ARL Benz’s automobile was just 10 years old when, in a suburban Melbourne workshop in 1896, Herbert Thomson and his cousin Edward Holmes built the steam-powered Thomson Motor Phaeton.
At the same time, on the Murray River near Adelaide, agricultural inventor David Shearer built a different steam car, capable of 160km range at 25km/h.
Melbourne inventor Henry Sutton built what’s believed to be the world’s first front-wheel-drive car in 1899. The same year, outback surveyor Harley Tarrant built his first car, petrol-powered, and was getting into K the swing of full local production by 1903 – the same year that Henry Ford founded his car company.
Normality had been quickly achieved. And quickly surpassed. In 1907, brothers Felix and Norman Caldwell of South Australia patented a four-wheel-drive transmission coupled to four-wheel steering.
Australia has always punched well above its weight for automotive innovation, becoming one of the few countries capable of creating mass-produced cars from a clean sheet of paper. Here, Wheels celebrates some of Australia’s automotive landmarks.
NDUSTRIAL design doesn’t get much better than this. The V-8 Utility – the “ute” economical to build, attractive to look at and hugely would spread across the world, and it all began in Geelong.
In 1932, Louis Thornett ‘Lew’ Bandt was a 22-year-old draughtsman heading Ford Australia’s design department. He received a letter from a Gippsland farmer’s wife, complaining her Sunday best was routinely ruined by rain in the open-sided buckboard truck they used to take pigs to market.
Bandt’s stroke of genius was to blend Ford’s Model A five-window coupe with a cargo tray, recognising the need for additional (concealed) strengthening behind the B-pillar, to create a sedancomfortable workhorse. It wasn’t just the hogs he had to keep happy: in these post-Depression days, bank managers would refuse loans for sedan cars.
Bandt sketched his designs on a 10-metre blackboard and two prototypes were built.
The V8-engined ute provided bench-seat accommodation for three and a 1.65m-long tray boasting a payload of 540kg.
I USTRIAL er ” – brilliantly answered a need, was nomical ugely successful in sales. The concept The Ford V-8 Utility was launched in 1934 farmers met Henry Ford, who dubbed the ute a “kangaroo chaser”.
Bandt spent 46 years at Ford Australia, designing locally tuned variants of US and UK Ford products. Among them were a Zephyr MkII station wagon that featured a wind-up rear window and, in 1965, a handsome MkI Cortina fastback that did not make production. His last major design, the local Fairlane (ZA) of 1967, roughly coincided with Ford Australia’s founding of a dedicated design studio at Broadmeadows.
Lew Bandt retired in 1975 and set to work building a road-going replica of his 1934 V-8 Utility. In March 1987, the 77-year-old design pioneer drove his beloved ute to be interviewed for an ABC TV documentary on the utility. On his way home, Bandt died in a collision with a sand truck on the Midland Highway near Geelong. The Lewis Bandt Bridge over the Moorabool River is named after him. utes to Dearborn, Michigan, where he F May 19 farmer 1935, B 934 and was an instant hit with rs and urban tradesmen alike. In Bandt took two of his Geelong-built
HOLDEN’S Torana GTR-X concept has been forever hyped as the one that got away; even years after its 1970 unveiling, punters prayed for it to production. The chisel-nosed began as a sketch by Phil Zmood, who joined Holden straight R MIT in 1965 and would spend 37 years with the company. The GTR-X’s fibreglass body clothed XU-1 mechanicals and a fully equipped interior. It may have sat uneasily Holden’s Torana and Monaro but Datsun’s tearaway 240Z probably sealed its doom.
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FORD caught arch-rival Holden napping by building the world’s first ute. The General’s reply, based on the 48-215 and codenamed 50-216, didn’t appear until 1951, 17 years after Ford’s coupe-utility. The tables have turned since; Holden sold twice as many utes as Ford in 2014.
olden’s pioneering design studio at Fishermans Bend was just five years old in 1969, the home-grown HK Monaro coupe had set the shape for Aussie muscle, and the LC Torana GTR – a Frankensteined Vauxhall Viva – defined the pocket-rocket coupe.
