End of an era for Holden diehard Norman Darwin

FOR Norman Darwin, today is a truly sad day.

The 67-year-old from Mt Rowan describes himself as lifelong Holden man. He appears very likely to outlive the company where he worked for 15 years. 

Holden today announced it would cease manufacturing in Australia in 2017. For Mr Darwin it is the end in any meaningful sense: the Holden brand may live on, but only as an importer sticking badges on cars produced primarily in Asia.

FULL COVERAGE: Holden to end local manufacturing

"I think it is a sad day for Australia," Mr Darwin said. "This is the death knell for the Australian automotive industry.

"It is disappointing. Holden doesn't just have a history in carmaking that goes back to 1948. It really has a history of manufacturing car bodies here since 1917, so there is a very long association with Australia. 

"They started in 1917 when the Australian government introduced its first tariff for car industry on imported bodies."

Mr Darwin has put his money where his mouth is. He owns a 1974 Holden Monaro Coupe 308 GTS and a Holden Caprice VE, in addition to four other General Motors cars: a '57 Chev, 1970 Pontiac Firebird, 1927 Oakland Roadster and 1935 Chev. His son owns a Holden Premier HR and his grandson a HK Kingswood. 

Apart from being an enthusiast, a former employee and owner, Mr Darwin is also a historian, having written six books on the automotive industry, including four on Holdens. They include: The History of Holden since 1917, 100 Years of General Motors in Australia, Monaro Magic, Torana Tough, in addition to The History of Ford in Australia, and a history of Ballarat's Eclipse Motors. 

He worked for Holden between 1969 and 1984, in engineering and finance, and was part of the team that started disassembling the big company, closing factories across the country in the eighties as part of a restructure. The stress of that was ultimately part of the reason he left. 

"Over the years successive governments have put nails in the coffin"

Mr Darwin's family has remained in the car industry though, with his eldest son working for a parts supplier and his youngest son co-owner of Autoparts Professional, so has retained a personal interest. 

He believes Australians as a whole need to take responsibility for what has happened.

"I don't know if you can blame any one government because over the years successive governments have put nails in the coffin," Mr Darwin says.

"I've seen this coming for six months. There was a period six to 12 months ago where Holden was lobbying the government really hard. When the government changed they might have realised they were flogging a dead horse. 

"I've heard people say Holden is not making cars people want to buy. The problem is they cannot produce 15 different types of cars. It's not that Holden can't do it, but the Australian dollar and other things have conspired to make it damn near impossible to do it profitably.

"We've got more than 60 brands in Australia they've all been nibbling at Ford and Holden's volume over the years. You only have to look at those four-wheel-drive utes that have eaten into local sales.

"Every farmer and tradie used to have a Falcon or Holden ute or cab-chassis. Now everyone who thinks they are a tradesman has one of those four-wheel-drive four-door utes that are imported. I don't understand why people who never go offroad feel a need to have a four-wheel-drive anyway.

"I think that heritage was lost a while ago. The interest in Bathurst for example has waned. It used to be a sacred day and it's not like that anymore." 

Mr Darwin will always love Holdens, but when it comes to buying one after 2017, his choices appear limited.

"I'll always be a Holden man. It is hard to know what my replacement vehicle will be for my Statesman, though. I guess it would be another second hand Holden," he said.

"I can't see myself buying a Chinese or a Korean car and I think that's what it might be if I want to buy a car with a Holden badge on it."

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