A Google search of South Africa Chevrolet will turn up several images of vintage car advertisements. Interesting for Aussies to see Holdens sold as Chevrolet's. Re-badged, re-named, and expressly advertised as American cars. It was a bald faced lie...what was behind the decision to pass off Australian cars as American?
Holdens being sold in South Africa as Chevrolets - nothing unusual in that you might think, given that Holdens have sold in the middle east and America with Chev & Pontiac badges in recent times. But when you factor in that even Aussie Chrysler Regals and Valiants of the 1970s were being sold in South Africa as American - something was going on, and I think I know what it was.
Think rugby, think cricket, think white Anglo Saxon societies deep in the southern hemisphere. Yes - that leaves Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Neither of our southern kin liked us, and in general, we didn’t like them in return. The South Africans hated it when we flogged them at cricket and rugby, and celebrated long and loud when they occasionally managed to beat Australia. The local Chevrolet division clearly made a decision that the Holdens they were planning to sell would be better received if marketed as American.
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.
But the South African Chevrolet dealers went one 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 (in cooperation with Holden)
So in South Africa for instance, a 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 - the 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 ever visit South Africa, don’t be surprised if you spot the occasional, familiar looking Holden...I mean Chevrolet. But what makes the situation even weirder was that it seems Holdens were exported to South Africa, as Holdens - without Chevy badges or bogus ads about them being American. If you're confused, you're excused - so am I...