I can’t emphasise how rare it is to see one of the first 48-215 model Holdens parked on the side of the road, so it was a very nice surprise when I saw the scene above after turning into a quiet suburban street one day on a snap detour. 99,244 of the sedans were originally built, but the newest ones are now 65 years old so it is no coincidence that most have retired!
The official name “48-215” came from the car’s introduction in 1948 and the engine capacity of 2.15 litres, or 132 cubic inches. Prime Minister Ben Chifley launched the car on 29 November 1948, and the car went on sale in late February the following year. So while the Holden is listed as a 1948 model, the fact is that very few cars were actually built in 1948. 68 were built prior to the launch and sent to the various capital cities for the event, while just 163 engines were built in 1948; the number of cars built will be somewhere between these figures.
Apart from simple age and the fact that most surviving cars are treasured family heirlooms, there are other reasons why the 48-215 is so rarely seen today. The front suspension was redesigned in 1953, replacing lever-action dampers with telescopic and eliminating a source of trouble from the original car.
The iconic front grille was more costly to produce than its FJ replacement, being made up of a number of cast-alloy pieces, and would have been a source of dilapidation as pieces fell off.
The photo above isn’t the greatest, but is the only Curbside sighting of an FJ that I have photographed. The grille would have originally been chromed of course; likewise the bumper has been left off.
This is the 48-215 grille badge, which is an impressive piece of sculpture in itself. There were 169,969 FJs built compared with 120,402 48-215 sedans and 50-2016 utes of the original model, so weight of numbers favours the FJ’s survival too.
Even the simplicity of the first car probably worked against it, with just a single tail/brake light at the rear. If you were buying a car in later years it would have been a factor to chose an FJ instead. Even the highly original 48-215 seen here at the Winton historic races has had a pair of reflectors added to improve rear visibility at night. Note that the turn signals on the green FJ are aftermarket too.
Since the late-1960s there has been an increased appreciation of history in Australia, and the first car club specificially covering the 48-215 and FJ Holdens seems to have been formed in 1970. Although it was set in the current day rather than being a nostalgia movie like American Graffiti, no doubt the 1977 movie “The F.J. Holden” reminded people of the cars; and even then the producers found it difficult to obtain suitable cars for filming.
I mentioned that coming across this car was a chance encounter; it was while looping back to get a shot of this WB Statesman. By comparison with the 48-215 these WB’s are a dime a dozen, but even they are a fairly uncommon sight. Sometimes things happen for a reason I suppose, who knows when the next time will be that I see a 48-215 on the street?
Peak Hour Outtakes: Classic Utes On Brisbane Routes (William Stopford’s sighting of an FJ ute)