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Pre - 1950s Australian Automotive History

T model car
Tarrant car - 2 cylinder model

The car can be traced back as far as the 17th Century, although this was just a model which was not big enough to carry a person. However, this example is still seen as the first steam powered car. It wasn’t until the late 18th century that steam powered vehicles were big enough to carry people and by 1801, such vehicles were on the road of Britain. By the mid 1800’s the automotive industry was nearly ended by the introduction of a law that meant a man with a red flag and a horn had to walk in front of any steam powered vehicles. This law was not removed until the late 1800’s making automotive driving extremely difficult.

After the law in Britain was imposed, automotive production began to thrive in the United States and other European countries, most prominently Germany. Karl Benz (Mercedes Benz) received his first German patent on May 8, 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen, which is mostly seen by car Historians as the first Automobile.  By the early 1900’s France was the leading manufacturer of cars, starting under licence from Karl Benz. However, Panhard et Levassor was the first company opened to build just cars, closely follow by Peugeot. By 1903, France represented nearly 50% of the global automobile production.

Brass/Edwardian Era

From the 1905 to 1914 (the start of World War I) the Brass/Edwardian era of automobile manufacture saw different power systems and designs being thought of and refined. Technologies that were pioneered in this era included; electronic ignition systems, four wheel breaks, independent suspension, safety glass, steel frames and finally, transmission and throttle controls. Notable cars of this era included the Ford Model T (most produced car), Mercer Raceabout (first sports car) and the Bugatti Type 13 (racing car). In Australia Holden & Frost open a motor trimming business, Holdfast Trimming.

General Motors began importing vehicles into Australia at the beginning of the vintage era. During this period other modern features of cars were pioneered including front end engines, hydraulic brakes, tempered glass and gears. War time restrictions in Australia in 1917 led to the import of one complete car per 3 chassis being implemented. These restrictions lead Holden & Frost to open Holden Motor Body builders. Throughout the 1920’s HMBB thrived making car bodies for Dodge, Buick, Chevrolet and more. In 1926 General Motors Australia Pty Ltd was formed. However, by the end of the vintage era in the 1930’s the global downturn from the Wall Street crash sees Holden going out of business.

Pre WWII Era

The pre-WWII era began just after crash of Wall Street in 1930, which saw Holden Motor Body Builders on the brink of dissolving. However, in 1931 General Motors stepped in and purchased the company forming a merger called General Motors-Holden Ltd. During this period many of the features of modern cars had been invented and under GM, Holden flourished. By 1935 Holden had produced its first completed enclosed coupe for companies such as Chevrolet. By 1937 Holden claimed 40 per cent of the vehicle market and started plans for its first complete car. During WWII Holden was at the disposal of the Australian government and the complete car project was put on hold.

Post WWII Era

The post WWII era saw Holden begin The Project 2000 car design armed with knowledge gathered from war production. After a trip to America in 1946, a handmade model was shipped to Australia and throughout 1947 the car was extensively tested. By 5th April 1948 the car (called the FX) was released to a massive audience including the Prime Minister of Australia and production began to average 10 per day. By the end of the era the demand for the Holden was more than supply will allow with an overflowing waiting list. By 1949 20,000 cars were being poduced annually.