Making Holden cars became a hallmark of Adelaide industry in the 20th Century.

ADELAIDE REMAINS A CAR-OBSESSED CITY,
shrugging off loss of Grand Prix and vehicle-
making plants with new ventures and venues 

 

ADELAIDE HAS WON – AND LOST – THE PRESTIGE OF HOSTING THE AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX AND BEING THE POWERHOUSE OF AUSTRALIAN CAR MAKING, going back to the early 20th Century when Adelaide had the biggest car plant in the British empire and the biggest outside the United States of America.

Yet those losses can’t erase an entrenched culture that confirms Adelaide as Australia’s car city. In an everyday sense, Adelaide is one of most car-dependent cities in the world, with 84% of commuters using the car – higher than any other Australian city.

And South Australia keeps building on its car culture with new ventures, venues and events. In May 2018, David Brabham, son of F1 world champion Jack, tested his Adelaide-built Brabham BT62 on the new Bend racetack at Tailem Bend – combining two whole new South Australian concepts.  

South Australia has the highest per capita ownership of historic vehicles in Australia. Its National Motor Museum at Birdwood in the Adelaide Hills is the biggest in the nation. Historic-vehicle events such as Bay-to-Birdwood rallies and the Motorsport Festival grow in popularity.

Speedcars and motorcycle racing became an Adelaide institution, starting at Wayville in the 1920s and a wild golden area at Rowley Park in 1950s.

The Adelaide 500 V8 Supercars event, on the former Grand Prix street circuit, continues to prove the city can present top-class motoring events. The $80 million motorsport park being built by the Shahin family at the old Mitsubishi test track site near Tailem Bend will add to this status.

Adelaide’s contribution to motoring technology will live on. The Zeta (not to be confused with that other Zeta) rear-wheel-drive architecture, developed at the Elizabeth GM Holden’s plant, became a global format.

Adelaide looks to the future with its driverless car tests and companies such as Cohda Wireless, a world leader in smart driving technology. Electric cars are being encouraged as part of the city's carbon-neutral strategy.

 

19th CENTURY SOUTH AUSTRALIANS BECOME EARLY INNOVATORS AND ADOPTERS OF MOTORING

 AUSTRALIA'S FIRST CAR  DAVID SHEARER'S STEAM VEHICLE – opens way in 1890s for South Australia to lead on car ownership

French woman shows off first motorised vehicle to Adelaide in 1898 with help by local fast work

The first petrol motor vehicle on the roads of South Australia was driven by a French woman in May 1898. French racing cycliste Mlle Serpolette demonstrated a Gladiator motor tricycle at the Jubilee Oval where cycling races were held – but women competitors were forbidden. Serpolette received a “capital reception” at the oval but her motorcycle demonstration struck a fuel problem and the engine wouldn’t start. The event organisers postponed the exhibition to the Tuesday. Mlle Serpolette was relieved: “In Paris, such a failure would have caused a disturbance". The motor tricycle was taken to Vivian Lewis’s city cycle factory for repairs.  At 10am on Tuesday, Lewis mechanic T.P. O’Grady tested his repairs by taking the tricycle up to Belair where he collided with a stone carter in South Australia’s first motor accident. The machine’s front forks were damaged and had to be fixed back at the cycle works in time for Mlle Serpolette to collect it for the exhibition. On the way to Jubilee Oval, Mlle Serpolette drove through Wakefield, King William and Rundle streets. Hundreds saw her display but a fuel problem again hampered it. A year later, on June 5, 1899, the locally built Shearer steam car made its first run down the main street of the River Murray town of Mannum.

 

David Shearer invents Australia's first car – steam-powered – at Mannum in 1894-97

David Shearer invented Australia’s first motor car. A blacksmith and farm machinery maker with his brother John at Mannum on the River Murray, Shearer began working in 1894 on his “horseless carriage” powered by steam with mallee wood firing the engine. It had the world’s first differential. Shearer got permission for drive his “automobile” in Adelaide city streets in 1900 when he brought it to the Adelaide Chamber of Manufacturers Exhibition. Shearer’s vehicle travelled at 15 miles an hour, faster than England’s first car two years later that reached 10-12 mph. Shearer wasn’t interested in making cars. He just wanted to prove the horseless carriage was workable. He returned to making agricultural machinery. After early experience in blacksmithing and wagon building, David had joined brother in 1877 in making farm implements. The Shearers were invited to Mannum where the farmers needed tough equipment to clear land covered with mallee and pine. The Shearers came up with rugged machines – adding stump jump ploughs to the grubbing machines, fixed ploughs, scarifiers, harrows – that found a ready market in South Australia. In 1888, they invented a virtually unbreakable wrought steel plough share at one quarter the price of the old forged share. These shares swept Australia in popularity and saved farmers millions. By 1895, the Shearers expanded their business but kept improving to produce popular lighter and stronger stripper with a wider cut in 1902. The steam car project was just a background to all this.


 

Vivian Lewis's cycle business produces first South Australian-built petrol motor car in 1900

Lewis Cycle and Motor Works, with Adelaide horse carriage and tram builders Duncan & Fraser, produced the first petrol-driven motor car made in South Australia – at its McHenry Street, Adelaide, factory in 1900. The Lewis company, founded by Vivian Lewis and Tom O’Grady and initially renowned for its bicycles and building the first South Australian motorcycle in 1899, gained valuable publicity from the small two-horse-power vehicle it made in 1900. The Lewis display at the 1901 Royal Agricultural Society autumn show brought more publicity by featuring two motor vehicles, with the Register reporting that “the whole of the designing, construction, and finishing of these machines being executed at the works". By the spring show, the Lewis car had a more practical water-cooled 5hp motor. With its larger motor, the car travelled to country shows and holiday destinations in 1902. A Lewis car conveyed progress reports of a coronial investigation into a murder at Towitta, 21 miles beyond telegraph station at Angaston. The Lewis design settled in 1903 on the Minerva motor beneath a diamond frame design. Although Lewis built some more motor cars, it eventually favoured importing over manufacturing. The first car imported by Lewis, assembled in the McHenry Street factory, was for Gordon Ayres. A Gladiator for Bertie Barr Smith was “the first four cylindered car imported into Australia”. Lewis started bringing in more quality brands like De Dion, Talbot, Napier and Star and the Lewis Motor House was built on Victoria Square in 1904 with a factory on Molton Street, Adelaide.

