MEETS ON OLD HOLDEN DEALER

CHARLIE McCARRON, THEN 80, WAS ROBBED AT GUNPOINT IN HIS RURAL HOME TWO YEARS AGO. ON A BITTERLY COLD JULY NIGHT IN CENTRAL-WESTERN NSW, TWO MASKED BANDITS CUT THE ELECTRICITY, BROKE IN AND TIED CHARLIE TO A CHAIR. THEY LEFT EMPTY-HANDED, THEIR EARS RINGING WITH INSULTS.

MichaelStahl

Charlie’s a tall and solid bloke, but they hadn’t counted on his 42 years’ experience in a business he reckons isn’t much different from theirs.

“They’d met their bloody match with me,” Charlie laughs. “I told ’em, you wouldn’t beat a bloody Holden dealer, these bloody thieves!”

From 1959 to 2001, Charlie ran the Holden dealership in Canowindra, 300km west of Sydney.

Canowindra’s best known as the site of fish fossils said to be 360 million years old, and as a sort of Bathurst of competitive ballooning.

Unlike Bathurst, just 100km east, Canowindra (population 2300) has barely changed or grown in the decades since 1949, when Charlie’s older brother John took on one of the new-fangled Holden franchises.

“When Holden started in 1948, country was about 50 percent of Australia’s population,” Charlie says. “So they went out to towns of four or

Charlie reckoned the car game was becoming too tough for smaller dealers

five hundred people and put in dealerships. They made them stock parts probably three or four times what they should have had.”

A big wet and a rabbit plague through the early-1950s made it tough going for John. In 1954, Charlie returned from a farm youth exchange stint in the US, where he’d made a point of visiting Henry Ford’s museum. Not long after his return, he went to work at Canowindra Motors, taking over from his brother in 1959.

“Things just started to get good,” Charlie grins.

Starting with the FC, he sold about 100 new and as many used cars each year, and in the following 42 years regularly won sales gongs and overseas incentive trips. In between, he was plenty busy with stints as a shire councillor.

Charlie pulled the pin in 2001 when the latest five-year franchise renewal required investment he wasn’t prepared to make. In his opinion, the car game was becoming too tough for smaller dealers, with little margin in new-car sales forcing dealers to earn their living from servicing.

“And I reckon servicing costs 300 percent what it should,” Charlie grumbles.

Don’t think that Charlie’s got anything against Holden. It’s given him a great life. He’s even kept a few. About 50 of them – nearly all low-mileage, rust-free and running. His collection includes 48-215 number 46, a mint Torana GTR XU-1, a rare HK Monaro 186S, and dates up to early Commodores, mainly rarities like the 309-code VB SL/E V8 manual.

The sleepy showroom still hosts a constant trickle of Holden clubs and enthusiasts who come to see the 30-odd cars he has on display.

Charlie’s got some used cars on the lot next door, but he reckons internet car sales have cruelled that side of it for country dealers.

How does he feel about the end of Aussie manufacturing? “It makes me very sad, to think what we were able to do 50, 60 years ago and that we can’t do it today,” he sighs. “It’s a terrible thing for the kids coming along.

“The best days were back in the 1960s and 70s – that’s when Australia was really good and firing. We’ve seen the best of it.”

Holden no. 46

CHARLIE McCarron’s “number 46” is reckoned to be the oldest Australian-built 48-215 surviving.

The 22,000-mile, four-owner car was built in November 1948 and delivered new to Tanunda in South Australia. McCarron, having been inspired by the fi rst and last Model Ts displayed in Henry Ford’s museum, fi nally landed this car in 1970. “It was advertised for $800, when an old Holden was worth $20. Several months later, I bought it for $575.”