HISTORIC CAR BRANDS
In this website section we’ve begun listing the car brands that are of most relevance to the Australian road transport history and will have compeleted the list by mid-2021. We’re indebted to many research sites, in particular Wikipedia. We’ve researched thoroughly, but we’re more than happy to add factual information that our website visitors may have. Just drop us an email!
First came the Maxwell in 1904, followed by the Chalmers in 1908. The two brands joined forces in 1917 and, in turn, became part of Chrysler in 1923.
The roots of International Harvester run to the 1830s, when Virginia inventor Cyrus Hall McCormick perfected his version of a horse-drawn reaper, which he field-demonstrated in 1831 and for which he received a patent in 1834.
The Jordan Motor Car Company was founded in 1916 in Cleveland, Ohio by Edward S ‘Ned’ Jordan, a former sales executive from the Thomas B Jeffery Company.
Thomas B Jeffery, an inventor and bicycle manufacturer from Chicago, first began building automobiles in the late 1890s. Moving to Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 1900, Jeffery began producing ‘Rambler’ automobiles – the same brand name he had used for his bicycles.
The Purvis Eureka was produced by Purvis Cars at Dandenong in Victoria, Australia from 1974 until 1991. The VW-based sports car was a licence-built version of the UK Nova that was designed to be fitted to a VW Beetle floor pan.
in 1952, Nota Sports and Racing Cars was founded in Australia by Guy Buckingham. He was an English aircraft engineer and used his expertise to build triangulated space-framed performance cars.
Amilcar was founded in July 1921 by Joseph Lamy and Emile Akar and the name was an imperfect anagram of the partners’ names. The original Amilcar was a small cyclecar, designed by Jules Salomon and Edmond Moyet.
The Lincoln Motor Company was founded in August 1917 by Henry Leland and his son Wilfred. Leland named the company after Abraham Lincoln, stating that Lincoln was the first president for whom he ever voted, in 1864.
Buckle Motors was founded in 1927, in Sydney, by William ‘Bill’ Buckle Snr. The Sydney Northern Beaches based company is now in its third generation of family ownership.
The Stanley Motor Carriage Company was an American manufacturer of steam cars between 1902 and 1924, but the identical twin brothers Francis Edgar (F E) and Freelan Oscar (F O) had already produced more than 200 steam-powered cars of their original design in 1897-99. They then sold the manufacturing rights to to Locomobile.
N H Buchanan Motor Co Pty Ltd was an Australian kit car manufacturer, who made sports car bodies and chassis in the 1950s.
Isotta Fraschini was an Italian luxury car manufacturer, which also produced trucks and marine and aviation engines. It was founded in Milan, in 1900 by Cesare Isotta and the brothers Vincenzo, Antonio, and Oreste Fraschini.
The DMC DeLorean was a rear-engined, two-door, two-seater sports car manufactured in Ireland and marketed by the DeLorean Motor Company (DMC) for the American market from 1981 to 1983. It was the only car produced by DMC.
Mitsubishi’s automotive origins date back to 1917, when the Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co, Ltd introduced the Mitsubishi Model A, Japan’s first series-production automobile. A hand-built, seven-seater sedan, based on the Fiat Tipo 3, it proved expensive compared to imported American and European mass-produced rivals and was discontinued in 1921, after only 22 had been built.
The production of Toyota automobiles was started as a division of Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, under the direction of the founder’s son, Kiichiro Toyoda. Its first Type A engine was a 3.4-litre copy of an American petrol six and it first powered a prototype Toyoda G-1 light truck and an A-1 sedan in 1935.
The sad story of the Wolseley brand is just another in the litany of British car company disasters. For Wolseley it was virtually all over by 1935, in what must rank as among the steepest upward and downward curves in automotive history. And it all started on the sheep’s back.
In 1908, John Willys bought the Overland Automotive Division of Standard Wheel Company and in 1912 renamed it Willys–Overland Motor Company. From 1912 to 1918, Willys was the second-largest producer of automobiles in the United States, after the Ford Motor Company.
