When Australian-made cars were the stars | Drive Flashback

The 1996 Australian International Motor Show showcased everything that was good about our local car industry. Drive was there.

Story originally published in Drive on 11 October, 1996.

If your brand is home grown, local makers have new and very fresh produce on the stands.

Ford naturally has its very recently facelifted EL Falcon, Futura, Fairmont, Fairlane and LTD family, but its centrepiece is the even newer XR Falcon.

Mitsubishi has the Verada, the luxurious 3.5-litre sister ship to Magna.

Holden highlights its new supercharged 3.8-litre V6 models – Calais, Statesman and Caprice – and HSV, the hot Commodore company, has its fruity new Grange.

The EL Falcon-based XR8 isn't dramatically different from the old one.

Redesigned frontal plastic retains the four-eyed facade and the bootlid spoiler is different, too.

Tickford, which designs and develops the XRs for Ford, has switched to Yokohama tyres, part of a thorough reworking of the suspension settings. There's no price increase for the new ones, though.

Basic EL Falcons also claim better suspension than the preceding EFII model, but it's hard to appreciate dynamic developments when a car is parked on a stand at Darling Harbour. Worth looking at is the new restyled nose of the lower priced GLi and Futura models.

Notice how air can flow through the new grille aperture. Then lift the bonnet and note also how a concealed blanking plate prevents air flowing through the Ford's radiator.

The more expensive Fairmonts and the long-wheelbase Fairlane and LTD retain the same bonnet sheet metal as the old models. It looks like a grille, but is just a piece of plastic trompe l'oeuil.

Ford also has a completely cutaway Falcon which shows, in great detail, the workings of the car. The incredibly complex project is the work of Ford apprentices.

Adelaide-based Mitsubishi is more modest, displaying a cutaway engine. It is very proud of the new V6 it builds for the Verada. The 3.5-litre 24-valver produces maximum power of 147kW, which is quite coincidentally the same amount as Holden's 3.8-litre V6.

There are two Verada models, Ei and Xi. The more expensive Xi has leather interior, better electronics and a host of powered convenience features. Both models have bigger than Magna 16-inch wheels, alloy of course.

Verada is pretty much the same car as Mitsubishi exports to the US, where it's badged Diamante. Over there the car is expected to compete with the likes of Lexus and BMW. America is reportedly very happy with the quality of the Australian-made cars.

Holden showcases the supercharged 3.8-litre V6-powered models. The engine makes V8-style power and torque without the weight penalty. Performance is instant and effortless from the smoothly supercharged engine. The installation looks very discreet, largely concealed by a silver plastic garnish panel.

So, what happened next?

Australia’s car manufacturing industry ground inexorably to a halt, the final nail in the coffin Holden closing its doors twice, the first time on local manufacturing in October 2017 when the last Holden Commodore rolled off the Elizabeth production line in South Australia.

And the second after Holden lumbered on selling imported Opels (rebadged as Holdens) and overseas-manufactured SUVs and dual-cab utes. But, by 2020, General Motors HQ in Detroit had had enough and on 31 December, 2020, Holden as a car brand in Australia, ceased to exist.

It was the last holdout in Australia’s once thriving local car manufacturing industry, Ford having stopped local production in October, 2016 while Mitsubishi Australia had already shut up shop in 2008. Japanese giant Toyota, perhaps following Holden’s cue, also closed its local manufacturing operations in October 2017.

Sadly, our once great tradition of motor shows in Australia befell a similar fate to our local car manufacturing industry. The last Australian International Motor Show was held in Sydney in 2012. This followed several years of declining attendances, both from the general public and from manufacturers who were feeling the pinch from the 2008-09 Global Financial Crisis.

The end came when Melbourne – which had been alternating hosting rights with Sydney for since 2009 – confirmed it would not host the 2013 motor show. In February 2014, the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC) and the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) issued a joint statement signalling the end of the Australian International Motor Show. It hasn’t been back since. RM

Were you a regular motor show attendee? Do you miss them? Would you go back if the AIMS was reborn? Let us know in the comments below.

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Rob Margeit

Rob Margeit has been an automotive journalist for over 20 years, covering both motorsport and the car industry. Rob joined CarAdvice in 2016 after a long career at Australian Consolidated Press. Rob covers automotive news and car reviews while also writing in-depth feature articles on historically significant cars and auto manufacturers. He also loves discovering obscure models and researching their genesis and history.

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