A Life In Cars

The life story of Dickie Sutherland

1950

Motoring Potted History in the 1950’s

A potted history of Cars new and used available after World War 2 While by 1939 around one in four South Australian families had a car – now likely to be a sedan rather than the canvas-roofed tourer of previous decades – the Great Depression and the Second World War reduced the momentum of car ownership. Not until the 1950s did car ownership become a reality rather than a dream for most families. In 1948 there were 162 motor vehicles per 1000 South Australians.

A potted history of Cars new and used available after World War 2

The Great Depression and the Second World War reduced the momentum of car ownership. Not until the 1950s did car ownership become a reality rather than a dream for most families. In 1948 there were 162 motor vehicles per 1000 South Australians, and by 1964 there were 360; indeed, until the mid-1960s South Australia had the highest per capita car ownership in Australia.

The Sunday drive became a popular pastime.

Jon G Chittleborough, ‘Motor Vehicles’, SA History Hub, History SA, http://sahistoryhub.com.au/subjects/motor-vehicles, accessed 14 August 2016.

Before the Second World War Australians bought cars from around the world, British, European or American suitable to local needs.  The variation in Australian road standards was enormous; vast distances were spanned by little more than tracks, road conditions could vary from paved bitumen, graded gravel, deep red dust to unpassable mud.  The distances meant that help was rarely available when needed, especially for repairs beyond the capabilities of the local smithy or a bush mechanic.

After the Second World War, cars of any description were valued in Australia.  Most prized were the big unstressed simple vehicles from America; a 1939 Chevrolet, for example, was worth more than it cost new. 

The Australian car industry was in its infancy. 

Australia was a major export market for British cars after Europe, so the car-starved and growing population took a large part of the production of the new models. However, new cars were in limited supply and waiting lists long, second-hand cars were expensive or well and truly worn-out.

The new circumstances were reflected in the development of ‘Australia’s Own Car’, the Holden, which heralded a new era in motoring in Australia. The first Holden rolled off the assembly line at the General Motors-Holden’s Fishermen’s Bend factory in Victoria on 29 November 1948, the bodies having been constructed at the company’s plant at Woodville in South Australia.

The Holden went on display in Adelaide showrooms on 7 December 1948 with a price of £675 plus tax. It was an instant success with the waiting time for orders soon extending to three years; by 1951 the company had produced 50,000 units, but had orders for almost 100,000.

The first motor vehicle of many, if not most, middle and working-class families was probably acquired second-hand. 

In 1948 the cost of a 1940 Vauxhall varied from £350 to £450 from a second-hand car dealer; a 1935 Plymouth could be acquired for £360, or a Morris sedan from £275. Ten years later a 1951 Austin A40 could be acquired for £465 and a 1950 Holden sedan for £495.

Drive-ins

Entertainment, too, was greatly altered by the motor vehicle. the advent of the drive-in theatre.

The Blue-Line opened on 28 December 1954, with John Gregson, Kay Kendall and Kenneth More in the classic veteran car comedy Genevieve. The supporting program was a Heckle and Jeckle cartoon, news and a featurette. There were two nightly sessions starting at 8 and 10.

The drive-in gave young couples more privacy than a love-seat in a cinema, but it was also popular with families since children could be readied for bed before they left the house and the younger ones could go to sleep at any time.

Blueline West Beach 1954
Starline 1956

The Blue-Line Drive-In There were two nightly sessions starting at 8pm and 10pm with shows 6 nights a week.

There had been a lot of discussion going on about the immorality of Drive-Ins with the church and civic leaders and worried parents speculating about what might happen inside the cars. However, eventually the Places of Public Entertainment Act Amendment Bill was passed in Parliament and over the next 10 or 12 years there were 15 Drive Ins operating around Adelaide suburbs and in the hills.

Who remembers smuggling mates in the boot, driving off with the speaker still attached, shagin’ wagons backing up to the speaker post, VW’s running the engine when it started to rain to get their wipers going, flat batteries, and for the guys, finally learning how to unclip a bra!

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