Holden’s Cheshire Cat Smile

The decision by General Motors to retire the Holden brand and withdraw from the Australian car market entirely has disappointed and upset many people. There has long been a perception that Holden was an Australian company, and that Holdens are Australian cars.

I expect that many people, never having reason to reflect on the matter, did not know that GMH was simply the fully owned local operation of the American company General Motors, the largest car company in the world. It was never a publicly listed company on the Australian Stock Exchange, nor privately owned by Australian interests.

It simply was an American company which, like many other car manufacturers the world over, took advantage of government policies intended to foster local manufacturing industries, through subsidies and tariffs.

There is an iconic photograph of Prime Minister Chifley in 1948, standing next to the first locally produced Holden. A milestone moment in local industry and Australian history. And it did so much to make people believe that Holden was as Australian as Vegemite (btw, is Vegemite still foreign owned, or has someone in Australia bought it back from Kraft yet?), whilst Ford, despite being a worthy car, was American.

It’s probably the greatest marketing snowjob in history.

I recall, in the 1990s, that there even was a Holden shop at Highpoint Shopping Centre, where the local bogans could buy their own Holden Racing Team jackets and hats and other merchandise. (Note, I use the term ‘bogan’ affectionately – we all are a little bogan in our own ways, even if most of us drink craft beer these days.)

And who can forget Kingswood Country, the greatest of Australia’s sitcoms, where Holden loving true blue Aussie Ted Bullpit would constantly spar with his Italian son in law in a manner far too non-PC 40 years on, and where he would never let anyone else drive his Kingswood (and not too much later, the Commodore).

If you want to get another snapshot of how loved Holden was in the 1970s, try and buy online a copy of ‘My Love Had A Black Speed Stripe’, a very dark comedy about a Holden factory worker who loved his new car far more than his wife. (My high school actually still had a class set of them in the early 1980s so that it could be studied in English, although not in my year.)

Holden, even on its way out the door, is going to leave like the Cheshire Cat in ‘Alice in Wonderland’, disappearing such that the smile will remain long after everything else has faded. My brother plans to buy himself a 2020 Commodore in around 6 years time (he never buys new cars), and that way, he will be still driving Holdens well into the 2030s. Another Holden devotee, a very distraught colleague of mine, has suggested that I stop putting money into superannuation and start buying up Holdens instead. If I had a large enough shed to store them in, perhaps I might.

Published by Ernest Zanatta

Narrow minded Italian Catholic Conservative Peasant from Footscray.

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