During the 1970s, Holden had three core models, all manufactured locally: Gemini, Torana and the full-size Holden, varyingly known as Kingswood, Belmont, Premier, Monaro and Statesman. Following the 1970s, though, Holden decided to fill their model line-up with imported models. They didn’t just add models from the global portfolio, though: they also imported names.
Considering Holden was the only GM brand in Australia by this point – CKD Chevrolet and Pontiac imports and Vauxhall disappearing in the 1960s – it was a little surprising Holden didn’t expand its range sooner. Suddenly, the model lineup grew to include imports from various parts of the GM Empire. These included trucks: the Holden Drover (Suzuki Samurai), Scurry (Suzuki Carry), the Shuttle (Isuzu Fargo) and the Jackaroo and Rodeo, by far the longest-lived of the group and the most popular (Isuzu Trooper and Rodeo pickup, respectively). Later, the Opel Frontera and Chevrolet Suburban would arrive, keeping their model names. The Isuzu Piazza/Impulse arrived as the unpopular Holden Piazza. The next sporty Holden coupe would be the imported Opel Calibra, and the 90s and 00s would see more imported Opels like the Corsa (Barina), Astra, Vectra, Tigra, Zafira and Combo van.
The rest of the GM Empire was like a big buffet for Holden, and that of course included names. A search through an Australian classifieds website might yield some surprises for a foreigner. With multiple brands’ worth of nameplates ripe for the picking, Holden rarely had to create a new one.
Firstly, there was the Nova. Like the most recent Chevrolet Nova, the Holden Nova was simply a rebadged Toyota Corolla; our Nova sold from 1989-96, replacing the Astra, an Opel name applied to a rebadged Nissan Pulsar. The Nova would in turn be replaced by an Astra, this time an Opel.
First and second generation Apollos; note the Nissan-based Astra in the background.
The Apollo nameplate may have only been used by Buick for three short years on its RWD X-Body entry, but Holden put it to good use on a rebadged Toyota Camry. The Apollo sold from 1989 until 1996, spanning two Camry generations. Alas, like the Buick Apollo, it made little impact: the Camry always outsold it. High-spec Apollos and Novas, towards the end of their run, would be called “GS”.
The original Viva was a popular compact Vauxhall that Holden used as the base for its first Torana. The 2005 Holden Viva, sold until 2009, was a rebadged Daewoo Lacetti. The new AH Astra, imported from Europe, had arrived in 2004 and the previous TS generation had continued on the market until 2005 as the budget Astra Classic. The Viva replaced it, and had a list price $4k lower than the new, more upscale Astra. Despite the availability of sedan, hatch and wagon Vivas, the classier Astra outsold it two-to-one. The Viva is only memorable for its lame commercials: a crowd of people gathered around a new Viva owner, shouting “Viva the free air-conditioning!”
Like the Chevy Colorado, the Holden Colorado is a mid-sized pickup truck or “ute”. The current Colorado is on the same platform as the new American Colorado, but ours is imported from Thailand and lacks the bold exterior and handsome interior of the American Colorado. Interestingly, Holden had used the Rodeo nameplate on its ute for years, but lost the rights to the name when GM and Isuzu parted ways. Holden facelifted the Rodeo and dubbed it the Colorado, unrelated to the contemporary Chevrolet Colorado, and Isuzu started successfully selling light-duty trucks in Australia, except they decided to use the name “D-MAX” instead.
Calais is a key transport hub in France overlooking the Strait of Dover. Paris may be more glamorous, but Calais certainly has a pleasant-sounding name. Cadillac used it from 1965 until 1976 on its cheapest model, before Oldsmobile picked it up for a sporty version of the 1978 Cutlass Supreme. Eventually, it wound up on Oldsmobile’s N-Body compact, and was used until 1991. Holden picked up the name in 1986, to use on the most luxurious variant of its VL Commodore and has continued to use it on luxurious Commodores to this day. It’s important to note that despite the Calais’ role in the Commodore lineup, it is never referred to as a “Commodore Calais”. Nor, for that matter, do you call the now defunct Berlina a “Commodore Berlina”.
You would, however, call the base VE Commodore of 2006-13 a “Commodore Omega”. Holden replaced the long-running Executive trim with this nameplate borrowed from Opel (and Oldsmobile). The Opel Omega actually formed the basis of the 1988 VN Commodore, and the second-generation Omega was used to create the 1997 VT Commodore, so there is a family connection. However, the new VF Commodore’s base trim is called “Evoke”.
2000 VT Calais International
Other Commodore models have used American names. The Commodore Lumina is a limited edition that pops up now and then, and there have been Berlinas and Calais bearing the “International” series name last seen on early-90s Oldsmobiles (no flags this time, though). Cadillac’s “V” trim has been used on higher-spec versions of the VE and VF Calais. The sportiest non-HSV Commodore is known as the SSV Redline, borrowing a name from Saturn. Even the Commodore nameplate itself isn’t exclusive to Australia: it was first used on an Opel!
The HSV Senator has always been the Calais of the HSV lineup, always wearing the subtlest styling in an often garish model lineup, and boasting the longest features list. The Senator nameplate, though, was another loan from Opel: the Opel Senator was a more luxurious and conservative version of the Opel Rekord and then the Omega.
The HSV Avalanche XUV (two borrowed names!) was a four-door, all-wheel-drive ute, much like the Chevrolet Avalanche, but that’s where their similarities end. The Aussie Avalanche XUV had a much shorter run (2003-05), and was a high-performance version of the Holden Crewman packing the 5.7 LS1 V8 with 360hp and 350 ft-lbs. It was another interesting Commodore permutation from a period that saw the first and only Commodore-based coupe (Monaro), the only crossover Commodore wagon (Adventra), the only crewcab Commodore Ute and, most deliciously of all, the only all-wheel-drive Commodore coupe (HSV Coupe). There was also an Avalanche wagon, effectively a HSV version of the Adventra.
The Caprice nameplate has been employed on the most luxurious Holden for many years now: an initial 1974-84 run, and then from 1990 until the present day. In contrast, Chevrolet used it for thirty years in North America, before reintroducing it in 2009.
The Sunbird nameplate appeared simultaneously in the US and Australia in 1976. Completely unrelated to the Pontiac H-Body bearing the same name, this Sunbird was a four-cylinder version of the Torana. It was even available with a four-cylinder engine dubbed the Starfire (but commonly referred to as the Misfire). It was even axed the same year as the first American Sunbird: 1980.
1974 HJ Kingswood
Finally, although less memorable than other names like Impala and Bel Air, the Kingswood nameplate was used in the US on a full-size wagon in 1959-60 and then 1969-72. Still, did that Kingswood inspire its own show? The Kingswood name was used from 1968-84 and became iconic; it generally denoted a mid-level version of the full-size Holden.
Time will tell if Holden chooses to pilfer names from the global catalog. While it may seem like Holden can’t seem to come up with its own, there have been plenty of memorable names along the way. Monaro is a word from an Aboriginal language, meaning “high plain” or “high plateau”. Torana is another Aboriginal word, meaning “to fly”. Even if they continue to use global names, though, at least it’s better than a lineup full of alphanumerics.