The Final Aussie Commodores - Inside The Holden Factory

By: Shaun Tanner, Photography by: Shaun Tanner

Presented by

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Watching the last of the local Lions come down the line

Being a former employee at Holden and a photographer, I’ve been working on a personal photo story covering Holden’s manufacturing legacy. Earlier this year, I caught a whisper of some former work mates heading off on a trip to Holden’s Vehicle Operations (HVO) in Elizabeth, South Australia, to see their Motorsport Editions being built. With camera in hand, I jumped at the chance to tag along with Rob, Michael, Bob and Stuart. We managed to pull a few strings, not everyone gets to do this.

Jump forward to September, we boarded a plane to Adelaide on the trip of a lifetime. Early in the morning we arrived at the plant and headed to the main office. We were greeted by HVO Director, Martin Merry. The guys were very excited, smiles from ear to ear, eager to see their cars for the very first time. The significance of being able to follow your own car down the line was not lost on any of us. Safety briefing over we were on our way, beginning with a quick tour of the initial processes that are involved in building a Commodore.

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We moved on to a mind blowing tour through the body shop where the different body shapes are welded together by an army of robots. From here the familiar Commodore silhouette starts to come to life. A real photo opportunity was a stillage of freshly pressed VF panels. After this the cars are sent off for paint. The guys cars had already been welded and painted before our arrival.

Anxious, and not able to wait any longer we headed off to General Assembly to see the cars. They already had some wiring and dashboard, which is installed by the most jaw dropping sight of a ballet of robotic arms weaving it through the windscreen opening. Earlier in the process carpet, roof liner and centre console have been installed also.

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Rob cannot believe it when he sees his car suspended by a gantry conveyor overhead. "There it is, there’s mine." His build number clearly labelled on the build sheet. Stuart and Bob’s cars are on the same line, just a few cars ahead. It’s all very exciting. Here the car gets its windscreens, and an array of body trim moulds. This is the final line before marriage of engine and drivetrain to the chassis.  

The engines, transmissions, exhaust and suspension are pieced together on a sub-assembly line on the other side of the plant, and every single time the correct drivetrain is married to the correct body. It’s an incredible feat and a sight to behold. Once the drivetrain is raised from the floor and the body dropped down from the roof, the cars come together very quickly, with the front and rear bumper fascias and headlight assemblies being bolted up and drivetrain secured. Up the cars go into the roof again to receive the ‘final’ trim components. Michael and Rob could not pass up the chance for a photo opportunity with their cars at this point.

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With the cars given a lick of fuel, they are lowered down and progress to the lone robotic arm loading spare wheels to the allocated vehicle. Rob and I admired the majestic savagery as the wheel is carefully manoeuvred over the boot, then unceremoniously dropped. It was a talking point for quite some time. From here the car receives the special Motorsport wheels. The unique seats are installed in a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it motion. As are the doors. Then the badges are carefully put in place by hand with simple jigs. With a few more additions and checks the cars are built.

Rob couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be the one to press the start button for the first time on his brand new motorsport. The car burst into life, and with a roar of the exhaust, the car moves off to prepare for vehicle testing, where all systems, headlight alignment, and wheel alignment are done. After myriad tests and quality checks the cars move to the final flourish. It is amazing to see how carefully hand applied the stickers are to each Motorsport edition.

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It is very clear that the men and women who work at Holden, absolutely love doing so. Each car is made with immense pride, there is absolutely zero sign of that changing, even with the closure looming.

Once the cars arrive at the dealership, we have agreed to meet up, take them for a drive and enjoy them. It’s then that we will be able to reflect on the significance of what we’ve been able to be a part of and have just experienced together. For me it’s something I will treasure always.

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