Martin and King, Coachbuilders

Above: The best known Martin and King car in the Club at present is Charles Bush's award-winning Phantom 1

ONE DAY OUT OF CURIOSITY I looked up Martin and King, the noted Australia coachbuilding company, on Wikipedia. To my surprise, the article was all about locomotives and rolling stock for railways, with a passing mention of a body built for a Buick in the 1950s. In an email to Tom Clarke I expressed my surprise, and back came a long autobiographical article about the Company by one of the King brothers, which had been published in The Vintage Drivers' Club Magazine in 1969. It's too long for here, but provided the material for this short article

MARTIN AND KING was founded in 1888 by J. H. Martin, a coach bodymaker, and A. King, a coachsmith. Martin left in 1889, and had no further connection with the business. Martin and King built only horse-drawn coaches and wagons until 1914, when the business built their first motor car body, on a Ford T. (In 1900, as a one-off, they had built the body for the Thomson Steam Wagon now in the Melbourne Museum).

The Thomson Sream Wagon with Martin & King Bodywork (Museum of Victoria)

J. H. King's two sons John and William joined the company when they completed their education, and motor car body construction began in earnest in 1922. Martin and King's exhibits for the 1923 and 1924 Melbourne Motor Shows, both on Delage chassis, won "outstanding body of the Show" recognition, and led to their first Rolls-Royce body in 1924.

SOON MARTIN and King were among the leading Australian coachbuilders, built for all the prestige brands, and were Rolls-Royce's own preference for Australian bodies. Martin and King bodies were more robust and had better dustproofing that British bodies, quite important for Australian road conditions. Over the years they built for Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Delage, Hispano-Suiza, Bugatti, Jaguar and many others. The developed a technique of limited production body panel pressing by using concrete dies covered in sheet steel, and the expanding business did all its own upholstery, paint, and detail interior cabinet work. The business grew, and many bodies were built in the 1930s.

1929 Rolls-Royce 20/25 with 1930s Martin & King coachwork. It sold at auction in 2015 for $105,000 (Shannons)

Another R-ROC WA member's Martin & King body, on the Falconers' Silver Ghost. The additional lights are essential in the West Austrslian wheatbelt to spot kangaroos. (Con Keogh)

The outbreak of WW2 saw the suspension of motor body work, and the move into war production, including making urgent spares for aviation engines. Towards the end of the War they had no less than five scattered factories, and so purchased the new greenfield site between Clayton and Springvale to consolidate their facilities. (Cnr Westall and Centre Rds).

The Springvale Martin and King plant after VW acquired it.It now sprawls all the way up to the "office Block" (VW)

Motor body building resumed after WW2, but motor bodies alone could not sustain the company, so they diversified into other metal products such as chicken incubators and rail coaches. They secured a contract to build Ford Anglia bodies for the Ford Motor Company, producing about 500. (These bodies do not have the Martin and King plate).

A Martin & King Ford Anglia 103E Ute (Creative Commons)

IN 1952 Martin and King was floated as a public Company, and the railway business was becoming dominant. However, they remained in the motor business in surprising ways. One important motor contract was to take up the assembly of the VW 1200 for VW Australia. This began in 1954, and in 1957 the plant was sold to VW Australia. It became the Clayton Volkswagen factory, and Bill King, eldest son of the founder of Martin and King, became MD of VW Australia. Still later, when VW beetle production ended in Australia, the factory was taken over to manufacture Nissan cars in Australia. (It is now let to various businesses.)

Martin and King's bespoke motor body production dwindled, and ended with the widespread move to unit-body cars in the late 1950s. Meanwhile, they remained in business, but from the late 1950s onwards their focus was on railway locomotives and rolling stock.

There are about 20 Martin and King bodied Rolls-Royces owned by R-ROC Australia members, two in WA: The Bush Phantom 1 and the Falconer Ghost, both seen above. The Falconer Ghost was rebodied with an early 1930s sedan body and resides on a farm near Coorow.

Many of the Martin and King bodies have been discarded in recent years. Though very robust, they are also very heavy, and the trend has been to replace these bodies with lighter, preferably open, bodies.

J. H. King, "Martin and King", Vintage Drivers' Club Magazine, Victoria, March-April 1969.
Tom Clarke and David R Neely: Rolls-Royce and Bentley in a Sunburnt Country, Sir Henry Royce Foundation, Melbourne, 1999