Hillman Gazelle

Swimming upstream in Salmon Street

YOU might know that Holden is located on Salmon St, Fishermans Bend, but another car-maker used to build cars on the same street.

That company was Rootes Australia, the local arm of the British Rootes Group. After building a factory on the corner of Williamstown Rd and Salmon St in 1946, Rootes became one of the first British manufacturers to set up shop here.

Its Port Melbourne factory assembled Humber, Hillman, Sunbeam, Singer, Commer and Karrier vehicles from CKD kits shipped from England, though production kicked off with the Hillman Minx. Rootes later purchased a 35-hectare site near Dandenong with the intention of building a full-scale manufacturing plant, but the plan never eventuated.

In late 1965, Rootes Australia merged with Chrysler Australia, though Rootes assembly continued in Port Melbourne.

One of Rootes Australia’s more interesting models was the 1966-67 Hillman Gazelle. Mixing an upmarket Singer body and interior with a high-compression, alloy-headed 1725cc Sunbeam Rapier engine, the Hillman Gazelle was a unique Aussie variation on Rootes’ decade-old ‘Audax’ sedan. And it was easily the world’s best.

A robust 63kW gave the fourspeed manual Gazelle almost 100mph (161km/h) performance, but it was simply a stop-gap measure before Hillman’s all-new Hunter launched in 1967.

Production ceased at the Port Melbourne plant in early 1973, burying the Hunter in lieu of Chrysler’s Adelaide-assembled Galant and forthcoming Centura.

AUSSIE PRIDE

Upmarket version of the Minx, with genuine performance

IT’S A SHAME

Automatics were slugs; the design was from the mid-50s