Australian cars of the 1920’s

There were several attempts to manufacture cars in Australia in the 1920’s. The most successful of these was the Sydney-based “Australian Six”, with approximately 900 vehicles built between 1919 and 1925. Here is a summary of some of the other Australian makes of the 1920’s.

1922 Summit

1922 Summit

Advertised as a ‘New Wonder Car’ and ‘An Australian Triumph’, the Summit was built in the Sydney suburb of Alexandria by Kelly’s Motors Ltd between 1922 and 1926. It was equipped with a radio, cigar lighter and electric stop lights. The Summit also came with a 12 month warranty, which was unusual amongst cars of that era.

The Summit was powered by a 3.4 litre 4-cylinder Lycoming side-valve engine. The only body style available was a five-seater tourer. While most of the mechanical components were imported from the United States, an option was an unusual locally designed suspension system.

This used a series of leaf springs running the full length of each side of the chassis frame and was said to provide an exceptionally smooth ride. Unfortunately the long springs were prone to failure.  A couple of hundred Summits were built, with at least one fully restored example surviving today.

1922 Albani

1922 Albani Six

The Albani Six was built in Melbourne by Albani Motor Constructions Pty Ltd. The protoype, fitted with a US-built Continental 6-cylinder engine, underwent an endurance test in which it covered 8,000 kilometres in 12 days with the bonnet sealed, so that no repairs or adjustments could be made to the engine. Engineers who inspected the car after the trial reported that it suffered no serious mechanical or structural faults. Despite this excellent publicity, the Albani Six never made it into production.

1922 Southern Six


Shortly after the end of World War 1, ex-aviator Cyril Maddocks established the Australian-British Motors Ltd to build a car. The Southern Six was powered by a British-made 2.4 litre 6-cylinder Sage engine developing 20bhp. Other mechanical parts sourced from Britain included Sankey wheels and a Wrigley gearbox. The body was built locally.

The prototype was extensively tested and was said to have a top speed of nearly 100km/h and used only 4.5 litres of petrol per 100 kilometres. Plans were made to make a 4-cylinder engined version of the car, but the only Southern Six built was the prototype.

1923 Marks-Moir

1923 Marks-Moir.jpg

The Marks-Moir was the most original of the attempts to build an Australian car in the 1920’s. The Marks-Moir was the brainchild of a Sydney dentist, Dr AR Marks, who in 1923 had the car built to his specifications in Britain and shipped to Sydney , where it was his personal car.

The Marks-Moir featured a unique chassis-less construction in which stressed plywood was used to provide an unitary structure. The 4-cylinder engine sat ‘east-west’ across the chassis, closes to the centre for optimum weight distribution. The transmission featured a 2-speed epicycle transmission (probably from a Model T Ford), driving the back axle through a limited-slip differential.  A handful of Marks-Moirs were built. One of the cars was passed onto Jim Marks, AR Marks’ son. Jim Marks later went into partnership with noted Australian aviator Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith to build car in the early 1930’s called the Southern Cross, which used the same unitary construction principles.

1925 Besst


The Besst was conceived by the May’s Motor Works of Adelaide. The company imported 3.2 litre 4-cylinder Lycoming engines from the United States, along with Muncie gearboxes and other mechanical parts. It is believed that the chassis was clearance stock from the Crow-Elkhart company of Elkhart, Indiana.  The lone body style – the ‘King of the Road’ 5-seater tourer was built by local coachbuilder TJ Richards.

The Besst was promoted in local advertisements as a ‘new appreciation of motoring ease and security’, but it cost nearly twice as much as an imported car of similar size and performance, Approximately half a dozen were built and sold.

The black and white pictures for this blog post were sourced from the webiste, while the picture of the Besst was taken from the book “South Australian Cars: 1881-1942” by George Brooks and Ivan Hoffman, 1987.

Text is from the book “Aussie Cars” by Pedr Davis, published by Marque Publishing, Sydney in 1987.





1924 Summit

The Summit was one of the several attempts to manufacture an “Australian” car in the period between World War 1 and World War 2. Kelly’s Motors of the inner Sydney suburb of Alexandria were the firm behind the Summit. Production began in 1923, and Kellys ensured that details of the new car featured prominently in the press, such as this piece from the Burnie Advocate, dated the 7th of September 1923.

