While the Sunbeam Mixmaster and the new electric pop-up toaster was foremost in the minds of the 1950s housewife, owning a motor car became the focus of the breadwinner. Before the war, the idea of owning a motor vehicle was little more than a dream for most, but for the post war family, it became almost as important as owning a house, and they worked had to make the dream a reality. At the beginning of the 1950s, about one in every ten homes had a car in the garage. By the end of the decade, there were far more families who owned a vehicle than those who did not.
1953 Volkswagen Beetle
Immediately after the war, the choice of vehicles was limited to re-worked versions of models available before the war, but before too long a new range of basic but affordable cars hit the streets. In Australia, they were nearly all small four cyclinder vehicles – the best sellers were the Volkswagen Type 1 (the Beetle) (nicknamed Krautwagens or Hitler’s revenge); Morris Minor; Ford Prefect and Consul; Austin A40, Hillman Minx and Triumph Mayflower; predominantly English cars either fully exported from the motherland or exported in pieces and assembled here. There were some six cyclinder veheicles, among them were the Ford Zephyr and Zodiac, Standard Vanguard, Vauxhall Victor and Velox and the Humber Snipe. If you had money and wanted everyone to know it, you either bought a Rolls Royce, Jaguar or Rover, or a "Yank Tank", usually a gas-guzzling Ford Customline, Chevrolet, Pontiac or Dodge.
Car Manufacture in Australia
Casual talk of full Australian car manufacture was first raised by Prime Minister Bruce in 1927. In 1930, the Scullin government introduced tariffs on importehttps://www.australiaforeveryone.com.au/files/d motor vehicle mechanical parts, such as gears, axles, bearings and motor parts. by 1937 nearly half the factory cost of motor vehicles in australia was attributable to local content; by 1939, 40 per cent of replacement parts were manufactured locally.
In December 1939, the government entered into an agreement with Australian Consolidated Industries (ACI) for the production of vehicles; based on 1938 legislation, the agreement enabled the payment of a bounty on the production of each engine as well as protection from foreign-owned competition. The Motor Vehicles Agreement Act 1940 gave ACI practically exclusive rights to manufacture chassis and engines in Australia. The combined effect of the Motor Vehicles Agreement Act and the Bounty Act was to prohibit companies with less than two-thirds Australian ownership from building engines or chassis. Due to the outbreak of the World War ll, ACI’s output never developed to the intended level of full production.
Before the war ended, the government recognised the need to assist industry to move from wartime production to civilian production and established the Secondary Industries Commission within the Department of Post-War Reconstruction. The Commission was instrumental in having the ACI Agreement and the Bounty Act repealed, allowing foreign-owned companies to establish chassis and engine works, and paving the way for the construction of complete vehicles. The Department of Post-War Reconstruction wrote to every known manufacturer and assembler of motor vehicles and motor vehicle components, seeking to establish the state of their development, their plans for future production and their desires for government assistance. The Department was prepared to offer financial assistance and tariff protection to assist a company to manufacture entire vehicles in Australia.
Ford Zephyr Mk II
Five proposals for the manufacture of complete cars were received, from Ford (US), General Motors (US), The Nuffield Group (BMC), Standard-Triumph and Chrysler-Dodge (US). With government support, it was hoped that 45,000 vehicles would be manufactured in Australia each year to supply an estimated market of 75,000. The Cabinet decided to support only the Holden and Ford proposals, though Ford would be offered less assistance than requested. The low requirement for government assistance made Holden’s bid attractive; the major drawback of Ford’s plan was the requirement for a high level of assistance. The Cabinet made a counter offer to Ford, but Ford rejected the government’s offer in 1946 and decided to reduce the pace of its expansion, but still entered into full scale manufacture.
