Austin


The History of Austin

   

Herbert Austin (18661941), former manager of the Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Company, and later to be made first Baron Austin of Longbridge, founded The Austin Motor Company in 1905.  The first car was a conventional 5-litre four-cylinder model with chain drive, of which about 200 were made in the first five years. In World War I Austin grew enormously in fulfilling 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 on the 3620-cc 20-hp engine. Versions included cars, commercials and even a tractor, but sales volumes were never enough to fill the vast factory built during wartime. 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 and a new works director in charge of car production, Carl Engelbach. This triumvirate of Austin, Payton and Engelbach steered the company's fortunes through the inter-war years.
In a quest to expand market share, smaller cars were introduced, the 1661 cc Twelve in 1922 and, later the same year, the Seven, an inexpensive, simple small car and one of the earliest to be directed at a mass market. At one point, the "Baby Austin" was built under licence by the fledgling BMW of Germany (as the Dixi); by the Japanese manufacturer Datsun; as the Bantam in the United States; and as the Rosengart in France. (the American Austin Car Company operated as a largely independent subsidiary from 1929 to 1934, and 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 was steadily updated by the introduction of all-steel bodies, Girling brakes, and synchromesh gearboxes. However, all the engines retained the same side valve conformation.
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 postwar car range was announced in 1944 and production of it started in 1945 The immediate postwar range was mainly similar to that of the late 1930s but did include the 16 hp significant for having the company's 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 to 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 most 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.
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.
In 1986 Austin Rover's holding company BL plc became Rover Group plc and was privatised by selling it to British Aerospace (BAe).
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 the same shape as the Rover longship badge but without "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 than a Chinese name.

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