Phillip Zmood, Statesman grille, 1968; digital print of ink, paint, pencil, paper.
Credit:RMIT Design Archive Collection

“People could adapt the car to their liking in terms of color, features and materials,” Zmood explains. “No two cars are the same,” they said. It was something you could never have done before – and you cannot do it now. “

Yes Dream factory puts design in the spotlight, as does the old Holden site, which closed last year. Zmood suggests that one floor of the old tech hub could become a motor vehicle museum, and Edquist hopes to see the building preserved, not for architectural reasons, but because of “what it delivered.”

“People are obsessed with Featherston tables and chairs and kettles and everything. No one is tackling what Australia was really good at, which is complex industrial design, ”she says. “We really need to understand how it happened, what happened and how good Australia was in this area.

GM’s initial US appointments to lead the Tech Center, Joe Schemansky and John Schinella, helped identify young Australian talent and nurture them, she says.

“The very good designers were sent to GM [international] sites to learn, to build the culture of design, ”explains Edquist. “There are very few designers in Australia – whether they are architects or fashion people – who have performed consistently at this level for 50 or 60 years. It is worth considering how this has been achieved.

While the Australian government no longer subsidizes the automotive industry, it nevertheless recognizes the immense cultural contribution of the car. Last year, when GM announced the closure of the Tech Center, the withdrawal of the Holden brand and the decamping in Detroit, the federal government issued an urgent appeal.

“They asked what plans GM had for the company’s historic assets – its designs, designs and concept cars,” recalls Ferlazzo, Holden’s last design director. “We were reminded that the law on the protection of movable cultural heritage prohibits the exports of our precious cultural goods. We explained that GM was fully aware of their cultural significance and had no intention of removing them.

Peter Nankervis, HT Monaro GTS concept for a rear spoiler on the trunk lid, 1967;  digital print with pastel marker and pencil on vellum.

Peter Nankervis, HT Monaro GTS concept for a rear spoiler on the trunk lid, 1967; digital print with pastel marker and pencil on vellum.
Credit:Holden Collection

Last year, those assets were handed out in Australian museums, with the majority of its concept cars and “anniversary” vehicles (like the millionth car) going to the National Motor Museum in South Australia. Exhibitions such as Dream factory are part of a wave of recognition for this heritage.

You don’t have to be a car enthusiast to appreciate the design and engineering feat involved in building a car.
“The car is the most complex consumer product you can buy,” says Ferlazzo. “It’s the epitome of product design. Think about its complexity: it contains metal, glass, rubber, wood, fabrics, rugs. And thousands of components, and they all have to harmonize. Few products need to do this … It’s bigger than most products, less architecture. “

It also has emotional overtones, he says, in many cases becoming an extension of the owner’s personality. “Few national products generate this kind of emotion … People say they just want to go from A to B, but they want everything from A to Z. It’s also one of the few products in which we literally immerses itself.

John Schinella, HK Monaro, possibly, c.  1967;  digital print of chalk and colored ink.

John Schinella, HK Monaro, possibly, c. 1967; digital print of chalk and colored ink.
Credit:Holden Collection

Besides reliability, “the most important factor governing the design of cars today is safety,” says Ferlazzo. “People say they don’t make cars like the old days. But a better understanding of metals, crashes, and improved technologies has produced cars that not only protect passengers inside the car, but pedestrians on the street as well.

Notable recent innovations include explosive charges in the hood hinges that activate when a pedestrian is struck, forcing the hood to meet them and absorb energy before they strike the stronger engine below. .

“We can all get nostalgic for mid-century modernity,” Edquist says, “but for the really fancy good stuff, this is the latest work. [that’s particularly impressive]. “

What regularly set Australian designers apart was their ability to squeeze more out of each model with minor revamps during a vehicle’s lifecycle. Most automakers replace the entire car after about five or six years, but since its launch in 1978, each generation of Commodore has lasted nearly a decade. Initially too small, it was redesigned to suit Australian families and the enlarged platform could accommodate different models: station wagon, utility, luxury car.


“Americans learn from us because they couldn’t believe we were doing things so quickly and cheaply,” Edquist says. “But that’s the Australian way. They say that about Australians everywhere – whether it’s fashion, architecture or whatever – we are multi-skilled and we’re very quick and practical, because we have to be.

The history of the Tech Center represents a monumental maturation of design, of global importance. Over six decades, Holden design has grown from a team led by Americans in the 1960s to a team led by Australian designers such as Zmood in the 1970s and into the 1990s. By the new millennium , Australian designers such as Michael Simcoe would not only design cars for the world, they would be behind the wheel of the multinational itself, leading its international design teams. In 2016, Simcoe was named vice president of GM Global Design, occupying the office of legendary Harley Earl.

“The best thing about it is that we managed to go beyond being seen as a colony to be equal before being closed,” Zmood says. “Today the vice president of GM Design is Australian. The head of Cadillac is Australian. They’ve been successful in getting these roles because Australians are willing to take their chances – and go wherever they can. ″ ⁣

Dream Factory: GMH Design at Fishermans Bend 1964-2020, City Gallery, Melbourne Town Hall, May 17-Aug 31.