The Australian Story

WW2 to 1960

Following the end of World War 2 Australia, like all Sterling based countries, legislated to restrict the use of US Dollars which were in desperately short supply.  As all Australian petrol was imported (in US  Dollars) petrol rationing continued after the end of WW2 and the use of US Dollars to import cars required a government permit.  Therefore, only people with access to US funds held overseas such as consular staff and visiting entertainers could bring American Cars into the country.  There were many instances of Americans based in Australia importing a car (quite legal) but under an arrangement with an Australian citizen to take over the car once in the country (not legal).  Detected occurrences of this activity resulted in the cars being seized by Australian Customs.

Whilst it appears that Hudson, Nash, Packard & Studebaker distributors were able to obtain a quota of US-built right-hand drive cars, Australians wanting one of the Big Three's products had to obtain it via Canada.  US car manufacturers had subsidiary plants or divisions in Canada (British Commonwealth) and these plants manufactured export models, including righthand drive, for export to various countries including Australia.  Waiting lists stretched for years for most makes.

Pontiac, Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile, Chrysler, DeSoto, Dodge, Plymouth, Hudson, Packard, Studebaker, Nash,  Mercury and Ford all  appeared in agents' showrooms around 1946-47. These cars were all 4 door sedans (except Chevrolet, Mercury & Ford who also offered Australian-only Utility versions) and were of basic configurations only - no heaters, no automatic transmissions and no radios. In contrast to this, leather upholstery  which was only available on the better models in America was common on the Australian version.

In 1948, Holden began locally producing "Australia's Own" car.   Holden is the brand name of General Motors  Holden Pty Limited. The car was an immediate success and demand far outstripped supply for some time.

In the fifties cars such as Buick, Oldsmobile, Mercury & Chrysler had disappeared from the showrooms and prices were rising for those cars still available.  During 1951 there were 121,000 new cars registered in Australia with the majority (74%) coming from Britain and Europe.  Holden's share was 18% leaving only 8% being from North America.

In 1955 Pontiac was the first to rival  to Ford in having a V8 available in Australia.  Chevrolet followed in 1960.

The currency restrictions were withdrawn in late 1960 and although this opened the way for imports direct from the US the arrangements via Canada continued for Pontiac and Chevrolet.


Pontiacs were assembled in GM-H plants in all capital cities from CKD chassis and pre-war Chevrolet bodies stamped and built in Adelaide. Following the war production re-commenced in 1946 using 239 cubic inch 6 Cylinder engines. As with Chevrolet the styling remained pre-war and without any significant change until 1949 when annual updates were introduced in line with the North American models.

In 1955 the 287 cubic inch Canadian V8 engine was introduced. At the price of 2,138 Australian Pounds it was 300 pounds dearer than a Chevrolet.  Transmission was a 3 speed manual column shift and automatic was not available.  In 1958 the Strato Chief  was a new larger body and was matched with a 235 cubic inch 6 cylinder -  the V8 was not available. The Laurentian replaced the Strato Chief in 1959 and the 6 cylinder had grown to 261 cubic inches. In 1960 and 1961 the Laurentian came with the 283 cubic inch V8 Chevrolet small block engine. 1963 was the last year of the Laurentian.

Pontiac in America introduced the famous Wide-Track chassis in 1959 however Australia continued to use the export chassis kit under the new bodies.

Although I have read reference to pillarless Parisiennes being sold in 1961 the Parisienne debuted (in earnest) in Australia in 1964 and was available as a 4 door sedan (pillared) with the 283 cubic inch engine.  In 1965 the 4 door  (pillarless) Sport Sedan Hardtop was introduced and two years later the (1967 Model) the pillared sedan ceased to be available. 1965 also saw the introduction of the 327 cubic inch V8 for the Pillarless versions and the 283 cubic engine remained as the power plant to the pillared versions.

In 1966 the Pontiac Parisienne Thin Pillar cost $5799-00 and $6099-00 for the Pillarless, or Sports Sedan version. In 1967, the Thin Pillar was no longer available and the  Pontiac Parisienne Sport Sedan (pillarless) cost $6,076-00. A small price reduction but a number of features were included as standard for the first time including a radio! (Australia converted to decimal currency on 14th February, 1966 with 1 Australian Pound being worth $2-00).

A number of larger dealers imported small numbers of convertibles, coupes, GTOs and Firebirds during the sixties and early seventies.


From 1949 the Australian Chevrolets kept up with the US styling (unlike 1946-49 and Ford) however mechanical developments were slower coming. The automatic transmission was available in US Chevrolets from 1950 but not until 1959 in Australia. The V8 was released in US Chevrolets in 1955 but not until 1960 in Australia. Pillarless Impala Sports Sedan were produced from 1965, and had become more popular than the pillared Bel-Air by 1968. 1968 was the last full year of Chevrolet production in Australia however some 1969's were put together for buyers wishing to have the traditional big car.

Between 1970 and 1973 local dealers imported Chevrolets to fill the void and then General Motors - Holden (GMH) returned to the low volume market with small batches of 1974 and 1975 Caprice Sedans. It is understood that all these were brought into Melbourne and converted to right-hand drive by Chapel Engineering and subsequently sold through major Holden dealers. Sadly, this has never been repeated.
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