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Early Plymouth and Dodge exports to Australia

by Bill Watson and Jim Benjaminson. Photos by Jim Benjaminson except where otherwise noted.
Also see 1950 Australian Chryslers, Royal, Plainsman, and Wayfarer, and Australia 1960s-1980s

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Chrysler's first entry into Australia was through T.J. Richards & Sons, coach builders who, in 1928, started building touring bodies designed to go onto imported Chrysler chassis. The T.J. in the name was Tobias John Martin Richards, who was born in 1850 and would live to be 89 years old. They started out in Leader Street, Keswick, expanding rapidly, then acquiring an 11-acre site at Mile End. Both sites were productive, with three full shifts working six-day weeks. The Depression only briefly interfered; but not until 1934 was a production line actually installed. In 1936, they achieved 88 cars per day.

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In 1935, T.J. Richards was able to build all the Chrysler brands, including Plymouth, DeSoto, Dodge, and Fargo trucks; they also built bodies for Studebaker.

Coincidentally, in 1935, the four-cylinder Dodge DM series, a Plymouth-based Dodge, was exported from North America. Built in Detroit, the Dodge DM was similar to the US Dodge cars, but, by comparing part numbers, it appears the Dodge DM had a Plymouth 4 (instead of the Dodge 6) with a Dodge radiator grille. These were the last 4-cylinder Dodges built in North America until the introduction of the Omni in late 1977. The pictured limousine is a Plymouth P6 with a wheelbase stretched to 132 inches.

On a trip to the US, managing director Claude Richards saw the steel-frame bodies Chrysler was using in the US, and replaced most of the coaches' woodwork with steel.

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The new bodies were safe enough that the "Chrysler Hell Drivers" were able to put on their usual daredevil performance using T.J. Richards bodies, only modifying them by replacing the glass with US specification safety glass. In 1937, T.J. Richards launched Australia's first all-steel body.

The company's name changed at some point to "Chrysler-Dodge-DeSoto Distributors," possibly just before it was retooled to war purposes. In 1945, they returned to automotive production. The company left Australian ownership in 1951, when Chrysler Corporation bought a controlling interest and renamed it to Chrysler Australia, Ltd.

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