IT’S THE DUST I REMEMBER MOST. STANDING ATOP MOUNT PANORAMA, MY TINY HAND CLINGING TO MY DAD’S AS WE WAIT IN THE LINE OF THE MERCH TENT, BATHURST’S SCORCHED EARTH IS KICKED INTO THE STILL AIR BY A FLOOD OF FOOT TRAFFIC THAT JOSTLES US AS IT PASSES, most carrying armfuls of glistening Tooheys tinnies as they hustle back to their track-side vantage points, jealously guarded by their mates.
Beyond them, early 1990s touring cars burst across the top of the Mountain, the violence and energy of their flame-spitting V8s leaving an indelible mark on one particular youth. I was so young my memory is hazy, like peering through a window that’s cracked and discoloured with age, but while I can’t remember much else from that day, I realise now the decision I made at the counter of that tent shaped my motoring future.
I still can’t explain why I chose the Holden hat.
Maybe it was because Brocky was leading the race at the time. Or that I liked how the roaring white lion leapt from its dark navy background.
Or maybe it was because my dad, my hero, was wearing his own hat with a blue oval stamped on its brim. I wanted to be different.
Growing up in Bathurst meant you were either red or you were blue, and from that moment on I bled red. Without questioning why, I became a “tribal bonehead” as John Carey describes it on p30, and I wasn’t the only one. Schoolyards across the country were split down the middle, teenagers endlessly debated which brand was best, and come race week, my hometown was literally painted two-tone as pubs, clubs and punters declared their allegiance for all to see.
I too broke out the art supplies, painting my BMX bike red and plastering it with strips of masking tape that read, in childish handwriting, “Brock!” and “Skaife!”.
My blind loyalty continued when it came to cars. My first, a white and rusty WB ute was a gift, but the two utes that followed (a VY II and a VZ, both manuals) were bought with my own money, and I felt a weird sense of pride when I handed over the bank cheque that contained all of my savings.
Like my love for the brand, I never questioned if they were going to be good cars; I just wanted one.
It was a time when Holden, and Ford, really meant something to a lot of people. They were more than just another car brand; they captured our imaginations, they were how we identified ourselves, a mark of status. They were ours.
Is that sentiment dead? I think so, at least with that degree of zeal. Will future generations grow up living and breathing one side of the blue or red dichotomy? It’s almost certain they won’t. Utes might be the hot segment right now, but I don’t see Rangers or Colorados ensnaring Australia’s zeitgeist in the same way. Corvette, Camaro and Mustang have a better chance, but none will muster the same support, or the sense of emotional proprietary, that were so intrinsic to Ford and especially Holden.
The sobering thought is that for every Australian who mourns the loss of our manufacturing industry, there are scores more that won’t. Aussies who never understood the cultural pull of our home-grown brands and who can’t comprehend what their loss might mean.
I don’t blame them. Beyond an underlying sense of sadness, I find explaining how the closure of Ford, Toyota and Holden might affect Aussie life is an issue almost too big to express. Like an idea lurking on the periphery, tantalisingly and frustratingly out of reach.
And I don’t think I’m alone.
I’m not sure anyone truly comprehends what we’ve just lost.
If you’re a subscriber, you’ll notice your cover is different this month to the one sold in newsagents. Free of supporting sells and the retail-driven need to lure passing buyers, your cover is much simpler: A single, emotive image shot specifi cally with you in mind as a thankyou for your support as we commemorate a historical time in Holden and Wheels’ history. No other motoring publication has been there for as much of Holden’s Aussie-made journey as Wheels.
Since 1953 we’ve followed the Lion’s progress, taking its cars on epic drives here and overseas, and sharing the dreams and passion of Holden’s engineers and designers. Here’s hoping we’ve been able to capture a hint of that with the shot of the green FX, at sunset.