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Aussie car inventions

Karla Pincott

21 Jan 2011 • 3 min read

... a body shape so handy it's now spread to many other countries.

But there are those who believe Australia can also claim a far more widespread invention: the car radio.

While a patent was given for the design of one in the US in 1925, a year earlier Kellys Motors in Liverpool, New South Wales, fitted their first one to a Summit car, a vehicle of their own design built from American parts.

The radio was part of the Summit's enviable equipment list that included front and rear hand-operated windscreen wipers, a clock and a cigar lighter.

The installation was probably quickly followed by the first hoon complaint as the driver doof-doofed around the streets to the sounds of Alexanders Ragtime Band.

In 1972, Perth engineer Ralph Sarich invented the orbital engine, with a triangular piston creating five combustion chambers inside a single cylinder. It is smaller, lighter and more efficient than normal engines, but sealing and overheating issues have limited its use in cars, although it was fitted to a Ford Festiva model the Orbital Ecosport.

Many cars owe their good steering `feel' to the variable ratio rack and pinion steering system invented in 1971 by Arthur Bishop, while others have benefited from his design of a rotary valve for power steering.

And for those piloting their vehicles into the rough, the invention of the 'selectable' air locker allows them to lock and release the differential from the driver's seat. The pneumatic system was originally known as 'The Roberts Diff Lock' after the inventor Tony Roberts, who developed it in the early to mid 1980s. It was bought, and renamed, by ARB and has since become an offroading legend, and probably the only car accessory to have its own Facebook page.

The baby safety capsule combining a protective system and a removable bassinet was invented in 1984 by Rainsfords (makers of the Safe-n-Sound child seat) to minimise injury to infants carried in cars.

Which bring us neatly back to the ultimate all-round carrier: the ute. Sparked by a 1932 farmer writing to Ford to ask for "something I can go in to church on Sunday, and carry pigs to market on Monday" the first ute was unveiled by Ford with a high-sided open back grafted onto a Ford V8 Coupe.

It was a roaring success and went on to be copied widely by other car companies around the world, and has morphed into both workhorse and show pony versions. Whether they're bought by tradies to carry tools, and the mandatory dog, or by office workers wanting to 'tuff up' their image, the ute will always be the quintessential, true blue Aussie vehicle. And one of the greatest Aussie inventions in any field.