|Company Name:||Austin Motor Company|
|Fate:||Merged, The marque is dormant and may be reused.|
|Successor:||British Motor Corporation|
|Defunct:||1952 (brand discontinued in 1987)|
|Location:||Longbridge, England, UK|
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.
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.
Radiator grille ornament from an Austin Ten]]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.
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.
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.
During 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.
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.
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 Se7en at first. But Morris' 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.
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.
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 intended as a replacement for the Austin Mini but, in fact, 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.
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.
The rights to the Austin name passed to British Aerospace and then to BMW when each bought the Rover Group. The rights were subsequently sold to MG Rover, created when BMW sold the business. Following MG Rover's collapse and sale, Nanjing Automobile Group owns the Austin name and Austin's historic assembly plant in Longbridge. At the Nanjing International Exhibition in May 2006, Nanjing announced it might use the Austin name on some of the revived MG Rover models, at least in the Chinese market. However, Nanjing is for the moment concentrating on reviving the MG brand. The MG brand is traditionally used for sports cars and Nanjing has no rights to the Rover name, so a revival of the Austin name would seem a logical brand for selling more standard cars. It might also be argued that a British name would be more respected in the European market then a Chinese name.
See main article: article and 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.
See main article: List of Austin motor cars.
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: