From Hooves to Highways

W J Winterbottom



Wentworth John ‘Jack’ Winterbottom was born in Adelaide in 1882. As a young man he trained as a mechanic and fitter with Adelaide’s Lewis Cycle Company where he worked on that company’s first car and his lifelong enthusiasm and appreciation for motor cars was forged.

In September 1904 he married Laura Hastie and their daughter, Doreen, was born in May 1905.

After Laura (23) died suddenly in October 1905, Jack brought Doreen to WA, where Laura’s relatives lived in Cunderdin. Jack then went into partnership in a motor car import agency and repair workshop and, in 1907, established the Perth Motor House*.

At St Paul’s in West Perth in April 1908 Jack married again, to Louisa ‘Birdie’ Wheatley and they made their home at 26 Kings Park Road (now demolished), and later, at 148 Forrest Street, Peppermint Grove.

Jack Winterbottom, 1916, courtesy RAC Archives

In business, through shrewd motoring partnerships and the quality of his imports, Jack became one of the largest motor car dealers in WA, and was one of the earliest members of the Automobile Club of Western Australia. He could never hold an office though, as Club rules stated those in ‘the trade’ were forbidden. For leisure Jack loved yacht racing and was Commodore of Royal Perth Yacht Club from 1927 to 1930. In 1938 he replaced his 40 foot motor launch Nokomis, named after Hiawatha’s grandmother in Henry Longfellow’s poem, with a 50 foot Halvorsen named Hiawatha. Both launches are, today, owned by members of Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club.

Jack was also a racing identity and owned several very successful thoroughbreds. He was Vice Chair of the WA Turf Club in the late 1930s, and its Chair from 1941 to 1949, during which The West Australian of 17 December 1951 reported he “handled the negotiations for the purchase of the then proprietary racecourses at Helena Vale, Goodwood, Belmont Park and Canning Park. The WATC retained Helena Vale and Belmont Park.”

In December 1951, after a slow decline in his health, Jack died at his Peppermint Grove home, aged 69. He left an estate worth £203,440 (about $9m today) and was survived by Louisa, who died in 1968, and Doreen, by then married and with a family of her own.

“He was a director of Wentworth Motors Ltd and the WA Shipping Association Ltd, and a former director of the Queensland Insurance Co Ltd, and the Swan Portland Cement Ltd. He had been chairman of the West Australian Turf Club, chairman of the welfare committee of the Air Training Corps, RAAF, and a member of the Rottnest Island Board of Control.”

The West Australian, 17 December 1951

After Jack’s death Winterbottom Motors continued under the leadership of his business partner, Nathaniel Harper. It survives today as part of Automotive Holdings Group. In November 2013, The West Australian included Jack Winterbottom in their list of the 100 most influential business leaders in WA.

When, Where, and What

In partnership with John Harris, Jack Winterbottom established the Perth Motor House in 1907 in the Butterworth Buildings at 890 Hay Street. This is when and where this photo was taken.

At first Jack stocked Argyle, Fiat and Ford motor cars, and he is pictured in one of the latter for which he held the sole agency, a 1906 Model N Ford. Cleverly, they had one of the first petrol Bowsers in Perth on site catering to motorists as well as motor buyers.

The building, built in 1903 with mews at the rear, is still standing. It now houses Tony Barlow Menswear, and The Stables Bar.

In 1911 the Perth Motor House moved to new premises at 847 Hay Street, just west of His Majesty’s Theatre. To cater to Perth’s theatre-going patrons, the Perth Motor House was open each evening, Monday to Saturday, until midnight.

Ford (15-18 H.P) the property of W. J. Winterbottom, Sole Agent for Ford Fiats and Argyles

Winterbottom Motors, 896-898 Hay Street, Perth, c1925. Courtesy State Library of Western Australia, image b2101468_2.

In 1916 Jack founded the Winterbottom Motor Co Ltd and included the new make of Dodge motor cars in his imports. The business moved several times over the next decades, most memorably to St George’s Terrace on the corner of Mill Street. WA motoring historian A John Parker says “By 1925 he had opened a new £40,000 showroom and assembly site” and “Winterbottom’s turnover had increased from £21,000 in 1915 to £32,000 in 1921 to £334,000 in 1924.”

*One of Perth’s most iconic motor houses was built in 1937 on the corner of Wellington and Milligan Streets, but for Messrs Courthope and Olifent, not Jack Winterbottom.

Advertisement for Winterbottom’s Perth Motor House, courtesy A John Parker.

Perth Motor House c1907, courtesy A John Parker.