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Austin History

 The Beginning

 HERBERT AUSTIN, the founder of the Austin Motor Company, was born at Little Missenden, Buckinghamshire,

 on November 8th, 1866.

 

At the age of sixteen he went to Australia and first joined an uncle who was Works Manager of a Melbourne general engineering firm. During the following years he worked with six different engineering companies until, soon after his twenty-seventh birthday, he was asked by Frederick Wolseley, by whom he was then employed, to return to Birmingham, England, to supervise the manufacture of sheep shearing equipment. He accepted, and the firm prospered. In 1895 he built, as an experiment, a tiller-steered three wheeler car. A second followed in 1896 and this was exhibited at the Crystal Palace. The experiments continued and in 1900 he built and entered for the Automobile Club of Great Britain 1,000 Mile Trial, a four wheeler, with a horizontal single cylinder engine. It won first prize. In 190I the Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Company was founded at Adderley Park, Birmingham, and Herbert Austin was installed as Manager. Under his direction Wolseley cars of the next few years won international renown, but in the early summer of 1905 he resigned and looked for somewhere to start on his own.

 

After numerous exploratory cycle rides around Birmingham, he came to Longbridge, seven miles out of the city. There he found a small derelict printing works, which proved to be just what he wanted. Friends came forward with financial help and the Austin Motor Company was born.

 

On November 17th, 1905, the Motor Show opened at Olympia, and there Herbert Austin, complete with blue-prints, high hopes and enthusiasm, sought orders and got them. On paper, the first Austin was described as a 25-30 h.p. high class touring model with a 4 inch bore and a 5 inch stroke, magneto and coil ignition, a four speed gearbox, and a chain driven rear axle. Only the highest class of materials would be used in its construction and the supervision during manufacture would be such as to secure the best results. It was expected that the first model would be delivered at the end of March, 1906, at a list price of 650.

 

Before March, 1906, the car was ready for trial and, driven by Herbert Austin himself, left the assembly shop, reached the road and made a very successful run. Skilled workmen soon found their way to Longbridge and in the first full year 270 of them turned out 120 cars in the original 21 acre factory. Expansion and extensions followed and other cars were added to the range. Austin coachwork, with its large selection of Phaetons, Limousines and Landaulets, came to be admired and respected as much as the dependability of the chassis. Herbert Austin was thorough in everything. It is said of him at this time that he could do any job in his works, and that he knew the position of every machine.     

The Austin Motor Company - The first fifty years

There have been many stories written about the history of the Austin Motor Company, but in light of the approaching 100 year anniversary of the establishment of the Company,  the Company itself wrote on the occasion of its 50th Anniversary in 1955. The following is from the official literature released for the occasion. 

The Austin Motor Company - The first fifty years

The early years.

In 1908 three special 100 h.p. racers were built and entered for the French Automobile Grand Prix. Two of the cars driven by J. T. C. Moore-Brabazon (now Lord Brabazon) and Dario Resta, came in fifteenth and sixteenth respectively, having put up a very creditable performance. At Brooklands a private sportsman, O. S. Thompson, driving a modified 25-30 h.p. Austin named "Pobble," achieved consistent success. Other models did well in reliability trials and in the hands of the private motorists at home and overseas and the Austin reputation for dependability steadily grew.

By 1910 nearly 1,000 workers were employed and a night shift was found necessary. A single cylinder 7 h.p. car and a I5 h.p. Town Carriage were added to a range that now included 10, I5-24, 40 and 5O h.p. models and a I5 cwt. van. More additions were made to the factory and an output of 1,000 cars a year was planned.

 

The interests of the Company spread to industrial and marine engines and in 1912 Saunders of Cowes built a speed-launch powered by two Austin twelve cylinder vee engines of 380 h.p each. Named Maple Leaf IV, this launch won the British International Trophy contest two years in succession and was credited with a speed of 50.78 knots.