Australia’s first concept car, the Holden Hurricane, blew into the Melbourne motor show in May of that year. In its supercar wedge shape and incredibly futuristic features, including pop-up canopy, oil-cooled front disc brakes and ‘Pathfinder’ navigation system, the Hurricane was the equal of anything out of Europe or North America.
The Hurricane was a few millimetres lower, wider and a fair whack wedgier than Ford’s GT40. At the dawn of the age of the Boeing 747 ‘jumbo jet’, when few H Australians would have seen a concept car, Le Mans racer or even a Ferrari road car up close, this was a real brush with exotica.
And exotic it was. The identity of the Hurricane’s stylist was lost until our Peter Robinson, following the car’s resurrection by the Holden Design team in 2011, started digging in Detroit. He was helped by the legendary Leo Pruneau, who had left GM headquarters in 1969 to join Holden.
The Hurricane had been styled in 1968 in GM Detroit’s Advanced 2 studio.
The renderings were picked up and the project approved as a concept car for the Aussie outpost. Design drawings and a scale model were dispatched to Holden’s research and development team, a hugely talented bunch mainly comprised of recent Detroit arrivals.
They refined the RD-001 design and proceeded to construct the spaceframeand- fibreglass beastie right there at Fishermans Bend.
Its mission was to showcase the Australian-made 4.2-litre (253ci) V8 engine to be launched later that year in Holden’s HT-series cars.
Hurricane was never remotely intended for production. However, it gave Australia – not least Holden – an appetite for concept cars, tantalisingly evident in the following year’s Torana GTR-X.
Australia’s automotive skills and the early adoption of new materials and techniques had progressed spectacularly during the 1960s. This set the stage for the proliferation of customising and even complete car-making in the 1970s, and a new generation of independent design and engineering talent.
HURRICANE’S iconic orange metalflake paint was almost lost forever when the concept was resprayed silver in the 1980s, but fate had other plans. A single flake of the original paint was found stuck beneath a 1/3 scale model, enabling the original hue to be recreated.
MELBOURNE steam engineer Herbert Thomson was just 26 when, with his cousin Edward Holmes, he built a steam-engined car in his Armadale ( Vic) workshop. By 1899, Thomson had ref ined and patented the sixseater, two-cylinder design, and in 1900 shipped (literally) the car to Sydney for agr icultural shows.
Encouraged by its smooth running, the car’s two creators drove it 800km from Bathurst to Melbourne, a 56-hour journey recognised as Australia’s first interstate car trip.
Only another dozen Thomson steam cars were built.
ET time never diminish the achievements of Jack Brabham and Tauranac – the ‘B’ and ‘T’ in the designation of Brabham racing cars. two men had met in Sydney in 1951 much in common, both being ex-servicemen, engineers and keen racers. Indeed, Tauranac in his built 500cc special beat Brabham’s Bristol 2.0-litre to win the 1954 Hillclimb Championship.
Brabham went to England in 1955 to fame, fortune and, as it turned out years later, a Formula One World Championship. Sydney-based Tauranac instrumental in it, having secretly Brabham with sketches and other that contributed to the success of the championship-winning Coopers.
Brabham offered Tauranac a one-way England in early 1960. By day, worked in Brabham’s garage, Triumph Heralds and Hillman Imps. night, in his tiny Surbiton flat, he designed the first car, the BT1, for their joint venture as racing car constructors.
Fast forward to 1966. Brabham had built a winning relationship with Honda to develop Formula 2 engines, and on the F1 front wrangled Repco (and the genius Phil Irving) to turn an alloy Oldsmobile V8 Lti achie Ron T desig The tw and had m RAAF ex motor rac home-bui Cooper-B NSW Hil Brabha seek fam four year Champio was instr provided ideas tha champion Brabha ticket to Tauranac tuning Tr Imps At block into a Tasman and F1 contender.
BT cars driven by Jack and New Zealander Denny Hulme won all but one round of the F2 championship. More famously, Brabham became the only driver to win the F1 championship – and the title for constructors for good measure – in a car bearing his name.
