A pioneering vehicle air conditioning specialist and VASA member, Graeme Nathan, one of a long line of Nathans who were prominent in the early Victorian auto industry, died recently in Melbourne, after a long battle with health issues.
The family patriarch was Graeme’s grandfather, Myer Nathan, a savvy engineer, who owned a large dealership in Elizabeth Street before the outbreak of the second world war, selling Buicks and other American cars, as well as operating a mechanical workshop with more than 80 staff covering panel beating, upholstery and mechanical repairs.
Myer Nathan’s brother and sister, Sol and Essie, established a smash repair and mechanical workshop near Victoria Markets around 1940, but around 1965, all the family enterprises were combined into one business in auto repair and servicing, using the name E & S Henron, in William Street, Abbotsford.
It was Myer Nathan who saw a future in vehicle air conditioning but other family members were reluctant, claiming that air conditioning was for houses, not motor cars.
He eventually won them over, and it wasn’t long before E & S Henron became the go-to workshop for air conditioning installation in all types of vehicles, and, more importantly, for their ability to fix poorly installed or mis-matched systems. They had little competition in the early 1970s, the most prominent of them being Marlandaire, another significant pioneer.
Graeme Nathan always believed that Henron was one of the first workshops in Victoria to install an under-dash air conditioning unit in the 1960s. The car was a Pontiac. Myer Nathan had sourced the parts, including a York compressor in America, but, as Graeme put it, ‘We couldn’t Google how to install it, so we had to phone suppliers in America to figure it out.’
Interviewed in 2018 for the VASA history project, Graeme recalled Henron’s beginnings in air conditioning, installing two or three systems a week. At the peak, they had eight bays with separate charging stations, with eleven staff working around the clock and the workshop booked out weeks in advance. Among Melbourne’s dealerships, Henron earned a reputation for being able to fit the most difficult cars, buses and trucks with air conditioning.
In 1984, Graeme took the name Henron Air Conditioning and for a time ceased mechanical repair to concentrate on air conditioning repair and installs, as well as running a parts warehouse for driers, hoses, condensers and fans.
Graeme was admitted as an associate of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE Australasia) in 1972 and as a senior member of the Institute of Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineers of Victoria in 1974. He also completed an RMIT course in industrial air conditioning so that he could learn more about evacuation, charging and refrigerant types.
Between the closure of the Henron business in 2004 and about 2014, Graeme worked for former business friends on compressor repairs.