The first generation of the Holden ute and panel van is arguably the most iconic commercial vehicle range in Australian automotive history, despite being based on what was originally an American design.

Today these 48 series Holdens are very desirable classic commercial vehicles unique to Australia and reminiscent of the fabulous 1950s when a post-WWII world couldn’t get enough Australian wheat and wool.

We literally rode on the sheep’s back as our booming rural sector led us to enviable prosperity.

They were golden times, during which these hard-working Holden utes became a symbol of wealth for toil and a roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic. Today these vehicles embody all that was great about that era.

FX Holden ute

Although its official GM-H model code is 50-2106, over time it has become simply known as the ‘FX’ Holden ute even in some official Holden literature.

Exactly why the letters ‘FX’ were adopted has been the subject of much debate over the decades which we won’t get drawn into here. However, we will refer to it as the FX for ease of description.

When ‘Australia’s Own Car’ – the 48-215 Holden – was launched on November 29, 1948 it was initially offered in only one four-door sedan body style and one trim level, with no load-hauling derivative in sight.

The Australian public would have to wait more than two years (26 months in fact) until the 50 Series FX utility was released in January 1951.

Mechanically it was the same as the sedan and shared the same ‘Aerobilt’ fully-welded unitary body construction, which was strong yet relatively light compared to the more common body-on-frame designs.

The ute’s bodywork behind the driver featured a shorter restyled two-door cabin with rounded upper door frames, an open load area with strengthened floor and a fold-down tailgate. This resulted in a kerb weight slightly heavier than the sedan of only 1,035 kgs.

Combined with its rugged suspension and good power-to-weight ratio, the FX ute was the right truck for its time. It offered excellent performance and fuel economy and the ability to be driven hard over all sorts of terrain, from rounding up sheep in rutted farm paddocks to lugging heavy equipment around building sites.

With a maximum payload rating of 7 cwt (about 350 kgs) it is well known that many owners regularly loaded them up way beyond that figure, yet these utes always managed to cope. It was almost as though Holden knew that was going to happen and engineered the car in readiness for such abuse!

Engine

Like its sedan sibling, the original FX Holden Ute was powered by a relatively modern yet simple inline six cylinder overhead valve engine of 132.5 cid (2.2 litres) that developed 60 bhp (45 kW) at 3800 rpm and 100 ft/lbs (135 Nm) at 2000 rpm.

Although these figures might sound puny by today’s standards, the silky smooth 2.2 Holden six was more than a match for what else was available in Australia at the time. And it could cruise comfortably at 100 km/h and deliver around 30mpg (or less than 10L/100kms).

These early Holden engines were called ‘Grey’ motors because the entire engine and gearbox were painted a drab grey colour in production; a birthmark that was used until replaced by the ‘Red’ motors for the new EH Holden range in August 1963.

The elegantly simple Grey motor had a four-bearing crankshaft, gear-driven camshaft and fully pressurised lubrication system.

Regular oil changes were recommended as there was no oil filter. However, provision was made in the lower cylinder block casting for installation of an after-market by-pass type oil filter if required.

The fuel system relied on a camshaft-driven mechanical fuel pump and Stromberg single barrel, manual choke downdraught carburettor. An oiled-mesh air filter came standard but a more heavy duty oil bath-type air cleaner was available as an option for rural folk on dusty roads.

Drivetrain & Chassis

The clutch featured a simple mechanical operation, matched to a three-speed column shift manual gearbox with synchro on second and third gears only. A steel propeller shaft fed drive rearwards to Holden’s signature Banjo-style hypoid differential with semi-floating axles.

Front suspension design was simple but enduringly rugged to cope with a sunburnt country, featuring upper and lower wishbones with coil springs, lever-type shock absorbers and front stub-axles that pivoted on robust king-pins.

The Banjo live rear axle was located by a pair of semi-elliptical leaf springs which coped admirably with the Ute’s 7 cwt-plus payload.

In February 1953, the FX model’s old lever-type shocks were replaced with more modern telescopic shocks along with wider rear springs destined to be installed on the face-lifted FJ model that was waiting in the wings. This later suspension upgrade was called ‘Air-Ride’ and was a noticeable improvement.

The four wheel drum brakes were integral with the wheel hubs front and rear and hydraulically operated through a brake master cylinder and fluid reservoir, that was tucked away under the floor at the base of the engine bay where it connected to the floor-mounted pedals.

