The dawn of the 1980s heralded a period in which Maughan Thiem’s reputation for delivering extremely high levels of customer service became cemented into the fabric of motoring in South Australia and beyond. Dr. Ian Forbes’ publication, which is contained in the first seven chapters of this website, was launched in July 1982.




The dawn of the 1980s heralded a period in which Maughan Thiem’s reputation for delivering extremely high levels of customer service became cemented into the fabric of motoring in South Australia and beyond. Dr. Ian Forbes’ publication, which is contained in the first seven chapters of this website, was launched in July 1982. It formed the basis for a lavish luncheon, held in the Ford showroom at Cheltenham on 14th July, to celebrate the first seventy years of the business. The stage was set when Miss South Australia, Sally-Ann Woolford, alighted from a beautifully-restored Model T Ford out the front of the dealership and was greeted by The Hon. David Tonkin, Premier of South Australia, Mr. Max Gransden, Director of Sales and Marketing at Ford Motor Company Australia and Mr. Bruce Thiem, Chairman of the Board of Maughan Thiem. Passing traffic along Port Road must have been fascinated to observe such a distinguished group arriving at the dealership.

The head table was graced by Premier David Tonkin, Mr. Max Gransden, Mr. Bruce Thiem, Mr. Roy Marten (Mayor of Port Adelaide), Mr. John Dyer (Mayor of Woodville), Mr. Ray Noack (State Manager of South Australian Automobile Chamber of Commerce), Mr. George Whitten (Member SA House of Assembly), Mr. Ion Ullett (Dealer Principal of Maughan Thiem), Mr. Don Jellis (General Manager of The St John Council of SA Inc.) and Mr. Walter Stamm (Managing Director of John Shearer Ltd.).

Scattered around the other tables were seated many guests, including these directors of Maughan Thiem – Mr. Maurice Thiem, Mr. Bruce McFarlane and Mr. Ray Hanrahan. Department heads of the company included Mr. Ian Murray Forbes (Company Secretary), Mr. Ken Evans (Fleet Manager), Mr. Leon Rodda (Service Manager), Mr. John Lahiff (Used Car Manager) and Mr. Mel Johnson (Government Fleet Manager). Also represented were several dealer principals of other Ford sites in Adelaide, including Mr. Adrian Brien (Adrian Brien Ford), Messrs Ken Babidge and Geoff Marshall (Fairway Ford), Mr. Bill Anschutz (Frontline Ford) along with many distinguished employees, suppliers, customers and associates of the business.

Once the guests were settled, and entrees had been consumed, The Premier rose to deliver his address. The audience was hushed as he began:

“Mr. Bruce Thiem, Mr. Ion Ullett, Mr. Max Gransden, member for Price (George Whitten), Mayor of Port Adelaide (Roy Marten), Mayor of Woodville (John Dyer) …… my job today is to propose a toast ……. a toast, to give it its formal title, to “SA Great – Our Future”.

“Those words typify the approach taken by this fine organization.

Maughan Thiem is one of those companies ….. and I’m glad to say we have several of them ….. which has the happy knack of running a highly professional business venture and which puts its backing and its muscle behind its State.

Maughan Thiem in the past 70 years has won an enviable reputation in South Australia. At the same time, its directors have never ignored the fact that, without a prosperous and energetic State, a company cannot prosper.

To put it another way, as far as South Australia is concerned, Maughan Thiem are patriots in the true sense of the word ….. and they’re proud of it. Maughan Thiem is a leading supporter of the “It’s Our State – SA Great” campaign, and I thank the company for that support.

I thank the company also for its obvious interest in the future of South Australia. While this is a day when nostalgia must play a certain part ….. as must occur at any anniversary celebration ….. I get the feeling that today we are very much looking forward to decades more of business leadership in South Australia.”

The Premier went on to lay out the plans that his government had for the future, making mention of his desire to grow job opportunities through local mining ventures and investment in South Australia. His appreciative audience applauded generously as he continued:

“Maughan Thiem has made a most significant contribution to the development of this State in the past, and I am sure will continue to do so in the future. With many other members of private enterprise, it will both contribute to, and benefit from the developments, large and small, which promise to transform South Australia during this and the next decade. I congratulate you on your magnificent achievements of the past 70 years. I wish you every possible success for the years to come. SA Great – Our Future.”

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As the formalities of the event drew to a close, the attendees mingled in the showroom for many hours afterwards. It was indeed a milestone in the history of the company and played an enormous part in energising staff morale and pride in the business.

A private company of such long standing, formed around its family founders, inevitably finds itself with a long list of shareholders in the business. Maughan Thiem Motor Company Pty. Ltd. was no different in this regard, with many of them living interstate. The register of shareholders as at 25th October 1982 showed a total of 33 names, of whom most were descendants or relatives of either the Maughan or the Thiem families.

