That Rare Breed - The 'Queensland Six'
Queensland in 1956 was not the state it is today. It was a state before the mining boom which began in the 1960’s and continues unabated today. It was a state before tourism when only Southport and Surfers Paradise were beginning to attract visitors in any numbers. It was a state without sea changers and retiring baby boomers.
Queensland in the 1950’s rode on the back of the sheep and cattle industry and washed down plain tucker with tea sweetened by sugar from the northern part of the state and beer with just four X’s where its name should be.
Thousands of miles away in Longbridge, England, the British Motor Corporation released a new model of the Austin Healey sports car in May 1956. The new model, while sharing the shape of its successful predecessor was radically different in many ways.
A six cylinder engine based on the new BMC ‘C’ service engine replaced the old four cylinder. The wheelbase was extended by 2" and this extra length allowed for two ‘occasional’ seats to be provided behind the driver and passenger. Overdrive and wire wheels were generally fitted and with ‘improved’ weather protection this Austin Healey started to look like a grand tourer.
Just the thing then to eat up the miles in the former colonial outpost of Queensland you would think. Sydney was over 900 kms to the south of Brisbane and the northern most population centre, Cairns, was 1800 kms up the Bruce Highway.
Inland towns like Toowoomba and Roma were starting to feel the early effect of the mining boom and affluent young blokes were looking for a fast ‘set of wheels’ to race to and from Brisbane.
So these new Austin Healey’s would have sold like hotcakes right – well actually no!
The Queensland Sixes
While information about the Austin Healey 100’s sold new in Australia is sketchy the information available on the 6 cylinder cars is far more extensive thanks largely to an important find by Patrick Quinn of Sydney just a few years ago. Patrick was contacted by a fellow enthusiast who has worked for many years through BMC, Leyland, Jaguar-Rover Australia and finally Peugeot, in other words the various stages of the company which had originally sold Austin Healeys in Australia. To his great credit this gentlemen had saved the warranty cards for all BMC vehicles sold in Australia between the late 1950’s and the late 1960’s.
Amongst these cards Patrick reports that there are 145 six cylinder Austin Healeys and just 1 Austin Healy 100. The warranty cards record the details of the first owner of each vehicle, the vehicle identification numbers and in some case details of the vehicle equipment and warranty work carried out on the vehicle.
On 145 small pink cards the entire history of six cylinder Austin Healeys in Australia is played out. That is of course the history up until the time the importation of LHD Austin Healeys started in the late 1980’s.From these cards we learn that a total of five six cylinder Austin Healey’s were delivered new in Queensland and all of these were 100-Six models. We should stress here that we are talking about vehicles which were delivered through Austin Healey dealers and this may not have been the only source of new vehicles arriving in a state.
For example my good friend Joe Jarick has details of the cars sold by Larke Hoskins who was a NSW BMC dealer. These records which list eight 100-Six cards sold during 1957 and 1958 show one vehicle BN4/0/47474 was sold on 15/01/58 to D Cavill with the notation “to be registered in Queensland". Another vehicle sold on the 26/03/58 is listed as ‘Unreg’ and may also have been sold interstate, although not necessarily Queensland.
It is interesting to note that of the eight cars sold three were Healey Blue (one with a white side). Three were red (one with a black side) and there was one black and white and one ivory. These numbers perhaps give a feel for the popular colours. Where was the pacific green or the primrose cars?
The Larke Hoskins car delivered new to Queensland was later to become famous as the Prad Healey, a special bodied Healey raced extensively.
But let’s have a look at the five Austin Healy 100-Six cars delivered new through Queensland dealers.
The Market in Queensland
So there is it, only five new 100 – Six models sold through Queensland dealers if the warranty cards report the tally. And no, they did not only fill out warranty cards when a problem occurred because many of the cards have no repairs listed.
Only five 100-sixes and no 3000 of any description! These records suggest that 3000’s were pretty thin on the ground overall anywhere in Australia. There are 121 warranty cards for 100-six models and only 24 warranty cards for 3000’s of all types. The most popular being the BJ8 with 11 records.
So why didn’t they sell more in Queensland?
The first reason would be the relative wealth of the state compared to Sydney and credit or loans were not readily available. Austin Healeys were expensive at around twice the price of a Morris Minor. The workers of Queensland mainly worked in rural or rural related industries on lower pay than those in Sydney.
The two cars sold new in north Queensland probably belonged to families doing well on the sugar industry. Sugar families were known for spending up big when times are good.
Secondly the roads were a major factor. One AHOC Queensland member recalled driving his 100 to north Queensland in the 1950’s and made it clear that the Bruce ‘Highway’ was an atrocious goat track. BN4/0/60292 was owned in the early 1960’s by Mick Heffernan who worked on the emerging oil and gas fields near Roma in western Queensland. He fitted a huge sump guard and cooling vents to cope with the conditions. The chassis rails of this car are peppered with rock damage.
The Austin Healey was hardly a practical choice in that environment. The successful young businessman in Queensland was likely to choose a Ford Customline or a Pontiac Parisienne if they wanted to go somewhere fast. Commercial travellers often drove Citroens or Peugeots which could handle the bad roads but still cover the ground quickly. No -the Austin Healey was probably just the wrong car for big sales in a place like Queensland!
Several BMC dealers could have sold Austin Healeys had they been more popular.
The main dealer was UK Motors in Fortitude Valley. There was also Howards and Wedmiers (Wedmiers were a family owned company). There was also a BMC dealer at Nundah called Plaisteads, and they were also sizeable. Howard Motors were in Brisbane city at the bottom of Adelaide Street . AHOC member Joe Jarick recalls going to see the Bonneville MG record car on display as a young bloke, probably in the mid to late sixties. Cars were often sold through Brisbane dealers and personally delivered to customers in the country. The ‘man’ from UK motors would deliver the car and take away the trade or wait for the evening rail motor back to Brisbane. Outside Brisbane most towns only had a Ford and Holden dealer. Modern Motor tested the 100-Six in early 1958 and reported that the new 12 port engine had just been released in the UK.Acknowledgements This story could not have been told without the hard work of Patrick Quinn to catalogue and make available to me the BMC Warranty cards. Thanks also to Bob Pierce, Ernie Clark and other club members who provided snippets and photos and finally Joe Jarick who (as always) has helped me with valuable information such as the Larke Hoskins records as well as rare photographs.
And let’s not forget those owners of the three surviving ‘Queensland’ Austin Healeys who drove them and looked after them as a legacy for future generations. I am sure they had this serious responsibility firmly in mind as they listened to the growl of the ‘big six’ as they ‘flattened her in overdrive’ across the Darling Downs on a warm summer evening!