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First Motor Cars in Clare !


As Told to 'Clarion' by Councillor W. P. Ness, Clare SA

Councillor William Paul Ness, of North Clare, who has been a representative for North West Ward in the Corporation of Clare for Nine years, states that the first motor car ever to arrive in Clare took place in 1903.

This was a 10-12 h.p. De -Dion owned by the late Drs. O. W. and A. A. Smith. It was painted red, no hood, no windscreen, used kerosene lamps, was a 5-seater in upholstered leather.

  • It was brought to Clare by a man named O'Grady, the head man at the Lewis Motor Works, Adelaide, and came via Tarlee and Auburn.

  • He was accompanied by a Mr. Customs, and the first driver was Mr. George Ellendon, who now lives in Mill Street, Clare.

  • The car used to be parked in the horse stables at Dr. O. W. Smith's residence 'Windy Brae,' and the second driver to have complete charge of it was Ron Chandler.

1902 De Dion-Bouton "Populaire"

Shod with Dunlop tyres it looked most impressive as it made its way all over the district on errands of mercy by day or night, and the chug of its engine was often the herald in advance of another tiny atom being brought into this world of trouble and strife.

  • The ignition was by ordinary dry battery;

  • expanding gears that could not be stripped;

  • petrol was 10d. per gallon; oil 1/3.

  • Shell petrol was used from 4 gallon tins and the oil was a Vacuum product.

Dr Otto Wien Smith of Clare at the wheel of his 1904 motor car, a De Dion Bouton
First Motor Car owned in Clare, a 1904 De Dion Bouton - Photo from Robert Noyes "Clare: A District History"

Councillor Ness says he thinks the car No. (license plate) is "24" and

  • it could go 30 miles an hour all out on a good macadamised road,

  • averaging 25-30 miles to the gallon.

  • The petrol was under the seat in a gravity tank and it had a kerosene tail light.

  • The chassis were about 30 cwt, but there was no self-starter, only a handle was used and it had a twin cylinder engine.

  • The late Dr. Otto Wien-Smith's son, Mr. Percy Wien-Smith, I believe, still has this old car, and proudly drove it from Adelaide to Glenelg in an exhibition of old time cars about 18 months ago.


"Dr Otto Wien Smith was born 17 October 1853 in Aberdeen, Scotland. He was the ship's doctor on a P&O liner and then he held the position of surgeon of the Clare Casualty Hospital (now our museum) from 1878 until he retired in 1920.

  • He was one of the founders , with Joseph Knappstein and Magnus Badger, of the Stanley Wine Company in Dominic Street (now Mr Mick's) and was bought out in 1914.

  • In 1904 he bought a De Dion Bouton car (one cylinder), registration number 21 and this was the first car north of Adelaide." -- from the Northern Argus, October 31 2019 -- "Looking back at Clare's history" - by Val Tilbrook



The. second car to come to Clare, says Cr. Ness, was owned by the late Mr. John Christison. An 8-10 h.p. De Dion, single cylinder No. "373", painted green.

  • It had battery ignition with dry cells, kero lamps,

  • no windscreen or hood and it was lovely and cold driving at 20 to 30 miles an hour on a very frosty morning from Clare to Saddleworth,

  • when he used to take the late John Christison there to catch the train for Adelaide on business bent.

1904 De Dion Bouton Motor Car

They used to wear heavy overcoats and caps with flaps — a la Boer War style. Men with beards would be hoary with frost.

  • Cr. Ness says he brought this car to Clare in 1907, after having had all fares and wages paid to learn in 6 weeks in Adelaide how to drive it.

  • He was paid a driver's wage of 6/ per day and had to be available at all hours and every day of the week. Up to this year of grace (1941) he had held a driver's licence for 34 years.

Old 'Enterprise' Brewery, Clare SA

Councillor Ness, in reminiscing about past activities, said he was first employed at the old Clare Brewery under John Christison.

  • It later became the Clare Co-op. Brewing Co., Ltd., with Mr. W. T. Taylor (now of Adelaide) the managing brewer.

  • Shares in this Company were absorbed by the Walkerville Brewing Co., a few years ago.

  • The premises to-day are known as Mr. Frank Bulfield's Clare Mineral Waters Company, the old racehorse sign still being a prominent land mark at the top of the old brewery tower. Mr. Ness has been the works manager for about 24 years.