South Australia leads other Australian states in adopting motor cars, especially in the 1920s

South Australia took up the motor cars quicker than other Australian states. By 1921, there were 24 motor vehicles (excluding motorcycles) per 1000 South Australians. Victoria, with 16 per 1000, was next in Australia. Some initial antagonism was directed at cars’ noise and smell scaring horses, still the main means of transport.  Speeding cars also threw up dust. But cars were rapidly appreciated by groups such as farmers in reducing isolation and medical practitioners for speedy house calls. The Automobile and Motor Cycle Club of South Australia (later to become the RAA, Royal Automobils Association), formed in 1903, boosted motoring and a framework for competitions. Hill climbs and reliability trials were favoured over racing, and were strongly supported by the Lewis Cycle and Motor Works. Vivian Lewis, Tom O'Grady, Bill Courtney and Murray Aunger were regular competitors from among its staff, while Norman Jackson and master builder Walter Torode were keen early competitors on Lewis motorcycles. Lewis Cycle and Motor Works also ran hire cars. Newspapers reported in 1905 that, “following the practice that has been adopted in some Government departments, (the Premier) engaged a 12hp De Dion Bouton motor car from Mr V. Lewis' establishment” to visit the ailing former attorney-general in Mount Barker 22 miles away. This was praised as efficient use of the premier’s time compared to using a train. Lewis hire cars also provided sightseeing tours of the hills or to visits to country shows and race meetings. The cars’ general impact on South Australians began in the 1920s. American cars, such as the Model T Ford, became more practical and cheaper but remained the preserve of the affluent. Motor cycles with sidecars were common.


 

South Australia first Australian state with car registration in 1906; plates become valued

South Australia brought in Australia’s first motor vehicle registration and licensing during 1906. In 1904, with the first “mechanically propelled vehicles” on Adelaide streets, the Motor Traffic Regulation Act had been legislated. By 1910, 1350 cars (and many motor cycles) were registered. Registration plates were first issued in South Australia in 1906 for three classes of vehicles: motorcycles, motor vehicles and trailers. This led to historic plates, with the same number, on each of these three classes. Thus No.1and so on was issued to a car, motorcycle and trailer, at the same time. Unlike the United Kingdom, historic plates could be transferred by registered owners from vehicle to new vehicle. Owners could retain their historic number and transfer it to a new car off an old one or they could transfer the historic number to a new owner when a car was sold. This has led to generations of family members retaining their historic plates. This changed with new rules around the alpha numeric plates in 1966 (starting with RAA-000). The ability to transfer and retain a plate off a car was ended and new cars were issued with new plates. The 1985 historic plate auction changed the rules again, with plate owners needing to get “proprietary rights” to a number to transfer it from car to car or from owner to owner. “SA” became mandatory on South Australia’s number plates in 1931 to distinguish from other states’. Before this, vehicle owners supplied their own plates with no set design or type. Some were painted onto radiators, some were affixed to wood blocks and some cars had elaborate cut-and- polished plates.

Dr John Gunson No3. in first South Australian car owners; a founder of what became the RAA

John Gunson (registration plate No.3) was one of a clutch of doctors among Adelaide’s first car owners. Dr. Gunson a founding member of Automobile and Motor Cycling Club of South Australia in 1903 and a life member of what became the Royal Austomobile Association (RAA). Born at Angas Street, Adelaide, in the house where his father, Dr. J. M. Gunson, had practised, John Gunson graduated in medicine from Adelaide University in 1893, after earlier education at Christian Brothers’ College, Adelaide, and in Paris. Dr. Gunson was one of the first men to use X-ray apparatus at the Adelaide Children's Hospital where he was honorary physician more than 25 years. He was also honorary assistant physician at Adelaide Hospital (1909-16) and honorary consulting obstetrician at the Queen's Home, Adelaide. As honorary secretary of the South Australian branch of the British Medical Association, he arranged the association’s congress in Adelaide in 1905. Also heading the list of first South Australian car registrants were: 1 –  Hargreaves, W.A. Woodville;  2 – Waite, Peter Glen Osmond;  4  – Cudmore, Dr. A.M. North Terrace;  5 –  Swift, Dr. H. Victoria Square; 6  – Ayers, F.G. Waymouth Street;  7  – Morgan, Dr. A.M. Angas Street;  8 –  Ayers, A.E. King William Street;  9 – Waterhouse, A. East Terrace; 10 – Rymill, E.S. East Terrace;  11 – Rymill, A.G. Glenelg;  12 –  McFarlane, A. Wellington East;  13-14 –  Lendon, Dr. A.A. North Terrace;  15  – Harris, F.J. Gawler ; 16 – Florey, J. Malvern; 17 Smith, T.E. Barr Currie Street; 18  – Scarfe, A.A. Burnside; 19 –  Marsden, Dr. W.C. Willunga; 20  – Meikle, Dr. A.J. Yankalilla.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA HOME TO BIGGEST AUTOMOTIVE FACTORY IN BRITISH EMPIRE BY 1920s

HOLDEN'S, DUNCAN & FRASER, T.J. RICHARDS DRIVE CHANGE
by converting their horse carriage/saddlery businesses to cars

Holden's, T.J. Richards, Duncan & Fraser move from horse carriages to nation's car builders

Adelaide’s place in the 20th Century as a powerhouse of Australian car making was not something brought in from overseas. The Australian car-making industry was spurred by the drive of three Adelaide horse coach/saddlery companies: Holden’s Motor Builders Ltd, floated in 1917; Duncan & Fraser, who switched to making and selling cars as early as 1903; and T.J. Richards and Sons, which became a car-body-building company in 1922. Duncan & Fraser, quality horse coach builders who won the contract to build Adelaide's trams in the 1870s, were ambitious in their 20th Century switch to cars. Those ambitions were choked by Ford Motor Co. in the 1920s. T.J. Richards and Sons also were bold in their car-building vision . It was T.J. Richards that beat Holden’s in 1937/8 by selling Australia’s first all-steel sedan car body. Holden and T.J. Richards had benefited from the 1917 federal government embargo on imported car bodies. But the family companies' next generation made the most of the opportunity. They embraced large investment, innovation and expansion. Under Edward (Ted) Holden, Holden's Motor Body Builders (HMBB) Woodville plant, with the latest technology, became the biggest of its type outside the USA. But the Depression forced Holden’s into selling to American partner General Motors in the 1930s. T.J. Richards remained 100% Australian-owned until Chrysler Corporation bought control in 1951.

