BUICK and the AMBULANCE SERVICE of NEW SOUTH WALES
Researched and contributed by John Gerdtz with special thanks to Ambulance Officer Mike Taylor for his encouragement and co-operation with access to his private collection of ambulance history. Thank you also to the Ambulance Service of New South Wales for access to their archival photography.
The Civil Ambulance and Transport Brigade of New South Wales, as the service was first called, commenced operations on April 1, 1895, with two officers and a hand litter. A. Forsyth & Co presented the first horse drawn ambulance in 1899 and Mr Anthony Horden presented a Minerva vehicle on May 27, 1912 as the first motorised ambulance.
The superiority of the motor over the horse was soon demonstrated and a second ambulance, was delivered in 1913, funded by public donation. It was built on a 15/30 H.P. Armstrong Whitworth chassis with lever spring suspension. A third motor ambulance was ordered in October, 1914 and by 1915 ambulance drivers were
instructed not to exceed 15 mph and were held responsible for any breach of this regulation.
The Randwick Division of the St. John Ambulance Brigade presented a fully equipped Armstrong-Whitworth motor ambulance to the Corps in January, 1916 and on September 9, 1918, The Governor of New South Wales, Sir Walter Davidson, commissioned the fifth motor ambulance built on a Sidley Deasey chassis at a total cost of 1930.
The service rapidly expanded throughout the state, being organised in regions that were responsible for arranging and raising their own finances, much of the money being donated or raised through community activities. Regions made decisions individually, purchasing motor ambulances built on the chassis of local choice.
By now Buick motor vehicles had established great favour with Australian motorists, in country areas. Farmers quickly learned the Buick marque stood for quality,reliability and service. Buicks were strong, fast, reliable and rode smoothly by the standards of the day, particularly over rough country roads. It’s no surprise that the Buick chassis found favour as being very suitable for ambulance work.
Although it is not certain when the first Buick came into ambulance service in NSW, the picture above shows a 1921 Buick, six cylinder, fitted with wooden ambulance body, in service at Grafton in Northern NSW. Buicks continued in favour for ambulance building through to 1947 when GMA (General Motors Australia) ceased production of Holden built car bodies locally, in preparation for the all new Holden car to be released in 1948. Buick, the foundation marque of General Motors, continues to produce quality cars in the USA today, but sadly have not produced a right hand drive version since 1953. Buick chassis were supplied to build ambulances for many, if not all, the NSW Ambulance Service divisions as demonstrated in the following paragraphs.
The 1936 Buick pictured is believed to have been bodied by A.H. Peters of Marrickville. Built on the new 138″ wheelbase “Limited” chassis, it would be powered by the also new straight eight, 320 cu.in. engine developing 120bhp. Although probably quite heavy, this ambulance would have been a very fast comfortable cruiser as this engine, when installed in the 1936 “Century” sedan body, easily powered the car to 100mph.
The 1936 is also pictured in the Ambulance Station in company with a 1929 Buick Master Six. The 1929 built using the 129″ wheelbase tourer chassis, was powered by an in-line 6 cylinder engine of 309.6 cu.in. capacity developing 90bhp. The open cabin body work would have made for very cold driving in winter as Armidale is snow country. The other picture shows the 1929 on left, parked outside the station in company with a vintage Hudson ambulance.
Pictured is a 1946/47 Buick, a Dodge Suburban and two Austin Sheerlines of the Berrima District Ambulance at Bowral. It seems the Buick did the Sydney work, the Dodge did the bush work and the Sheerlines were set up for road accidents.
This 1929 Buick is stationed at Braidwood. Mechanically this vehicle would be the same as the 1929 at Armidale described above but it is fitted with a sedan type body making it considerably more comfortable for the ambulance officers in winter. It is believed the body was built by Gilbert Bros of Newcastle.
Pictured is the 1939 Buick of the Canberra Community Ambulance. It appears to have been built on the “Roadmaster” 133″ wheelbase chassis, however, the front door is smaller than the Roadmaster and probably came from the “Special”. It would be powered by the straight eight, 320 cu.in. engine developing 141bhp. The body is probably by W.S. Grice of Carlton.
Cootamundra station was home to this 1937 Buick ambulance built on the “limited” 138″ wheelbase chassis with the straight eight, 320 cu.in. engine, developing 130bhp. The body builder is unknown but the styling looks just right.
This 1925 Buick Standard Six is interesting. The location is thought to be Gilgandra and it must have been quite a project for the body builder. The radiator with large badge and cowl lamps confirm 1925 and the absence of a chassis cross member at the front spring anchor point indicates it is built on the light six chassis, but the body builder appears to have used 1923 Buick mudguards and headlights. Also the headlight mounting is non-standard Buick fitting. No matter, being a Buick, it is sure to have given good service.
The car on the left is a 1929 Buick Master Six of the Goulburn District. On the right is a 1934 Vauxhall BXL with 130″ wheelbase.
The second picture is of the Goulburn Ambulance Station with the fleet parked outside. Testimony to the 1929 Buicks lasting endurance as it is still in service at the time the picture was taken in the late 1930’s. Pictured L to R: unkown motorcycle, two 1937 Hudsons, 1936 Hudson, 1936 Chevrolet, 1935 Vauxhall, 1929 Buick and vintage Dodge.
Outside the Wollongong Ambulance Station, L to R: 1935 Buick, 1929 Buick, a pair of 1927 Buicks and an Essex. The tree on the left of the Ambulance Station has grown in this somewhat later picture of a big line up of cars of the Illawarra District Ambulance at Wollongong. L to R: 1935 Buick, 1937 Buick, 1936 Buick, a Chrysler product perhaps a 1936 Dodge, 1929 Buick, 1926 Buick, 1927 Buick and a 1937 Chevrolet.
