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In 1852, James Alexander Holden emigrated to South Australia from Walsall, England, and in 1856 established J. A. Holden & Co, a saddlery business in Adelaide. In 1879 J A Holden’s eldest son Henry James (HJ) Holden, became a partner and effectively managed the company. In 1885, German-born H. A. Frost joined the business as a junior partner and J. A. Holden & Co became Holden & Frost Ltd. Edward Holden, James' grandson, joined the firm in 1905 with an interest in automobiles. From there, the firm evolved through various partnerships, and in 1908, Holden & Frost moved into the business of minor repairs to car upholstery. The company began re-body older chassis using motor bodies produced by F T Hack and Co from 1914. Holden & Frost mounted the body, and painted and trimmed it. The company began to produce complete motorcycle sidecar bodies after 1913. After 1917, wartime trade restrictions led the company to start full-scale production of vehicle body shells. H. J. Holden founded a new company in late 1917, and registered Holden's Motor Body Builders Ltd (HMBB) on 25 February 1919, specialising in car bodies and using the former F T Hack & Co facility at 400 King William Street in Adelaide before erecting a large four-story factory on the site.

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