 In 1913 a sturdy 2-3 ton lorry was produced which marked an excursion into yet another field. This vehicle had a 20 h.p. engine and employed many novel features including a twin bevel drive and an underslung rear axle. It was priced at 545 and a twenty seater coach on a similar chassis was available at 765.

 

In February, 1914, the Company changed from private to public ownership and the capital was increased to 250,000. All seemed to be set fair and then the situation changed almost overnight. In August the Great War (WW1) began.

Within a few weeks the machines that had been building Austin cars began to turn out munitions, and all the resources of the factory were harnessed to serve the country. As the appetite of the armed services for weapons and equipment of every kind continued to increase, the rapid expansion of the Longbridge factory became inevitable, until by 1917 it had trebled its size and in addition had its own flying ground on a flat-topped hill south of the main works. The employees, many of them women, rose to over 22,000 during the peak years.

 

During the four war years over 8,000,000 shells were produced along with 650 guns, 2,000 aeroplanes, 2500 aero engines and 2,000 trucks, plus a host of other items.

The Company's post-war programme included; for a short time, a range of aeroplanes! The Austin Greyhound 2-seater fighter was one, and the Austin Ball single seater another. Then there was a single seater biplane with folding wings, which sold at 500, and a fourth called

the Austin Whippet.

 

In 1921 came the 12 hp car which was literally a smaller version of the 20 hp model. This proved so successful that it stayed in production for nearly 19 years and at one time was used  by over 90% of the taxicab drivers in London. The four seater touring version at 550 was described as a car of moderate dimensions which would fulfil ideals of service previously only obtainable in high powered cars of 20 hp. In fact so efficient was the design that it changed but little during its long life.

An addition to the Family.

In 1922, came the 7 h.p. infant prodigy. It was received with much laughter at first and few took it seriously. Not so Sir Herbert Austin (Knighted in 1917). He had designed it entirely on his own and despite all criticism, he knew it was a winner.

The engine, with its 2 in. bore and 3 in. stroke, developed 10 h.p. at 2,400 r.p.m. and was one of the smallest four-cylinder power units yet made. In many ways the car was a large car in miniature, scaled down with that perfection of simplicity which is the hallmark of genius. It weighed only 9 cwt., had an overall length of 8 ft. 9 in., but still provided seating for four.

 

When the first Seven was completed the mechanics of the Experimental Department watched Sir Herbert take his place in the driving seat to make the first run, just as he had done seventeen years ago, when the first Austin car was ready for its road christening. A new era in motoring had opened.

  

The Seven was exhibited at Olympia in 1922, at a list price of 225. The more adventurous members of the public purchased one. It exceeded their wildest expectations. The motoring journals published enthusiastic reports. A. C. R. Waite, who previously had won sporting events at Brooklands and at Shelsley with the 20 h.p. car, began racing the Seven. It won at Brooklands and at Monza in Italy. In fact, it became a vogue and orders began to roll in from all over the world.

 

In 1925 and 1926 extensions were made to the factory so that it now covered 62 acres and gave employment to 8,000 workers who annually produced 25,000 cars. Longbridge was now a great engineering centre with its own foundry, forge and machine shops, its own body pressing, assembling and painting plant, which now included the new spray-applied cellulose, and its own erection shops for both individual units such as engine, gearbox, rear axle and steering, as well as for the final assembly of the finished car.

 

 In 1927 a new six-cylinder 20 h.p car was marketed which, for a brief while, ran in parallel production with the four-cylinder 20 h.p., and then replaced it entirely. This car became the aristocrat of the Austin range and with saloon and limousine bodywork that graduated through the names of "Carlton," "Ranelagh" and "Mayfair" over the years, offered motoring at its best at astonishingly low cost. In fact, prices were now beginning to reflect the increasing efficiency of the factory.

 As six-cylinder engines were becoming more popular, Austin introduced, late in 1927, a new 16 h.p. car, with a six-cylinder engine. The range now comprised twenty-four distinct models. In 1929 the number had increased to twenty-eight and the prices had all fallen, the Seven tourer selling at the low figure of 130. Thus did flow production really justify itself.

