Flight of the Fal­codores

How we went from a two-car race to a new-car free for all

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - COVER STORY -

long­est con­tin­u­ally sold name­plate in Aus­tralia — it’s 53 years old.

Holden sold more than 750,000 cars in the 1950s, but really hit the gas in the mid1960s with the EH Holden of 1963-64. More than 250,000 of this model alone were sold in 18 months, mak­ing it Aus­tralia’s fastest sell­ing car of all time.

To put that in per­spec­tive, Holden sold 30,000 Com­modores last year and Ford sold 14,000 Fal­cons.


The ’ 70s was the decade of the Kingswood. The first model ar­rived in 1968 and gained wide­spread ac­cep­tance with 1971’s HQ.

Big­ger than its pre­de­ces­sors and with bet­ter han­dling than its con­tem­po­raries, the HQ had the whip hand on the Ford Fal­con and Chrysler Valiant. Mo­tor mag­a­zine wrote that the HQ raised the av­er­age fam­ily man’s car to above av­er­age sta­tus.

In the three years the HQ Kingswood was pro­duced, an as­ton­ish­ing 485,000 were built.

It re­mains the big­gest-sell­ing Holden.


Af­ter years of mak­ing cars big­ger, heav­ier and more pow­er­ful, the oil scare of the late 1970s prompted a fun­da­men­tal re­think.

The mighty Kingswood was re­placed by the smaller Com­modore, whose ori­gins were shared with an Opel sedan. It brought bet­ter fuel econ­omy and more ag­ile han­dling than its peers, but buy­ers didn’t em­brace it. The four-cylin­der Com­modore tanked; it used as much fuel as the six be­cause it had to work harder to keep mov­ing.

By the time the slimmed­down Com­modore had ar­rived, the oil cri­sis had sub­sided and buy­ers favoured Ford’s big­gest car yet, the XD Fal­con.

The XD and sub­se­quent Fal­cons would go on to be top sellers, start­ing a golden era for the Blue Oval brand.

By 1982, the Ford Fal­con had over­taken the equiv­a­lent Holden for the first time in a decade and re­mained the top seller un­til 1989 when Holden re­leased the VN Com­modore.

Ford dropped the V8 from the Fal­con in 1984. It wouldn’t re­turn un­til 1991.


The 1990s was the Age of Rea­son ac­cord­ing to John Farn­ham. They also saw the fiercest bat­tle yet be­tween Holden and Ford. The Com­modore snatched the sales lead from the Fal­con in 1989 to win three years in a row, a lead that would change hands four times over the decade.

But the Fal­cons last won in 1995. From then the Com­modore went on a 15-year win­ning streak.

In 1998, more than 94,000 Com­modores sold — not a patch on sales of the 1960s and ’ 70s, but it would be the high water mark. The threat of im­ported cars and SUVs was around the cor­ner. Toy­ota sold more cars than Holden and Ford for the first time in 1991. It was a sign of things to come.


Then ev­ery­thing changed . . .

Grad­u­ally lower tar­iffs and a strong dol­lar made Aus­tralia fer­tile ground for for­eign brands. We em­braced th­ese new im­ported cars and SUVs that were smaller, more eco­nom­i­cal, more prac­ti­cal or all of the above.

At the start of the decade, Aus­tralian-made cars main­tained about one-third of the mar­ket. By 2005 25 per cent of cars sold in Aus­tralia were lo­cally made. By last year it had halved again to 12.5 per cent.

The Holden ver­sus Ford era was no more. Toy­ota, with its vast and di­verse model range, took mar­ket lead­er­ship in 2003 and hasn’t looked back. Ford has been shunted aside by Mazda and Hyundai.

At the be­gin­ning of the cen­tury there were fewer than 50 brands and 200 models from which to choose. Now 67 brands sell more than 360 models.

Aus­tralians have more choice in cars than any other devel­oped coun­try. But it means our lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try has an un­prece­dented bat­tle for sur­vival ahead. This re­porter is on Twit­ter: @JoshuaDowl­ing

Holden oldie: The car­maker sold more than 250,000 of its EH model in the early to mid-’60s

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