The Post-War Austin Company
After World War One, the Austin Motor Company encountered great difficulties in
moving from war-time to peace-time production. A receiver was even appointed and
it took the genius of Herbert Austin to see them through the difficulties.
During the Second World War Leonard Lord had determined that the Company would not
face the same problems a second time round at the end of hostilities. Lord had been
called in by Nuffield in 1933 and had set to work to improve production at Morris.
He left Nuffield after a quarrel in 1938 and joined Austin. Bob Wyatt, in his work
entitled 'The Austin 1905-1952', suggests that: 'Austin had chosen Lord partly for
his undoubted organising and engineering ability, but also because he knew that
Lord would do everything in his power to beat Nuffield as a car maker’. There had
always been rivalry between Austin and Morris but apparently Lord now declared his
intention of taking Cowley apart 'brick by bloody brick’. Graham Turner in 'The
Leyland Papers' tells us: 'At the end of the war, Lord gave Austin & Longbridge
a rapid start by what seemed sharp practice to some of the Morris men. Morris produced
no vehicles throughout the war but Austin continued to turn out ambulances and in
later years even managed to manufacture some cars by offering Austin 10s to Government
Ministries. Certainly Lord was planning for the change over to peace-time production
long before the war ended and may even have managed to collect some tooling for
new models. The first, a 6 cylinder 16hp model was announced by VE day.
By the time of the launch of the A30 the Austin Motor Company was enjoying a very
buoyant and expansive period in its history. The Autocar of November 17th 1950 tells
us that 'Demand from all over the world has led to a record year for the Austin
Motor Co.Ltd., which showed a profit of £4.5 million’. Commonwealth countries were
eager to accept our cars. Austin were shipping 2000 cars a month to Canada in 1949.
The Autocar of February 10th 1950 states 'In 1949, figures for the registration
of cars in British Columbia show that 1/3 more Austins were registered than any
other make’. In the aftermath of war it was important that our large industrial
concerns should make an all-out effort to earn dollars, but could British cars be
sold in sufficient quantities on the American market to make operations over there
Leonard Lord was at least determined to find out. Early in 1947 he had paid a visit
to the States to assess the possibilities and in August returned accompanied by
George Harriman his Works Director. They took with them two examples of the newly
released A40 Devon. By November 1950 over a quarter of a million A40s had earned
$70,000,000 for Britain.
New models appeared in profusion. The Sheerline and Princess were launched at the
Geneva Show in the 1947 Motor Show (attended by no less a person than your editor!).
The A90 Atlantic convertible and A9G Hampshire were announced. 1950, '51 and '52
saw the consecutive launches of the A70 Hereford, the A30 Seven and the A40 Somerset.
At the same time as this intensive programme of developing new models was being
carried through Lord had also seen the need for considerable capital involved in
order to ensure that Longbridge was competitive in world markets. A new car assembly
building, the most modern of its kind anywhere in the world opened 3 July 1951.
A prestige seeking administration block was built at the same time (soon to become
known as the Kremlin by those at Longbridge).
The beautiful plate glass doors proudly bore the Austin of England script and the
flying A. The car assembly building (CAB 1) was adorned by a fine Austin of England
sign high up on it’s frontage.
The fastenings of the original can still be seen on the wall. The pride that such
emblems must have helped engender in the Austin men must surely have been dented
when they saw them removed in the purges by Stokes.
In the early post-war years the Austin Motor Co. had been very aware of the need
to keep their vehicles in the public eye and to this end we saw Austin cars taking
part in several record breaking attempts and other exploits.
In 1949 an A90 Atlantic averaged 70.54 mph for 11,850 miles at Indianapolis and
set 108 new records.
In 1950 an A40 travelled 10,000 miles in 10,000 minutes at Montlhery in France.
In 1953 an A40 Somerset travelled from the Equator to the Arctic Circle in ll.5
In the days of BMC our own cars were in the news.
In 1956 an A30 won the Tulip Rally and in 1957 an A35 broke seven international
record including covering 10,000 miles in 8014 minutes which is an average speed
Early post-war events then had gone very much Austin's way. They had coped admirably
with the considerable problems which had confronted them. From now on, however,
life became increasingly more complicated in the Motor Trade. It was becoming more
and more obvious that as a nation we had too many motor firms producing too many
models in direct competition for markets at home and abroad. Mergers seemed to be
called for. However, the mergers that it seemed impossible to do without never seemed
to quite produce the desired results once they had taken place.
A merger with Nuffield had been considered in the early history of the two companies
but agreement was never reached. In 1949 the matter was again under discussion but
it was no easy matter as Nuffield and Lord were not even on speaking terms!
Privately it appears that Nuffield regarded Lord as the finest executive in the
Motor Industry and a most dangerous competitor. Lord's determination to emerge the
winner in the Austin/Morris rivalry stakes ensured that at least part of this judgement
was correct. We read in 'The Leyland Papers' that J.R.Edwands (who later became
M.D. of BMC) is reputed to have said 'We always had our cars within £10 of Nuffield.
Len would ask "What's the A30 going to cost?'' "Ex works £300, selling price £525,"
somebody would say. "What's Nuffield's bloody figure then?" Len would ask. "£515.
" 'Right, make ours £510.'
