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About Australian Amilcars

Australia took to Amilcars in a way that was not at all expected for a part of what was promoted as Greater Britain. We were not supposed to make anything except raw materials and then be a captive market. Firstly, Amilcars were French and there was an anti-everything-not-British culture at least amongst those who thought of themselves as Poo Bahs. But, it wasn’t the Poo Bahs who were the market for Amilcars. It has been suggested that Australians serving in the First World War realised that not all motor vehicles were unreliable and generally useless but could be useful, reliable, hard-working and long-lived as were the French vehicles. Even W.O. Bentley himself pointed out in one of his books that British vehicles of this period were a long way behind the French. Actually, they caught up later by the simple expedient of stealing French designs. Doesn’t that remind you of how the Japanese motorcycle and motor-car industry got up and running? For whatever the reasons, Australians took to Amilcars in a big way. The U.K. fits into our smallest mainland state, Victoria and Australia is a very large country indeed. By European standards, France is a large country and much more emphasis was placed on roadholding, braking, steering, suspension and economy. Furthermore, France lost the battle over oil whereas the English, like the Americans had access to vast amounts of oil and petroleum products. Perhaps that is why they produced so many large gas-guzzlers. Amilcars, on the other hand, run on the smell of the proverbial oily rag and Australia, like France had long roads with very rough surfaces. Poo-bahs like bankers, solicitors and medical specialists might prefer to creep around the cities in their over-bodied large and expensive motor-cars, hoping for a knighthood, but most people lived on Struggle Street, and what spare money they could rustle up had to work for them. Rather than designing cars to creep around country lanes for a few miles, the French designers made sure that the high cruising speed of their engines was only a whisker below the top speed. Not only could you travel long distances over bad roads safely but you could do it quite quickly. When shearers still travelled the country in teams they travelled by rail or by horsedrawn vehicles and eventually motorcycles. Even today, rail networks across Australia are disgracefully inadequate. Yes, it is partly the size of the place and, yes, it is partly the politicians spending money around the cities and not worrying overmuch about the rest of the country. When hand shears for shearing gave way to faster and more efficient machine heads the shearers had to carry all their own heads and along with all their swag it was too much for a motorcycle. They began looking for small, light cars that were cheap to buy, cheap to run, high-geared and reliable. One particular shearer owned no less than two motorcycles and three Amilcars before the work got too much for him. NSW, Victoria and South Australia had importer/agents who all had a string of sub-agents and spotters. Queensland appears to have never had an agency for Amilcars or evidence has yet to emerge. Tasmania and Western Australia had sub-agents but the active sales initiatives came from the  three south-eastern states. The Amilcar Triangle is marked by the three cities Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne.

Here right from the beginning

The very earliest production Amilcar was the CC model. They had no provision for mounting an electric starter motor and one of these earliest models has never been discovered in Australia. When it was realised that women were a huge potential market for Amilcars but would not consider hand-cranking an engine, the factory quickly modified the design and some of these CC Amilcars fitted with electric starte motors were imported into Australia. They had folded steel front axles, fabricated rear ends and short dipsticks located on the front offside corner of the crankcase, and cast-iron timing cases. The distinctive nickel-plated cowl around the raditor was not detachable on these early cars and carried water. Later, the radiator cowl was detachable. Right from the beginning, the Amilcar factory designed, redesigned, improved and modified unlike so many other British and American makes. Lloyd Foster of Bendigo owns and is restoring perhaps the earliest known Amilcar CC known in Australia

The demise of Amilcars in Australia

It was the Great Depression of the early 1930s that knocked the guts out of the Amilcar factory and overseas sales. But before that time, the Austin 7 had arrived on the scene and offered a much lower cost alternative, not only this but there had always been pressure from the British Government to make life difficult for people trying to sell non-British products into Australia and during the First World War, when both governments should have been thinking more about the mess they had created, a couple of pieces of legislation were passed that on the surface appeared to encourage Australian coachbuilders. Motor vehicles imported as rolling chassis’ received a reduction in import duty and sales tax. However, when read in conjunction with the British Empire preferential legislation it became apparent that this did not apply to any British motor vehicles! British motor vehicles were exempt. The legislation was chiefly designed to nobble American and Continental car manufacturers.It was Henry Ford who twigged what was going on. He arranged to have his T-Models assembled in Canada. Canada was a Dominion and a member of the British Empire and so cars exported from Canada to Australia enjoyed the same advantages as cars exported from Britain to Australia. Clever Henry. An executive was despatched to Australia, bought land in Geelong and built a Ford factory. Billy Durant of General Motors, realising that Henry had stolen a march on him struck back by purchasing the Adelaide coachbuilding firm of Holden. And while all this was going on Amilcars were being imported into Australia as rolling chassis’ and sold nearly as fast as they could clear customs and be bodied. A very select few were imported with French coachwork but the majority were fitted with Australian coachwork.