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History

05 Mar 2019

History Image

Want to buy a car? Go to Southbank!

Saturday morning would see a procession of prospective purchasers looking for a car in Southbank where the streets, particularly Sturt St, were full of businesses dedicated to the motor car.

A number of car dealers had originally set up their businesses in pre-war years, preferring the latest streamlined moderne style and often including a tall vertical section, which ensured they would be noticed by passing motorists. Melford Motors in Sturt St and Lane’s in Dorcas St were among those that featured prominent towers.

Car use in Melbourne increased dramatically after WWII, resulting in more venues for their sale (both new and used), servicing, parts and accessories supply, repairs and upgrades. Sturt St was populated with car dealers such as Lane’s Motors, Devon Motors, Spencer Motors, Regent Motors, Neal’s Motors and Cheneys.

Anyone seeking a car could select from a range of marques such as Plymouth, Morris, Chrysler, De Soto, Ford and Holden after 1948. Used cars were generally described as “ideal for a working-man”, “in perfect condition” or “first class”. Some older South residents can remember buying their first cars at Lane’s and the firm was particularly careful of its reputation for “square dealing” – they wanted you to come back for your next car.

But it wasn’t just cars that were for sale – it was a centre for trucks and even tractors. Southbank was also popular with another group of motor-related businesses – those that upgraded vehicles. In an era when items such as radios were not necessarily standard, you could have one fitted quickly, and even have one with a cassette player included in the 1970s.

Car yards ranged in standard from the small and grubby to the large and pristine, such as the new headquarters of Cheney Vauxhall and Bedford dealers, architect-designed and constructed in the late 1950s. It was all shiny steel and glass, but still with petrol bowsers on the street outside.

Many young people from South found their first jobs in the car yards. Young men worked on the maintenance and presentation of the cars in the workshops along Sturt and Dorcas streets or served their apprenticeships as motor mechanics.

Girls straight out of school (or commercial colleges) worked in the offices as secretaries, typists or telephonists, using old plug-in-plug-out telephone exchanges.

All the former car dealer sites have been replaced by apartment blocks or corporate centres and the recent demolition of Lane’s Motors in Dorcas St represented the end of an era in Southbank.

 

Robin Grow 

President - Australian Art Deco and Modernism Society

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