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Australian Motor Vehicle Manufacture

Pre-World War II | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s and beyond


The sixties had been a decade of establishment, with many new and innovative models, design and concepts and a flood of new makes previously unavailable in Australia. The seventies was very much a decade of consolidation for the car market down-under. Local manufacturers saw the need to tailor their cars more to the needs of the Australian driver rather than sell product that had been designed for different markets with different driving conditions, and the cars they produced reflected this.

The Big Three local manufacturers - Holden, Ford and Chrysler entered the 1970s with a stanglehold on the local car market. Each manufactured locally built 6s and V8s in sedan, station wagon, panel van and utility formats, and each had their performance supercars - the Holden Monaro, Falcon GT and Valiant 265 Pacer, offered for the first time as a 2 door coupe with the VG model, introduced in 1970. But just as the American 340 Duster's superb performance failed to impress Americans, the performance of the Pacer failed to impress Australians. Enter the Charger. Based on the 1971 VH Valiant but built on a shorter wheelbase, with a clean, sporty look, it was 130 kg lighter than any Valiant sedan, but it still had room for five. A $2800 base model allowed high production runs, lowering the cost of the sportier models.

The Charger was marketed brilliantly by Chrysler - their clever advertising campaign used the slogan "Hey, Charger" and the image of a hand giving the two fingered "V for victory" sign. Right across Australia, people shouted 'Hey charger" and gave the victory signal every time one drove by.

Ford was the last of the Big Three to introduce a 2 door coupe version of its Falcon. Arriving in 1972 and based on the XA Falcon, it was available in a range of models from a regular 2 dooor sedan to an almost Bathurst-ready GT. In 1978, as the XC Falcon range was coming to an end and the new XD model was almost ready, Ford released the limited edition Falcon Cobra, an end of an era 2-door GT Falcon that is looked upon today as the crowning glory of a memorable decade for the Ford Falcon.

In 1974, the classic fastback shape of the original Monaro was dropped with the introduction of the HJ Holden. The new Monaro, based on the HJ sedan, has a beefier front and re-styled rear end that for the rev-heads was a step backwards in terms of styling. The Monaro GTS coupe was discontinued during the HJ production run, towards the end of 1975. A four door Monaro was introduced but it was largely avoided by the purists to whom the Monaro will always be a 2-door car. With the arrival of the HZ Holden in 1977, the Monaro name was dropped totally though a 2 door coupe continued to be made for a while and the 4-door Monaro was re-named the Holden GTS.

Holden HT Brougham


Whereas, in the previous decade, GM-H had introduced no less than four new body styles for its family sedan, in the 1970s there were only two - the HQ in 1971 and the Commodore in 1978. Prior to the HQ, the HT (1969) and the HG (1979) were merely facelifts and model updates of the all-new HK of 1968. The major change in those years was the introduction of the HT Brougham in 1969 to counter the growing popularity of the Ford Fairlane. Just as the Fairlane was a stretched luxury Falcon, the Brougham was merely a beefed up and stretched Premier.

The 1971 HQ was arguably a high point of GMH styling, and an Australian classic. They still proliferate the Australian landscape (an icon of cars that were "built to last") in their various configurations of body styles and engine combinations. Facelifted as the HJ in 1974, the HX in 1976 and the HZ in 1977, during the life of this body style, the recreational panelvan, the Sandman, was first seen in July 1976 in HX mode, and the Statesman was released as a replacement for the lame-duck Brougham. The Statesman grew out of the WB Holden, originally intended to be the last of the HQ shape, and to sell alongside the Commodore (1978). The WB never made it as a separate model, but appeared in modified form as the Statesman de Ville and Statesman Caprice, and as a Holden utility and panel van, since such vehicles could not be derived from the new Commodore design.