The vehicle for that F1 record was the BT19. Just one chassis was built, Tauranac having designed it in 1965 for a 1.5-litre Coventry Climax flat-16 that was axed in F1’s switch to 3.0 litres. Tauranac modified BT19 for the Repco V8, but the car was noticeably smaller than its rivals.
For the first time, BT19 included ovalsection tubing in its spaceframe chassis, and the fibreglass bodywork’s downturned nose and upswept tail indicated Tauranac’s growing attention to aerodynamics.
Toyota’s Australian design chief Nick Hogios is a fan: “It’s absolute art. It’s not clad with something else to look sexy. The chassis and engine and all the suspension components, wheels and tyres – it’s totally functional, yet it looks beautiful.”
In the BT19, Brabham won four of the nine grands prix in 1966. Teammate Hulme, soon armed with the longer-wheelbase evolution BT20-Repco, couldn’t catch Black Jack… not that year, anyway.
Cald ADELAIDE brothers Felix and Norman Caldwell were convinced that the next great advance in road and agricultural transport lay in distributing drive to all four wheels. In 1907, they patented a driveline of propeller shafts, bevel gears, half-shafts and universal joints. Opposite-phase four wheel steering negated the need for a centre diff. About 40 Caldwell-Vale tractors and trucks had been built when a sole 4WD/4WS touring car was produced in 1913. Caldwell-Vale lost a Supreme Court case that year and was quietly taken over.
IT’S not for sale, but the unique BT19 is worth a motza. Two other Brabham GP cars, a BT24 raced by Sir Jack and a BT20 steered by Denny Hulme to win the 1967 world championship, recently sold at auction for $1.4m and $1.5m respectively.
MELBOURNE brothers Campbell, Winston and Graeme Bolwell sat at an incredibly exciting junction of Australian automotive history.
As schoolboys in the late-1950s, the trio experimented with home-made specials, continuing a tradition spawned in the post-war years and marvellously expressed in racing machines such as Charlie Dean’s Maybach Special.
On the heels of fibreglass sports car pioneers Nat Buchanan and Bill Buckle, the Bolwells bridged to a new era.
Campbell was just 20 years old when he founded Bolwell Sports Cars in 1963, offering the Mk4 sports-racer in kit form.
Brother Graeme joined in 1966, bringing with him a wealth of ideas gleaned from a six-month stint at Lotus in the UK, working on the Europa.
By then the attractive Mk7 kit-coupe was doing quite well, Campbell clued-in to the availability of donor Holden six-cylinder engines and suspension. But Graeme’s ideas for its successor would revolutionise the company and create an Aussie sports car icon: the Nagari.
The Nagari’s Lotus inspiration was evident in a fibreglass body made in one piece, a perfect mate to Bolwell’s already preferred chassis of fabricated steel ‘Y’-shaped backbone.
A switch to Ford’s 4.9-litre V8, supplied new with gearboxes from the factory, further encouraged the Bolwell boys to elevate the Nagari beyond kit-car status and sell it as a turn-key production car.
Launched in 1970, the Nagari offered world-class styling, Aussie-sized interior space (both Campbell and Graeme were tall) and stonking performance, with the standing quarter-mile in 14.8 seconds.
A gorgeous roadster was added in 1972, though only 12 were made.
The Nagari remains an icon of achievement, from its conception through to its styling and performance. Ultimately, however, only 140 examples were built (versus 400 for its Mk7 predecessor).
The Nagari’s fate came not through market forces, but the introduction in 1974 of new Australian emissions laws. Despite the Nagari’s proprietary Ford engine, bureaucratic insistence on re-testing the car – a $500,000 exercise for Bolwell – killed the Aussie beauty.
A legacy of the Nagari was that Bolwell admirer Allan Purvis was inspired to secure the rights to a British-designed, canopy-roofed kit car, the Nova.
In the face of the same bureaucratic obstacles, Purvis renamed the VW-based car the Eureka and, after launching it in 1974, continually refined the design.
Almost 700 kits were sold before Eureka production ceased in 1991. ugh ely, ite he well d ka
BOLWELL revived the Nagari name in 2008 for an all-new mid-engined concept shown at the Melbourne motor show. It weighed just 900kg thanks to a carbonfibre tub and fibreglass panels, and power came from a supercharged Toyota V6.
