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Austin History

The Austin Motor Company was a British manufacturer of automobiles that rose to be a major motorcar brand, the dominant partner after merger with Morris in 1952 but declining after absorption into the British Leyland Motor Corporation, and its subsequent troubles.

1905 - 1918: Formation and development
Herbert Austin (1866–1941), later Sir Herbert, the former manager of the Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Company founded The Austin Motor Company in 1905, at Longbridge, which was then in Worcestershire (Longbridge became part of Birmingham in 1911 when its boundaries were expanded). 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.

1919 - 1939: Interwar success
Austin Twenty Tourer 1920
1926 Austin 7 box saloonAfter 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.

Critical to the recovery was the appointment in 1922 of a new finance director, Ernest Payton with the backing of the Midland Bank, and a new works director in charge of car production, Carl Engelbach, at the insistence of the creditors' committee. This triumvirate of Austin, Payton and Engelbach steered the company's fortunes through the inter-war years.

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 of Germany (as the Dixi); Japanese Datsun; as Bantam in the United States; and as the Rosengart in France.

A largely independent U.S. 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. Deputy chairman Ernest Payton became chairman in 1941 on the death of Herbert (now Lord) Austin. In 1938 Leonard Lord joined the company board and became chairman in 1946 on the death of Ernest Payton.

1939 - 1958: The war years and afterwards
1954 Austin A30During the Second World War Austin continued building cars but also made trucks and aircraft, including the construction of the Lancaster bombers of 617 squadron, better known as the Dambusters. 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 with Leonard Lord in charge. Austin was the dominant partner and its engines were adopted for most of the cars; various models amongst the marques would soon be badge-engineered versions of each other.

Also in 1952, Austin did a deal with Donald Healey, the renowned automotive engineer. It led to a new marque, Austin Healey, and a range of sports cars.

Legal agreement with Nissan
In 1952 Austin entered into a legal agreement with the Nissan Motor Company of Japan, for that company to assemble 2000 imported Austins from partially assembled sets and sell them in Japan under the Austin trademark. The agreement called for Nissan to make all Austin parts locally within three years, a goal Nissan met. Nissan produced and marketed Austins for seven years. The agreement also gave Nissan rights to use Austin patents, which Nissan used in developing its own engines for its Datsun line of cars. In 1953 British-built Austins were assembled and sold, but by 1955, the Austin A50 – completely built by Nissan and featuring a slightly larger body with 1489 cc engine – was on the market in Japan. Nissan produced 20,855 Austins from 1953-59.[1]

1959 - 1969: An era of revolution
1963 Austin Mini Cooper S.With the threat to fuel supplies resulting from the 1956 Suez Crisis Lord asked Alec Issigonis to design a small car and the result was the revolutionary Mini, launched in 1959. The Austin version was called the Austin Seven at first. But Morris's Mini Minor name caught the public imagination and the Morris version outsold its Austin twin, so the Austin's name was changed to Mini to follow suit. In 1970, British Leyland dropped the separate Austin and Morris branding of the Mini. From then, it was simply "Mini", under the Austin Morris division of BLMC.

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, (although the Morris-badged version was launched 13 months earlier than the Austin, in August 1962), the 1800 of 1964 and the Maxi of 1969. This meant that BMC had spent 10 years developing a new range of front-drive, transverse-engined models, while the vast majority of its competitors had only just started to make such changes.

The big exception to this was the Austin 3-litre. Launched in 1968, it was a rear-wheel drive large car, but it shared the central section of the 1800. It was a sales disaster, with fewer than 10,000 examples being made.

But BMC was the first British manufacturer to move into front-wheel drive so comprehensively. Ford did not launch its first front-drive model until 1976, while Vauxhall's first front-drive model was launched in 1979 and Chrysler UK's first such car was launched in 1975. Front-wheel drive was popular elsewhere in Europe, however, with Renault, Citroen and Simca all using the system at the same time or before BMC.

In 1966, BMC and Pressed Steel merged with Jaguar and became British Motor Holdings. In 1968, BMH merged with Leyland Motors and Austin became a part of the big British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC) combine.

1970 - 1979: An era of turbulence
Publicity shot of the Austin Allegro from 1973.By 1970, Austin was part of the British Leyland combine which produced some of the most maligned cars ever to roll off British production lines. Austin's most notorious model of this era was the 1973 Allegro, successor to the 1100/1300 ranges, which was criticised for its bulbous styling, doubtful build quality, indifferent reliability and rust-proneness. It was still a strong seller in Britain, though not quite as successful as its predecessor.

