Car Restoration Projects
Kangaroos, meat pies, Holden cars … and Merv
Merv Roberts and his ‘humpy’ Holdens display the passion many car club members have for their collectable pieces of motoring heritage.
Merv is not one-eyed in his love of cars, but these early examples of Australia’s own car are in effect a turning point in our history: a shift to importing, replacing what was once a vibrant and profitable automotive industry, contributing to the wealth of our nation.
Like much of this country’s manufacturing industry it’s all disappearing; going offshore and we are becoming a nation of importers with an evaporating export market for value-added goods.
It was in 1944, towards the end of hostilities that the Australian government was anxious to get the country on the move.
Encouraging the motor industry to look at producing a full-blown Australian car, developed and manufactured here, would create mass employment, not only for the car company, but also for ancillary equipment suppliers.
The Minister for Post-War Reconstruction, Ben Chifley, wrote to Holden’s managing director, Larry Harnett, about the idea.
Prime Minister Ben Chifley launched the all-new Holden 48-215 on 29th November 1948.
Harnett was keen to take up the challenge and, with his engineers in tow, headed across the Pacific for a meeting in Detroit with GM’s hierarchy.
A plan was hatched and after extensive field testing, involving five prototypes covering 236,750 miles, the production line at Fishermans Bend started to roll and the rest, of course, is history.
Several names were proposed for the new vehicle – Canbra, Anzac, Austral, Gem and GMH were some – but thankfully Holden was selected.
The best-selling car in 1948 was the Austin A40 Devon, in the year that the 48-215 model Holden was launched. It immediately captured the imagination of Australia’s post-War car buyers and soon justified Holden’s advertising slogan: ‘Australia’s most popular car’.
Come in spinner
Merv Roberts grew up in Sydney and learnt the printing trade after leaving high school. He had a love of cars and one of his first was, ironically enough, a 1948 Austin A40 Devon.
There were a couple of other British cars in the mix, in those early days on apprentice’s wages, but it wasn’t too long before a 1958 FC Holden was Merv’s choice of transport.
He came to the Tuross Heads area in 1983, continued in the printing game, but later operated his own lawn-care business, keeping a large percentage of Tuross Heads’ lawns trimmed.
As a special 50th birthday present he bought himself a September-1953-build Holden 48-215 sedan, after seeing an ad in the Friday car section of the Daily Telegraph.
The car was in Sydney and had been used in a black-and-white, NRMA-batteries TV ad. Its original colour was mid-green, but it had been repainted grey metallic for the TV gig.
For many years Merv and his fellow enthusiast wife, Chris, have travelled the country proudly perched on the old gal’s bench seat.
She hasn’t let them down; travelling at 80km/h (50mph in old money) and is relatively teetotal, drinking petrol at a conservative 30–32mpg.
“On an Alpine trip it pulled up the Brown Mountain effortlessly in second gear at 15mph with their camper in tow,” said Merv, while Chris nodded with a smile.
However, there’s a second – no sorry that’s Chris – third love in Merv’s life and that’s a 1954 FJ ute that he bought years ago in Queensland.
The FJ is a gem, because the underbody is as clean and well cared for as the exterior. Merv was lucky enough to get hold of an original Lowline canopy, which he spent many hours restoring to its former glory.
The local Tuross garage proprietor has a love of older cars and has been able to do any major work required on the Robert’s fleet.
You’ve got to love Merv Roberts dedication to Australia’s own – more than the new General Motors organisation reflects.