The Summit Car.

Among the new cars on the market today a striking example of the progress made in design is the Summit. Not only is the engine rendered, almost vibrationless by a five bearing, forced lubrication, crankshaft, supported on the chassis by a four-point suspension, but the inevitable road shocks are eliminated, as far as possible by the special method of springing. The Acme springs employed carry the whole strain throughout the whole chassis instead of each axle, absorbing the shock individually. This not only increases comfort in driving, by giving a rolling motion, instead of jolting, but saves considerable wear on tires. The full benefit of these springs must be seen to be believed. The makers themselves show their faith in the design, material and workmanship, by giving a written guarantee for twelve months, with each new car. This car is fitted with a 1923 New Lycoming Motor with Lynite Pistons and 12-inch Connecting Rods, thus eliminating excessive side slap on thc cylinder walls. The clutch is a 10-inch Borg & Beck dry plate, as used hitherto only in high priced cars. The radiator is a Pedders Honeycomb, same as used in the Packard. The wheel base is 112 inches. The car as supplied by the makers is equipped to such an extent that the buyer finds it entirely unnecessary to dip further into his pocket for those additions which add so materially to the comfort of the private car.

This last sentence was a reference to some of the features that were fitted as standard to the Summit – clock, cigar lighter, sun shield, wind deflectors and nickel-plated bumpers.

1924 Summit tourer
1924 Summit tourer

While the majority of the Summit’s mechanicals were relatively standard, the Acme springing system was an Australian designed system. In 1921 Christian Fredriksen and business partner William T Kelly travelled to the United Kingdom and the United States to demonstrate and sell Fredriksen’s invention – the Acme Spring Suspension System. Using two sets of three cantilevered leaf springs, the system spread shocks along the length of the car for a smoother ride over rough surfaces. Already proven on the difficult Australian road conditions, in 1921 the system was offered as a factory fitted extra on the Australian assembled Lincoln Six. Despite many attempts to sell the international manufacturing rights to various motor car producers, better road conditions experienced in Britain and the United States meant that the benefits of the system were not as apparent. Convinced of the need for the Acme system, Kelly’s company decided to market the Summit to see if the system would be a success on Australian roads.

Production commenced in late 1923, with the 5-seater tourer selling for approximately £495. Like the other attempts to sell a locally built car at this time, the Summit could not compete on price with imported cars, many of which were imported as chassis into Australia, avoiding import taxes, and fitted with Australian bodies. The Acme springing system was also prone to failure.

Kelly’s Motors advertised the Summit as the “New Wonder Car” and “An Australian Triumph”, and also used testimonials from owners, such as this one from the Adelaide Chronicle, dated the 1st of March 1924:

‘Summit’ Cars. The following letter has been received by May’s Motor Works who handle ‘Summit’ cars. The writer of the letter, Mr. H. C. Ward, is a well-known resident of Millicent:


‘It is with pleasure that I write to you with respect to my ‘Summit’ car. I journeyed from Auburn to Peterborough, and over bad roads the car averaged 26 miles to the gallon with a full load of passengers. From Auburn to Port Pirie, a distance of 190 miles, it averaged 25 miles per gallon of Plume motor spirit. The ‘Summit’ car has done good work for me on all roads, and on my return to Millicent, in the South-East, through the Coorong, with a full load, the car did the whole journey of 278 miles on 12 gallons of benzine, averaging 23 miles to the gallon over bad roads. I have never had to change a gear or to use a wrench on my Summit. The springs on the car make the Coorong long journey a pleasure trip, as it was a real treat to drive through in this car. I am satisfied that it is one of the best cars I have driven or ridden in. I have obtained 900 miles per gallon of oil.’

Unfortunately the Summit did not last long in the marketplace, with the last cars being built in early 1926. Production figures are estimated between 300-500 cars. Five complete cars survive, along with approximately ten cars in various stages of completeness. The car featured in this post is on display at the National Motor Museum in Birdwood, South Australia.