The Australian Six
The Australian Six was an Australian automobile manufactured from 1919 to 1925. It was a grandiose attempt to compete against imported cars from the United States, and was produced from a mixture of local and imported parts. Vehicles featured a conventional chassis layout and a choice of five bodies, locally made under the motto 'Made in Australia, by Australians, for Australia'. Most models were fitted with Rutenber Straight-6 engines and Grand Lees or Muncie gearboxes; some, however, had imported OHV Ansted engines instead. Before 1919 the factory was at the Sydney Harbour side suburb of Rushcutters Bay, New South Wales, it then moved to Ashfield until 1924. The company was forced to shut down production after some 500 cars were built; this was due mainly to high local construction costs. The final few cars were made by the Harkness and Hillier hire car company in Sydney. Sixteen Australian Sixes survive, one in the Powerhouse Museum automobile collection in Sydney.
In 1984 the car was honoured on a postage stamp, part of a series of five depicting early Australian automobiles, issued by Australia Post
from Vintage Vehicle Club of Australia
The Australian Six Story
Mr. Frederick Hugh Gordon was an early motoring pioneer who recognized the tremendous opportunities that the modern automobile would bring to Australia. Through his Company F. H. Gordon & Company, he was involved in the Motoring Industry from the beginning. He and his colleagues made several trips to America and they met quite a number of the leaders of the American Automotive Industry of the time, including Mr. Louis Chevrolet. Chevrolet was prepared to supply components of the American Six to F. H. Gordon to assemble and sell as his own car in Australia. Gordon was in America at the end of the WW 1 and immediately set in place his plans to import the components for the assembly of his cars in Australia.
Back in Australia, Gordon announced to the motoring public in February 1919 that he was about to commence production of a locally assembled six cylinder car, which he had called "The Australian Six". The cars would be assembled at his factory in McLaughlin Avenue, Rushcutters Bay, Sydney
The first production cars were available for sale by March/April 1919. Production continued at steady pace for the remainder of 1919. In September 1919 F. H. Gordon joined with John Joshua Hughes and David Buchanan Martin to form a new company, Australian Motors Limited to manufacture the Australian Six on a much larger scale. Gordon's relations with his fellow shareholders seems to have quickly soured. By February 1920 he was in Court F. H. Gordon & Co Ltd last appeared as the agent for Australian Six in May 1920 and by November of that year the other directors had agreed to amalgamate the company with Australian Motors Ltd who initially took over the sales responsibilities.
Move to Parramatta Road, Ashfield.
After the formation of Australian Motors Ltd. Messrs. John Joshua Hughes and David Buchanan Martin took over the control of the manufacturing operations for The Australian Six. It was their belief that for the new company to succeed then the Company must mass produce The Australian Six. They commissioned the construction of new a new factory in Parramatta Road, Ashfield that would be equipped with latest overseas machinery to mass produce The Australian Six. The factory opened in February 1920 and when at peak capacity had 210 employees. A new Company, Australian Six Motor Sales Ltd was registered on 23rd March 1921 to take over the sales of The Australian Six.
Within weeks of the new venture commencing operations, shareholder in both the production and sales companies and Production Manager, Mr. David Buchanan Martin died suddenly. Then a matter of weeks later a second disaster strikes when the Parent Company of the major shareholder in the sales company, Savage Tyres Ltd - New Zealand, went into Receivership, bringing down the local operations of Savage Tyres as well. The impact of these two events was too much for the fledgling Company to withstand and within six weeks of being launched the Australian Six Motor Sales Limited was also forced into Liquidation.
Australian Motors Limited struggled on for the remainder of 1921 but in January 1922 liquidation commenced, culminating in the sale of the companies assets to a new company, Australian Six Motors Limited in February 1923. The principals in this company were Messrs Simon Kemelfield and Samuel and Jacob Diamond.
