'Australia fell out of love with Holden, and it’s paid the ultimate price'

The Commodore was a symbol of an old Australia, of mulleted blokes in vests skulling VB and rocking over-engined cars

As you may well have already heard, Australia’s only car company is to die. In a move of apparent corporate can’t-be-arsedness, General Motors has decided to ‘retire’ Holden as of 2021, sending it on a one-way trip to the same vet that attended to Oldsmobile, Saturn, Pontiac and Saab. And that’s kind of sad, isn’t it, even if you’re not an Aussie. Truth is, Holden for the past two years has been a shadow of its former self, flogging rebadged models from elsewhere in the GM empire with shrinking success. The Commodore, once the flagship of the range, became a Vauxhall Insignia with a Holden logo slapped on each end. The real Holden died in 2017 when the last-generation Commodore was killed off (along with the Elizabeth factory and, with it, Holden’s ability to make cars on home soil).

Bullet-headed Austin Rover boss Harold Musgrove once declared that a car company that didn’t make its own engines couldn’t call itself a car company. I’m sure Morgan might disagree, but a car company that doesn’t make its own cars really does feel like a mangy Trojan horse trying to fool inattentive punters into backing a home team. It’s why Vauxhall’s recent Union flag-waving ad campaigns have felt so hollow. Holden has long plumped up its range with rebranded imports, but that’s been OK because all sat in the shadow of that local hero, the Commodore.

> General Motors to kill Holden brand in Australia and NZ

Of course, for many years even the Commodore owed a great deal to donor Opels, but they were re-engineered in a distinctly Aussie way. Legend has it that when the GM central machine decreed the very first Commodore of 1978 would be based on the Opel Rekord and dispatched a German-built prototype to Holden’s test centre with its realistically rough Strine-spec road network, the car managed just 1500km of testing before it was written off. The disbelieving team in Germany demanded to see the data from load gauges on the chassis, discovered that the readings were 300 per cent higher than anything they had seen in their own testing and, assuming the Aussies were using the equipment incorrectly, jumped on a plane to see what the hell was going on.

When they accompanied a second prototype on a real-world testing session in the outback and witnessed the entire shell break apart at the firewall, they began to understand the unique challenges of making a car fit for Australia. The first-generation Commodore may have looked like an Opel Rekord cabin married to the nose of the bigger Senator (so the ’Stralians could get a V8 in there), but it was beefed up underneath so ordinary Australians in a pre-SUV world could use an everyday saloon to venture into the untarmacked interior. The casual brutality of God’s own country was also the reason for moulding the parts-bin cabin from a bespoke plastic compound, to better resist the relentless heat of an outback summer and its ability to turn Euro-spec plastics to goo.

This pragmatic Aussiefication carried on over successive generations, reaching its zenith with the VE-series Commodore of 2006, the first to be home-grown from scratch and therefore the only large saloon in the world with a pre-production test regime that included multiple collisions with a crash test kangaroo. Even the stability control on that car, though based on Bosch hardware, had a distinctly Aussie calibration, mainly because it was so laid-back. ‘How you going, mate?’ it seemed to ask as the back wheels began to spin up. ‘Looks like you might be having a bit of bother? Want me to help out…?’ As someone who ran a Holden long-termer (crudely disguised as a Vauxhall VXR8) I can say with confidence such things were what made that car so loveable. It was big, a bit oafish and wore its origins on its sleeve in a truly wonderful way. As with Saab, when Holden was allowed its own way, you couldn’t help but get little shots of local flavour in the solutions to the unique challenges of the cars’ homelands.

Unfortunately, the people of Holden’s homeland didn’t seem to appreciate their only national car. The rise of the SUV diminished the need for large saloons that could cope with 500km of constant battering down a dusty washboard on the way to visit a neighbour. Greater environmental concern and Australia’s tough stance on speeding squeezed the need for huge saloons running hungry, hearty V8s. The Commodore was the heart of Holden, but it was also a symbol of an old Australia, of mulleted blokes in vests skulling schooners of VB and rocking over-engined cars. Nowadays Australians buy the same cars as the rest of the world. The need for the Commodore has gone, and with it, sadly, the need for Holden itself. The demise of Holden in that context seems inevitable. But that doesn’t stop it also being a little bit sad.

