Registrations records in South Australia

We are lucky in S.A. to have easy access to records of early car and motorcycle registrations. Although the official records were destroyed in a fire a number of years ago, many of the Adelaide papers, as well as the S.A. Motor, regularly published lists of registrations. Admittedly the lists are a little erratic, but at the best of times they list owner’s name, address, machine make and power. This ought to make it easy to identify and date machines in early photographs, to identify the first owner of a machine still carrying its original registration, or even to estimate the number of a particular make of machine sold. But there is a problem. While rummaging through the motoring pages of the Adelaide papers, I came across the following letter, printed in The Observer, Saturday 31st May, 1919:

There appeared among the notes of the week on the motor page of your issue on Wednesday, May 21, a paragraph to which we respectfully wish to call your attention, and which in our estimation conveys an unfair idea to the motor-purchasing public, and is unfair to each and every advertiser of motor cars in your valuable paper and medium. We refer to the paragraph stating - 'The following new cars were registered at the Motor Vehicles Department between January 1 and April 30.' Firstly, in giving our reasons for stating above that this paragraph is unfair, we wish to state that in our particular case we regret exceedingly that we have been unable to bring to South Australia as many of the new series ('19) cars as this paragraph would indicate that we have disposed of. We have sold far more cars than the number credited to us, but they have not been new '19 cars; in fact, our sales from January 1 to April 30 include 25 per cent of other makes of cars than our own. This 25 per cent. of our sales have been registered in the name of the make of car, whichever they may have been, and will appear to the apparent credit of our esteemed competitors, as a new car sale, although we fully realize that we are gainers also by registrations of our cars sold secondhand by our competitors. Secondly, we might also point out that time and time again every dealer and agent, including ourselves, sells new cars for which absolutely no registration appears whatsoever, for the reason that the purchaser, in turning in his old car in part payment for a new car, prefers to keep his old numbers on the car, which we understand he is allowed to do, provided he notifies the Registrar of Motor Vehicles of the change. When the secondhand car is sold, a new registration is taken out by the purchaser of the car. Thirdly, and lastly, there are the registrations of cars that appear from time to time for a certain make of car, when in reality a different make of car is actually sold to the buyer whose name appears in connection with the registered number. The circumstances referred to tend to alter the accuracy of the paragraph and statement in your motor column, and, believing that you wish to be fair to your advertisers, and the reading public, we have taken the liberty of pointing out the misleading effect of making such a comparison.

So what does all this mean? Most importantly, that a simple reading of the registration records may be quite misleading. A new machine sold in S.A. may never have appeared on the registration lists, while a particular machine may appear many times! The appearance, for example, of a De Luxe motorcycle (built by Healings in Melbourne around 1916-17) on the lists in the early 1920’s probably means that the owner, on trading in the bike on a new one, simply elected to keep the old registration number for his new machine. The new machine (be it Indian, BSA or whatever) then never appears on the list, and the De Luxe, previously listed when first registered, appears again with a new registration number when registered to its new owner. Very misleading.

A year or so ago, Neil Caust wrote in the Smoke Signal (the Journal of the Veteran and Vintage Motorcycle Club of South Australia Inc.) of the c1919 Swastika-JAP owned by Emil Kageler from 1919 until 1952. A scan of the papers of the day shows number 14870 was indeed issued to Mr Kageler at the correct address in late 1919, but the machine is listed as a 3 1/2 hp Rudge! Explanation? It could be a clerical error (although lists in two papers both show 14870 as a Rudge), but keeping in mind the above letter we might imagine another scenario. Did Mr Kageler buy a Rudge, but then - perhaps dissatisfied with it - trade it in on a Swastika, keeping the registration number? Or does it have something to do with the shady practices suggested in the third point made by our unnamed letter writer?

In July 1921 the following article appear in The Observer, coming from F. H. Wells, the Registrar of Motor Vehicles:

In the event of an owner of a motor vehicle or selling his car or cycle and purchasing another machine, it is no longer permissible to transfer the original number to the newly acquired car or cycle. The original number must be cancelled, and the newly acquired vehicle registered in accordance with section 7a of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1907.

I haven't yet studied the registrations closely enough to determine whether this means that all second-hand motor vehicles were re-registered when they were sold after August 1921. Most likely the new owner adopted the existing number?

Copyright Leon Mitchell 1998


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