The wedge-shaped 18/22, series was launched as an Austin, a Morris and a more upmarket Wolseley in 1975. But, within six months, it was rechristened the Princess and wore none of the previous marque badges, becoming a kind of brand in its own right, under the Austin Morris division of British Leyland which had been virtually nationalised in 1975.

The Princess wasn't quite as notorious as the Allegro, and in fact earned some praise thanks to its practical wedge shape, spacious interior and decent ride and handling, but build quality was suspect and the curious lack of a hatchback (which would have ideally suited its body shape) cost it valuable sales. It was upgraded at the end of 1981 to become the Ambassador (and gaining a hatchback) but by this time there was little that could be done to disguise the age of the design, and it was too late to make much of an impact on sales.

By the end of the 1970s, the future of Austin and the rest of British Leyland (now known as BL) was looking very bleak.

1980 - 1989: The Austin Rover era
Austin Rover logo. This was used without the Rover name, on a black background on Austin cars from 1984 - 1987. It was then modified and used until 1989.
Austin Metro, launched in 1980.
Austin Maestro, launched in 1983.
Austin Montego, launched in 1984.The Austin Metro - launched in October 1980 - was heralded as the saviour of Austin Motor Company and the whole BL combine. 21 years after the launch of the Mini, it gave BL a much-needed modern supermini to compete with the recently-launched likes of the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Chevette and Renault 5. It was an instant hit with buyers and was one of the most popular British cars of the 1980s. It was intedned as a replacement for the Austin Mini but infact the Mini outlived the Metro by two years.

In 1982, most of the car division of the by now somewhat shrunken British Leyland (BL) company was rebranded as the Austin Rover Group, with Austin acting as the "budget" and mainstream brand to Rover's more luxurious models. The MG badge was revived for sporty versions of the Austin models, with the MG Metro 1300 being the first of these.

Austin revitalised its entry into the small family car market in March 1983 on the launch of its all-new Maestro, a spacious five-door hatchback which replaced both the elderly Allegro and Maxi and was popular in the early years of its production life, though sales had started to dip dramatically by the end of the decade.

April 1984 saw the introduction of the Maestro-derived Montego saloon, successor to the Morris Ital. The new car received praise for its interior space and comfort, but early build quality problems took time to overcome. The spacious estate version - launched in early 1985 - was one of the most popular load carriers of its era.

In 1986 Austin Rover's holding company BL plc became Rover Group plc and was privatised by sellnig it to British Aerospace (BAe).

Plans to replace the Metro with a radical new model, based on the ECV3 research vehicle and aiming for 100mpg, led to the Austin AR6 of 1984-1986, with several prototypes tested. The desire to lose the Austin name and take Rover 'upomarket' led to this project's demise in early 1987.

In 1987, the Austin badge was discontinued and Austin Rover became simply the Rover Group. The Austin cars continued to be manufactured, although they ceased to be Austins. They became "marque-less" in their home market with bonnet badges were the same shape as the Rover longship badge, they didn't have "Rover" written on them. Instead any badging just showed the model of the car- a Montego of this era, for instance, would have a grille badge simply saying 'Montego', whilst the rear badges just said 'Montego' and the engine size/trim level. The Metro was facelifted in 1990 and got the new K-series engine. It then became the "Rover Metro", while the Maestro and Montego continued in production until 1994 and never wore a Rover badge on their bonnets in Britain. They were, however, sometimes referred to as "Rovers" in the press and elsewhere.

Possible revival
The rights to the Austin badge passed to British Aerospace and later to BMW when each bought the Rover Group. The rights were subsequently sold to MG Rover, created once BMW had tired of the business. Following MG Rover's collapse and sale, the Austin 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, Nanjing announced that the Austin name might be used on some of the revived MG Rover models, at least on the Chinese market. However, Nanjing is for the moment concentrating on reviving the MG brand. Being as the MG brand is traditionally used for higher level sports cars and Nanjing have no rights to the Rover namebadge, a revival of the Austin namebadge would seem the logical resolution for selling more standard cars. It may also be argued that a British name would be more respected in the European market then a Chinese name.

Austin's Longbridge plantMain article: Longbridge
Austin's original plant was in Rotherham, however Herbert Austin relocated to an abandoned paint works at Longbridge, Birmingham. Due to its strategic advantages over Morris' Cowley plant, Longbridge became British Leyland's main factory. Following the Austin marque been dropped in 1989, Rover and MG continued to use the plant. The collapse of MG Rover meant it was not used from 2005 until MG production restarted in 2008.

