69 years of Australian manufacturing

A YELLOWED four-page document is locked away deep inside Australia’s National Archives. Dated May 14, 1943, and fixed at the top by a pin, it wears a Department of Interior stamp.

On its cover are the words “General Motors-Holden’s Ltd Post War Activities”. Inside, a letter from private secretary J S Collings to treasurer Ben Chifley who, a few years later would become Australia’s 16th prime minister, attempts to set up a meeting between the treasurer and “General Motors’ interests” to talk about post-war reconstruction plans.

“They point out, and rightly so, that their plants, now employing many thousands of employees entirely upon war production, will, when the war ends, be faced with the necessity of turning over to peace-time production,” it says.

Turns out it was a meeting that was to kick-start almost 70 years of Australian car making. Five years later, on November 29, 1948, Holden would release the 48-215, Australia’s first homegrown sedan. It’s significant, then, that Holden will build its last car, the Commodore, on October 20, 2017, little more than a year shy of the industry’s 70th anniversary.

In this ongoing series, Wheels will count down the rise, and fall, of Aussie automotive manufacturing in five-year intervals, starting with the release of the first Holden in 1948. Our final piece will go online in the same week as our once-proud industry shutters its doors, most likely forever.

We’ll look at the industry’s highs and lows, the people who shaped it, and the influence it has had on our culture. Join us as we journey through 69 years of the Australian automotive industry.

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1988-92: Australian automotive manufacturing hits hard times

Australia’s car industry struggled in the wake of the Button Plan, with Nissan the first of the Big Five to fall

1983-87: The beginning of the end

The end of the protectionism that propped up the Australian car industry was in sight as Ford enjoyed life at the top

1978-82: Football, meat pies, kangaroos, and Aussie cars

The Holden Commodore arrives as the nation struggles to set the framework for the car industry

1973-77: Paving the way for change

Australia struggles with an economic slump that also hits new-car sales hard

1968-1972: Boom of the big bangers

Seatbelts arrive, Ford outsells Holden, a switch to the left proves too expensive, and Australia’s seven local car makers face an uncertain future

1963-67: The push for Australian-made

Holden pegs a production record for its most Aussie car yet, while the government encourages others to build vehicles here

1958-62: The Falcon flies

Holden builds momentum as Ford launches its version of Australia’s own car

1953-57: Evolution of an industry

In the second of our series, Holden grows from strength to strength as Australia’s appetite for new cars booms

1948-52: Australia’s post-war car industry is born

In the first of our series, we look back at the birth of the Australian carmaking industry