The car dealer

Australian Muscle Car - - Muscle Man -

“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

Sandown 1970

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.”

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