Originally a saddlery in 1856 and the provider of bodies for General Motors in Australia from 1914 (exclusively from 1924), Holden became a GM subsidiary during the Great Depression when it was purchased for £1,111,600 and merged with GM Australia, becoming General Motors–Holden’s Pty. Ltd. Holden produced its ﬁrst all-Australian car (Projects 2000 and 2200, with some development done Stateside), the 48-215 (retrospectively called the FX), in 1948. The FJ followed in 1953 and began Holden’s exporting, first to New Zealand in 1954. The first station wagon, the FE, was launched in 1957. By 1958, Holden accounted for 47·4 per cent of total Australian registrations. Left-hand-drive Holdens began leaving the factories in 1960, initially for Hawai’i. The company reached its million-car milestone in 1962, two million in 1969 and three million in 1974.
The iconic Holden Monaro was launched in 1968, starting a legend that has not abated in the 21st century. Another landmark model, the HQ series, appeared in 1971, considered one of the company’s purest designs. Globalization, however, began playing its part, with Holden being one of the many companies participating in GM’s T-car “world car” programme, building the Gemini model in dual production with Isuzu of Japan. GM believed downsizing was necessary and replaced the HZ—an evolution of the HQ—with the Commodore, essentially a German design married to GM–H engines. Various Japanese commercial models, based on Isuzu designs, began appearing in the late 1970s. The Holden Camira, the Australian edition of the GM worldwide J-car, followed in 1982.
In the mid-1980s, it was believed that the Australian Holden was a thing of the past as almost all models were designed offshore, from the Suzuki Cultus-based Holden Barina to the Holden Calais, a plush Commodore. Other models such as the Holden Astra—a rebadged Nissan Pulsar—and the Holden Apollo—a Toyota Camry—indicated the demise of the Australian car.
Fortunately for Holden fans, the company did release a new Commodore for 1989. While based on the Opel Senator, it had considerable Australian development. Holden finally reached its 5,000,000th-car milestone in 1990.
The VT series Commodore was probably the most significant Holden up to that point. Engineered from the start in left- and right-hand-drive models, it was the vanguard of Holden exports to the Middle East and Brazil, where the car was sold as Chevrolet Lumina and Chevrolet Omega respectively. The Statesman followed the Commodore to the Middle East as the Chevrolet Caprice, apeing the 1970s exports of an earlier Statesman to South Africa with this nameplate. With the arrival of GM product tsar Bob Lutz, Holden was identified as a centre of excellence for large cars. Lutz personally encouraged the exporting of the Monaro coupé as the Pontiac GTO to the US. It is also safe to say that without Lutz Holden might not have become the centre of development for the GM Zeta global large-car platform, the first fruit of which was the VE Commodore of 2006. Not only was VE exported, it formed the basis for the Chevrolet Camaro.
However, GM pulled the plug on Australian manufacture in 2017, shortly after Ford ceased production there. From that point on, Holden’s brand would adorn imports, although GM would retain a design centre there. With dwindling sales in its home market—not something that afflicted its New Zealand export market to the same extent—GM announced in 2020 that it would retire the Holden brand, with its proving grounds closing later that year, and even the design centre shut. GM would no longer have a mass-market presence in Australia or New Zealand come 2021, following retreats in Europe, Russia, and southeast Asia.
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