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GM Holden Ltd is an automaker that operates in Australia, based in Port Melbourne, Victoria. The company was founded in 1856 as a saddlery manufacturer. In 1908 it moved into the automotive field, before becoming a subsidiary of the U.S.-based General Motors (GM) in 1931.

History of the company Edit

Early history Edit

In 1852, James Alexander Holden emigrated to South Australia from Walsall, England and in 1856 established J.A. Holden & Co, a saddlery business in Adelaide. In 1885 German born Henry Frederick Frost joined the business as a junior partner and J.A. Holden & Co turned into Holden & Frost Ltd. Edward Holden, James' grandson, joined the firm in 1905 with an interest in automobiles. From there, the firm evolved through various partnerships and, in 1908, Holden and Frost moved into the business of minor repairs to car upholstery. The company began to produce complete motorcycle sidecar bodies in 1913, and Edward experimented with fitting bodies to different types of carriages. After 1917, wartime trade restrictions led the company to start full-scale production of vehicle body shells. J.A. Holden founded a new company in 1919, Holden's Motor Body Builders Ltd (HMBB) specialising in car bodies and utilising a facility on King William Street in Adelaide. By 1923, HMBB were producing 12,000 units per year. During this time, HMBB was the first company to assemble bodies for Ford Australia until their Geelong, plant was completed. From 1924, HMBB became the exclusive supplier of car bodies for GM in Australia, with manufacturing taking place at the new Woodville, South Australia plant. These bodies were made to suit a number of chassis imported from manufacturers such as Chevrolet and Dodge. In 1926 General Motors (Australia) was established with assembly plants at Newstead, Queensland; Marrickville, New South Wales; City Road, Melbourne, Victoria; Birkenhead, South Australia; and Cottesloe, Western Australia utilizing bodies produced by Holden Motor Body Builders and imported complete knock down (CKD) chassis. The Great Depression era led to a substantial downturn in production by Holden, from 34,000 units annually in 1930 to just 1,651 units one year later. In 1931 General Motors purchased Holden Motor Body Builders and merged it with General Motors (Australia) Pty Ltd to form General Motors-Holden's Ltd (GM-H).

1940s Edit

Holden's second full-scale car factory, located in Fishermans Bend (Port Melbourne), was completed in 1936, with construction beginning in 1939 on a new plant in Pagewood, New South Wales. However, World War II delayed car production with efforts shifted to the construction of vehicle bodies, field guns, aircraft and engines. Before the war ended, the Australian Government took steps to encourage an Australian automotive industry. Both GM and Ford provided studies to the Australian Government outlining the production of the first Australian designed car. Ford's proposal was the government's first choice, but required substantial financial assistance. GM's study was ultimately chosen because of its low level of government intervention. After the war, Holden returned to producing vehicle bodies, this time for Buick, Chevrolet, Pontiac and Vauxhall. The Oldsmobile Ace was also produced from 1946 to 1948.

From here, Holden continued to pursue the goal of producing an Australian car. This involved compromise with GM, as Holden's managing director, Laurence Hartnett, favoured development of a local design, while GM preferred to see an American design as the basis for "Australia's Own Car". In the end, the design was based on a previously rejected post-war Chevrolet proposal. The Holden was launched in 1948, creating long waiting lists extending through 1949 and beyond. The name "Holden" was chosen in honour of Sir Edward Holden, the company's first chairman and grandson of J.A. Holden. Other names considered were "GeM", "Austral", "Melba", "Woomerah", "Boomerang", "Emu" and "Canbra", a phonetic spelling of Canberra. Although officially designated "48-215", the car was marketed simply as the "Holden". The unofficial usage of the name "FX" originated within Holden, referring to the updated suspension on the 48-215 of 1953.

