On 29 November 1948, the first Australian-built 'Holden' motor vehicle rolled off the General Motors-Holden’s Limited (GM-H) assembly line at the Fishermen’s Bend plant in Melbourne – officially unveiled by post-WWII Labor PM, Ben Chifley.
Australia's first home-made car was called a “Holden” 48-215 in honour of the Holden family name. The Holden's 1850s Adelaide saddlery family business had morphed into car upholstery repairs from the early 1900s, then production of vehicle body shells and tramcars for Melbourne in the 1920s. Holden then merged with the Australian subsidiary of US car maker General Motors in 1931 (forming GM-H).
The release of the first Holden was seen as Australia “coming of age”, expanding from our pastoral beginnings to the modern industrial age.
Whilst the car’s price was nearly 100-times the (then) average weekly wage, demand could not be satisfied quickly enough with 18,000 orders and deposits paid at the time of the unveiling – clearly, this was a car Australians wanted.
By the late 1950s, 'Holdens' were dominating Australian roads, accounting for over 40% of total Australian car sales.
Celebrate our first Holden (and car) produced in Australia by:
- if you are in/near Canberra, checking out the Holden 48-215 display at the National Museum of Australia
- going for a drive in a Holden
- watching these brief documentaries on our first-made car
- viewing these quirky Holden ads of yesteryear (and other car ads)
- reading further on the 48-215 (or FX) and the story of Holden in Australia more generally
- enjoying this clip on the understated 1970’s Aussie drama series “The Outsiders” with their classic early-mid 1960s EH Holden ute
- recalling the first Bathurst 1000 in 1973 (where Peter Brock’s Holden Torana came second after running out of petrol and needing a push) or making plans to attend a car racing or 'show 'n shine' event, and/or
- sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends, Holden fans, parochial Aussies and those that love a good drive on the open road or in the outback.
Further details on Australia's first car, Holden and car-making in Australia
The “48” stood for the production year and the “215” stood for the engine capacity (2.15 litres). It was a mid-sized sedan and engine, designed for Australian tastes and roads/conditions – smaller and more economical than the “tanks and gas-guzzlers” General Motors and other car-makers were producing in post-war America.
Since 1953 – the model’s last production run and update before its successor “FJ” model was produced – the “48-215” has been more commonly known and referred to as the “FX” Holden (due to the new suspension technology that was fitted).
Unfortunately, Australia does not manufacture cars anymore. GM-H (or Holden, as it is today) and the like only import their vehicles. Whilst many factors contributed to this demise, it was in no small part due to
- trade protections (eg car tariffs),
- corporate welfare in the form of government subsidies, breeding toxic management-union industrial relations, and
- an innovation and investment culture unable to survive the competitive global forces of the 21st century or respond to changing Australian tastes or waning taxpayer patience.
Over the decades to the early-1980s, tariffs were escalated by multiple governments to shore up operations and jobs in an increasingly uncompetitive Australian car industry, including GM-H (or Holden). The Hawke-Keating Labor government began reversing this trend, lowering these trade protections in exchange for industry assistance (government subsidies) to buy the car manufacturers time to restructure and become self-sustaining and world-competitive. But with every new subsidy offered by subsequent Federal and/or Vic and SA governments, a new round of cosy “industrial-club” wage and salary “bargaining” occurred which siphoned off most of the “new line of credit” from the taxpayers, ensuring “the club” would be pleading “cap-in-hand” for just one last assistance package to get them through the transition.
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