The car dealer
“When I was 14, I started in the motor industry as an auto electrician doing wholesale work,” Clem, who remains sharp-asa-tack at 85, says. “When I was 21 I went into my own business doing the same thing and then went into trading in cars before I switched over to motor car dealing.”
Clem Smith Motors was founded in 1948 during the post-war boom years as Australia revelled in a growing economy and the introduction of the nation’s first home-grown car, the 48/215 Holden.
Clem, however, soon had eyes for another American-owned yet Australian-produced brand – this one producing cars not far from the location of Clem’s current dealership. Adelaide-based Chrysler Australia became the focus for nearly 15 of the years he was in the new car game.
“Chrysler was the only real brand we had, Suzuki for a little while, but mainly Chrysler from about ’68/69. No, it must have been 1958, to 1972,” he corrects himself immediately.
“It was a fair while ago you know!” he laughs. “I thought they engineered about the best (out of the local brands). Looking back I think they still were (the best-engineered cars). They didn’t deliver the build-quality that matched the design really and that is what brought them down in the end, having started with good car. When I left, we were spending too much on warranty to make it worthwhile staying in business... That is why I left in ’72.”
Opting out of selling Chryslers couldn’t have been an easy decision given the work he put in to make it viable. The evolving business saw Smith establish a city-centre dealership and
grow the business to a point where he became one of the state’s larger Chrysler dealers, a fact that would later enable him to take his affection for the brand to the race track.
“(The dealership) was always Chrysler, but it was a sub-agency that I managed to get hold of. I built a showroom for it where my used-car property was, on West Terrace. It all kicked off from there and it was pretty hard work: Cars like the Charger would come along, which was good, but you could never get enough, so it had its highs and lows. It was hard work and in the end there were too many people cutting the guts out of it.”