History of motor cars in australia

Australia was brilliant at making cars. Where did it all go wrong?

Motor vehicles were the most transformative influence on the character of Melbourne in the 20th century. Cars and the spaces they occupy now dominate the suburban landscape. Next to housing, they make the largest claim on the expenditure of households. Cars are the largest cause of deaths and injuries among young Melburnians and their dependence on oil, a polluting, non-renewable fuel, potentially threatens the environmental sustainability of the city itself.

All this has occurred in the course of the last century, and especially over the past 60 years since the advent of mass automobilisation. One of the first petrol-driven cars, the 'Pioneer', a 'motorised double-seat dogcart' was exhibited at the Melbourne Cycle Show in By when a dozen motoring enthusiasts joined an excursion to Tooradin on Westernport Bay, it was clear that motoring had come to stay.

The Rise of Motor Cars

Many pioneer motorists had previously been bicycling enthusiasts and motoring's appeal was strongest among those imbued with a spirit of adventure and a love of the great outdoors. In December 55 men met at the Port Phillip Hotel to form an Automobile Club as 'a social organization and club composed mainly of persons owning self-propelled vehicles or motor cycles'. From its beginnings, the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria RACV became the voice of 'the man at the wheel', defending the motorist's right to drive, unfettered by onerous taxation or regulation, as a simple extension of liberal democracy.

Cars, however, were also a new and dangerous force in urban life. They travelled faster, generated more noise and dust and claimed more road space than any other form of transport. They endangered the lives of anything, human or beast, that was unfortunate enough to stand in their path. During the 19th century civic authorities had developed regulations governing 'furious driving' and other forms of anti-social street behaviour; but the motor car called for more comprehensive and stringent forms of regulation.

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Following a traffic conference the Melbourne City Council introduced amendments to city by-laws to require motorists to drive on the left of the road, indicate stops and turns, and carry a red light. Other regulations governed speed, parking and loads. However, these regulations were only as strong as the authorities' ability to enforce them. Policemen on bicycles were powerless to pursue runaway motorists and, even when they brought offenders to court, magistrates were often more sympathetic to well-spoken fellow members of the middle class than to bumbling police officers.

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The number of motorists increased rapidly in the years before World War I, and although the rationing of petrol curbed the growth of private motoring during the war, the trend accelerated during the s when the number of vehicles on Victorian roads doubled from 70 in to in The Metropolitan Town Planning Commission noted that 'this increase in the use of the automobile is worldwide and gives rise to many town-planning problems'.

Each car passenger used about six times the road space of a cable tram passenger. Were there ways of ensuring that the interests of the mass of the people who used public transport were not unjustifiably subjugated to the noisy minority of private motorists, the commissioners wondered. Special permission from the Mayor had to be obtained before the car could be driven through the streets. Shearer did not persist in his experiment and turned his attention to the manufacture of harvesters, strippers, harrows and ploughs.

Thus Australia was probably deprived of the all Australian motor car. The only idea not found in the modern car and which was incorporated in Mr.

Shearer drove his car by means of a steam engine with a horizontal boiler designed by himself. Petrol cars appeared almost as early as steamers.

The first that had any Australian background was designed by John Pender a Brunswick, manufacturer of horse shoe nails, but he had it built in the United States. The first Australian-built petrol car by Tarrant Company, was the design of two men from Melbourne, who later became widely known in the motor industry, Colonel Harley Tarrant and Howard Lewis. The car was manufactured in with two-cylinder engine and electric ignition. But the car was a failure. Their second car was completed in and it was sold to W. Chander a hardware merchant. The next four years Tarrant company built few more cars of two and four cylinder engines.

The Tarrant company cars were of very good quality and in its car tied with four imported cars in the Dunlop trial from Melbourne to Sydney. The first car manufactured in New South Wales was a twin-cylinder called the Australis, in to the design of Albert Woods, of Leichhardt. He built his first truck in , using the invention, and founded the Caldwell Vale Co. This concern built 50 four-cylinder trucks, which were sold to the Government and private firms.

Caldwell later invented a system of four-wheel steering combined with four-wheel drive, and the 30HP utility he built on these lines claimed to be the ancestor of the jeep — was capable of outstanding feats in sand and mud. In , F. Puckridge built a car for Dr E. Kinmont at Port Lincoln.

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It had an air cooled engine, a two speed gearbox with no reverse and no differential. The car ran well, but no more were made. After the World War I the history of Australian Car manufacturing was mostly about assembled in Australia machines rather than manufactured machines. All contained a proportion of local parts combined with imported major components.

Hamilton Grapes, the Melbourne engineer who designed the Eco, was a specialist on carburetion and pioneered thermostatic control of induction manifold temperatures.


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His induction design was developed at the American Zenith factory in Detroit. It featured an extremely hot retort chamber off the manifold itself, into which un vaporised fuel was thrown by centrifugal action. The car ran well on kerosene and other heavy fuels after warming up on petrol. Another unusual feature was cast aluminum disc wheels. Two or three cars were built in before the company folded up. It more or less looked like two bicycles joined together. This two-cylinder vehicle did not have a steering wheel but had a tiller. The cars that were imported were either run by steam or gas, but petrol engines changed the scene all together.

The early petrol cars were difficult to drive and hard to start and remain smelly and noisy in their early stages.

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So for a short while people preferred electric powered cars. But electric cars lost the supremacy because they were not as good and charging stations were rare. Light trucks delivered goods and materials throughout the state. While by around one in four South Australian families had a car — now likely to be a sedan rather than the canvas-roofed tourer of previous decades — the Great Depression and the Second World War reduced the momentum of car ownership.

Not until the s did car ownership become a reality rather than a dream for most families. In there were motor vehicles per South Australians, and by there were ; indeed, until the mid s South Australia had the highest per capita car ownership in Australia. The Sunday drive became a popular pastime.

Increased car ownership brought pressure on governments for better roads. The growth of a national road transport industry further increased pressure to improve South Australian highways. Changes were made to accommodate the motor vehicle. Trams, the bane of Adelaide motorists, were removed from Adelaide streets in except for the Glenelg line.

Cost and public opposition halted its implementation. A century on the impact of the motor vehicle on South Australia is dramatic. In Adelaide it has stimulated urban sprawl, enabling the growth of suburbs that have almost total dependence on vehicular access. In country areas the motor vehicle has reduced isolation yet encouraged the diminution of small centres by facilitating access to larger towns.

However, in the last decades of the twentieth century concerns over pollution and the use of oil have led to increasing debate over the role of the motor vehicle in South Australia.