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!)

 

 

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!