Motor maverick

HE introduced American automobiles to WA, sold the state’s first petrol-driven car and helped found what is now the RAC, but not many people will have heard of Claude Deane.

Inglewood author Graeme Cocks’ new biography Claude Deane: Western Australia’s Motor Dealer Extraordinaire, shines an overdue light on the man who was WA’s biggest car importer and went on to lose it all.

Cocks says Mr Deane led a colourful life that included madcap stunts like riding a motorised tricycle across the outback.

“He was sort of an outsider and that’s why nothing has been written about him,” Cocks says.

“I was researching a car, an Oldsmobile that was being restored here.

“The owner had asked me to find the true history, which led me to Claude Deane, and I just became obsessed.

“I found that his remarkable life had many twists and turns, ending in virtual obscurity. It was a story I had to tell.


“He laid the foundations of the motor industry but there is not even a plaque acknowledging his contribution. His story has never been told until now.”

Deane was born in Melbourne in 1871 and moved to WA in 1897, during the state’s gold rush. He died aged 74 in Cape Town, South Africa in 1945.

Cocks says Mr Deane’s nomadic lifestyle made research problematic, but he managed to track down his grandson Richard Deane and family member Tanya Insley, who had saved boxes that were heading to the skip, after her mother passed away.

“They were full of Claude’s notebooks; all sorts of records and great stories,” the author says.

Cocks also managed to source information on Mr Deane from the Battye Library, the State Records Office and the WA Museum.

Last week the book was launched at Shacks Holden in Fremantle, with attendees including Mr Deane’s relations who flew in from Cape Town, Queensland and Melbourne.

The Fremantle dealership is run by Doug Carr, who owns one of Mr Deane’s original cars.

Deane’s first motor business was opened in Fremantle almost 120 years ago, and Shacks will shortly celebrate its centenary.

“Shacks is pretty much the oldest new car dealer in WA and Claude was the first car dealer,” Cocks says.

Claude Deane: Western Australia’s Motor Dealer Extraordinaire is available from


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