Flight of the Falcodores
How we went from a two-car race to a new-car free for all
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