09 March 2021

Ken Adams, automotive aftermarket pioneer

 My dear Uncle Ken, now 87, was a pioneer of the automotive aftermarket business, starting with a humble wrecking yard on Port Road at Beverley in Adelaide's early industrial heartland.

The first enterprise, Main Motors, grew to become Mainstyle, a network of retail outlets along the lines of today's Supercheap Auto or AutoBahn.

An early newspaper advertisement c.1966

Here are some of his recollections:

Ken Adams

In the late ‘50s and the early 60s, the typical new car purchased by the average Australian was very basic. 

There were none of the creature comforts we are so used to today.

Some of the more expensive models like Wolseley 6/80s, Austin Princess, Mercedes, etc. did have a radio and possibly a heater.  However, if the average motorist wanted to hear the news or music, they had to buy an expensive radio and have it fitted. 

Even if available, the early automobile heaters were very basic. For example, a heater core was placed under the vent which opened in front of the windscreen or a hole cut in the firewall with a 3-inch tube running up to the radiator bringing in warm air. I could go on at length describing all of the primitive heaters manufactured at the time, enough to fill a book. 

One of the innovators was Reg Tilley who designed a rudimentary, under-dash heater for 48 Series Holdens in the '40s. 

There was even a bar-type heater which quickly proved itself dangerous and quickly drained the car’s battery.

In my opinion, the best one at the time was the English-built Smiths fan-driven heater. It was round with little doors which fitted under the dash but was fairly expensive. 

Towelling seat covers were a must followed by clear plastic ones. If you could afford it, a lay-back seat was a bonus for camping. These were distributed by Wiltshires.

This beautifully accessorised 1963 EJ Premier is owned by Peter Barbadonis

Other exterior accessories available at the time included the very popular sunvisor. These were made in a metal mesh and sold in all colours. If you could afford it, a metal one painted in the same colour as your car could be purchased. 

The first windscreen protectors were large and clumsy mesh things that were later replaced by more practical plastic ones. 

Then there was the vinyl roof and rear-wheel spats which covered the opening in the rear mudguard. Some of these fancy items were vented. You could add whitewall tyres or chrome wheel trims of all shapes and sizes. The cheaper aluminium ones went under the hub cap while the full covers came in many designs. Some even looked like wire wheels. Mag wheels came much later.

For an interior with all the comforts of home, you could get a Venetian blind in black or white, but they often rattled. 

You can argue whether it was classy or crass, but a fluffy rear deck mat with a nodding dog or cat was seen on many cool cars as was an electric, blue-bladed fan on the dash. (We think the brand was 'Marenu') 

To be continued

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