Australian Six

Why did it take until the late 1940s for Australia to develop it's own car industry; whilst even then it was only a subsidiary (Holden) of American car manufacturer General Motors that first set up a production line? It was not as if the demand wasn't there. The first Holdens came off the production line in 1948 with a two year waiting list so many Australians still had to suffer the indignity of buying cars from foreign manufacturers. Why hadn't made cars in Australia earlier?

They had. It could all have been so different if, back in 1919, an innovative engineer from Sydney called Frederick Hugh Gordon had been given a little help, either by the government or other potential financial backers.

In 1918 Gordon was determined to manufacture cars in Australia using bought in components from abroad where necessary, and locally produced Australian parts where possible. Chevrolet in America provided various components, Rutenber in Illinois supplied six cylinder engines and other bits and pieces were sourced from all over the globe. Production began in a Sydney factory in 1919 with a choice of six models; the labour force was expanded to 200 giving preference to returned ex-soldiers and it was claimed that the cars were 'Made in Australia, by Australians, for Australia' although whether this would comply with current day trades description legislation is debatable!

The laudable aim of using locally produced parts as much as possible was one of the factors that led to the company's downfall. The truth was that the experience of manufacturing car components and also the economies of scale simply didn't exist in Australia after the First World War. Around 500 cars were said to have been manufactured by the business before it finally shut down in 1925 citing the high cost of creating the car locally as the major reason, and indeed a number of financial crises had already been experienced.

Was it a good car? That is debatable; it has been estimated that only about 16 of them still exist and by no means all of these are still in running condition. Could it have been a long-term viable proposition with better financial controls? Possibly, but a long-term financing package would have had to have been available to get costs down and quality up to the standards which were essential if this completely new industry was to survive against international (and particularly United States) competitors. nevertheless it was a brave attempt to start car manufacture from scratch in Australia and if more assistance had been available from the Australian government perhaps it could have helped to established a home grown car industry several decades earlier than it did in fact do so.

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