Despite the rejection of Government assistance, the three unsuccessful proposees all went ahead with both vehicle assembly and full manufacture. Nuffield built a factory on land it purchased in the Sydney suburb of Zetland in 1950; a year later, Chrysler acquired the long established South Australian motor body builder TJ Richards who had built bodies on North American Chrysler chassies for many years at a factory at Keswick, Adelaide, and used Richards’ factory to build its cars; Standard-Triumph (later to become the Rootes Group) built a new plant at Port Melbourne at the premises of Eclipse Motors – a company that previously had assembled its cars – which it bought into after World War II. Standard-Triumph began building cars at the plant from imported parts in 1952.
The introduction of import licenses for motor cars into Australia in 1953 led other motor car manufacturers to investigate the possibility of local assembly using what was known as the CKD [Completely Knocked Down] system. By this method, the parent company shipped all parts unassembled in crates and the regional plants assembled the cars from a mix of locally sourced third-party components like glass, light fittings, batteries, alternators, spark plugs and leads etc and the supplied parts. Using the CKD assembly system, the assemblers could increase local content (often lowering the duty on imported parts) and the cars could be modified to suit local conditions (cloth seats for our warmer climate, stiffer suspension etc) and public expectations (more powerful engines etc). Unless vehicle manufacturers negotiated local assembly arangements, the prevailing import licensing restrictions stifled the realisation of market potential.
European Cars Sold in Australia in the 1950s
An influx of migrants from Europe which began immediately after the war, led directly to the importation of European cars and the establishment of a plethora of delearships to sell and service these vehicles, particularly in Australia’s capital cities. The migrants were familiar with the European makes and models and these vehicles became the natural choice when these new settlers were able to aford their own cars.
1958 Citroen DS21
The majority of Aussies saw the continental European vehicles as oddball vehicles for oddball people, but the migrants were quite familiar with the names Volvo, Saab, Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, Citroen, Renault, Peugeot, Simca, Fiat, Lancia, Borgward and Skoda. For those who loved the feel of the wind in their hair, there were the British offerings (MG, Triumph and Sunbeam) or the up-market exotics (Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, Porsche, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Morgan, Lotus etc).
1955 Fiat Topolino
Many European companies aiming for a long-term presence in Australia began making assembly arrangements with local firms. Volkswagen built an assembly plant at Clayton, Victoria, Simca joined with Commonwealth Motors and the Borgward Isabella was built by Kenneth Wright Pty. Ltd. in Melbourne. Standard Motor Products Pty. Ltd. had early success assembling Standard Vanguard and Triumph cars at a Port Melbourne plant. Theirs was a spacious well-equipped factory, located close to transport facilities and sub-suppliers at Port Melbourne.
1957 Mercedes Benz Type 180
In 1957 Mercedes Benz was well advanced in a feasibility study for the local assembly of cars. This entailed obtaining Government approval and seeking out a suitable local partner with production facilities. The existing import license entitlements held by distributors, and their willingness to place these at the disposal of the local joint venture played a vital role in Mercedes Benz getting the green light from the authorities. Mercedes Benz began local assembly of its cars at Standard’s Port Melbourne plant now run by the newly re-established Australian Motor Industries. Passenger vehicle sales show 729 locally assembled Mercedes-Benz cars were sold between July 1959 and June 1960. By 1960 Mercedes-Benz had increased passenger car sales by 10 fold annually, selling as many cars per year as had been sold in the first fifty years.
1957 Renault 4CV
Peugeot, the world’s second oldest car manufacturer, first appeared in Australia during the early 1900s with official documentation confirming formal distributor agreements in the early 1920s. But 1949 was the year the brand was first represented nationally, and has had a continuous presence in the country since. It was their victory, with the 203, in the tough 1953 Round Australia Redex Trial that helped put their Peugeot on the map.
At least one Volkswagen Beetle was brought to Australia in late 1945 by the Australian military. It was auctioned as war surplus in 1946, and is known to survive (as little more than a rusty hulk) in the hands of a Sydney VW parts dealer. A 1946 Beetle that is on display in a car museum in Western Australia arrived in 1951 in the possession of a German migrant. The first official importation of Volkswagens were made by the Melbourne firm, Regent Motors, in October 1953. 31 cars were known to have been imported by the end of the year.