Duncan & Fraser killed by Ford's Geelong car assembly and the end of the Model T in 1927

Duncan & Fraser, the Adelaide firm that grew from making quality horse carriages and then trams for Adelaide and Melbourne, made bold moves into car selling and making in the early 20th Century. After Duncan & Fraser built its first car body for Adelaide’s Lewis Cycle Works in 1900, joint founder James Fraser set up South Australia’s first showroom for cars. In 1903, it delivered a 5HP Oldsmobile South Australia’s first motorist Dr J.B. Gunson. With James Duncan, he was a founding member of the Automotive & Motor Cycling Club of South Australia – now the RAA. The firm won more car agencies but the big coup was the Ford Model T. After World War I, Fraser & Duncan stopped making horse-drawn transport and sold its Kilkenny trams factory to Holden Motor Body Builders – to fund its own Mile End factory to build cars. When that factory was destroyed in Adelaide's largest fire in 1923, Duncan & Fraser found temporary premises and were assembling eight cars daily within weeks. Ford Motor Co. was unhappy about dealers such as Duncans selling other car brands but, when executive Hubert French visited Adelaide, he conceded the Ford car bodies it was building were the best he’d seen. In 1924, Duncan & Fraser's new three-storey car factory opened in Franklin Street, Adelaide. But, next year, Ford Australia was formed, with French as managing director, and Ford car assembly started in Geelong with bodies made by Duncans. In 1926, Duncans’ assembly role ended when Geelong started taking steel frames only from Canada. The killer blow for Duncan & Fraser came when Ford announced the end of the Model T. Without enough cars to sell and caught in a costs squeeze, Duncan & Fraser ceased trading in August 1927.

T.J. Richards goes from master builder of horse coaches to assembling cars at Keswick in 1920s

John (“T.J.”) Richards founded the horse-coach company that would form the manufacturing base for Chrysler Australia cars. Richards’ first job was with Adamson Brothers farm machinery in Kapunda. He tried other trades, such as cordial making in Gawler and blacksmithing in Unley before learning coach building and opening a shop, in 1885, in Pulteney Street, Adelaide. By 1905, he has 35 coach designs, mostly sulkies, including his “King of the Road”. Richards became a coach-building judge at Sydney shows and, in 1908, headed the Coachbuilders' and Wheelwrights' Society. He retired in 1911. In 1914, the firm began selling Dixi, Palmer-Moore and Swift motor vehicles and Rudge and Pope motorcycles. Next year, it won the Studebaker agency. T. J. Richards & Sons was founded in 1916 and opened and expanded a workshop/showroom in Pirie Street Adelaide and, in 1920, moved to a large new factory on Leader Street, Keswick (later Le Cornu’s furniture warehouse) and concentrated on its “King of the Road” motor bodies, built on chassis made by such companies as Dodge Brothers. In 1928, when a second factory opened at Mile End, the company forged a relationship with Chrysler Corporation and built car bodies for Chrysler, Dodge, DeSoto and Plymouth. The new Australian company Chrysler Dodge Distributors bought control of T.J. Richards & Sons in 1937. The Richards family sold its remaining interest in 1946.  In 1951, the American Chrysler Corporation bought 85% of Chrysler Dodge Distributors (Holdings) and renamed it Chrysler Australia.

 

From saddlery in 1859, Holden's grabs 20th Century chance to make bodies for US car giants

The Holden story began in 1856 when, James Alexander Holden who emigrated from England in 1852, set up J.A. Holden & Co saddlery business in Adelaide.
In 1885, German-born Henry Frederick Frost joined the business which became Holden & Frost Ltd. Edward Holden, James' grandson, brought an interest in automobiles to the company in 1905. In 1908, Holden & Frost moved into minor repairs to car upholstery. It began making complete motorcycle sidecar bodies in 1913, and Edward experimented with fitting bodies to different carriages. After 1917, wartime trade restrictions led the company to start full-scale production of vehicle body shells. J.A. Holden founded a new company in 1919, Holden's Motor Body Builders (HMBB) specialising in car bodies and using a building on King William Street. By 1923, HMBB were producing 12,000 units per year. HMBB was the first company to assemble bodies for Ford Australia, until its Geelong plant was ready. From 1924, HMBB exclusively supplied car bodies for GM in Australia, making them at the new Woodville plant These bodies suited imported chassis from makers such as Chevrolet and Dodge. In 1926, General Motors (Australia) had assembly plants in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Birkenhead, South Australia, using bodies produced by HMBB Builders and imported chassis. General Motors bought HMBB in 1931 and merged it with General Motors (Australia) Pty Ltd to form General Motors-Holden's Ltd (GM-H).

