Holden 48/215 FX
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4
Made in Australia, for Australia
Prime Minister Ben Chifley launched the car 'made in Australia, for Australia' in 1948, and nobody guessed what a runaway success this plain and practical sedan would immediately prove to be. Australians took the Holden straight to their hearts, commencing a love affair that continues to this day. Demand outstripped supply and the waiting list stretched through 1949 and beyond.
Plans for the 48/215's development moved into gear in 1944, when the Federal Government asked manufacturers to submit proposals for the production of an Australian car; a move aimed at accelerating post-war industrial growth. General Motors-Holden's (GMH) - its technical and manufacturing expertise advanced through wartime mobilisation - accepted and completed the challenge of building the nation's first successfully mass-produced car.
Adapted from a US design, the first Holden was nevertheless a uniquely Australian car, however it was far from luxurious. There were no chrome mouldings, no heater, a single driver only sunvisor, the windows were of a "flipper" design, and to obtain ventilation you needed to use the adjustable air scoop that was situated between the bonnet and windscreen. (In fact it would be many years for today's basic features to be introduced - as can be seen by viewing the EH Holden
Nasco Accessory brochure in the PDF Gallery section of the Unique Cars and Parts
At a time when safety was not an issue, no doubt due to the lack of cars on the road, the 48/215 had a single tail-light and lacked turn indicators. The interior was trimmed in either leather or wollen body cloth, while a PVC material was introduced in mid 1951
. Options of the day included an 'Air Chief 5' radio, a rear venetian blind, lefthand side sun-visor, a locking petrol cap and a heavy duty oil bath air-cleaner. The exterior body colour range was limited to four: Convoy Grey, Seine Blue, Gawler Cream and Black.
The lack of refinement in the first all Australian car had absolutely no effect on sales. In fact, Holden were forced to publish a booklet of testimonials entitled "Holden Owners Give Reasons Why Holden is Worth Waiting For", while in the background they worked furiously to lift production rates (which rose from an initial 10 units a day to 100 per day in 1951
, when the first Coupe Utility was launched).
During the model life of the FX, many small improvements were made such as a change from lever-type shock absorbers to a modern telescopic variety with wider rear springs (dubbed 'Air-ride'). The very first Holden ute was released in 1951
and in 1953
the fleet and taxi orientated "Business" sedan was introduced - all at a time when production had been increased to an incredible 200 per day! The Holden sold remarkably well and the range was expanded. In January 1951
a utility was added, then in July 1953
a "Business Sedan" (taxi version) appeared.
The Grey Engine
Holden got its first engine building experiences during World War 2, building aeroplane, boat and even torpedo engines completely in-house. After building complex radial military engines and marine diesels, the humble Grey straight six which powered the first Holden may have seemed an easy job. But that was not the case. There was little doubt the success or failure of GM-H's 48/215 rested largely with its engine. There was no requirement for it to break new ground in an engineering sense, but its reliability, durability and flexibility had to be first rate. Fortunately, the engine Holden built was a jewel and it became a major factor in the initial success of Australia's Own.
A 6-cylinder engine was settled on as a compromise between the British cars (which were mainly fours) and the US models, which often offered a V8 version. The Holden engine, which had its block painted dull grey
(hence its nickname), was a 'square engine' with a capacity of 2.15 litres. Rated at 21.6 hp, it developed around 60 bhp / 45 kW. This engine impressed almost everyone who became involved with it. It was a torquey, low stress unit which was extremely flexible, tough and easy to work on, as well being economical and offering lively acceleration.
Through the 1950s and early 1960s the grey engine was carried over into each new model series. During these years the grey engine
was reworked with the addition of a new camshaft, the boosting of the compression ratio, the incorporation of larger valves
and throat surgery in the form of improved carburettors. By the time the FB Holden
was released, the capacity was 2.26 litres and the output was just over 56 kW (75 kW at 4200 rpm) with maximum torque at 1400 rpm. The Grey engine went into its 15th year of service under the bonnet of the EJ Holden
, which ceased production in the middle of 1963
48/215 Performance and Comfort
Today we would consider the performance laughable, but at the time the 48/215 was considered by the Australian public to be quite a performance machine. From 0 to 100 km/h in around 20 seconds running out to a top speed of 130 km/h, which
was much better than the 4 cylinder British cars then available, and not far behind the big and expensive American V8's. The 48/215 had no carpet, no radio and no armrests and people thought it was well equipped.
Despite the high price (when judged against average incomes from the time), the 48-215 offered more for the money than any of its competitors. And it was a car which genuinely measured up to Australian conditions at a time when every driver frequently faced potholed dirt roads - a time when the roads connecting the capital cities were yet to be fully sealed. The Holden stood the test where the similarly priced British 'fours' left their suspension
components by the roadside.
The features which made Holden an institution - and Australia's best selling car - were virtually unchallenged. The maker's boast of '80 miles per hour and 30 miles per gallon' was lived up to and the light monocoque 4.4 metre body could seat six in comfort. Power came from the above mentioned "grey
" 2.15-litre, 6-cylinder 45 kW engine, coupled to a three-speed column-shift manual gearbox. This torquey powerplant would propel the car from walking pace to full speed in top gear with no drama, a feature which set it apart from the high-revving English cars which came to Australia after the war.
48/215 owners hardly ever needed to use first or second gears for anything but standing starts. But, in spite of its attributes, it's worth remembering that the 48-215 was no dream machine. In many ways, the bare bodied newcomer was the epitome of austerity. It had one key-operated door lock (on the passenger's door), no chrome mouldings, one tail-light and no turn-indicators. Inside, the story was much the same. To keep it light and affordable, the 48-215 had no heater and originally only one sun-visor: on the driver's side. Ventilation was effected with flipper windows and an adjustable scoop between the bonnet and windscreen. Demisting was effected by a sleeve or handkerchief.
What's In A Name?
Although its official model code is 48-215 (representing 1948 and 2.15 litre), the first Holden is widely known as the FX. And there has been plenty of speculation over the years as to why this came to be. Officially of course this first Holden was, not so simply, dubbed the 48/215. And that was more than a mouthful for the used car salesmen when placing their classifieds. From the next model (FJ
) onward, Holden adopted a two letter model designation. At Unique Cars and Parts
, we believe the unofficial designation "FX" came about by the smart thinking of one such car salesman, when placing an ad at a time when you paid for every letter, FX was much cheaper than 48/215.
That unofficial designation was quickly adopted, as is evidenced by newspaper classifieds from the 1950s. Regardless of whether you call it the 48/215 or the FX, it remains the most important car in local history. It was the first successfully mass-produced Aussie car and the one which launched the Australian industry.