By June 1954, the same company began to assemble Volkswagens from CKD kits. 1954 production totalled 1385 cars, and an additional 360 Beetles and 300 Transporters were imported. Lanock Motors were appointed distributors for the state of New South Wales in 1954, and by 1957, this company, along with Regent Motors and other Australian shareholders, formed Volkswagen Australia in a 49/51% partnership with the Wolfsburg parent. The aim was full local manufacture. The first locally made panels were used in 1960, and full local manufacture at a new plant at Clayton in suburban Melbourne was achieved by 1962.
1959 Goggomobile Dart
The Goggomobil was a German microcar produced in the Bavarian town Dingolfing from 1955 to 1969 by Hans Glas and importehttps://www.australiaforeveryone.com.au/files/d to australia during its full production life (1957-69). it was produced as a conventional looking four passenger two-door sedan and a sleek australia-only sports coupe called the dart. its engine was originally 250 cc but increased to 395 cc and 20 hp (15 kw). the cars had an electric pre-selective transmission and a manual clutch; the engine was behind the rear wheels. 219,531 sedans and 66,511 coupes were built worldwide.
1958 Goggomobil 2 door coupe
Production ceased in 1969 when the Glas Auto Works was taken over by BMW. Between 1957 and 1961 some 700 Goggomobil Dart sports cars were produced by Buckle Motors Pty Ltd in Sydney. It was based on the chassis and mechanical components of the Goggomobil microcar and featured an Australian designed fiberglass two seater open sports car body without doors, the whole package weighing in at only 345 kg. It was powered by a rear mounted twin cylinder two stroke motor available in both 300cc and 400cc variants and had a small luggage compartment built into the nose.
British Cars Sold in Australia in the 1950s
British cars were the most popular vehicles sold in Australia in the 1950s, no doubt because the majority of migrants, like those born in Australia, were of British stock and were very familiar with the British marques. At the cheap end of the market were cars like the Ford Prefect, the Austin A40 and Morris Minor; in the mid-range were the Hillman Minx, Standard Vanguard, Vauxhall Velox, Triumph Mayflower and Ford Zephyr, while the top end of the market was shared predominantly between the Jaguar, Rover, Vanden Plas and Humber.
1954 Jaguar Mk VII
After World War II, Ford recommenced assembly of Ford’s British models at its plant in Geelong, Victoria, which it had established in 1925 as an outpost of Ford Motor Company of Canada, because Canada was part of the British Empire and trade restrictions with Empire countries were less stringent. In the 1950s, the locally assembled Ford Customlines came from Canada and, along with the UK sourced Pilot was assembled at Geelong. Later, the UK-sourced models in the Ford range were the Prefect/Poplar, Consul, Zephyr and Zodiac. The mid-size cars assembled at Ford at Geelong in the 1960s included the Anglia, Escort and Cortina from the UK.
Morris Minor Series 3
A company called Eclipse Motors was established in the 1920s for the purpose of imported automobile distribution in Australia. In the 1930s, with the assistance of Standard-Triumph, Eclipse was able to procure cheap land at Port Melbourne from the Victorian Government for the purpose of motor vehicle manufacture and built a plant on the site at the southern end of Salmon Street, Fishermand Bend, down the road from GM-H.
1952 Triumph Mayflower
After the war, Standard-Triumph bought into the company, built a new factory and began building cars from imported parts in the new assembly plant in 1952. These included the Standard 8, Vanguard, Spacemaster and the Triumph Mayflower. When Alick Dick, Standard-Triumph’s Managing Director, visited the Port Melbourne assembly plant in 1954, it was fully operational. He was very impressed, seeing tremendous opportunities for expansion potential in the plant itself, with the flow-on benefits to increase the company’s dominance in this region. By 1956, the factory employed over 1600 workers. It would appear that the assembly of the ‘Australian’ Triumph TR3 roadster, introduced in 1957, was at first outsourced by Standards to Floods Bodybuilding Company in Footscray. Floods did a lot of coach-building for Standards prior to this assignment and saw the assembly of the trickle of CKD TR3 roadsters as steady and ongoing work for the company.