Edward Holden takes family car company, with General Motors, to top Australian market

Edward Holden (1885-1947) took his Adelaide family carriage and saddlery business, Holden & Frost, into a partnership with General Motors to create Australia's first dominant automobile manufacturer, General Motors-Holden’s. Holden was born at College Town (now St Peters), the son of saddler and carriage maker Henry Holden. Educated at Prince Alfred College and Adelaide University, he joined the family firm Holden & Frost in 1905.  He saw the firm’s need to diversify into motor vehicles, initially maintaining and repairing (imported) car bodies then building motorcycle sidecars in a shed behind the firm's Grenfell Street premises. In 1917, the Australian Government restricted imports of fully manufactured cars to encourage the country's nascent car industry. Holden negotiated with America's General Motors (as Adelaide contemporary T.J. Richards did with Chrysler) to fit bodies to imported chassis. In 1919, Holden (as managing director) and his father founded Holden's Motor Body Builders with a factory at 400 King William Street, Adelaide.  In 1923, after Holden signed an agreement with General Motors, a new factory was set up on Port Road, Woodville, employing the latest production-line technology that boosted productivity. Holden introduced scientific management, cost accounting and production control. With General Motors Export Co., Holden’s cars dominated the Australian market. By 1929, the company employed 3,400 and was the biggest automotive bodybuilder in the British Empire.

Holden's at peak of mass production before 1929 downturn forces sellout to General Motors USA

Edward Holden’s move to highly-automatic mass production at Holden’s Motor Body Builders plant at Woodville in the 1920s initially had spectacular results. In 1926, 36,171 motor-bodies were produced, rising to 46,981 the next year. The first downtown came in 1928 with output at 33,785. In 1929, the company had 3400 workers but was hit by the death of Holden's younger brother William, a director and production manager at Woodville, while General Motors revised its orders downwards, and Ford suspended orders. In September, Edward Holden told the annual general meeting the business was “inherently sound” but in October the plant closed temporarily for lack of work. Holden's diversified to producing golf-club heads, filing cabinets, and wooden packing cases. Merger with three other Australian motor-body makers was rejected. In 1930, Holden went to the United States of America to discuss amalgamating with General Motors. That year the entire plant was closed for weeks and mass production became inappropriate as output collapsed to about 9000 bodies. (Output for 1931 was only 1630 bodies.) While its major competitors had effectively ceased business, Holden’s depended on orders from General Motors. In February 1931, after withdrawing an all-cash offer, General Motors offered £1,116,000 for Holden's — £550,000 in cash, and the rest in non-convertible cumulative preference shares in a new company. After disorderly debate among shareholders, they accepted the offer recommended by directors. Issuing preference shares gave General Motors complete control.

SOUTH AUSTRALIAN OWNERSHIP LOST BUT TECHNICAL CAPACITY CONTINUES 

THE RISE, FALL BUT NOT AN END OF ADELAIDE CAR BUILDING 
after the Chrysler/Mitsubishi and then GM-Elizabeth factories go

Lightburn's washing machine factory in Camden Park turns out Adelaide's own Zeta car

The Zeta, made from 1963 to 1965 by Lightburn and Co at its factory in the Adelaide suburb of Camden Park, became an instant car collector’s item because of its odd features and rarity. Car enthusiast Harold Lightburn, the company's owner and founder, was convinced that many Australians wanted the convenience of a small second car. Lightburn, who normally made cement mixers and washing machines, introduced the Zeta in 1963, priced £595, but sold fewer than 400. Zeta models were a sedan, sedan deluxe, utility and sports model.The Zeta Sedan (or Runabout) and utility were powered by a 324cc Villiers engine and were front wheel drive with independent rear trailing arms.The sedan had no rear hatch so the front seats had to be removed to access the cargo area. The chassis was steel, with a fibreglass body enclosing a large but sparse interior. Windows were perspex except for the front laminated glass windscreen. The doors were steel with sliding perspex windows.The four-speed, dog clutch Villiers gearbox had no reverse so the engine had to be switched off and started backwards to provide four reverse gears. Fuel came by gravity feed from a tank behind the dashboard. The fuel gauge was a plastic pipe running from top to bottom of the tank with a graduated glass tube section on the dashboard. The utility was the rarest Zeta with only eight produced. Some were bought by Sydney City Council for its Hyde Park fleet. The two-seater Zeta Sports was introduced in 1964. Like the Goggomobil Dart, it lacked doors and bumper bars. Only 28 were sold.

A Valiant effort fails to get Chrysler at Tonsley Park beyond No.3 in Australian car market

Chrysler Australia opened its Australian vehicle manufacturing plant at Tonsley in 1964 as the largest assembly plant in Australia operating under one roof. Chrysler Australia had started in 1951 when the Chrysler Corporation bought out Chrysler Dodge Distributors (Holdings) formed in 1935 with Adelaide company T. J. Richards & Sons. Initially, Chrysler Australia assembled North American Chrysler cars and trucks. In 1957, there were consolidated into the Royal. Technical changes failed to stop a sales slide and production ceased in 1963. With its Adelaide assembly plants opened at Tonsley Park and Lonsdale in the 1960s, Chrysler became third of the “Big 3” behind GM-H and Ford.  By 1963, Chrysler had developed a local version of the Plymouth Valiant, the AP5 Valiant, with distinctive styling. Chrysler Australia expanded the Valiant range but it never gained the popularity of Holdens or Ford Falcons. Chrysler Australia’s most memorable car, the sporty Valiant Charger, won Wheels magazine Car of the Year in 1971. Chrysler Australia’s Hemi-6 engine in the Valiant, unique to Australia from the early 1970s, was the most powerful six-cylinder produced in Australia, with 20% greater fuel economy. But Valiant sales were hit by the mid-1970s oil crisis and a switch to four-cyclinder cars. The Galant and Sigma were winners but they were designed by Mitsubishi which increased its 15% share to a full takeover of Chrysler Australia in 1980. 

