Motorsport News Opinion

COLUMN: I’M HERE BECAUSE OF HOLDEN

WORDS: Richard Craill

I GREW up a Holden fan.

Our family car as a kid was a 1983 VH Holden Commodore Wagon. Cream, with the 3.3 Blue motor and optional M21 Four-speed manual. It had the tacho and full instruments, too, which was cool in those days. It was a great car.

Most of the Family had Holdens. The old man’s first cool car was an LJ Torana, a four-door in ‘purr-pul’. I never saw it in person, but as a kid the photos of the car, replete with mag wheels and Cibbie spotlights, were captivating.

It was no surprise then that I grew up a Holden fan, in a Holden house and that translated into cheering for Holden things when they were racing them on the TV. Brock was god, of course, but Perkins was close behind and once he got out of a Datsun, Richo too. And if neither of them could win, then as long as something with a Lion on the front beat the bloody Blue Oval things it didn’t matter.

My friends at School were Holden fans. When we had to do research into what career we wanted, I wrote to Holden designer Mike Simcoe asking about how I could draw cars for a living. He replied, which was very generous but fortunately for Holden’s styling department, my drawing skills remained at a third-grade level so we moved on with other avenues.

My first job after School was at the local Holden dealer, working in the spare parts department. The job was let down by its management and I only lasted six or seven months, but to this day I can remember the part number for Optikleen – the additive you’d put in windscreen washer bottles.

It was 92140005 and I believe you can still get it.

When the teenage years arrived my first car was a Holden, too; a 1976 LX Holden Torana Sedan, bought for $350 from a painter in Adelaide’s northern suburbs. It had a tired 173 six, an auto gearbox and as far as we could tell had done about three billion kays. But it was mine and it was fantastic: we restored it and my later teenage years were spent driving around the Barossa and into town in it, proud as punch of my blue beast which was obviously much, much cooler than all of my mates cars. Like all good old Holdens it never died, either – it just got faster: a warm 202 and a five-speed from a Toyota Supra helped that. Big stereo. Bucket seats. It was the best.

I still have it and will only part with it when it is prized from my cold, dead hands – hopefully a long time from now.

My second car was a Holden – a five-litre VQ Caprice. That’s still in the family and currently being restored. My third was a VX SS and a first proper dip at a performance Commodore: It was great and I had seven excellent years with it before it found a new home last year.

Three years ago last week I bought my ultimate Holden: A VF SS Redline. Six-speed manual. Brembo’s. Bose Audio. Sticky Michelin rubber. It’s the best car I’ve ever owned and it’s likely that will remain part of my garage for ever, too.

I run a tatty but amusing VU Ute on the back-and-forth airport run, too, with no fear of it being abandoned in the long-term carpark for weeks on end.

I write all this within the context that as of the end of 2020, the Holden brand will be gone from the Australian market. Just like that. Sayonara.

GM has pulled the pin on mounting losses and a brand with a 160-year heritage vanishes, probably for ever.

Of course, those that follow the industry closely – it is closely related with motorsport, after all – aren’t that surprised because in the last few years Holden has been in as close to free-fall as a brand has ever been in Australia.

As a pragmatist and a realist I knew it was always going to be difficult for the brand to truly recover, especially by selling mostly crap cars, a long, long way separated from my Redline which was built only six years earlier.

That alone has been sad to experience, because there’s no doubt the number one reason I am lucky enough to do what I do is because I grew up a Holden fan.

The love for the brand led to a passion for Motorsport that helped me build the roller-coaster I’ve been on for 15 years now. I wouldn’t have it any other way nor would I know how to do it.

I am quite literally living the dream because of my automotive upbringing.

While everyone expected the worse, and in the back of my mind I probably did the same, I always hoped that the brand would sustain, that they’d steady a sinking ship and even if it was a shadow of its former self, Holden would find a way to continue and remain part of the Australian culture, at the very least to remain a touch-point for what had been and for those to whom the brand was important at some point in their life.

Even if it wasn’t the Holden we knew and loved, it would still be there. I never thought Australia would be without it.

It’s part of our culture, our heritage. Football, Meat Pies, Kangaroos and Holden Cars, after all.

The worst thing of all out of this is that they’re shuttering the brand on a whimper and more than making me said, it makes me angry.

The end of local manufacturing was hard enough to take, especially growing up 30 minutes from where the cars were made – it was literally part of the local culture in Adelaide for as long as I’ve been alive.

But the subsequent driving of the brand into the ground thanks to poor product, listless marketing and what seemed to be (and has, with today’s news, been proven) any lack of a real plan just smacks of having no respect for the brand and its history from those working here and those in Detroit.

I’m sorry to the many of those working at GM and Holden that do love it, but that’s the vibe.

It is a bitter end and it leaves a bitter taste.

The broader ramifications on the sport, on the industry and the broader market will be discussed at length, and we’ll have a crack at doing that on The Race Torque in coming days.  

In the meantime, if like me you have a Holden, go and drive it because they’re not making any more. Ever.