Are you red or blue? The Ford vs. Holden rivalry in Australia

January 25, 2018
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It’s Australia Day and to mark the occasion we take a look at the most Australian of rivalries – Ford vs. Holden.

The Seeds of Rivalry

The seeds of the Ford vs. Holden rivalry date back to very beginning of the automobile industry in Australia, with the introduction of the Model T Ford in 1908. Everything about the Model T Ford – from its price tag to its ease of use – earmarked it as a car for the people, not the elite. And the people spoke – by 1927 sales of the Model T Ford had surpassed 15 million worldwide.

In Australia, the Model T Ford arrived as a kit and was assembled by local dealers. In a demonstration, Ford technicians assembled the Model T Ford in just 150 minutes. Early drivers were initially somewhat confused by the new machine. Some spent several days trying to start it without realising that petrol was required. Others spent years driving around in first gear because they didn’t realise that they could, or should, change gears.

Driving itself was far from simple. Roads were little more than goat tracks and there were few mechanics and no petrol stations. Some hills were much too steep for the Ford and had to be taken in reverse so that petrol could flow to the carburettor. It was usually the car salesman who taught the new owner how to drive, battling with farmers who thought that the car should behave like a horse – staying on course once directed and avoiding obstacles naturally.

Nonetheless, the Model T Ford quickly became popular in Australia. It was relatively simple in design, lightweight, and rugged. It could be easily righted if overturned, was pretty easy to maintain once one learnt the basics, and was economical and reliable. It suited Australia “to a T.”

The birth of Holden

It wasn’t until 1948 that a Holden vehicle hit the market with the help of General Motors. Although it was originally developed in the US, the Holden 48-215 was locally manufactured and assembled. Aussies took pride in buying and driving a car that was all their own. The Holden  48-215 was better suited to long-distance driving and with 500 dealers around Australia, Holden owners felt safer setting off on long journeys.

Ford hits back

Ford sales suffered enormously after the introduction of the Holden. Ford was importing its materials and was taxed heavily for doing so – they simply couldn’t match the price tag of the Holden. As a result, in 1959 Ford opened their first factory in Melbourne and the following year released the brand new Ford Falcon. The new Falcon was marketed as “Australian – with a world of difference” and was an instant success.

The Battleground

The ultimate test for the Ford vs. Holden rivalry came in the form of a race track and can be ultimately credited to a small-town Mayor who also happened to be a motor sport enthusiast. In the mid-1930s, the Mayor of Bathurst, Martin Griffin, had a vision of a world-class race circuit carved into the hills surrounding his town. Unfortunately, it was the middle of the Great Depression and money was scarce. Mayor Griffin was nothing if not resourceful and he managed to get funding from the Government by touting the race-style circuit as a “scenic tourist drive.”

After gaining the funding, a proposal was put forward by various parties to turn the Tourist Drive into a race circuit. It’s believed the Mayor Griffin was behind the proposal and it was ultimately accepted by the Bathurst council. Thus, in 1938 the first Bathurst race was held. It was so unexpectedly popular that the Bathurst township ran out of food, alcohol, and accomodation during the event.

Going head to head

Early race rules dictated that competing cars had to be manufactured, or at least assembled, in Australia. Although other cars did compete, the rules clearly put Ford and Holden at the forefront.

These race rules also specified that only standard road vehicles were allowed. The beauty of this was that people could watch their own cars race through Mount Panorama. The Bathurst race saw Ford and Holden regularly pitted against each other and truly cemented the marques into Aussie culture.

So who comes out ahead in this Ford vs. Holden competition? To date, Holden has taken the top spot at Bathurst a total of 32 times; Ford a total of 20 times.

A Rose by Any Other Name

Ford and Holden didn’t just compete on the all-important Bathurst race track. They also seemed to one-up each other in their colour names. Some of Holden’s beauties include Berry Nice, Kermit Green, and Bunyip Bronze. Not to be outdone, Ford produced Purple Velvet, Vermillion Fire, and Banana Blush.

The Sandman and the Surferoo

At the end of the day, Ford and Holden’s bread and butter has always been the average Aussie. Both Ford and Holden endured for so long because they had their finger on the pulse of Aussie culture. After all, who can forget the iconic panel van era?

The Sandman

With bright panels, room for a mattress, and the privacy of no windows in the back, the Holden Sandman embodied everything about the 1970s that fathers feared the most. Unsurprisingly it was an overnight success – helped along by no-holds barred advertising. Gems included: “Suddenly your car becomes your personal pleasure machine” and “Lean, lithe and ready to go.”

Ford Surferoo

Ford also produced panel van variants, similar to Holden although not as popular. One was known as the Surferoo and came with curtains, carpet, and a mattress. It was also known as the “bedroom on wheels.”

So are you red or blue?

This is just the tip of the iceberg that is the Ford vs. Holden rivalry. At eMotor we don’t discriminate – we have all kinds of Fords and Holdens available.

But what’s your flavour and why? Let us know in the comments below!

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