Looking back at Holden’s history.

The story begins for Holden by securing an unwanted Chevy design during the Great Depression and a merger between Holden Motor Body Builders Ltd & General Motors (Australia) Pty Ltd, which then developed into one of Australia’s largest manufacturing enterprises.
Holden then enjoyed its 50 plus years of domination in the Australian & New Zealand car markets. However some have been predicting the rise and fall of Holden as far back as the oil crises of the 1970’s, the same time the first Commodore appeared. Then in 2003 when Toyota became Australia’s & New Zealand’s best selling brand and again in 2011 when the Mazda3 out-sold the Commodore in Australia. The Commodore has always been popular with Kiwi buyers but that doesn’t really count in the bigger picture.
Holden’s original beginnings go back as far as 1856, when an immigrant from Britain named James Holden set up a saddling business in South Australia. Some years later in 1919, the grandson Edward, established Holden Motor Body Builders Ltd and the following years saw the company open branches in Australia putting vehicle bodies on chassis supplied by Chevrolet & Dodge. The First Commodore
By 1930 Holden was in the grips of the Great Depression, a severe worldwide economic slump. The timing of the Great Depression varied across different countries and lasted until the late 1930’s.

It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century and began in America on 4 September 1929 and quickly became worldwide news with a massive crash on 29 October 1929.

Between 1929 and 1932, worldwide GDP fell by an estimated 15% and if you relate that to the recent global recession of 2008 that slump was less than 1%.
The Great Depression
The Great Depression of the 1930’s saw Holden’s sales collapse from 34,000 units to less than 1,700 by 1931. GM purchased Holden & General Motors Holden Ltd opened for business. The company then opened its Fisherman’s Bend plant in 1936, with another plant in Pagewood Sydney soon after.

In 1945 with World War II over it was all go with coachwork for American models, Buick, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile & Pontiac as well as Vauxhall a British vehicle.
After the war the Australian government commenced talks with GM Holden and so began the development of Australia’s first manufactured vehicle. This was a 4-Year development program mostly out of Detroit USA and at the end the Holden 48-215 was born, named the Holden FX.

Australia’s Prime Minister at the time (Ben Chifley) unveiled this very first Holden at Fisherman’s Bend beginning Australia’s vehicle manufacturing story by producing 10 Holden’s a day off the production line, at £733.00 each. (Close to 2-Years pay today).
The Holden 48-215
Now a truly local product, developed for reliability and the harsher driving conditions found in Australian & New Zealand. In 1951 GM Holden launched the 50-2106 (Coupe Utility) based on the FX platform and sales rocketed to over 30,000 units that year. Then a follow up Holden FJ in 1953, GM Holden was flourishing with a 30% market share bringing even greater profits to its shareholders.
By 1956 another plant opened in Dandenong, Melbourne, the Lang Lang proving ground was developed and a long wheelbase Holden FE was launched, using the FJ’s 2.2L inline six, 3-Speed manual transmission, new bodywork which introduced the famous station wagon.

By 1958 with export operations expanding fast Holden’s were selling in 17 different countries.
The Holden FE
In 1960 a Holden FB Panel Van was introduced but by 1961 the panel van made way for the Holden EK, which had a 2-Speed Hydramatic auto transmission. This was a time of many updates and expansions through different models like the EJ, EH, HD and HR series. The millionth Holden rolled off the assembly line in 1962, a Holden EJ Premier. The Holden EJ Premier
In 1966 seat belts became standard, a new plant in Brisbane and the expanded Fisherman’s Bend to include R&D and foundry facilities. In 1968 the Holden HK Belmont and Kingswood badges were introduced in place of standard and special. With the HK came the Monaro coupe and the luxury Brougham. 1969 Holden produced an Australian built V8 for the HT update. The car also gained the 3-Speed auto introduced in the Torana.
In 1970, Holden opened its first specialist auto transmission plant and the Holden Torana and Gemini were launched. Later that year came the HQ model selling nearly half a million units in three years, it outsold all Holdens before it. The 1970’s saw a bunch of facelifts and improvements through the HJ, HX and HZ series.

