Historic Car Brands
Herbert Austin established his own car manufacturing business in 1905, following his departure from Wolseley, where he was general manager. For Wolseley, making cars was a way of evening out cyclical demand in their tool manufacturing business that included mechanical shearing equipment for Australia, but, for Austin, car making became a passion.
With backing from steel magnate, Frank Kayser and Dunlop patent holder, Harvey du Cros, Herbert Austin set up a car plant at Longbridge, just south of Birmingham. Although his departure from Wolseley had been supposedly over a conflict between Austin’s adherence to horizontal engines, versus the Vickers brother’s insistence on upright cylinders, Austin’s first car had now-conventional, vertically-arranged cylinders.
1907 30hp – Mark Brown
The first Austins were chain-driven 15/20hp or 25/30hp vehicles, priced at $500 and $650, respectively, when fitted with typical bodywork. In this pre-Ford Model T era, cars were expensive and Austin’s customers included European nobility and the UK’s landed gentry.
By 1908 Austin’s lineup included 15hp, 18/24hp and 40hp four-cylinder models, plus a 60hp six. This engine powered Austin’s two Le Mans entries in 1908, but they weren’t powerful enough to do better than 18th and 19th.
1908 GP car – Brian Snelson
In 1910, a hint of what was to come later was the release of a 7hp, 1100cc, single-cylinder, small car.
At the breakout of World War I Austin’s range included commercial vehicles and ambulances. The Austin three-ton truck had individual propshafts for each rear wheel and this chassis was the basis of 2000 Army trucks and 480 armoured cars.
1920 Austin 20 – Foshie
After the War, in which Herbert Austin’s son was killed, the company offered only one model: the four-cylinder Austin 20. It’s said that Herbert was impressed by a Hudson he’d driven during the War and based the design on it.
The one-model policy proved to be a marketing disaster and the Austin Motor Company went into receivership. After refinancing, Herbert Austin remained as chairman, but lost his MD role and became part of aa trio of mangers who stared the company.
A scaled-down 20, the 1.7-litre 12 was launched in 1921. This model continued until 1937, following an engine size increase to 1.9 litres in 1927.
1926 Austin Seven box saloon – Malcolm Asquith
Austin Seven was launched in 1922, with a 696cc engine that was soon increased to 747cc. The Seven came about after Herbert Austin (then Sir Herbert) collaborated with a young designer, Stanley Edge. The concept of this lightweight car was a replacement for a motorcycle and sidecar rig. It had a simple two-main-bearing, drip-lubricated crankshaft, a three-speed box, transverse-leaf front end and quarter-elliptic rear springs.
The Austin Seven was a huge success both in the UK and overseas and was licence-built in France, Germany, Japan and North America. The Seven was fitted with Swallow sports saloon coachwork – DNA that led to SS and then Jaguar. Sporting derivates included the Nippy and the Ulster – the latter with a steel, three-bearing crankshaft.
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 configuration.
The 20 returned in 1927, with 3.4-litre, six-cylinder power and a year later was joined by a scaled-down 16 model, with a 2.3-litre six.
A small family Austin 10 model with a 1125cc four-cylinder engine was launched in 1932 and remained in production until 1947. At the same time came the 1.5-litre Light 12/24.
1937 Seven – David Merrett
The Seven gave way to the 900cc Eight in 1939.
Deputy chairman Ernest Payton became chairman in 1941 after the death of then Lord Austin.
During Word War II Austin continued to produce cars and also built Lancaster bombers.
1946 Austin 12 – Charles01
After the War, Austin launched its first overhead-valve engine, fitted into the pre-War 12 model’s chassis. The OHV engine displaced 2.2 litres and had 16hp RAC.
In 1948 Austin released the luxury Princess and Sheerline models and the 1.2-litre A40 models – all with independent front suspension.
Also launched was the weird Atlantic A90 model, in response the British Government’s demand that ‘Britain export or die’. The A90’s styling was a mix of popular European and US fashion, but appealed to neither customer base.
However, its grunty 2.7-litre four, with 88hp and four-speed transmission became the motive powertrain for the forthcoming Austin Healy 100.
The Austin Champ was a military and civilian Jeep-like vehicle, made by the Austin Motor Company in the 1950s. The army version was officially known as: ’Truck, 1/4 ton, CT, 4×4, Cargo & FFW, Austin Mk.1’, however the civilian name ‘Champ’ was universally, if unofficially, applied to it. The majority of Champs produced went to the British Army.
Austin and Morris buried the hatchet in 1952, with the formation of the British Motor Corporation Ltd that merged both brands. However, boss Leonard Lord was an Austin man and made sure that Austin engines powered most variants. Also significant in 1952 was the deal done with Donald Healey.
1954 A30 – Arpingstone
BMC/Austin models in the next eight years included the A30 – Longbridge’s first unitary-construction car – and the A35, A40, A55, A99, Princess A120, A135 and IV and the Austin Healey models (covered separately on this website).
The best known A30 in Australia was Peter Brock’s.
