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The Secret Story of Le Cornu's Showroom

Home > Adelaide > Vintage and Retro | Motorsports | Kids | Free | Family
by Dave Walsh (subscribe)
I enjoy writing about Adelaide and its many attractions. If you think Adelaide is boring, the problem is not with Adelaide. adelaideunearthed.blogspot.com.au/
Published January 28th 2013
Beware of land mines
The Secret Story of Le Cornu's Showroom

history of South Australia, family history, mopar, holden, chrysler, heritage, le cornu, t.j. richards
The Le Cornu Showroom Today


Behind the colourful and welcoming facade of Le Cornu's Keswick showroom lies an interesting story.

From the front the building looks modern and stylish, but as I was driving along Leader St I noticed that the building is far older in parts (particularly in the rear car park), and I wondered what it had been used for in the past.

It occurred to me that a large site of nine acres may well have been used as a factory in times gone by.

Prior to 1923 Anzac Highway was known as the Bay Road, and the location must have been quite central. And as turns out, its proximity to the Keswick Barracks was to be fortunate too.

To understand the full story, we must go way back in the history of South Australia to 1884.

T.J. Richards Coach Builders

history of South Australia, family history, mopar, holden, chrysler, heritage, le cornu, t.j. richards
T.J. Richards Mitcham Factory ca 1900 (State Library of SA B28399)


Tobias Richards was an Adelaide blacksmith who founded coach building company T.J. Richards in Mitcham in 1884. Of course in those days most people would have either walked or used some form of horse powered transport.

Horse drawn trams were popular in the Mitcham area back then, although if one was well off you could afford a King of the Road sulky from T.J. Richards rather than sharing public transport with the smelly hoi polloi.

The Mitcham Council website has a well illustrated leaflet about Lower Mitcham history including the T.J. Richards business which you can download here.

Business did well and in 1900 Richards moved his works to Hindmarsh Square in Adelaide, and was soon joined in the business by his three sons - starting a new era in their family history.

history of South Australia, family history, mopar, holden, chrysler, heritage, le cornu, t.j. richards
Designing the Body for the New Chassis ca 1922 (SLSA B28400/4)


In 1912 with the motor car increasing in popularity, the company started building motor bodies, and by 1921 Richards had moved production to larger premises on the corner of Anzac Highway and Leader St at Keswick. You can read an informative 1921 newspaper article about the company here.

history of South Australia, family history, mopar, holden, chrysler, heritage, le cornu, t.j. richards
Fixing the Panels On the Body Frames ca.1922 (SLSA B28400/12)


According to Wikipedia, bodies were produced for various makes including Bianchi, CitroŽn, Fiat, Maxwell, Oakland, Overland, Armstrong-Siddeley, Austin, Huppmobile, Berliet, Durant, Amilcar, Rover and Rolls-Royce.

But things were about to change. After opening another factory in Mile End, the company began making bodies for the American Chrysler Corporation for models such as Chrysler, Dodge, DeSoto and Plymouth.

World War Two

history of South Australia, family history, mopar, holden, chrysler, heritage, le cornu, t.j. richards
Firewall Plate on 1936 Plymouth Assembled @ Keswick


The outbreak of the second World War was initially calamitous to the motor industry - there was almost a complete cessation of motor body manufacture due to restrictions on the importation of chassis imposed by the Commonwealth Government. Petrol rationing also killed off demand by consumers.

Like its competitor General Motors-Holden's (also originally a carriage builder started by James Holden), TJ Richards & Sons was able to acquire defence contracts, reorganised its factory and swung into wartime production.

The Keswick plant was expanded and re-tooled to manufacture vehicle and aircraft components, weapons parts, and ammunition.

You can find a fascinating pictorial insight into munitions production at TJ Richards & Sons in the Advertiser on January 8 1941.

Chrysler in Australia

history of South Australia, family history, mopar, holden, chrysler, heritage, le cornu, t.j. richards
The Chrysler Sign on Maple Avenue


There is some confusion about the exact manner and date when the Richards family finally handed over control to Chrysler Dodge DeSoto Distributors. It is clear that the company takeover occurred shortly after the war, although vehicles were badged by Chrysler Dodge DeSoto Distributors some ten years earlier.

Whatever the exact date, it was the end of an era in the Richards family history.

In 1951 the Chrysler Corporation bought 85% of Chrysler Dodge Distributors (Holdings) Pty Ltd and renamed it to Chrysler Australia Ltd.

The Chrysler name was painted proudly on the Maple Ave face of the (now Le Cornu) building, and I understand that the pentastar logo was also visible until a few years ago.

The Mopar branded parts and service organisation would also have operated from here in Keswick. The term Mopar has also come to be used to describe any Chrysler built vehicles since then.