Most Popular

MAT Stratos 2021 review – Lancia’s iconic Stratos reborn
MAT Stratos – front tracking
Lancia

MAT Stratos 2021 review – Lancia’s iconic Stratos reborn

It’s been a long time coming, but this Ferrari F430-based reimagining of the Lancia Stratos is finally here
11 Jun 2021
Tesla Model S Plaid deliveries begin – 1006bhp super saloon now reaching customers
Tesla Model S Plaid
Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S Plaid deliveries begin – 1006bhp super saloon now reaching customers

The long-awaited Tesla Model S Plaid has finally come to fruition, with first US examples hitting the road
11 Jun 2021
2021 Audi RS3 Sportback and saloon previewed – will it finally match Mercedes-AMG A45 S?
Audi RS3 manufacturer spy 1
Audi RS3

2021 Audi RS3 Sportback and saloon previewed – will it finally match Mercedes-AMG A45 S?

Audi Sport is putting the final touches on its new RS3 hot hatch and saloon
10 Jun 2021
2021 Maserati GranTurismo to go EV-only – IC option ditched
2021 Maserati GranTurismo spy – track
Maserati

2021 Maserati GranTurismo to go EV-only – IC option ditched

GranTurismo coupe and its soft-top GranCabrio sibling to be reborn later this year, but controversially without the proposed combustion alternative...…
11 Jun 2021
Posaidon’s 217mph Mercedes-AMG E63 RS is faster than a Porsche 918 Spyder
Posaidon Mercedes-AMG E63
Mercedes E63 AMG

Posaidon’s 217mph Mercedes-AMG E63 RS is faster than a Porsche 918 Spyder

Three new Posaidon power upgrades are now available for Mercedes-AMG’s E63 S, bringing hypercar numbers to the four door supersaloon
9 Jun 2021
Ferrari F8 Tributo replacement mule spied – will it emulate the McLaren Artura?
Ferrari F171 spy 2021 – front
Ferrari

Ferrari F8 Tributo replacement mule spied – will it emulate the McLaren Artura?

Ferrari’s going hybrid and V6 for its next mid-engined supercar
9 Jun 2021
Used car deals of the week
Used car deals 11 June 21
used cars

Used car deals of the week

Here's what caught evo’s fancy this week on the second hand car market
11 Jun 2021
Cheap fast cars 2021 – the best budget performance cars on the market
Cheap fast cars 2021
used cars

Cheap fast cars 2021 – the best budget performance cars on the market

If you buy right and do your research, the cheap fast car is a wonderful thing. Here are our top picks between £1000 and £10,000
25 May 2021
HKS in development of a supercharger kit for new 2021 Toyota GR 86
HKS Toyota GR 86
Toyota

HKS in development of a supercharger kit for new 2021 Toyota GR 86

Japanese tuner HKS is in development of a supercharger upgrade package for the new GR 86
9 Jun 2021
2021 Alpina XD3 and XD4 update revealed – extra torque from Alpine’s quad-turbo diesel SUV
Alpina XD3 and XD4 2021 – header
Alpina XD3

2021 Alpina XD3 and XD4 update revealed – extra torque from Alpine’s quad-turbo diesel SUV

The updates to the Alpina XD3 and XD4 are largely of the aesthetic kind, but more torque and new chassis calibrations are also part of the package
10 Jun 2021
2022 BMW X3 and X4 M Competition pricing announced
2022 BMW X3 and X4 M Competitions
BMW

2022 BMW X3 and X4 M Competition pricing announced

Engine upgrades, a chassis recalibration and some striking new visuals for BMW’s hot midsize SUVs
11 Jun 2021
Best small cars 2021 – pocket rockets reviewed and rated
Best small cars 2021
Best cars

Best small cars 2021 – pocket rockets reviewed and rated

You don’t need 200bhp or more in a small hatchback to have fun – these ‘warm’ small cars are the proof
7 Jun 2021
The Lamborghini Essenza SCV12 is an 818bhp track-only hypercar
Lamborghini SCV12
Lamborghini

The Lamborghini Essenza SCV12 is an 818bhp track-only hypercar

Lamborghini Squadra Corse is taking the V12 to the racetrack with the limited-run Essenza SCV12
9 Jun 2021
2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost review
2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost
Rolls-Royce Ghost

2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost review

Latest Ghost gets a new platform, four-wheel steering and fresh looks, and continues to set the luxury saloon bar
5 Jun 2021