Shacks turns 100

• Shacks Fremantle in the mid 1920s

• Shacks Motor Group managing director Jodi Kerr with her father and chairperson Doug.

They were the first kerb side petrol bowser in Fremantle in 1923, the first General Motors dealer south of the river in 1934, and now Shacks will celebrate 100 years in Fremantle with a new service centre at its historic Queen Victoria Street dealership.

Shacks has teamed up with service giants ACDelco so it can service a much wider range of makes and models, as well as the trusty old Holden, at its Fremantle site.

“Now under one roof, trained technicians using quality Holden Genuine and all-makes ACDelco parts are able to service the needs of not just Holden owners, but also the motoring needs of most vehicle owners in the Fremantle and wider area,” says Paul Rietveld, aftersales director for General Motors ANZ. 

“We anticipate there will be a growing demand for all-makes servicing as the average age of vehicles increases and they are no longer covered by brand-specific scheduled servicing agreements.

“ACDelco all-makes products have an excellent reputation for quality and affordability, so it’s logical that customers are demanding the use of ACDelco for their vehicle servicing requirements.”

Shacks has been on the corner of James and Queen Victoria Streets for 98 years, and is almost like an unofficial entry statement for Fremantle, woven into the very fabric of the port city.

Shacks was the inaugural sponsor of the Dockers, is a long standing supporter of South Fremantle, East Fremantle and junior football clubs, and is the longest running member of the Fremantle Chamber of Commerce, joining in 1923.

More recently it reaffirmed its commitment to the local community by allowing parts of its Fremantle site to be used for drive-through covid testing.

The origins of the business can be traced back to “Andy” Charles Shack, who opened a small automotive repair shop, Shacks Garage, in Adelaide Street in Freo in 1922.

With the help of a single assistant, he supplied petrol from the first electric kerb-side petrol pump to be installed in Fremantle. 

• Jack has worked in the Shacks service department since 1989.

• A service station on Queen Victoria Street, just down from Shacks, in the mid 1940’s

In those days, petrol supplies were purchased in four-gallon tins and emptied by hand into a safe underground storage tank. 

With business booming, Andy moved to 59 Queen Victoria Street (where Gesha Coffee is now) and apparently if you look closely you can still see traces of the building’s history in the rafters.

1934 was a game changer for Shacks – Andy signed an agreement with General Motors to be their approved dealer in WA – and Pat Kerr come onboard as a mechanic.

It was the start of a close relationship between the Shack and Kerr families and Pat would later go on to become a partner and director of the business.

Shacks cemented their place in automobile history when they became the first Holden dealer south of the river in 1948 – a brand they would become synonymous with – and the rest as they say is history.

Shacks Motor Group managing director Jodi Kerr – the third generation of the family to head up the group – says their life-long customers and employees are like one big family.

“One of our customers, Dr Baker, purchased every vehicle he ever owned from Shacks in Fremantle,” Ms Kerr says.

“His first purchase was a Chevrolet in 1928, with his last purchase being a RB Gemini in 1998. In between these purchases was a new car every 2-3 years.

“We have a number of life-long employees, including Bruce Tschirpig who started as a salesman in 1974, and continues to be 

an important part of our team, working to maintain customer relationships. Bruce sold over 6,700 vehicles to local and business customers, many whom he considers ‘friends’. Of the Shacks Motor Group 100 staff base, a large proportion has spent most, if not all, of their career with us.

“The Holden pylon sign is frequently used as a backdrop for social media posts for owners of Holden, HSV and classic cars. It is an import part of the history of Fremantle and Australian car manufacturing.”

Ms Kerr enjoyed a baptism of fire when she took over as MD in July 2020, just a few months after GM announced they were discontinuing the Holden brand in Australia and in the midst of the covid pandemic.

• The new Shacks ACDelco service centre.

• The release of the EH Holden in the Queen Victoria Street showroom in 1963.

But Shacks are no stranger to adversity, having already seen off some big hitters over the years like World War II, the Great Depression and the 2008 global financial crisis.

In 2020 they responded quickly by diversifying – opening a Volkswagen dealership in Rockingham and making the Queen Victoria Street-site a GM and GM Speciality Vehicles dealership and expanding their service centre to a wider range of cars.

“Only a handful of companies last 100 years,” Ms Kerr says.

“Resilience, innovation and a hard-earned reputation to always do the right thing have played a huge role in how we have survived a world war, a great depression and this current global pandemic. We have proven success in adapting to the many changes in the automotive industry over the years.”

Shacks has always kept up with the times –  in 2012 it was the first WA distributor of the GM electric Vehicle Volt, and remains the only dealership in WA and NT that has the expertise to service these vehicles. So, are electric cars going to be the next big thing?

EV technology

“Customers have a loud voice and heavy influence,” Ms Kerr says. “Currently around one per cent of vehicles sold in Australia are electric vehicles. These customers have invested in EV technology without access to significant charging infrastructure. Within the next two years, there will be a larger range of choice/brands/models. There is no doubt that EV vehicles sales will explode. Most manufacturers have a target of 2035 or earlier to move to 100 per cent production of passenger EV’s away from internal combustion engines.”

But right now Ms Kerr is getting ready for the family day grand opening of the Shacks ACDelco service centre in Fremantle on Saturday October 15 from 9am-1pm, with lots of events including a car show, jumping castle, “beat the heat” with police cars, and a coffee van. 

“Technology, electric vehicles, global pandemics and conflicts will continue to challenge how we do business. But the fundamentals of how to run a successful business don’t change,” Ms Kerr says.

“Shacks Motor Group remains a family business, with members of the Shack and Kerr families leading the business, still with the same care for customers, staff and community.”

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