Personal | Melba’s Cars
Throughout the years, people have claimed to own a vehicle belonging to Melba. While this section does not claim to have information on every vehicle Melba owned, there are several that have been clearly identified as belonging to Melba. Anyone who has any additional information is welcome to contact us. Her cars included a Russell, Pierce-Arrow, Renault, Fiat and Rolls Royce. We know she also owned a Cadillac and possibly a second Pierce Arrow.
Melba’s Cars Gallery
The only information we have about the Russell car is from an undated press clipping which says the car was imported from America and given to Melba by her father David Mitchell.
It is a 30hp 1910 model. New Russell vehicles cost $1375 in 1910 according to its owner a dairy farmer Leo Dwyer from Newry near Sale. Dwyer discovered the car under a boxthorn hedge at Heyfield eight miles from Newry. He recovered the back axle from a car trailer at Bairnsdale.
In 2012 Sandra Hoffman from Vancouver, Canada contacted our website with information about the Russell:
The 30 HP Russell (Model R, 5 passenger Touring) built in 1910 is the same car as I drive. The 1910 models came in Royal Blue or dark Red with black or red leather upholstery.
Russell Motorcars were built in Canada at what was then called “Toronto Junction”, now the Greater Toronto Area (G.T.A.), in Ontario, by the Canada Cycle & Motor Company or C.C.M. (The famous skate and bicycle manufacturer). The company hand built luxury cars between 1905 and 1915, manufacturing about 5 different models in 1910. The most desirable of these was the 5 passenger touring, which provided ample room for 3 passengers in the rear seat and room for a chauffeur and another passenger (or mechanic) in the front. The cars were all right hand drive as Canada drove on the right as a British Colony until the mid 1920’s.
The cars were imported and sold in Australia by the Canada Cycle and Motor Agency dealers in Melbourne and Brisbane. See attached Ads. Nellie’s car was likely purchased at the dealer which was closest to where her family resided at the time.
Sandra agreed to allow us to include photos of her car. Sandra can be contacted on: Ms. Sandra Hoffman,Vancouver, Canada. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
The one Melba vehicle with plenty of documentation is her 1911 Pierce Arrow. Purchased in the United States of America while she was on tour in 1913, Melba’s chauffeur drove her around the country. When she returned to Britain and Europe, the car went with her.
Melba left for Australia just prior to the outbreak of World War I and the car stayed in Paris where the French Government commandeered it for the soldiers. The vehicle was returned to Melba who in 1918 shipped it back to Melbourne. We are presently trying to identify the vehicles below which we believe is Melba’s Pierce Arrow.
Apparently it was in such poor condition that she gave it to the fire brigade in 1919. The back was cut down and hoses and machinery installed. Staff at the North Melbourne Fire Brigade in Cuzon St always referred to it as the Melba Pump. In 1933 the brigade auctioned off the vehicle.
It surfaced again in 1978 when a Lakes Entrance car museum put it up for sale and the Melbourne Fire Brigade Historical Society purchased it.
In 1988, the society was appealing for community donations for the restoration estimated to cost about $30,000. Today, it is a proud exhibit at the Fire Brigade Museum at Eastern Hill.
References: News Diary by Bob Millington, The Age, Friday, October 1, 1988, pg2.
Royalauto October 1996 pg 7
Dame Nellie Melba ordered the 1909 Renault directly from Louis Renault in December 1908. The vehicle has an impressive history. (1)Alford & Alder fitted the luxurious body in England in 1909 in the Roi des Belges style. The car is 4 cylinder 4 speed transmission. Tenor Enrico Caruso was one if its first passengers.
Nellie drove Oscar Hammerstein from the docks to his hotel in London in 1910. In 1911 in the Renault, Melba attended the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary as one of the honoured guests.
In 1910 Melba lent the care to the famous Russian Impressario Sergei Diaghilev who used to drive Vaslav Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova and Michel Fokine to rehearsals. Ballet Russes owes a lot to the car. Melba bought the car to Australia in 1911. George Williams owned the Renault in 1980. (2) Mr Williams told Peter Mahoney of the Sun-Herald Sydney that the car was discovered on a Mitchell property just outside Lithgow 1968. Mr Williams restored the vehicle. Its maroon duco was adorned with gold leaf. The Renault cruises at 40 mph and in 1980 had done less than ½ million miles.
The veteran was put on display at the Sydney Opera House in 1978 and took part in the 1980 Cartier Prestige Oblige et Concours d’Elegance at the Sydney Showgrounds on August 23 and 24,1980. The event raised funds for the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, now The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. By 1991, the Renault was owned by the Mostert family from Perth and the following year 1992, it was displayed at the Metropolitan Opera in America.
(1) Information courtesy Sandy Ross from owner Louis L. Mostert.
(2) Sun-Herald newspaper Sydney August 10, 1980.
Fiat 519 S
In 2006 Dr Georg Prugger from Brassanone Italy purchased Melba’s Fiat. The car, a Fiat 519 S with a rare Torpedo Special and body (Chassis no. 920392 and engine no. 910441), was built in 1924. According to Dr Prugger Melba purchased the car but later gave it to her brother Charlie Mitchell. The car was registered in the tate Victoria with the plate number 3213. After World War II the car was found in a big Australian farm and restored.
In the 1990s the car was sold by an auction to the dealer Mr Compter in New Zealand. There was a succession of owners: Compter sold the car to a Mr Trampe in Holland who sold it to Mr Lindner in Austria in 1998. Dr Prugger purchased the car from Lindner in December 2006. In 2007 he restored the engine and many other mechanical parts and now the car is in a good running order and registered with the Austrian plate number IL 492 Fl. Dr Prugger was invited by the Fiat Company to present the car in Torino in May 2008 in the “Concorso di Eleganza” for the most beautiful and famous Fiats ever build.
Dr Georg Prugger, Bressanone Italy
The following information about Melba’s Rolls Royce, a 1911 Silver Ghost 1500 Barker landaulette,has been supplied by David Neely and is from the book Rolls-Royce and Bentley in the Sunburnt Country by Tom Clarke and David Neely:
Chassis number 1500, engine number 1, off test in January 1911, owned by the eminent opera singer Dame Nellie Melba (nee Mitchell, 1861 – 1931). The great diva spent much of her professional life in England where she became friendly with Claude Johnson, the managing director of Rolls-Royce Ltd, and sometimes stayed with him and his family at his country home ‘Villa Vita’ near Kingsdown in Kent.
She took delivery of 1500 at the Ritz Hotel in London and soon took it to her home, ‘Coombe Cottage’ near Lilydale, Vic., in 1911 reg – VIC-4-949 (The Leader 30 Dec. 1911). It was fitted from new with Barker D-fronted landaulette coachwork. In 1913 she used it in Paris and it was in England to 1921 and again reported there with Melba to Oct. 1926 as an open tourer. (Dame Nellie also had a Franklin limousine from 1916 in Australia.); J. R. Hartley, Melb.; claimed owned by Hugh Victor McKay (agriculturalist, 1902-66, son of the founder of the Sunshine harvester works, Hugh V. McKay (1865 – 1926), H. V. McKay Pty Ltd), ‘Deepwater’, Matong, via Wagga Wagga, N.S.W., 1930; Keith Condon, Wagga Wagga, 1937; and as a hearse with Mr Rouston, Wagga Wagga, 1940; now believed scrapped.
Reference: Extract from ‘Rolls-Royce and Bentley in the Sunburnt Country’ by Tom C Clarke and David R Neely, Published by The Sir Henry Royce Foundation, Australia, Sydney 1999.