It’s been 80 years since Booth’s first made its way into the Central coast history, and ultimately, into the heart of the local community. From humble beginnings, an empire grew into what is one of the Central Coast’s oldest and most treasured family businesses.
To celebrate this momentous occasion, we are going to take a look back at the rich and illustrious history of Gosford, NSW, and the evolution of Booth’s Motors over the years with Kevin Booth.
The Birth of Booth’s Motors
On Friday, September 1st 1939, a then 9-year old Kevin stepped into a building that would spawn a family legacy spanning across 8 decades. His parents, a young mechanic named Fred and his wife Evelyn, borrowed money from the local bank and family to purchase a petrol station and parts supplies store in Gosford at 253 Mann Street.
Situated right opposite Gosford railway station, the petrol station has a small workshop attached to it and is reopened as “Booth’s Garage” with Kevin serving their very first customer. With high-hopes for the future, just 2 days after the doors of their new business opened, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. The events from here on in would have a global impact that would span all the major continents and change the face of the world forever.
Not long after this announcement, rationing would come into force. Common everyday items like butter and milk would become harder to find. And many would struggle to make ends meet during these difficult times.
Living life off a ration card was no fun, and the early years of Booth’s would be a challenge. But it’s in times of hardship and adversity that people develop new-found skills and power on through. Kevin’s dad Fred tinkers around with parts from one car and finds ways to get them to fit into another, while his mother Evelyn takes care of all the intricate business dealings.
“Dad was always really good at figuring things out, hearing a noise and tracing it, knowing if something could be repaired or not.”
Bringing Ideas to Life
Back in the 30’s, cars were very different creatures to the ones we are so familiar with today. If you want to see the evolution of technology, you just need to look back at car history. There were no rearview mirrors or indicators; they were started with a crank handle, and windscreen wipers were hand-driven. As the war builds in intensity, it’s not only food and clothing that is rationed. Fuel and electricity soon follow suit.
Hand operating the fuel bowsers at the petrol station in the midst of blackouts is more than Fred can stand. He uses his mechanical skills to modify the pump so that it can be driven by a stand-mounted bicycle. Serving the steady stream of traffic is now much easier, and Kevin gets a good workout whenever he helps his parents.
Throughout the war, Fred works hard in his workshop finding ways to perform miracles with modified parts and hoppers. With fuel supplies becoming ever scarcer, Fred became a pioneer of perfecting the installation of rear mounted Gas Producing Units. These units were able to produce volatile gasses from coal, coke or charcoal which was used as an alternative fuel to petrol.
The gas was dangerous, dirty and inefficient and when it ran out, you would have to refill the hopper. However, when times get tough people would happily use alternative ways to combat fuel shortages and hoppers would keep traffic flowing, even when the petrol wasn’t. Of course, charcoal and coal is a messy business and Kevin was given the nickname ‘Coalie’ due to constantly being covered in its dust.
“Dad had an inbuilt ability to pick something off another car and do something to it; he kept dozens of cars running that would have otherwise been sitting in a backyard because they couldn’t get parts.”
Gosford in the 1940s
In the 1940s, Booth’s was not only repairing cars, but also started to sell them. Sunbeams, Humbers and Hillmans from the British car manufacturer, Rootes Group, were available after they started manufacturing them in Port Melbourne, Victoria. This was a decision that would send Booth’s on the next step of its evolution.
Gosford District Hospital was opened to the local residents by the Honorable C.A. Kelly in 1945, and the country was enjoying some much needed post-war economic growth. This growth was partly due to Australia’s largest ever architectural achievement, the 1949 Snowy Mountain Scheme, which, in turn, propelled the sales of motor vehicles and everyday products.
The 1940s will always be remembered as the “War Years” but it wasn’t all doom and gloom, especially toward the end of the decade. Family living standards improved, giving more and more people consumer spending power. And while people were not exactly what you could call rich, the end of World War II signaled times of prosperity and hope.
“Royalty had Humbers, It was something to behold getting the first Humber to come into Gosford”
Gosford in the 1950s
The 1950’s saw the arrival of global phenomena and cultural shifts toward a more relaxed way of life. Musical icons including Elvis and Bill Haley and the Comets took over the airwaves while almost 2 million cars took over Australia’s roads. In just 15 years, car sales figures had doubled from 900,000 and as a result, garages became a common addition to many newly built homes.