The story of Volkswagen begins with the ubiquitous ‘Beetle’ that was the largest-selling vehicle model in history. That dazzling success was blighted in the 1970s, but VW made the transition from rear-air-cooled to front-liquid-cooled cars and became the largest vehicle producer in the world.
The Volvo brand was created as a subsidiary company of Swedish bearing maker SKF (Svenska Kullagerfabriken), but instead of being stamped into bearing races the Volvo logo appeared on the grilles of cars and trucks from 1927.
Founded in Vauxhall, London, in 1857, Alex Wilson and Company became Vauxhall Iron Works from 1897, making pumps and marine engines. In 1903, the company built its first five-horsepower, single-cylinder car and around 70 were made before the car was improved with wheel steering and a reverse gear in 1904.
TVR was a British manufacturer of high-end sports cars. The company manufactured lightweight sports cars with powerful engines and was, at one time, the third-largest specialised sports car manufacturer in the world, offering a diverse range of coupés and convertibles.
The Triumph Cycle Co Ltd was formed in 1897 and in 1902 began producing Triumph motorcycles at its Coventry factory. Triumph’s first car was produced in 1923 and the brand came to a sad end, typical of many British car brands, in 1980.
Nesseldorf, the company that later became Tatra, made its first car, the Präsident, under the direction of engineers Hans Ledwinka and Edmund Rumpler. It was exhibited in 1897 in Vienna and in the next two years, nine improved cars based on Präsident were made.
Talbot or Clément-Talbot Limited was a British automobile manufacturer founded in 1903. Clément-Talbot’s products were named just Talbot from shortly after introduction, but the business remained Clément-Talbot Limited until 1938 when it was renamed Sunbeam-Talbot Limited.
The ‘Sunbeam’ name was registered by John Marston in 1888 for his bicycle manufacturing business and Sunbeam motor car manufacture began in 1901. The motor business was incorporated into the Sunbeam Motor Car Company Limited in 1905 and Sunbeam motorcycles were not made until 1912.
The Ideal Motor Car Company, organised in June 1911 by Harry C Stutz with his friend, Henry F Campbell, began building Stutz cars in Indianapolis. Harry had been building cars for 14 years, including the ultra-low-chassis American Underslung in 1907 and had developed his own-design three-speed transaxle.
Founded in 1852 and incorporated in 1868 under the name of the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, the company was originally a producer of wagons for farmers, miners and the military, and became a significant manufacturer of motor vehicles for about 60 years.
In 1902, Reginald Walter Maudslay joined his cousin Cyril Charles Maudslay at his Maudslay Motor Company, to make marine internal combustion engines. The marine engines did not sell very well, so they made a three-cylinder, overhead-camshaft car engine, designed by Alexander Craig.
In 1901 the successful Singer cycle company began motor vehicle production motorcycles, tricars and then four-wheel cars. Singer is best known for its pre-World War II overhead-camshaft powered light cars. Sadly, the company couldn’t emulate that pre-War success after 1945 and it fell into Rootes hands in 1955. The end came relatively swiftly.
Saab Automobile AB was founded in Sweden in 1945, when its parent company, Saab AB, began a project to design a small automobile. The company had been established in 1937 to build aircraft for the Swedish Air Force. As the War drew to a close, the company looked to diversify.
After developing a template for the modern bicycle with its Rover Safety Bicycle of 1885, the company moved into the automotive industry. It started building motorcycles, then cars, using the Viking Longship badge from 1904. After World War II, Land Rover vehicles were developed and added to the Rover range. Jaguar Land Rover, a subsidiary of Indian-based Tata, has owned the Rover brand since 2008.
Henry Royce started an electrical and mechanical business in 1884, producing dynamos and cranes. In 1903 he caught the motoring bug and bought a Decauville light car that inspired him to build his own machine. Two, twin-cylinder 10hp Royce cars followed in 1904 and attracted the attention of Charles Rolls, the proprietor of an early motor car dealership. The rest is history.
