Despite good looks and excellent engineering, the Australian Six was one of the great failures of motoring history.
The story started when Frederick Hugh Gordon, a motor trade figure who claimed to have imported and sold the first Ford in Australia, reasoned that a locally assembled car could sell for much less than comparable imported models. In 1917 Gordon visited the US and met Louis Chevrolet who, at great expense, gave not only engineering advice but the names of all companies supplying parts for the Chevrolet Light Six.
In 1918 Gordon returned to the US and placed orders for components to build the first 150 Australian Six chassis at his Sydney plant. His plan was to progressively introduce locally manufactured parts.
After considerable teething problems, Gordon produced 49 vehicles in 1919. They were fitted with local steel and timber bodies, US-built 3.7-litre, six-cylinder 34 kW Rutenber engines and Grant Lees gearboxes.
The Australian Six had a 3.1 metre wheelbase and a maximum speed of 100 km/h. It returned a fuel consumption figure of about 23 litres per 100 kilometres. The distinctive radiator was guaranteed not to boil.
Production increased during the next three years but, while Gordon’s price was rising progressively, the Model T Ford was undercutting every car on the market.
Fighting bankruptcy, Gordon introduced improvements in 1923 and 1924, but the end was in sight. The firm of Harkness and Hillier tried to recoup debts by taking over the operation and moving to a smaller factory. A more powerful OHV Ansted engine was introduced and the ‘Six’ was driven to a new Sydney-Darwin speed record by Don Harkness.
The Great Depression signalled the end. The last few Australian Sixes were sold in 1930. About 900 had been made and the firm had lost 1000 pounds ($2000) on each one.