Australia’s isolation before the turn of the century led to a need for self-reliance and ingenuity among its pioneering automotive engineers. The following are a few of the most important early vehicles in Australia, both produced at home and imported from abroad.
The first road trip from Sydney to Melbourne was undertaken in 1901, lasting ten full days. The first commercial steam-powered car arrived in Australia the following year. This was the Chaboche, a French vehicle imported by Sydney’s Mark Foy. At this time, France produced 50% of the world’s automobiles.
What is thought to be the first petrol-engine car in Australia was built by Harry A. Tarrant in 1897. He built this first basic model in his small workshop in Melbourne, and followed it up with a number of improved designs over the years. The car was called the Tarrant, with later models featuring a fully enclosed body, rear axles, and gearboxes. Colonel Tarrant was instrumental in the development of the automotive industry in Australia, working on behalf of many early brands including Ford, Mercedes, and Fiat.
Ford Model T
Ford was the first major company to set up shop in Australia, and has remained a leader in the industry since the turn of the 20th century. The iconic Model T was released in 1908, becoming the first globally produced car. It is also famous for being the first car targeted to the American middle class, and its demographic in Australia was similar as more households showed interest in owning a car.
AC Mack Truck
There was a high interest in the potential for trucks or road trains during this time, in order to cart cargo across Australia’s vast distances where railways couldn’t reach. A giant land tractor named “Big Lizzie” was built in 1914, powered by a crude oil engine with an output of 60hp. Big Lizzie was used to haul wheat and supplies for settlement projects in rural areas, and was also used for clearing land.
The first Mack truck arrived in Australia in 1919 and was a game-changer, allowing truckers to cover long distances with large hauls. Its chain drive rear axle was a new innovation that made it more reliable and efficient than vehicles like Big Lizzie, and the AC Mack Truck provided supplies to rural settlements for decades.
After WWII ended, many Australians were itching to own a car. Yet at the beginning of the 1950’s, only 1 in 10 homes had one. These were mainly imported from America, Germany, or Great Britain, with some of the most popular models including the VW Beetle and Ford Prefect. Those with more money preferred six-cylinder models like those from Rolls Royce, and the classic lines of these cars hardly deviate from the Rolls Royce cars at Carsales today. Australia’s own Holden brand, partnered with General Motors, released their own FX model in 1948 to meet the growing demand for an everyday household vehicle. More rugged than 4-cylinders like the Beetle or Prefect, the FX was designed for use in Australia’s wild rural areas. By 1952, 32,000 FX cars had been sold and millions of dollars were invested in the expansion of this Australian brand.
From Harry Tarrant to Holden, Australians have closely followed global automotive trends while using ingenuity to create independent designs adapted to local needs. Holden and Ford continue to dominate the market today, with Australia being one of the select few countries capable of designing and producing its own vehicles.
Chaboche – From allcarindex.com
Tarrant – From Museum Victoria
Ford Model T – Wikipedia Creative Commons
Big Lizzie – Wikipedia Creative Commons
Mack 1919 Model AC – Wikimedia Creative Commons
1949 Holden Sedan – Wikipedia Creative Commons
Guest Author Bio
Rachel MacDonald is an Edinburgh-based freelance writer who has worked as a copywriter for businesses from Lima to San Francisco. She specializes in travel, design, and the arts.