What’s the story behind the first car Bill Buckle built?
Interview with Hubert Kranz (Translated by Randal Engel – Clubnachrichten 137)
The story of Buckle Motors Companie in Australia
(With thanks to Bill for sharing his life with us).
William Francis Buckle Junior entered the world in 1926, born in Melbourne and in his first year the family moved to Sydney. Bill Buckle Senior was a motor trader and had the agency for the French Amilcar. To gain publicity, he set the Sydney to Melbourne speed record (just on 877 kilometres or 544 miles) in fourteen hours and thirty minutes in a six-horse power (R.A.C rated) Amilcar. In 1928 he cut this down to thirteen hours sixteen minutes in an English Triumph of seven-horse power (R.A.C. rated). This was remarkable feat, as in 1928 the highway to Melbourne was a track through the gum trees and in some parts was non existent as were the bridges.
In 1926 Bill Senior opened Buckle Motors (Trading Company) Pty Ltd at 121 to 129 William Street, Sydney and the Company remained there till 1961. Initially they sold Triumph and Talbot cars from these premises and over the years were also agents for Citroen, Armstrong Siddeley, Borgward, Goliath and DeSoto trucks. Bill Jnr. grew up in Mosman and attended Shore School (Sydney Church of England Grammar School) where he enjoyed rugby, athletics and was in the Rowing Eight. Academically he thoroughly enjoyed school until after the Intermediate Certificate and in his own words, "Then I discovered girls and sailing..." and but still managed to gain his Leaving Certificate, (Year 12 in today's language).
Upon completion of high school Bill entered an engineering apprenticeship with Colonial Sugar Refining at Pyrmont, which was adjacent to the new Anzac Bridge overlooking part of Sydney Harbour. Today this area has been redeveloped and is now an high rise apartment area with water views.
Due to Bill Senior passing away in 1947 it was decided by the family that Bill Junior at twenty one should enter the family business, commencing in spare parts, then Service and finally sales. During this period Bill raced and rallied a Citroen Light 15 winning the Castrol Trophy. At Bathurst Race Circuit, Bill said the Citroen was much faster around the curves being a front wheel drive but not as fast on the straights as the Holden.
In 1952 Bill travelled to England and found some sports cars were being manufactured with fibreglass bodies. Upon return to Australia he set to design and to build a sports car. His sports car had a bow section chassis with a two and a half litre Ford Zeyphir engine, highly tuned and mainly Ford running gear and a Laycock overdrive. The body, naturally was made of fibreglass at the Punchbowl factory, the entire car weighed 1,900 Ibs (861 kgs). An unusual feature was the doors were fitted with a solenoid locking System that were operated by buttons on the dash which was central locking, many years ahead of its time. This was called the Buckle Sports and 24 were manufactured over which half survive today. Bill would tow a Goggomobil Dart on a trailer behind the Buckle (as a promotion to help sell the new Darts), remove the tow bar and muffler then race it. He delights in the fact he beat two Aston Martin DB3S at the old Orange Circuit. Bill and the Buckle Sports also held every hill climb record in the GT Class plus lap records at Bathurst, Orange, Catalina Park, Sandown and Lowood in Queensland and the South Pacific Championship.
It was in the late fifties that the potential was realised that a small inexpensive car had a place in the Australian market and it was decided on the Goggomobil and thus began the Bill Buckle/Goggomobil story.
Dingolfing in 1958 was a small town in Bavaria, Bill didn't speak much German and there was almost no English spoken in Dingolfing or in the factory. Bill and Hans Glas finally worked out an arrangement in German, English and sign language that he could import the chassis, engines and running gear from Dingolfing and the bodies would be manufactured in fibreglass at the Punchbowl factory. A German metal-bodied sedan was imported from Dingolfing and used to make moulds of the body from which the fibreglass bodies were made at the Bonds Road Punchbowl factory of Buckle Motors. The body was made from a different number of fibreglass parts, which were bonded together to form the finished body. The greatest problem in manufacturing the sedan was the doors. These were made from fibreglass also, but consisted from a number of parts then joined together. The biggest problem was the extra thickness of fibreglass compared to steel. Doors had to be the same overall dimensions, and inside to contain the window winding mechanism and door locks. Additionally, there were no epoxy resin glues at that time to hold the door together, so fibreglass resin was used to hold the parts instead. Had it been known about this problem whilst Bill was working in the Dingolfing factory, he would have elected to have metal doors supplied with all the other parts and that would have made the manufacturing process in Australia a much easier and quicker production time per vehicle.