A remote brake fluid canister was later made available as an accessory after mechanics complained about how difficult it was to service.

Initially, the standard steel wheel rims were only 3.5 inches (89mm) wide but were ‘fattened’ up to 4.0 inches (102 mm) during the model’s production run. Many motorcycle tyres are wider than that today.

Interior

Not sure if you’ve ever sat in one of these first generation Holdens, but they are so small inside we can only suggest that the average Australian was considerably smaller in the 1940s!

For anyone approaching 2.0 metres in height, it’s almost impossible to push the clutch pedal without your left knee or thigh getting in the way of the column shifter, particularly when in its lowest positions in first and top gear.

This isn’t helped by the high position of the clutch and brake pedals which pivot through the floor, requiring a higher leg position to operate than the pendulum-type pedals we take for granted today. Hanging your knee out to the left like a motorcycle rider each time you push the clutch pedal is the only solution.

Motoring life was so simple back then. The instrument panel consisted of one large central dial containing the speedometer, with a smaller gauge on each side. The left gauge carried warning lights for oil pressure, engine temperature and generator and fuel level was shown on the right gauge.

Starting the engine was a two-step process, with a key operated ignition switch and a separate push-button starter for the 6-volt electrical system. Wipers were vacuum operated.

A large fresh air vent located just in front of the windscreen could be popped up manually when required. And as a quaint reminder of more honest times, a key-operated door barrel lock was fitted only on the left (kerbside) door. No one would ever steal anything out of your new Holden from the traffic side of the road, surely!

Total FX production (sedan/ute) reached 120,402 from Nov 1948 to the FJ’s introduction in October 1953.

FJ Holden Ute and Panel Van

Launched in October 1953, the FJ was the only facelift of the original 48 series Holden featuring a bold new American-style grille, new hubcaps and minor cosmetic changes to lights, badges and body trim.

Unlike the FX release in 1948, the FJ ute (model code FJ-2106) was launched right alongside the sedan this time, with a 31 kgs increase in kerb weight to a still very slim 1,066 kgs.

And only two months later, a new panel van body style was introduced (model code FJ-2104). This was essentially the utility with an extended roof, side panels and upper tailgate added.

The van was handsome and well proportioned, filling another important niche in the market for those that wanted the extra carrying capacity of the ute with the extra height, weather protection and security of a van body. And it was only 4.0 kgs heavier than the ute.

Even the Australian Army was able to put the FJ Ute to good use with this high canvas canopy version. These 'no chrome' FJs were painted all over in the factory's Deep Bronze Green and were uniquely equipped. Note the small 'bumperettes' on the back that look like cut-down sections of front bumper bars. Do any original Army versions like this survive today?

There were minimal changes to the FJ during its production run. Newly designed differentials and rear axles were introduced in February 1954 and the rear shock absorbers were moved from behind the rear axle to forward of the rear axle in mid-1955. Tubeless tyres were introduced in January 1956.

The FJ ute and panel vans continued to be available into 1957, as the new FE ute (February 1957) and panel van/station wagon models (May 1957) were introduced many months after the sedan’s launch in July 1956.

These later production FJ commercials benefitted from being upgraded to the FE’s more powerful higher compression version of the Grey motor, which boosted power output from 60 to 70bhp (53 kW) and torque from 100 to 110 ft/lbs (148 Nm).

Total FJ production (sedan/ute/van) was 169,969 from October 1953 to late 1956, when FJ ute/van production ended and existing stocks were sold through to early 1957 until the release of the FE commercials. TJ

*Special thanks to Holden expert Terry Bebbington for his assistance with this article. Terry is the author of a high quality hard cover book titled “60 Years of Holden” which is a complete encyclopedia of all Holden models produced from 1948 to the current models. For more information visit: www.haynesmanuals.com.au

16 Responses to Aussie Classic: 1951-1957 FX & FJ Holden Utes & Vans

  • John Barton says:

    I’ve been a fan of these for years, having restored three to close to original and then making a convertible out of one of them. They’re a great Aussie icon. I plan to restore another one in a year or two, maybe not to original but close. Young people today don’t appreciate what great cars they were.

