Our heritage

The RACV Heritage Collection shows how pioneering initiatives and services have responded to the needs of Victorians since 1903

RACV has been serving the Victorian community since 1903. In that time RACV has built a collection of memorabilia ranging from historic photographs and vehicles to a trove of wonderful stories.

RACV held a series of reliability trials, known as the Alpine Trials between 1921-1926. They were not about outright speed, but rather tested the reliability and efficiency of cars under the challenging Australian motoring conditions. Thirty-one competitors started in the first Alpine Trial in November 1921, setting off from the Haymarket, Melbourne with twenty-nine vehicles crossing the finish line 7 days later. The route through North-Eastern Victoria was relatively unknown, and the trials generated nation-wide publicity for the area.

Strict rules governed the contest, with points lost even for mechanical issues, which included simply raising the bonnet of the car. Penalties were also enforced for any adjustments and repairs. At the end of the first Trial RACV declared, “the Club has little doubt that the Alpine section of the route selected for this trial will, in the near future, become the premier motoring tour of the State.” The 2021 running will mark the centenary of the Alpine Trials, with a historical trial organised by RACV and the Vintage Drivers Club.

Image credit: Dodge rolled, Mt St Bernard Hill Climb, Alpine Trial, gelatin silver print, November 1921. RACV Heritage Collection.


Car rolled on Alpine Trails

RACV provided services to members and Victorians from the outset, with an emphasis on delivering value though its motoring expertise. In 1908 Club volunteers treated 150 children from Melbourne’s hospitals and orphanages to a seaside outing at Aspendale. The day’s entertainment included Punch and Judy shows, pony rides, games and races, followed by refreshments at the Aspendale Chalet. When RACV suspended all touring and motor sports during World War One, the only event not dropped was the annual children’s picnic.

Its Volunteer Motor Corps service during World War One was the reason the then Automobile Club of Victoria (ACV) was granted its Royal prefix, a symbol of the appreciation of the Commonwealth. Members volunteered their time and vehicles to collect returning soldiers and nurses from ships at Princes Pier, Port Melbourne. By war’s end, 93,330 returnees had been transported in all weather. It was a monumental task for a membership of only 1400 men and women. This commitment to helping returned service personnel is maintained more than 100 years later as RACV staff and members volunteer to drive veterans to and in the Anzac Day March.

Image credit: RACV volunteer transport unit members transporting soldiers to the Caulfield Military Hospital during World War Two.


Member calls for help on the front cover of the RACV magazine Royalauto from 1955

RACV’s first magazine was published in 1922 as a supplement to The Australian Motorist. Three years later a full monthly journal was launched, simply called R.A.C.V. With beautiful hand-illustrated jazz-age covers, it contained popular regular columns such as A Glance Beyond the Bonnet, with motoring news by Wayfarer. In 1928 it was re-named the Royal Auto Journal.

The Radiator, a black-and-white publication in newspaper format, arrived in 1936. According to the historian Graeme Davison, its national war-time circulation was second only to the Australian Women’s Weekly. It published essential advice on topics such as the use of alternative fuels during petrol rationing. In 1953 a new full-colour magazine, Royalauto, was launched and has since transformed into the current bimonthly member magazine RA, published in print and online.

Image credit: Royalauto cover detail, May 1955, depicting a member calling for roadside assistance.

Departments and services

A hotel is featured on the front cover of the RACV Accommodation Guide, 1961

The Heritage Collection contains RACV’s corporate records. It’s a fascinating account of services provided to members since 1903, including transport planning and advocacy, driver training, technical assistance, home and vehicle emergency assistance, insurance, finance, home security, leisure services, radio broadcasts, print publications and many more.

One of the earliest services established for members had benefits right across the community. The Touring Department was formed in 1914, and it was managed by George Broadbent, the famous map maker. It co-ordinated the installation of direction signs on Victoria’s roads to aid travel outside Melbourne and it also compiled a list of well-run country hotels that catered to the motorist. George Broadbent’s Road and Touring Notes column in the monthly magazine advised members of scenic spots around the state, the best routes to take and the condition of the roads. From its inception, RACV encouraged motorists to get out and experience the diverse beauty of Victoria.

Image credit: Cover detail of the RACV Accommodation Guide, 1961

Emergency roadside assistance

RACV members receive roadside assistance on the front cover of Royalauto, February 1968

RACV commenced emergency roadside assistance in 1924. At the beginning the service consisted of four mechanics riding BSA motorcycles. They patrolled the main traffic routes in and out of the city during the week and the roads to the hills and the bay on Sundays, carrying their tools in sidecars. As well as having excellent mechanical knowledge, patrolmen were required to administer first aid if required. They dressed in a smart khaki uniform with royal blue collar and cuffs, a badged cap and gloves.

The size, scope and style of RACV's fleet of roadside assistance vehicles has changed greatly since then, but RACV still maintains a heritage fleet of 17 vehicles to reflect its history of assistance to members. The heritage fleet includes a 1937 Austin 7 coupe utility from the original patrol fleet of ‘little yellow vans’. Vehicles used for the Pilot Service, Traffic News Service, Driving School, On-site Vehicle Testing and even tow trucks are also included. They are regularly driven and displayed at RACV and heritage vehicle events.

Image credit: RoyalAuto cover detail, February 1968, showing a patrolman (driving a Holden EJ panel van) assisting members.