For over 70 years, the Story of Howards Limited was an integral part of the story of the motor car in Queensland, for Howards was the state’s first car distributor.
James Howard, a watchmaker from Wigan, Lancashire, in England, arrived in Rockhampton in August 1889, in the midst of the gold boom. He brought with him an early Rover safety bicycle – the type only become commercially available in 1885 – and was an instant hit at many popular cycling events, beating the common Penny Farthings convincingly.
Howard imported numerous Rover cycles for his friends but found more and more of his time being taken up in doing so. Seeing a great business opportunity, he formed a partnership with his friend W J Strachan, acquired the local franchise for Rover and set up a bicycle sales and repair shop – trading as James Howard and Co.
Rover began making cars in 1901 and by 1903 Howard had imported the first Rovers (believed to be the first cars of any brand) into Queensland. The Di Dion agency was also acquired and the business prospered.
The Rover Imperial motorcycle appeared in 1902, and early examples were soon being sold by Howard’s. In 1907 Triumph motorcycles joined the line-up.
In 1908 Howard moved to Brisbane and incorporated the Howard Motor Company Ltd, with its head office in Queen St., while the Rockhampton business remained as a branch. The company continued to sell Rover cycles, and manufactured its own Howard bicycles in its Queen St premises, while a third branch was soon opened in Toowoomba, known as Autocars.
In 1913, the head office moved to 317 Adelaide St (near Wharf St) and in 1916 a new three-story building was constructed on the site; and extended in 1924.
Car sales were brisk, with Howard’s importing or selling up to 60 brands in its early years. By the late 1920s these included De Dion, Minerva, Benz, Rover, Swift, Alvis, Arrel-Johnston, Crossley, Wolseley, Humber, Sunbeam, Chevrolet, Buick, Packard, Nash and Studebaker to name but a few.
Two businesses were established within the Howard’s group, opposite each other in Adelaide St: British Dominion Motors, to sell British vehicles, and Metropolitan Motors to handle American brands – with Strachan as Director and General Manager of the latter.
While the first Morris cars were sold in Australia as early as 1913, the company’s first year of production, early models were considered unsuited to rough Australian conditions – particularly in country or Outback regions.
In the late 1920s Morris introduced three models that would potentially be more suited to Australian conditions, the “wide-track” Cowley, the Morris Six and the ill-fated Empire Oxford.
Meanwhile, Howard’s continued to prosper and up until 1929 offered a 10% dividend on shares. 1929 brought the Great Depression and many companies collapsed. Unemployment was rife across the country and car sales slumped.
However, Howard’s were financially strong and in 1930 the company returned half of its capital to shareholders; and was still in a position to pay an annual 8% dividend up until 1949, when it increased to 10%. By 1953 it was paying 20%.
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The BMC Experience Issue 9. Apr-Jun 2014 Magazine
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