History of Austin

Austin imageHerbert Austin, founder of the Austin Motor Company, was born 8th November 1866 at Grange Farm, Little Missenden, Buckinghamshire. His family moved to Wentworth, Yorkshire where his father was appointed farm bailiff on Earl Fitzwilliam's estate. He was educated at Wentworth School, Rotherham Grammar School and Brampton Commercial College.

His mother secured an engineering apprenticeship for him with a firm in Melbourne, Australia, which he took up in 1884. After working for a number of companies he was invited by Frederick Wolseley to work for the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Company. He was so successful that he was offered the post of manager of their British operations, which he accepted and returned to England in 1893. Kellyís Directory for Birmingham, 1894, names Herbert Austin as Inspector of the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Co. Ltd., 58Ĺ, Broad Street.

While working for Wolseley he built 2 experimental tri-cars, the first in 1895 and the second in 1896. This second car was exhibited at the Crystal Palace exhibition of that year.

The first 4 wheel Wolseley was built in 1899. This car was entered for the Automobile Club of Great Britainís 1,000-mile trial in 1900 and took first prize. In 1901 the Wolseley Tool and Motor Company, with financial backing from the Vickers Armaments concern, was founded at Adderley Park with Austin as its manager. In 1905 Austin resigned from the Company in order to start his own company the Austin Motor Company.

Austin had identified a suitable site for his factory while working for Wolseley's. The site, seven miles from Birmingham, was at Longbridge. It was well served by road and rail with ample room for future expansion. Finance for the company was provided by: Austin, Frank Kayser of Kayser, Ellison and Company, and Harvey du Cros of the Dunlop Rubber Company. Although the purchase of the site and buildings actually took place on 26th January 1906, Austin had already installed himself and his staff in the empty buildings and was at work well in advance of that date. The reason for this was that Austin wanted to exhibit at the Olympia Motor Show in November 1905. One of Harvey du Crosís businesses: Du Cros Mercedes Limited, allowed Austin to use part of their stand to promote the fledgling company. Austin and his draughtsmen, armed with blueprints, generated considerable interest and managed to secure a number of firm orders.

When the first accounts for the company were published in October 1906 the net turnover for the company was £14,772 with 23 cars being sold: mainly 25/30's with a few 15/20's. By the following year the net turnover was nearly £100,000 and 147 sold. Austin enjoyed some small success during this period: the first car produced was entered in the 1906 Scottish Reliability Trial, and made a 3 day non-stop run. The second car built won the 100 guineas Dunlop Challenge Cup in the Irish Reliability Trial. Also in this year the 15/20 model had its bore increased by 1/8" and became the 18/24.

A private limited liability company was formed in 1908 by Austin, Kayser and du Cros with turnover going up to £119,744 and 254 cars sold. The 18/24 remained but the 25/30 got bored out to become the 40. Other manufacturers were making 6 cylinder engines, Austin could not ignore this development so he added 2 extra cylinders to the 40 and so the 60 was born.

1909 saw the introduction of a smaller, cheaper engined car: the 15. The 15 was unusual in that the driver sat centrally and above the engine. The 15 continued in production until 1919.

By 1910 nearly 1,000 workers were employed at Longbridge and a night shift was found to be necessary.

The 10 was announced at the Motor Show of 1910. This was another small, cheap model aimed at the Continental market, and made available in Britain in 1911. 1910 also saw the introduction of a very small, single cylinder engined model 7. Only 1 model 7 was built at Longbridge before production was transferred to the Swift Works in Coventry, a company owned by Harvey du Cros.

The Company successfully diversified into marine engines and also produced a 2/3 ton lorry in 1913.

In February 1914 the Company went into public ownership, the capitalisation realising £250,000.

The first car was a conventional 5 litre four cylinder model with chain drive with about 200 being made in the first five years. In World War I Austin grew enormously with government contracts for everything from artillery to aircraft and the workforce expanded from around 2,500 to 22,000.

After the war Herbert Austin decided on a one model policy based around the 3620 cc 20 hp engine and versions included cars, commercials and even a tractor but sales volumes were never enough to fill the vast factory built during war time and the company went into receivership in 1921 but rose again after financial restructuring. To expand the market smaller cars were introduced with the 1661 cc Twelve in 1922 and later the same year the Austin 7, an inexpensive, small and simple car and one of the earliest to be directed at a mass market. At one point it was built under licence by the fledgling BMW (as the Dixi) and Datsun, as well as Bantam in the U.S., and as the Rosengart in France.

A largely independent United States subsidiary operated under the name American Austin Car Company from 1929 to 1934; it was revived under the name "American Bantam" from 1937 to 1941.

With the help of the Seven Austin weathered the worst of the depression and remained profitable through the 1930s producing a wider range of cars which were steadily updated with the introduction of all-steel bodies, Girling brakes, and synchromesh gearboxes but all the engines remained as side valve units. In 1938 Leonard Lord joined the company board and became chairman in 1941 on the death of Herbert (now Lord) Austin.

During the Second World War Austin continued building cars but also made trucks and aircraft. The post war car range was announced in 1944 and production of it started in 1945.

The immediate post war range was mainly similar to that of the late 1930s but did include the 16 hp significant for having the companies first overhead valve engine.

In 1952 Austin merged with the Nuffield Organisation (parent company of Morris) to form the British Motor Corporation (later British Leyland) with Leonard Lord in charge. Austin were the dominant partner and their engines were adopted for most of the cars. With the threat to fuel supplies resulting from the 1956 Suez Crisis Lord asked Alec Issigonis to design a new small car and the result was the revolutionary Mini launched in 1959. The principle of a transverse engine with gearbox in the sump and driving the front wheels was carried on to larger cars with the 1100 of 1963, the 1800 of 1964, the Maxi of 1969, the Allegro of 1973 and the Metro of 1980.

Austin automobile and engine designs were copied by the fledgling Nissan of Japan. That company produced Austin-derived models into the early 1960s.

In 1982, the by now greatly shrunk British Leyland company was renamed Austin Rover Group, with Austin acting as the "budget" brand. However, the continuing bad publicity associated with build and rust problems on the Metro, Maestro and Montego models meant that the badge was dropped, and the last Austin-badged car was built in 1987.

The rights to the Austin badge passed to BMW when they bought the Austin Rover Group and were subsequently sold to MG Rover. Following their collapse and sale the name is now owned by Nanjing Automobile Group along with Austin's historic assembly plant in Longbridge. At the Nanjing International Exhibition in May 2006, Mr Wang of Nanjing announced that the Austin name would be used on some of the revived MG Rover models, at least on the Chinese market.

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