Two views of Wollongong’s 1935 Buick built on a 90 series “Limited” chassis of 136″ wheelbase. The straight eight, 344 cu.in. engine developed 116bhp. Builder of the enclosed, windowless body is not known.
A very smart 1937 Buick from Kempsey provides service at a deHaviland Dragon Rapide aircraft of similar vintage. The Buick ambulance is built on a 60 series “Century” chassis of 118″ wheelbase. The straight eight, 320 cu.in. engine developed 120bhp and when fitted to the sedan body could power the car to 100mph.
Cars no.1 and no.2 from Lake Macquarie Ambulance Service pictured at Speers Point. Both vehicles are 1924 Buick Master Sixes. It is interesting to note that car no.2 on the left is fitted with the factory optioned wire wheels. The 1924 Master Buick was available with either a 120″ or 128″ wheelbase and was powered by an in-line six cylinder engine of 255 cu.in. capacity, developing 70bhp.
G.H. Olding built body fitted to a 1924 Buick Master Six chassis. Mechanically this car is the same as the Lake Macquarie cars shown above but it looks to be quite a heavy vehicle with the enclosed sedan type body when compared to the canvas covered body work of the Lake Macquarie vehicles.
Maitland Ambulance Station in 1924 where the sign on the wall proudly reads “Ready Always”. The cars are both 1924 Buick Master Sixes, mechanically the same as those pictured above. The factory option wire wheels make these ambulances look very sharp.
Newcastle District Ambulance had a fleet of these 1924 Buick Master Six vehicles built by Gilbert Bros of Newcastle. The smart canvas covered body and optioned wire wheels is very similar to the cars of Lake Macquarie and Maitland, pictured above, suggesting their bodywork was also built by Gilbert Bros.
Buicks were very much in favour for ambulance service in the Newcastle area as depicted in this picture taken from an old postcard. L to R: Unidentified motorcycle, two 1926 Buick Master Sixes, a 1924 Buick Master Six, then four 1923 Buick Master Sixes, an Austin and an unidentified vehicle on the far end of the row.
Two views of the Orange Ambulance Station with vintage Dodge (left) and 1929 Buick Master Six (right) with sedan style enclosed body.
Lined up outside the Parkes Ambulance Station. L to R: 1940 Buick, 1939 Buick, two 1940 Chevrolets and a 1934 Ford V8.
These Buicks of the Shoalhaven Ambulance Service at Nowra are believed to have been bodied by Moriarty. On the left is a 1935 Buick on a 90 series “Limited” chassis and on the right a 1938 Buick on the 60 series “Century” chassis.
The 1938 Buick at Nowra appears to have been in service for quite some time, perhaps 14 or 15 years, as the car boot in the background looks to be an early 1950’s Vauxhall. After such service the Buick appears a little tired, with hubcap missing and driver’s door sagging, but it still looks to be very straight. Well worn but worn well!
Cars number 6 and 7 from the St. George – Sutherland Shire District, Sydney were part of the fleet of 1929 Buick Master Sixes. They looked very sharp with the sedan style bodies and side mounted spare tyres. These Buicks were built using the 129″ wheelbase chassis and were powered by an in-line 6 cylinder engine of 309.6 cu.in. capacity developing 90bhp.
Wagga Wagga District Ambulance also favoured 30’s and 40’s Buicks with bodies built by W.S. Grice of Carlton.
Pictured outside the Wagga Wagga District Ambulance Station are L to R: 1938 Buick, 1937 Buick, 1934 Vauxhall and vintage Studebaker. L to R: 1937 Buick, 1934 Vauxhall and two vintage Studebakers.
The Wagga Wagga ladies very smartly turned out with the new 1938 Buick ambulance.
Western Suburbs District Ambulance Service at Summer Hill served the community with this new 1946/7 Buick in the years following WW2. The 1946/7 Buicks were the last Buick vehicles assembled in Australia, the production being stopped in preparation for the production of the all new “Holden” car in 1948. Because of this, these ?46/7 cars built on the “Special” series chassis were the last Buick ambulances made in Australia. The 1946/7 Buick car is seen here at Summer Hill in company with a 1938 Buick at the Station.
In earlier times Western Suburbs District Ambulance Service operated this very smart 1936 Buick ambulance. Built on the 90 Series “Limited” chassis of 138″ wheelbase, it would be powered by the also new straight eight, 320 cu.in. engine
Even earlier they had a very smart 1935 Buick also built on the 90 series “Limited” chassis. This would have been powered by the 344 cu.in. straight eight engine developing 116bhp.
This image is of three cars of the Young District Ambulance. The car on the extreme left is the 1929 Buick Master Six from Young with Supt. Bergin and members of the District Committee. The other two cars are a 1934 Dodge with Station
Officer Moorhouse and a 1928 Buick Master Six with Ambulance Officer Robert McRobert of the Cootamundra Branch Station. The Buick at Young was built by Gilbert Bros. of Newcastle under the supervision of Supt. W. Davey (the first
permanent officer and Supt. at Young).
The saying “life wasn’t meant to be easy” is graphically illustrated in this picture of the 1929 Buick Master Six ambulance from Young bogged down literally below the axles despite being fitted with mud chains.
As these historical pictures confirm, there can be no doubt Buick built vehicles made a significant contribution to the extensive fleet of the Ambulance Service of New South Wales during the years to 1947 when General Motors Holdens ceased assembling in Australia vehicles of this great American marque.