Harkness & Hillier
On 23rd August 1923 the well known engineering firm of Harkness & Hillier negotiated the purchase of Australian Six Motors from the Diamond Bros & Kemelfield. By this time the manufacturing operations of Australian Six had been cut back from the levels when the Company was at its peak. Initially Harkness & Hillier operated from a small section of the Ashfield premises to reduce costs, however the Financial failure of one of the Banks who underwrote the supporting Mortgage over the Premises at Parramatta Road, Ashfield forced the owners of the Parramatta Road premises to terminate the rental agreement with Harkness & Hillier, forcing them to find alternative premises in which to continue their manufacturing operations of the Australian Six.
Harkness & Hillier constructed new premises to assemble the Australian Six in Parramatta Road, Five Dock, not far from the original premises in Ashfield. Production of the Australian Six continued under the Management of Harkness & Hillier. On the 17th July 1925 a fire a destroyed a Bond Store containing the entire stock of parts required for the construction of the Australian Six.
The fire brought to an end the most ambitious attempt to establish the Six Cylinder Motor Car Assembly Industry in Australia until the arrival of the Holden in November 1948, exactly 30 years after the assembly of the first Australian Six. The Australian Six Adventure spanned seven years, during which time they produced an estimated 500 vehicles.
"This vehicle is currently the youngest (chassis # 480) of the four surviving Australian Six cars.
Based on current research, we believe that this car was built in late 1924."
from the Powerhouse Museum
Statement of significance
This car is one of only sixteen known survivors of the first serious attempt to develop an Australian automotive industry. On 29 November 1948, Prime Minister Ben Chifley launched Australia's first successfully mass produced car, the Holden, in Melbourne. However, between 1918 and 1925, Australian Motors Ltd had reputedly produced some 500 Australian Six automobiles in Sydney.
The entrepreneur behind the venture was Frederick Hugh Gordon who organised for car parts to be bought from America and shipped to Australia for assembly together with parts made locally. The company that began assembly of the Australian Six was F H Gordon & Co Ltd, which later merged with Australian Motors Ltd. This company was succeeded by Australian Six Motors Ltd and finally Harkness & Hillier Ltd.
The early Australian Six cars were assembled at Fred Gordon's workshop and service station in McLauglin Avenue, Rushcutters Bay. Early in 1920 a large factory was established at Parramatta Road, Ashfield, the largest plant of its kind in Australasia containing the latest machinery. It was claimed that every part of the car that could be made locally and economically was made on the premises from Australian materials and by Australian labour, with returned soldiers given preference in the 200-strong workforce. The company's motto was 'Made in Australia, by Australians, for Australia'.
The cars built at Ashfield had distinctive 'Rolls Royce' style Grecian-shaped radiators made in Australia. Six different body styles were available, including 8-seat special service cars. These vehicles were popular as hire cars; Rolf's Hire Car Co offered Sydneysiders a day's motoring from Katoomba station to the Jenolan Caves including a souvenir photograph in the Australian Six taken outside Hartley Court House.
The Museum's Australian Six features a four-door, factory-built seven-seat tourer body with fold-down seats, tan paintwork and upholstery. It was built in 1923 and purchased secondhand in 1930 by Mr Leslie (Les) C. McAlpine, a grazier from Windeyer, near Mudgee, New South Wales. He used the car for 22 years and modified it by cutting down the body into a utility. For nine years it was left outside in the weather ,but a letter to the 'Modern Motor' magazine in 1963 by a reader alerted the magazine to the car's existence. The car was purchased by 'Modern Motor' and subsequently presented to the Museum. During the mid-1960s it was restored under the guidance of Donald Harkness using parts from a spare Australian Six chassis that the Museum had previously acquired from Toukley, New South Wales. Despite this, there are a number of incomplete and missing items.
Frederick Hugh Gordon was a Sydney engineer and entrepreneur born in 1883, the son of a wealthy grazier. He set up F.H. Gordon & Co. in 1913 and is said to have sold the first Ford, Wolseley and Packard cars in Australia. Gordon was forever searching for new ideas to market and he is attributed with importing the first ready-made suits, noiseless typewriters and fire extinguisher into Australia. His venture into the automotive industry and the development of the Australian Six saw car parts bought from America and shipped to Australia for assembly together with parts made locally.