Triumph TR3 roadster
By the fact that Standards had an extremely efficient operation, local management saw the Triumph TR3 roadster as spasmodic in comparison and it made good business sense to outsource rather than disrupt or slow down the steady flow of the more popular Standard and Vanguard vehicles rolling off the lines, one of which was a Vanguard utility designed in Australia. By this time, the Standard name had negative connotations, so the Australian operation changed it’s name to Australian Motor Industries Limited (AMI) in an attempt to distance itself from anything simply "Standard".
When Leyland, the new owners of Standard, indicated they wished to assume their own production of Triumph cars in Australia, AMI needed to find another car to assemble. The answer came with Mercedes-Benz, then a year later with AMC (American Motors Corporation) with the Rambler Classic.
1960 triumph Herald
With AMI going from strength to strength, things only got better when Leyland decided not to proceed with their own Australian operation, allowing AMI to begin production of the Triumph Herald. However only a year after it’s release, things would take a turn for the worse for AMI, when in 1960 then Treasurer Harold Holt introduced a mini budget in an attempt to put the brakes on inflation. He introduced a huge increase in sales tax, and there was an immediate knock-on effect at dealerships around the country.
The sales tax increase and the arrival of the very competitively priced Morris Mini 850 led to a dramatic Triumph Herald sales slump. In a bid to remain viable, AMI sold its share in Mercedes-Benz (Australia) back to the German parent, and even dropped the price of the Herald from £950 to £750 – partly due to the stockpile of unsold Heralds. AMI’s salvation came in the form of the Japanese car manufacturer, Toyopet (Toyota), who were about to make their move into the Australian marketplace.
1950 Standard Vanguard
By 1962 agreement had been reached, and production of the Toyota Tiara began in April 1963, with the Toyota Crown being fully imported. It was a time when many remembered Japan as Australia’s wartime enemy, and worse yet, a time when most Australian’s considered anything Japanese to be inferior. Regardless of perceptions, true or otherwise, AMI built their cars well and the public warmed to the new Toyotas. By 1964 nearly 1000 Tiaras and Crowns had been sold.
Production of the Standard Vanguard Six at the AMI plant finally came to a halt some 12 months after production had ended in Britain, however the engine remained in production for fitment to the Triumph 2000, which was also now being assembled at Port Melbourne. In 1966, with the USA acquisition of the British Rootes Group, Chrysler Australia took over the Rootes brands in Australia as well as its interests the AMI Port Melbourne factory.
The AMI production of Toyotas expanded in the 1960s to also include the Crown, Corona, and Corolla assembled at AMI’s Port Melbourne factory. As a fast growing company, Toyota Motor Corporation of Japan took a controlling interest in AMI in 1968. In 1973, Chrysler Australia sold its interests in the Port Melbourne factory, focusing its Australian production at their Tonsley Park plant in Adelaide. Toyota vehicle production was transferred from the historic Port Melbourne factory to the company’s new $420 million facility at Altona, Victoria in 1994. In an intersting turn of operations, the Australian facility now exports CKD kits to assembly plants in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
1958 Austin A55 Cambridge
The British Motor Corporation’s involvement in car manufacture in Australia began during World War II, when Lord Nuffield, who had travelled to Australia several times, realised the potential for expansion into the Australian market. He had local agents find a suitable site to establish a complete manufacturing industry. This site was called Victoria Park.
BMC built its first factory for the assembly of its Austin, Morris, Wolseley and MG cars in Australia on a site which was originally the Victoria Park racecourse, 5km from the centre of Sydney at Zetland. The original factory was built in 1952 and expanded in 1958 to include what became the main car assembly building. The plant closed in 1974 when the company withdrew local assemply of its cars following significant sales downturns in the early 1970s.
