National Archives of Australia

Issue 4 October 2011

‘Holding you in my Holden’: a nostalgic look at an Australian icon

Ben Chifley launches the Holden FX at the General Motors-Holden factory, Fisherman’s Bend, Melbourne, 1948. NAA: A1200, L84254

The FX Holden, Australia’s first mass-produced car, rolled off the production line at the General Motors-Holden factory at Fisherman’s Bend in Melbourne in 1948. Within a few short years, Holden had become part of the Australian psyche. Your Memento takes a look at the very beginnings of the Holden, and how it evolved during the 1950s and 1960s.   

The FX is launched

During World War II, General Motors-Holden produced munitions to assist the war effort. In 1943, JR Holden, Director of Manufacturing, sent a letter to the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (and later future Prime Minister) Ben Chifley, expressing his concern that once the war ended, he would have no work for his staff.    

His foresighted solution was simple: his workers could start building the first-ever ‘Australian car and utility to cater expressly for Australian conditions’. This set the wheels in motion for the company to start production of the immensely popular FX Holden.    

On 29 October 1948, Prime Minister Chifley attended the launch of the FX Holden, affectionately dubbed ‘Australia’s first car’. Holden proudly proclaimed the car was made from 91 per cent local content.    

Holden judged the market perfectly – the car sold so well that their expected sales of 20,000 per year were soon exceeded. Long waiting lists extended into 1949. In 1953, Holden produced 44,000 cars. In their first 10 years, they built 500,000 cars, and in the next 10, 1.5 million. Holden is now firmly stamped on the Australian way of life.    

The Holden captured on camera

The Archives holds thousands of photographs documenting all aspects of Australian life during the 1950s and 1960s. These photographs were commissioned by the Australian News and Information Bureau in response to the need for overseas publicity in the interests of foreign relations, defence, commerce, finance, tourism, and especially immigration. Australian News and Information Bureau photographers travelled around Australia photographing places, people and events.    

Below is a selection of Australian News and Information Bureau images showcasing the Holden from the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the images are of particular model launches, hence the rather glamorous women accompanying the vehicles.    

An FE Holden sedan on display at the General Motors-Holden showroom, 1956. The FE was also produced as a station wagon, dubbed the ‘station sedan’ in the Holden sales literature. Strong sales continued, with Holden achieving a market share of more than 50 per cent in Australia by 1958. NAA: A1200, L20826A

An EK Holden rounds a bend during the Armstrong 500 on Phillip Island, Victoria, 1961. First produced in 1960, the EK was Holden’s response to the Ford Falcon. The EK featured two tone paintwork and optional automatic transmission. NAA: A1200, L40625

The new six-cylinder Holden Premier sedan, 1963. The EH debuted Holden’s ‘red’ motor. This motor provided increased power and better performance compared with the previous ‘grey’ motor. A total of 256,959 EH Holdens were produced and sold from 1963 to 1965. NAA: A1200, L45048

The HR Holden Special sedan, 1966. The HR featured fitted standard front seatbelts – the first Australian car with seatbelts as standard equipment across all models. A woodgrain interior finish featured in the Premier models. NAA: A1200, L54685

Alexander Rhea, Managing Director of General Motors-Holden, and Ian Sinclair, Minister for Shipping and Transport, at the launch of the two millionth Holden, an HK Brougham, 1969. A response to Ford’s successful Fairlane, the Brougham was an extended-length prestige model Holden. The HK series included Holden’s first V8 model. NAA: A1200, L84255

The two-door hard-top coupe Holden Monaro GTS, 1969. The HT Monaro featured two broad stripes along the centre of the car and twin air vents incorporated into the bonnet. In 1969, the Monaro range was awarded Wheels magazine’s Car of the Year. NAA: A1200, L81537

   
Read the transcript

Want more?   

Many more Archives images of Holdens have been digitised and can be viewed via PhotoSearch. Simply enter the keyword ‘Holden’ in the basic search window.    

View the original sales brochure for the FX Holden, 1948    

Australia in Focus: photographs in the National Archives    

9 comments on "‘Holding you in my Holden’: a nostalgic look at an Australian icon"

  1. We would love to hear about your memories of early Holdens.

  2. laurie power says:

    I swapped my beloved V.W. for an E.H. Holden when our first child arrived (more room). It served us tirelessly until I handed it over to that same child as his first car. It was still running well and would have continued to do so if he hadn’t written it off 12 months later. I nearly wept. Undoubtedly the best Holden ever produced.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Laurie. Great story!

  4. Don has recently posted this comment on our Facebook page:

    ‘This article makes for good reading. I owned an FX model myself at one stage … turquoise no less … and I owned an FB model … which truly lived up to its abbreviation(!)’

  5. Michael Carden says:

    There was no such thing as an FX. The model was the 48-215 and the term FX is a retronym applied years later when the ‘F’ series got going.

  6. Michael – you are correct. ‘FX’ is the unofficial name of the first Holden, originating in the early 1950s. Thanks for your comment!

  7. Des Keenan says:

    The first Holden was officially titled the 48 215 not FX as many seem to believe. This title may have gained credence through some lazy motoring writers. It seems that some of the latter day personnel at GMH have also to referring to the 48 215 as FX but this is plainly wrong!

  8. Bruno says:

    I swapped my beloved V.W. for an E.H. Holden when our first child arrived (more room). It served us tirelessly until I handed it over to that same child as his first car. It was still running well and would have continued to do so if he hadn’t written it off 12 months later. I nearly wept. Undoubtedly the best Holden ever produced.
    +1

  9. Jason Carpp says:

    Awesome cars! If only our American cars were built to the same standards as Australia’s Holdens were.

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