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The short history of Holden in Indonesia (1959-1991)

A 1974 Holden LH Torana Bluebird Taxi car featured in the 1975 Indonesian comedy movie, Ateng Kaya Mendadak. The LH Torana was only sold in sedan body with the 2850cc six and was available in SL and SLX trim.
A 1974 Holden LH Torana Bluebird Taxi car featured in the 1975 Indonesian comedy movie, Ateng Kaya Mendadak. The LH Torana was only sold in sedan body with the 2850cc six and was available in SL and SLX trim.

Yes, this is my very, very first blog post. I have never posted or commented anything in Carthrottle because I forgot my activation email (what a dumbo).

Anyways, It has been almost 2 years since Holden shut its business and GM leaving their RHD markets. Holden is one of Australia’s most famous brands, established by James Alexander Holden and Jack Frost as a saddlery business in 1856. In the 1920s, they started making car bodies for GM. And eventually made their very first car, the Holden 48-215 of 1948. As the 50s and 60s came around, Holden was dominating the Australian car market until Ford did the unthinkable. The 70.000 mile gamble, which Ford managed to perform. In 1968, Holden installed the Chevy 307 and 327 V8s. A legend was born, Holden made some of the most famous Australian cars to ever exist: The Monaro, the ute, HQ series Holden, the A9X Torana, and the RB engined VL Commodore Turbo just to name a few. But years of mismanagement, competition from other car companies and GM’s financial troubles would close down Holden’s Elizabeth Factory in 2017, and the entire brand in December 31st 2020.

Holden...in Indonesia?

The very first Bluebird Taxi car, the Holden LJ Torana 4-door sedan.
The very first Bluebird Taxi car, the Holden LJ Torana 4-door sedan.

Yes, you heard me right. A Holden in Indonesia? Well, let me tell you a story.

GM established its Indonesia operation in 1927, it became the very first car company to assemble cars in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia, of course). GM established their first local assembly operation in Tanjung Priok, Jakarta as “K.N Gaya Motors.” GM was all about expanding its operations and its aggressive strategy worked this time. And with its Indonesian operation, it gave Holden a massive advantage; it was essentially untouchable.

The GM Tanjung Priok Complex in Batavia (now Jakarta), 1939. cr: Collectie Tropenmuseum
The GM Tanjung Priok Complex in Batavia (now Jakarta), 1939. cr: Collectie Tropenmuseum

But in 1941, tragedy stroke. After having been requisitioned by the Dutch East Indies government, on the 9th of March 1942, all machinery in the GM factory were destroyed to prevent avoid it falling into the hands of the approaching Japanese forces. Two weeks later, the Japanese forces occupied the plant and it was used to assembled to assemble Toyota trucks for the military. Fast forward to 1946, the General Motors Overseas Operation established a Batavia Branch (later renamed to Djakarta branch) and continued to assemble cars in the Tanjung Priok factory, building nearly 20,000 vehicles in the next 6 years.

Here comes the lion (1959-1970)

A Holden dealership in Indonesia in 1960. An FB Special sedan, FB station wagon and an FB Ute can be seen here. (cr: DetikOto, Inilah Pabrik Mobil Perdana di Indonesia)
A Holden dealership in Indonesia in 1960. An FB Special sedan, FB station wagon and an FB Ute can be seen here. (cr: DetikOto, Inilah Pabrik Mobil Perdana di Indonesia)

In 1959. Holden was introduced to Indonesia, it was sold by Gaya Motors. The first Holden model that was sold in Indonesia was the FC series Holden. Holden quickly became popular and in 1962, Holden introduced the EJ series Standard, Special and Premier in wagon and sedan body. The EH Series was also introduced here in 1963. As the 60s rolled, Holden introduced more models to the Indonesian lineup; the HD, HR, and HK Holdens. In 1970. A sub-company of GM, Udatimex would buy Holden and sell it under their operations.

A period of success (1970s)

The Bundaran Bank in Jakarta, presumably in the mid-late 70s. Notice the FB Holden, the HQs and the LH Torana? cr: Tin Miswary
The Bundaran Bank in Jakarta, presumably in the mid-late 70s. Notice the FB Holden, the HQs and the LH Torana? cr: Tin Miswary

The 1970s was a great time for Holden, met we success, massive amounts of money and with a huge line-up to choose from. Looking to buy something big and comfy for your family? The Kingswood’s got your back, maybe something EVEN bigger? A Kingswood wagon. Want something small but stylish? Buy a Torana! Or if you’re rich enough, get yourself a Stateman. Or if you’re super wealthy in 1972, get yourself a Chevy 350 (essentially a rebadged Statesman with the 350ci V8). In the 1970s, Holden introduced the HQ, HZ, HX and HJ series cars and along with the tiny Gemini in 1975 and LJ, TA, LH and LX Toranas. The Statesman also made an introduction here, starting with the HQ model.

