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Motoring: Holden 48-215 (FX) - 1948

In 1944, Holden's Managing Director Lawrence Hartnett (later Sir) initiated a study to determine what would be the ideal Australian car, which he planned to build after the war was over. He knew that many of the overseas products being sold in Australia had not been designed for the unique Australian conditions, which included hot summers and some fairly crude roads.

Holden was given land at Fisherman's Bend in inner Melbourne on which it planned to develop and build Harnett's dream car for Australian conditions. Production of the first model, the 48-215, later known as the FX, commenced in 1948. August 1946 saw the first fully functional prototype of the car in the US; it was tested before shipping to Australia for evaluation. The car would become the FX.

In terms of where some of its parts were manufactured, and where the vehicles were assembled, General Motors Holden could rightly claim the Holden 48-215 was Australia's own car, but as for its design and the mechanicals on which it was based, there was nothing Australian about it. The first Holden was built to a reject 1949-model Chevrolet styling design on 1946 model Chevrolet-based mechanicals. It had been designed and marketed to sit between the large American cars and the smaller British cars that dominated the market at that time; a four-door sedan with seating for five or six adults. It was powered by a 132.5 cubic inch American Chevrolet-based six cylinder OHV engine, with a column shifted three-speed manual gearbox.

The vehicle in its original prototype form was never tested in Australia. All testing and subsequent development changes took place in the United States. A Canadian designed and built engine block with thicker walls that could be bored out further than the one finally settled upon first used. In fact the original dies were from Canada with the thicker cylinder walls, but they caused some overheating, so a new set of dies were made with thinner walls and introduced reasonably early into the production run. Examples with the thicker walls were very sort after by collectors.

Prime Minister Ben Chifley launched the Hold car in November 1948

48-215 or FX?

During the production run of Holden's first model, it was always officially known as the 48-215, the "48" representing the year it went into production and the "215" being the size of its motor (2.15 litres). In 1952, the front suspension had to be redesigned and introduced midway through the production run rather than waiting for the new model, which was over a year away. The parts list for the modifications was christened "FX"- some sources say the FX was derived from F for front, and X for crossmember, others say it referred to vehicles which had the suspension 'fix'. Gradually the NASCO parts division began to use the handy shorthand code to refer to the new suspension modifications parts, then to all 48-215 parts to indicate they were to the "fix" specifications parts and not the car's original specifications parts. The FX identification quickly filtered through to the spare parts, new car and used car trades and was universally adopted as the identification of the current model. The first public use of the FX model identification code was in advertisements by Reg Smith Motors in Melbourne in the Melbourne Herald on Friday 12th February 1960. The Utility version of the 48-215, which was introduced in 1950, was given the model identification code 50-2106.

When the new model arrived in October 1953, GMH still referred to it as the Holden. Athough only a facelifted version of the 48-215 design, the FJ was the car which cemented Holden s position as the country s most popular car. It is now a celebrated piece of Australiana  and has been the subject of songs and a full-length feature film. Though GMH never officially used the FX and FJ model identification codes, they acknowledged the principle of it when they named the next model, the FE, in 1956.

Though I have never seen an official explanation as to the meaning of the code, it has been said that the letter "F" came to represent the fact that vehicles starting with that code were introduced in the 1950s, which explains why, when working backwards, the first three models introduced in the 1960s started with the letter "E", and why the body shape introduced with the FE in 1956 did not retain the "F" prefix for the whole of its production life, but changed to "E" in the new decade. The pattern of counting backwards to identify the decade and year production commenced does seem to work up until the mid 1960s, with the FE (1956), the FC (1958), the FB (1959 - went on sale in January 1960), and then the EK (1961) and EJ (1962). Having been introduced in 1963, one would expect the EH model to have been called the EI, but perhaps a little was jumped because EJ rolls off the tongue better than EI. After that, the next nine models have an "H" prefix, though production started in the middle of a decade and ended in the next. It is believed this letter refers to the international General Motors platform that underpins it, in this case it was "H" for Holden. Later cars in the Commodore series had the prefix V, a reference to these vehicle having been built on the "V" platform. The "T" and "M" code for the Gemini and Barina models refer to the platforms that underpin them. The second letter of the model code seems to follow no set pattern, though there probably was a reason for each model's specific designation.

