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ONE of Australia’s chief automotive figures and the man who played a key role in the success of car-maker Mazda, the survival of the Victorian Automotive Chamber of Commerce and amongst other achievements, the growth of water skiing in Australia, has died.

Max Kirwan Snr OAM, best known for Max Kirwan Mazda in Preston, was aged 96.

Mr Kirwan started his career in the automotive industry buying ex-Army trucks and became Australia’s biggest used truck dealer with more than 100 in his yards. To promote the business in trucks and cars, he auctioned vehicles over Melbourne’s high-rating 3UZ radio station.

He ran car dealerships in Fairfield and Coburg before buying Viscount Motors in Essendon in 1956 with a bank loan and took on Ford products. He saw the launch of the Australian-made Ford Falcon in 1962 as a time when “we sold every one we could get”, he told David Dowsey in a VACC interview.

He was offered another Ford franchise and tripled his Falcon sales, describing it as “a dream time.”

But the credit squeeze suddenly stopped all orders for the Falcon and, eventually, the bank foreclosed his business.

Max Kirwan

Undaunted, he opened used-car yards and then in 1968, became one of Australia’s first Mazda dealers. He quickly became Australia’s biggest Mazda dealer and today the business remains the biggest seller of the brand from a single site.

Around this time an advertising agency came up with the slogan “Good one, Max”. It remains as his calling card today.

In 1970 he was approached by radio station 3AW to host a show interviewing personalities – including Peter Bock, Alan Jones and Dick Johnson – and talking about the industry. 

The one-hour show – which lasted 23 years – took him two days to prepare and he wasn’t paid for his efforts, although it attracted interest in his car business.

Mr Kirwan was always active in community and business which the VACC said allowed him to lend his expertise and experience to drive positive change across all sectors of the automotive retail trade.

He was a long-serving member of the VACC’s Victorian Automobile Dealers Association, and served on the chamber’s executive board and board of management.

His board position led to him proposing and successfully finalising the sale in 1986 of the VACC Insurance Company for $58 million – funds that not only kept the VACC afloat in its early days but led to its current financial stability.

Mr Kirwan was an Order of Australia recipient and carried Commonwealth and Olympic Games torches. 

He was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1989 as a general member for his contribution to administration in the sport of water skiing.

He was responsible for developing water skiing through 40 years of involvement and was president of the Australian Water Ski Association for eight years between 1970-1978. 

In his VACC interview, Mr Kiwan attributed his achievements to mindset.

 “I have always been a community-minded person and have always contributed whatever I could from my income to community projects,” he said.

“I felt that if things needed doing, I would do them. I have always liked helping people and I have done that my whole life, as my history of awards will show.”

The VACC said of Mr Kirwan: “Many dealers owe a debt of gratitude to Max Kirwan. An innovator and entrepreneur before the terms were freely bandied about, a sharp mind and a true celebrity who had time for everyone. Max Kirwan: Man, father, grandfather, husband, friend, boss, mentor, legend, gentleman. Good one, Max!”

The celebration of the life of Max Kirwan Snr OAM will be held on Monday April 4 at 11.00am at The Centre Ivanhoe 275 Upper Heidelberg Road Ivanhoe 3079

By Neil Dowling

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