I alluded in a previous post to the effect of seeing Australian cars on the roads for the first time in 1964. It may have given the impression that I was shocked and horrified, but that wasn’t exactly the case. Bewildered, maybe – and that was because I was seeing makes and marques that were entirely foreign to western Canada. I was also seeing the benign effect of Western Australian weather – no snow and ice on roads meant no salt slush and much less rusting out. Stuff lasted longer here. It probably was kept in commission far longer than in North America by the fact that people at the time did not have the disposable income to change cars regularly.
The first shock for anyone from Canada or the US was seeing cars drive on the left hand side of the road. Your initial reaction as a passenger was to cringe as the taxicab from the airport swung out into traffic and headed up the wrong side of the highway! But soon you got to looking at the passing vehicles and noted that there are only a few that could be recognised – and these few were the compact cars from Ford and Chrysler. That and the Land Rovers. Everything else was exotic – even if you had prepared yourself with a 1960 Observer’s Book of Automobiles.
Eventually you could see that there were basically three big sellers in sedan cars, and these had echoes in station wagons ( ” Station Sedans ” here ) and what we used to class as ranch wagons ( ‘ Utes ” here ). If you held your breath and crossed one eye you could see two of them as transplants from North America, but the third – from General Motors – had GM flavour but a local design. They were what families of 3 or 4 travelled in – middle-class vehicles for everyday use.
Ford took the Falcon design from North America and modified it for Australia, building the bodies in Victoria. When they were shipped to Western Australia they were sent as partially completed cars and railed into an assembly plant at Fremantle. Nice factory, but the cars were left in Leighton marshalling yards next to the beach to get as much salt sea spray blown over them in the afternoons as they could stand. The result was rather like winter in Alberta as the bodies had integral rust. Didn’t bother the taxi industry which took them over in thousands.
Chrysler sold the Valiant cars from ’62 onward. They were made in South Australia and marketed as a slightly better thing than the Ford or GM product. Bit more tone, donchaknow? We had one of the ’64 models and formed our own opinion of the tone of the car when we discovered it did not have demisters in a climate that had mist or a heater in a climate that had cold. It did have two big vents the size of bread boxes that opened under the dash onto the legs of the passengers to allow them to judge what the outside temperature was. Fortunately they had door flaps that could be wired shut. South Australian design…
The GM product was a local design that had elements of GM styling in it but a smaller size than cars in North America. Call it a 4 passenger sedan. Produced again in Victoria, it also had the option of a luxury model, a ute, and a station sedan. I had a friend who derided them as overweight and stodgy, but I have noted over the years that the various cars he espoused at the time have vanished entirely, while the Holdens of the period still appear in the rod, custom, and restoration hobbies and still chug along quite happily. Time has a way of making value judgements.
Of course there were lots of other sedans available then that are gone now – the British motor trade was strong and even the French had local assembly plants for their cars that turned out a darn nice product. It must be noted that we have assembly plants in nearby countries like Thailand and Korea that also turn out darn nice products, and the driving public agree with them. I leave you with a BMC device of the time that also had many followers.