Gordon made regular trips to the United State and while there in 1917 became involved with Louis Chevrolet, the renowned racing car driver and motor engineer who had left the Chevrolet company and was working with American Motors. Gordon obtained from Chevrolet the specifications for an American 'Light Six' car. He then visited all the factories that would supply the various units to go into the car including the engine, gearbox, differential and electrical system and arranged for their importation to Australia. Gordon leased premises at 133-137 Castlereagh Street, Sydney, which were used as a showroom and offices, while the cars were assembled at his workshop and service station at McLauglin Avenue, Rushcuttes Bay. As these premises were quite small it is thought that only the chassis were assembled there. The chassis comprised components from the American Motor Corporation's American Six Model B with rounded radiators, Salisbury differentials and Grant Lees gearboxes. (Later, Gordon changed to Columbia differentials and Muncie gearboxes, but by the end of late 1921 reverted to Grant Lees gearboxes). The remainder of the work, including building of the car bodies, painting and upholstery, is thought to have been sub-contacted out to other firms. Three of the 5-seat touring car bodies were known to have been built at Millers Motor Body Works at Randwick with mudguards by F. Muller of Crown St, East Sydney. At least ten Australian Six cars were registered by September 1919. The retail price of 495 pounds was claimed in advertisements of the day to be between 200 and 300 pounds cheaper than a comparable imported car.
The Australian Six made its debut at Victoria Park Racetrack, Sydney, on 28 June 1919, driven by Robert Mitchell. On 1 July 1919 F.H. Gordon & Co. Ltd launched an advertising campaign designed to attract dealers throughout the Commonwealth. It was obvious that large production numbers required a significantly larger factory and more capital, so on 16 September 1919, Australian Motors Ltd was registered to take over the manufacturing operations of Fred Gordon's company. On 23 December 1919, a site of almost 7 acres on Parramatta Road, Ashfield, was purchased and the largest building of its type in Australia was commenced there to assemble Australian Six automobiles. It was completed in February 1920 and opened three months later. Some 200 workers were employed at the plant at its peak, and agents were established in each state as well as New Zealand. Much was made in declarations that returned servicemen were employed in the plant and that the local content in the car's construction included maple wood from Queensland, metal from BHP Newcastle and leather from Melbourne. The company's motto was 'Made in Australia, by Australians, for Australia.'
Gordon was Chairman of the company and remained as the figurehead and spokesman during the remainder of 1919 and mid 1920. He had very little to do with the construction of the Ashfield plant, nor was he actively involved in the manufacturing activities once the plant went into production. Instead, he managed the sales and marketing departments and also the accounting operations at 133 Castlereagh Street. John Joshua Hughes was the Managing Director of the company and David Buchanan Martin was Director and Plant Manager.
The cars built at Ashfield had the distinctive 'Rolls Royce' style Grecian-shaped radiators. The leaf springs were originally imported but later made at Petersham. The seating upholstery was done in buttonless, pleated full-hide leather. Six different body styles were available, namely: the 3-seat straight seat, 3-seat clover leaf, 5-seat fixed front seat, 5-seat sliding front seat, 7-seat tourer, and an 8-seat special service car. Both standard and de-luxe versions of the 5-seat and 7-seat touring cars were available. Standard artillery wheels made at the factory were fitted but by 1922 wire or disc wheels were an optional extra.
Despite all the positive and promising advertising, the firm did have some problems. Many of the cars were returned to the factory, and the Rutenber engines had to be dismantled and rebuilt including machining of the rough engine block and fitting of higher grade bearings. The stories of the engine troubles were poor publicity for the manufacturers but once rectified the cars were as sturdy and reliable as had been promised: a car made for Australian conditions. More and more Australian firms came in as suppliers until the car was said to have a local content of 60 or 70 percent. In effect this appears to be a publicity claim as all the mechanical components were still imported except for the locally-built car bodies, some small body castings, radiators, fuel tanks and other small components.