The post war years were good to the car industry, and Chrysler became one of a few leading car manufacturers in Australia. It opened a large new assembly plant at Clovelly Park in 1964 and an engine foundry at Lonsdale in 1968.

Le Cornu at Keswick

history of South Australia, family history, mopar, holden, chrysler, heritage, le cornu, t.j. richards
Le Cornu Sign on Anzac Highway


In 1973 Le Cornu had been operating from a store on O'Connell St in North Adelaide. The building was most unusual for its day, having 18 huge panels of non-reflecting deeply curved glass so that customers could see the display easier.

history of South Australia, family history, mopar, holden, chrysler, heritage, le cornu, t.j. richards
Factory Saw Tooth Roof and Old Stone Wall


With a need to expand, Le Cornu purchased the disused Chrysler site and factory at Keswick and made it their new home.

history of South Australia, family history, mopar, holden, chrysler, heritage, le cornu, t.j. richards
High Voltage Sign From Former Factory


Much of the showroom area has now been artfully covered with displays and panelling, so the industrial history is well concealed.

history of South Australia, family history, mopar, holden, chrysler, heritage, le cornu, t.j. richards
An Industrial Size Hook For Factory Work


However raising your eyes above normal ceiling height will soon disclose remnants left from the building's prior use.

history of South Australia, family history, mopar, holden, chrysler, heritage, le cornu, t.j. richards
Malcolm Moore Crane Sign From ca 1940


history of South Australia, family history, mopar, holden, chrysler, heritage, le cornu, t.j. richards
Strong Steel Beams Supported Car Bodies


Much of the showroom area is surrounded by large steel beams, indicative of the heavy weight of cars that were moved around the factory floor by crane.

So as you spend the weekend shopping for a coffee table or your new bed, spare a thought for the thousands of people who have shed their sweat in this very building for nearly one hundred years.

history of South Australia, family history, mopar, holden, chrysler, heritage, le cornu, t.j. richards
The Factory Furnace


Most of the workers would have been men in those days, although women would have worked in the offices. It's also likely that women helped produce munitions here during the war.

history of South Australia, family history, mopar, holden, chrysler, heritage, le cornu, t.j. richards
Office Workers Using Comptometers at Richards Motor Body Builders, Keswick 1935


From early motor car bodies in the 1920's, to aircraft and weapons in the 1940's, and finally the sleek Chrysler models of the fifties and sixties - this place saw them all.

The author would like to acknowledge the assistance of Ari and Todd from Le Cornu in researching and writing this story.
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Why? See how history can be found everywhere
Where: Leader St, Keswick, SA
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Your Comment
Well researched Dave! Will have to spot that Malcolm Moore sign next time I'm inside Le Cornu's - like a game of Where's Wally :)
by Yin-Yin Ow (score: 3|1590) 1780 days ago
I believe Dodge trucks were also assembled there until the early seventies. I grew up in Leader St and can vaguely remember cars being produced there. Also, across Leader St was another plant, later taken over by Lovell's Bakery and since Buttercup. The use of the rail lines at the end of Maple and Leader St was also important in linking to Chrsyler's Mile End Factory.
A close inspection of the buildings will reveal in fact a number of extensions from the original Richards factory and is missing a sizeable chunk that is now the car park. And finally, an interesting anomaly: the old Chrysler / Le Cornu site is now called Forestville, not Keswick.
by egtoo (score: 0|8) 1739 days ago
We are fortunate enough to own a 1957 Chrysler made at the Le Cornu site, great to learn more about this iconic adelaide institiution.
by bianc (score: 1|24) 1769 days ago
Fascinating!
by Emily Farrer (score: 1|11) 1778 days ago
great pics, have to go factory spotting next time i shop.
by iszoo (score: 1|17) 1779 days ago
Now just need to see what comes next, with Le Cornu's having shut down. Thanks for the article :)
by banab (score: 1|38) 137 days ago
MOST INTERESTING, THANKS
Lorri
by moral (score: 1|37) 1777 days ago
Fricker Bros carried out the renovations for Le Cornus in 1973
I worked there as a labourer while on school holidays.
I now own my own Construction Company
by glenn (score: 0|5) 1396 days ago
Wow - Thar was very informative and interesting. I will never see Le Cornu in the same light. Well done!
by Ros Stiles (score: 1|54) 1268 days ago
WOW! There are some memories. I remember Fricker Brothers in Carrington Street next to the old Pikes Brewery. In fact Malcolm Fricker brought his horses to the Victoria Park racecourse every morning when he was an owner trainer. This was in the mid/late sixties.
by rankin (score: 0|5) 1099 days ago
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