Mitsubishi shuts down Tonsley car plant in 2008 after global problems kill any hope of revival

Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited (MMAL) took over Chrysler Australia and its Tonsley Park and Lonsdale car-making plants in 1980. It reduced the plants’ jobs that had peaked at 7500 in 1979. Chrysler Australia had been building Mitsubishi-designed Chrysler-branded vehicles: the Chrysler Valiant Galant (later Chrysler Galant), based on the 1972–1977 Mitsubishi and the Chrysler Sigma, a variant of the 1977–1985 Mitsubishi Galant. The popular Sigma was replaced by the Magna Colt, started in 1982 and ended in 1990. Mitsubishi introduced innovative multi skilling at Tonsley plus computer design and manufacturing. Mitsubishi’s first female engineer joined Tonsely that prided itself on being a family-friendly workplace. In 1992, Mitsubishi installed 38 robots in the body weld shop, 60 computerised sewing machines in the cut-and-sew section, and shifted manual painting to robotic spraying. In the early 2000s, a facelift for the Magna/Verada line failed to lift sales. Mitsubishi Motors Corporation in Japan gave funding to reengineer the Tonsley Park plant to allow the Mitsubishi 380 to come onto the market in 2005. In 2003, MMAL gained $30 million from Japan to create Mitsubishi Research and Development Australia (MRDAus) with MMAL's proving ground at Tailem Bend to be upgraded. Testing laboratories at Tonsley Park were also to be improved. In 2004, Mitsubishi’s global problems halted MRDAus with its 90 employees and an incomplete Tailem Bend site. With negative sentiment about MMAL’s future, the 380 sold poorly. Tonsley Park plant’s closure was announced in 2008. 

Commodore technology from Elizabeth plant keeps GM-H in No.1 car sales spot until 2003

General Motors-Holden’s car making plant at Elizabeth from 1960 became South Australia’s largest employer. The Elizabeth plant took over from the company’s Woodville plant that, after diverted to making military vehicles during World War II, went into full production of the first Australian car, the Holden, from 1948. As part of his industrialisation push, premier Tom Playford induced General Motors to build its factory at Elizabeth with low-cost homes for workers provided by the housing trust. South Australia actively chased migrant workers from Britain.With sales continually climbing, Holden introduced its third major new model, the FB, in 1960, inspired by 1950s Chevrolets. Elizabeth was central to the Commodore, introduced in 1978 and top-selling Australian car for 15 years. The plant developed Zeta, the full-size rear-wheel drive automobile platform that debuted with the 2006 Commodore and went into the second generation 2013 Commodore (VF). Elizabeth was important in the revisions and modernising GM-H made to hold the No.1 spot in Australian car sales it lost to Toyota in 2003. Tariff cuts (in the 1980s), the high Australian dollar and cost of developing an all-new Commodore compounded this downturn. In 2005, the third-shift assembly line at Elizabeth was shut down, with 1400 jobs lost. In 2013,1700 employees at Elizabeth voted for a wage freeze to decrease the chance of a plant closure in 2016. But survival depended on more government assistance from 2016 to 2022. General Motors in Detroit decided in 2013 that Holden would stop engine and car making in Australia by 2017.

$1.8m Brabham BT62 supercars being built at Edinburgh Parks near former Holden's factory

The Brabham BT62, one of the world's most exclusive cars, has been designed in Adelaide and built in an Edinburgh Parks factory near the former General Motors-Holden’s site at Elizabeth, north of Adelaide, from 2018. Seventy of the vehicles, each priced at $1.8 million, are being made by the Fusion group and Brabham Automotive, named after Australian Formula One world champion Jack Brabham. The company's director is David, youngest of his sons. The BT 62 has carbon-fibre bodywork and is powered by a 5.4 litre V8 engine producing 522 kW. The 7.77-kilometre track at The Bend Motorsport Park in Tailem Bend is testing place for the car. The build will be limited to 70 cars to mark the years since Jack Brabham launched his racing career. The company chose South Australia due to its “rich automotive heritage” and Adelaide a “a centre of excellence for engineering capability and capacity”. The Australian Grand Prix was last in Adelaide in 1995, the year after Jack Brabham's son David raced his final season in Formula One with the Simtek team. Jack Brabham became a legend for winning the Formula One championship in his own car. The BT62’s livery was designed to celebrate Sir Jack's 1966 French Grand Prix victory at Reims in his BT19, which he made on a design by partner Ron Tauranac.  Jack Brabham died in 2014 – the year David Braham won a seven-year battle to retrieve the Brabham name from a German organisation. David Brabham was introduced to the Fusion group in Adelaide and was impressed by their advanced manufacturing capabilities and vision. for the BT62 project. 

STATE'S MOTORING HERITAGE INTEREST STILL IN TOP GEAR IN 21st CENTURY

NATIONAL MOTOR MUSEUM, BAY-TO-BIRDWOOD, FESTIVALS
show South Australian fervour for cars from all eras and models 

National museum at Birdwood presents a social history around the effect of motoring

The National Motor Museum – Australia’s largest – celebrated its 50th year in Birdwood (formerly Blumberg) in the Adelaide Hills in 2015. The museum has 300 vehicles (a third on loan from private collectors and groups) and documents the social history of Australian road transport with brochures, maps, tin signs, petrol bowsers, toys, models and images. Started by Jack Kaines and Len Vigar in 1964, the museum was bought by the South Australian government as part of its history trust.

Sporting Car Club of South Australia spurs knowledge and interest in all cars since 1934

The Sporting Car Club of South Australia, founded in 1934, is the largest motor car club in Australia, with 1700 members. The club is interested in all makes, models and ages of cars with special-interest group activities. The clubrooms in Unley are the focal point for meetings and also house an extensive collection of motorsport and motoring information in the Eric Rainsford Library with more than 7000 volumes covering workshop manuals, parts lists, motoring journals, books and magazines. It also encourages preserving and restoring historic motor vehicles.The club holds motorsport events and competitions, running a four-round circuit racing series; national historic meeting at Mallala; national, state and club events at its Collingrove Hillclimb Track in the Barossa Valley; the Adelaide Motorsport Festival in Victoria Park, and, from 2015, the Classic Adelaide Rally.

Bay to Birdwood Run and Classic the world's largest continuous showcase of vehicles

The Bay to Birdwood is the largest continuously historic motoring event in the world for veteran, vintage and classic vehicles. It started in 1980, run by the Federation of Historic Motoring Clubs, SAS Channel Ten and National Motor Museum. It acknowledged the first South Australian driver's licence issued to Dr William A. Hargreaves in 1906. The Bay to Birdwood in September is a Run for cars made up to 1959 in even numbered years and a Classic for cars made between 1956 to 1979 in odd numbered years.