Goggomobils were manufactured in Australia during an era of high protectionism for Australian industry. It must be remembered that this was in the early days of Holden and Ford who were determined to produce all Australian made cars. This was policed by import restrictions, import licences and heavy tariff protection. Therefore the reasoning to manufacture Goggomobils locally and the remaining parts of the cars to enter Australia as CDK, (completely knocked down kits) was to lower the import duty, the more you did here in Australia the lower the import duty and tariff s.
A coupe was imported next, once again to be used to have moulds taken from it. Strangely enough a small quantity of metal- bodied coupes had already been imported from Germany and sold in Adelaide. For its time the Coupe was a very good looking car with up to the minute styling and the unique feature of having a large (almost huge) rear window giving excellent all round vision. This time steel doors were imported in the completely knocked down kits, which was certainly a plus for the car. The interior had a two-tone theme in the upholstery with colour inserts in the door panels and seats.
Having previously been manufacturing sports cars, the next project was to make an inexpensive two seater that would appeal to the youth of the day. Another major point in deciding to manufacture the Dart was the ease of manufacture. It consisted of upper and lower body mouldings, no doors to worry about which also gave added body strength and separate mouldings for the dashboard, headlight re-cesses, rear air intakes and the boot lid. From the time of conception till the prototype road test was only five months. The only major modification was shifting the fuel tank from the front between the wheel arches to the engine bay at the rear.
The demand for this new little fun vehicle was spectacular and demand exceeded production. It was very well received and available with different paint designs, GT stripes from the front over the bonnet and boot, the next was two toning, above the body rubber strip one colour and beneath. The most ornate was the scalloping from narrow in front of the windscreen to the width of the car beneath the head-lights. Mainly Holden colours of the day were used, unless a special paint Job was requested.
The original design was drawn up by Bill and then Stan Brown, an expert and competent panel beater who had previously worked for Lotus in England made an aluminium mock up from which fibreglass moulds could be made.
Although it was the cheapest sports car in Australia many motor magazines asked, "Is it a real car?" "Why does it have only a small twin cylinder two stroke engine that blows lots of smoke?" "Why does it have a funny gear box layout instead of the normal layout?" "Is it really a sports car?" The sales figures spoke for themselves.
The next model was the Carry All Van. Not many of these were made which is quite a pity as they were ahead of their time with a huge cargo area and side-loading door, which meant they could be loaded or unloaded from the footpath. To save space the cargo door was of the roll-a-door type that slid into the roofline when the door was pushed up. The bottom half of the body, below the rubber body strip, was from the Dart. The roof was moulded from a FC Station wagon and the windscreen was also from a FC. There was no passenger's door and the passenger's seat could be collapsed and folded forward to increase the cargo area. A wooden floor was fitted from thick plywood that raised the floor level to the top of the centre tunnel giving a completely flat cargo area. The very forward driving position meant lengthening all control cables and the gear changing rod in the centre tunnel. Because the steering wheel was now so far forward a sprocket System and chain connected the bottom of the steering wheel column and the steering box
The taillights were from the sedan but placed horizontally. A most innovative feature were the covers over the vents, which allowed air to cool the engine on the sides. These metal Ventilators were normally fixed onto brick house sub floor vent holes. They are still available from hardware Stores today.