1950s Edit

During the 1950s, Holden dominated the Australian car market. GM invested heavily in production capacity, which allowed the company to meet increased post-war demand for motor cars. Less expensive four-cylinder cars did not offer Holden's ability to deal with rugged rural areas. 48-215 sedans were produced in parallel with the 50-2106 coupé utility from 1951; the latter was known colloquially as the "ute" and became ubiquitous in Australian rural areas as the workhorse of choice. Production of both the utility and sedan continued with minor changes until 1953, when they were replaced by the facelifted FJ model, introducing a third panel van body style. The FJ was the first major change to the Holden since its 1948 introduction. Over time it gained iconic status and remains one of Australia's most recognisable automotive symbols. A new horizontally slatted grille dominated the front-end of the FJ, which received various other trim and minor mechanical revisions. In 1954 Holden began exporting the FJ to New Zealand. Although little changed from the 48-215, marketing campaigns and price cuts kept FJ sales steady until a completely redesigned model was launched. At the 2005 Australian International Motor Show in Sydney, Holden paid homage to the FJ with the Efijy concept car.

Holden's next model, the FE, launched in 1956; offered in a new station wagon body style dubbed "Station Sedan" in the company's sales literature. In the same year Holden commenced exports to Malayia, Thailand and North Borneo. Strong sales continued in Australia, and Holden achieved a market share of more than 50 percent in 1958 with the revised FC model. This was the first Holden to be tested on the new Holden Proving Ground based in Lang Lang, Victoria. 1957 saw Holden's export markets grow to 17 countries, with new additions including Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Fiji, Sudan, the East Africa region and South Africa. The opening of the Dandenong, Victoria, production facility in 1956 brought further jobs; by 1959 Holden employed 19,000 workers country-wide. In 1959 complete knock down assembly began in South Africa and Indonesia.

1960s Edit

In 1960, Holden introduced its third major new model, the FB. The car's style was inspired by 1950s’ Chevrolets, with tailfins and a wrap-around windshield with "dog leg" A-pillars. By the time it was introduced, many considered the appearance dated. Much of the motoring industry at the time noted that the adopted style did not translate well to the more compact Holden. The FB became the first Holden that was adapted for left-hand-drive markets, enhancing its export potential, and as such was exported to New Caledonia, New Hebrides, the Philippines and Hawaii.

In 1960, Ford unveiled the new Falcon in Australia, only months after its introduction in the United States. To Holden's advantage, the Falcon was not durable, particularly in the front suspension, making it ill-suited for Australian conditions. In response to the Falcon, Holden introduced the facelifted EK series in 1961; the new model featured two-tone paintwork and optional Hydramatic automatic transmission. A restyled EJ series came in 1962, debuting the new luxury oriented Premier model. The EH update came a year later bringing the new Red motor, providing better performance than the previous Grey motor. The HD series of 1965 saw the introduction of the Powerglide automatic transmission. At the same time, an "X2" performance option with a more powerful version of the 179-cubic-inch (2.9 L) six-cylinder engine was made available. 1966 saw the introduction of the HR, with changes in the form of new front and rear styling and higher-capacity engines. More significantly, the HR fitted standard front seat belts; Holden thus became the first Australian automaker to provide the safety device as standard equipment across all models. This coincided with the completion of the production plant in Acacia Ridge, Queensland. By 1963, Holden was exporting cars to Africa, the Middle East, South-East Asia, the Pacific Islands, and the Caribbean.

Holden began assembling the compact HA series Vauxhall Viva in 1964. This was superseded by the Holden Torana in 1967, a development of the Viva ending Vauxhall production in Australia. Holden offered the LC, a Torana with new styling, in 1969 with the availability of Holden's six-cylinder engine. In the development days, the six-cylinder Torana was reserved for motor racing, but research had shown that there was a business case for such a model. The LC Torana was the first application of Holden's new three-speed Tri-Matic automatic transmission. This was the result of Holden's A$16.5 million transformation of the Woodville, South Australia factory for its production.

Holden's association with the manufacture of Chevrolets and Pontiacs ended in 1968, coinciding with the year of Holden's next major new model, the HK . This included Holden's first V8 engine, a Chevrolet engine imported from Canada. Models based on the HK series included an extended-length prestige model, the Brougham, and a two-door coupé, the Monaro. The mainstream Holden Special was rebranded the Kingswood, and the basic fleet model, the Standard, became the Belmont. On 3 March 1969 Alexander Rhea, managing director of General Motors-Holden's at the time, was joined by press photographers and the Federal Minister of Shipping and Transport, Ian Sinclair as the two men drove the two millionth Holden, an HK Brougham off the production line. This came just over half a decade since the one millionth car, an EJ Premier sedan rolled off the Dandenong line on 25 October 1962. Following the Chevrolet V8 fitted to the HK, the first Australian-designed and mass-produced V8, the Holden V8 engine debuted in the Hurricane concept of 1969 before fitment to facelifted HT model. This was available in two capacities: 253 cubic inches (4.1 L) and 308 cubic inches (5.0 L). Late in HT production, use of the new Tri-Matic automatic transmission, first seen in the LC Torana was phased in as Powerglide stock was exhausted, but Holden's official line was that the HG of 1971 was the first full-size Holden to receive it.