Kevin May starts Aussie Muscle Car Run to raise Leukaemia Foundation funds on epic road trips

Kevin May started The Aussie Muscle Car Run in Adelaide in 2011 for enthusiasts of grunt vehicles from the Bathurst golden era, built between 1963 and 1977. He teamed up with Leukaemia Foundation to make the epic road cruises a fundraiser that has brought in more than $2 million. May, a Ford fanatic and former president of the South Australian GT Club, lost a sister Pam to leukaemia so the foundation was a natural beneficiary for an annual event after he ran a successful GT National tour in 2008. The Muscle Run attracts a wide range of Toranas, GT Falcons, Ford Mustangs, Valiants, Statesman, Capris, Fairmonts and Monaros.  The Leukaemia Foundation’s 2018 Aussie Muscle Car Run featured 60 cars and tour bus with Australian actor Shane Jacobson. The seven-day cruise did a 1900 kilometre loop from Adelaide to Mildura, Wilpena Pound, the Barossa, back to Adelaide, starting with two days at the new The Bend Motorsport Park at Tailem Bend.

Motorsports Festival another outlet for Adelaide's love affair with all kinds of cars

Adelaide Motorsports Festival, started in 2014, has brought Formula One back to Adelaide in a way not seen since the Grand Prix departed after 1995.The two-day festival, in November/December on part of Grand Prix circuit in Victoria Park, combines the rebirth of the Classic Adelaide Rally (1997-2009) and the Victoria Park Sprint. The festival, run by the Sporting Car Club, is billed as a museum in motion, authentic to South Australia’s rich motor racing heritage while creating new event experiences.

SOUTH AUSTRALIAN MOTORSPORT MATURES INTO SERIOUS BUSINESS

WAYVILLE, ROWLEY PARK SPEEDWAY RACING CRASH'N'BANG 
opens the way for Clem Smith, Garrie Cooper and Vern Schuppan

First motoring club gets serious and reforms in 1911 to become Royal Automobile Association

A small group of South Australian motoring enthusiasts formed the Automobile and Motor Cycling Club in 1903. It pioneered motorsport with weekend drives, trials and Adelaide Hills climbs. The club split in 1910 between those who wanted motoring fun and those who were serious about getting help for motorists.The Automobile Club (later RAA) became the watchdog for motorists. It opposed speed limits (as low as 4m/ph) and introduced free legal defence for members in the 1920s. 

 

Australian speedway racing born fast at Wayville Showgrounds in the 1920s and 1930s

Wayville Showgrounds’ main arena in the 1920s/30s has been claimed as the birthplace of Australian speedway. The showgrounds’ main arena became Speedway Royal, peaking between 1926 and 1934, when it could hold regular crowds of 25,000 and attract world champions such as Lionel van Pragg. In 1928, Wayville, hosting the first of its Australia solo titles, was promoted as “the world's fastest dirt track speedway”.  Wayville stopped hosting speedway meetings after 1934.

Thirty years of Friday wild nights at Rowley Park speedway famed for their spills,crashes

Friday summer nights at Rowley Park Speedway became the setting for legendary reckless thrills (leading to nine deaths) over its 30 years from the late 1940s. Before the 1970s, the speedway, in inner western suburb Brompton, operated without roll cages and seatbelts for Speedcar and TQ drivers. In 1965, about 20,000 saw  Australia's first Demo Derby at Rowley Park. Promoter Kim Bonython also imported overseas drivers, including Bob “Two Gun” Tattersall (USA), to race full seasons.

1960s Lake Eyre rains on Donald Campbell's hopes for land speed record beyond his 403m/ph

Donald Campbell became the fastest man on the planet in his Bluebird on South Australia’s Lake Eyre salt at 8.10am on July 17, 1964, reaching an average of 403.1m/ph (648.7km/h) with back-to-back passes in opposite directions near Muloorina Station. The Englishman became the first man to break the 400 mile per hour limit in a wheel-driven vehicle. About 200,000 people –100,000 fewer than those who greeted the Beatles a few weeks earlier –  saw Campbell drive his Bluebird down King William Street, Adelaide, after his feat. But Lake Eyre hadn't been as kind to Campbell. When he first decided in 1961 to use the lake, it hadn’t seen rain for nine years. By 1963, rains had flooded the lake to several inches and it never fully dried out for the 1964 attempt. On July 17, he took advantage of a weather break and made two runs along the shortened still-damp track.He was bitterly disappointed with the record as the vehicle had been designed for much higher speeds. 

International Raceway, Speedway Park, Mallala, Gillman take turns in the wake of Rowley Park

Even before Rowley Park closed in 1979, the Adelaide speedway scene became complicated in a way that stopped any national or international-standard venue emerging. In 1972, Surfers Paradise businessman Keith Williams, who also bought the Mallala Motor Circuit, built the Adelaide International Raceway (AIR), 26km north of Adelaide at Virginia. Next door is Speedway Park, opened in 1979 by the Racing Drivers Association of South Australia. More ownership changes have continued.

 

Clem Smith a legend as racer, car collector and saviour of the Mallala Motor Sport Park

Clem Smith, a legendary motor racing competitor from Rowley Park days in the 1950s, is credited with saving the historic Mallala Motor Sport Park from oblivion.  Smith dedicated his life to motor racing, starting as a driver at Brompton’s Rowley Park Speedway before racing a Hudson Terraplane at Sellicks Beach in the early 1950s. He drove in the 1955 Australian Grand Prix and also was a Chrysler car dealer in Adelaide. In 1977, Smith, who built a valued rare car collection highlighted by his beloved Valiants, bought Mallala race ciruit in the mid 1970s from Keith Williams, who also owned Adelaide International Raceway. After a lengthy court battle, Smith overturned Williams' covenant stopping racing at Mallala Motor Sport Park. After Smith’s death in 2017, the Mallala circuit was bought by the Shahin family, who also owns the new Bend raceway at Tailem Bend. The Shahins want Mallala to be part of the renaissance of motorsport in South Australia.