Austin vehicles
Main article: List of Austin motor cars
Small cars
1910–11 Austin 7 hp
1922–39 Austin 7
1959-2000 Seven (Mini), as BMC
1980–90 Metro, as Austin Rover
Small family cars
1911–15 Austin 10
1932–47 Austin 10 hp
1939–47 Austin 8 hp
1951–56 A30
1956–59 A35
1956–62 A35 Countryman
1954-61 Nash Metropolitan/Austin Metropolitan
1958–61 A40 Farina Mk I
1961–67 A40 Farina Mk II
1963–74 1100
1967–74 1300
1973–83 Allegro

1935 Austin Light 12/6 with Ascot body
1975 Austin Princess 1800.Large family cars
1906–07 Austin 25/30
1907–10 Austin 18/24
1908–11 Austin 40 hp
1908–10 Austin 60 hp
1913–14 Austin 15/20
1914–16 Austin 30 hp
1919–30 Austin 20 hp
1922–40 Austin "Heavy" 12
1927–35 16/18 hp
1931–36 Austin "Light" 12/6
1933–39 Austin "Light" 12/4
1937–39 Austin 14 hp
1938–39 Austin 18 hp
1939–47 Austin 12
1945–49 Austin 16 hp
1947–52 A40 Devon/Dorset
1948–50 A70 Hampshire
1950–54 A70 Hereford
1952–54 A40 Somerset
1954–58 A40/A50/A55 Cambridge
1954–59 A90/A95/A105 Westminster
1956–59 A95 Westminster Station wagon.
1956–59 A105 Westminster
1959–61 A55 Cambridge
1959–61 A99 Westminster
1961–69 A60 Cambridge
1961–68 A110 Westminster
1964–75 1800/2200
1967–71 3-Litre
1969–81 Maxi 1500
1975–84 18-22/Princess/Ambassador
1983–94 Maestro
1984–94 Montego
1939 Austin 28 hp
1947–54 A110/A125 Sheerline
1946–56 A120 Princess
1947–56 A135 Princess
1956–59 Princess IV
1958–59 A105 Westminster Vanden Plas
Sports cars
1920-23 Austin 20 Sports Tourer
1948–50 A90 Atlantic Convertible
1949–52 A90 Atlantic Saloon
1950–53 A40 Sports
1953–56 Austin-Healey 100
1958–70 Austin-Healey Sprite
1959–67 Austin-Healey 3000
1971 Austin Sprite
Australian Austin cars
1962-66 Austin Freeway
1970–73 Austin Kimberley
1958-62 Austin Lancer
1970–73 Austin Tasman

Military vehicles
WWI Austin Armoured Car
WWII Austin Ten Utility Truck
WWII Austin K2
1958-67 Austin Gipsy
c. 1968 Austin Ant

1929-34 High Lot
1934-39 Lowloader
1948-58 FX3
1958- FX4 — London Taxi

WWII Austin K2

Commercial vehicles
LWB truck 1954
A200FT truck 1962
Light van c.1964Austin also made commercial vehicles, one of which was the FG, previously the Morris FG. The FG was the workhorse that kept Britain running in the 1960s. These Austin FGs and later the Leyland FGs all had petrol or diesel longstroke engines, producing good torque, but very little in the way of speed (40 mph was a good speed out of these vehicles). Leyland were to take over the FG, but before they did, in 1964, the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) commissioned six rolling chassis FGs to be coach built by a Middlesex company, Palmer Coachbuilders. These six vehicles, registration 660 GYE to 666 GYE, were outdoor broadcast scenery vehicles.

During World War I Austin built aircraft under licence, including the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a, but also produced a number of its own designs. None of these progressed past the prototype stage. They included:

Austin-Ball A.F.B.1 (fighter)
Austin A.F.T.3 (fighter)
Austin Greyhound (fighter)
Austin Whippet (post-war civil aircraft)

External links
Austin Memories
Photos of Austin Pickup Van
The Unofficial Austin-Rover Web Resource
American Austin Car Enthusiasts

For Sale Listings

Austin 16

Started by Nigel Zeto Jun 12, 2008. 0 Replies

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Comment by Kevin Cresswell on February 21, 2010 at 2:55pm

There is an Austin 7 listed for sale on
You can check it out on my group

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