Automobile, FJ Holden (Special), with owner's manual and brochures, Australia, 1955
The FJ Holden is regarded as the epitome of 1950s motoring in Australia. Its design and manufacture evolved from the 48-215 (1948-1953), Australia's first mass-produced car which was designed specifically for the Australian market and conditions, distinguished only by a few styling and mechanical improvements. In comparison to the 48-215, however, the FJ became a best seller, thereby reflecting the move from immediate wartime memories to a new American-influenced, consumer-driven society.
The 1950s 'Australian Dream' saw the FJ Holden as a 'must have' item in suburban driveways. With an accelerating birth rate and the beginning of new suburbs, the FJ Holden (like the 48-215) became the first car many families had ever owned. The FJ model also gave consumers a wide-ranging choice, as opposed to other brands on the market (like the Austin, Morris, Hillman Minx and Standard Vanguard), with the option of the Standard, Special, business sedan, utility or panel van. The Holden FJ Special, in particular, brought about a new feeling of glamour and prestige that distinguished owners from their Standard counterparts.
The FJ was the first Holden to be exported. The first batch comprised 30 cars which were sent to New Zealand in 1954, and a total of 321 had been exported by the end of that year. By the late 1950s, General Motors-Holden (GM-H) exported cars to more than 15 countries, including Greece, South Africa, Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jamaica, Tahiti and Hong Kong. Today, Holden exports left and right hand drive vehicles to every continent except Antarctica, with its largest vehicle export market being the Middle East. In 2005 alone, Holden exported 60,518 cars, 8,146 more than the previous year.
The FJ was also the first Holden to use the GM-H secret code of model identification. This 'secret' code related letters of the alphabet to numbers in reverse order. Based on this concept, FJ stood for 1952 (the year the car was initially intended to come onto the market) with the subsequent models FE and FC, standing for 1956 and 1958 respectively. (See Wright, 1998)
The production of the 48-215 and FJ, which proved popular with both city and country folk, made the Holden brand a symbol for Australia's national pride. The efforts towards building a wholly Australian made car were unprecedented. The FJ was reasonably priced (from £870 Standard, £895 business and £915 Special) and sold well. At this time, car ownership was still beyond many people's reach, but the introduction of the FJ helped to overcome this.
The FJ Holden has become a celebrated piece of 'Australiana'. Apart from the numerous car clubs devoted to the FJ throughout Australia, it has also been the subject of both a full-length feature film ('The FJ Holden', 1977) and a series of sculptural works by the Australian artist Margaret Dodd (also in the Museum's collection).
This particular FJ Holden is also important in that it is complete with the original owner's manual, driving instructions and warranty card, booklet entitled 'Holden Sedan Facts' and promotional material which is contemporary to the vehicle.
Melanie Pitkin, Assistant Curator
Birney, S., "Australia's Own - The History of Holden" (Sydney, 1988)
Davis, P., "Holden 50th Anniversary - Father Figure", Weekend Australian (November 14-15, 1998)
Davis, T, Kennedy, E & Kennedy, A., "The Holden Heritage" (Blakehurst, 1998)
Gregory, M., "Holden before the Holden", Restored Cars, No. 47 (December, 1981) pp.12ff
Wright, J., "Heart of the Lion - The 50 Year History of Australia's Holden" (Sydney, 1998)
This FJ Holden Special was made in 1955. It would have been assembled at the GM-H factory on Bunnerong Road in Pagewood, New South Wales. The General Motors works factory was opened by Prime Minister Robert Menzies and GM-H Managing Director Laurie Hartnett in 1940. It announced its closure 40 years later, officially ceasing operation in 1982. The closure of the factory meant the elimination of more than 1,500 jobs.
The FJ Holden, which was modelled on the 48-215 (released in 1948), came into production in 1953, just 5 months after the production of the 100,000th 48-215. Although it was produced for only 3 years, more than 200 were built per week, giving a total production number of 169,969. The FJ Holden was marketed as five models: the Standard (basic model), Special (extra trim features), business sedan, utility and panel van.
