Don’t take our history!

SAVING HOLDEN'S HISTORY

WORDS ALEX INWOOD

Holden departs

SAVING HOLDEN'S HISTORY

HOLDEN EXECS ARE FIGHTING HARD TO STOP THE BRAND’S PRICELESS CONCEPT CARS AND VAST ARCHIVE DISAPPEARING BACK TO DETROIT

I MAGINE THE loading docks at the back of Holden’s Salmon Street HQ. It’s dusk, the failing sunlight only serving to enhance the sickly yellow glow of the transport truck’s halogen bulbs. A skeleton crew of Holden staff mills about, suddenly springing to action as the curvaceous purple quarter panels of Efijy appear. It’s slowly wheeled onto the transporter as the sharp wedge of the Holden Hurricane hoves into view, its impossibly gold metallic form glinting in the gloom. Behind it sits Coupe 60, the VE Monaro concept from 2008 that captured an entirely new generation of Holden fans.

Transporting these cars isn’t odd in itself. Holden frequently ships its highly prized (and highly valuable) collection of a dozen concept cars around the country to display at events and motoring museums. This evening, though, the cars have been given a one-way ticket to Detroit. General Motors is cleaning house, and as part of its closure of Holden it’s sending the concept cars, Holden’s extensive ‘historical fleet’ (which includes 70-odd landmark models – like the first and final Aussie-made cars) and the brand’s enormous archive Stateside. GM owns the assets, after all…

This scene is fantastical, of course, though the truth is that the flick of a ballpoint pen in Detroit could set such a scenario in motion. Holden’s closure leaves many loose ends for GM to tie, and as Wheels went to press, there was still no official word on what will happen to the cars and the archive.

Mercifully, the unofficial word from inside GM is that they won’t be going anywhere, long-haul at least. Heavy hitters like Australian-born GM design chief Mike Simcoe and Holden’s head of design, Richard Ferlazzo, are personally leading the charge to save them from deportation.

The pair make an imposing and influential team; Simcoe campaigning the shiny bums in Detroit, while Ferlazzo – who penned Efijy and helped build the famous show car after hours with a skunkworks team – will be staying on after the closure of his department to manage things locally.

The timelines are tight. Holden has pulled the ripcord and plans to shutter its operations in the coming months, with the design team finished by June 30. Ferlazzo and a small team will be staying on until year’s end to help manage the future of Holden’s historical assets, among other tasks.

The cars in question are of great significance. On top of the three mentioned earlier, the concept car collection includes: 1970’s Torana GTR-X, 1998 Monaro Concept, 2000 Sandman, 2001 Utester, 2002 Commodore SSX and 2004 Torana TT36. The collection could fetch a tidy sum. For context, Coupe 60 was valued at $2.5 million in 2017. But before you start mortgaging the house, hold fire.

“Will GM sell them? It’s very unlikely,” Ferlazzo tells Wheels. “GM has sold concept cars a few times in the past, and I think they’ve regretted it.”

The ideal scenario, he says, is that GM will retain ownership of the vehicles but loan them out to museums.

“A plan still needs to be developed, but I think the best scenario would be one in which many of the heritage vehicles remain here for Australians to admire,” he says. “It would be nice to keep as many of the concept cars together as possible, so it’s a collection people can see in one location. Something like Birdwood is a potential option, given its size. Alternatively, they could be sent to different museums around the country and they could rotate them, creating more opportunity for people to see them. There are a number of options to consider and we just need time to work through them.”

As Ferlazzo says, the National Motor Museum at Birdwood in South Australia is a logical option. As Australia’s social history motor museum, it already has about 350 vehicles on display, including a number of significant Holdens. Currently on loan from GM are Holden No. 1, the 1948 48-215 that prompted Ben Chifley proudly to proclaim, “She’s a beauty!”, the Commodore SSX and the Torana TT36.

Space restrictions at the GM Heritage Center in Detroit could bolster Holden’s case to keep the cars in Australia.

“They don’t have room in their heritage centre for our cars,” a senior Holden exec told Wheels. “I don’t think they’ll send our cars away. They understand the significance of these cars back in Detroit.”

There’s plenty more to consider beyond Holden’s collection of cars, of course. The brand’s archive is extensive and includes product planning notes, photos, showreels and advertising material. Digitising the collection is already a priority, and a GM archivist is en route to begin the process. Where the physical assets will be stored remains unclear, though the State Library of South Australia (already home to one of the largest collections of GM archival material in the world) in one candidate.

We hope GM does keep Holden’s historical assets on our shores. With Ferlazzo and Simcoe leading the charge, the outlook is positive, but if push comes to shove, good old Aussie law could be the collection’s saviour. The Protection of Moveable Cultural Heritage Act of 1986 applies to the cars and archive and is the same law that required Ford to apply for a permit to move its Australian archive overseas in 2016. The fact Ford’s collection remains here, despite the Blue Oval’s efforts to ship it to the US, is comforting. Losing such an evocative collection of Holden’s heritage would be a final squirt of lemon juice into what is already a raw wound.

FOR KEEPS

Design treasures

CONCEPT CARS THAT FORGED A BRAND

01 1970 Torana GTR-X

02 2008 Coupe 60

03 1969 Hurricane

04 2004 Torana TT36

05 2000 Sandman