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Cashed up collectors keen on rare Holden

Thanks a million: This rare hand-built prototype of the first Holden is likely to fetch up to $1 million at auction on Saturday night.

Up to four potential bidders inquire about first Australian-built Holden prototype

Holden logo23 Oct 2013

UP TO four potential buyers have expressed an interest in one of the most significant Holden cars ever made, the first Australian-built prototype for the original 48-215 Holden, that is expected to attract offers of up to $1 million at auction in Melbourne this Saturday night.

The car is being offered for sale by West Australian collector Peter Briggs, who has displayed it at his York Motor Museum outside Perth for more than 20 years.

The identity of the potential bidders remains confidential, but the car will go to public auction at the annual Motorclassica event at the historic Exhibition Building in Carlton as part of a Theodore Bruce Auctions sale of classic cars from 6.30pm.

The hand-made “Humpy” pre-dates production of the first Holden at Melbourne’s Fishermans Bend plant in Melbourne from October 1948.

It is actually the fourth hand-shaped prototype of five built by General Motors ahead of Australian production, but the first three were all done in Detroit where the 48-215 – later dubbed the FX by car fans – was designed and engineered with the help of Holden staffers.

The first American-made prototype was bought by the National Museum of Australia in Canberra for $650,000 in 2004 – the only price guide for a similar car offered for sale in recent years. The car in Canberra and Mr Brigg’s vehicle – which he still drives – are believed to be the only surviving pre-production cars.

West Australian motoring historian Graeme Cocks, who works for Mr Briggs in helping to verify his big collection of classic cars and once managed Mr Brigg’s Fremantle motor museum, said he regarded the prototype to be offered for sale this weekend as more significant than the American-made vehicles, as it was the first true Australian Holden.

He said the car – still registered as KJ-400 – was one of two prototypes hand-built at Holden in Melbourne, and the only one to still exist.

Mr Cocks said the sale of the car took on special significance with the future of Holden manufacturing in Australia seemingly in the balance.

“This car harks back to another era, one of optimisim for the future of the Australian car industry more than 60 years ago,” he said.

The car’s history was verified by a prominent South Australian car historian specialising in Holden products.

Originally, the car was advertised as one of the American prototypes when Mr Briggs bought it at auction for $15,000 in 1980.

However, Mr Cocks and other experts traced its origins to Holden’s workshops in Australia, next to the Port Melbourne plant where then Prime Minister Ben Chifley later attended a line-off ceremony for the first batch of production cars – one of which is still in Holden hands.

Although Mr Briggs’ prototype looks like a production car from the outside, hammer marks can be seen in out-of-sight places such as under the bonnet, indicating the hand-shaped construction of the steel panels.

Mr Cocks said three to four prospective bidders – all from Australia – seemed to be interesting in the 48-215, which is believed to be the last of the prototypes in private hands.

He said he expected it might end up in private hands again, as museums rarely had the sort of money required to buy such a vehicle.

Australia has a number of cashed-up private collectors who might be interested, including Queensland billionaire Clive Palmer who has a museum Coolum.

If the old Holden does achieve $1 million at auction, it will make it the most expensive Holden ever sold, topping the $920,000 paid by Cairns collector Shawn Ryan for a 2002 HRT 427 based on the Monaro and built by Holden Special Vehicles.

Theodore Bruce Auctions’ James Nicholls said his company had received an encouraging number of inquiries from potential buyers into the 48-215 – one of 30 cars to go under the hammer in the auction.

The Holden – affectionately nicknamed a Humpy due to its bulbous shape – will go on public display at Motorclassica at 9am Friday, along with the other auction vehicles that include an original Nazzaro Tipo 2, the Project 500 jet car built to challenge Donald Campbell’s Bluebird land speed record, a 1947 Allard L-Type Tourer and a 1927 Talbot 14/45.

Motorclassica runs until Sunday, and includes the first Australian unveiling of the new-generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

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