First published 2011-03-26
We love a good freak show here at Garage of Awesome, so it is with fondness that we dedicate a few bytes to the King of Australian automotive freak shows, the Holden Prototype One.
“Ole Number One”, oft revered as the first Holden, sat on display in the National Motor Museum for many years. But Ole Number One was not the first Holden; just the first PRODUCTION Holden. And even then conjecture exists that it was the car Prime Minister Ben Chifley was photographed with in November 1948.
Regardless of its status, it’s still super-ultra-early and ownership of the car has remained with Holden since day one, was lauded as the first 48/215 (aka FX, the first model Holden) and begat a dynasty of awesome Holden’s that continues to this day.
However, the ACTUAL first Holden, the hand-beaten, hand-assembled prototype, lead a life much less glamorous.
Lawrence Hartnett of General Motors Holden auto-bodies had campaigned furiously for Holden to be allowed to build a uniquely Australian car, rather than an adaptation of a British (probably Vauxhall) or American (probably Chevrolet) design.
With his success, in 1946 Detroit steel was hammered, bent and beaten into the shape of the first Holden… except that it wasn’t a ‘Holden’, because General Motors Holden had not decided on a name for the car (suggestions included Boomerang, Woomerah, and in a crushing display of gayness, Melba. GMH badges were cast and fitted and the car hit Australian shores registered as a 1946 Chevrolet.
Amazingly, in 1952 with its days forging a legacy that would influence Australia’s driving culture for half the 20th century and beyond now over, it was sold to an employee, Arthur Ling as his daily driver. Better still, he then sold it to another guy, Bill Vickery who, in 1956 TRADED IT ON A NEW FE HOLDEN!
What the fuck? Who TRADES what is arguably THE most culturally significant car in Australia?
The dealer who traded it, Des Kelly of Kelly Brothers Holden of Morwell, worked out what it was and held onto it. Wisely. Unwisely, he decided it needed a refurb and at the suggestion of a colleague of his who was also a TAFE lecturer, he took it to Yallourn TAFE to be restored by the apprentices. Four years passed with no word, so Des finally went looking for it and found it in an open shed, completely stripped, possibly with ducks living in it (citation needed).
During this time, Graeme and Gavin Strongman, car enthusiast extraordinaire, got wind of the car and after much debate, convinced Des that the car should be theirs. Once in the shed, they put around two years, FULL TIME into restoring the car back to new, while keeping vigilant of its unique history.
Hammer marks were left intact, fill where the original GMH badges were fitted were left visible on the insides of the bonnet and boot and the original trim, a Pontiac blend named Bedford Cord, was sourced in new-old-stock from the USA.
Although the comprehensive, beautifully detailed resto of the original 1946-US-built Holden was not completed in time for Holden’s 50th anniversary in 1998, completion followed not long after. The Strongman crew showed the car comprehensively and let some of the original engineers drive the car despite being well into their 80s and not having driven a manual transmission in the last three decades.
Furthermore, the Strongmans were rewarded for their efforts by being disqualified from several shows in the Best Holden 1948-1953 category for having the only Holden in existence built in 1946. By General Motors. In Detroit.
The Holden Prototype One now resides in the National Museum of Australia on permanent display and can now rightly claim its place as being an awesome-as-fuck freak machine.