From humble beginnings as a saddlery in 1856, to the first locally designed and built car in 1948, to the last Aussie Commodore in 2017 — Holden has always been part of the Australian way of life.
Whether you’re a fan or not, a world without the iconic brand, is a world difficult to imagine , but come December — it all comes to a screeching halt.
Just about everyone has a Holden story to tell and here is our contribution, the recollections of a group of people that have had more to do with the Holden brand over the years than most people in a lifetime.
We know the brand, we know the cars and we know the people, and regardless of what you may think about Holden’s imminent departure — it’s a very emotional time and marks the close of an important chapter in modern Australian history.
I shed no tears, having had a couple of Opels and less than impressive experiences in various other GM products — Saab excepted.
My sole thought on the demise of the sh*t heaps is this question: Is that also to be the fate of football, meat pies and kangaroos?
Holden is no more.
Ted Bullpit would roll over in his grave.
How is he going to tell his son Craig that he can’t borrow the Kingswood.
“The Mazda6! You’re not taking the Mazda6. I just Mr Sheened the dashboard.”
It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?
But how did it come to this?
Holden dominated the domestic market for decades.
The Commodore was Australia’s top selling car for something like 15 years.
Most of us grew up driving Holdens. My parents owned three of them — an EK, a 1974 HQ Premier Wagon, and finally a 1975 LH Torana.
I learned to drive in the Premier. My dad would sit in the passenger seat and pretend to read the paper while I drove.
So how did this all go wrong for Holden?
Up until the mid 1990s, Holdens were designed and built in Australia, and Australians trusted them — especially the Commodore.
Gradually, however, Holden ceased manufacturing all other vehicles in Australia, but that was no big deal — because the Commodore was still the biggest selling model in Australia.
GM then made Holden fall into line with car design. In the early 2000s, there was a shift from the traditional sedan or wagon to SUVs.
The traditional Holden buyer should have just moved from a Commodore to a Holden SUV, but GM and Holden didn’t have a quality SUV to match the likes of the Japanese or the Koreans.
So now, GM has announced it is getting out of right-hand drive cars.
That said, only 35 per cent of cars are driven in countries with right-hand drive vehicles, with Japan, India and the UK joining Australia.
Japan has never been a big market for US manufactured cars. In 2017, just 0.3 per cent of cars sold in Japan were made in the US.
Vauxhall manufactured vehicles sold in the UK, but GM sold its stake in Vauxhall in 2017.
The same year GM stopped exporting to India.
The other right-hand drive country is South Africa, but again, GM pulled out of South Africa in 2017.
This left Australia as the last of the right-hand drive nations to which GM exports.
And I guess that our small market didn’t justify continuing to manufacture right-hand drive vehicles.
At least that’s what GM is saying — but should we believe them?
I’m not sure I do.
While GM has been slowly getting out of the right-hand drive market, South Korea, home to Kia and Hyundai, which have consistently increased their market share in Australia and other right-hand drive markets.
But in South Korea they drive on the other side of the road.
It seems to me that GM has simply failed to adapt to their specific markets.
And poor old Ted Bullpit ends up being the victim of their poor choices.
My father was always a Holden man.
My earliest memories of cars are of our Holdens.
The smell of the new 1961 FB station wagon, which I still sense today when I see one, with its (to my three-year-old eyes) big round tail lights and towering orange blinkers.
Or the 1963 EJ Special sedan with its spaceship dashboard which I flew to the planets while parked in our Woy Woy garage in 1964.
It was the car in which our seven-member family drove to Queensland and back in 1972, despite my having vacuumed out the rusted rear floor pans and a real danger of asphyxiation.
Then dad bought a new 1974 HQ station wagon.
This was the car in which I learned to drive in 1977.
Juggling “three on the tree”, riding dad’s cheapo balloon cross-ply tyres and slippery vinyl bench seats, with no heater or demisters, I went for my test on the rainiest day of the year.
It wallowed like a mattress on a canoe, slid around corners and fogged up at every spit of rain, leaving the examiner and I flying blind.
Needless to say I subsequently passed in the air-conditioned, bucket-seated, disc-braked Japanese car I bought myself later that year.
Dad kept buying Holdens until his last Commodore in the 2000s and never missed a chance to bag my little car.
But he was right — it wasn’t a Holden!
I was born and raised in Perth, spending my formative years in the south-east of the city and in a then new suburban development.
My Dad was a “Freo boy” and we would travel down to see his Dad in a VW Beetle.
As I and my two sisters grew, a need for a larger car became obvious.
Enter, stage right, a beige and white HT Kingswood, complete with 186ci “red motor” and three-speed column mount manual.
Dad was a hands-on bloke and I’d watch as oil filter changes were performed, spark plugs pulled out and gaps measured.
The Kingswood served our family for over 20 years.
My own first car was an LC Torana GTR look-alike.
This was a 161ci, three-speed floor shift, and would reach a top of 85mph with the speedo maxing out at 100mph.
After a bingle, a mid ’70s HJ Sandman style panel van found itself in the driveway.
Originally fitted with a M20 four-speed, it had been converted to a “Traumatic” as the three-speed auto was unkindly known.
Power was from a standard 253ci and the standard dash had been swapped for a more efficient and better looking GTS dash.
Later a change in relationship status dictated a need for a family car and along came a 1980 VC SL/E.
This also was the 253ci/Trimatic combination, but had been given a stainless steel exhaust and sports mufflers, along with Koni shocks.
The Commodore was the pick of the family, as an uncle had purchased a VH SL/E in two tone (a previous car of his was a HQ Premier), while his parents, my grandparents, were among the first to buy the then new VB Commodore in 1978.
