BLOWIN’ GAS­KETS

Street Machine - - Contents -

THURS­DAY, 29 No­vem­ber 2018 was the FX Holden’s 70th birth­day. It should have been a day for cel­e­bra­tion, but it is what it is, and what it is ap­par­ently isn’t much. A cur­sory glance across Holden’s web­site showed four lead sto­ries; the new (GMC) Aca­dia, the (Chevro­let) Colorado, the (Chevro­let) Equinox and some info on the great deals you can get across the range. Not much on the an­niver­sary, then.

Un­like the 50- and 60-year cel­e­bra­tions, Holden has re­sisted fling­ing out a bevy of spe­cial edi­tions with up­grade packs and chromey badge­work. Maybe the com­pany is sav­ing it­self for the di­a­mond ju­bilee in five years’ time, but who knows where the on­ce­proud brand will sit by then? Lang Lang and the re­cently ex­panded Holden en­gi­neer­ing team dodged a bul­let yes­ter­day when GM elected not to bone them against the wall at the same time as 14,000 work­ers across five US and Cana­dian fac­to­ries. But will GM’S Aussie arm be so lucky next time, Holden or no Holden?

Ear­lier this year, I dared to sug­gest GM could prob­a­bly eu­thanise the Holden brand to­day, re­plac­ing it with GMC, Chev and Cadil­lac, bring­ing the Lion to a neat close pre­cisely 70 years after Prime Min­is­ter Ben Chi­fley greeted the first freshly minted FX off the pro­duc­tion line. My story may have touched a nerve, be­cause after a flurry of phone calls, can­celled meet­ings and care­less whis­pers, the out­come was pur­ple mon­key dish­washer.

The so­cials have also ig­nored the mile­stone, in­stead fo­cussing on the Colorado’s in­fo­tain­ment pack­age. Sure, Sam­sung vs Ap­ple is more im­por­tant that Holden vs Ford these days, but 70 years of his­tory can’t be de­nied. Maybe I’m putting too much weight on it; the Com­modore name­plate’s 40th birth­day ticked over just as qui­etly back in Oc­to­ber, and that car doesn’t even get a guernsey on the web­site’s front page.

Clearly the Com­modore is no longer Holden’s fo­cus, and rightly so; the money is in SUVS, be­cause most driv­ers aren’t ac­tu­ally driv­ers but peo­ple who own elec­tro-petrol-pow­ered travel pods to get them places. I’ll ad­mit to not hav­ing driven the im­ported ZB Com­modore; I’m sure it’s a fine car, but I’m also sure the Mazda 6 is a fine car and I reckon if I was in the mar­ket for a mid-sized FWD hatch (which I’m not) I’d prob­a­bly dial some­thing up in Soul Red with the old Jonathan Livingston Seag­ull em­blem on the nose.

Let me hit you with a home-cooked truth: If Holden had pressed ahead with an Aussiebuilt, lo­calised ZB Com­modore, sales would be sit­ting around the same abysmal level as they are now. The sav­ing grace of the pro­posed Aus­tralian ZB, aside from it the­o­ret­i­cally keep­ing El­iz­a­bethan Ade­laideans in pie floaters and Farm­ers Union iced cof­fees for dayz, was the ru­mour that skunkworks op­er­a­tives were at­tempt­ing to jam the LS V8 up front for the en­thu­si­ast mar­ket. If there was a 6.2-litre ZB Calais wagon in the line-up, maybe I’d be flick­ing through a brochure at this minute, ca­ress­ing a gi­ant chub, be­cause the ZB isn’t a bad-look­ing thing by mod­ern stan­dards. But with FWD and a four-banger, it’s just not my bag.

Per­haps the clo­sure of the fac­tory was a bless­ing in dis­guise, be­cause it be­gat us a slew of VFII spe­cial edi­tions and in­cred­i­ble up­grades to the en­tire VF Com­modore range that might have been ig­nored if there was a fol­low-up in the wings. I re­cently re­placed my late wife’s WM Caprice with a 6.0-litre VF Calais

V Sport­wagon, and, like the FG-X Fal­con, I reckon it will go down as one of the great­est main­stream cars cre­ated in this coun­try.

