George Innes – Australian motoring pioneer

A lot of people think that the manufacturing of cars in Australia started after World War 2, when Holden commenced manufacturing in 1948.

This is not the case. As in many other countries of the world, there were many pioneers who were interested by cars, and attempted to manufacture their own vehicles.

One of the early pioneers of car manufacture in Australia was George Innes. Innes was a Tasmanian by birth who had moved to Sydney around the turn of the 20th century.

Innes was strictly not a manufacturer. Innes imported vehicles from Lacoste and Battmann, and replaced the engines with locally built 1 cylinder and 4 cylinder units, as well as adding other local accessories. Two of Innes vehicles were sold to HR Arnott, of the famous biscuit making firm, with both cars completing the 1905 Dunlop Reliability Trial between Melbourne and Sydney.

Here is a period photograph of one of the Innes cars:


In 1920, Innes was asked to display one of his cars at the Sydney Motor Show.

He spoke to the Sunday Times newspaper in early January of that year, giving his recollections of motoring back in the early part of the 20th century:


IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS An Ancient Car at the Show


A car which will attract a lot of attention at the motor show is an old 9 h.p.Innes, built in Sydney 12 years ago. After having a look at the ancient, and comparing it with the latest models from abroad, one can see the wonderful strides made in the motor industry. The ancient is owned by Mr. George Innes, who is one of the pioneers In the motor industry here. Chatting with the writer yesterday afternoon, Mr. Innes stated :

‘My run out to the motor show to place the old 9 h.p. Innes on exhibition brought back old times. The old machine was not ‘taken down,’ to use a familiar expression. A spark plug was put in, an old coil unearthed, and a dry cell attached, valves cleaned, some petrol supplied, and off we started, just as

though the car had remained in commission instead of lying in the yard for years past, and the ancient ran surprisingly well. ‘It was about 1907 that I happened to be at Mr. Finlayson’s residence at Thirlmere, and discovered the remains of an engine in the fowlyard. He told me I could take it. I gathered it together, and have kept it ever since, hoping to find time to complete it and show it running, but have had no luck, and it is now being cleaned up, and will be sent to the show, where its novel operations will be explained.

I started in the motor business in Sydney In 1897, purchasing a small De Dion tricycle, which was brought to Sydney by Madame Serpollet. I purchased a two gallons tin of spirit for 10/, and got the machine going. Later, I may add, I imported a quantity of spirit and sold it at 3/9 per gallon. Later on American firms came on the scene, and we purchased it at 1/1 per gallon for a long time. I enjoy the doubtful honor of being the first motorist fined in N.S.W. It cost me 10/.- and expenses for having driven a motor vehicle (a motor tricycle) round the Domain at a pace faster than eight miles an hour. I often wonder why Mr. Alf. Edward, Superintendent of Traffic, has not had the money refunded to me; but perhaps he thinks I had a cheap advertisement.

My first car was a Pieper, made in Belgium. When I unpacked it and got the engine going the next trouble was to drive it. After some practice I ventured out with the family aboard, and managed to negotiate the city streets without much difficulty. Soon after I put the car ont he Newcastle boat and drove from the coaly city to the Newcastle Show. Here I struck trouble. Everyone wanted a ride, and, thinking I had a buyer, I persuaded Tom Ellis to mount. This ended the ride, as the axle broke, and I had to make a new one to drive home.

In the early days one of our chief troubles was broken porcelain in the plugs. We could not get plugs, so had porcelains made at Bakewell Bros., and managed very well. We also used glass centres in the plugs at times. Surface carburetters were generally used, and later the De Dion made the spray type. Then the Longuemare came along, also the multi-spray type. Ignition was generally by inducting coil and dry cells, but some machines were fitted with a platinum tube kept hot by small flame. Later the current was supplied by the Apple dynamo, driven by the belt from the engine. It was quite O.K. while it lasted, but it soon went to pieces.

We hear lots of talk about the wonderful modern car, but my opinion probably differs greatly from many others. The only improvements as regards reliability are in the ignition and automatic lubrication. Many cars were fitted with both in 1907, and were just as reliable as those of to-day. Self-starters and electric-light systems are a luxury, but add greatly to the cost of motoring. As regards petrol consumption, no improvement has been made, as records prove; but in efficiency, horse-power per weight of machine, a great deal has been done.’

Only one Innes car is known to have survived. Sydney vintage car enthusiast Geoff Simmons painstakingly restored the vehicle, after buying the remains of it in 1985:



6 thoughts on “George Innes – Australian motoring pioneer

  1. Anyone know the source of the ALLCARINDEX photo of an Innes, and maybe who the driver and passenger are? Allcarindex don’t answer email enquiries about this and as I’m researching G P Innes knowing the source of the photo would be useful.

  2. Still very keen to know what is the source of the period photo of the bigger Innes car in the item on George Innes. If I know where the phot came from,mwith all the research I’ve done on GP Innes I can probably now identify the driver and passenger.
    Any help on where the original photo is would be greatly appreciated.

  3. JF,

    The same picture that appeared in the AllCarIndex website was featured in Tony Davis’s book “Aussie Cars”, piublished by Marque Publishing in Sydney in 1987. I presume that it is an Australian photograph, but I have no details of the photographer or where the photo was taken.

    • Thanks Graham, I’ll follow up with Tony.
      A biography of GP Innes was presented at the Conference of Automotive Historians Australia in Melbourne in September 2016, it will be published in the proceedings of the 2016 Conference. The same paper was also given recently in a talk at the Veteran Car Club NSW.

  4. Hello Graham
    very interested in your Innes comments on the larger Innes car, as i own the sister car to the larger Innes!
    mine’s a Regal though made in England by Oscar Selbach [ he was the agent for L/B ] for 3 years 1902 to 06 } ….also made up out of Lacoste et Battmann parts , i also im searching for info and images of these cars, its amazing that L/B suppiled up to 80 makes of cars with components from 1902 onwards, yet there seems to be no early Parts list of what the sold , that i know off ?
    i do have a 1904 photocopy of a parts list for a Horley single cylinder car
    if you contact me a can proivide a photo of my car for you

    Andrew HD

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