AH Peters: 125 years making trucks & vans

General Motors Australia weren’t the only automotive manufacturer on Carrington Road Marrickville in the 1920s. AH Peters had also set up next door at No. 16. The AH Peters factory (without its brick façade) can be seen to the right of General Motors Australia on its opening day in 1926. Inside, the building’s impressive first floor trusses suggest heavy machinery may have been used on the first floor. The building is now occupied by Sydney Prop Specialists but AH Peters is still operating today after moving to Condell Park and is proud of its 125-year history.

In the early Twentieth Century, AH Peters made motor vehicle bodies, particularly trucks, vans and utility vehicles, adapting General Motors models for more specialised uses. AH Peters supplied commercial vehicles including to Kellogg’s, MacRobertson’s, Cadbury’s Chocolate, Dairy Farmers, Colda Fruit Salad Delicacies, J. Gadsden, Anderson’s Smallgoods and Steelo, according to archives in the State Library. These commercial vehicles were well-known around Sydney and AH Peters had their bodywork photographed by our favourite photographer, Milton Kent. If you look closely, you can see the Steelo photo was taken out the front of AH Peters premises on Carrington Road!

AH Peters also transformed General Motor’s Buicks into ambulances used across NSW. See more historic Buick ambulances in a collection put together by John Gerdtz.

Carrington Road: So what is an assembly plant?

In the 1920s, the General Motors assembly plant in Marrickville was described an engineering marvel and fascinated Sydneysiders. Visitors to the plant included Charles Kingsford Smith, world-champion golfer Walter Hagen, singing organist Julia Dawn, the Master Builders Association, the Millions Club, the 2UW Radio Club, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Radio Movie Club. An illuminated scale model of the plant was a hit at the 1929 Sydney Motor Show.

But what is an assembly plant? It is a factory with an assembly line, where work is separated into a sequence of tasks. Henry T Ford developed a moving assembly line in 1913 and it cut the cost of automotive production. Cars became affordable so more people could buy one. Assembly lines made household goods cheap and readily available in the Twentieth Century, something we can still appreciate 100 years on.

General Motors on Carrington Road was possibly the first purpose-built assembly plant in New South Wales with moving production lines. Ford had only just opened its plants in Geelong, Adelaide and Brisbane (Sydney came later in 1936). Here’s a description of the General Motors assembly line from the 1930s:

Bodies are hauled by electric hoists into the body storage area, where they are fitted with electric wiring harness and dashboard instruments, later assembly begins with the riveting of the chassis frame. Red hot rivets are tossed from the furnaces to the riveters with seemingly reckless abandon. Each man is ready to collect and the hot rivets are hammered into place with pneumatic hammers. Petrol tank, axles, steering wheel, steering column, transmission and springs are then fitted, and the chassis moves on to a trestle. Mechanics fit spark plugs and prepare the engine. The chassis frame is treated with anti-corrosive, the engine lowered into the chassis frame, and the unit is ready for its journey along the conveyer line. Fenders and other parts are fitted and a body is gently lowered to the frame… An army of men swarms over the unit… the engines are started and the cars roll off under their own power to checking pits. Here every bolt and nut is inspected, steering and wheel alignment are checked, the ignition system is inspected to see that everything is functioning perfectly… The car goes on its first journey…

Speaking of nuts and bolts, we’ll bring you more on where these could have been made soon (hint: it’s just down the road!)

 

 

Speaker Series: The Catch: The Story of Fishing in Australia by Anna Clark

Bringing her personal passion for throwing in a line, local author Anna Clark celebrates the enduring pleasure of fishing. This book charts the history of fishing, from the first known accounts of Indigenous fishing and early European encounters with Australia’s waters to the latest fishing fads; from the introduction of trout and fly fishing to the challenges of balancing needs of commercial and recreational fishers.

Marrickville Library Thursday 28 June 6:30pm-7:30pm Book for sale and signing

Bookings open Monday 7 May.

Swamp to manufacturing marvel

NSW Manager for General Motors in the 1920s, Mr JF Potter, must have been looking for a site to establish General Motors as an industrial showpiece. He chose Carrington Road Marrickville. But why? How did this and other parts of Marrickville become a powerhouse of Australian manufacturing?

One thing you might know is that Carrington Road floods every now and again. There’s a reason for this. It’s built over the former Gumbramorra Swamp. The swamp drained south to the Cooks River, and in the early 1800s was a wild and dangerous place where escaped convicts and bushrangers hid. Later, some parts were turned into brickworks and farms, including dairy farms and market gardens around Carrington Road.

Buicks, Chevrolets, Cadillacs & Oaklands: General Motors Cars of the 1920s

 

Pontiac Six, Motor Progress, No. 1, October 1926

So General Motors actually made cars in Marrickville? Yes! When you think about the car industry in Australia, you probably think Victoria and South Australia but cars were made across Australia for most of the Twentieth Century. The General Motors Australia assembly plant on Carrington Road Marrickville supplied cars to all of New South Wales.

On opening of the plant in November 1926, a car could be completed in just 30 minutes. Then by May 1927, a car was rolling off the assembly line every ten minutes. On 23 August 1927, the plant celebrated its 10,000th car in just the first nine months. It was a Pontiac Six.

Convertibles, family cars and commercial trucks were all made at the Marrickville plant. We’ve put together a list of the vehicles from trade publications and newspaper articles (below). General Motors cars from the 1920s like Chevrolet, Cadillac and Vauxhall are still well known to this day.

General Motors’ extensive range was the part of corporate strategy by American millionaire William C Durant. Mr Durant started General Motors in 1908. You can read about how he did this here. General Motors maintained its brands’ identities and this continued when General Motors purchased one of its major Australian suppliers, Holden in 1931. But more about that another time!