Search for vintage South African Chevrolet images on the internet and you’ll likely find advertisements for what appear to be Holdens. Re-badged, re-named, re-grilled and expressly advertised as American cars. What was behind the decision to pass off export Holdens as American? Nothing unusual in that you might think, given that Holdens have sold in the middle east and America with Chev & Pontiac badges in more recent times. But when you factor in that even Aussie Chryslers of the 1970s were being sold in South Africa as American - something was going on.
There was nothing sinister behind the move to sell Holdens as Chevs. It was simply a consolidation exercise by GMSA (General Motors South Africa). From 1969 all GM cars sold by GMSA would henceforth be sold as Chevrolet. As the best known and most popular of all the GM nameplates sold by GMSA - it made sense to re-badge the various Opels, Vauxhalls and Holdens to bring them under one name plate. Where the obfuscation came in was in trying to convince local buyers that the re-badged Holdens were really American products. Sure, they may have had a Chev six or a small block Chev 8 under the bonnet, but print advertising really stretched the truth in pushing the American origins of Aussie cars.
When it came to Holden, Australia’s own, the change was simple - add Chevy badges, new grille and name - often an Afrikaans name. After all, Chevrolet had a long history selling cars in South Africa and had a loyal following. Dealers figured they’d trade off the back of Chevy’s excellent reputation. And the dealers knew something else too - they knew Holdens were better equipped to handle the terrible South African conditions than huge Chevy's. Holdens were damn near bullet proof - among the very toughest cars in the world. They had to be - Australia was as tough on cars as Africa. Just as importantly - Holdens were right hand drive so dealers were able to offer more options than the limited range of Chevrolet rhd export models. Long wheelbase Holden luxury cars, wagons, sedans, coupes and utes - all renamed, re-badged and sold as Chevrolets.
So their local advertising agencies and dealer networks worked out that they’d have much more success selling Australian cars as American products. Let’s face it - Aussie Ford, Chrysler and GMH were all owned by the Americans, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch.
When it came to Holden, Australia’s own, the choice was simple - put Chevy badges on them and give them new names - even Afrikaans names. After all, Chevrolet had a long history selling cars in South Africa and had a loyal following. Dealers figured they’d trade off the back of Chevy’s excellent reputation. And the dealers knew something else too - they knew Holdens were far better equipped than huge Chevy's to handle the terrible South African conditions. Holdens were damn near bullet proof - among the very toughest cars in the world. They had to be - Australia was even tougher on cars than South Africa. Just as importantly - Holdens were right hand drive and so were able to offer more options than the limited range of Chevrolet rhd export models.
South African Chevrolet division went further than merely renaming Holdens and putting Chevy badges on them. To make sure the cars were differentiated from their Holden origins as much as possible - they even grafted on new frontal treatments.
So in South Africa the HT/HG Monaro sold as a Chevrolet SS - with a quad headlight treatment we never saw here. This same frontal aspect was used on the re-badged Brougham - Chevrolet Constantia, while the Premier and Kingswood sedans and wagons were named Kommando (Afrikaans spelling). Kingswood utes (HG/HQ) were given a cheap looking new grille and called El Camino - just like the Stateside Chevy pickup.
As an interesting counterpoint - Kiwis drove Aussie cars without all the silly pretense of them being American - despite the sporting rivalry. New Zealanders loved their Aussie Fords, Holdens and Valiants and accepted them as their own. I guess it would’ve been too obvious to try to palm Australian cars off as American - being such close neighbours and all.
So if you visit South Africa, don’t be surprised if you spot the occasional, familiar looking Holden...I mean Chevrolet.