TELFO

Street Machine - - Telfo - SI­MON TELFORD

TRESTORING, MOD­I­FY­ING AND RAC­ING HOLD­ENS IS DAMN-NEAR A NA­TIONAL PAS­TIME, AND WITH 69 YEARS OF RAW MA­TE­RIAL, THE TRA­DI­TION WILL CON­TINUE FOR MANY YEARS TO COME

HE 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.

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