American Cars Sold in Australia in the 1950s
After the end of World War II, Australia, like all Pounds-Sterling based countries, legislated to restrict the use of US Dollars which were in desperately short supply. As all Australian petrol was imported (purchased in US Dollars) petrol rationing continued after the end of the war and the use of US Dollars to import cars required a government permit. Therefore, only people with access to US funds held overseas such as consular staff and visiting entertainers could bring American cars into the country.
1955 Ford Customline
There were many instances of Americans based in Australia importing a car (quite legal), but it was illegal if an arrangement was made with an Australian citizen to take over the car once in the country. Detected occurrences of this activity resulted in the cars being siezed by Australian Customs.
Whilst it appears that Hudson, Nash, Packard and Studebaker distributors were able to obtain a quota of US-built right-hand drive cars, Australians wanting one of the Big Three’s products had to obtain it via Canada, because Canada was part of the British Empire and trade restrictions with Empire countries were less stringent. All US car manufacturers had subsidiary plants or divisions in Canada and it was through these plants that export models were sourced. Waiting lists stretched for years for most makes.
1958 DeSoto Diplomat
Pontiac, Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile, Chrysler, DeSoto, Dodge, Plymouth, Hudson, Packard, Studebaker, Nash, Mercury and Ford all appeared in agents’ showrooms around 1946-47. These cars were mainly 4-door sedans (Chevrolet, Mercury and Ford were the exceptions; they also offered Australia-only utility versions) and came only in basic configurations – no heaters, no automatic transmissions and no radios. In contrast to this, leather upholstery, which was only available on the better models in America, was common in the Australian versions. As prices rose, the less popular brands such as Buick, Oldsmobile, Mercury and DeSoto disappeared from Australian showrooms.
1956 Studebaker Champion
During 1951 there were 121,000 new cars registered in Australia with the majority (74%) coming from Britain and Europe. Holden’s share was 18% leaving only 8% being from North America. In 1955, Pontiac was the first rival to Ford to offer a V8 engine in Australia. Chevrolet followed in 1960. The currency restrictions were withdrawn in late 1960 and although this opened the way for imports direct from the US, the arrangements via Canada continued for Pontiac and Chevrolet.
Chrysler (US models)
Chrysler established its presence in Australia in 1951, when it acquired the long established South Australian motor body builder TJ Richards. Richards had built a body mounted onto a North American Chrysler chassis for many years in their Adelaide factory at Keswick. This building still stands today, with faded "Chrysler" signage still visible (the building is now a furniture retailing warehouse). During the 1950s and 1960s, Chrysler made a substantial investment in Australian manufacturing facilities, including building a new assembly plant at Tonsley Park in 1966 and an engine foundry in 1967. During this time, Chrysler established its position as the third of the "Big Three" Australian motor manufacturers (the others being General Motors-Holden and Ford).
1960 Chrysler Royal
Initially, Chrysler Australia assembled North American Chrysler passenger cars and trucks. Its most popular cars in the 1950s were the Canadian sourced badge engineered trio: Plymouth Cranbrook, Dodge Royal and DeSoto Diplomat (each based on the 1954 US Plymouth). The Plymouth was a popular choice for taxis, however, the rise in popularity of the Holden at the end of the decade led to the decline of this range of cars.
In 1956, Chrysler Australia consolidated each of the badge engineered marques it was assembling into one car – the Chrysler Royal. Starting life as a side valve 6 cylinder manual with 3 speed manual column gearchange, it was progressively modified, including the addition of US sourced engineering features such as power steering, the push button "Powerflite" automatic gearbox and an OHV V8. The Royal was an automotive curiosity; it was a facelifted version of the 1954 Plymouth, with US "Forward Look" style tailfins grafted on the rear of the car, while the front end gained dual (vertically stacked) headlights. These changes failed to arrest the slide in sales, particularly after the release of the first Holden in 1958.