An LJ Torana became Bluebird Taxi’s very first fleet car and the Holden Gemini diesel would follow soon as the taxi of choice in the 1980s. Ford during this period also sold their Australian Falcon, Fairmont and Fairlane models in Indonesia to compete with the Holden Belmont, Kingswood, Premier and Statesman models. The Cortina was also sold here, but only the MkIII model in order to compete with the Torana. However, the Ford models didn’t sold well and are now a very rare sight in Indonesian roads. Many of these Fords were commonly seen in under the trees rusting or used in Indonesian action films from the 80s and 90s (no offense to any Ford fan).

Here is a montage of Holden pictures.

A Holden Udatimex dealership in Indonesia, presumably in 1974-1976. Check out that brand spanking new LH Torana in the entrance. cr: Denny Jakarta
A Holden Udatimex dealership in Indonesia, presumably in 1974-1976. Check out that brand spanking new LH Torana in the entrance. cr: Denny Jakarta
An HJ Belmont Ute in the service station.
An HJ Belmont Ute in the service station.
A photo inside of Udatimex with an HQ Statesman. Interestingly, a Torana GTR is listed in this picture despite not being sold in Indonesia.
A photo inside of Udatimex with an HQ Statesman. Interestingly, a Torana GTR is listed in this picture despite not being sold in Indonesia.
The Chevy 350. Essentially a rebadged 350ci V8 engined HQ Statesman. Top luxury in '72.
The Chevy 350. Essentially a rebadged 350ci V8 engined HQ Statesman. Top luxury in '72.
An HQ Premier. With dual headlamps, factory A/C as standard and divided front seats. A luxury for the masses...
An HQ Premier. With dual headlamps, factory A/C as standard and divided front seats. A luxury for the masses...

It's Commodorin' time (into the early-mid 80s)

A Holden VC Commodore in Indonesia. cr: Mobilmotorlama
A Holden VC Commodore in Indonesia. cr: Mobilmotorlama

The best part of the Commodore is when it said "It's Commodorin time" and commodore'd all over the place, truly one of the Holden cars of all time.

Another terrible Morbius joke (I know).

The introduction of the VB Commodore in 1978 would change the Australian motoring industry forever as it introduced unrivalled handling characteristics (for the 1970s) and driving dynamics but sales would ultimately slip into the 1980s due to its size deficit and low fuel prices. While Australia introduced the VC Commodore in 1980. Meanwhile in Indonesia. Holden Udatimex, who felt that the H series cars was beginning to be long in the tooth, would introduce the VB Commodore in April of 1980 for Indonesia. Available only in sedan form, the VB Commodore in Indonesia was sold with the 2850cc engine and the horrendous 1900cc Starfire “Misfire” 4-cylinder engine. This didn’t last however, the VC was introduced in late 1980 and the VH in 1981. Due to the changing taste in the Indonesian car market and the appeal of the 4-cylinder’s fuel economy (or lack of it in the Starfire), Holden Udatin decided to drop the legendary 6-cylinder engine for the 4-pot Starfire in the VH and VK Commodore (YUCK!). 500 units of the VH Commodore was used by Radio Taxi Jakarta.

As the Torana became a little bit long in the tooth, Holden Udatin replaced the Torana with the TF Gemini of 1982. In Indonesia, the TF Gemini was sold in S and SL trim. The S model did not feature A/C, a tachometer and power steering. While the SL trim featured all these items. The TF became a mainstay for taxi providers until the introduction of the RB Gemini of 1985.

The RB Gemini was introduced in 1985 for Indonesia. For this generation, Udatimex dumped the petrol option in Indonesia and was only sold with the 4EC1 Isuzu diesel engine. But this proved to be a great advantage for the Gemini. Despite having only 90nm of torque (or 66 pounds foot of torque) it was enough to propel the 900kg Gemini with little ease. The Gemini’s low price combined with its great fuel economy and frugality would eventually become the taxi of choice in Indonesia in the 1980s and 1990s. The RB Gemini would continued to be produced until 1990.

A  Holden RB Gemini Diesel and a KE20 Toyota Corolla dressed up in President Taxi livery. These cars were the mainstay of President Taxi in the early-mid 80s. cr: Otomotifnet
A Holden RB Gemini Diesel and a KE20 Toyota Corolla dressed up in President Taxi livery. These cars were the mainstay of President Taxi in the early-mid 80s. cr: Otomotifnet

What the hell is a Lincah? An Indonesian designed Holden, made for Indonesians.

A Holden Lincah Raider. cr: Mobilmotorlama
A Holden Lincah Raider. cr: Mobilmotorlama

This in itself is quite possibly one of the weirdest Holdens ever made. The Lincah and Lincah Raider SUV was created upon the creation of the KBNS (Kendaraan Bermotor Niaga Sederhana/Simple Commercial Motor Vehicle) category in the 1970s. Yes, the same KBNS category that created the famous Toyota Kijang. The Lincah SUV took its basis from the Holden Jackaroo or the Isuzu KB and used the legendary C223 Isuzu diesel engine that would eventually make its way to the famous first generation Isuzu Panther. This car was available in 7-seater Gama model and the Raider, which was available with face-to-face rear seats. There weren’t a lot of features in the car, but it had double-wishbone front suspension and torsion beam rear suspension. It has been said that this car was used Tirta Jaya travels in Malang. Not a lot of these things were sold, even the commercial variants are incredibly rare to find.

