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Eight Things You Might Not Know about Holden

Confident you’d recognise a Holden if you saw one on the road? Think you know your Astras from your Berlinas? In honour of the brand-new Holden Workhorses Enamel Penny Collection, here are eight things you may not already know about this home-grown car manufacturer.

1. The first 'Holden' wasn't a car – it was a saddle. (Or maybe a whip.)

In 1854, a young Englishman named James Alexander Holden arrived in South Australia. Within a few short years, he'd married and started his own business. J.A. Holden & Co became a one-stop shop for saddles and whips – nineteenth century essentials.

James' son Henry joined the business 20 years later, and in 1885, another Henry – Henry Frost – signed on as a partner. Frost was a harness and carriage maker by trade. This proved to be a good move.

Men pack straw into horse collars at what is thought to be Holden and Frost, harness makers

Pictured: Men pack straw into horse collars at what is thought to be Holden and Frost, harness makers

Image from the State Library of South Australia, B50936

2. Holden and Frost won the contract to create supplies for the Boer War

Sadly, James passed away in 1887, but fortunately, Henry Holden was able to step into a partnership role. When war broke out in South Africa in 1899, horses would play a vital role in the conflict. Together, the two Henrys were able to supply the Government with harnesses, saddles, belts and other crucial equipment.

A letter signed by Holden & Frost confirming an order of saddles to be sent to South Africa, dated December 20, 1899

Pictured: A letter signed by Holden & Frost confirming an order of saddles to be sent to South Africa, dated December 20, 1899

Image from the State Library of South Australia, BRG213/1/2/6

3. The Prime Minister himself unveiled the first Australian Holden car

WWI saw new trade restrictions put in place that created increased demand for a fully home-grown automobile. Holden had been making bodies for imported chassis, but seized its opportunity to do more. After years of development, the first fully Australian-made Holden was unveiled on November 29, 1948 – by the Prime Minister himself, Ben Chifley! The Honorable verdict? “She's a beauty!”

The Prime Minister, Ben Chifley, stands with the first Holden automobile produced in Australia, November 29, 1948

Image: The Prime Minister, Ben Chifley, stands with the first Holden automobile produced in Australia, November 29, 1948.

Image from the National Museum of Australia, http://collectionsearch.nma.gov.au/object/119554

an invitation to view the new Holden automobile, c. December 1948

Image: an invitation to view the new Holden, c. December 1948

Image from the State Library of South Australia, B58105

4. This first model – the 'FX' – cost the equivalent of 94 weeks' wages to buy

With today's median wage, that would be $99,537. Despite this, Holden still couldn't keep up with demand for orders!

5. By 1958, 2 in every 5 cars sold in Australia were Holdens

While some imported four-cylinder cars couldn't handle rugged Australian conditions, Holdens could. The 1950s saw the rise of the ute: Australia's rural vehicle of choice.

6. One of the most popular Commodores had a Nissan engine

With competitor Ford snapping up plenty of the market share in the 1980s, Holden's saving grace was a new line of Commodores – starting with the VL.

The 1986 VL Commodore wasn't strictly a pure-bred Holden, but was more than the sum of its parts. The 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine of yore was replaced with a booming, 3.0-litre, six-cylinder alternative developed by Nissan. This exciting new configuration got pulses racing – and won Holden its mojo back.

7. Since Holden's first win at Bathurst in 1968, Holdens have been victorious a further 31 times

This means they've taken the gong at Mount Panorama more than twice as many times as cars produced by their nearest rival, Ford.

8. The last four Holdens ever built in Australia are museum pieces

As we now well know, the reign of the Holden in Australia was not to last. Sadly, it was announced in 2013 that production in Australia would come to a halt. On October 20, 2017, the last car emerged off the production line: a red Commodore V8. A Commodore ute, Commodore wagon and Caprice limousine made up the remainder of the final four – and all will be kept for posterity in a museum.

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