The history of Holden in 22 photos – from an Adelaide saddlery, to Australia's best-selling car, to its untimely demise

James Hennessy

And with that, Holden was no more.

This week, General Motors announced it would retire the Holden brand, marking a a final ignominious end for the iconic Aussie automaker.

From humble beginnings as a South Australian saddlery in 1856, to its peak in the 1970s, to a slow, painful sales decline, Holden has been etched in the story of the Australian car industry since the very beginning.

So raise a glass, settle in, and see the brand off with our whirlwind tour through the history of Holden:

In 1856, English immigrant James Alexander Holden established a saddlery business in Adelaide, with the marginally less punchy name of J.A. Holden & Co.

Harness and carriage maker Henry A. Frost becomes a partner in the firm in 1885, and it is renamed Holden & Frost. The company manufactures products including "harnesses, saddlery, travel goods, gun cases, whips, crops and vehicle hardware."

Edward W. Holden, grandson of James, joins the firm in 1905 and – perhaps thanks to his keen interest in the burgeoning automobile industry – the firm opens a upholstery department in 1910.

The company builds its first car body in 1914. Over the next decade, newly separate entity Holden's Motor Body Builders Ltd builds bodies for chassis imported from the US and Europe. This is helped by federal wartime trade restrictions limiting the importation of complete cars.

US automaker General Motors signs an exclusivity deal with Holden in 1924, and then acquires the company in 1931. The merged company is named General Motors-Holden's Ltd.

The famous lion-and-stone logo first appears in 1928.

General Motors-Holden's continues to assemble vehicles from imported parts throughout the 1930s and 40s – taking time out to dedicate its production facilities to the war effort.

In 1948, following research and planning in Australia and Detroit, Holden's first Australian car – and, indeed, the first Australian car full stop – is rolled out. Famously, Prime Minister Ben Chifley said "she's a beauty!" while unveiling it.

The 1950s saw rapid expansion and several models built off the 48-215 design. In 1963, the EH goes into production, becoming the best selling model thus far.

Behold, the Holden Monaro. The company's first V8 arrives in 1968, featuring the coke bottle form popular in American cars of the time.

The HQ Kingswood lands in 1971. It goes on to sell a mammoth 485,650 units – a soaring high which no model since has been able to match.

The Commodore, likely Holden's most iconic range of vehicles, arrives in 1978. The first model is an adaptation of a German GM sedan.

Throughout the 1980s, Holden – and the rest of the industry – faces challenges. For much of the decade, the rival Ford Falcon reigned supreme.

Aussie racing legend Peter Brock, after taking over the company's semi-official racing arm the Holden Dealer Team (HDT), unveiled a kooky bit of kit in 1987 named the "Energy Polariser" – a box of magic crystals he said "made shithouse cars good". The company parted ways with Brock soon after, funnily enough.

In 1991, Toyota beats both Holden and Ford to market leadership for the first time – one of many signals Asian car domination was inclement. But in 1996, the Commodore starts a 15-year run as Australia's favourite car.

The VT Commodore released in 1997 quickly became one of the best-selling Holdens of all time, with a huge 303,895 units built between its launch and 2000.

Remember the Monaro? It returned in 2001 to much fanfare. Thousands of left-hand-drive models were exported to the US as Pontiacs.

The VE Commodore comes in 2006, engineered from the ground up in Australia instead of being based on a foreign platform.

The writing was on the wall in December 2013. Following (ultimately unsuccessful) battles with the federal government over subsidies and financial support, GM announced Holden would become a sales-only brand in Australia. Manufacturing would end in 2017.

Holden's Port Melbourne engine plant closes in 2016. It had been in continuous operation since 1948.

The final Australian-built Holden car – a red Commodore V8 – rolled out of the factory in October 2017. It was also the last Australian car full stop.

After a few failed attempts to rebadge vehicles like the Opel Insignia as Holden vehicles, it became clear the brand was on its last legs. In February 2020, General Motors announces the Holden brand is to be retired permanently.