First introduced by the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board (MMTB) in 1923, Melbourne's once ubiquitous W-class electric trams have long been a familiar local icon. Between 1923 and 1956 some 756 W-class trams were built in eight series to a variety of design variations, with three-quarters constructed at the MMTB's Preston workshops.
Intended from the outset as a standard design to replace the ageing cable trams and to extend early municipal electric tram services in Melbourne's transport system, the distinctive form of the W-class trams had its origins in a small batch of 21 trams built by Duncan & Fraser of Adelaide for the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Trust (PMTT) in 1913-14. Although loosely referred to as 'Californian combination' style trams, the defining W-class layout, with a combination of open-seated drop-centre section and two enclosed end saloons, appears to have first evolved in Australia. The design proved ideally suited to Melbourne's ever-changing weather and reflected the popular cable trams with their open 'dummy' or grip car and enclosed saloon trailer.
Originally painted in the former PMTT's chocolate and cream paint-scheme, the green and cream colours which came to typify W-class trams were introduced in 1925 to complement Melbourne's tree-lined boulevards and remained standard until after the formation of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (the MET) in 1983. Between 1978 and the early 1990s some 35 older W-class trams were repainted as colourful public art works commissioned from leading Victorian artists in the popular Transporting Art program. In 1994 a distinctive new colour scheme of burgundy, cream and gold was unveiled for the W-class trams refurbished to run the new City Circle tourist route.