Automobile engine, full size, "The Weston", from Swinnerton motor car, 11 hp, 4-cylinder, Type Y, No. 1, designed and made by Alfred John Swinnerton, at A.J. Swinnerton foundry, 9 Weston Road, Rozelle, New South Wales, Australia, 1914
Many people falsely believe that the first Australian-made car was the Holden in 1948 or even the Australian Six in 1919 but there were numerous early attempts to start an Australian automotive industry, some with innovative ideas. A rare surviving example of an early Australian-made car engine is this one designed and made by Alfred John Swinnerton in 1914. Swinnerton was an engineer and at his Rozelle foundry in Sydney made this 11 hp, four-cylinder engine he called "The Weston" to go in his own car, the Swinnerton.
Alfred Swinnerton was ahead of his time, as although the Italian motoring firm Lancia is generally credited with devising the first production car with an integrated chassis and body structure, Swinnerton was working on this idea with his cycle car of 1904 and a roadster, from which this engine survives, that he built in 1914.
Swinnerton's idea was further developed by another Australian, Dr A.R. Marks of Sydney. He built the Marks-Moir car which had a unique unitary structure, dispensing with the usual steel-rail chassis, and a body of stressed plywood. Dr Marks' son Jim later went into partnership with aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith to build an updated "Marks-Moir", released in 1933 as the "Southern Cross". Few cars were built and Smithy's untimely death in 1935 put an end to the project.
Alfred Swinnerton was a clever and gifted engineer and inventor who was one of pioneers of early automobile and engine construction in Australia.
Simpson, Margaret, "On the Move: a history of transport in Australia", Powerhouse Publishing, Sydney, 2004
Curator, Science & Industry
Alfred John Swinnerton was an engineer born in Sydney on 25 April 1880, the son of Alfred John Swinnerton, an ironmaster in the firm Swinnerton & Frew of Parramatta Road, Annandale, and Mary Frances. Unfortunately, Alfred Swinnerton snr's business closed down in 1893 due to the maritime strikes of the 1890s. At this time Alfred jnr, then 13, was working as a fireman in the boiler room of Beales' piano factory. By 17 he was at Hodgekinson Engineers and rose to be foreman there at the age of 19. He then went into business repairing roller skates at Syd Fowler's Exhibition Building skating rink in 1903. By 1906 he was building small marine engines for motorboats used by oyster growers and fishermen on the Hawkesbury River.
In the meantime, Alfred continued to experiment with various aspects of mechanical engineering and in about 1907 built his first car, a single-cylinder runabout at Marion Street, Leichhardt. At this time there were very few cars on the road in Australia, most of them French and British models. Alfred's design was innovative for the time as it had no chassis frame. The idea was to save weight and add strength as the body structure was designed to have all the components attached to it. Little is known about the car's mechanical details except that it was registered as a 6 hp Kelicon, possibly indicating that its motive power was a Kelecom motorcycle engine.
In about 1912, Alfred established his own foundry on two blocks of land, at 9 Weston Road, Rozelle (later renamed Victoria Road). He continued to build Weston marine engines, experimented with an early semi-diesel engine and a four cycle petrol engine. He developed and patented a high pressure centrifugal blower used on Wurlitzer organs at the Capitol and State theatres, and St Andrew's Cathedral as well as for furnaces in factories and gas works. Alfred was also interested in wireless, and built loud speakers for early public address systems used by politicians.
Alfred's second car was hand built in 1914 and had his name "Swinnerton" emblazoned across the radiator. The car was a low-slung roadster and was powered by this 11 hp 4-cylinder internal combustion engine, also built from scratch at his Rozelle foundry. Its final drive was by belts similar to the then popular cycle cars of the period. Alfred was said to have been instrumental in overcoming the bearing problems experienced with the Australian Six automobile.
Georgano, G. N., "The Beaulieu Encyclopaedia of the Automobile", The Stationery Office, London, 2000.
Correspondence with the Swinnerton family in 1964 on Museum files.
After design and construction by Alfred Swinnerton, this automobile engine was fitted to a car of his own construction, a roadster built in 1914. Between 1915 and 1925 the car travelled some 45,000 miles (72,418 km). As well as the engine, the Museum also has the steering wheel from the car, object No. 96/133/1. Framed within the steering wheel is a photograph of the Swinnerton car.
After 1925, the engine was removed from the vehicle and it was stored in Mr Swinnerton's workshop. Alfred Swinnerton died on 18 May 1962 and the following year his engine was donated to the Museum by his widow Mrs A. Swinnerton. The engine was located for the Museum by Don Harkness, who recognised its significance.