My father raced Holdens, having graduated from a Simca Aronde to the ex-Brian Muir Holden 48-215 in 1962, the year I was born. That car was briefly touted as ‘Australia’s fastest road Holden’ after clocking 122mph on Bathurst’s Conrod Straight in an Easter 1963 eight-lapper, which Pop won ahead of Bill Burns’ Jaguar 3.4. To this day, my dad figures himself a Holden man.
It never occurred to me to enlist. Let’s set aside that, for reasons unknown even to me, I’m just not a team supporter. Souths, Saints, Fords, Holdens – same reading on my emotional meter. I think a lot of it is because, since I was five, we had a Volvo.
It was exotic. It was well-equipped. It had four on the floor, disc brakes, standard seatbelts, a pushbutton radio, and better paint than I ever saw on any Holdens or Fords wobbling around. The posters on my walls were of Alfa Romeos, Porsches, Alpines, rally cars, and Le Mans racers – not some sedan that everyone’s dad drove.
Into my elitist early-20s, I viewed the Big Two as American empires bullying the public purse and building deliberately dumbed-down cars. But over the decades, my admiration and affection for local car makers steadily grew. Even 15 years ago, when living overseas, I would often find myself defending and championing the skills and ingenuity of my country’s automotive industry. I’ll sing it from the rooftops today.
For me, that’s about the people behind the cars.
The first car launch I ever attended was the Alfasud four-door, in 1982. The second, maybe six months later, was the TG Gemini. The Gemini was, y’know, an appliance. (Whereas, I’d bought an Alfasud four-door). But it got me into Lang Lang, and a drive program that showcased the facilities.
I’ve been to Lang Lang dozens of times since, driving anything from production models to one-off prototypes, and I’ve always felt that Goldfingerera Fort Knox frisson.
I knew how hard we were working in the magazine biz, turning out a bloody good product with about half the resources of our UK and US equivalents. And I could recognise the same passion, the same inventiveness, the same determination among the designers, engineers, and production people with whom it became a regular pleasure to meet.
Oddly, my eyes were really opened in 2004 after I returned from my four years in Europe.
Our car makers were, by then, operating under minimal protection – yet they produced the Ford Territory and, a couple of years later, the VE Commodore. About that time it became my contention that Australian automotive manufacturing need bow to no-one.
Richard Ferlazzo, Holden’s Design Director, is one of a number of Holden guys who inspires me with his knowledge, enthusiasm, and dedication.
Richard once observed: “People often ask, if you had the same resources as BMW or Mercedes-Benz, could you do as good a job? [I say] Probably. But I’ll ask it this way: if they had the limited resources we have, would they do as good a job as we do?”
It’s an Aussie tradition, having the imagination and resourcefulness to do a lot from a little.
And having had Holden, and its former rivals, manufacturing here, has provided employment and incentive for engineers, designers, production planners, assembly workers, and countless others, who may have in turn transferred those skills to the benefit of who knows how many other industries.
I do think the changes in global manufacturing power made this day inevitable.
But that doesn’t make it any sadder.
We might see Australia’s fi nal mass-produced passenger car this month, but that’s not to say that Australia will cease to produce – and export – hugely valued designers, engineers and clay modellers, and managers. Aside from ‘name’ Aussie export designers like Mike Simcoe and Todd Willing, our talented diaspora is well represented among car makers in Europe, the US, China, and Korea.