Despite the arrival of serious competitors—namely, the Ford Falcon, Chrysler Valiant, and Japanese cars—in the 1960s, Holden's locally produced large six- and eight-cylinder cars remained Australia's top-selling vehicles. Sales were boosted by exporting the Kingswood sedan, station wagon, and utility body styles to Indonesia, Trinidad and Tobago, Pakistan, the Philippines and South Africa in complete knock down form.

1970s Edit

Holden launched the new HQ series in 1971. At this time, the company was producing all of its passenger cars in Australia, and every model was of Australian design; however, by the end of the decade, Holden was producing cars based on overseas designs. The HQ was thoroughly re-engineered, featuring a perimeter frame and semi-monocoque (unibody) construction. Other firsts included an all-coil suspension and an extended wheelbase for station wagons, while the utilities and panel vans retained the traditional coil/leaf suspension configuration. The series included the new prestige Statesman brand, which also had a longer wheelbase, replacing the Brougham. The Statesman remains noteworthy because it was not marketed as a "Holden", but rather a "Statesman".

The HQ framework led to a new generation of two-door Monaros, and, despite the introduction of the similar sized competitors, the HQ range became the top-selling Holden of all time, with 485,650 units sold in three years. 14,558 units were exported and 72,290 CKD kits were constructed. The HQ series was facelifted in 1974 with the introduction of the HJ, heralding new front panel styling and a revised rear fascia. This new bodywork was to remain, albeit with minor upgrades through the HX and HZ series. Detuned engines adhering to government emission standards were brought in with the HX series, whilst the HZ brought considerably improved road handling and comfort with the introduction of "Radial Tuned Suspension" (RTS). As a result of GM's toying with the Wankel rotary engine, as used by Mazda of Japan, an export agreement was initiated in 1975. This involved Holden exporting with powertrains, HJ, and later, HX series Premiers as the Mazda Roadpacer AP. Mazda then fitted these cars with the 13B rotary engine and three-speed automatic transmission. Production ended in 1977, after just 840 units sold.

During the 1970s, Holden ran an advertising jingle "Football, Meat Pies, Kangaroos and Holden cars", based on the "Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pies and Chevrolet" jingle used by Chevrolet in the United States. Also, development of the Torana continued in with the larger mid-sized LH series released in 1974, offered only as a four-door sedan. The LH Torana was one of the few cars worldwide engineered to occupy four-, six-and eight-cylinder engines. This trend continued until Holden introduced the Sunbird in 1976; essentially the four-cylinder Torana with a new name. Designated LX, both the Sunbird and Torana introduced a three-door hatchback variant. A final UC update appeared in 1978. During its production run, the Torana achieved legendary racing success in Australia, achieving victories at the Mount Panorama Circuit in Bathurst, New South Wales.

In 1975, Holden introduced the compact Gemini, the Australian version of the "T-car", based on the Opel Kadett C. The Gemini was an overseas design developed jointly with Isuzu, GM's Japanese affiliate; and was powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine. Fast becoming a popular car, the Gemini rapidly attained sales leadership in its class, and the nameplate lived on until 1987.

Holden's most popular car to date, the Commodore, was introduced in 1978 as the VB. The new family car was loosely based on the Opel Rekord E body shell, but with the front from the Opel Senator grafted to accommodate the larger Holden six-cylinder and V8 engines. Initially, the Commodore maintained Holden's sales leadership in Australia. However, some of the compromises resulting from the adoption of a design intended for another market hampered the car's acceptance. In particular, it was narrower than its predecessor and its Falcon rival, making it less comfortable for three rear-seat passengers. With the abandonment of left-hand drive markets, Holden exported almost 100,000 Commodores to markets such as New Zealand, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Malta and Singapore.