Emissions regulations saw the V8’s detuned, but big improvements to handling with the introduction of Radial Tuned Suspension for the 1977 Holden HZ. The Brougham transformed into the separately branded Statesman De’Ville & Caprice.
An early experiment of globalization popped up in 1975 with the Holden Gemini, a joint deal with Isuzu and Opel. The Gemini proved a winner, dominating its market well into the 1980’s.

The 1976 LX series spawned a three-door hatchback variant and the four-cylinder was rebadged Sunbird. On the decline by 1978, the Torana received a final facelift for the UC series before bowing out in 1980. But its locally made Starfire 4-Cylinder 1.9L engine would live on in future Commodore models.
The 1975 Holden Gemini
1978 signaled a new direction for Holden with the VB Commodore again a product of globalization. This was born out of the 1974 oil crisis, with its roots in Opel’s Rekord & Senator models. Buyers were initially deterred by the reduction in size, but by 1980, the VB was Australia’s best-selling car available in 4-Cylinder, 6-Cylinder and V8 versions.
The early 1980’s were dominant for Holden with the VC, VH and VK Commodore series however the Holden Camira launched in 1982 saw losses by 1985 exceeding $500 million.

When unleaded petrol came in 1986 it forced Holden to look to Nissan for an interim engine. The VL series had Nissan’s 3.0L engine and 6 & 4-Speed auto.

With Holden in debt from the losses, its parent company agreed to pay its way out as long as it restructured and split GM Holden in two, the two would be Holden’s Motor Company (HMC) and Holden’s Engine Company (HEC), dividing duties between the Elizabeth plant for bodies and the Fisherman’s Bend plant for engines.
The Holden Camira
The late 1980’s and through the 1990’s saw a VN overhaul turning the Commodore into a big car with a 3.8L Buick V6 assembled at Fisherman’s Bend and Holden’s market share rose from 21% to nearly 30%. This began the time of badge engineering with deals with Suzuki (Swift/Barina, Sierra/Drover 4WD) and later with Nissan (Pulsar/Astra) and then with Toyota (Corolla/Nova, Camry/Apollo, Commodore/Lexcen). Not a great time for Holden with disappointing sales for the rebadged models, the Toyota deal came to an end in 1996.
With the VR Commodore overhaul of 1993, nearly 80% of the car was new and by 1997 $600 million was spent on the all new VT Commodore, this was built on the VR’s sales success. Reported as safer and dynamically superior, it pushed Holden to its 1999 sales high point, fuelled by the skunkworks concept that became the Holden Monaro in 2001 with the replacement of the local 5.0L V8 by the American 5.7L LS engine. The Holden Monaro
At the turn of this century even with the Monaro around to add excitement, things began to go wrong. Commodore went from the VY (2002) and VZ (2004) updates, introducing the Alloytec V6, Toyota knocked Holden from its place as the best-selling car brand in by 2003 and the Japanese manufacturer remains on top today. The Commodore VE series in 2006, a billion-dollar investment by Holden, killed off any remaining links to Opel it was truly a “Down Under Vehicle”.
Along comes the GFC with GM (USA) filing for bankruptcy in Detroit, cost cutting was everywhere, from the replacement of Opel-sourced models like the Astra, Vectra and early 2000’s Barinas with South Korean Daewoo product to the Adventra, the AWD Commodore pitted against Ford’s Territory. Holden actually invested heavily in Daewoo itself, assuming a controlling interest by 2005, before relinquishing it to Detroit as GM filed for bankruptcy and bailout in 2009.
Holden’s announcement in 2010 that, with $149 million worth of federal government assistance, it would build the Cruze sedan & hatch at the Elizabeth plant was received well.

However by 2011, with large cars losing favour to hatches and SUVs, the Commodore lost its place as Australia’s best-selling model to the Mazda3. Then in 2012 the VF Commodore looked good, the drive was right, the specs were good, as was the price it was just too big for buyers.
The Holden Cruze
Holden was back in Canberra in 2013 looking for another $250 million. But it was all to late with Toyota, Ford and Mitsubishi all gone or going the die was cast and the Australian made Holden will be gone by 2017.

September 2016



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