THE day after this mag goes on sale, production at Holden’s Elizabeth factory in South Australia will cease forever. This will mark the end of ‘Australia’s Own Car’ after 69 years, although Holden’s contribution to Australian society goes back much further than the birth of the 48-215 in 1948.
James Alexander Holden emigrated from England to Australia in 1852 and set himself up a saddlery business in Adelaide. He joined forces with German immigrant Henry Adolph Frost to form Holden & Frost Ltd in 1885. The company made its first tentative step from horses to horsepower in 1910, when the company opened a motor trimming department.
In 1914, Holden & Frost made its first custom car body – to suit a Lancia chassis for an Adelaide publican. The body business grew quickly and, in 1919, the company was reorganised as Holden’s Motor Body Builders.
In 1923 alone, Holden produced over 17,000 bodies to suit a large variety of chassis, including – you may be surprised to learn – for Ford Australia! In that year, it was announced that Holden would be the sole supplier of GM bodies in Australia, and the company scaled up with a new 22-acre facility at Woodville, SA.
The Great Depression put Holden into difficulty, leading to GM buying the business in 1931 for just over one million pounds, creating General Motors-Holden’s Ltd. In doing so, GM purchased the biggest body shop in the British Empire outside of Canada, capable of producing 35,000 bodies per year.
Besides cars, Holden also produced trams in the 1920s, whitegoods from the 1930s, and during World War II production switched to supporting the war effort, including trucks, ambulances, armoured cars, aircraft, boats, munitions. The history of Holden at this time was amazing and there are a lot of stories that need to be remembered from this era, such as the 1200hp Allison aircraft engines that were reconditioned by Holden in Brisbane for the US Air Force – over 2000 of them!
Holden’s move into production of a complete Australian-made car has been welldocumented, but if history floats your boat, I suggest grabbing a copy of the November 2017 Wheels magazine, which delves into the rise and fall of Australia’s Own Car in fascinating detail.
Holden will continue to employ around 1000 people, including 300 designers and engineers who will help create new cars for GM around the world. The Lang Lang Proving Grounds will also stay operational.
While this is a definite positive, it is cold comfort for the workers who have lost their livelihoods and for those of us who loved the cars they created. And the country as a whole is poorer for the industry that is now gone.
But as the old saying goes, Old Holdens Never Die – They Just Go Faster! Restoring, modifying and racing Holdens is damn-near a national pastime, and with 69 years of raw material to play with, the tradition will continue for many years to come. s