A history of Australia’s Own Car – Part 1

With Holden scheduled to cease Australian production on October 20, Russell Manning looks back on the many highlights of history in the making in a three-part monthly series…

The 1940s

The beginning

The 48-215 was the first vehicle to carry the Holden brand.

Holdens started as a saddlery business in Adelaide in 1856 and became well-known as a motor body builder during WW1. The company supplied bodies to many vehicle makers and became exclusive body supplier to General Motors Australia in 1924. In 1930 it was purchased and became General Motors-Holdens Ltd.

While the 48-215 is almost universally known by its unofficial title of FX, Holden never used the designation. It’s thought to have originated in internal company documentation to differentiate vehicles fitted with a revised suspension design introduced in 1953. It’s been suggested that FX may be a reference to the front cross member upgrade.

The 48-215 was built between 1948 and 1953. A utility, officially known as the 50-2106, was added to the range in 1951.

Fast facts

Engine: 2.15-litre (132 ci) inline six cylinder
Power: 45kW (60hp)
Transmission: 3-speed manual column shift
Performance 0-100km/h: 20.0 seconds
Standing 400m: 20.5 seconds
Top speed: 75mph (120 km/h)
Production: 120,402
Body styles: Sedan and utility
Price at Introduction: £733

Famous models

Without doubt the most famous 48-215 of all is Prototype number 1, which is now housed in the National Museum, Canberra. It is the only survivor of the three hand-built prototypes manufactured by General Motors in Detroit. All were extensively tested in the US before being shipped to Australia for local durability evaluation. The three US built prototypes and two later Australian-built examples were registered as Chevrolets for evaluation purposes.

Once the new Holden was released, Prototype number 1 was fitted with a new engine and sold to a member of Holden’s staff. It was later traded to a Victorian Holden dealer. Some 40 years later it was restored, finally making its way into the National Museum’s collection in 2004, with the assistance of the National Cultural Heritage Account.

The 1950s

The 1950s saw Holden consolidate its position with the introduction of three new models.

The famous ‘FJ’ commenced in October 1953, but was little more than a thinly-disguised update of the original 48-215 of 1948. The FJ was a bit more stylish, had a few more features, a new grille, and some more chrome, but apart from a small power increase, underneath it was still largely unchanged.

In July 1956, the FE hit the showrooms with a brand-new image. It had more contemporary 1950’s styling, even though it’s mechanical specification bore a striking resemblance to that used by the very first model. Improvements included a 12-volt electrical system, bigger valves and higher compression that boosted power to a still-modest 53Kw (71hp).

FC arrived in May 1958. In many ways, it resembled its predecessor but there were upgrades to the grille, trim and interior. There were also some mechanical improvements to the engine, suspension brakes and steering. Alterations to the camshaft and compression ratio increased power by 1hp.

Fast Facts

Engine
FJ 48kW
FE 53kW
FC 54kW
Gearbox
3-speed manual with column shift
Production
FJ 169,969
FE 155,161
FC 191,724
Body styles
FJ Sedan, utility, and van.
FE/FC Sedan, wagon, utility, and van.

Famous model

Arguably the most famous FJ wasn’t an FJ at all, but a concept car known as EFIJY. It was built by GMH in the early 2000s to showcase advanced technology and as a tribute to the company’s roots. It’s based on a Chevrolet Corvette floor pan with a supercharged 6.0-litre V8 engine, but carries very distinctive FJ styling cues. It debuted at the 2005 Australian International Motor Show and was named United States Concept Car of the Year for 2007 as well as Hot Rod Magazine’s Hot Rod of the Year.

Next month: The 1960-70s.