They held a wake in South Australia at a private ceremony attended by more than a thousand close friends gathered around the body.
But as many as 50,000 could have attended – the number of people estimated to have lost their auto-industry jobs in recent times as, one by one, manufacturers quit building cars Down Under.
It was the end of an industry supporting 50,000 jobs and more than 120 parts suppliers across Australia.
The workers mourned an industry lost to short-sighted government policies that removed the protection against a flood of low-cost imports and parent companies intent on stemming the resulting loss of sales and hemorrhaging of money.
The end came quickly, in just 12 months. Ford ended manufacturing Oct. 7, 2016; Toyota built its last car in Australia Oct. 6.
Ford built 5.9 million vehicles in 91 years in Australia and Toyota 3.4 million in 54 years before they packed up.
GM Holden was the last to go, ending 69 years of manufacturing, and in the process transforming itself into a sales, engineering and design business that will lack the romance of car building.
It had closed its engine plant last November, after stockpiling enough V-6s for the last 12 months of car assembly.
Still, GM Holden will continue to employ about 1,000 direct staff and an additional 6,000 across its 200-strong national dealer network.
The company retains a design and engineering workforce of about 350 people, working on local and global programs. Holden vehicles will continue to be tuned and tested for Australian conditions and customers at its Lang Lang Proving Ground in Victoria.
But the manufacturing era came to an end today as the last vehicle, a Holden Commodore, came rolling off the Elizabeth line. It was the 7,687,675th built by the General Motors subsidiary.
The last cars built, a Commodore sedan, wagon and ute and Caprice limousine, join GM Holden’s heritage collection.
The Commodore, Holden’s iconic big car, will continue in name but will be built in Germany. The next version, a rebadged Opel Insignia due in March, no longer will have a V-8, instead offering a choice of a 4-cyl. or V-6.
Holden will launch 24 major vehicles and 36 new drivetrain combinations by 2020, including the all-new Equinox in November and the all-new Acadia SUV in 2018.
From the first Holden 48-215 to roll off the Fishermans Bend production line Nov. 29, 1948, to the final VFII Commodore Redline, Holden has been part of the fabric of Australia.
It is the second-oldest transportation company globally, starting as a saddlery business in Adelaide in 1856.
At its peak, Holden had a 50.3% market share in 1958. Employment peaked in 1964 at 23,914 across seven Australian facilities. At the end of production, the Elizabeth plant still had 945 workers.
GM Holden’s employee transition center will remain open on the Elizabeth site for at least two years to ensure all GM Holden and supply-chain employees have the best possible chance to start new careers.
The plant ended its life with the highest-quality results of any GM plant. The last Commodores, completed ahead of the ceremonial closing, came out with a “right-first-time” rate of 98%.
GM Holden Chairman and Managing Director Mark Bernhard says treating the workers with dignity and respect always was the top priority during the transition.
“We’re all proud we were able to achieve that. We see it as recognition of their dedicated service over the years,” he says in a statement. “With 85% of all workers to date successfully transitioning, we’ve worked closely with our people to support them.
“Holden also appreciates the partnership and assistance of the state and federal governments, along with the unions, over many years.
“Right after supporting our people comes ensuring we set Holden up for success for many years to come. The best way we can honor our people and our heritage is by building a successful future, and that’s exactly what we’ll be focused on.”
Bernhard says the last day was about paying tribute to the generations of men and women across GM Holden and its supply network who have given so much to the company.
“Holden is the icon it is today only because of these passionate people,” he says.
“On behalf of everyone at Holden, I thank you for your service from the bottom of my heart.”