History Talking | Cars: A life-changing item

DICKEY-SEAT DAYS: By the 1920s the Americans were mass producing cars and the ordinary man was able to finally take the wheel.
DICKEY-SEAT DAYS: By the 1920s the Americans were mass producing cars and the ordinary man was able to finally take the wheel.

The Oldsmobile car was first produced by Ransom Eli Olds in Lansing, Michigan in the new American Assembly system in 1897 and the song was used by General Motors as a marketing ploy for many years.

By the 1920s the Americans were mass producing cars and the ordinary man was able to finally take the wheel.

Our own Oral History Group’s memories didn’t go back quite that far but most of us could remember the sort of car we drove in the 1950s and, although they weren’t perhaps the latest model, they were still a very prized possession.

“Come away with me, Lucille, In my merry Oldsmobile... You can go as far as you like with me. In my merry Oldsmobile.

Vincent P. Bryan 1932.

Looking back to the 50s and 60s, driving requirements seemed to have been pretty casual.

There were not, of course, nearly as many vehicles on the road and not nearly as many restrictions as there are today.

The compulsory wearing of seat belts was not introduced until the 1970s and most of us could remember little cars packed with children who slid and tumbled and fought in the back seat.

One of the most popular small cars in our group seemed to be the Austin A30.

Bruce had a 1954 model and said eloquently that “it couldn’t pull the skin off a rice custard.”

When Stuart took his first drive in his Austin from Newcastle to Sydney he managed to lose his way.

There were of course no electronic devices to help in those days.

“I was married in 1956 and my Austin A30 took us on our honeymoon,” Dick said.

“After the reception we discovered it was labelled with a sign reading “Just Married “and on the back bumper, tied with fencing wire, was a Chev6 crankshaft and a full set of pistons.

“I couldn’t get it out of low gear until I managed to cut the whole thing off.

“The final straw was when we reached Kiama and I put the hood down and about five boxes full of confetti blew out behind us.”

A car was a great way to impress a girl in our youth and Reg was well on the way when he bought a Ford for 50 pounds to take a girl to a dance.

“It had to be cleaned and I painted it up so well that I couldn’t get a horse near it because of the glare,” he said.

I drove it proudly into town to pick up the girl and when her father saw it he staggered back in horror.

He was so unimpressed that he offered to let me drive his Pontiac rather than let his daughter go in my beautiful car.”

Car salesmen were always enthusiastic about the vehicles they were trying to sell us and the one Tom dealt with was no exception.

“I bought a second hand Holden for 150 pounds in Dubbo”,he told us.”

The salesman said that it was so good it would take me all the way from Dubbo to Bourke with no trouble.

“Gee Whizz, I said, it must really be a great car!”

Second hand Holdens were also popular with the group.

“When we had quite a few children we bought one,” Monica said.

“We decided to take a trip up the coast and as we drove we noticed people looking at us with some amazement.

Then we discovered that one of the kids had stuck a Just Married sign on the back”

Dot and Frank, like most of us couldn’t afford a car when they were first married and so they rode a bicycle, with Frank driving and Dot on the handle bars.

“I was taken to the hospital on the bike to have my first baby,” she told us.

“After that we bought a second hand car.”

It was rare in those days for a young couple to own a new car and Bill was no exception.

“My brother sold me a 1927 Cadillac in 1956 for 50 pounds.

“It was a very high stately car which would only go about 10 mph but we thought it was wonderful and were surprised when none of our friends seemed anxious to drive in it.

“We took it from Sydney to Wollongong to see my wife’s parents and it took us 9 hours to make the trip because we broke down so many times.

“Our families were so horrified when they saw it that they lent us money to buy an Austin A30 which was certainly more reliable.”

“We always had a car when I was growing up”, Glenna told us .

“My favourite was a little Morris Minor Ute when I was about 10 or 11.

“There was only enough room for two people in the front seat so I sat in a little cane chair outside with my back to the cabin and slid about quite a bit but it was great fun.

My mother later drove a Hillman and when she took her sister for a drive her sister said admiringly, “Gee Myra, this is a great little car. It does go nice and slowly for you, doesn’t it?”

In those more innocent days, our first car, no matter how old or battered, was to us, a thing of joy and pride.

It was even possible to do a lot of maintenance ourselves and many drivers spent a great deal of time stretched out beneath the car at weekends.

There were no air conditioners, the windows being left open on hot days instead, often keeping the occupants in a howling gale.

It was very easy to obtain a license, especially in small country towns where the local cop was probably aware of your driving skill before you even went for your test.

When I went for mine in a small town on the plains of the central west we encountered only one person as we drove around the block.

But at least we had wheels and could pile the whole family in and the world was our oyster – at least for a while.