NotesFrederick Hugh Gordon was a Sydney engineer and entrepreneur born in 1883, the son of a wealthy grazier. He set up F.H. Gordon & Co. in 1913 and is said to have sold the first Ford, Wolseley and Packard cars in Australia. Gordon was forever searching for new ideas to market and he is attributed with importing the first ready-made suits, noiseless typewriters and fire extinguisher into Australia. His venture into the automotive industry and the development of the Australian Six saw car parts bought from America and shipped to Australia for assembly together with parts made locally.
Gordon made regular trips to the United State and while there in 1917 became involved with Louis Chevrolet, the renowned racing car driver and motor engineer who had left the Chevrolet company and was working with American Motors. Gordon obtained from Chevrolet the specifications for an American 'Light Six' car. He then visited all the factories that would supply the various units to go into the car including the engine, gearbox, differential and electrical system and arranged for their importation to Australia. Gordon leased premises at 133-137 Castlereagh Street, Sydney, which were used as a showroom and offices, while the cars were assembled at his workshop and service station at McLauglin Avenue, Rushcuttes Bay. As these premises were quite small, it is thought that only the chassis were assembled there. The chassis comprised components from the American Motor Corporation's American Six Model B with rounded radiators, Salisbury differentials and Grant Lees gearboxes. (Later, Gordon changed to Columbia differentials and Muncie gearboxes, but by the end of late 1921 reverted to Grant Lees gearboxes). The remainder of the work, including building of the car bodies, painting and upholstery, is thought to have been sub-contacted out to other firms. Three of the 5-seat touring car bodies were known to have been built at Millers Motor Body Works at Randwick with mudguards by F. Muller of Crown St, East Sydney. At least ten Australian Six cars were registered by September 1919. The retail price of 495 pounds was claimed in advertisements of the day to be between 200 and 300 pounds cheaper than a comparable imported car.
The Australian Six made its debut at Victoria Park Racetrack, Sydney, on 28 June 1919, driven by Robert Mitchell. On 1 July 1919 F.H. Gordon & Co. Ltd launched an advertising campaign designed to attract dealers throughout the Commonwealth. It was obvious that large production numbers required a significantly larger factory and more capital, so on 16 September 1919, Australian Motors Ltd was registered to take over the manufacturing operations of Fred Gordon's company. On 23 December 1919, a site of almost 7 acres on Parramatta Road, Ashfield, was purchased and the largest building of its type in Australia was commenced there to assemble Australian Six automobiles. It was completed in February 1920 and opened three months later. Some 200 workers were employed at the plant at its peak, and agents were established in each state as well as New Zealand. Much was made in declarations that returned servicemen were employed in the plant and that the local content in the car's construction included maple wood from Queensland, metal from BHP Newcastle and leather from Melbourne.
Gordon was chairman of the company and remained as the figurehead and spokesman during the rest of 1919 and into 1920. He had very little to do with the construction of the Ashfield plant, nor was he actively involved in the manufacturing activities once the plant went into production. Instead, he managed the sales and marketing departments and also the accounting operations at 133 Castlereagh Street. John Joshua Hughes was the Managing Director of the company and David Buchanan Martin was Director and Plant Manager.
The cars' leaf springs were originally imported but later made at Petersham. The seating upholstery was done in buttonless, pleated full-hide leather. Six different body styles were available, namely: the 3-seat straight seat, 3-seat clover leaf, 5-seat fixed front seat, 5-seat sliding front seat, 7-seat tourer, and an 8-seat special service car (charabanc). Both standard and de-luxe versions of the 5-seat and 7-seat touring cars were available. Standard artillery wheels made at the factory were fitted but by 1922 wire or disc wheels were an optional extra.
Despite all the positive and promising advertising, the firm had quality control problems. Many of the cars were returned to the factory, and the Rutenber engines had to be dismantled and rebuilt including machining of the rough engine block and fitting higher grade bearings. The stories of the engine troubles were poor publicity for the manufacturers but once rectified the cars were as sturdy and reliable as had been promised: a car made for Australian conditions. More and more Australian firms came in as suppliers until the car was said to have a local content of 60 or 70 percent. In effect, this appears to be a publicity claim as all the mechanical components were still imported except for the locally-built car bodies, some small body castings, radiators, fuel tanks and other small components.
On 23 March 1921 Australian Six Motors Sales Ltd was formed to take over the sales and distribution of the troubled manufacturing arm, Australian Motors Ltd, as well as to introduce new capital via the Overseas Sales Agency (Australia) Ltd, trading as the Savage Tyre & Rubber Co. Within six weeks of starting this new venture, David Martin, who was director of this company as well as Australian Motors Ltd, died suddenly of influenza on 18 April 1921, and the New Zealand parent company, Overseas Sales Agency (Australia) Ltd, collapsed. Consequently the newly re-organised conglomerate, Australian Six Motor Sales Ltd, folded in July 1921.
It appears the company continued to trade throughout 1922 and assets were finally sold to a new company, Australian Six Motors Ltd, which formed on 23 February 1923 with S. Diamond, J. Diamond and S. Kemelfield as directors. Production at Ashfield continued until the end of 1923. By this time Australian Six Motors Ltd had been purchased by the motor engineers, Harkness & Hillier. Donald Harkness had been selling Australia Six cars on commission while traveling interstate on business for his own firm, as well as running Australian Six cars in his taxi fleet. Production of the Australian Six moved to a new site on Parramatta Road, Five Dock, bounded by Spencer Lane and Spencer Street. Harkness & Hillier invested considerable capital in this new facility. Unfortunately, sales did not increase and less expensive, smaller imported cars such as the Model T Ford flooded the market. The last Australian Six was built at Five Dock in 1925.
The Ashfield factory was purchased by the motor body builder, Redwood Brown & Co. Ltd, which later obtained the agency for Dodge cars. The building became a massive assembly plant known as Dodge Park while from 1931 to the early 1990s some part of the site accommodated Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited (AWA).
Some of the other surviving Australian Six cars include an early 1918 prototype owned by George Gilltrap and a white 1924 or early 1925 roadster owned by John Cook. Another tourer is held at the York Motor Museum in Western Australia, restored by Simon Kelleher, Fred Gordon's grandson, and another was purchased at auction at Foster, New South Wales, by Immanuel Hansen. A collection of Australian Six components was also presented to the National Motor Museum, Birdwood Mill, South Australia, from the Powerhouse Museum.