Given the Riley brand’s turbulent first few years it’s a miracle that we had Riley cars at all. William Riley and his sons juggled companies and products for the first few years of the 20th Century, before a more cohesive organisation formed in the 1920s. Riley was acquired by Nuffield in 1938 and became part of BMC in 1952, before its inevitable demise in 1969.
The Renault brand began in 1899 as the Société Renault Frères company, founded by Louis Renault and his brothers Marcel and Fernand. Louis had already designed and built several cars, including one with shaft drive to a live axle that he patented, before teaming up with his brothers, who had worked on the business side of for their father’s textile firm.
When the Raleigh Bicycle Company discontinued the manufacture of three-wheeled vehicles in 1934, works manager T L Williams and a colleague E S Thompson decided to build their own vehicle in Williams’ back garden. Their home-built prototype closely resembled the Karryall van previously built by Raleigh and was licensed in January 1935.
Ferdinand Porsche founded a Stuttgart-based automotive design company with Adolf Rosenberger and Anton Piëch in 1931. After its best known early achievement – the design of a Volkswagen (‘people’s car’) – Porsche went on to build its own cars and establish a lineage of sporting machinery that continues today.
The Oakland Motor Car Company was founded in 1907 in Pontiac, Michigan, by Edward Murphy, a manufacturer of horse-drawn carriages. William (‘Billy’) Durant, founded General Motors in 1908 and in 1909, Oakland became part of GM. Oaklands continued and were supplemented by the first Pontiac-branded version in 1926.
The Plymouth brand was introduced at Madison Square Garden on July 7, 1928 and was Chrysler Corporation’s entry in the low-priced field, previously dominated by Chevrolet and Ford. Plymouth continued as a Chrysler brand until 2001. The logo featured the ship Mayflower that landed at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts.
In 1896, the George N Pierce Company added bicycles to its product line and, after an unsuccessful steam-powered car in 1900, built its first two-speed, no-reverse-gear Motorette, designed by Yorkshireman David Ferguson and powered by a single-cylinder, de Dion engine.
When Armand Peugeot became interested in automobiles, in the mid-1880s, the Peugeot family had been in the French manufacturing business since 1810, producing saws, grinders, umbrellas and bicycles. The first Peugeot automobile – a three-wheeled, steam-powered car designed by Léon Serpollet – was produced in 1889.
Panhard et Levassor was established in 1887 as an automobile manufacturing company by René Panhard and Émile Levassor, whose engineering background was in woodworking machinery. The first vehicles were based on a Daimler engine licence.
Packard was founded in 1899 by James Ward Packard, his brother William and their partner, George Lewis Weiss, after mechanical engineer, Packard believed they could build a better horseless carriage than the Winton cars owned by Weiss.
Opel is a global brand, with one of the richest traditions in the world. In 2019 Opel celebrated 120 years of automobiles and this company that started in a garage in Rüsselsheim am Main had produced more than 70 million vehicles by that anniversary date.
Oldsmobiles were first manufactured by the Olds Motor Vehicle Co, co-founded by Ransom E Olds, with financial backing from Samuel L Smith, in 1897. In 1901 the company produced 635 cars, using Dodge Brothers transmissions, making Oldsmobile the first high-volume, gasoline-powered automobile manufacturer.
NSU originated as a knitting machine manufacturer and in 1886, the company produced bicycles, before motorcycles appeared in 1901, followed by the first NSU car in 1905. ‘NSU’ was a contraction of Neckarsulm, the company’s home town.
Masujiro Hashimoto founded the Kaishinsha Motor Car Works in Tokyo. In 1914, the company produced its first car, called the DAT that was a combination of the investors’ surname initials.
Nash Motors Company was an American automobile manufacturer based in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the United States from 1916 to 1937. From 1937 to 1954, Nash Motors was the automotive division of the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation. Nash production continued from 1954 to 1957, after the creation of American Motors Corporation.
D Napier & Son Limited was a British engineering company best known for its luxury motor cars in the Edwardian era and for its aero engines throughout the early to mid-20th century. Many world speed records on land and water, as well as the Hawker Typhoon and Tempest fighter planes, were powered by Napier engines.