 

Garrie Cooper designs, builds and races Elfins to world fame from his Edwardstown factory

Adelaide’s Garrie Cooper made Elfin a towering name of Australian motor sport. Cooper was founder the highly successful Elfin Sports Cars and a racing driver in his own right, winning the 1968 Singapore Grand Prix, the 1968 1.5 Litre Championship and the 1975 Australian Sports Car Championship – all in V8-powered Formula 5000 Elfin cars that were among the 250 sports and racing cars he designed and built in a small factory in Conmurra Avenue, Edwardstown, from 1953 until he died, at 46, in 1982. Helped by his father Cliff Cooper, Garrie had established Elfin Sports Cars in 1957 at age 22, with his first car being the Elfin Streamliner, a front engined sports car in 1959. He began racing in 1962 under the benner of Elfin that became the second largest maker of racing cars in the world in the late 1960s. Before Donald Campbell’s assault on the world land speed record on Lake Eyre in 1964, an Elfin Catalina was used on the salt surface to test tyres similar to the Bluebird's.

Vern Schuppan a Le Mans winner; car builder; helped get Adelaide Grand Prix

Vern Schuppan is one another of South Australia’s multi-faceted contributors to motor racing on an international level. After Australian state and national titles in karting, Schuppan switched to motor racing. He won the 1971 British Formula Atlantic Championship and the 1973 Singapore Grand Prix. Schuppan raced in  the Indianapolis 500 and most successfully in sports cars, winning 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1983 driving the Porsche 956. He went on to win the 1983 Japanese Sports- Prototype championship and finished sixth at the 1984 Le Mans, driving with 1980 world champion Alan Jones. Schuppan was important in bringing Formula One to Adelaide. F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone favoured the Australian Grand Prix being in Sydney. Premier John Bannon asked Schuppan, who knew Ecclestone personally, to bring him to Adelaide. Ecclestone was so impressed that the grand prix was staged in Adelaide 1985-1995.
 

Glen Dix the stylish flag waver, from Rowley Park to GP, in South Australia for 50 years

Glen Dix, a member of the Australian Speedway Hall of Fame, is best known for flamboyantly waving the chequered flag at the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix in Adelaide 1985-995 and in Melbourne in 1996. He also waved the flag at four Australian 500cc Motorcycle Grands Prix. His 50 years in South Australian motor sport included flag waving at Mallala Motorsport Park, the V8 Super Cars and Bay-to-Birdwood rally through to the national karting titles and the Masters Games.  But he started at Rowley Park speedway in 1953 and flagged its final Speedcar feature in 1979. Victor Harbor-born Dix was introduced to the Racing Drivers Association of South Australia by secretary Ross Schultz in 1952. The next season Dix helped 5KA radio announcer Bill Evans to broadcast Rowley Park feature races. Dix began his flag waving as volunteer assistant to Rowley Park clerk of course Ern Sconce and took over in 1954/55. Dix insisted on waving through every driver who finished the race – from first to last

MIXING IT WITH THE BEST IN EVENTS AND VENUES

GRAND PRIX EXCELLENCE CARRIED INTO THE ADELAIDE 500;
supercars going round the Bend; solar challenge attracts world 

Adelaide proves itself as big-events venue during Grand Prix party time decade of excellence

Adelaide hit the heights of motorsport racing as the host of the Australian Grand Prix for 10 years from 1985. From an idea by businessman Bill O’Gorman, backed by state premier John Bannon and sealed in London in a deal with F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, the Adelaide Grand Prix set new standards for the event. Under senior civil servant Mal Hemmerling, the Adelaide event established its own character with a challenging, but popular, 3.7km street circuit incorporating Victoria Park and Dequetteville Terrace.

Adelaide 500 wins multiple awards as Australia's biggest ticketed car race event

The Adelaide 500 continues to be the most successful V8 supercar race in Australia. Adelaide hosts the event every March, with four days of V8 Supercar racing on a shortened version of the street circuit used by the Formula One Australian Grand Prix (1985-95). The state government has secured Australia’s largest ticketed domestic motor sport event until 2021. In 2008, the 500 was attended by 291,400 people, the largest crowd for a domestic motorsport event in Australia.
 

$80m motorsport park at Tailem Bend may become second venue for V8 supercars race

The 800ha former Mitsubishi car testing site at Tailem Bend has been developed by the Shahin family’s Peregrine Corporation, owners of the On The Run outlets, as The Bend motorsport park may be a second V8 Supercars race venue. The track is Category 2,  suitable for any type of vehicle except Formula One. The complex will have a 35-room hotel plus a four-storey control tower, corporate areas, restaurants and 163 onsite garages will allow private vehicles to be worked on before they test the circuit.

 

World challenge race from Darwin marries cars with the latest in solar technology

Adelaide grabs international attention every two years for a car race chasing the sun. The World Solar Challenge for solar-powered cars covers 3,022 km from Darwin to Adelaide. The race attracts teams from around the world, most from universities and corporations. In 2015, 43 teams from 23 countries competed to come up with the most innovative solar-powered design. In 2017, a trial stage for cruiser-class solar cars was introduced with a significant cut in the allowable area for solar panels on race vehicles.

 

SOUTH AUSTRALIA CONTINUES CAR TECHNOLOGY TRADITION
pushing into new areas such as driverless vehicles

GM-Holden's plant at Elizabeth contributed to global tech advance in rear wheel drive

The now-closed GM-Holden’s Elizabeth plant's contribution to global motoring technology with flow on. Zeta is the full-size rear-wheel-drive car platform, developed at the Elizabeth plant, that has become known as “global RWD (real-wheel-drive) architecture”. Holden started developing the Zeta in 1999 to replace the Commodore’s ageing V-body platform. Principal development on the VE Commodore was completed by 2004 at a cost near $1 billion, with trials later that year.  General Motors global headquarters were impressed by the VE design and began studies on using the underlying architecture for products on a global scale. After this plan was cancelled due to the global financial crisis, the Zeta as a global rear drive platform was revived for the Chevrolet Camaro of 2010. Holden started work on an improved second version of the Zeta platform that was the basis of the 2013 Commodore (VF) and the Chevrolet SS in the USA. In 2013, Holden announced the end of production at the Elizabeth plant in 2017 and, with it, the Zeta platform. Sigma-based vehicles that shared design engineering with Zeta moved to the Alpha platform based on the Zeta. In particular, the new-age US Chevrolet Camaro transitioned to the Alpha platform in 2015 with the 2016 six-generation model. Belgian entrepreneur Guido Dumarey revealed plans (since abandoned) in 2015 to buy the Elizabeth plant to continue producing a rebadged Zeta platform-based of rear and all-wheel drive premium vehicles for local and international markets. Australian-made V6-powered Zeta vehicles already use automatic transmissions made by Dumarey's company Punch Powerglide.