 By 1930 output had reached the record figure of 1,000 vehicles a week and the range of models tended to increase. In 1931 a 12-6 appeared, to be followed in 1932 by an entirely new 10 h.p. car. Meanwhile, the Seven had become the most popular small car in the world. It climbed Ben Nevis in 7 hours 23 minutes, and Table Mountain in 10 hours. Adding to its racing laurels, it came 3rd and 4th in the Ulster International Road Race in 1929, and won the 500 Mile Race at Brooklands in 1930. With Malcolm Campbell at Daytona Beach, in 1931, it achieved the commendable speed of

94.03 m.p.h and later exceeded 100 m.p.h. at Brooklands with Cushman at the wheel, being the first 750 c.c. car to achieve this speed in England.

 The elaboration of the Austin range continued until by 1934 there was a choice of forty four separate models based on nine alternative chassis. If one takes into account the wide range of colours and equipment offered then a grand total of three hundred and thirty-three different cars were listed!

                                                                                          

In the 1936 Honours List Sir Herbert Austin was created a Baron and elevated to the peerage. He took the title of Lord Austin of Longbridge. In the same year, his sixty-ninth, he accepted the Chairmanship of the Government-sponsored shadow factory scheme for aero engine production, and during the next few years devoted much time to his new responsibility.

 But the war was still in the future and 1937 saw the introduction of the Big Seven, and the popular Cambridge 10 h.p., Ascot 12 h.p. and Goodwood 14-6 models. Also in the range at this time were the famous 18 and 20 h.p. saloons which offered such roomy and luxurious motoring, while on the race track the latest version of the Seven, with its twin-overhead camshaft engine producing 116 b.h.p. at 9,000 r.p.m., was sweeping all before it.

 In March of the following year

L. P. Lord joined the Company as Works Director. At the early age of forty-two he had already made a brilliant name for himself as Managing Director of the Morris, Wolseley and M.G. Companies, and subsequently as Director of Lord Nuffield's 2,000,000 trust fund for special areas.

 The Cofton Hackett aero factory was then in operation and the first Austin-built aeroplane, a Fairey Battle, had flown from Longbridge. Austin was also re-entering the 2 and 5 ton commercial vehicle field and new trucks were announced in January, 1939.

 In February, a new Eight was introduced to replace the Big Seven and a Ten followed in May. The last new model to be announced before the second World War was the Twelve, in August.

 Another War  and again Austin lends a hand.

Immediately upon the outbreak of war, the change-over from peace-time to war-time production began. The same machines and hands that a short time back had turned out highly finished cars, took in their stride the production of a whole miscellany of intricate parts for the nation's war machine. The variety and quantities of articles produced were staggering. Over one-and-a-quarter million rounds of 2, 6 and 17 pounder armour piercing ammunition and twice as many ammunition boxes.

 Over half-a-million jerricans, nearly as many steel service helmets, and almost as many assemblies of one sort or another for mines and depth charges. A hundred thousand bogey suspension and driving gear units for Churchill tanks was considered aImost a side-line. And all this against a steady output of wheeled vehicles of various types to a total of over thirty-six thousand. 

.
The shadow factory at Cofton Hackett, which started production with Fairey Battle light bombers and Mercury and Pegasus aero engines, ended by turning out Lancaster four engined heavy bombers.

 The latter were too big to be flown from the Longbridge flying ground arid so they were assembled elsewhere as were the Stirling bombers which preceded them. Nearly three thousand of these aircraft, along with Hurricane fighters, were ultimately produced, in addition to aero engines, Horsa Gliders, Beaufighters and Miles Master fuselages.

 Lord Austin died on May 23rd, 1941, after a short illness. He was succeeded by E. L. Payton, who retired four years later on November 28th, 1945, whereupon L. P. Lord became Chairman and Managing Director.