Monday 13th November 1978 was a watershed for GM-H, because on that day the Opel re-engineered Commodore was released. GMH engineers had naturally made changes to ensure the durability of the car in Australian conditions, but the real gamble was whether Australian's would be accepting of the all-new body style as a suitable replacement for the traditional large family sedan. The public didn't reject the smaller car, but their preference for the more traditional size became clear when the Falcon became the No.1 selling car in Australia during the lifespan of the first generation Commodore. The body shape introduced in 1978 as the VB Commodore would go through four facelifts but the Commodore would essentially maintain the same design for a decade, until the all-new, larger VN, unveiled in 1988.
  • GMH in Australia: Fishermans Bend

  • Chrysler Valiant Charger


    The 1969 model Valiant VF, which was a facelifted version of the 1967 VE, was iself facelifted in 1970 as the VG. Externally there were very few differences, apart from the now rectangular front lights, while the interior remained almost identical in every way. A year later, Valiant fans everwhere breathed a collective sigh of release upon the release of the all-new VH Valiant. Its all-Australian design was a clearly departure from the flat sheetmetal, creased edges of the 1960s, its style reflecting the flares and wide lapels of the disco decade. Part of the VH range was the new Charger, a 2-door hardtop that was marketed brilliantly and was every bit as competitive in the marketplace as Holden's Monaro and Ford's Falcon GT. By the time of the release of the VJ Valiant in 1973, Chrysler's market share was in its fourth consecutive year of decline. The VJ's remained unchanged on the outside aparts from a few styling changes that were restricted to a grille makeover, round headlights and revamped tail lights. The VK/CK Valiant (1975) was another mild makeover of the previous VH and VJ models. The obligatory new grille design combined with a revised tail light assembly made up the more obvious of only a handful of changes, leaving many to ask why Chrysler had indeed bothered.

    1976's new Valiant, the CL, was intended to be a whole new model, an intermediate sized car based on the Plymouth Volare / Dodge Aspen which had been big sellers in the US. Unfortunately cost cutting measures enforced upon the manufacturer in light of the growing trend of Australians to favour smaller 4 cylinder cars saw the VL ending up as little more than a re-worked VH. Industry insiders read the move as the writing was on the wall for the Valiant and rumours abounded that the CL would be the last Valiant. It wasn't; the 1978 facelifted CM, the last re-working of the VH design of 1971, would be the last of the prestigious lineage of Valiants that had graced our shores since the 1962 introduction of the R  series. When the CM hit the showrooms, the Mitsubishi sourced Chrysler Sigma's sales figures were significantly outstipping the Valiant. There was no Charger, Utility or Panel Van in the CM range, only two sedans and a wagon. The facelift was kept to a minimum to save money. The last Valiant was manufactured on the Tonsley Park assembly line on 28th August 1981, not by Chrysler Australia but by Mitsubishi Motors Australia limited, which had taken over Chrysler Australia's operations and placed its own top-selling 4-cylinder Sigma as its frontline model.

    The Chryler Valiant was not the only 6-cylinder Chrysler sold in Australia. The "other" Chrysler Six was the Centura, which in reality was the French Simca 180 into which Chrysler Australia's engineers at the Tonsley Park plant fitted the Valiant Hemi engine (a straight six), and an Australian Borg-Warner gearbox, tailshaft, and differential (a four cylinder version was also offered). The Simca 180 was an automotive orphan. It was designed for the British market as a replacement for the big Humbers of the 1960s, but Rootes UK initially turned it down, so it ended up being first manufactured in Spain. A second production plant was established in Britain where the car was released in 1970 and marketed opposite the Rover 2000 and Ford Granada. It failed miserably and Chrysler were left with hundreds of bodies and components stockpiled. Around that time, Chrysler Australia found themselves without a car to sell opposite the 6-cylinder Holden Torana and Ford's Cortina, and believed the Simca 180 fitted the bill. It was agreed that the components would be sent to Australia and the car sold as the Chrysler Centura.

    Immediately prior to the Centura bodies arriving in Australia, the French had conducted nuclear tests in the South Pacific, and the Australian Waterside Workers Union introduced bans on handling French products. The newly elected Labour Government (1972) failed to intervene, so the car bodies were left on the wharves until 1974 when the tests stopped. As a result of two years of exposure to the salty air, many Centuras started rusting before they were built! The Centura was eventually released in 1975, some eight years after the Torana and TC Cortina had made inroads and established their market share, and was considered by many as too little too late. The Centura was available in two models, the KB and the KC upgrade. It quickly earned a reputation as a bad handler, partcularly the 6-cylinder version in which the heavy engine caused weight distribution - and hence handling - problems. Before it reached its third anniversary, the Centura was dropped. The 4-cylinder Spanish Simca 180 faired much better - it enjoyed a production life of ten years.

