Art of the lion celebrated

Behind the scenes of Holden's design

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VERY MODEL OF CREATIVITY: The main Holden styling studio showing stages in design, c.1975 (RMIT Design Archives).

VERY MODEL OF CREATIVITY: The main Holden styling studio showing stages in design, c.1975 (RMIT Design Archives).

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Dream Factory exhibition goes behind scenes of design studio that gave birth to Holden.

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It's enough to drive a Holden nut giddy. Almost 60 years of rarely seen drawings, models, photos, films and memories from Holden designers are on display in Melbourne.

Running at Melbourne Town Hall, Dream Factory: GMH Design at Fishermans Bend 1964-2020 offers a rare insight into the little-known world of the GM-H Technical Centre.

It was the place where some of GMH's most significant and recognised cars came into being. Models represented include the HK and HQ Monaro, LC and LJ Torana, the Statesman, VN and VT Commodore, Bathurst TR-X Torana and the Hurricane concept car, on display as a scale model.

The studio - one of only three GM design centres in the world (the others were in Detroit and outside Frankfurt) - was an integral part of Australia's booming post-war manufacturing sector.

The drawings on display represent the work of nine designers. Among them is the unit's former head, Richard Ferlazzo, who joined Holden in 1988 and remained until its closure last year.

He said designing for Holden was a dream job. "I had something to do with every Holden since the VN Commodore in small or large part."

Richard said Holdens were ideal for Australia. British and European cars tended to be be underpowered and ill-suited to rough roads, while most US cars were too big and too expensive to build and buy. The Holden, with its small six-cylinder engine, was ideal.

Richard, whose career highlights include leading the creation of the Efigy concept car and updating Holden's lion logo, is proud of what Holden achieved.

"The auto industry overseas is so huge that Australia is effectively a small player. But we have punched above our weight in terms of designing, engineering and manufacturing cars with a very small population. And in low volume but to a very high standard.

"I think that's probably what most overseas companies, and especially GM, respected most about Holden: its ability to do so much with so little and to improvise.

"But if I think what our greatest contribution to design was, it's the people. So many Australians have been very successful around the world and are still very much sought after."

Richard said GM's decision to close Holden was not unexpected. But the timing of it was. "It happened very quickly. It was announced in February and by June I had released the vast majority of people in my department."

He stayed on with 12 people who helped him wind up the facility, decommission the building and repurpose specialist equipment and send it back to GM.

The most important task, however, was looking after the cultural assets. "We had concept cars and historical cars that needed a home. We had photographic archives, renderings, negatives, slides - all sorts of stuff. It was a big job."

He's pleased with what was achieved. "We found homes for all those cars, we sent our concept cars to museums around Australia on a long-term loan, we set up an archive of all our design assets going back to the '50s, which we hope to digitise.

"I say we because although I no longer work for Holden or GM any more, I'm happy to help - it's a part of our history. I invested a lot of my career in it and I'm happy to see it preserved."

Dream Factory: GMH Design at Fishermans Bend 1964-2020, curated by HarrietEdquist (RMIT), until August 31, City Gallery, Melbourne Town Hall, Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm; free.

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