Category Archives: mechanics

Noel Shipp Motorcycles/Derelict – Wollongong, NSW

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Another sad tale from the coast today, this time down south. In 1923, mechanic and motorcycle enthusiast Jim Shipp started a sales and repair business in Wollongong, and in 1949, his son Noel took over as owner. In these early days, dealerships were a huge part of the Shipp motorcycle empire, and Noel sponsored all sorts of club motorbike events and competitions. At some point there was probably a local TV ad featuring the man himself.

But as the years wore on, Shipp’s motorcyclery went the way of all enthusiast business ventures in the modern age. The customers dried up, the big dealers moved in, the internet made sourcing parts easier than ever. What was once a cutting edge mecca for all things motorbikes became that crusty, decaying hulk on Keira Street, itself reforged as a cul-de-sac to prevent noisy motorcycle traffic. Enthusiasm becomes eccentricity. Much like Gould’s or Comic Kingdom, when a business reaches the brink of obsolescence, all it can rely on as a drawcard is the individual experience and know-how of its staff. In Noel Shipp’s case, this was a pretty major asset.

Even after a spell of ill health and admittance to a nursing home later in life, Noel would still make his way into the shop to tinker around with the bikes brought in solely by enthusiasts. A much-loved and well regarded member of the community, Shipp passed away last September, and the shop has been boarded up ever since. Once the name finally rots away and the motorcycle signs are claimed by souvenir hunters, Noel Shipp will join Jim in the annals of the forgotten, and the shop will just be another brick box in the warehouse that Wollongong has become.

UPDATE: Or worse. The old Shipp place has met its end, making way for a new attempt to breathe life into this end of the ‘gong.

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Cathouse Spares/For Lease – Enfield, NSW

Damn, Jenny’s left boob exploded, Cyndi’s on her last legs and John reckons Nautica needs a complete lube job. Where will I get spares for my cathouse?

In reality, Cathouse Spares was a specialist spare parts shop for Jaguars….in Enfield. It’s much more of a Maserati area, so no wonder things didn’t work out. It’s since moved to Rydalmere, leaving this building empty and awaiting its next trick. C’mon madams, you couldn’t ask for a more perfect location!

Rick Damelian/For Sale – Leichhardt, NSW

If you owe $80m to creditors, lost eight car yards in the last year and failed to get any bids at all when you tried to sell your three Parramatta Road dealerships, chances are you’re Rick Damelian. Born in Uruguay to Armenian parents, Ricardo Damelian came to Australia in the 70s, and in 1978 started the Damelian Group. Establishing his dealerships along the high-visibility Parramatta Road at Leichhardt, Damelian changed the face of car sales by doing everything bigger and classier than his I’ll-appear-in-my-own-TV-ad competitors. Rick’s strip of dealerships contained a business centre which included a gym and a library, while rumours suggest a secret tunnel existed between the caryards and his volcanic island stronghold, which boasted a rocket launchpad, submarine base and a highly trained force of ninjas. Hey, they didn’t call Rick the ‘King of Taverners Hill’ for nothing.

Rick was known as ‘dealer to the stars’, but not for the reasons you may have heard. What it means is he sold cars to celebrities, if you count Lara Bingle as a celebrity. There’s one of Rick’s problems right there – if you sell an expensive car to someone with the surname Bingle, nothing will stop you when Larry Smash or Howard T-Bone walk onto the lot.

The motto of Rick’s dealerships was “The Best Place in the World to Shop for your Prestige Vehicle”. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? This motto meant little towards the end, when to stop the cash haemorrhage Rick had lowered himself to *vomit* making cars affordable for families and lower income earners. The things you do for money, right?

As good as he was at selling cars, with $300m-a-year profits and more than 100 cars sold per week at his peak, Rick made some bad choices in his time. In 2003, he invested in struggling radio and phone company Strathfield Group, of Strathfield Car Radios fame. Both Rick and Strathfield went into receivership in 2011, with Strathfield holding on for a whole month longer than Rick did before the bean counters came knocking. Shoulda kept the money, Rick.

One of Rick’s major problems was that Honda, his bread and butter, had been hit hard by the Japanese tsunami. No supply meant no sales, and the big bosses in Japan were too busy placing saucepans under their dripping ceilings to return Rick’s calls. When Rick went under, his remaining cars were returned to their suppliers, which I’m sure was just what Honda wanted. How many of these cars were destined for low income families we can’t know, but we do know that they’re getting their deposits back from the Office of Fair Trading’s motor vehicle compensation fund, and NOT from Rick himself. That may seem unfair, but think about it from Rick’s point of view. As a low income family himself now, he’ll need those deposits to buy a 1994 Mazda hatchback to drive to Centrelink.

Another was that Rick’s brother Robert, thought to have been the mastermind behind the whole operation, left the Damelian Group in 2008 after a falling out with Rick, leaving only Rick’s flamboyance at the helm. Unfortunately, this was no longer the 80s – it just doesn’t fly anymore. Just ask Mad Barry. Of course, there was a lot of blame placed on the global economic crisis, and I’m sure that had *yawn* a lot to do with it, too. Robert’s apparent business savvy does not seem to have been shared by Rick; when the banks were encouraging him to start selling off his assets when his fortunes started to dip, Rick would ask for more than was offered every time, and would subsequently lose the sale. Maybe he wasn’t throwing in air conditioning and a three year warranty, those always help to sweeten the deal. Now that expressions of interest are being called again after the collapse, no one’s interested. I don’t see how the apartment building craze doesn’t catch on here, a few more ugly towers wouldn’t be out of place in the area.