1958 Simca Aronde
That car quickly dominated the Australian market, and the Royal was viewed as being outmoded and expensive. Production ceased in 1963. The saving grace for Chrysler at this time was the French-sourced Simca Aronde – a popular 4 cylinder compact car which Chrysler Australia assembled from CKD kits at their Keswick factory. Local engineers developed a unique to Australia Aronde station wagon, with a then novel (for Australia) wind down rear window and tailgate. Chrysler USA had acquired an interest in Simca in 1958, hence providing the basis for sourcing of this car.
Ford (US models)
In the 1950s the Customline was Ford’s local luxury flagship. These vehicles, available in sedan, wagon or utility form (a product unique to Australia), were assembled at Ford’s Geelong factory from CKD kits importehttps://www.australiaforeveryone.com.au/files/d from canada. in 1959, the customline gave way to the huge, chrome-trimmed custom 300 and fairlane 500, which became popularly known as the ‘tank’ fairlane and was largely responsible for the coining of the phrase "Yank Tank".
1959 Ford Custom 300
Assembly of both cars from CKD kits took place at Ford’s new Broadmeadows plant, on Melbourne’s northern outskirts, alongside the new Australian model Falcon (from 1960) and the British sourced Zephyr. The plant was built mainly for the assembly of the new Falcon, allowing the plant in Geelong to be converted to engine manufacture. In 1962 the compact Fairlane, which was a smaller prestige car than the Custom, joined the Galaxie (introduced in 1959) as the only US Ford models available in Australia.
General Motors (US Models)
Before World War II, Oldsmobiles, Buicks, Pontiacs and Chevrolets were assembled in GM-H plants in all Australian capital cities from CKD chassis and pre-war Chevrolet bodies stamped in Adelaide. Following the war, production re-commenced in 1946 using 239 cubic inch 6-Cylinder engines. Up to and including the 1940 model year, Oldsmobiles and Buicks were offered here in two body styles – the Sedan and All Enclosed Coupe (Sloper), then in 1941 only a sedan was made available, as the primary focus was on war production.
After the war, Buicks, Pontiacs, Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles were re-introduced onto the Australian market. GM in the US designed a body that was largely compatible for use across three makes – Pontiacs, Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles. Buicks were now assembled from imported bodies. GMH retained the tooling from the 1942 Chevrolet, Pontiac and Oldsmobile, so these models were significantly different to the U.S.
1952 Pontiac Chieftain
Fisher bodied equivalents, the most obvious being the retention of the rear hinged back doors. GM-H was sent detailed drawings of the Chassis and front sheetmetal of these similar models, then manufactured tooling,The bodies were pressed, assembled and prime coated at the Woodville plant (South Australia), then shipped to the Holden assembly plants in each Australia’s capital city where they were married to the "Series 66" chassis and front sheetmetal components shipped from the US.
1954 Chevrolet Del Ray
The styling remained pre-war and without any significant change until 1949 when the Oldsmobile and Buick were dropped and annual updates were introduced for the Pontiac and Chevrolet in line with the North American models. The Oldsmobile Ace four door sedans built on the "Series 66" chassis sold in Australia from 1946 until 1950, as did the Buick Super and Roadmaster series. Holden stopped Oldsmobile and Buick production when capacity was needed to produce the new Holden car.
The last Australian built and assembled right hand drive Oldsmobile was completed for delivery and sale in May 1951. From that time onward, only a handful of GM dealers imported small numbers of Oldsmobiles and Buicks in Left Hand-Drive configuration, and had them converted them to RHD to meet Australian standards. Pontiac and Chevrolet 4 door sedans continued to be assembled here throughout the 1950s at the rate of 300 to 400 of each make per year.