Cohda Wireless world leader in the technology drive to smart roads with driverless cars

Cohda Wireless is the world’s most advanced and experienced provider of V2X: the vehicle traffic technology opening the way to driverless cars. Cohda, with headquarters in North Adelaide plus small offices in Detroit and Michigan, makes wireless sensor systems allowing driverless cars to share sensor data with other similar vehicles.  The cars can “talk” to each other, allowing smooth travel and avoiding collisions.  The vehicle-to-vehicle links (V2V) are combined with cooperative intelligent transport systems (ITS) linking vehicles to road infrastructure, all under the umbrella of V2X. The linking of smart vehicles with smart roads aims to avoid accidents and congestion.  The Cohda software is used in more than half of the vehicle-to-vehicle trials under way around the world. Opportunities are vast, because car makers around the world are moving so fast to incorporate the technology.  Among Cohda’s many projects is one building software for a Cadillac CTS connected vehicle for car industry giant General Motors. Cohda Wireless was founded in 2004 by a group of highly regarded research scientists working at the University of South Australia's Institute for Telecommunications Research. Cohda’s world-class team of scientists and engineers has progressed though prototype Cooperative-ITS systems, to designing and selling real-world products with a clear advantage. It has secured revenues in the emerging Cooperative-ITS market through the sales of five generations of its onboard and roadside equipment.
 

Flinders University works on driverless vehicle technology with RAA as state leads way

Flinders University has been working with South Australia's RAA (Royal Automobile Association) on trials that showcase driverless vehicle technology. Pre-booking a driverless shuttle via a mobile app has been a Flinders University research project backed by the state government. Flinders had two successful applications to the government’s Future Mobility Lab Fund; a $10 million initiative to drive driverless car technology in South Australia. As part of the first grant, Flinders University, with the RAA, worked with eight industry supporters to trial so called “last mile” public transport shuttle services (feeder services that bridge gaps for public transport users between train/bus stops and the home/office or any other destination). Adelaide in 2015 became the first in the Southern Hemisphere city to conduct a driverless car test drive. Two Volvo XC90 vehicles went for an autonomous drive on Adelaide's Southern Expressway, as part of the Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative coordinated by the national independent road research agency ARRB Group. Ahead of their official release in Sweden in 2017, the two Volvo cars demonstrated automatic lane keeping, adaptive cruise control, and active queue assist.With driverless cars potentially taking to the Australian roads by 2020, the South Australian government has passed laws to make it easier for car makers to test their vehicles on the state’s roads. In an Australian first, companies looking to trial driverless technologies on South Australian roads will simply have to submit plans of the proposed trial and have sufficient insurances to protect the public.

Adelaide engineering firm Supashock hones absorbers for winners in V8 and ePrix events

A small eastern suburbs Adelaide automotive engineering firm made history in 2015 by producing the first fully Australian-designed and -made shock absorbers used to win the V8 Supercars championship. Mark Winterbottom, using Supashock dampers, won the title, despite missing four races of the V8 Supercars season. He also took out more pole positions than any other driver. In its first two years of V8 Supercars competition, Supashock also was used by the winners of the Sandown 500 and Bathurst 1000. 

t has featured in 21 wins from 40 races (including the Australian Grand Prix non-championship races) and 18 pole positions from 37 qualifying sessions (including Australian Grand Prix races). All teams that ran Supashock had pole positions, wins or podium finishes. SupaShock’s success went international when, at short notice, it created bespoke shock absorbers for the DS Virgin Racing team that had a start-to-finish win in the 2016 ePrix in Buenos Aires. With his staff of 20 at Magill, Supashock managing director Oscar Fiorinotto adapted his suspension range to 4X4, SUV and off-road vehicles. The Supashock 4X4 range is designed, developed and manufactured in Australia, by Australians, for Australian conditions. This world-leading technology increases safety, braking, ride comfort and load-carrying capacity.



 

Fusion Capital backing technologies of future vehicles from supercars to battery-power buses

Hydrogen fuel-cell urban transport, driverless shuttles and electric city cars are also part of the long-term vision of Fusion Capital. The Adelaide company, based at Edinburgh Parks, grew out of automotive parts supplier Precision Components in the northern suburbs where its primary business was to supply components to the nearby now-defunct General Motors-Holden’s factory at Elizabeth, as well as Toyota and Ford in Victoria. With the demise of car manufacturing in Australia, Precision Components and sister company Fusion diversified their business, including reinventing their automotive operations with a long aim of embracing technologies such as electrification, hydrogen power and autonomous driving systems. The new-look operation started with Precision Buses – a joint venture with one of Australia’s leading bus manufacturers, Bustech, of Queensland. Precision Buses also tendered for a 10-year contract to supply Adelaide Metro with diesel buses but ultimately battery-powered buses that have been trialled by Adelaide Metro. With the help of a $2 million grant from the South Australian government, two prototype electric buses were built at the company’s Edinburgh Parks workshops in a new-look hi-tech automotive manufacturing hub that also includes the Brabham Automotive plant and the specialist vehicle suspension manufacturer SupaShock. Fusion financed Brabham Automotive project to build 70 Brabham BT62 track cars, each valued at $1.8 million. Ultimately, Fusion sees opportunities in “last-mile solutions” – building emissions-free local transport such as driverless shuttles and electric city cars suitable for downtown urban areas and similar confined locations.

 

 

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