Holden discontinued the Torana in 1979 and the Sunbird in 1980. After the 1978 introduction of the Commodore, the Torana became the "in-between" car, surrounded by the smaller and more economical Gemini and the larger, more sophisticated Commodore. The closest successor to the Torana was the Camira, released in 1982 as Australia's version of GM's medium-sized "J-car".

1980s Edit

The 1980s were challenging for Holden and the Australian automotive industry. The Australian Government tried to revive the industry with the Button car plan, which encouraged car makers to focus on producing fewer models at higher, more economical volumes, and to export cars. The decade opened with the shut-down of the Pagewood, New South Wales production plant and introduction of the light commercial Rodeo, sourced from Isuzu in Japan. The Rodeo was available in both two- and four-wheel drive chassis cab models with a choice of petrol and diesel powerplants. The range was updated in 1988 with the TF series, based on the Isuzu TF. Other cars sourced from Isuzu during the 1980s were the four-wheel drive Jackaroo (1981), the Shuttle (1982) van and the Piazza (1986) three-door sports hatchback. The second generation Holden Gemini from 1985 was also based on an Isuzu design, although, its manufacture was undertaken in Australia.

The new Holden WB commercial vehicles and the Statesman WB limousines were introduced in 1980. However, the designs, based on the HQ and updated HJ, HX and HZ models from the 1970s were less competitive than similar models in Ford's lineup. Thus, Holden abandoned those vehicle classes altogether in 1984. Sales of the Commodore also fell, with the effects of the 1979 energy crisis lessening, and for the first time the Commodore lost ground to the Ford Falcon. Sales in other segments also suffered when competition from Ford intensified, and other Australian manufacturers: Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota gained market share. When released in 1982, the Camira initially generated good sales, which later declined because buyers considered the 1.6-litre engine underpowered, and the car's build and ride quality below-average. The Camira lasted just seven years, and contributed to Holden's accumulated losses of over A$500 million by the mid-1980s.

In 1984 Holden introduced the VK Commodore, with significant styling changes from the previous VH. The Commodore was next updated in 1986 as the VL, which had new front and rear styling. Controversially, the VL was powered by the 3.0-litre Nissan RB30 six-cylinder engine and had an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. The engine change was necessitated by the legal requirement that all new cars sold in Australia after 1986 had to consume unleaded petrol. Because it was unfeasible to convert the existing six-cylinder engine to run on unleaded fuel, the Nissan engine was chosen as the best engine available. However, changing exchange rates doubled the cost of the engine and transmission over the life of the VL. The decision to opt for a Japanese-made transmission led to the closure of the Woodville, South Australia assembly plant. Confident by the apparent sign of turnaround, GM paid off Holden's mounted losses of A$780 million on 19 December 1986. At GM headquarters’ request, Holden was then reorganised and recapitalised, separating the engine and car manufacturing divisions in the process. This involved the splitting of Holden into Holden's Motor Company (HMC) and Holden's Engine Company (HEC). For the most part, car bodies were now manufactured at Elizabeth, South Australia, with engines as before, confined to the Fishermans Bend plant in Port Melbourne, Victoria. The engine manufacturing business was successful, building four-cylinder Family II engines for use in cars built overseas. The final phase of the Commodore's recovery strategy involved the 1988 VN, a significantly wider model powered by the American-designed, Australian-assembled 3.8-litre Buick V6 engine.

Holden began to sell the subcompact Suzuki Swift-based Barina in 1985. The Barina was launched concurrently with the Suzuki-sourced Holden Drover, followed by the Scurry later on in 1985. In the previous year, Nissan Pulsar hatchbacks were rebadged as the Holden Astra, as a result of a deal with Nissan. This arrangement ceased in 1989 when Holden entered a new alliance with Toyota, forming a new company: United Australian Automobile Industries (UAAI). UAAI resulted in Holden selling rebadged versions of Toyota's Corolla and Camry, as the Holden Nova and Apollo respectively, with Toyota re-branding the Commodore as the Lexcen.

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