1958 Pontiac Strato Chief
In 1955 the 287 cubic inch Canadian V8 engine was introduced as the powerplant for the Pontiac and Chevrolet. Transmission was a 3 speed manual column shift – automatic was not available. In 1958 the Pontiac Strato Chief had a new larger body and was matched with a 235 cubic inch 6-cylinder – the V8 was not available.
The Pontiac Laurentian replaced the Strato Chief in 1959 and the 6-cylinder was now 261 cubic inches. From 1949, the Australian built Chevrolets kept up with the US styling, however mechanical developments were slower coming. The automatic transmission was available in US Chevrolets from 1950 but not until 1959 in Australia. Chevrolets first had the V8 option available in the US in 1955 but not until 1960 in Australia.
Australia’s Own Car
Though owned by the American automotive giant General Motors, Holden could rightly claim to be Australia’s own car, not just because it was built here, but also because most components were sourced locally, and Australians have had a major hand in the cars’ designs ever since the first Holden rolled off the assembly line in 1948. Holden’s story began many years earlier, however, when James Alexander Holden established a saddlery business in Adelaide. As Holden Motor Body Builders, the company began assembling automobiles in 1910. In 1931, the Great Depression hit the company hard and to survive, Holden had to sell out to General Motors, its largest customer, for £1,111,600. During World War II, General Motors Holden’s manufactured aeroplane frames, bomb cases, machine guns, armoured cars, troop carriers and boats.
In 1944, Holden’s Managing Director Lawrence Hartnett (later Sir) initiated a study to determine what would be the ideal Australian car, which he planned to build after the war was over. He knew that many of the overseas products being sold in Australia had not been designed for the unique Australian conditions, which included hot summers and some fairly crude roads.
Holden was given land at Fisherman’s Bend in inner Melbourne on which it planned to develop and build Harnett’s dream car for Australian conditions. Production of the first model, the 48-215, later known as the FX, commenced in 1948. August 1946 saw the first fully functional model of the car in the US; it was tested before shipping to Australia for evaluation. The car would become the FX.
GMH Fishermans Bend design – Project 2000 – pictured beside 1940 Chevrolet (left). It was designed when Hartnett was General Manager
While the 48-215 was being developed in the US, Hartnett had been working on his own design, called ‘Project 2000’. Aware of the growing popularity of British cars in Australia, Hartnett based his Project 2000 on them – it vaguely resembled a Humber/Hillman/Singer. The GM bosses rejected Hartnett’s suggestions and he was forced to accept the American design.
Late in 1946, Hartnett was ordered to a position in head office in New York, much to the shock of many who were astonished that such a thing like this could happen so close to the launch of the new car. The reason, although never confirmed, appears to have been the closeness of Hartnett with what was seen as a socialist government. Such a union was not seen as healthy by the bigwigs of capitalist giant, GM. Harold Bettle took over the reins at GM-H, by which time the crucial work in getting the project off the ground was over, and tooling work for the manufacturing process was underway.
Lloyd-Hartnett Alexander 600
Hartnett’s idea stayed with him, and in 1957 a plant was set up in Brisbane to assemble a German car called the Lloyd-Hartnett Alexander 600. This car, also powered by a 600cc two cylinder engine and similar in size to the original Hartnett, became known as the Lloyd Hartnett. The car was assembled in Queensland at the Buzacott Pty Ltd factory at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane from components shipped from the Lloyd Motoren Werke in Bremen, part of the Borgward group of companies.
The cars were built on an extremely simple production line using highly labour intensive methods. Production of Lloyd-Hartnetts came to an end in 1962 after around 3,000 examples of the Lloyd-Hartnett Alexander 600 had been sold. The closure came about directly as a result of the Borgward company, which had supplied the car’s components, going out of business in February 1961.
Holden 48-215 (FX)
Back at GM-H, their new Holden was being built to a reject 1949-model Chevrolet styling design on 1946 model Chevrolet-based mechanicals. It had been designed and marketed to sit between the large American cars and the smaller British cars that dominated the market at that time; a four-door sedan with seating for five or six adults. It was powered by a 132.5 cubic inch American Chevrolet-based six cylinder OHV engine, with a column shifted three-speed manual gearbox.