Men with whom he has been associated at the works in days long past were Frank Phillips, Albert Smith, and his father late Tom Smith, and the late Louis Stopp, Senior. Reverting to the second car to come to Clare, Cr. Ness said he was taught to drive this car by Mr. J. Cornell, who worked for a Mr. Arthur Allison at the Arcade in Grenfell Street.


Mercedes Benz 1906-1910
20-35 hp - 37-70 hp Mercedes (Benz), 1906 - 1910

The third car to arrive was Mr. John Christison's 20 h.p. Mercedes, a German car, which arrived in March, 1910. Mr. Ness went to Port Adelaide to help unload it from the ship and unpack it from the hold when it arrived from England.

  • It had a Bosche magneto ignition, 4 cylinders, a windscreen, a hood, with flash side curtains.

  • It needed a strong man to operate the starting handle.

  • Gas lamps were worked by a generator for the headlamps with kerosene side lamps.

  • The chassis weighed 35 cwt, and 18-20 miles per gallon was registered.


The first motor truck ever to come to Clare was a 2 ton English Dennis lorry, owned by the Clare Co.-op. Brewing Coy.

  • It had solid rubber tyres front and back, magneto ignition, no windscreen or cabin.

  • Mr. Ness used to make a seat on the load or place a box in position in order to drive.

  • There were kero. lights, and 17 miles to the gallon was the best it could do.

Mr. Ness drove it to Clare from the premises of Messrs. A. E. & F. Tolley, Adelaide, when it arrived new from England, after having been run in.

  • Five trips a day were generally made for the Brewery, two to Blyth and three to Farrell's Flat.

  • They used to load 3 tons, but the Police were not so strict in those days regarding traffic laws, weight of loads or the Width of Tyres Act.

WW1 Australia Day procession at Clare, brewery Dennis Van centre of picture Photo from Robert Noyes "Clare"

They used to go to Adelaide with loads of beer in 5 hours;

  • Clare to Farrell's Flat, 1/2 hour;

  • Clare to Blyth, 20 minutes. On returning from Blyth over an hour would result on this uphill journey.

  • One of the relief driver's used to be his brother — Mr. James George Ness.

  • Horses and cattle used to shy in all directions.

  • Farmers wives (wearing poke-bonnets) and driving spanking horses or ponies in traps or buggies used to view approaching cars and trucks with trepidation.


Cyclists outside Clare Bicycle Depot
Clare bicycle club outside premises of U V Jaeggi Bicycle Depot - From Robert Noyes "Clare"

Oregon Hooper with his penny farthing bicycle

Councillor Ness Said Bicycle Clubs were popular in the earlier days of Clare.

  • A penny farthing bicycle used to adorn the roof of Mr. U. V. Jaeggi's shop, Main Street, where Messrs. Selleck & Duance now dispense Refreshments.

  • This was bought later by Mr. J. W. Ohlmeyer, and adorned his premises over the road in what later was Salem Elias buildings.

  • The late Harry H. Tilbrook, joint founding Editor of the Northern Argus in 1869, also had a three-wheeled trike which his son and grandsons used to pedal about on Zion Hill and down William and Albert Streets.


  1. Mr. Ness says he often laughs over scores of humorous incidents in the early motoring days. One such was a man stranded on the road near Aldinga from 10 p.m. at night until 7.30 the next day. When W. P. Ness came along he found the man had forgotten to switch on the ignition, and as soon as the handle was wound, the engine turned over as merrily as a marriage bell. All the man said was:— 'Well! I'll be damned!'

  2. One night at Undalya a man was out in the wet all night — pouring cats and dogs — because the ignition wire from the battery to the spark plug had dropped off the terminal and he did not know what was wrong.

  3. Mr. Albert Smith, now of Adelaide, said Cr. Ness, after leaving the Clare Brewery, bought a 2 ton Commer lorry for carrying purposes between Riverton and Clare. One night he was held up at the bottom of Penwortham hill with a big load, and camped beside it all night.

The next day along came Jimmy Bond with one of his old Ford cars on the Riverton-Clare passenger service and took word to W. P. Ness that he was wanted at Penwortham, and when he got there the trouble was located in the magneto.

Cr. Ness says he will always retain a very vivid memory of this event because when he arrived it seemed as if all the residents of Watervale, Penwortham and Sevenhills had turned out on the road to give him a push over the hill.

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