The colouful figure behind the largest private collection of Holden cars and memorabilia on the weekend has a confession – his interest in Lion-badged product is quite specific.
HOLDENS hail from all over the world, but that cuts no ice for one fan whose brand passion is now plain for all the country to see.
Insofar as Steve Fabish is concerned, there are two kinds of Holden: Those that are ‘real’ and those that are not.
The bone fide kind are displayed at his just-opened marque-dedicated Hillsborough Car Museum just outside of New Plymouth: Australian designed, engineered and built vehicles from the 1950s’ through to this decade - FJ, EH, Kingswoods, Statesman, Monaro, Commodores, including Holden Special Vehicles.
Those that are not are the imports that now not only represent the marque’s future but have been largely carrying it for several decades.
However, to Fabish, the fact that utes out of Thailand, cars from South Korea and Europe and, starting with the Equinox we’ve rolled up in, product from Mexico, have and will continue to keep the Lion roaring is of no consequence. All those imports are – and these are my words, not his - basically badge bludgers.
There’s no room for reconsideration? “No. A Holden to me is definitely an Australian car, that's it.
“Anything that is made outside of Australia is not really a Holden,” he states.
“I’ve got a Colorado. It’s not a bad ute, but it’s not a Holden. It’s not built in Australia. So I wouldn’t put it in my collection. I wouldn’t put any of that stuff in there.”
He’s not totally cold-hearted. Holdens assembled in NZ are acceptable for display, he says, “because they were engineered and designed in Australia, just assembled here.”
This, I sense, is Farish being particularly PC, due to being mindful he is hosting not only motoring writers here on Holden’s dollar but also Holden New Zealand hierarchy – plus a senior engineer from the parent operation in Melbourne.
Indeed, in the spirit of the moment, our host promises to check out the Equinox, the first new Holden launched here since the dark day last month when ‘his’ brand ended assembly for good in Australia.
All the same, it’s unlikely he’d buy one and, even if he did, there’s no chance he’d buy into it, so to speak.
First impression of this Chevrolet-supplied mediium? “It looks quite smart on the outside, but hey, it doesn’t look like a Holden.”
How dinkly-di can you be, right? Well, to tell the truth, he wasn’t always this way.
As shocking as it might seem, even though he fell for the Holden way when just a teenager, he has strayed occasionally since. There’s ready confession to having owned Nissans, Toyotas and … gosh, did I hear this right? … even the occasional Ford.
“I’ve owned all sorts of things. The first car I ever bought when I was a young lad was a 1952 Ford Prefect. It didn’t stay on its wheels very long.”
The first Holden he owned isn’t in the collection. Neither is the second. Nor the third, fourth or fifth. For a long time, this Inglewood-born and raised boy bought and sold his way through the various lines, progressively treating himself to more expensive fare, right up to HSV, with no much thought to preservation.
Well, why not? He’d worked hard in his specialist business, erecting cow and chicken sheds – really big, commercial-scale ones – all around his beloved Taranaki. Only when he had enough money for hobbies did he did started buying old cars to stow away.
How many Holdens has he put his name to? “In the collection here I have 31 of my own, but over the years I’d say I’d have had another 20 on top of that. I wish I could have kept them all, but when you’re young you need the money.”
Initially, he kept his cars in sheds all around the district; a disused dairy factory in Inglewood was the best spot. But when one favourite was nicked out of there by a couple of lads who, it’s surmised, appropriated the keys when the car was in previous ownership then bided their time for the right moment, years later (they were undone by a Facebook call-out , which led to the car being recovered within the week, but with $10k worth of damage), he reckoned it was a sign to start creating a proper bespoke facility.
So, three years on, we have it - a museum and a Bathurst race track-inspired mini-putt course. That’s not quite the full realisation of this homage (or should that be Hol-mage?) Coming next is a 200-seat adjoining restaurant, in which his wife Joy will hold reign. So, forget burgers and beers: She foresees it doing good trade in high teas and wedding breakfasts.
How good is it? The weekend prior to our visit was opening day, with Greg Murphy cutting the red ribbon. Our Holden hero was gobsmacked by the collection sight.
You will be, too. There’s something for everyone, including some real rarities, not least the very first car Holden produced, the 48-215. The one here is in its final FX (revised front suspension) format.
They only built just over 120,000 of these, for five years from 1948, but another factor that makes it is such an incredible sight is that none officially came to NZ. Holden exports here began with the FJ of 1953, local assembly with the FE early in 1957.
From there you go through the cars of the 1960s – a very tidy EH – and 70s’, 80s’ and so on. Right up to the last of the HSVs.
Along with the heavy metal there’s a ton of memorabilia, quite a bit dedicated to Holden motorsport’s biggest names over there – Peter Brock, of course – and here.
Speaking, securing an actual Commodore V8 Supercar (or a Group A) is still an unfulfilled dream he’s keen to set to rights (well, once he gets a genuine HQ Sandman, plus another HT to sit alongside his only example, a Brougham).
“To have one of those … or a couple of them … in the collection would be really good.”
What appears to be half of Murf’s most famous ride, the 2003 Commodore in which he posted that incredible Lap of the Gods, is really a tribute to the real deal (which, of course, is now up for sale over in Australia).
Fabish sourced what he thought was an accurate representative shell from a local wrecker, then set about first gutting then slicing the shell long ways.
He’d had it painted and only needed the final touch, a complete set of stickers that Murphy had generously arranged to have made by the very supplier who kitted out the real deal. It was when delivering the livery that the driver alerted Fabish to an error: He’d bought a VX for the job, not a VY. That resulted in another trip to the salvage yard to a new rear end, to put things right.
One last question: How did Fabish feel when Holden closed down its Port Elizabeth plant on October 20?
“Well, I was disappointed.” It was a double blow, too. Not only was his beloved Aussie Commodore gone, but so too was its most powerful heart.
“When they closed the factory, they ended the V8. There are no more of those out of Australia, either. Not very good. Not good at all.”