Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

Building a Motor Body (c.1925)

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This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

Large power presses stamp the panels for the car bodies. As the press is lifted, one man removes the panel and another places a flat sheet into the machine. A worker in goggles welds the panels together. The finished sections are lined in a row in the workshop. Then the panels are fitted to the skeletons of car bodies on an assembly line. Through a series of dissolves, the car body is shown as it comes together. A shot of the finished car body and interior ends the clip.

Curator’s notes

Compare these scenes to clip one of Birth of a Car (1948), where the giant presses are the same and assemblage of the car body is similar. In the later title, automated processes dominate the testing of the movable parts and features within the car.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This black-and-white silent clip shows processes involved in the construction of the body of a motor vehicle at Holden’s Motor Body Builders at Woodville, South Australia, in about 1925. Footage includes shots of workers pressing steel panels, welding panels together and fitting them to the car frame. Fade-outs define each stage in the building of an automobile. Teams work on one car body at a time, each man undertaking a different task. Intertitles tell of the number of men employed at the workshops and the total amount spent on wages and salaries.

Educational value points

  • The production methods shown in this clip were state of the art in Australia at the time and demonstrate the use of the automobile assembly line, applying the revolutionary mass production methods that Henry Ford had introduced in the USA a decade earlier. The pressing of metal-panel car components on hydraulic presses, seen here, was an innovation introduced in the early 1920s at the Holden works, significantly improving efficiency in car production.
  • The clip indicates a high reliance on hand labour, and up to 4,300 men were employed in this one manufacturing plant at the time the film was produced. The car frame remained stationary and workers brought various panels and other components by hand to the vehicle. Each construction stage was completed by a team moving to work on each car body in the line. The finished body was then manually pushed into position for the engine to be fitted.
  • The working conditions seen in this industrial workshop of the 1920s indicate a lack of the safety regulations and equipment that would be mandatory today. The hydraulic press appears to have no safety barriers. The welder wears goggles but welding sparks could burn his face and unprotected hands. Most of the workmen wear street clothes, and none wears gloves or other protective gear.
  • Natural materials are being used in the construction of the vehicles in the clip, showing that few artificial materials such as plastics were available at the time. A worker is seen hammering nails into the wooden frames around car windows. Timber was still used on car frames in the 1920s, along with steel, reflecting the car’s origin as a horseless carriage. Pressed-metal body panels were common, however. Wheels had metal rims with wooden spokes and rubber tyres.
  • The film techniques used here are typical of industrial documentaries during the silent film era. The camera has been positioned and the scene lit so that the machine or process can be clearly observed. In the scenes of the man welding, two camera positions, medium shot and close-up, are used to adequately reveal his job. What appear to be fade-outs in each scene actually show where the camera was stopped and moved, providing the most practical means of editing.
  • The motor bodies in this clip would have been made for General Motors as Holden’s Motor Body Builders at the time were the exclusive suppliers for GM in Australia. Holden’s Motor Body Builders merged with General Motors in 1931 to become General Motors-Holden’s Limited (GM-H). In 1948, the same company produced the first wholly Australian-made motor car, the Holden FX.

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

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  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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