On the 23 March, 1921, Australian Six Motors Sales Ltd was formed to take over the sales and distribution of the troubled manufacturing arm, Australian Motors Ltd, as well as to introduce new capital via the Overseas Sales Agency (Australia) Ltd, trading as the Savage Tyre & Rubber Co. Within six weeks of starting this new venture, David Martin, who was director of this company as well as Australian Motors Ltd, died suddenly of influenza on 18 April 1921, and the New Zealand parent company Overseas Sales Agency (Australia) Ltd, collapsed. Consequently the newly re-organised conglomerate, Australian Six Motor Sales Ltd, folded in July 1921.
It appears the company continued to trade in 1922 and assets were finally sold to a new company, Australian Six Motors Ltd, which formed on 23 February 1923 with S. Diamond, J. Diamond and S. Kemelfield as directors. Production at Ashfield continued until the end of 1923. By this time Australian Six Motors Ltd had been purchased by the motor engineers Harkness & Hillier. Donald Harkness had been selling Australia Six cars on commission while traveling interstate on business for his own firm, as well as running Australian Six cars in his taxi fleet. Production of the Australian Six moved to a new site on Parramatta Road, Five Dock, bounded by Spencer Lane and Spencer Street. Harkness & Hillier invested considerable capital in this new facility. Unfortunately sales did not increase and less expensive, smaller imported cars such as the Model T Ford flooded the market. The last Australian Six was built at Five Dock in 1925.
The Ashfield factory was purchased by the motor body builder, Redwood Brown & Co. Ltd, which later obtained the agency for Dodge cars. The building became a massive assembly plant known as Dodge Park while from 1931 to the early 1990s some part of the site accommodated Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited (AWA).
The Museum's Australian Six was built in 1923. It is one of sixteen known to survive from the estimated 500 thought to have been built, but this may be an excessive estimate. Some of the surviving Australia Six cars include an early 1918 prototype owned by George Gilltrap and a white 1924 or early 1925 roadster owned by John Cook. Another tourer is held at the York Motor Museum in Western Australia, restored by Simon Kelleher, Fred Gordon's grandson, and another was purchased at auction at Foster, New South Wales, by Immanuel Hansen. A collection of Australian Six components was also presented from the Powerhouse Museum to the National Motor Museum, Birdwood Mill, South Australia.
The Museum's Australian Six was built in 1923 and purchased second hand in 1930 by Mr Leslie (Les) C. McAlpin a grazier of Windeyer, near Mudgee, New South Wales. He used the car for 22 years with the registration number EA 033 and during that time undertook some major modifications to the original touring car body by converting it into a utility. He had the hood shortened and a tailgate cut in the back. He replaced the pistons with a set scavenged from another Australian Six. He shaped the original pressed-fibre timing gear from aluminium that he cast himself by melting down old kettles and saucepans. The car gave good service but was last used in 1953. For nine years it was left outside in the weather, but a letter to the 'Modern Motor' magazine in 1963 by a reader, R.C. Murray from nearby Pyramul, alerted the magazine's editor to the car's existence 'mouldering on blocks' on Mr McAlpin's property. While test driving the just released EJ Holden at that time 'Modern Motor' staff drove to Windeyer to inspect the car and purchased it from McAlpin. A film of the Holden test drive together with the Australian Six was featured on ATN television (Channel 7) that night. The next day, Norman Harwood, Assistant Keeper of Engineering at the Museum, contacted 'Modern Motor' with great interest as the Museum, together with Donald Harkness of Harkness & Hillier motor traders, who had been involved in the manufacture of the Australian Six, had been looking for an example of the vehicle for the Museum's collection for years. 'Modern Motor' Magazine of Kent House, 88 Liverpool Street, Sydney, presented the car to the Museum in 1963 through its Director and Editor, J.M. Feldman.
When the car was acquired by the Museum it was in a poor condition. By the mid 1960s it was decided to enter the car in the 1970 International Motor Rally, so a full restoration was planned. Museum staff, assisted by Donald Harkness, completely dismantled all the mechanical components of the car and inspected them. As there was a great deal of wear evident, it was decided to dismantle the spare Australian Six chassis that the Museum had acquired from Toukley on the NSW Central Coast to see whether these mechanical components were any better, but these were also found to be badly worn. As there was no money available to undertake a major overhaul of the car, it was decided to use the best parts from both cars to make a composite car.
