drawn carriages and built its first custom-made car body in 1914. In 1924, the company was renamed Holden's Motor Body Builders and became the exclusive supplier of American car manufacturer General Motors in Australia.

Holden's Motor Body Builders merged with General Motors in 1931 to become General Motors-Holden's Limited (GM-H). This merger formed Australia's first large-scale automotive manufacturing facility. This was a difficult time for the company which, like many companies at the time, struggled through the Great Depression's economic downturn. By 1936, after managing director Laurence Hartnett helped steer the operation and its new plant at Fisherman's Bend in Melbourne, the company began to pick up again.

Holden in the war years

During the Second World War (1939-1945), GM-H produced more than 30,000 vehicle bodies for Australian and US forces, as well as field guns, aircraft, aeroplane and marine engines. When the war ended, the company was forced to revamp its manufacturing for production of civilian cars. This proved to be an important milestone for Holden.

Holden 48-215: the first all-Australian car

The Australian Government had been interested in the idea of an Australian mass produced motor vehicle since the mid-1930s, but this would not become a reality for over a decade. On 29 November 1948, Prime Minister Ben Chifley unveiled the first Holden 48-215, which became affectionately known as 'the FX'.

The price was set at 733 (including tax), which represented a staggering ninety-four weeks' wages for the average worker at the time. Despite this, the car was an immediate success and Holden could not satisfy demand quickly enough. Eighteen thousand people had signed up and paid their deposit without even having seen the vehicle.

When the FJ Holden was released in 1953, the economy had significantly recovered. The car now cost 1,074 (including tax), representing sixty-eight weeks' wages for the average worker.

Photo of a 1954 FJ Holden

FJ Holden, 1954. Image courtesy of National Archives of Australia.

The FJ Holden

According to author Don Loffler, something in the design of the FJ model Holden caused it to be remembered even more fondly than its predecessor.

(It) was glamorised, it was Americanised. It looked just a little bit bold and brassy with one single, toothy bar grill that really stood out - you couldn't mistake it for anything else - and it came with chrome, stainless steel trimmings and two-tone paint (optional). None of the other popular makes had marketed a car with two-tone paint. It meant that Holden assumed a new status symbol.
Don Loffler, author of She's a Beauty: The Story of the First Holdens (Wakefield Press, 1998). Interviewed 14 June, 2004.

For many people at the time the FJ was their first car. The car was then handed-down to children when it was time for them to learn to drive, endearing the vehicle to a new generation. But aside from its glamour and prestige, the FJ was a car that had been specifically designed for Australian conditions.

What (people) remember about the 48 and the FJ are their good, honest, reliability. They certainly didn't break down as often as the English cars or American, for that matter. The thing that really earned them the respect of the Australian public was toughness. There was a lot of scepticism about how it would stand up to our shocking road conditions and we also had long distances (to travel) with bad conditions, which were very destructive to cars. (But) they turned out to be a winner.
Don Loffler, author of She's a Beauty: The Story of the First Holdens (Wakefield Press, 1998). Interviewed 14 June, 2004.

Holden today

Holden continues to manufacture motor vehicles in Australia as a subsidiary of General Motors, as well as exporting vehicles and engines to other countries. In 2002, Holden contributed $1.1 billion to Australia's balance of trade. Among other models, it produces the popular Commodore.

Other popular Holden models

Photo of a HQ statesman

HQ Statesman. Image courtesy of Holden.

Holden car clubs

There are over fifty clubs and associated groups dedicated to Holden motor car enthusiasts. State by state some of these include:

Useful links

Print references

  • Kennedy E, Kennedy A and Davis T 2003, The Holden Heritage, 11th edition, Corporate Affairs Department, Holden
  • Loffler D 1998, She's a Beauty: The Story of the First Holdens, Wakefield Press.

Last updated: 6th December 2007

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