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CoolDrive: 100 Years of Automotive Heritage

21 Nov, 2018

Few privately-owned Australian companies can boast four generations of the one family in the same industry for a century … but CoolDrive can.

CoolDrive Auto Parts is today one of Australia’s largest suppliers of automotive air-conditioning, engine cooling, engine management, rotating electrical, accessories and workshop products to the automotive and related trades.

Foundations were laid 100 years ago in 1918, when current Chief Executive Officer John Blanchard’s grandfather, Jack Blanchard, commenced the journey for the Blanchard family into the automotive industry with the purchase of Mac’s Motors in Clifton Hill. 

The garage was located opposite the Clifton Hill railway gates, and this was to play a major part in the future of the family as in 1956 the Country Roads Board (CRB) compulsorily acquired the family garage to construct a railway overpass.

CEO John Blanchard’s father and Jack’s son W.J (John), known to everyone in the business today simply as Senior, was born in 1934 and commenced working for his father as an apprentice mechanic after leaving school when he was 14 years old. 

Jack always said that his son John actually started working when he could walk, as the family home was next to the garage with a connecting door; and what better playground than a large garage actively repairing motor cars!

What was originally Mac’s Motors had its name changed to ABC Motors when Jack’s business acumen saw him keen to become the first place a motorist would consider for their automotive needs, ensuring placement at the front of the phone book - a stroke of genius that secured its ongoing success.

During the Second World War, Jack’s wife Sylvia also operated a private hire car service from the Clifton Hill garage and is thought to be one of the first registered female taxi drivers in Victoria.

W.J left the family business when the garage was acquired by the CRB and struck out on his own.

“After working in the family business with my father it was a tough call to suddenly be working for bosses outside,” W.J admits now.

“I worked firstly with VW Australia as Service Manager, then as Service Manager for Kenworth in Preston, then with Regent Motors marketing Land Rovers, then on to being a Sales Engineer with Girling Brakes.

“This gave me broad experience right across the spectrum of the motor industry and has stood the family well since then.”

In 1960 John Blanchard was born to W.J and wife Shirley and by 1973 the family found itself in Malaysia as W.J obtained a three year contract to work with Inchcape where he was Project Manager for the assembly services division in Shah Alam.

During this period in Malaysia, W.J was involved with the fitting of air conditioners to imported cars.

Such was the humid climate in Malaysia that the cars were being imported 50 at a time without any heating equipment and the instruction was to fit air conditioners in place of heaters; they were fitting perhaps 200 cars a day at the factory. 

After the three year contract expired, W.J and the family returned to Australia and with the opportunity to sell the Unicla air-conditioning products with which he had been working with in Malaysia.

Starting the business at home, with Shirley working from the kitchen table taking orders and W.J. doing deliveries from the garage which doubled as a storage unit, Melbourne Auto Air (as it was then known) quickly grew.

In the years that followed, the Blanchard family dedicated themselves to the task and soon W.J. was joined at the helm by son John W, now CEO. In turn his son Tim, great-grandson of Jack Blanchard, came on board as well and is now the General Manager of Marketing.

From its original focus on passenger car air-conditioning equipment and expertise, the business that eventually came to be called CoolDrive quickly expanded into a variety of other automotive-related sectors, such as rotating electrical, including alternators and starter motors, engine cooling, underbody and accessories.

CoolDrive then expanded further into electrical accessories, with a focus on “life-styling” customers’ vehicles for their chosen activity, such as driving lights, towing accessories, dash cams, safety gear, 4WD kits and more.

2016 saw the company initiate a new specialised area of growth when it significantly expanded its engine management parts and service offering, which was originally introduced in a small way in mid-2013.

The love for all things automotive extended to Motor racing which has always been a Blanchard family passion – in the DNA as they say.

W.J. is a long-time key figure in the Historic racing movement, and son John raced Formula Ford and Touring Cars very successfully.

His son Tim races too, originally in Formula Ford in which he claimed championship victory in 2007, and today at the highest level of the sport, Supercars, where the CoolDrive Commodore is run by Brad Jones Racing.

In a lovely gesture, Tim honoured his father at the recent Retro Round at the Sandown 500, when the CoolDrive Commodore was represented in the distinctive colours John’s BMW wore in 1993, his only full season in Touring Cars.

Wearing the yellow-and-red of that memorable year rather than the traditional blue-and-white CoolDrive colours, the re-livered Commodore was a proud moment for the father and son racers.

“It’s pretty special to honour my Dad’s time in Touring Cars. The livery resonated with a lot of older fans which of course is what the Retro Round was all about. To have Dad come back from overseas early to see the car race was pretty cool,” Tim Blanchard said.

John Blanchard was certainly moved by Tim’s tribute.

“It brought back a lot of memories and I was really proud to see Tim honouring that time. I had no idea he was doing it, I was completely shocked when I received the mockup, it was one of those ‘wow’ moments.”

Last year CoolDrive celebrated 40 years in operation, and then this year changed its name to CoolDrive Auto Parts, to better reflect its area of speciality and in recognition of its long-standing focus.

The Blanchard name is now one of the best-known in the automotive industry.

CEO John Blanchard recognises the importance of directing significant investment into developing its brand, its staff and its product offering, to provide customers with a comprehensive range of products complemented by expert advice from CoolDrive’s experienced team of professionals.

Today, CoolDrive Auto Parts distributes over 70,000 parts annually from all major automotive parts and accessory brands, including its own Jayair, Jayrad, Jaylec, HULK 4x4, Aunger and AFI labels.

And it can trace all of this back to roots in a humble Clifton Hill garage 100 years ago.


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