Rick Damelian in more prosperous times

Car franchises held by Rick included Honda, Suzuki, Saab (pfft), Renault, Citroen, Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Skoda. All the high quality showrooms in the world won’t help you when no one is buying what you’re selling, and given the number of SUVs and 4WDs on the road these days (oh, and bicycles of course, City of Sydney), it’s no surprise first time buyers or those on a budget weren’t spending cash at Rick’s, despite his library and gym.

When the saga ended in October 2011, Rick’s business was 33 years old, five years older than his third wife.

While the money men behind the scenes struggle to sell off what are turning out not to be assets at all, Rick’s showrooms sit quiet and empty on Parramatta Road, waiting in limbo, like so many other places in Sydney, for their next life. Let’s take a look around.

This was Rick’s prestige car lot, and I believe it was his first car dealership on Parramatta Road. These days, the Peak Hour Parramatta Road Car Yard (™) has more cars than this.

WE’VE MOVED, says the big red lettering, and at first you assume that’s the reason the dealership is empty. But then you look over the road next to Honda, and see that that’s empty too. No big red letters there, though.

What’s wrong with this picture? Notice anything missing? So synonymous was Rick’s name with cars that he didn’t even need to put the word ‘cars’ on his sign to let people know what he was selling. It probably helped too that the yard was once full of prestige cars. Didn’t he ever think it’d be empty?

Rick’s office chair is the only thing on either lot with wheels. It’s got arms too, so of course it’s on the prestige lot.

In a fit of rage, someone’s hurled Rick’s filing cabinet onto the empty lot. It couldn’t have weighed that much, I suppose. There wouldn’t have been much paperwork for Rick to file in the last few years.

Rick’s prestige lot has become one of Parramatta Road’s many ‘dealership dealerships’. They should have some fun with it: “GOOD NICK, ONLY 300,000 SALES ON THE DASH, ONE PREVIOUS OWNER ONLY TOOK IT OUT ON WEEKENDS OR SPECIAL OCCASIONS”.

Here’s that picture again, seen through a ‘Rick Damelian Simulator’.

Fully sick! There’s a fully licensed restaurant here! Rick should have had a Red-P licensed restaurant for the kiddies too, but since they weren’t customers, no dice. I set off the building’s alarm taking this photo, but I wasn’t exactly worried that Rick’s patrolians were coming to sort me out. Those guys don’t work for free.

It’s Ric’s Cafe! I’m guessing that by not calling it ‘Rick’s Cafe’, Rick was a. avoiding any copyright issues with Casablanca and b. liability free if anyone got sick, died or otherwise had an unpleasant dining experience. I like that the ‘N’ in ‘restaurant’ has come loose, giving it that dilapidated, derelict feel. I bet that happened when they shut the door on the last day. This was actually the first restaurant to be incorporated into an Australian car dealership’s premise. Guessing not too many caryards will be following the trend given how it worked out.

The weekly special at Rick’s Ric’s Cafe was a glass of white wine. Well, that IS special.

Rick (nor Ric) hasn’t got many customers today, but just in case business picks up, there’s more seating upstairs.

When the repo men came, they took the Ns first.

Here’s Rick’s Parts & Accessories office, complete with Rick’s trophy cabinet; much like the showrooms, it’s looking a little bare. Those flowers look very ‘with sympathies at this difficult time’, don’t they?

If your Rick Damelian needs service, you’d come here to get him fixed. Ricks generally run for about 40 years before they start to conk out, and when they do watch out: you don’t want to be around.

Dedicated to excellence is a mantra I can believe, because there sure isn’t anything else on this lot. Nice lounges in the waiting area; they’re presumably there for creditors, who’ll be waiting awhile.

Hey, congratulations Rick! Honda Dealer of the Year…no years running. Oh. Still, it’s no biggie – even Honda isn’t Honda Dealer of the Year these days.

When these showrooms eventually go, there’ll be little to remind Sydneysiders of the legitimate impact Rick made on the world of car sales. I propose that in recognition for all he’s done for motorists, the nearby footbridge over Parramatta Road should be renamed the Rick Damelian Overdraw – uh, I mean, Overpass.

Update: One year later, the fortune of Rick’s caryards has improved. Rick’s, on the other hand…

A. Singer Smash Repairs/Derelict – Strathfield, NSW

Why yes, this is the place I would go to to get my smashes repaired.

Marchants Ltd Soft Drink Makers/R.J. McWhinney Panel Beating – Bexley, NSW

Image courtesy Museum Victoria.

In 1886, British migrant George Marchant purchased a Brisbane ginger beer manufacturing plant. By 1890, Marchants was the largest soft drink business in Australia, with a product range including hop beer, soft drinks and cordial, and with plants in Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Newcastle and Sydney. Oh, and Bexley.

Let’s not beat around the bush – the building looks old. The Bexley depot of the Marchants soft drink empire may be a panel beater now, but it’s clear to see how it would have been back then. It looks like a horse and cart might explode from behind that door at any second in a frenzied rush to deliver kegs of creaming soda, just like in the olden days.

George Marchant was known for his strong belief in social equality, and women workers in his factories earned more than the average female wage in the food industry at the time. When the soft drink company’s registration was abandoned in 1917, the brand name was sold off and kicked around for decades between Pepsi, Shelleys, and ultimately Coca-Cola, which owns the brand today. Marchant himself died in 1941, by which time this site was long since out of the soft drink business. Hmm…I’m thirsty.