This was the list of persons holding shares at that date:

Last Name First Name & Initials State Number of Shares
BEVAN Gillian SA 3,596
CHURCHES Marjorie C. SA 2,480
EY Anthony L. NSW 1,698
EY David E. QLD 1,697
EY Leonard C. SA 4,497
EY Michael H. QLD 1,697
FORBES Ian M. SA 705
HANRAHAN Raymond E. SA 1,040
HESS Helen M. NSW 1,040
JACKETT John G. NSW 1,040
LAHIFF John D. SA 520
MADDOCK Wendy J. VIC 1,842
MARTIN Andrea B. VIC 1,040
MAUGHAN Graham M. SA 3,225
McBRIDE Susan SA 3,596
McFARLANE Bruce F. SA 6,436
MITCHELL David A. VIC 1,842
MITCHELL Joyce B. VIC 3,340
MITCHELL Julie A. VIC 1,842
MITCHELL Ruth C. VIC 1,842
MITCHELL Sally J. VIC 1,842
PETHERICK Sybil F. SA 1,040
RICE Jennifer SA 3,596
SMALL Helen M. SA 3,200
STEVENSON Doris W. WA 2,480
THIEM Bruce M. SA 4,500
THIEM Gladys G. SA 12,780
THIEM Graham SA 1,376
THIEM Maurice SA 1,861
ULLETT Ion G. SA 3,825
ULLETT Margaret A. SA 3,720

On 24th November 1983 Mr Bruce Mayoh Thiem passed away. It had been just over one year earlier that he had attended the seventieth anniversary celebrations of the company, and his passing caused immense grief amongst staff and family members.

Mr Thiem, brother of Alfred Ross Thiem, was remembered as a quiet, stately gentleman who always dressed impeccably and who took a keen interest in the lives of those around him, in particular staff and long-standing customers of the business. At the start of every working day, Mr Thiem would request that a member of staff supply him with a list of names of those customers who had appointments at the dealership, and he would then make a point of greeting as many as possible in person as they arrived. This philosophy set the culture that would remain at the core of the Maughan Thiem business into the future. Mr Maurice Thiem, a son of Alfred Ross Thiem and a director since 10th April 1964, was appointed Chairman of the Board shortly after Mr Bruce Thiem’s death.

It is common practice for the vehicle manufacturers and importers to insist that their franchise holders appoint a Dealer Principal, such person being responsible for ensuring that the franchise agreement with the dealer is adhered to rigorously. The Dealer Principal must ensure, among other things, that new vehicle sales targets are met and that customers are treated in accordance with the highest of standards. Since the early 1970s the Dealer Principal of Maughan Thiem Ford had been Mr Ion Ullett. Ion had married Bruce Thiem’s daughter Margaret, and was a dynamic and innovative leader of the business, always ensuring that the principles and values set by the founders continued to be at the core of the firm’s daily activities.

Ion presided over some very difficult times for Maughan Thiem. New car sales had fallen dramatically in the latter part of the 1970s right up until the recession in the early 1980s, culminating in a group operating profit of only $2,392 (before tax) for the year ended 30th June 1980. Fortunately, the following year saw some improvement for the business, with sales of new vehicles for the 12 months to 30th June 1981 exceeding those of the previous financial year for the first time since 1975.

12 mo’s to 30th June




1983 1984 1985
New Vehicles Sold


684 701 869 995 1,115
Used Vehicles Sold


309 314 340 267 430

But it was becoming clear to the directors that, if the company were to thrive in the future, a radical restructure was necessary. More so than ever before, Ford Australia was insisting that the Dealer Principal needed to hold a majority shareholding. It was decided that Mr Ullett would work with the stakeholders to put in place a succession plan which would ensure that the next Dealer Principal would hold a majority shareholding, as well as being youthful and innovative.

Mr Bruce McFarlane had started his career with Maughan Thiem as a truck salesperson in the 1960s. After a short stint as a publican, he returned to the company and worked his way to the position of General Manager, eventually being appointed to the board of Maughan Thiem Motor Company Pty Ltd on 21st November 1980. Bruce had all the qualities required of a strong leader, and had formed a deep friendship with Ion over the years, both sharing a love of sailing and all things nautical. So it was a natural progression for Bruce to be seen as the next Dealer Principal.

At the same time as these plans were being put in train, the directors saw an opportunity to approach Ford Australia to make an offer to purchase the land and buildings currently being rented from Ford at 1011-1013 Port Road, Cheltenham. This site was seen as strategically important to the continued success of the firm, so it was decided that a portion of the funds required to buy the site would be raised through a share issue to Bruce McFarlane which would also have the effect of setting him up as a majority shareholder.