WRM Motors Ltd began in 1912 when bicycle manufacturer William Morris moved on from the sale, hire and repair of cars to car manufacturing. He planned a new light car assembled from bought-in components and his first vehicle was the Morris Oxford of 1913.
A young H F S Morgan reportedly had a motorcycle accident and sketched out a single-seat cyclecar so he could be mobile once more. The Morgan prototype three-wheeler was built with the aid of his friend’s father, William Stephenson-Peach, who was the engineering master at Malvern College.
MG is a British automotive marque initiated by Cecil Kimber, who was the general manager of William Morris’ Morris Garages. Best known for its open two-seater sports cars, MG also produced saloons and coupés, with engines up to three litres in size.
Mercedes-Benz has introduced many technological and safety innovations that later became common in other vehicles. Mercedes-Benz is one of the best-known and established automotive brands in the world.
The Mazda story began in 1920, when the Toyo Cork Kogyo Company switched from manufacturing cork-substitute product to mechanical engineering.
On March 23, 1909, Wilhelm Maybach established the Luftfahrzeug-Motorenbau-GmbH company (Aircraft Engine Building Company), which was the predecessor of the Maybach brand.
Today, Jeep is one of the world’s best-known brand names, but back in 1940 the only ‘Jeep’ anyone had heard of was ‘Eugene the Jeep’, a 1930s comic-strip character in E C Segar’s ‘Popeye’ series.
There were originally six Maserati brothers – Alfieri, Bindo, Carlo, Ettore, Ernesto and Marco – and all were involved with automobiles from the beginning of the 20th Century. Marco became an artist and Carlo died in 1910. Alfieri and Bindo went to work for Isotta-Fraschini and then Alfieri opened a motor garage in 1914. Ettore, Bindo and Ernesto joined him.
During the automotive boom of the early 1900s, brothers Howard and Walter Marmon built their first automobile in 1902, in Indianapolis. However, there were hundreds of fledgling auto makers at that time and the Marmon Brothers were determined to build a special type of vehicle.
Lotus Cars was founded in 1952 by engineers Colin Chapman and Colin Dare and owned for many years by Colin Chapman. After his death in 1982 and a period of financial instability, Lotus passed through different hands and is currently owned by Chinese multinational Geely, with Etika Automotive as an equity partner.
Lancia & C Fabbrica Automobili was founded on 27th November 1906, in Turin, by Fiat racing drivers, Vincenzo Lancia and his friend, Claudio Fogolin.
The Lanchester story begins at the birth of the British car industry and is very much a story of three eras: the Frederick Lanchester years of incredible innovation; the George Lanchester years when the company produced ‘the finest car in the world’ and the final, Daimler-owned era.
Ferruccio Lamborghini was a well-established tractor manufacturer in Italy when he decided to enter the high-performance, luxury sports car market in 1963. He’d already had a play with car-building, producing a few Fiat-based sports cars when he was a young man.
Wilbur Gunn was an American of Scots descent, who moved to the UK in 1891. A one-time opera singer, Wilbur had an engineering bent and worked as a motorcycle and steam-boat engineer. “Giralda’ was reportedly the fastest steam yacht on the Thames. The name ‘Lagonda’ came from the Shawnee name for his home-town in Ohio.
Benjamin (Ben) and William (Willie) Jowett started in the cycle business and went on to make V-twin engines for machinery. Some Jowett-designed engines were used as replacements for early car engines that proved unreliable. In 1904 the Jowetts formed the Jowett Motor Manufacturing Company, based in Bradford.
Brothers Richard and Alan Jensen built a boat-tailed sporting body on an early-model Austin ‘Chummy’ in 1926. Alfred Wilde, chief engineer at the Standard Motor Company was impressed with the design, to the point of asking Alan Jensen to design the first Standard Avon two-seaters that were produced between 1929 and 1933. Thus began the Jensen marque.
The Holden brand was once so typically Australian that the company’s jingle: “We love football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars”, resonated with almost everyone. Sadly that brand is no more. If it’s any consolation, the jingle wasn’t essentially Australian, but was adapted from: “We love baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet”.
As a company, Jaguar has been operating since 1945, but its roots go back to 1922, when the Swallow Sidecar Company was founded. It graduated from making cycle and car bodies to producing its own SS-brand cars before Word War II.
There have been several ‘Invicta’ car makes, including one Italian and two early British companies – not to mention the hideous Buick Invicta of the 1960s – but the ‘real’ Invicta, the company that innovated beyond its theoretical capacity, was the brainchild of Noel Macklin.
Humber was originally a British manufacturer of bicycles and, later, motorcycles that had an enviable reputation for quality. From an interest in motor vehicles beginning in 1896, the motor division became much more important than the cycle division.
Eight Detroit businessmen formed a company in February 1909, to produce motor cars that would sell for less than US$1000 (around 30 grand in today’s Au$) each. The brand was named after the principal capital contributor, Joseph L Hudson. Hudson motor cars introduced several innovations over many years of production that continued until 1957.
August Horch and his first business partner Salli Herz established their car manufacturing business in November, 1899 in Cologne. August was an engineer and had previously worked as a production manager for Karl Benz.
Honda is a relative newcomer to the ranks of historic vehicle makers, but already has produced some models that have become classics.
The double-barrelled name indicates that this famous car maker combined Swiss engineering with Spanish backing. In 1904. Swiss engineer, Marc Birkigt, who was working in Barcelona, had already designed some early “Cuadra’ 4.5hp and 7.5hp cars, and ‘Castro’ models, before Damien Mateu stepped in and helped form La Hispano-Suiza Fabricia de Automoviles.
The Hillman story is yet another British motor company saga that ended sadly. William Hillman had made his fortune after he and James Starley had patented a new type of ‘penny-farthing’ bicycle, using a spoked wheel. Hillman developed the very successful, smaller-wheel ‘Kangaroo’ from that design and soon found out the way to make a small fortune was to start a car company, beginning with a large fortune.
The eponymously named Donald Healey Motor Company was formed in 1946, by which time its founder already had a background in vehicle design and engineering, as well as rally driving success. He had previously designed the Gloria and Dolomite cars when working for Triumph and worked at Humber during Word War II.
What could have been a truly Australian-owned car manufacturing business after Word War II ended in abject failure. There were several commercial reasons why the Hartnett venture failed and there’s the faint smell of political interference, as well.
The double-barrelled name indicates that the Graham brothers took over the Paige company. That happened in 1927, but both brands had been operating independently prior to this takeover: Paige since 1908 and Graham since 1919.
It all started with the 1909 GN cycle-car that was named after its builders, Ron Godfrey and Archie Frazer Nash. After the cycle-car company folded in 1922, Archie went on to make cars under his own name.
Henry Ford built his first internal combustion engine in 1893 and in 1896 he produced a quadricycle. In 1901 he formed the Henry Ford Company, but he left some nine months later and that company became Cadillac. The final iteration – the Ford Motor Company – was formed in June, 1903 and remans to this day under Ford family control.
Since the early days the Agnelli family has been synonymous with FIAT (Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino). Giovannni Agnelli was one of the founders and led the company until his death in 1945.
Facel SA was a subsidiary of Bronzavia, a military aircraft manufacturer. Bronzavia’s technical director, Jean Daninos, had begun his career with Citroen and, after the War, headed up the Facel division that produced car bodies for French chassis.
Probably the best known brand in the automobile world, Ferrari owes its existence to Enzo Ferrari, who headed up Alfa Romero’s racing division before Word War II. When peace returned he began marketing vehicles under the ‘Ferrari’ brand.
Friedrich (Fred) and August (Augie) Duesenberg came to the USA when they were small children. Both were self-taught engineers, who began making engine and racing cars in Minnesota, in 1913. Their cars were hand made and considered class-leading.
Founded as a machine-shop by brothers Horace Elgin Dodge and John Francis Dodge in the early 1900s, the Dodge Brothers Company originally supplied parts and assemblies for Detroit-based automakers – mainly the Olds motor Vehicle Company and the fledgling Ford Motor Company.
