A history of Australia’s own car – Part 3

With Holden scheduled to cease Australian production on October 20, Russell Manning finalises his three-part series detailing the many highlights...

The 1980s

The start of HSV

Into the 1980s, Holden’s official motorsports division was the Holden Dealer Team. HDT was also Holden’s performance brand of the time.

But in 1987, the now infamous Energy Polariser, a black box containing a crystal surrounded by magnets which was claimed to improve performance by ‘aligning the car’s molecules’, caused a split between star driver Peter Brock (pictured with the VK SS Commodore), HDT, and Holden. Brock had been fitting polarisers to his cars, but Holden deemed them to be ‘pseudoscience’ and demanded they be removed. Brock declined, to which Holden responded by severing ties with Brock and HDT.

Enter Scottish-born racing driver Tom Walkinshaw and his newly-formed Holden Special Vehicles operation. Cars were shipped from Holden’s Dandenong plant to the HSV factory in Notting Hill to be turned into Holden Special Vehicles.

Fast facts

Walkinshaw VL SS Group A
Engine: 5.0-litre V8
Power: 180kW (241hp)
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Body style: Four-door sedan
Performance: 0-100km/h: 6.5sec, 0-400m: 14.8 sec
Production: 750
Price at introduction: $45,500

Race history

Holden wins in the 1980s included:
1980 Australian Touring Car Championship (Brock)
1980 Bathurst 1000 (Brock and Richards)
1982 Bathurst 1000 (Brock and Perkins)
1983 Bathurst 1000 (Brock, Perkins and Harvey)
1984 Bathurst 1000 (Brock and Perkins)
1987 Nissan-Mobil 500 (Brock and Moffat)
1987 Bathurst 1000 (Brock, McLeod, and Parsons)

The 1990s

In the 1990s, the motoring public’s shift away from large, locally-built cars was yet to eventuate and sales of homegrown product were still healthy.

By this time, both Holden and key competitor Ford had special vehicle operations that were now in full swing. Both involved outside entities that took the vehicle straight from the production line into a separate facility where the upgrades were performed.

Holden Special Vehicles turned out an absolute plethora of small-volume models that satisfied almost any demand. While most were based on Commodore or its derivatives, such as Statesman and Ute, in 1993 it also built 79 HSV-enhanced Jackaroos. HSV also built a handful of models specifically for the New Zealand market, a few for specific regions of Australia and a small number of anniversary models.

Fast facts

HSV has always been a small-volume operation. During the 1990s:
• Less than 500 examples of any one was largely the norm
• Build numbers of less than 50 was common
• More than 1000 of any particular example was rare
• Production of some of the rarer models didn’t exceed single figures.

Famous models

Some of the famous nameplates include ClubSport, Maloo, SS Group A, Grange, and Senator.

• VN Commodore sedan

The 2000s

The beginning of the end

The 2000s was the decade in which the Australian public’s love affair with large, Australian-built cars began to fade. This ultimately affected all local producers, but during this decade it, and some poor product choices, ended Mitsubishi’s local production and would be the catalyst for the later demise of Holden, Ford, and Toyota’s local production.

Both Holden, and arch rival Ford’s, fortunes began to change significantly with the resulting reduction in sales. In an attempt to fill the sales void, Holden reacted by adding more overseas-sourced models to its inventory. The line-up featured product from GM partners such as Isuzu, Opel, and Daewoo. It was also the decade that saw Holden trying to adapt to the changing circumstances by developing a range of low volume models based on the Commodore. And it was the decade of the VE Commodore, reputed to be the ‘Billion Dollar Holden’, a reflection of its enormous development costs.

Fast facts

The Monaro nameplate returns for the first time since the early 1970’s.

The Rodeo name was dropped in favour of Colorado, which was used in other markets.

Export models included Chevrolet Lumina to the Middle East and South Africa, Chevrolet Omega to Brazil, Vauxhall VXR8 to the UK and Pontiac GTO to the US.

Famous models

The EFIJY concept car makes its debut at the 2005 Australian International Motor Show.
The ECOmmodore, an advanced hybrid electric-powered prototype, is built by Holden, the CSIRO, and 26 Australian component suppliers to demonstrate fuel and emission saving technologies.
The HRT 427 is probably the rarest Monaro of all. Just two road cars and four race cars in total were built before the project was cancelled due to cost.

The 2010s

The end of local production

During the 2000’s, the Australian Government contributed around $4 billion in support for the Australian motor industry, with Holden receiving about half of this. But the persistent declines in sales eventually made continued local production untenable. Ford ceased production in October 2016, while Toyota and Holden conclude next month, on October 3 and 20 respectively. All will become full importers. The Holden name will continue, as will the Commodore nameplate, but they’ll be attached to imported models.

Fast facts

In terms of production figures, Holden is the clear winner. In its 69 years, Holden will have produced around 7 million vehicles. In comparison, Ford in 91 years built around 5.9 million and Toyota about 3.4 million in 54 years.