In 1950 Nuffield and Lord eventually got together and agreed to a merger, but this
was later called off after disagreement on the Nuffield board. It was at this stage
that Lord decided to go ahead with the A30 which was to compete directly with the
Morris Minor. In 1951, however, Nuffield made a positive decision to sell his company
to Austin in spite of any disagreement it might cause among his board and in July
1952 the merger finally took place and thus began the era of the British Motor Corporation
just as the A30 had come into full production.
This meant, however, that Lord would gain full control of Cowley and J.R.Edwards
suggested (see the Leyland Papers) that Lord's sense of triumph and his pleasure
at the discomfort of several Morris directors who had opposed the merger made for
extremely bad relations and made the full integration of the two companies very
Soon after the merger an attempt was made to effect a fairly thorough rationalisation
of major mechanical components. It was at this time, for example, that the Minor
was destined to receive the A30 engine and gearbox to replace the side valve engine
that had originally been used in the Series-E Morris Eight.
However, to rationalise the various factories now owned by the new company and to
sort out the network of distributors was a much more daunting task fraught with
all sorts of difficulties and was far from accomplished many years later.
Other mergers were still to take place. In 1953 Fisher & Ludlow were bought by BMC
and in 1965 BMC took over Pressed Steel. In 1966 Jaguar joined the BMC - PSF combined
to form British Motor Holdings (BMH) and two years later the BMH-Leyland merger
produced the British Leyland Motor Corporation.
Much criticism (commonly known as Leyland Bashing) has been levelled at British
Leyland in recent years but I would thoroughly recommend members to read 'The Leyland
Papers' by Graham Turner in order that they might better understand the human and
financial problems that have been the lot of this giant combine. I am personally
indebted to this work for providing me with much of the above information and would
farther quote from the preface:
'Ever since it was formed in 1968 by the union of Leyland and BMH, the British Leyland
Motor Corporation has been a focus of public interest. There is nothing surprising
in that. British Leyland is the last British-owned motor manufacturer of any size
and, for much of its life, it has been in difficulty of one sort or another. The
problems of welding together two large and loosely organised empires - both as they
did, presiding over a number of companies which were virtually autonomous - proved
to be immense. Nor was the job made any easier by the fact that the Leyland-BMH
union was the culmination of a series of motor mergers during the 1960s: both parties
were suffering from indigestion and overstrain when they came to the altar.’
Jeff Daniels, in his recent book, 'British Leyland - The Truth About the Cars',
which looks at the BL problems of the seventies says: 'There was no shortage of
possible reasons for these problems. Was it weak management? Was it Government misdirection?
Was trade-union bloody-mindedness? Or was it indeed a series of product planning
blunders? The book makes interesting reading and proceeds to look at the cars produced
as well as those not produced in order to try and identify where things may have
The writer's own view, for what it is worth, is that there appear to have been so
many problems presenting themselves in an endless procession over the last 25 years
that there was never any such thing as a solution unless the company could simply
have started afresh. Certainly several of BL's competitors in the post-war period
were not saddled with such complicated histories and were much nearer to a 'green
field' situation. It is very easy from the outside to suggest what should have been
done or not done but it is not always possible to appreciate the various pressures
on those who had to make the decisions or their agonies they must have suffered
in knowing that they could not always take the course of action that they believed
would be right in the long run because of the short-term difficulties, disruptions
and hardships it would have caused to those involved.
I am delighted to be able to add a form of postscript to this necessarily sketchy
look at post-war events in relation to the company that produced our cars. The postscript
is part of a letter received from Mr Harold Musgrove, Chairman of BL's Light/Medium
Cars Group -incorporating Austin Morris, Rover Triumph and Pressed Steel Fisher
and it runs as follow:
'The continual process of reorganisation and merger that created British Leyland
had, apart from anything else, severely detracted from one of its most valuable
potential assets - the unique and distinctive inheritance of each of its individual
It became therefore, a major part of the Edwards restructuring plan that the historical
traditions of such companies as Austin and Morris should be encouraged to emerge
To those of us closely associated with Austin and Longbridge - where I started work
as an apprentice in 1945 - this gave an important impetus. We were confident that
there was scope to re-establish the Austin name, because we knew that the Austin
skills of product design and manufacturing remained a powerful force.
It was symbolic that Metro was launched in the 75th year of car making at Longbridge.
Metro represents everything that is world-renowned about Austin engineering - unparalleled
use of interior space, coupled with astonishing economy and refinement. It brings
the Company into a new era, following the pioneering work of Herbert Austin and
the era dominated by the genius of Issigonis.
This new era is one of new technology and greater productivity, supporting advanced
product design. The Longbridge factory now houses some of the finest manufacturing
technology anywhere in the world. It is our job to use it to international standards
of efficiency. It has often been said - and rightly - that the recovery of HL Cars
must be product-led. I am confident that over the next few years, with Metro as
the start, w product range will be absolutely right. But Longbridge in particular,
has to act as a pointer for the whole of British industry. It must be living proof
that we can compete in every respect; on product, on quality, on operating efficiency.
In doing so, Austin men will be writing a new chapter - perhaps even the finest
chapter in the Company's long history. It is a matter of great pride for any Company
that bodies such as the Austin A30/A35 Owners' Club, help maintain Austin's magnificent
I have no doubt that the present Company is worthy of that commitment.
I know that members will be pleased to have received this message from Harold Musgrove
I have already thanked him on your behalf for the interest he has shown in our club.
© Reproduced by kind permission of the author, Barney Sharratt