Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

Birth of a Car (c.1948)

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'An Australian car is born' education content clip 2

This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

Once the sedan body has been completed, the final assembly takes place. Front and rear axels are fitted. New parts are constantly added as the car moves along the assembly line – the six cylinder motor, the dashboard, the headlights. The wheel alignment and axel are tested by machine. On reaching the end of the production line, an ‘Australian car is born’. The car is now ready for the road.

As the car drives across Australia’s roads, a voice-over talks about the triumph for Australian industry.

Curator’s notes

This clip is from the final minutes of the film. As one of the Holden prototypes (the JP-480) drives out on the Australian roads, the scripted narration conveys a strong sense of national pride.

The National Museum of Australia holds the only surviving prototype of the three Holden sedans which were manufactured by hand in the United States and imported and tested in Australia in 1948. The Museum also holds in its collection the first 48-215 Holden that officially rolled off the General Motors-Holden assembly line at Fishermen’s Bend, Victoria, on 29 November 1948. This model was commonly known as the FX.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This black-and-white clip shows a Holden FX, the first mass-produced Australian-made car, being assembled on a production line at the Holden plant at Fishermens Bend in Victoria in 1948. It shows the sedan body being fitted with the front and rear axles and components such as the six-cylinder motor, before the car goes through a series of ‘precision tests’. A crowd of workers applaud as the first car to come off the assembly line is driven out of the plant. As the car takes to the road, the narrator heralds it as ‘a triumph for Australian industry’.

Educational value points

  • The Holden 48-215 or Holden FX was the first mass-produced Australian-made car and was launched by prime minister Ben Chifley on 29 November 1948. The Holden FX cost £733, which was equal to two years’ wages for the average worker in this period. It was hugely popular and 120,402 vehicles were manufactured between 1948 and 1953. By the time of its launch, 18,000 people had already paid a deposit to buy a Holden FX.
  • The Holden FX was developed after prime minister Ben Chifley issued a challenge to the Australian automotive industry in 1944 to produce a car that would be entirely manufactured in Australia. Chifley felt the expansion of the car industry would contribute to the nation’s economic reconstruction in the post-Second World War period. Prior to this, local manufacturers such as Holden built car bodies that were fitted to chassis imported from the USA.
  • The Holden FX was designed for local driving conditions. It was a six-cylinder, four-door, six-seater sedan that featured a rugged frame and a powerful but fuel-efficient engine, an important characteristic because petrol rationing, introduced during the Second World War, remained in force until 1950. The Holden FX was developed in conjunction with the USA’s General Motors, with whom Holden had merged in 1931 to form General Motors Holden.
  • The popularity of the FX helped establish Holden cars as an Australian institution that by 1958 accounted for 43 per cent of car sales in the country. The FX embodied Australian dreams of prosperity, particularly after the austerity of the Second World War. Its release coincided with an increase in car ownership, up from one in eight people in 1948 to about one in four by 1956. Holden sales were aided by the introduction of trade tariffs to protect the domestic car industry.
  • In the 1920s Holden became the first Australian manufacturer to use mass-production methods with the introduction of a continuous assembly line. Components were added successively to a bare chassis as it moved along a conveyor. This mass-production system, which was perfected in the USA in 1913 by industrialist Henry Ford (1863–1947), sped up the assembly process, reduced costs and made cars more affordable for ordinary families.
  • In 1948 the Holden assembly line rolled out ten cars per day, whereas modern assembly lines, which are partially automated and use computer-guided robots, can produce a car about every 2 min. Cars now have up to 10,000 parts so the manufacture of many components, such as on-board computers, tyres and dashboard instruments, is outsourced to local and overseas companies. Thus Holdens made in Australia today can no longer be said to be ‘all-Australian’.
  • Birth of a Car may have been made by Holden to promote the FX to an Australian market. It stresses the car’s suitability to the Australian environment and links it to Australia’s industrial modernisation, referring to ‘production technique to equal anything in the world’ and heralding the car as a ‘triumph for Australian industry’. The rousing and triumphant music that plays as the car takes to the open road reinforces this idea.
  • A number of names for the first Australian-made car were trialled before ‘Holden’ was selected. It was decided that the name should be easy to pronounce and identifiably Australian, and among those considered were CANBRA (the phonetic spelling of Canberra), EMU, MELBA and ANZAC. Holden was chosen in honour of J A Holden who had set up the company as a saddlery business in 1856. Holden had begun manufacturing car bodies in 1914.

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