THERE are a couple of things that will get Graham Fixter to tear up.
No shame in that.
The Parrots winning a premiership, his beloved Kangaroos, family of course… and as it turns out, Holden cars.
“How do I feel? From a personal point of view, it’s part of me. Since 1958. I had 44 years in the Holden camp.
“I’ve been out of it for 18 or 19 years now so I’m not up with what was going on behind the scenes at Holden, but it was a huge part of my life.
“Gee, it only happened yesterday,” he said, still coming to terms with the demise of the great Australian brand.
“It was one hell of a period in, not just my life, but Australian history as well and the history of lots of country towns like Leongatha.
“We had the Holden versus Ford rivalry, which was pretty intense for us dealers, I guess. I always got on well with John Westaway, John Dixon and Dick Hogan, who lived over the back of me here, and the others but when it came to selling a car, it was game on.
The kitchen bench in the Fixter household, suddenly covered with pictures of classic Holden cars, local gala launches and clippings from the local paper, the Star, courtesy of Graham’s wife Elaine, attest to that.
Graham remembers those model launches, sometimes high-fashion affairs in a packed Memorial Hall with the beer and champagne flowing or down at the Leongatha Recreation Reserve where the covers would be pulled off a sparkling new shape by a VIP guest, brought to town specially for the occasion.
It begs the question ‘how could General Motors do this to Australia’?
Graham is mindful of all the commercial realities as well.
“A lot of local dealers have invested heavily. How are they going to compensate them?”
Ever the car salesman, too, he wonders what will happen to sales.
“I’ve heard they’ll be offering huge discounts to clear stock and you’d think there’d be arrangements put in place for service support but it’s hard to know.”
Online media is reporting that the contracts with most of Holden’s 204 showrooms were due to expire at the end of 2021 anyway but many are expected to close or change over to other brands by mid-year this year, rather than wait until the scheduled “retirement of the Holden brand” at the end of 2020.
“This announcement will be felt deeply by the entire Holden family, our customers and our fans,” said Holden on its website last week.
You can definitely include Graham Fixter in that group.
“My first Holden was an FJ and apart from a Volkswagen I had when I was young, I’ve only ever had Holden cars.”
There are still two Holdens in his driveway at home in Parr Street, one for Elaine and one for him.
“That FJ I had was indestructible and believe me, I tested it out!” said Graham with a grin.
But, starting out as an apprentice panel beater and spray painter, in the last days of Alan Perry Motors in Leongatha’s main street, in 1958, a bent fender or a scratched bumper bar was never a worry to ‘Fix’.
“In those days when I started it would have been the FE and FC Holden, which were good models and good sellers. But a lot of people changed their cars over each year or every second year.
“We had up to 38 people working in the garage in my time. Cars had to get an oil change and lube every 1000 miles so we had three people working full time on lubes and they could do one car every half an hour. It was an hour and a half for a major service, including taking off the wheels for a grease. It was a busy place to be.”
Graham remembers attending Allan Perry’s farewell dinner three weeks after he started but his abiding memory is of a 20-year association with a giant of the local motor trade, Bill Gleeson, until his untimely death, in 1978, after a horse crossed in front of his car at Lang Lang, on the South Gippsland Highway, in the dead of night.
As it turned out, Graham was to pass his mentor’s time at the helm of Gleeson Motors, serving as the dealer principal from 1979 to 2001, a 22-year stint as owner.
“I ran the dealership for 12 months after he was killed until they (GMH officials) came up and told me I either took it over or they’d find someone else.
“Bill was like a father to me.
“I took over in 1979, about the same time as the new Commodore came out.”
Tragically, Bill’s wife Judy was killed in the centre of town, knocked over by a car, two months later.
It was a tumultuous time and good reason to forgive ‘Fix’ a tear or two at the imminent demise of Holden.
Graham loved his FJ but his favourite Holden was a V8 GTS Monaro, likely to be worth in excess of $100,000 if he still owned it today.
“After I went into sales, I would have several cars-a-year some of them for only a day at a time.
“I remember one year, a couple of weeks before Christmas I took delivery of a new Statesman because I thought it would be good to have a nice car for the family over the holidays but it was sold 24 hours later and I just took out a second-hand car instead.
“I really only started driving a Statesman as a sales initiative. We’d only sold one of them in the 12 months before I started driving one and then more than a dozen the next year.
“It’s a real shame it has come to this but Holden were really on the skids in the 1980s before the VL saved the day so I guess you could say they’ve got another 40 years out of it but it’s really part of Australia that’s been lost.
“I feel for those still involved today. They’ll have to pick up the pieces.”
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