Holden had also tried selling the 2.0l version of the Isuzu Aska as the Holden Aska in Indonesia, but this plan never went into fruition.

Troubled times and the final nail in the coffin (1985-1986)

A VH Commodore SL/X sitting in a garage. cr: Flickr/ Ya, Saya inBaliTimur
A VH Commodore SL/X sitting in a garage. cr: Flickr/ Ya, Saya inBaliTimur

This is where things really went down for Holden.

The Indonesian car market was rapidly changing. Other than taxi providers, customers now prefer the appeal of Japanese manufacturers. They were seen as reliable, cheap, fuel economical and family friendly. While the RB Gemini was still selling like hot mendoans on the side of the street, their family car sales were very, very low. And in 1986, the final nail in the coffin was put: Holden would stop exports to countries with less than 500 cars sold as it was stated by Bob Branson, the export manager for Holden.

And here’s the last Holden model sold in Indonesia…

The last of the best (1986-1990)

A Holden VL Calais 2000 at the 1989 GAIKINDO motor show. cr: medcom.id
A Holden VL Calais 2000 at the 1989 GAIKINDO motor show. cr: medcom.id
A VL Calais. cr: Grays
A VL Calais. cr: Grays

Here’s the last Holden model sold in Indonesia, the 1986 Holden VL Calais 2000.

"WAIT, 2000???" -Every VL Commodore owner

Yes, you heard me right? 2000.

In Australia, the VL Commodore and Calais was available with the 3.0l RB30E Nissan engine and the optional but legendary, RB30ET Nissan engine. (yes, TURBO!!!!). But in Indonesia, it was a different story. Unless its a truck, cars above 2.0l would have higher road taxes so of course the 3.0l engine was a no-no. So the VL Calais in Indonesia is equipped with the RB20E Nissan engine.
The Commodore version of the VL would not be sold here. In Indonesia, the VL Calais was marketed as a luxury car, and for good reason. It was quite luxo for its time, power window, power steering, electric mirror, double blower AC, and central locking. That in itself was space age in Indonesia as most cars during that time still has single blower ACs, optional power windows and power steering. The semi pop-up headlamps made the thing cooler. It didn’t sold that well due to the high price compared to its Japanese competitors.

Grainy shot of a VL Calais in an Udatimex dealership. cr: Datatempo
Grainy shot of a VL Calais in an Udatimex dealership. cr: Datatempo

The lion's last hurrah in the Spice Islands (1990-1991).

The now Isuzu RB Gemini. The last car sold by Udatimex. cr: Widodo's car blog
The now Isuzu RB Gemini. The last car sold by Udatimex. cr: Widodo's car blog

As 1990 rolled, the VL Commodore went out of production and Holden was long gone in Indonesia. But the Gemini soldiered on until 1991. After Holden’s demise in Indonesia, the Gemini was badged as an Isuzu and even continued to sell very well. But good things have to go, Udatimex finally shuts it doors in 1991 and the RB Gemini finally went out of production in the same year.

The General's German return and a preserved legacy (1991-present)

YES, I KNOW YOU GUYS ARE SCREAMING ABOUT THE CHEVY BADGES. Cr: DIEHARD HOLDEN FANS IN JAKARTA/whichcar.
YES, I KNOW YOU GUYS ARE SCREAMING ABOUT THE CHEVY BADGES. Cr: DIEHARD HOLDEN FANS IN JAKARTA/whichcar.

2 years after the demise of Udatimex. GM re-established its Indonesian operations by forming General Motors Buana Indonesia which is a conglomerate of GM and other local manufacturers including previous importer/assembler PT Garmak Motor. The first car of this brand new operations is the Opel Vectra of 1994, followed by the Optima and Blazer in 1995. This did not last long, as Opel was replaced by Chevrolet in Indonesia from 2002. As a result, all Opel cars in Indonesia would be badged as Chevrolets.

As the economy of Indonesia recovered after the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and 1998 riots. Car ownership flourished, but Holden never came back to Indonesia, this was due to Bob Branson who decreed that Holden would not export to other countries that sell only 500 units of their cars.

After the Holden Elizabeth plant closed down in 2017 and the whole brand in 2020. Holden became a much more recognisable in Indonesia. Today, Holdens in Indonesia are being cared for by their loving owners. There’s even a massive subculture of Holdens in Indonesia with many hotrodding them or modifying Australian style. I even saw some of them in garages and parking lots while having holidays in Indonesia. Sadly, some of these Holdens never get to be loved, In the 1990s many Holdens and Fords were used as chase and stunt cars in many Indonesian action movies which has made their population suffer more. But never the last….

The lion's roar will last for a millenia.

And to end it off, here's my Holden spots in Indonesia.

Holden - The short history of Holden in Indonesia (1959-1991) - Blog
cr: Hashirayanoki Mochi
cr: Hashirayanoki Mochi