It doesn’t really make sense that I should even give the slightest of shits about the demise of GM’s Australian division, Holden, because Holdens have never been a part of my automotive life. They never officially came to America, and even unofficially, they’re incredibly rare. My experiences with them are aggressively minimal. And yet I hate to see them go, mostly because they were, of all the cars made across the globe, the closest equivalent to a long-lost sibling that American cars ever had.
While Holden as a brand was very unknown in America, so much so that GM used Holden badging on prototypes they wanted to keep secret (like the Corvair and its derivatives), Holden’s aesthetic and fundamental technical approach were entirely compatible with American ideas.
I think the reason for this is a sort of convergent evolution, like all those weird marsupials they have down in Australia; where a Tasmanian Wolf or Thylacine evolved to be remarkably like a canine because the demands and environment were analogous to what dogs and wolves evolved from, so did Holdens evolve in conditions surprisingly similar to America, both in culture and terrain.
Like America, Australia is nice and big, with a lot of urban areas on the edges and a lot of open space in the middle. Both countries, unlike so much of Europe and Asia, needed cars that could drive fast for long periods of time, in comfort and ease.
That’s why both countries ended up with cars for normal middle class people that were spec’d like upper-crust limousines everywhere else in the world: big, comfy land yachts with couch-like seats, whisked along with big V8 engines.
Design-wise, I’m not sure there’s ever been two more compatible sets of aesthetics and design vocabularies than Holdens and American GMs. This wasn’t just because Holden was a GM subsidiary, either; GM’s European subsidiaries, like the German brand Opel, were building cars that, in the same period as the Holden Kingswood and Chevy Impala above there, looked like this:
They were as much part of GM as Holden was, yet the specific tastes and needs of their target markets produced a very different-looking automobile. Australia, though, designed and built cars that just felt like American cars.
They weren’t exactly like American cars, of course, which is what made them so fascinating. Holdens were designed and built entirely in Australia, and they did play by some slightly different rules, which meant that Holdens were like American cars with a sprinkling of more European-seeming details, like amber rear indicators, or being more likely to have a manual transmission.
These little differences are what made Holdens so exciting, and seem like they were from parallel-universe America, where the land was as big and open as here, but everyone talked sort of funny and had weirder animals.
Holden came up with their own muscle cars that were the equal of American ones, and would feel familiar even to the most American of Camaro-lovers, despite the chances of your average Midwest muscle-car fetishist actually encountering a Holden to be nearly zero.
There was also Holden’s great parallel-universe version of America’s ubiquitous pickup truck, the Ute, which seemed like the timeline split in America, with the branch that would have been a world where the El Camino really caught on ending up in our universe’s Australia.
Holden was, to an American, a thrilling look at how things could have been, if they had just gone a tiny bit differently. Familiar but exotic, Holdens were a welcome contradiction to American eyes, and, I think, were always appreciated in some ways by American gearheads.
Even those rare times that we sort of got Holdens in America, usually disguised as a Pontiac, a big part of what made those cars special was the open secret that this was a Holden, a real-life Holden you could actually own and drive in America.
Look, let’s be honest: Holden going away won’t mean jack shit to most Americans, many of whom still count Outback Steakhouse and vague memories that there was once a Yahoo Serious as the extent of their exposure to Australian culture.
But I do think car-geeky American gearheads will be a bit saddened at the loss of American GM’s cool estranged sibling, Holden. I know I will.