The students of the Sydney Technical College Body Building School undertook the bodywork and upholstery restoration. Despite the restoration, the car never competed in the rally.
Motor car, Australian Six, model No.H23, chassis No.426, four-door tourer body, 6-cylinder, made by Australian Six Motors Ltd, Ashfield, New South Wales, 1923, used by Leslie McAlpine, Windeyer, New South Wales, Australia, 1930-1952
The Australian Six automobile features a four-door, factory-built open tourer body with two fold-down seats, a horizontally split windscreen and folding hood. The paintwork is tan with white lining, while the mudguards are brown. The interior features tan stretch vinyl upholstery. The steel-spoked, wood-rim steering wheel has an ignition advance-retard control mounted in the centre and a hand throttle for starting and slow running. In the centre of the dashboard are various instruments including a National oil pressure gauge, an ignition lock, headlight switch, drum-type speedometer and odometer by Stewart (M-7) including trip meter, a Westinghouse ammeter, choke and dash light. The float-type fuel gauge is incorporated in the tank. On the centre of the floor is a straight gear lever flanked by top button press handbrake. The step-on starter button is also on the floor, but the car can be crank started. The clutch is a multi-plate, dry disc type by Borg and Beck. The engine is a six-cylinder Rutenber with American Bosch magneto ignition. There are expanding and contracting hand and foot brakes acting on the inside and outside of the rear brake drums. Suspension is by semi-elliptical springs front and rear and there is a built-in tyre pump by Kellogg under the floor, driven off the gearbox.
The car was restored for the Museum during the 1960s by students of the Sydney Technical College. It is primarily the Windeyer, NSW, car H23 426 but using the engine acquired with the rolling chassis from Toukley, NSW, which was car B20 54. There are a number of incomplete and missing items. The timberwork is sound, but the paintwork on the body is poor and starting to crack. The mudguards are in poor condition and the hood and hood mounts are incorrect. There is a suggestion that the instrument panel has been modified and the upholstery is not of the correct type. The door step plates and spare wheel carrier are missing, while the headlight rims are of round rather than the octagonal shape. The carpet is incomplete and mismatched. The right hand headlight is touching the radiator shell and the nickel-plating on the radiator shell is starting to deteriorate.
Builder: Australian Six Motors Ltd, Parramatta Rd, Ashfield, NSW
Chassis No: 426
Model: (primarily) H23 426 (the plate with this information is missing) (Windeyer car)
Model: (parts) B20 54 (on the dashboard plate) (Toukley car)
Engine No: 10J (stamped between engine side plates)
Engine casting numbers: 912/9 (on head), 9518 (on left hand side upper cylinder block), 6812-8 (on side plates)
Engine: straight 6-cylinder Rutenber
Bore: 3 1/8th in (79.4 mm)
Stroke: 5 in (127 mm)
Capacity: 230 cu in (3 769 cu cm)
Head: 12/09/1919 (car 54)
Block: 5/09/1919 (car 54)
Front axle: solid beam type, 5018 258 E20 (May 1920?)
Rear axle: Columbia 49:11 ratio, 50014 118 J20 (Oct 1920?)
Gearbox: Grant Lees of Cleveland, Ohio, USA, 3-speed, (casting No.4226E)
RAC rating: 25.3 hp (20.9 kW)
Weight: 30 cwt (1.52 tonnes)
Top speed: 40 mph (64 km/h)
Carburetors: Stromberg? (LB.1 1838099 or 1888099)
Transmission: multi-plate Borg and Beck clutch
Suspension: semi-elliptical leaf springs all round
Fuel tank capacity: 12 gallons (54.6 litres)
Range: 22 m.p.g. (7.8 km/litre)
Tyre pressure: 80 p.s.i. (551.6 kPa) (high pressure tyres only)
Starter motor: Westinghouse Electric 6 volt
Vacuum system for fuel: Sparton
Windscreen upright: Welsh Bros, Sydney
Magneto: American Bosch AT6 model
Made: Australian Motors Ltd; 1923