    Ford Falcon XB Hardtop


    Ford entered the 1970s with the XY Falcon as its flagship family sedan. The XY was the third facelift/update of the landmark XY Falcon introduced in 1966. The XA model (1972), a totally new design, was the first Falcon completely designed and built in Australia. By the time it was released, the US version had been discontinued some 18 months earlier, and the designers had the opportunity of designing a more 'Australianised' car. The result was a bulky, coke bottle design, sleek but featuring a bigger, more roomy body and available with a wider choice of engines and a longer list of options. In fact, the XA sported arguably the boldest design of any Falcon model to date. There were a plethora of body and engine choices on offer; the range started with the Falcon, then Falcon 500, Futura, Fairmont, and the high-performance GT. After a break of seven years, Ford re-introduced a two door hardtop version based on the sedan but with a lower roofline and wider rear wings.

    Marketed under the 'Born on the Wind' slogan, the XA was a great success for Ford of Australia and a confident statement of its independence. The XB (1973) featured a slight restyle of the previous model, and featured a cleaner but more aggressive front end with a forward sloping bonnet. The XC (1976) was a further re-style of the third generation Falcon. The refined look was achieved by reducing the slope of the grille and introducing large rectangular headlamps. The XC was the last of the style commenced with the XA in 1972. The XD Falcon, released in 1979, marked the start of Ford's determined push to become market leader in Australia, a goal they ultimately achieved, but one that at the release of the XD, was beyond their grasp. Developed at a cost of $100 million, the investment soon paid off and the XD quickly began outselling the Commodore. During 1980, howver, sales of the big family cars stalled as new car buyers turned to smaller 4-cylinder cars in droves. Prices of locally manufactured vehicles were spiralling upward much faster than wage increases and the cost of living, and the public began resisting the rising prices. The heady days of the 1970s when the big 6's and V8's were king were over.

    Toyota Crown S60


    At the turn of the 1970s, the Japanese manufacturers began grabbing big handfuls of market share from the British who, until that time, had a strangelehold on the 4-cylinder end of the market. But the Japanese had also set their sights on other market sectors. The original Toyota Crown model released in Australia, the S50, was replaced in 1971 by a new model, the S60. Its styling was distinctive and seen as very modern and if Toyota had a chance at knocking Holden off its throne as king of the 6-cylinder car market, the S60 was the car to do it. The Crown sedan and wagon were better equipped that the local product, but Holden were by that time so firmly entrenched as the market leader, the Crown was never a serious threat to the General's supremacy. Holden pushed the fact that their car was Australian born and bred (the fact that it was owned by the US car giant, General Motors, was not mentioned) for all they were worth, and the ploy worked. The last Toyota Crown to be sold in Australia was the 5th series, the S80 and S100 models.

    Released in 1975 in Australia, the four door S80 sedan and wagon were now fully imported. The sale of the Crown in Australia ceased when the S100 was replaced by the S110 in 1979. The Corolla name is the second oldest in the Toyota stable, following the Land Cruiser, and while never an exciting drive, with over 30 million Corollas sold worldwide, it has become the most popular car line in history. The first generation Corolla was introduced in 1968. Toyota quickly recognised the need to make the Corolla larger and endow it with more power. Thus the second generation Corolla arrived in 1970, with it's wheelbase stretched and power coming from a new 1.2 litre version of the OHV four. The Third Generation Corolla's were released in 1975, and featured a raised center section in the grille that carried back to more angular bodies. Now there were a total of five Corolla models available, including two and four door sedans, a 2 door coupe, SR5 sports model and 5 door station wagon. With a new chassis, the 1979 Corolla was a more sophisticated and satisfying car than any Corolla before it.

    First released in 1957, the original shovel-nosed Toyota Corona (Latin for Crown) has become increasingly popular with collectors, partly due to the rarity of these cars on the road today, and no doubt also due to their amazing strength and build quality. The Mark II, released in 1964, featured several mechanical improvements. The Corona T100-Series, released in 1974, were built as a 4-door sedan, 2-door hardtop coupe and 4-door wagon. It was this model that established the Corona's dominance in the mid-range 4-cylinder car market. Introduced in Japan in 1978, the next generation T130-Series Corona featured a boxy design with more elegant lines. 4-door Sedan, 4-door Wagon, 2-door Hardtop Coupe and new 5-door Liftback were manufactured with 1.6 or 2.0 liter engines. A production plant in Altona, Victoria was established and began the production of Corona engines in 1978, following the progressive growth of Toyota Motor Corporation Australia.


