Flashback 1948: The first Australian car rolls off the assembly line

Flashback 1948: The first Australian car rolls off the assembly line

This article combined from stories first published in The Age on November 30, 1948


Crowd Applauds

The new Holden pictured in the Dandenongs in 1948.

The new Holden pictured in the Dandenongs in 1948.Credit:Fairfax Archives

More than 1000 guests at the debut of the new Australian car – the Holden – broke into spontaneous applause when the car was revealed for the first time yesterday.


The car was set up on a revolving stage and hidden behind curtains until the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) had finished his speech congratulating General Motors-Holden’s on the project.

The curtain was drawn aside and the spotlight picked out the car, the guests clapped and continued as the car slowly revolved.

The official price of the car, exclusive of sales tax, registration and insurance, was given as £675. The cost on the road will be about £760.

Yesterday’s debut was carried out in typical Hollywood premiere style with guests entering the flower-decked hall down a canopy-covered path flanked with movie and press cameras.

Ben Chifley with the first Holden in 1948.

Ben Chifley with the first Holden in 1948. Credit:Publicity

The guests, who included the Premier (Mr. Holloway), Federal Ministers, members of the judiciary and leading industrialists, were led to their seats by colourful hostesses, while an orchestra played soft music.

20,000 a Year

The manager of General Motors-Holden’s (Mr. H. E. Bettle) said it was expected the company would produce Holdens at the rate of 20,000 a year.

This was the minimum figure required to justify the investment the company had been required to make, he said.

However, the company has spent £8,5000,000 on the project because it believed in Australia and her future.

An advertisement in The Age for the new Holden. December 1, 1948.

An advertisement in The Age for the new Holden. December 1, 1948.Credit:Fairfax Archives

“We believe Australia will grow in population, in the development of her resources and in her influence on world events,” he said.

“We believe there is a vital need in this country for more road transportation, and that through the manufacture of a car and utility especially designed for Australia we can contribute to the satisfaction of that need.

“We believe the presence of a motor-car industry in Australia will contribute vitally to Australia’s plans for a national defence.”

Mr. Bettle said a utility model would be built late next year.

Gigantic Venture

Mr. Chifley congratulated the company on the making of the car, saying it had shown great initiative and enterprise in the project.

It was a gigantic venture, and he was glad to see it reach fruition.

The development of Australia was inevitable despite the difficulties, which were common to all countries today, Mr. Chifley said.

The need for Australia to provide for its own defence had been driven home during the last war, when she had to improvise her own protection.

Mrs John Darymple at the wheel of the new Holden, with her sister-in-law, Miss June Darymple.

Mrs John Darymple at the wheel of the new Holden, with her sister-in-law, Miss June Darymple.Credit:Fairfax Archives

The country did not want that to happen again, but wanted to be able to provide its own defence.

Mr. Chifley concluded by paying a special tribute to the “humble workers,” who were not seen but without whom the new car would have been impossible.

Good Employers

The Premier (Mr. Holloway) said Australia was confronted with the task of developing the country or losing it.

He was glad General Motors-Holden’s had a reputation for being good employers, because only with happy relations between employers and employees could the country be developed.

“I wish every success to Holden’s and to everyone who rides in one of the cars,” he concluded.



Those who through the years have constantly espoused the development of Australian industry with the increasing use of Australian skill and material resources will derive satisfaction from the knowledge that from a new industry Australian motor vehicles have begun to flow at the rate of 20,000 units a year. It was appropriate that the Prime Minister should have come from Canberra to Melbourne yesterday for the purpose of attending the ceremony inaugurating the distribution of Australian-made cars. The people generally will endorse his words and those of the Premier of Victoria in welcoming this proof of the existence of a new industrial link between America and Australia in a co-operation production effort.

The establishment in Australia of this gigantic industry justifies the faith of the executives of the parent American organisation, who initiated the venture, infused their own spirit of enterprise into an Australian organisation of 8,000 people, and bought the first prototypes into mass production. The ultimate result is an achievement in planning, organisation, technical capacity, and the skill of many executives and artisans.

From the diversification of post-war industry, the development of numerous subsidiaries, and the training of Australian managers and artisans in many new techniques, Australian industry will expand in many directions. The existence of this and other new industries will add materially to the ability of Australia to defend its soil and its people in times of war. One of the bitter aspects of the recent conflict was that at the outset Australia was unable to carry out the process of fabricating either an aircraft or a motor vehicle. Much in the way of assembly and partial fabrication had been achieved, but it was not enough.

As a result of the expenditure of £8,500,000 on this one new enterprise for the complete production of motor vehicles, Australian capacity for self-defence had been enhanced, its peace-time productive capacity increased. The price of the Australian-made car to the public has proved to be more than was at first thought likely. Probably as a result of the experience there might be an adjustment downward. At the moment congratulations are in order from the people of Australia to those responsible for a great enterprise and notable achievement.

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