Theirs was a SL in that garish yellow.
That car was written off in 1984 and a same colour VK found its home with them until my grandfather passed away a couple of years later.
I was lucky and honoured to host the launch of the HDT VL retro at Eastern Creek raceway, and was taken for a 250km/h ride around the circuit.
I met Bev and Robert Brock, and became friends with the man, Peter Champion, that owned HDT and was a great friend of Peter Brock.
It’s fair to say the Red Lion has been an intrinsic part of my life.
Being an old codger, my memories of Holden go right back to the first one . . . the one incorrectly known as the FX but correctly known as the 48/215.
In 1948, my father was deputy manager of the Commonwealth Bank in Devonport, Tasmania, and one of his clients – Sammy Slater was his name – bought one of the first examples of the new Australian car to arrive in the town.
Even though I was a very small boy at the time, I was already a petrol head and seeing the new Holden and sitting in it at Mr Slater’s house was a major highlight of my early years — especially because the Crawford family car at the time was an A-model Ford.
I can even remember the colour. Don’t know what it was called, but I reckon it was a burnished bronze hue.
After the A-model, Dad didn’t buy a 48/215. The first new car we had as a family was an Austin A40 — a yellow tourer with green vinyl trim.
Fast forward five years and Dad was transferred to the Victorian Murray River town of Echuca, this time as manager of the Commonwealth Bank.
A short time later – partly because the local Holden dealer, Alf Lynch, was a client, the family became proud owners of a pale-blue FJ with blue vinyl trim.
I was seriously pissed off because Dad bought the standard model, not the “Special.”
I was even more pissed off when the Bank of New South Wales manager (he lived across the road and I was mates with his son) bought a “Special” – a yellow one with burgundy upholstery.
Dad and the aforementioned Alf Lynch became great mates and when the strikingly different FE – the FJ’s successor – was released, I had a sneak preview.
In those days, and for many years thereafter, the release of a new Holden was a huge event.
Dealers covered their showroom windows with sheets of brown paper or curtains so that the cars could not be seen until official launch day when dealers revealed the new car to invited guests and then the rest of the punters.
To keep one of the new FE’s hidden away from the dealership, Alf asked Dad to hide a “Special” in our lock-up garage for a few days.
I was over the moon and every afternoon after school I’d go to the garage and sit behind the wheel pretending to drive the car and studying in awe all its features.
Despite my best efforts, Dad didn’t buy an FE but he did subsequently buy an FC “Special”.
Until then it was the blue FJ and it was the car in which he taught me drive and in which I obtained my licence.
Therein lies another chapter in my Holden story.
By this time Dad was manager of the Commonwealth Bank in Burnie, Tasmania and on the morning of my 18th birthday, Dad and I went to the police station to fix the licence.
The duty sergeant said: “ You can drive me home to lunch.”
Having successfully done as I was asked, he said: “ Go back to the station and tell them I said to give you the licence.”
Things are, thankfully, a bit more exhaustive these days, although as I always say, kids today are taught how to get a licence, NOT how to drive.
My first car was a Mini, the second the twin-cam MG-A that was the subject of a widely read story on this this website, the third was a Falcon Futura hardtop and the fourth — my first Holden – was a brand-new HK GTS Monaro V8.
A couple of years later, following the arrival of a large Old English sheepdog and our first child, the Monaro was replaced by an HQ wagon.
Fortunately, at the time, my secretary’s father was a Holden director and he arranged for my HQ to be fitted with all the GTS bits – the dash, steering wheel, grille and wheels.
The HQ was our family car for quite a few years before I became a Ford man and to this day, we still have a Territory.
Like many people, I am sad to see the demise of a once-great brand that was a huge and important part of Australia’s motoring history.
There is, in my view, a raft of reasons for what’s happened, but here are a few key ones.
Holden (and its GM masters) didn’t see the SUV thing coming like Ford did with the Territory.
The the company’s Korean-sourced vehicles such as the Captiva, weren’t very good and the fact is that Australia, with around 70 brands, is probably the most competitive car market in the world.
Chuck in the fact that we’re right-hand drive and development costs for moving the steering wheel across are prohibitive and no wonder it’s “bye-bye Holden.”
Me? My Dad changed cars like he changed his undies.
We had an endless stream of them, mostly second-hand treasures that he discovered sitting on secluded lots.
The first Holden I remember was a grey EH wagon, with chrome mags and floral curtains on the rear side windows that Mum made.
Every Christmas we used to make the trek from Sydney up the old Pacific Highway to Long Jetty where my paternal grandmother lived in a had a big, rambling weatherboard house by the lake.
To avoid the traffic we used to travel up by night and they would make a bed up for us kids in the back, with pillows and an eiderdown where we could lie down and sleep.
Needless to say this was before seat belts.
Grandma always had a pillowcase full of cheap plastic toys waiting for us — we were so excited.
Later we got to sit up and count Fords and Holdens to pass the time in the back.
We might have had an HG or HK Belmont station wagon at one point too, or maybe it belonged to the neighbours — but the EH is the only Holden I remember clearly.
Later after my sister arrived, the five of us piled into the EH for a big family fossicking trip that culminated at Tambourine Mountain in Queensland where we spent the day digging in the soaking rain for Thunder Eggs.
We found some too and lots of other interesting rocks.
In fact, by the time it was time to return we had collected so many rocks that the wagon was riding rather low on the rear springs — but it was unstoppable.
I never owned a Holden myself.
I learned to drive late and got the VW Bug from an early age.
German engineering, you know — but that’s another story (don’t mention the word diesel).