The fifth and last of the Australian Goggomobils was the Coupe Convertible, also known in Europe as the Cabriolet. Only nine of these had been built in the Dingolfing factory as prototypes but never entered production. Australian production figures are not known, but from information gathered by the Newsletter, the figure is between ten and fifteen. On the German model all Coupe parts were used, however the Australian model had a coupe body, but all components were taken from the sedan, wheels, speedo, switches, tail lights, seats, the doors were front hinged unlike the German suicide doors. The hood used the same type of bows as in the Dart hood and was a lot easier to erect, the Windows had the same type of wire frames as the Dart. The clips that hold the front of the hood to the top of the windscreen were of the same style and design as fitted to some suitcases of the day. (These fasteners are still available 49 years later).
The one problem with the Coupe Convertible was the chassis and body were not rigid enough and when driving over rough roads or potholes the chassis would flex and the doors pop open.
Distributors for the Goggomobil were appointed in most states, Finlays in Victoria, Ericsons in Queensland and Taylors in South Australia.
The death knell for the Goggomobil was the Mini. Here was a new concept that had a four cylinder, four stroke engine and four seats which was only slightly dearer than the two seater, two cylinder, two stroke Goggomobil. This was not happening only in Australia but around the world and sealed the fate of Messerschmitt, BMW Isetta, Heinkel Kabines and all other microcars.
Buckle Motors and its agencies were sold in 1961 to an overseas Investor but already young Bill had discovered a new venture, converting left hand drive vehicles, mainly from the USA to right hand drive for the Australian market. This eventuated through the purchase of a Chevrolet Stingray but few people or companies could do conversions. The new Company was called Bill Buckle Auto Conversions and, from their Brookvale workshop, were completing 4 conversions a week. It was a resounding success with Neil McKay who had worked alongside Bill in the Goggomobil era. However tighter regulations and Government controls made them rethink and soon they were installing German and other brands of sunroofs into cars. Bill then designed a sunroof that was so innovative it won an Australian Design Award and was patented worldwide. On a trip to the Paris Motor show he was horrified to see a leading French car manufacturer had pirated his design and was fitting it to their vehicles. The description of the sunroof in the French brochure was almost word for word with the Australian brochure. He immediately contacted his representative Patent Attorney in England who pointed out what possibility would a foreigner and an Australian have of winning in a French Court, when sueing a French car manufacturer. In 1964 a Toyota franchise was obtained, (one of the first dealers in Australia) and a showroom was opened in Brookvale, a northern Sydney suburb next to Dee Why Beach. Bill today has a Toyota 700cc Toyoglide that he sold to a local lady brand new back in 1965, several years ago he purchased the same car back again in absolute mint condition with only 20,000 miles on the clock after 40 years. Today Buckle Motors are agents for Audi, Subaru, Toyota and Volkswagen and have massive show-rooms, spare parts and Service centres at Brookvale and Mona Vale and their catch cry of "Buckle Up and Live" or "Buckle Up on Sydney's Northern Beaches" is seen as stickers on rear Windows of cars all over Sydney. Bill and wife Alvia lead an extremely full life which includes many grand children. Alvia loves golf, whilst Bill keeps his hand in at Buckle Motors as the Chairman of Directors. They have a 50ft Catamaran that Bill designed and every year fly to Italy and Sardinia to sail and attend the World Maxi Yacht Championship and crew in the support boat of the Australian entry. He also has two Darts and is now looking for a good Coupe. Bill's children are carrying on the family tradition, Bill Junior (or should it be Junior Junior) is Managing Director and daughter Jane is Customer Service Manager, both are directors of Buckle Motors whilst Jane's husband Graeme is Sales Manager.
Bill celebrated his eightieth birthday in August last year and if one takes into account his energy, mental prowess and fabulous well being together with his enthusiasm and love of life he will still be Chairman of Directors at Buckle Motors at the age of one hundred and twenty years. He has certainly earned a place of honour in Australian motoring. Many thanks to Alvia, Bill and the Buckle Family for supplying the background details and photographs for this article. David Nobbs