Photograph album, loose photos and paper material, paper / cardboard, relating to the motor body building company, Smith & Waddington Ltd, Camperdown, New South Wales, Australia, 1921-1929
This photograph album and loose photographs relate to the important Sydney motor body building firm, Smith & Waddington Ltd, from 1921 to 1929. This company was very well known in Australia in the 1920s for building luxury hand-made car bodies for imported chassis, especially Rolls-Royce, in their Camperdown factory from 1921. Albums of finished cars were shown to prospective clients for them choose and develop their preferred design. This album may have been one of those produced.
The reason for the local body work, as noted by John Dunn in 'Comeng: A History of Commonwealth Engineering Vo1 1: 1921-1955', was that during World War I there were few ships and little space to import entire cars to Australia so chassis only began to arrive here. By the 1920s the enormous growth in demand for cars led to the development of a local thriving motor body building industry. As well as Smith & Waddington Ltd other Sydney firms included: R.L. Archer at 112 Parramatta Road; the Missenden Road Body Works Ltd; Propert Motor Body Co. at Newtown; and Lou Fitch's body works and E.E. Agate at Summer Hill. During this time there were some 90 different car makers advertising 300 model variations.
As well as luxurious car bodies, Smith & Waddington tapped into the lucrative bus body building market in the 1920s spurred on by the increased public transport requirements from Sydney's growing population which had almost doubled since 1901. Many ex-servicemen experienced in driving and maintaining motor vehicles during the War, set up local bus runs. Up to the 1920s most of Sydney's buses had been imported from America so Smith & Waddington were one of the first local companies to begin bus body work. By 1925 they were making 60 small, single-deck bus bodies over a 4-month period. Photographs of their bus bodies are included in this collection of photographs and album which clearly illustrate the fashions, methods of production and motor body building industry at the time.
The Great Depression of 1929 put an end to Smith & Waddington's luxury car body production and the firm went into liquidation, re-emerging as the Waddington Body Co. Ltd, eventually making double-deck bus bodies for the New South Wales Department of Road Transport and Tramways from 1935 and rail buses from 1936. The firm moved to Granville in 1937, was taken over by the Federal Government during the Second World War to make aircraft hangars and freight wagons, became Commonwealth Engineering Co. Ltd in 1946 and COMENG from 1963. They made buses and railway wagons and passenger vehicles for transport operators all over Australia until its closure in 1989.
Dunn, John, 'Comeng: A History of Commonwealth Engineering Vo1 1: 1921-1955', Rosenberg Publishing Pty Ltd, Dural , NSW, 2006, pp.9-21.
Information provided by Mary Tugnett.
Curator, Science, Technology & Industry
The firm Smith & Waddington Ltd was established at Parramatta Road, in the inner-Sydney suburb of Camperdown in 1921 by Frank Waddington, Arthur Spurway Smith and Charles Leslie Fairs. The latter two previously worked as master coachbuilders for May Bros Body Builders Ltd. The body designer, Arthur Smith, who trained in Omaru, New Zealand, with John Cunningham, also joined the partnership and was responsible for the design of the elegant and luxury custom-made car bodies built by Smith & Waddington for imported chassis including Rolls-Royce Ltd, Wolseley, Hudson, Dort, Essex and Benz. During the 1920s Rolls-Royce bodies made a large proportion of the companies' work and it was said that in 1923 some 85% of all Rolls-Royce cars in Australia had Smith & Waddington bodies. The 1925 Rolls-Royce Twenty in the Museum's collection (object No. B1339) has a body made by Smith & Waddington.
By 1923 the Smith & Waddington factory employed 150 workers and by the following year the factory had expanded into 11 buildings along Parramatta Road. The cars were constructed of a composite timber frame, especially seasoned on site to prevent shrinkage from drying out, a problem in the dry Australian climate. The exterior metal panels were hand beaten on the shop floor from the best imported steel, glass was imported and mostly Australian-made leather used. Skilled artisans took great pride in manufacturing the car bodies which involved separate wood workers, metal workers, electro-platers, upholsterers and painters.
The increasing mechanisation by the large firms such as E.W. Holden's works at Woodville, South Australia, meant that Smith & Waddington were less able to compete in the standard car body market so there was more emphasis on the manufacture of bus bodies for local bus runs as well as touring cars with extended bodies, known as charabancs. These were used to take tourists to the Jenolan Caves and Royal National Park. One such car was 15-passenger White charabanc owned and operated by N.L. Day of Coogee.
The original Smith & Waddington factory buildings along Parramatta Road were demolished in about 1926 and a new multi-storey steel and concrete one was built at 45-61 Parramatta Road. Production here saw the chassis lined up on the top floor of the building and these were progressively moved down each floor in hydraulic lifts, as work was completed on them. This was said to be ahead of the usual construction methods of the time.
This photograph album and loose photographs were in the family of William Diskon (1888-1947) who worked as a motor body builder for Smith & Waddington Ltd at least until 1929 when the firm went into liquidation during the Great Depression. By 1932 Diskon had joined with Robert Molyneux to form his own motor body-building firm, Diskon & Molyneux Ltd. The firm's body building business ended during the Second World War when their factory was moved over to wartime production. After the War production did not recommence, and William Diskon died in 1947. These photographs and other material were handed down through his family.