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Fifty years down the track, it may be difficult to imagine the real sense of excitement and strong feelings of national pride that accompanied the release of the first Holden in November 1948.
Even then, as Prime Minister Ben Chifley launched the car ‘made in Australia, for Australia’, nobody guessed what a runaway success this plain and practical sedan would immediately prove to be.
Australians took the Holden straight to their hearts, commencing a love affair that continues to this day. Demand so far outstripped supply that the waiting list stretched through 1949 and beyond. (Taking advantage, some black marketeers sold their places in the queue for £100 or more).
Although its official model code is 48/215, the first Holden is widely known as the FX. Those two letters are thought to have been adopted by used-car dealers when its successor, the FJ, appeared, but FX never appeared on any official Holden records.
Plans for its development moved into gear in 1944, when the Federal Government asked manufacturers to submit proposals for the production of an Australian car; a move aimed at accelerating post-war industrial growth. General Motors-Holden’s (GMH) - its technical and manufacturing expertise advanced through wartime mobilisation - accepted and completed the challenge of building the nation’s first successfully mass-produced car.
Adapted from a US design, the first Holden was nevertheless a uniquely Australian car.
As author John Wright explains in the official Holden 50th anniversary book, the essence of its success ‘was a combination of virtues particularly applicable to the Australian environment...Its roomy interior provided ample space for mum, dad and two or three children. It had an outstandingly good power-to-weight ratio and a smooth overhead valve six-cylinder engine. Strong performance and exceptional fuel economy were the happy consequences. Beneath the occupants a rugged suspension dealt competently with whatpassed for roads in immediate postwar Australia.’
GMH, while publishing a booklet of testimonials entitled ‘Holden Owners Give Reasons Why Holden is Worth Waiting For’, worked hard to lift production rates, which rose from an initial 10 units a day to 100 per day in 1951, when the first Coupe Utility was launched. By 1953, when the fleet- and taxi-oriented Business sedan was introduced, the rate was close to 200 per day.
The Holden boasted ‘Aerobilt’ body construction, a relatively new engineering principle that combined body and chassis into one all-steel unit, increasing rigidity and reducing weight.
With a top speed of over 80 mph (130 km/h), it could cruise all day at 65 mph (105 km/h) - at a time when it was rare to see any car travelling at over 70 mph - and it took steep hills in its top-gear stride.
The 48-215 would typically return overall fuel economy figures of 30 miles per gallon (9.4L/100km) - a staggering result for such a lively performer and particularly welcome in an era that encompassed petrol rationing, Within a few short years, the dependable Holden had also built a reputation for rugged reliability and ease of servicing that endures into modem times.
One of the first new cars to be built anywhere in the world following the Second World War, the Holden made automotive history, gaining GMH market leadership by 1951 ~ a feat that would have been accomplished as early as 1949 if supply had matched demand.
(Today, the family Holden is still Australia’s most popular car. Sales figures for March 1998 show that the chart-topping VT Commodore was insmental in maintaining Holden’s six-month run as automotive market leader.)
As John Wright notes of the first Holden ‘...there could be no denying its excellence, its profound appropriateness for the Australian market The marketing phrase ‘Australia’s Own Car’ gained an extra dimension; not only was the Holden Australia’s own in the sense of being created specifically for this country, but it was the car Australians chose to make their own; the car more of them wanted to own; they. made it their own.’
48/215 HOLDEN FACTS
Base price at introduction
$1,466/£733 (inc. sales tax)
Total number built
Sedan, Business sedan (introduced 1953)
Coupe Utility (introduced 1951 )
2.15 litre/132.5 cu.in. OHV six-cylinder
45kW/60bhp @ 3800rpm
Three-speed manual gearbox, synchromesh on 2nd and 3rd.
Column mounted shift lever
Length 4370mm; Wheelbase 2616mm; Width 1702mm
43 litres/9.5 gallons
Popular songs and films of 1948
You Go To My Head (Ted Heath)
Woody Woodpecker (George Tibbles and Ramsey Idriss)
Love That Boy (Dinah Shore)
Don’t Be So Mean To Me Baby (Peggy Lee)
Be A Clown (Gene Kelly, Judy Garland).
Sahara (Humphrey Bogart)
The Bride Goes Wild (Van Johnson, June Allyson)
Gentleman’s Agreement (Gregory Peck, Celeste Holm)
It Happened One Night ( Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert).