The end of 164 years of Australian history came in an announcement from Detroit that GM was taking decisive action to “transform its international operations”.
That’s corporate speak for “together with successive Australian governments, we really stuffed up in your country and now Holden operations staff, 200 local dealers, their employees and suppliers will be hoping the Koreans are looking to expand their Hyundai and Kia brands”.
Of course, Holden was always more than a car.
The Holden brand was part of our family, cultural, sporting and sex life.
From James Holden starting his Adelaide saddlery business in 1846, to making car body shells, to an exclusive deal in 1931 with General Motors, who had sold cars in Australia since 1902, to making cars for Vauxhall, Buick, Chevrolet and Pontiac at Fishermans Bend in Melbourne.
From supplying the war effort, to releasing the first all-Australian Holden FX in 1949 to the FJ in 1953, to 1968 when it had sold and exported two million vehicles.
From the Commodore in 1978 to the beginning of the end in 1991 when Toyota took market leadership from Holden and Ford, to the government’s decision late last year to replace the Comcar fleet of Holden Caprices with Toyotas and BMWs.
For many of us Holden defined our families.
My family was Holden. Dad bought a new one every year.
The Jewish family next door, who had survived Hitler’s Germany, went Ford.
The Lebanese, next door to them, took Dad’s advice on how to fit in and were Holden. Victorians’ love for their Australian football teams paled next to the real tribes of this country.
But this was a different time. We had survived the war, we were patriots and we had our own car. The Holden was like our vision of ourselves.
Jack Murray, the first Crocodile Dundee, could throw sticks of gelignite out the windows passing through country towns on the car-destroying Redex rally.
It was a tough, rugged car for a tough, rugged country. Even if most of us lived on the coast.
Our families were ruled by real men who drove real cars on long road trips with no seat belts and the kids playing on a piece of plywood stuck across the back seat.
When we watched the new TV our choice of car was mirrored by the detective’s choice of crook chaser.
We knew what Ted Bullpitt felt when he said: “The Kingswood. You can’t take the Kingswood.”
When we watched Bathurst, it was only Holden versus Ford but the only saint of working-class Australia, Peter Brock, always won in a Holden.
When Midnight Oil sang about the King of The Mountain, we thought they were singing about Brockie and his Commodore.
When surfing became mainstream, Holden was there with the Sandman panel van that we all immediately named Hotel Holden because of the opportunities provided by a cheap mattress thrown in the back.
It was Australian sculptor Rayner Hoff who created the art deco Lion with his foot on a sphere symbolising the wheel.
Adelaide sculptor Margaret Dodd used Holdens in her work, including a film, This Woman is Not A Car, which among other things spoke to where women sit in a car-crazed culture.
Every country in the world with a car industry subsidises it.
Inquiries are the last resort for governments who want to look like they are doing something.
We’ve had more car inquiries than there are locally made Goggomobil Darts and they have been about as useful.
What industry can plan when the rules of the game change every two years?
Holden couldn’t and Ford won’t.