    • Mark Oastler says:

      They are a great Aussie icon. I just wish more of the utes and vans had managed to survive. It’s interesting what you say about young people not appreciating these cars. I was the same growing up in the 70s and 80s, but with age comes greater knowledge and appreciation of history and the roles these great cars played in the building of our post-war nation.
      I’d really love to own one today – only problem is with my height I’d struggle to fit inside!

      • Vic Pritchard says:

        Great to see all the details of this great aussie classic. Brings back a lot of memories as i owned both FX & FJ sedans and enjoyed working on them with their well laid out motor and components. Congrats your article is very well presented.

  • Campbell White says:

    Beaut and wonderful old Holden memories, I share all your sentiments. Related, can anyone provide information on a collection of FX/FJ Catalogue of Parts and the Holden Shop Manuals. I believe in my possession are all the original and ammended editions but would like confirmation. As follows: The very first FX ‘brown’ Shop Manual, the first FX ‘ammended silver’ and is second edition, the third FX ‘green’ edition and the final one and only FJ ‘blue’ edition. No dates. The catalogue of parts are as follows: The very first Catalogue of Parts ‘green’ #20-H-50, second Catalogue of Parts ‘redish brown’ #25-H-52, third Catalogue of Parts covering both FX/FJ ‘light caramel’ #43-H- 53 and the final Catalogue of Parts ‘pale caramel’ #43-l-H-54. Thankyou in anticipation. Cheers

  • Garry Kenner says:

    Hi. Can you tell me where l can see the different colours of the FX AND FJ Utes? I can remember a light green and cream.
    Thanks, Garry

    • Mark Oastler says:

      Hi Garry. I’ve never seen a colour chart for these earliest of Holden models, but I’m sure they would exist somewhere in the original GM-H sales literature available at the time. If any reader can assist Garry with his request please let us know. It would be handy info to have.

    • Neville B says:

      Dark Blue was the colour 1951 ute Number 17 it was my uncles of Norseman first then i bought in 1964,

  • james baillie says:

    Hello. Just wondering if anyone would know much about the FJ Holden ute around the 1954 age. It has on the plate top acc 2, just looking for more information as it has sat in a shed for 30 years. Thanks.

    • wayne holden says:

      Number on the ID tag on the firewall. The number stamped next to ‘ACC’ – ’2′ on your tag is the month it was built (eg February).

  • Maria Nugent says:

    A very good friend of mine has a complete 1953 grey motor. He would like to know what this is worth…any ideas? My mate isn’t very computer literate and a couple of weeks ago I took my laptop over and we had a look on ebay what parts are worth….which has prompted my mate to clean out his shed. He also has a couple of gearboxes…please any ideas?

  • Dean says:

    Did the FX Holden ute come out in the colour black?

    Cheers,
    Dean

    • Mark Oastler says:

      Hi Dean. Given that black was a popular colour choice for the 48-215 sedan I’m sure it was available as a ute colour, too. I’ve seen several period photos of black FX utes, so I assume they were factory paint schemes. If any Holden enthusiast can clarify this, we’d welcome it.

  • martin smith says:

    I’m trying to find out how many FJ panel vans were made?

    • Mark Oastler says:

      Good question Martin. According to Holden expert Ben Stewart at Holden Heritage Services (check out his great website), the FJ panel van is a rare breed. Less than 8,000 were produced in total. Ben has never seen an official GM-H production figure so he doesn’t know the exact number made, but through his research he can confirm that it was between 7,763 and 7,900. That’s the closest we’ve ever got to a realistic figure, too. Hope this helps.

  • andrew lochhead says:

    I have a January 1951 Holden ute. I have done lots of research but coming up short on info. I would love to know what number my ute is off the production line. I know it’s January 1951, the acc code is 1, but that’s as far as I can get. Hope to hear from you soon. Thanks, Andrew.

    • Mark Oastler says:

      Hi Andrew. The best person to contact about this sort of specialised historical information for Holdens is my old mate Ben Stewart at: http://www.holdenhistoricalservices.com.au/about-us/holden-historical-services

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

HTML tags are not allowed.

Get Truck Jungle updates direct to your mailbox!

Email Address

Security code:
captcha

7 THINGS YOU MUST KNOW BEFORE YOU BUY A TRUCKFREE! Subscribe now
to download our
32-page buyers’ guide

Follow Truck Jungle

Truck Jungle is proudly supported by