    Boosted by its win of the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon, Chrysler's Hillman Hunter sold steadily in Australia in the later years of the 1960s, but they became overshadowed when Chrysler Australia commenced assembly of the Mitsubishi Galant in 1972. This small-medium 4-door sedan, badged as the Colt Galant, was developed from Mitsubishi's entry model into the Australian market back in 1965. By this time, the Mitsubishi was a conspicuously more modern car, and by 1973, the Hunter was phased out; the last Rootes car to be marketed in Australia.

    Chrysler Australia begin building Mitsubishi-designed Chrysler-branded vehicles such as the Chrysler Valiant (1972-1977 Mitsubishi Galant) and the Chrysler Sigma (1977 onwards Mitsubishi Galant). The Tonsley Park plant was sold to MMC and a new subsidiary, MMAL, was formed to run the plant after Chrysler pulled out of Australian manufacturing in 1980.

    Leyland P76 sedan, P76 wagon and Force 7 coupe


    Over at British Leyland, the then-ailing manufacturer was pinning its hopes on a car it had developed to take on the big three - the Leyland P76. Not the prettiest looking car around, it didn't sell as well as was hoped, and the oil crisis of 1973, which heralded a move away from the bigger cars, was the straw that broke the camel's back. A coupe version, named the Force 7, was stillborn. All British Leyland cars, apart from the MG and Rover, were withdrawn from the Australian market when the local production plant in Zetland, Sydney, closed down in 1975.


    Volkswagen had built a plant in Clayton, Victoria, in 1960 to build Beetles and continued their production through the 1870s. Volkswagen sold its Clayton plant to Nissan in 1968. Beetles continued to be assembled at the factory alongside Datsuns and Volvos from imported kits until 1976, when produced and sales of the Beetle in Australia ceased. By then, Volkswagen were fully importing its Passat and Golf cars, its commercial vehicles and the Audi Fox (a 4-door squareback version of the Mk I Passat).


    Volkswagen was not the only European manufacturer to feel the pinch in the Australian market in the 1970s. Several Peugeot models were assembled in Australia, local production beginning with the 203 in 1953, moving through models such as the 403, 404 and 504 in the 1960s and '70s, to finish with the 505 in the early 1980s. Whilst Peugeot never withdrew from the Australian market, by the 1980s, all models were fully imported. Another French car manufacturer - Renault - had its R8, R10, R12 and R16 models assembled from kits in Melbourne. The R12, introduced in 1969, was equally as popular during the early years of the 1970s. Australian assembly of the Renault 16 lasted until the late 1970s. Australian assembly of Renault's ceased with the 16. All future Renaults were fully imported.

    Datsun 1000


    The B10 model Datsun Sunny was launched in 1966 as the Datsun 1000. The 1000 was one of the first cars assembled at Nissan's Clayton plant after taking it over from Volkswagen in 1968. The second-generation Sunny, the B110 Series, was launched in 1970 in Australia as the Datsun 1200. This new model was slightly larger in all dimensions to match its market rival, the equally popular Toyota Corolla. The third generation Sunny, sold as the Datsun 120Y in Australia, was released in 1973 just as the petrol supply crisis of the 1970s began to bite. The cars disappeared off the showroom floors as fast as dealers could bring them in, thanks not only because of its misery fuel consumption but also because it was one of the least expensive cars available. At the time body styling was also a hit with buyers.

    The Datsun 510, sold alongside the Sunny, was similar to the Sunny, but larger. It was powered by a sporty 1600cc engine, and marketed in Australia as the Datsun 1600. It proved to be one of Nissan's most popular models ever sold in Australia. It was replaced by the all-new Nissan N10 series in 1978. With the model changeover, the Australian assembly of Datsun/Nissan vehicles at the company's Clayton plant ceased. The N10 was fully imported to Australia as the Nissan Pulsar.


    Mercedes continued to built on the reputation they had established in the previous decade. In 1973, Mercedes-Benz introduced the W116 line, the first to be officially called the S-Class, but it, like all future Mercedes Benz cars sold in Australia, would no longer be built here.

    Australian Motor Vehicle Manufacture: Pre-World War II | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s and beyond

Prime Minister Ben Chifley unveiled the first 48-215 off the production line on 29th November 1948

1946 Oldsmobiles coming off the production line

The Art Deco GM-H Headquarters at Fishermans Bend under construction

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