1945 clay model of the Holden 48-215, named the Holden Anzac by its clay modeller, Frank Herschey

Holden Firsts

The first prototype No. 19525, was completed on 30th August 1946 at the Chevrolet Plant in Detroit, USA. The first Australian built prototype was completed at Fishermans Bend, Melbourne, on 22nd August 1947. The first Holden engine #1001 was started up on 25th September 1948. The first production Holden car was completed on 1st October 1948. Largely built off-line, it was a Gawler Cream 48-215,Body #6, Vehicle Serial Number 8-1001-M with engine #1001.

The 48-215 was launched on 29th November 1948 by the Australian Prime Minister, Ben Chifley. Although not mechanically or stylistically sophisticated, the car was simple, rugged, more powerful than most of its competitors, and offered reasonable performance and fuel economy in an affordable package (£733). It was better suited to Australian conditions than its competitors and assisted by tariff barriers.

By the end of 1948 the total production was just 112. Volume production of the Holden car commenced in January 1949. The first delivery of a Holden car to a retail customer took place on 24th February 1949. Essington Lewis received a Convoy Grey 48-215, Body #215, Vehicle Serial Number 8-1171-M with engine #1581. The sale was conducted through Preston Motors, Melbourne. The car officially went on sale the following day.Demand for the home grown product was enormous and by 1950, Holden had increased it's production to 80 units per day. By the end of December 1951, the Holden had become the nation s top selling car, with 21,184 registered in 1951. The 100,000th Holden 48-216 produced rolled off the assembly line on 19th May 1953.

2.15 litre (132 ci) inline six ohv
Power :
45 kW (60 hp)
Three speed manual column shift
Performance 0-100 km/h
20.0 seconds
Standing 400 m / Top speed
20.5 seconds / 75 mph (120 km/h)
Production: 120,402
Models and code: Sedan 48-215
Business sedan 48-215-257
Utility 50-2106.
Production run: November 1948 to October 1953
Replaced by the Holden FJ

The story of the Holden Emblem

The first Holden emblem was a life-size wooden horse which stood above the entrance of the Holden & Frost Saddlery works on Grenfell Street, Adelaide. As an emblem, the Holden Lion relates to the time when the general practice by coachbuilders was to have their name or trademark engraved on the door sill or on a large plate fastened to the instrument panel. In the USA, Fisher Body had a neat, embossed replica of its coach trademark attached to the lower part of the cowl.

At this time Holden's Motor Body Builders was using a large engraved brass plate, the foreground of which was a figure representing industry with a background of factory buildings. This design was far too detailed for the embossed treatment on a small plate. A new emblem was needed. A Wembly Lion' medallion was chosen, depicting an Egyptian lion, the symbol of the ' Wembly Exhibition which was held in London in 1924. (Egyptian antiquity heavily influenced fashion themes of the day from clothes and furniture to films and songs.) According to fable, the principle of the wheel was suggested to primitive man when observing a lion rolling a stone.

Several sketches were made and it was decided to go ahead with the design. George Rayner Hoff, one of Australia's leading sculptors, was commissioned to develop the design in the solid. From a plaster model, small metal replicas were produced for nameplates. These were affixed to all bodies built from 1928 to 1939 on the lower near side of the cowl in a similar manner to Fisher. The design was also adopted as a trademark in all Holden advertising. The Holden Lion also became the emblem for the first Australian GM car, the Holden. Although updated in 1972 and again in 1994 the lion symbol is still used on all Holden cars.

The FJ Holden, which replaced the FX

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