The 48-215 was launched on 29th November 1948 by the Australian Prime Minister, Ben Chifley. Although not mechanically or stylistically sophisticated, the car was simple, rugged, more powerful than most of its competitors, and offered reasonable performance and fuel economy in an affordable package (£733). Better suited to Australian conditions than its competitors and assisted by tariff barriers, it rapidly became Australia’s best-selling car.
An event that had a surprising influence on the consumerism of the 1950s was the successful launch of the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, by the Soviet Union on 4th October 1957. Though only the size of a basketball, this radical piece of technology not only marked the start of the space age and the US/USSR space race, it also ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments that were to quickly influence the design and style of consumer products of the day.
1959 Cadillac Eldorado
Everything from kitchen appliances to cars began to be styled with the space-age look. Almost overnight, cars sprouted wings and razor sharp fins with tail lights that looked like flaming rockets, particularly those from the US. Many General Motors’ 1959 models such as the Cadillac Eldorado took the concept of fins to its garish extreme, turning the cars into a panelbeater’s nightmare and making them deadly to any pedestrian unlucky enough to come in contact with them while crossing the road.
Even the Mixmaster on the kitchen bench took on a shape that suggested it was capable of taking off into the outer atmosphere. Around this time, retailer G.J. Coles began developing its grocery supermarket chain, and cleverly used the name ‘Coles New World’ – and the symbol of a rocket blasting off – to emphasise the revolutionary, futuristic aspect of supermarket retailing. By the end of the decade, the rounded barrel shape carried over from the pre-war days had disappeared, replaced by flat body panels, fins, squared ‘folded’ corners and raked, wrap-around windscreens.
A series of reliability trials in the 1950s, sponsored first by Redex and later by Ampol and Mobilgas, were among the earliest forms of organised national car rallying in Australia. There were three Redex trials – in 1953, 1954 and 1955. The first was run over 6,500 miles in two weeks, from Sydney north to Townsville, across to Darwin, down to Port Augusta, then back to Sydney via Adelaide and Melbourne.
In the boom years of the 1950s, motor cars became more affordable to the working class, and it was during that decade that the majority of Australian families purchased their first car, particularly the young people who were the parents of Baby Boomers. Many car makers saw the rallies as a golden opportunity to introduce their vehicles to this new generation of car buyers and some, like Peugeot, had multiple entries in the rally. Eleven Peugeot 203’s were entered, the third largest representation (after Ford and Holden), and the crew’s optimism was rewarded when Ken Tubman and John Marshall (photo right) won outright – all eleven 203’s finished.
The Redex trial captured enormous media and public interest, and in 1954 it was run again, this time going right around the continent but allowing only four extra days for the trip. It was won by a six-year-old Ford Mercury; its driver, "Gelignite" Jack Murray became a household name for his habit of carrying gelignite to get rid of obstacles and announcing his arrival in outback communities! The previous year’s winners were hot on his tail – Bill Patterson placed second outright in a Peugeot 203, one of many that competed.
In the 1955 Redex, Peugeot was again credited with the victory, and had the largest percentage of undamaged cars at the finish, but was relegated to fifth after a successful protest by Volkswagen against the penalties awarded to its cars due to cracks in the bodies. This was to be the last Redex.
The following year, fuel suppliers Ampol and Mobilgas put their hands up to take over the sponsorship. Neither one would back down so they each sponsored their own Reliability Trials. Ampol sponsored Trials in 1956, 1957, 1958 and 1964, Mobilgas sponsored Trials in 1958 and 1958. Peugeot, Volkswagen and Holden all scored wins in the 1950s, a Ford Cortina GT driven by Harry Firth and Graham Hoinville won the final Ampol Reliability Trial in 1964.