1948 First all-Australian Holden car

Ben Chifley unveils the first Holden. Image: Australian National Archives

The first Holden or, at least, the first all-Australian Holden, was unveiled by Prime Minister Ben Chifley at the GM-H factory at Fishermans Bend on 29 November 1948. Readily available, affordable cars would change life in Australia and have a big influence on how we shopped, opening the way for supermarkets with large car parks to replace the local grocery store.

The Holden was far from being the first Australian-made car. The very earliest car made here was a steam-driven model built in 1896, named the ‘Thomson Motor Phaeton’. The first petrol-driven car was built by Harley Tarrant in 1906, although the engine was imported from Germany and made by Benz. The Holden company had its origins in a saddlery business founded in 1856 in Adelaide but moved into making automobile bodies in 1908. It became a subsidiary of the American firm General Motors in 1931.

The first Holden to be wholly Australian-made was launched in 1948. The Holden 48-215 (also called the FX) cost £733 ($1466). The average male earnings in Victoria in 1950 were £433 1s 4d ($866.13) so the car was still a fairly expensive item.  During 1951 there were 121,000 new cars registered in Australia with the majority (74%) coming from Britain and Europe. Holden’s share was 18%. In 1953 the FX was followed by the iconic FJ Holden. By 1958, Holden claimed more than 40 per cent of the car market in Australia.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 1955, there were 153 passenger vehicles per 1,000 people in Australia. By the end of the decade, more than 50% of families had a car. In 1960, the first Coles Supermarket opened in Melbourne, with ample car parking as one of its significant features. It was the beginning of a trend away from small suburban shopping strips to larger stores and malls. The car replaced the shopping basket or trolley as an easy way to carry groceries home, making a large weekly shop possible.

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