In 1928, Walter Chrysler launched the De Soto brand, named after the explorer Hernando De Soto, who led the first European expedition into what is now Florida, Alabama and Georgia. De Soto cars were positioned at the lower end of the Chrysler range, to compete with GM’s Oldsmobile and with Studebaker, Hudson and Willys.
Emile Delahaye had an engineering company background before taking over a small machine shop in Tours, France, in 1890. He became increasingly interested in steam and internal combustion engines and developed cars with belt-driven one- and two-cylinder engines from 1894.
Many early car makers who loved racing drove their own brand vehicles, but Louis Delage probably couldn’t do that competitively, because he lost the sight of one eye as an infant. However, that one-eyed focus helped him make some of the most outstanding racing and touring cars of the 1920s and 1930s.
De Dion-Bouton was one of those rare companies that made huge technological advancements, was a one-time world-leading car maker and then faded away. Founded in Paris in 1883, the company did its best work before 1911.
Nearly all British car manufacturers suffered from poor management at crucial times, which is why all but a few of them vanished or became owned by overseas interests.
Clyno is one of the least-known British car brands, despite the fact that was the third-placed maker in the UK in the 1920s, behind Austin and Morris. In its Camelot-like, ‘one brief shining moment’, Clyno produced some 15,000 motorcycles and close to 40,000 passenger cars. At least 100 cowl/chassis made it Down Under.
The Crossley brothers, of Manchester, were the first British engineers to produce four-stroke power units, having acquired the licence Otto & Langen gas engines in the 1860s. The brothers were asked to produce automobiles European-car importers Jarrott & Letts and the first Crossley car was displayed at the Society of Motor Manufacturers’ Exhibition, at Crystal Palace, in 1904.
Errett Lobban Cord ran some 150 transport-related companies in the USA and in 1924 he was approached to help out at the struggling Auburn Automobile Company. However, Cord countered with a leveraged buyout proposal that was accepted. Cord sold off the old stock and then began the glory days for Auburn and a new brand, Cord.
Andre Citroen was born in Paris on the 5th of February 1878, to a family with Dutch ancestry and who had adopted the name ‘Citroen’ (lemon), because it sounded classier than the original Limoenman (lime-man).
Walter Chrysler had arrived at the ailing Maxwell-Chalmers company in the early 1920s, hired to overhaul the company’s troubled operations after having done a similar rescue job at the Willys-Overland car company. In late 1923 production of the Chalmers automobile ended.
After William C (‘Billy’) Durant was unceremoniously dumped in 1910 from the General Motors Company he’d started only two years before he teamed up with fledgling car maker, Louis Chevrolet, in 1911. Within five years, Chevrolet outsold General Motors brands and Durant used Chevrolet leverage to regain control of GM – now with Chevrolet as an additional brand.
Although the ‘Buick’ brand is the oldest car brand in the USA, David Dunbar Buick, who started making automobiles at his Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company in 1899, had little to do with the brand after 1906.
Automobiles Ettore Bugatti was founded in 1909 by Italian-born industrial designer, Ettore Bugatti. The new company was established in Molsheim, in the then-German, now French Alsace region of eastern France. Ettore’s background was designing cars for companies that included De Dietrich, Mathis and Deutz.
During World War II, the Bristol Aeroplane Company was already making plans to enter car production when peace was restored. Initially, it intended to take over one of the smaller, high-quality car brands, so in 1945 Bristol took over Frazer Nash and utilised its pre-War BMW marketing links.
The founder and owner of the Borgward group in Bremen, West Germany was Dr (Eng) Carl F W Borgward. He was born in 1890, in Hamburg-Altona and first trained as a fitter and turner before studying mechanical engineering.
The Bolwell story began in the early 1960s, with Campbell Bolwell’s dream to design and build sports cars – a dream that became a reality when he built his first fibreglass sports car at age 16.
A German aircraft engine manufacturer, called Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG, was formed in 1916 and was officially renamed Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) in 1922, after WW I. However the name BMW dates back to 1913, when the original company used the name BMW (Rapp Motorenwerke).