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Time and place: Edwin Brown's "plagiarised" hybrid Ford/Holden

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In the latest in our series on significant South Australian people, places and things, we uncover the strange history of the “Palm Tourer” – a Model T Ford with a Holden body that an Australian passed off as his own work.

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Plagiarism is most commonly associated with written work, but even motor vehicles can be ripped off. The 1920 Palm Tourer is an excellent home-grown example of this. It is the best known work of Melbourne car salesman and budding auto magnate Edwin Brown.

In 1917 after a successful career as a car salesman, Brown wished to become a manufacturer. He was a great admirer of the work of Henry Ford, the man who created the assembly line and gave the world affordable mass-produced automobiles.

But Brown’s desire to emulate America’s greatest automotive tycoon went a little too far: he was so impressed with Ford’s ground-breaking Model T that he was prepared to import it and rebadge it as a vehicle of his own marque. In fact, Edwin’s only “manufacturing” tools were some large grinding wheels which were used to remove the Ford script badge off the castings from the engine and anywhere else they might appear.

The motoring industry in Australia at the time included a number of entrepreneurs who imported parts from US or British manufacturers, and assembled them into cars of their own name, with varying proportions of locally-built components, such as the chassis and bodywork. Such cars included the Australian Lincoln, the Australian Six and the Summit, to name a few.

Brown, a well-respected motorcycle agent and manufacturer in Melbourne, took this to a new level when he began importing Ford Model T chassis and engine parts from the USA. He converted them to right -and drive and assembled them with Australian-built bodies and radiators.

In contrast to the similar activities of firms such as Duncan and Fraser (Ford agents), he did not market them under the Ford name, but instead as “Palm”.

If you’re wondering how Edwin could get away with such a brazen scheme… well, he didn’t. While he was busy “manufacturing” other models like the Pine, the Renown and the Spark, news of Brown’s operations travelled right to Henry Ford’s office.

Although Henry liked to sell cars (and was selling quite a few to Edwin) he was not happy to have his work passed off as someone else’s, so he set his lawyers to work. But even this did not sink Edwin Brown’s entrepreneurial ambitions; only when the Ford Motor Company set up shop in Australia, producing and selling cars locally, did Edwin’s scheme come undone.

The Palm was discontinued in 1921, although Brown continued to use T Model Fords as the basis for his ‘Renown’ and ‘Spark’ models until 1927.

It may also surprise you to learn that Holden had a hand in all of this, for long before being acquired by General Motors and manufacturing cars, the Adelaide company was a prominent coachmaker that built the body for this Palm. Of course, at the time Holden was quite happy to build a body to fit any make or type of car.

Still, the Palm is a rare and interesting example of a car that is both a Ford and a Holden, disguising itself as neither.

The photographed 1920 Palm is reportedly one of the very few survivors of the marque and was purchased at auction in 1993 as a restored vehicle. The vehicle is now on display at the National Motor Museum in Birdwood.

Matthew Lombard is a curator at the National Motor Museum.

Time and place is a series about historic places, people and objects in South Australia, brought to you by a partnership of InDaily and the History Trust of South Australia.

Go here for more “Time and place” articles.

For more stories like this one, you can also visit the SA History Hub.

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