Oldsmobile motor cars and commercial vehicles at Vivian Lewis, Limited

First known reference: The Mail, 8 February 1919, page 12

MOTOR NEWS

A REGAL OLDSMOBILE

Magnificent 8-Cylinder Car

A new model, but an old make, in the eight-cylinder Oldsmobile, has just been unpacked by Vivian Lewis. Ltd. The Oldsmobile was one of the first makes of motor cars introduced into Adelaide about 15 years ago. Although designed in the infancy of the motor industry, same of the original Oldsmobiles with their tiller steering can be seen running on the roads to day.

The present model Oldsmobile is a handsome looking motor car fitted with a roomy seven-seater body. The two extra seats in the back fold neatly away, and are hidden when the car is required as a five-seater only. It is painted a beautiful cream colour, upholstered in real leather, with one-man hood and double folding wind screen. The engine is an eight cylinder L-head V type, the cylinders cast en bloc with detachable heads...

Last known reference: March 1929

Summary: Oldsmobile had a fine pedigree in South Australia, being the first motor car imported in numbers into the state. Agents Duncan & Fraser landed the first shipment in September 1903, and did well with the marque for a couple of years with sales rivalled only by those of De Dion Bouton sold by the Lewis Cycle and Motor Works.

Of course Oldsmobile ran into troubles, and even after the General Motors take over in 1908 the firm struggled rather than leapt back on to its feet. In its "luxury car" guise (the single model offered in 1914 was a 7.3-litre six-cylinder car on an 11-foot or 11-foot 6-inch wheelbase) there was little demand from the South Australian market, and it seems likely that no new Oldsmobile was sold here between 1908 and the end of the first war.

The drought was broken when Vivian Lewis Limited landed, with much fanfare, a single car in February 1919. This car was described in some detail in the local press, garnering headlines like "A Regal Oldsmobile" and "Magnificent 8-Cylinder Car", and was the subject of a display advertisement by Vivian Lewis Ltd. Within a week the car was purchased by Mr. T. W. C. Lock of Semaphore Road, Exeter, who used it as a high-class hire car, joining a Pullman car, also purchased from Lewis, in his hire car fleet. Mr. Lock was said to have been lucky to secure the car, as "there were quite a number of keen buyers after the vehicle". If true, these potential buyers were forced to wait, for although further Oldsmobiles were "on order, and expected to arrive at an early date" in February Mr Lock's machine was the lone (modern) Oldsmobile on South Australian roads until the very end of the year.

I'm not sure what caused the delay in shipment of Oldsmobiles, but there were many issues to be sorted by industry following the end of the war. In November 1919, Lewis were back to square one, announcing (again) that they had secured the agency and that cars would arrive by the end of the month. Although the L-head V8 was still available (Model 45B), initial shipments were of the six-cylinder valves-in-head Model 37A.

From the Advertiser, 23 January 1920

Oldsmobiles arrived regularly during 1920, and both the Six and Eight were available. Most cars were imported as chassis only, and carried Lewis coachwork built in the ever-expanding works on Gawler Place South. At Adelaide's first ever Motor Show in October 1920, an Oldsmobile Six was shown on the Vivian Lewis stand, together with an Oldsmobile Eight chassis.

Oldsmobiles on the Lewis stand at the 1920 Motor Show

In October 1921 the Oldsmobile Four - a 3.7-litre car designated Model 43 - made it appearance at the Melbourne Motor Show. The Four replaced the Six, and Lewis sold these from late 1921. The sidevalve V8 was still available, now designated Model 46.

olds-1921-09.jpg (57804 bytes)

As 1922 rolled into 1923, Lewis were doing well with the Oldsmobile lines; in fact it was about the only thing that was going well for them! There was no shortage of testimonials from contented Oldsmobile owners, but surely one of the most impressive was the dedication of the Weckert Brothers of Brinkworth in South Australia's mid-North who purchased five Oldsmobiles between January 1921 and January 1923.

Weckert Brothers with Oldsmobile cars 1921 1923

By 1924 the Oldsmobile was strong brand; so strong that it was likely the catalyst for the take-over of Vivian Lewis Limited by Fred Mann and his company Mann's Motors. In March 1924 the "new" Olds Six (the Model 30) was selling well, with claims of 40 sold in four days, and 50 chassis on order. But this period represented the dying days of the Lewis firm in its family owned and run guise. The following month, now under Mann's ownership, Vivian Lewis Ltd was stripped of all but the Oldsmobile agency, and in June 1925 the business relocated across town to new (if temporary) premises in Weymouth Street, where Oldsmobile business continued apace. Vivian Lewis/Oldsmobile body plates from this period have survived.

The Oldsmobile brand and the Vivian Lewis Limited name remained linked until 1929. By this time Mann had restyled his businesses as distributors of motor cars, and the Vivian Lewis Limited name was used as the "Metropolitan Distributor" for Oldsmobile. With economic troubles looming Mann was busy reshaping his business and in April 1929 the Oldsmobile distributorship was passed on to Freeman Motors Limited.

Amount of information available: Technical detail of cars, bodies, colour schemes, testimonials, Francis Birtles trips in Oldsmobile, etc.

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