The mechanical design of the FJ was left largely to the Americans, while the Australian team completed the body and structural design. This process involved a team of Australian engineers and draughtsmen travelling to the United States for the initial drafting and construction of the three prototypes, before 22 US engineering personnel returned to Australia (including the chief engineer Russell Begg) to assist with the mechanics.
The first Holden (48-215) was released in 1948, but the Holden motoring company name has a history associated with road transport dating from 1856. At this time, James Alexander Holden was operating a saddlery and leathergoods business in Adelaide, South Australia. James was a British migrant (from Staffordshire, England) who arrived in Adelaide at the age of 20.
What began as a humble business underwent several stages of major expansion, beginning with Henry Adolph Frost's proposal for a merger with his carriage-building and trimming business in 1885 (hence the change in name to Holden & Frost, carriage builders and leathergoods manufacturers). Two years after this, however, James Alexander Holden died at the age of 52, leaving Henry Holden in charge.
During the Boer War, Holden & Frost proved very successful with a heavy demand for sufficient saddles and ancillary equipment for the mounted troops involved. Holden & Frost held a contract for the production of more than 10% of the 10,000 sets of equestrian equipment required (shared with other contractors in Sydney and Melbourne), completing the job over other companies in the fastest possible time. This resulted with a request for a further 1,000 sets to be produced and helped to consolidate Holden & Frost financially as a 'booming' business.
In 1905, Henry Holden's son, Edward, who just completed a degree in Science and Engineering from Adelaide University, entered the business with new and innovative ideas focussed on motor cars, rather than horse-drawn vehicles. At that time, the motor car was not yet generally accepted as a new form of transport by most people, so Henry and his partner were naturally reluctant to consider the motor car as the future of the Holden & Frost business. After several years, however, Edward managed to convince his father and in 1908 Henry sailed overseas to see for himself how the motor car industry was developing. During his absence, Edward set up a small workshop at the rear of the Grenfell Street premises and began doing work on motor cars, shortly before the demand for modifications to cars that required the fitting of Holden & Frost's carriage trimmings, led to a separate branch of the business 'Holdfast Trimmings'.
The success of this new found enterprise resulted with Henry trading in his own carriage for a motor car and taking steps towards the full-scale construction of motor bodies which commenced in 1914. The first step, in fact, had been to secure a contract to build Goulding side cars for American Harley Davidson motorcycles. While this proved to be successful, Henry ensured that horse saddlery was still a major focus of the business (especially during WWII).
S A (Bert) Cheney, owner of the Cheney Motor Company, contacted Edward Holden in 1917 to propose that they establish a full-scale body-building plant to construct bodies for Dodge Brothers chassis. Dodge cars, along with Buicks and Model T Fords, were the most popular motor vehicles of the time. The eventuation of this project meant that in 1919 two businesses were operating: Holden's Motor Body Builder's Limited (car body-building) and Holden & Frost (leathergoods). By 1925, however, the demand for leather goods and saddlery declined and the 'Trimmings' business was disposed of. Similarly, the onset of the Depression saw a decline in the purchase of motor cars, so to consolidate their activities Holden's Motor Body Builders Limited merged with General Motors Australia Pty Ltd to become General Motors-Holden Limited in March, 1931.
Until the end of WWII, General Motors-Holden continued its policy of manufacturing bodies for all motor cars, but after the war a new air of optimism and enterprise emerged. This lead to the company's decision to design and engineer a car built for Australian conditions. In 1944, a detailed study covering the possibilities and logistics of manufacture occurred (including the components which would go into the car; the steel available; the engine size and type; fuel economy and the post-war family budget) and by 1948, the new 48-215 (heavily influenced in the design by an unused prototype Chevrolet) was born.
This FJ Holden Special was purchased by the Museum in 1985. It was purchased new by the vendor from McLeod, Kelso & Lee Pty Ltd, authorised General Motors dealer of Newcastle, New South Wales. The delivery date on the Owner Service Policy document is noted as November 16, 1955. The car has only ever had one owner.