Wheeling In The Years Series - Australia’s own car was a hit from the start

With the Second World War well and truly behind it, Australia in the 1950s was booming, with full employment and a high standard of living that was attracting immigrants from Greece, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands and Germany.

We were living the suburban dream where a house of your own and a car in the driveway was every Aussie’s ambition. And when it came to cars it had to be the dinky-di FJ Holden.

The famous FJ wasn’t Holden’s first “all Australian car”, that was the 48-215 - or “FX”, but it was the one that really caught the imagination of Australians and propelled it to the top of the Australian best selling car list.

The FJ was first released in 1953 and ran until 1956, with 169,969 of them coming out of factories in Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

Early market domination

With limited competition Holden dominated Australia’s car market in the 1950s, accounting for over 40 per cent of total sales by 1958. Produced in three variants, the Standard, Business and Special FJ models, there were also utilities and panel vans in the range.

It was priced at $2046, which may seem cheap, but was actually about 17 months of wages for a worker earning average full time wages at the time. A new Commodore Evoke today, by comparison, would cost you roughly 6-7 months’ wages.

By today’s standards the FJ Holden was pretty crude. Its 2.2L engine produced just 48 kw at 4000rpm – and that was the later upgraded model! That gave it a 0-100km/h time of a blistering 19 seconds and a top speed of 129 km/h. It had a three-speed gearbox with the shift lever on the steering column and the brakes and steering could perhaps best be described as “agricultural”. Sporty it wasn’t.

Rugged and reliable FJ

However, it offered good low-down pulling power compared to other cars and earned a reputation for ruggedness and reliability. Combined with its high ground clearance and low gearing, the FJ offered a certain “go anywhere” capability that Australians loved.

Following on the success of the FJ in July 1956 was the radically re-styled but mechanically similar Holden FE. It was bigger and roomier than its predecessor and offered improved visibility, better handling, a 12 volt electrical system and a slightly more powerful engine. More than 155,000 Fe Holdens rolled out of factories around Australia.

FC Holden reigns supreme

The FC followed two years later. Essentially a “facelifted” version of the FE that was available as a sedan, ute, panel van and station wagon, it maintained Holden’s sales supremacy, with 50 per cent of the market. Other six cylinder cars on the market couldn’t beat the Holden’s performance, practicality and mechanical simplicity.

By 1958 the price of a Holden FC had risen to $2220 for the Standard Sedan but demand remained strong, with almost 192,000 finding a place in Australian homes.

Those pioneering Holdens built the foundations for General Motors’ market domination for decades to come. Holden’s market share had hit a remarkable 50.3 per cent in 1958 when it had double the market share of its nearest competitor. By the end of the FC Holden’s production run, Holden had sold 500,000 cars and even exported 10,000 of them.

In the face of Holden’s market dominance Ford ran a poor second with its Zephyr, with Volkswagen filling third spot by August 1958.

General Motors Holden entered the 1960s as undisputed king of the Australian car market.

Year in focus, 1953 – Australia Full Year Brands:

 
Brand
1953
%
1
Holden
33,611
21.2%
2
Ford
24,035
15.2%
3
Austin
9,635
6.1%
4
Morris
9,396
5.9%
5
Standard
4,638
2.9%
6
Hillman
4,258
2.7%
7
Vauxhall
3,512
2.2%
8
Chevrolet
1,929
1.2%
9
Plymouth
1,185
0.7%
10
Dodge
1,182
0.7%

Check out our other blogs in the series, Wheeling In The Years Series - Holden and Ford still top of the pops in the 1970s

Blog image: Holden FJ Standard Sedan, Author: Sicbird, Date: 5 October 2014.

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Categories: Holden, Australia
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