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ENGLISHMAN Laurence Hartnett was installed to head Holden shortly after its 1931 purchase by GM, and worked tirelessly to promote an all-Australian car. As 1948 neared, it became clear that Detroit was in charge. Hartnett was ousted in 1947 and realised his vision of a small, practical family car in the Hartnett Tasman, based on a design by Jean-Albert Gregoire.
Only about 135 examples of the twocylinder, front-drive Tasman (and ragtop Pacific ) were built from 1949-56.
T’S a phrase that’s been attached to a number of car designs, including Sir Alec Issigonis’s Mini, but the Coke-bottle curves of the XA Falcon coupe really did originate in a restaurant ‘napkin sketch’.
The restaurant was in Melbourne and the designer was Brian Rossi. The Englishman, with American boss Jack Telnack and Australian Allan Jackson, had plenty to chew over: the knowledge that the US Falcon, on which the Australian cars were based, would cease at the end of 1969.
Ford Australia had been forced to do its own Falcon, the XA. The three designers, with only a small and understaffed studio in Geelong, spent May to October 1968 in Dearborn designing a sedan, wagon and long-wheelbase Fairlane, using the floorpan, firewall and A-pillars of the superseded XY.
In April 1969, Rossi idly penned a rear three-quarter view of a bold, broad-beamed I hardtop. Instantly recognisable, even now, are the bulging flanks and angular kick-up of the side glass, or daylight opening (DLO). Current Ford Asia-Pacific design boss Todd Willing says: “It’s the best DLO we [Ford Australia] ever did.”
The XA hardtop was launched in March 1972, against a Holden Monaro already into its second generation (HQ), and a new contender in the Chrysler Valiant Charger.
Three world-class V8-powered muscle coupes, absolutely unique to a nation of just 13 million people.
One slightly disappointed XA customer was Rossi himself. He had sketched the hardtop as a fat-tyred GT with two-tone paint (as later appeared on the XB), with the even hairier GT-HO Phase IV in mind.
Rossi would wince whenever he saw a base Falcon 500 hardtop wobbling along on its five-inch steel wheels.
The hardtop’s performance future was almost stymied by the supercar scare in June 1972. Broadmeadows built just one Phase IV hardtop, in Calypso Green, but the regular GT still won Bathurst in 1973.
The XA was the first all-Australian Falcon, the one that saved the nameplate, and the hardtop was done right here.
Its other legacy was that it convinced Dearborn of the need for a full design studio to be built at Broadmeadows.
This was an acknowledgment of the talent and resourcefulness of Australian designers, which at the time was equally and attractively embodied in the Holden Monaro, the Chrysler Charger and, in 1973, the Leyland Force 7.
The Falcon hardtop, more than anything before it, would smash the idea of Australian cars into the world’s consciousness – courtesy of another talentladen Australian industry and its hell-bent highway cop creation named ‘Mad Max’.
KING of the XA GT family is the hardcore, limited-edition (129 sedans, 130 hardtops) RPO83.
These were put together using parts purchased for the abandoned GT-HO Phase IV project, including a 780cfm Holley carb, racing exhaust manifolds and, on some cars, four-wheel disc brakes.
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THE golden age of Australian muscle cars began on April 18, 1967, when Ford unexpectedly announced to its dealers a high-performance version of the XR Falcon. Flush from the success of the Bathurst-winning Ford Cortina GT project, Ford int roduced the ‘Mustang-bred’ XR GT, powered by the 289 cubic-inch (4.7-litre) Windsor V8 from the US. Ford Australia’s expat Canadian marketing chief Bill Bourke made it happen; three-time Bathurst winner Harry Firth, who had engineered the Cortina GT, made it work. In October, Firth and Fred Gibson headed a 1-2 finish for the works Falcon GTs at Bathurst.
AUSTRALIA’S most iconic cars are on show in NGV Australia’s exhibition Shifting Gear: Design, Innovation and the Australian Car at Melbourne’s Federation Square until July 12.