On the 27th of September 1984, Ion advised Ford Australia that he was retiring from the position of Dealer Principal and that he wished Bruce to be appointed in his place.

The plans to ensure that Bruce would hold a majority of shares meant that Ford’s requirement regarding equity in the business would be met. On the 1st of October 1984, the Regional Manager of Ford Australia, Mr Ken Turner, wrote back to Ion and said:

“You have had a long association with the motor industry in South Australia, and more particularly with Ford in Central Region in your capacity of Dealer Principal of Maughan Thiem over the past 12 years, and I thank you sincerely for your efforts during this period. Now that Bruce McFarlane has successfully acquired the majority shareholding in Maughan Thiem, I will immediately instigate your request formally appointing Bruce as Dealer Principal.”

On 6th November 1984 an issue of 87,500 ordinary $2.00 shares at a premium of $0.75 per share was made, with Bruce purchasing the entire allotment. Bruce’s appointment was formally notified to all Ford Dealer Principals in a letter from Mr Turner dated 14th of November 1984.

At a subsequent meeting of directors held on 28th March 1985 Mr Ion Gordon Ullett retired from the position of Managing Director. It was resolved at that meeting that Mr Bruce Fulton McFarlane be appointed Managing Director from that date, and a vote of thanks was passed for the significant contribution made to the running of the company by Mr Ullett during his term in office.

On 6th June 1985 settlement was effected on the purchase of the property at 1013 Port Road, Cheltenham from Ford Motor Company Australia Limited. With this final piece of the plan in place, the stage was set for Maughan Thiem to take on any challenge that would come its way.

Through 1984 and 1985 the federal Labor government was overseeing an ever-improving economy. Global economic growth was stabilizing and Prime Minister Bob Hawke was enjoying a large lead in the popularity stakes. The Hawke/Keating government was determined to set the scene for radical reform, and needed the economy to be strong. Aided by increases in government spending and private consumption, the Australian economy started to recover from the effects of the recession of the early 1980s.

Knowing that the time was right for launching the company to new heights, Bruce McFarlane set about the task of taking advantage of the new, prevailing optimism. Under the guidance of Ion Ullett, who retained his position on the board of directors, Bruce created many opportunities to raise the profile of the business as well as to grow its income and profitability. In particular, Bruce was a great believer in forging ties with local enterprises and associations and he worked tirelessly with them. He had big visions for the business now under his control, not the least of which was to partner with Javelin Auto Bodyworks and the St John Council to design and build an ambulance with a re-usable patient compartment. This was a great success and saved thousands of dollars for the Council, as well as ensuring many sales of F-series Ford utilities for Maughan Thiem. The fitouts of the ambulances were done in the Maughan Thiem panel shop. By the end of 1985 there were more than 80 Twinlife ambulances in service in South Australia. This enterprise resulted in Maughan Thiem, Javelin Auto Bodyworks and the St John Council being jointly recognized as winners of the 1985 Prince Philip Prize for Australian Design, awarded on Wednesday 12th March 1986. Bruce himself was recognised by the Time Magazine Quality Dealer Award national judging panel from the Australian National University in Canberra as the South Australian 1986 state recipient of the Time Magazine Award. This award stated that it was for Bruce’s achievements as a valued citizen in community affairs and for his outstanding performance as a franchised new Ford automotive dealer.

Bruce believed strongly in having an engaged and effective team around him. Since taking on the role of Dealer Principal he knew he needed a dynamic General Manager in his place.

John Deane Lahiff had been employed in the company since 6th of September 1976 in various sales roles, including Used Car Manager and New Car Sales Manager. John understood the business very well. He was appointed as General Manager by Bruce, and then appointed to the board of directors at the Annual General Meeting of Shareholders on 10th November 1987. In that same year, Raymond Edward Hanrahan retired from the position of Spare Parts Manager and was replaced by a youthful and dynamic Peter James Thomas. Ray had started with Maughan Thiem on 25th October 1943 and held a position on the board of directors until the mid 1990s. Peter was the Assistant Parts Manager and had begun his career with Maughan Thiem on 4th February 1974. Along with the Company Secretary Ian (Murray) Forbes, who had commenced his employment on 27th September 1973, the new-look management team of Bruce, John and Peter worked closely together to take advantage of every opportunity available. The financial year ended 30th June 1989 produced a record before-tax profit result, crashing through the one million dollar barrier for the first time in the history of the company.

Maughan Thiem Motor Company Pty Ltd and its subsidiaries saw out the 1980s in a state of high optimism with youthful vigour. The founders of the business would have been proud to see the position that it was in, and would have been excited by its future prospects. The next decade, however, was to bring with it even more challenges.