Holden is well known around the world for being an Australian car maker, but few outside its native country, me included, know all that much about the vast array of models that have born the badge over the years. By visiting the National Holden Museum of Australia, located in a small town called Echuca in the northern part of the State of Victoria, I hoped to learn more about this marque’s history, and to see examples of many of those cars. It was quite a long, but pleasant drive up from Melbourne (once the lashing of rain abated!), and well worth the trip, as I found a fascinating and well laid out museum. Most of the cars are loaned to the collection, and apparently there is an 18 month waiting list to get your car accepted, but there are examples of almost all the different models from the first 50 years of this company on show. The beginnings of the Holden business are in 1856, when the eponymous James Holden set up a business in Adelaide that specialised in the manufacture of leather goods. As the business grew, it diversified and it was perhaps no surprise that it started to take on work associated with car upholstery. In 1919 a new company bearing the same name came into being which got completely into the automotive sector. Initially Holden built bodies locally in Australia for the American General Motors organisation which shipped the chassis and mechanical parts from Canada. In 1931, Holden and General Motors merged to create General Motors Holden, which by now had a large slice of the Australian car market. Throughout the 1930s, GMH continued solely to build bodies for mechanical parts that were imported, but following the end of global hostilities in 1945, the Australian Government laid down the challenge of designing and building an all Australian car. Three years in design and development, the first Holden car was finally launched in November 1948 to critical acclaim.
This the first car, the 1948 48-215, which later also came to be called the FK. The name was derived from the year of its launch and the fact that the 6 cylinder engine had a capacity of 2.15 litres. To say that the car proved popular would be an understatement. Initially 10 a day were to be built,, but by 1951 this had been increased to 100 a day and still supply could not keep up with demand. 120,402 FKs were made in total.
A Pickup, or Ute in Australian speak was added to the range in 1951.The next model was the FJ, easily distinguished by a different grille design and this is a 1953 Ute version. By this time, 200 cars a day were being produced.The FC was launched in May 1958 and this model was so well received that at one time it held a 50.3% share of the Australian market, a record that has never been surpassed. Over 130,000 of these cars were made in a year. The display cars are a 1959 FC Special and a 1959 FC Wagon. Next up was the FB, and this is a 1960 Special. This was the first Holden to feature the then popular wrap-around windscreen. It was also the first Holden made in left hand drive and some of the 174,747 FBs that were made were exported to Hawaii.Another FB had recently arrived in the museum, and was parked up in a group of cars awaiting more permanent display. The 1961 EK Special was the first Holden available with an automatic gearbox, which at the time was something of a novelty for the Australian car buyer. It was not long before this option became extremely popular. As with its predecessors, EK was available not just as a saloon, but with estate van and ute bodystyles.Following the longest and toughest development program to date, the EJ was launched in January 1963. The Utility version followed 5 months after the saloon and estate.This 1962 EJ car is the 1 millionth Holden built.There was another example of the EJ, once the treasured possession of a young enthusiast who had restored the car then transplanted a much more potent engine into it. Sadly he died aged 23, and his family left the car to the museum in his memory.Next up was the1965 HD Premier.This is a 1966 HR model1968 BroughamThe 2 millionth Holden came a lot more quickly than the first million, and here is that car, an HK Brougham.1969 HT KingswoodA slightly later HQ Premier.This HG Brougham was intended to compete with the popular Ford Fairlane and sported a 5 litre V8 engineThis is a prototype for the 1974 HJ StatesmanThe 1969 HT Panel VanNoting the customisation craze that reached its zenith during the mid 1970s, Holden produced the 1977 HZ Sandman, which they followed up with a Pickup version as well and these vehicles proved very popular among the youth who wanted to express their own personalities on the sides of their vehicles. . The first Torana was a lightly modified version of the HB Vauxhall Viva, and with a large body and weedy 1159cc engine, it was no impressive. A much modified and improved Australian designed car then appeared in 1969 and became quite popular as a smaller model aimed at the regular Holden had become too large. It was not long before the potential to install large and powerful engines in a relatively small body was realised and the Torana became not just a mini-muscle car but a success on the track. This 1972 LJ model GTR XU-1 is an example of the breed.This is a later model 1974 LH Torana along with its more sporting relative, the LH SL/R which came with a 4.2 litre engine.An even more famous Holden name is Monaro. The first cars, 2 door coupes, came in 1968 and they caused something of a sensation. This HT Monaro GT350 dates from 1970. Such cars are now very valuable indeed.This 1976 HX LE Coupe is based on the Monaro, and is one of a limited production of 500 cars that were made, all of them finished in what at the time was a very unusual and distinctive shade of metallic cherry maroon.More recently, Monaros were exported to Europe and here is one that will look familiar to European eyes. Camira was the name given to the Holden version of GM’s global “J” car, better known to Europeans as the first front wheel drive Vauxhall Cavalier and Opel Ascona. It sold well initially, but sales quickly dried up.Commodore was first used in late 1978, and the name has been on Holdens ever since. This particular car, a 1980 VC model Commodore SL/E, is the 4 millionth Holden. It was driven off the production line straight to a museum, and has only covered 70km.This 1986 VL Commodore prototype was a project for some factory apprentices to build a 4 door convertible car. It did not make production. The VX Commodore was the current model at the time of the Sydney Olympics, and this car was used as the Torch Relay escort vehicle..A fibreglass mock up of the 1999 WH Statesman CapriceHolden’s best export success is of this, the car that became the Pontiac GTO. 44,000 of them were made. This is the prototype.This 1999 Chevrolet Lumina Exec Police car is made by Holden specifically for the Middle Eastern markets where the car sells well.The museum also contains some prototypes, and these are fascinating. One of them is easy to identify, as it is the styling buck used for the estate version of the Camira that was also used by Vauxhall for the Cavalier Estate.The other two were more puzzling. I asked the curator, and he said that he knew little, but the smaller car which looked like the first generation European Nova/Corsa and the larger one a Camira. A number of other artifacts are also in the museum, including various dashboard units and other items used for display or training. There were a couple of sectioned cars, displayed against a mirror so it looked like an entire vehicle. On emerging from the museum, I was delighted to find another Holden parked up on the street. This is an EJ model, and was for sale.This was a fascinating museum. More details are available at: http://www.holdenmuseum.com.au/