Sectioned automobile body, full size, "Master" sedan Chevrolet, "uni steel turret top", made and sectioned by General Motors-Holden's Pty Ltd, Woodville, South Australia, 1939, displayed at opening of Holden's Pagewood factory, New South Wales, Australia, plant, 1940
This Chevrolet "Master" sedan car body is an early example of the "turret top all-steel" car bodies manufactured at the General Motors-Holden plant at Woodville in South Australia in 1939. The body was made at the Holden factory in Adelaide, the first automotive manufacturing plant in the Southern Hemisphere to install the giant "Hamilton" press on which the all-steel bodies were made. It is constructed in only four pieces of prefabricated steel. Shaped by the press, the pieces were then spot-welded together and formed a much stronger, lighter and cheaper car body. The all-steel bodies brought down the cost of cars as they required much less labour compared to the more expensive wooden coach bodies of the 1920s. These timber bodies required many small pieces of wood for the frame made by tradesmen trained in the coach building trades of the horse-drawn vehicle era.
The body illustrates the change in motor vehicle construction which occurred in the late 1930s and involved the re-skilling of workers and massive investment in plant and manufacturing. It also shows the trend towards streamlining of motor cars which began to take place in the early 1930s with the unsuccessful Chrysler "Air Flow".
This "Master" Chevrolet was made and sectioned in Adelaide at the General Motors-Holden's plant in Adelaide. It is particularly important as it is a sectioned exhibition piece which was shipped around the country to display the company's new body construction method in 1939. In February 1940 it was exhibited at the opening of Holden's Sydney plant at Bunnerong Road, Pagewood, before being donated to the Museum shortly after.
Darwin, Norm, "The History of the Holden since 1917". E.L. Ford Publications, Newstead, Victoria, 1983.
Simpson, Margaret, "On the Move: a history of transport in Australia", Powerhouse Publishing, Sydney, 2004.
Wright, John, "Heart of the Lion: the 50-year history of Australia's Holden", Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, NSW, 1999.
Curator, Science & Industry
The Chevrolet body was made by Australia's most well-known car manufacturing companies, Holden. The firm began in Adelaide as Holden & Frost, making harnesses and other components for the coach building industry. They entered the motor body building business in 1914 when they made a custom-built body on a Lancia chassis. In 1917, following the government embargo on imported car bodies, the firm began producing bodies for imported American Dodges and Buicks. In 1919 the company was reorganised and in 1920 became Holden's Motor Body Builders Ltd. By 1924 Holden had one of the world's most advanced production lines at Woodville in South Australia and exclusively supplied bodies to the Australian branch of the American company, General Motors (GM). Holden accounted for half of Australia's total production of motor bodies, producing 35,000 units annually and employing 2600 people.
The Great Depression caused a huge drop in production at Holden, and in 1931 General Motors purchased the company to become General Motors-Holden's Limited (GMH), managed by Laurence J Hartnett from 1934 to 1947. By the mid 1930s, as the Depression eased, cars began to be more streamlined. The touring car almost disappeared by the end of the decade with sedans and coupes being the favoured bodies.
In 1937 GMH released the "uni-steel turret top body", the first Australian-made all-steel car bodies for Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Buick and Pontiac cars. At first the all-steel bodies were plagued with problems including poor door margins and panel fits plus ineffective door inner and outer weather strips. In 1938 an enormous "Hamilton" press was brought into production to allow side panels to be pressed in one piece. It measured 23 ft (7 m) in height from floor level and another 15 feet (4.6 m) below ground and was capable of producing a complete side, top or floor of a motor body in one section. The 100 hp main engine for the press was installed in a pit 30 feet (9.1 m) below the workshop floor and exerted a pressure of 1,000 tons. By pressing the cowl side, roof rail, centre pillar, outer sill, and rear quarter in one piece, all welds that would have normally intersected at the door opening, causing distortion and variation at assembly, were eliminated. The single pressed panel also provided a ledge which offered better support for the weather strips.
In all, GMH's Woodville plant made 2129 Master Chevrolet sedans and 4640 Standard sedans in 1939, selling for 399 Australian pounds and 359 pounds respectively. This was a dramatic decrease in the cost of Holden-bodied Chevrolets which, 20 years earlier, in 1919, had retailed at 375 pounds.
The Chevrolet Motor Company was formed in America in 1911 by the self made millionaire, William C. Durant. Durant had lost control of General Motors in 1910 due to debt, just two years after he founded it. In an endeavour to buy back General Motors he organised two small automotive companies - the Little Motor Car Company to produce a cheap car and the Chevrolet Motor Company, engaging Louis Chevrolet, a famous Swiss racing driver and engineer of the time, to design his first up-market car. Durant managed to regain control of General Motors in 1916 but lost it again permanently in 1920. The Chevrolet Motor Company had been purchased by General Motors in 1917. In 1925 General Motors had realised how much potential there was in Australia as a car buying market. They extensively improved their dealership and service network in this country, accordingly Chevrolets were avidly promoted.
Division of General Motors, Holdens Ltd.
The body was built and sectioned by G.M.H.
Object number B697 was originally allocated on 21/5/1937 to a 1936 Buick sedan body sectioned and prepared with the panels braced apart to show location (see notation bottom of letter 733 3 May 1937 "B697 stockbooked 21/5/37 HLB"[Harry L Brown]). This body was used by Holdens Motor Body Builders as their exhibit at the Adelaide Centennial Exhibition in 1936. It was given to the Technological Museum "¬?free of charge" if freight and "¬?other charges¬?" were paid by the Museum. (letter 553, 6 April 1937 J H Horn* to A R Penfold). The body was shipped from Adelaide on the SS Saros and received by the Museum on 12 May 1937 and placed on display.(letter copy A R Penfold to J H Horn 14 May 1937). In this letter Penfold also expressed the desire to acquire a 'sectionalised' 1937 all-steel body.
Penfold's request for the sectioned 1937 body was refused on the basis that the body had"¬?been altered to suit the 1938 chassis¬?". (letter 709 2 May 1938 J H Horn to A R Penfold). The next correspondence on file is a letter copy, A R Penfold to J H Horn dated 21 Febraury 1940, in which Penfold acknowledges receipt, on the 19/2/1940, "¬?of a Unisteel Turret Top Sedan body (1939 model)¬?". The letter goes on to advise the return "¬?of the 1936 sectionalised sedan body (Buick) which you placed on exhibition here on 14th May, 1937." A "Debit Memo" on file, issued by Holden's Motor Body Builders (S 11938), reflects the replacement of the 1936 Buick body by the "show body" at no charge.
A 'receipt' typed on Museum letterhead, dated 19the February 1940, reflects the collection of the 1936 Buick body from the Museum (Museum letter number 374 20/2/1940). This 'receipt' is annotated by 'HLB' [Harry L Brown] on the bottom in blue pencil and dated 23/2/40: "Note on cards as replacing the 1936 model. Existing STBK No. will suffice."
On December 7, 1941 the 1939 body was damaged when a pole from the Cobb and Co. coach fell against the body and dented the top. This damage was repaired by Holden's Motor Body Builders of 182 William Street, Sydney.(letter copy 8/12/1941 Penfold to Manager [A B Hardie], Holden's Motor Body Builders of 182 William Street, Sydney; letter 1148 3/7/1942 E Darke to Penfold).
* J H Horn was the Sales Manager of Holden's Motor Body Builders of Woodville, South Australia.