Yet another Australian connection to the
British car manufacturing industry comes
courtesy of Herbert Austin.
Born in Buckinghamshire,
England in 1866 the young Herbert travelled
to Australia in his youth, eventually settling
down in Melbourne where he managed to get
work with several engineering firms.
fate would have it, he ended up at Fredrick
factory that manufactured
sheep-shearing equipment - a move that
would soon see him designing the first
Melbourne was to
also prove fruitful to Austin in love matters,
where while working for Wolseley he would
meet and later marry a young Helen Dron.
Wolseley decided to transfer the manufacturing
operation from Australia (back) to England
in 1889, and while he returned to the UK
and took up the role of Managing Director,
he offered Austin the position of General
Manager - a position too good to refuse.
Ever the entrepreneur, Fredrick Wolseley
quickly recognised that the demand for
the motor car was far exceeding supply,
and engaged Austin to design the first
Wolseley vehicles for him.
Following Wolseley's resignation in 1894
(due to ill health), Austin reported to
a board of directors - and the relationship
was rather tenuous. Inevitably, a conflict
with the board was to ensue and, in 1905,
Austin was to leave Wolseley and set up
The Austin Motor Vehicle Company.
up shop in Longbridge, seven miles south
of Birmingham, he together with a small
team of designers were to compile drawings
of their intended new car in time for the
November 1905 Motor Exhibition. The first
model was to be a 25/30hp chain driven
car featuring four forward gears. For the
day, the design was modern and fashionable,
and by the time of the 1906 Olympia exhibition
Austin was able to display two models.
The Austin motor vehicle became extremely
popular, and Herbert’s main problems
centred around production levels. By 1907
there were some 270 Austin employees able
to manufacture 120 vehicles – but
the output level fell pitifully short of
the customer demand. By 1910 the Austin
workforce would swell to an amazing 1000
employees, and production continued throughout
the night with the introduction of a night
Aware that many of his employees were
travelling up to 40 miles each day to attend
work, Austin organised the manufacture
of pre-fabricated homes to be set up close
to the factory (where the village still
stands to this day!).
Always ready to try
something new, Austin also dabbled in the
area of aeroplane manufacture, however
unlike the motor car, the Austin Whippet
plane never captured the imagination of
pilot’s and the project would be
As demand eventually receded, Austin turned
his sights on the export market, and his
familiarity with Australia would ensure
this would be one of his first targets.
From 1910 Austin would export the single
to Australia, and with the release of the
immensely popular 4 cylinder “7”
Austin’s son-in-law Arthur Waite
would travel to Melbourne where he set
up a dealer network.
In 1924 the new Austin
7 baby car was being proudly displayed
in the showroom of Larke Hoskins, and Waite
was to enter the supercharged Austin 7
in the inaugural Australian Grand Prix,
an event he would win outright!
During the war, the Austin factory turned
its production to the manufacture of ammunition,
pressings for jerry cans and components
for military vehicles. As the war office
placed orders for both 8 and 10hp utility
vehicles, some automobile manufacture would
remain at the factory.
After the war, Austin
would re-commit to its export drive, and
locally they acquired the Ruskin motor
body plant in Melbourne while assembling
A40 sedans in the Pressed metal Corporation
plant in Sydney. In 1952 a car manufacturing
rationalisation would see Austin and Morris
amalgamate to form the British Motor Corporation
(BMC), although this seemed to have little
impact on the number of models available
and more to do with both manufacturers
sharing their parts bins.
Many Austin’s would be part manufactured
and assembled in Australia, including the;
Perhaps the company’s most successful
vehicle was the front-wheel-drive 1800 (1966
– 1969), but perhaps unwisely management
decided to try and compete with the “big
three” (Holden/Ford/Valiant) and
introduced the family sized 6 cylinder
Tasman and Kimberley.
By the early 1970’s
industrial strife in the UK led to appallingly
built vehicles hitting our shores, and
while the Marina was to wear a Morris badge
the damage to British built cars reputation
was being quickly cemented by the emerging
Japanese car manufacturers.
When BMC became
Leyland, management would give it one more
go, and introduced the revolutionary P76
that is another story in itself (details
of which can be found on this site…)