Rising demand for motors made the 50’s the perfect time to be in the sales trade and help propel the continuing growth of Booth’s. Queen Elizabeth II became the first Monarch to visit the country in 1954 and television made its way into people’s homes in 1956. Before the introduction of TV, locals of Gosford would visit the Central Coast Cinema on the corner of Mann Street to take in movies from America and Britain. Middle-class Australians definitely felt contented with their lot.
By the end of this decade, people were enjoying The Flintstones and I Love Lucy from the comfort of their own homes. Volkswagen Beetles and Ford Zephyr’s could be found up and down the country. And polka dot halter dresses became the new racy fashion.
Gosford in the 1960s
It wasn’t only on-road car numbers that had grown over the past few decades. By 1960, more than 31,000 people were registered as living in the Gosford district area, an increase of 30,900 since 1828. The previous decades economic growth came to a sudden halt with the onset of a brief recession, which had a knock-on effect with car sales.
In March 1963, Booth’s suffered another huge loss when Kevin’s father, Fred Booth passed away at age 70. Kevin stepped into a management role alongside his mother, Evelyn to run the business and Fred’s achievements and expertise in the auto industry were acknowledged in local newspapers. He was affectionately remembered as being an expert mechanic with an amazing memory for makes of old cars and their various engines and other details.
As the recession passed, sales picked up and Booth’s Motor Group added Chrysler Vehicles to the showroom floor in 1965. These included the ever popular and successful Charger and Valiant models. And while Australia was thriving on imported TV and Cinema from America and Britain, its own export “Skippy, the bush kangaroo” went on to become a global phenomenon.
Gosford in the 1970s
In 1974, 800 people attended the opening of Gosford’s Rip Bridge. In the same year a huge storm rolled into town washing boulders and yachts ashore. Toward the end of the decade, the stylish and luxurious Cinema on the corner of Mann and Donnison Streets was demolished. Things arrived and things disappeared.
The car industry was firmly rooted into society and cars such as the base Charger were a popular choice. Costing $2,750, in 1971, this was equivalent to the purchasing power of about AU$30,339 in 2019. Mitsubishi Motors Corporation started building the Chrysler Valiant and the Chrysler Sigma after acquiring a stake in Chrysler Australia. Both cars went on to become icons of their time, with the Sima being a market leader.
Gosford History in the 1980s
In 1980, Chrysler Australia became Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd, and Gosford’s car history changed again, seeing Booth’s became a Mitsubishi Dealership. Continued growth of Booth’s after 4 decades in the industry led to a need for more staff.
1987 saw the opening of the Southern Hemispheres largest single level shopping centre, Central Coast Fair. This would later be changed to the Erina Fair. The following year, Gosford signed formal Sister City agreements with Nitra in Czechoslovakia and Edogawa City in Japan. 1988 also saw the Laycock Street Theatre, Gosford’s Bicentennial project open to the public.
Gosford History from the 2000’s to Today!
The business expanded in 2004 with the purchase of the Peter Robert Hyundai business in North Gosford, and again in 2005 with the purchase of the Wyong Mitsubishi business. In 2009, after 70 years trading from the same Gosford City location, the old building opposite Gosford Railway Station was vacated, sold and demolished to become a carpark. All the business activities from Gosford relocated to the existing North Gosford Hyundai location. Over the next decade, significant property improvements took place to the buildings at both North Gosford and Tuggerah.
Then, in 2018 the Central Coast Ford business was added to the group, expanding the business again. By 2019, the merged region of Gosford and Wyong was part of the Central Coast Council, and the Gosford population forecast for 2019 was 346,459. Booth’s continues to be a familiar and steady monument to the power of family and community, as it has for over 80 years
When asked if there’s anything you would turn back to the good old days? Kevin replies “the chance to spend more time with customers than we do today” And about the future? “We’re going to run out of fossil fuels sooner or later, and electricity is the coming thing.”
And some final words of wisdom from Kevin:
“Meet and marry the right lady, work hard to satisfy your customers, and family is a great basis for business.”