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Launceston’s role in making the first Holden car

In November 1946 it was announced that General Motors-Holden’s Ltd had reached an agreement to take over the Tool Annexe at the Launceston Railway Workshops to produce tooling for its proposed Australian-made car.

GMH had responded to a request from the federal government in 1945 to make a mass-produced Australian car. Up to this time most cars sold in Australia were either fully imported or assembled from components from overseas car makers.

The Examiner of Wednesday, November 20, 1946, reported that production details had been discussed between the GMH technical superintendent (Mr W. G. Davis). the Secretary for Transport (Mr A. K. Reid) and the administrative officer at the annexe (Mr P. H. Welch).

“Mr Davis will remain in Launceston as technical superintendent of production. He has had wide experience in engine manufacture … and recently joined General Motors as assistant chief inspector of mechanical operations.”

The Examiner said that since the end of World War II the Tool Annexe has been conducted by the Tasmanian Transport Commission and has been turning out tractor parts of such precision that only one-half of one per cent were rejected.

Mr Davis said various types of punches, dies, trimming tools, component parts and very large assembly jigs for sub-assembly and final assembly of panel would be made.

“The modern and very valuable equipment in the annexe and the high standard of workmanship attracted General Motors, and work which began in Launceston this week is one of the first practical steps in the actual production of Australian cars.”

Details of Australia’s first locally made car slowly emerged as production facilities were set up around the country.

At Woodville in South Australia the bodies and metal pressings for the new car were being produced at a £1,744,000 factory and at Fishermen's Bend in Melbourne a 12,000 square metre plant was built for the manufacture of the engine, transmission and other basic car components.

GMH said that when the car was in full production it would provide direct employment for about 9000 Australians and indirect employment for thousands more in businesses supplying raw materials or specialised components for the new car.

It was announced that the new car would be simply called the Holden and would be priced at £733, which was about two years' wages for an average worker at the time.

By the time Prime Minister Ben Chifley unveiled the first Holden 48-215 (later known as the FX) on November 29, 1948, it was announced that 18,000 people had already paid a deposit.

The first Holden car to come to Tasmania was unveiled by the Premier Robert Cosgrove in Hobart the following day. He said the development of the Holden marked Australia's “growing up as a nation.”

Australians embraced the first locally mass-produced car and over the next five years 120,402 Holden vehicles were manufactured and sold.

Images -- TOP: Prime Minister Ben Chifley with the first Holden car off the production line on November 29, 1948, at Fishermen’s Bend in Melbourne. National Archive of Australia, public image. MIDDLE: Wartime production at the Launceston Tool Annexe. Tasmanian Government image. BOTTOM: Holden cars roll off the Fishermen’s Bend production line factory. State Library of Victoria, public domain image.

Written for the Launceston Historical Society and published in The Sunday Examiner, on 29 October 2023.


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