Al­though the clo­sure wasn’t an­nounced when the VF was in de­vel­op­ment, project lead­ers knew that the fleet sales that Holden pre­vi­ously re­lied upon were dwin­dling. The VF had to at­tract pri­vate buy­ers will­ing to drop large coin on large sedans, there­fore the Aussie pride in­stilled in the VF is pal­pa­ble. The in­te­rior is a place of beauty, with tac­tile switchgear and a dash­board full of es­o­teric LEDS, LCD screens and gauges that I may never un­der­stand.

Where the VF Calais’ in­te­rior is made of tech­nol­ogy, chrome and mis­placed wideeyed hope for the fu­ture, the wife’s Ve-based WM Caprice has an in­te­rior made of up­cy­cled Sis­tema con­tain­ers and bits that fall off. The VE/WM also missed out on a bunch of new fea­tures Holden rammed into the VF to level it up, in­clud­ing the self-park­ing gim­mick that I’m yet to use, as I ac­tu­ally hold a doc­tor­ate of re­v­erse par­al­lel park­ing.

My Calais’ meaty six-point-oh V8, un­der­stated looks and Re­gal Pea­cock duco (per­haps the best colour Holden has ever sprayed on a car), means that I’ve found a keeper. For as long as there’s fuel, I will have this car in my drive­way. And I don’t doubt this, be­cause de­spite pick­ing it up at 130,000km, this thing is a rock, as if hewn from a solid bil­let of dark-green gold.

Twenty years ago, I counted my­self among the throng work­ing at the El­iz­a­beth plant, in the Holden By De­sign di­vi­sion. The floor was busy with young blokes and blokettes wrap­ping, shift­ing, drilling, mov­ing and stick­er­ing cars for the ex­port mar­ket, Tel­stra work­ers, taxi driv­ers and sun­roof en­thu­si­asts, among oth­ers.

I re­mem­ber Holden’s 50th birth­day well, screw­ing sports bars onto the ini­tial batch of 300 VSIII SS util­i­ties as An­niver­sary Edi­tion utes and sedans rolled down the pro­duc­tion line. I’d spend en­tire shifts mov­ing ex­port cars from the hold­ing yard into the prep area, get­ting in and out of so many in a day I fre­quently dropped into the pas­sen­ger side of my Gemini when I went to drive home. The 10-hour days were ex­haust­ing, and we of­ten had over­time on the week­ends. But we were build­ing Hold­ens.

My VF Calais came from a long-es­tab­lished deal­er­ship not far from the fac­tory doors, so two decades after I left and just over one year since the ro­bots stopped robot­ing and the work­ers downed tools, I swung by for a look. The HBD staff en­try was up the side of the fac­tory, far from the fa­cil­ity’s still­man­i­cured front doorstep. Over­grown and barely recog­nis­able, it was a sad sight. Lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing is well and truly over.

I’d take any model from Holden’s sto­ried, home­grown his­tory and put it in my garage – from the rear-locker FX that found a vis­i­bly chuffed Honourable Mr Chi­fley, right through to the VF Calais that’s sit­ting in my car­port right now.

There’s a ro­mance to lo­cal Hold­ens (and Fords too), which is now lost, along with the man­u­fac­tur­ing and mod­els we hold so dear. But surely the guys at Fishermans Bend could have pre­tended it mat­tered. I’ve not seen a TV spot, on­line ban­ner or print ad­vert that cel­e­brates or recog­nises Holden’s seven decades since they launched the 48-215 and cre­ated an era.

I’m not sure what Holden is do­ing to­day as a cor­po­ra­tion, if any­thing. Per­haps its ad­ver­tis­ing al­go­rithms sim­ply haven’t touched me. Maybe they know I don’t want one.

THERE’S A RO­MANCE TO LO­CAL HOLD­ENS. SURELY THE GUYS AT FISHERMANS BEND COULD HAVE PRE­TENDED IT MAT­TERED

MAIN: Takes one to know one. My friend Nicole took me to pick up my new pur­chase in her VE Com­modore SV6 Sport­wagon, and we stopped by for a tra­di­tional fac­tory snap while we still could

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