A less well known Aussie Austin was owned by Historic Vehicles’ very own Jim Gibson. His 1949 A40 (above) was lowered two inches (50mm) and hotted up by a ¾-race Waggot cam, twin SUs, a Sprite muffler and Pirelli Cinturato tyres. (It may have been faster without the headlight ‘eyebrows’!)
Austin learned little about the US market from the A90 Atlantic disaster and followed that failed effort with yet another unsuccessful try for US business with the dazzlingly ugly Metropolitan (below), based on the A40.
The big BMC hit in 1959 was the Mini. This small car came from the drawing board of Alec Issigonis, who had previously been with Morris from 1936 until 1952. The Mini specifications were drafted in response to the 1956 Suez crisis that threatened the UK’s oil supplies.
The Mini was launched with Austin Seven and Morris Mini Minor nameplates – both powered by an asthmatic A-series BMC848cc four-cylinder transversely-mounted engine – but the ‘Mini’ brand resonated better with the buying public and so the Austin version was also named ‘Mini’, in 1962.
1963 Austin Mini – Wrietgeist
The Mini was innovative, not because of its front-wheel-drive layout, but because it combined many radical features in a small package: a transverse engine with the gearbox in its sump; rubber suspension and tiny 10-inch wheels.
The global success of the Mini range spawned further front-wheel-drive developments at BMC.
1969 Austin 1800 – De Facto
Austin FWD models were the 1100 of 1963, the 1800 of 1964 and the Maxi of 1969. A rear-wheel-drive, large car adaptation of the 1800 body shell – the Austin three-litre model – was a market disaster.
1968 1800 ute – sv1ambo
The 1800, including the ute derivative, sold well in Australia and its image wasn’t hurt by a second placing the gruelling London-Sydney Marathon in 1968.
Austin 1800 Rally Car – Allen-Watkin
Chaos reigned after BMC bought out Pressed Steel and Jaguar in 1965/66 and then merged with Leyland Motors to become British Leyland Motor Corporation. Throughout the 1970s Austin released several unremarkable cars, including the Allegro and Maxi and and by 1975 British Leyland was virtually nationalised.
The Austin Metro was supposed to save the business when launched in 1980 and it did sell well in the UK. The Maestro followed in 1983 and the Montego in 1984. In the meantime, BL was renamed the Austin Rover Group and the MG brand was pasted on sportier Austin models.
In 1987 it was all over for Austin and the company became simply the Rover Group. Some models continued, but were virtually ‘marque-less’, bearing the Rover longship logo, but no Rover branding.
Austin Down Under
Like most car brands, Austins were imported regionally into Australia, but, in 1954, the Austin Motor Company of Australia and Nuffield Australia merged to form British Motor Corporation (Australia), with the Nuffield facility at Zetland, in Sydney, becoming the group headquarters of the new company.
Austin and Morris vehicles were assembled at the facility and subsequently it became the design and manufacturing centre for BMC Australia.
During a period of significant postwar reconstruction, migrant assimilation and technical innovation, the factory employed a peak of 7000 people from 35 nations. The only plant in Australia to manufacture the complete vehicle, it introduced to Australia the in-line transfer machining of engine blocks, the ‘rotodip’ paint process, automatic conveyor assembly processes and major advances in just-in-time and flexible manufacturing concepts.
Lancer Series 1 – GTHO
This factory produced the Austin Lancer model, which was based on the Wolseley 1500, but modified for Australian conditions. In another example of the badge engineering prevalent at the time, the Morris Marshal was produced, based on the Austin A95 Westminster.
1960 Lancer Series II – Sicnag
In 1961 the Mini entered production in Australia, but only as the Morris 850, not the Austin Se7en Mini.
Released in 1962, the Austin Freeway and Wolseley 24/80 models were Australian built variants of the Austin A60 Cambridge and Wolseley 15/60 respectively, both powered by a six-cylinder version of the BMC B-Series engine.
Austin Freeway – Jeremy
BMC knew that it had a size problem with its Farina-designed ADO cars – Austin A60 and Wolseley 15/60 – from which the Australian ADO40 – Austin Freeway and Wolseley 24/80 – were developed. They lacked the width of GMH and Ford competitors.
When the Freeway/24/80 models were being developed in early 1961, the width issue was debated and an enterprising engineering team, consisting of Reg Redfern, John Hamilton and Graham Hardy, quietly cut an ADO body down the middle, inserted a five-inch body width extension into it and welded it all back together again. The mock-up was known as ADO25.
BMC Australia engineering staff aboard the Freeway widened prototype
Rather than extend the tubes of the live rear axle, an independent rear suspension was grafted on.
New bumper centre section and standard ends
Reportedly, when chief engineer, Bill Serientsen, showed the mock-up to Bill Abbott, director of engineering and manufacturing, he went off his trolley and ordered the thing to be cut up immediately.
Standard and wide-body Freeway prototypes
Why Abbott was so unhappy has never been explained, but maybe he knew that the BMC future would be in front wheel drive cars and the Freeway was never intended to be more than a stopgap model. The FWD Austin 1800 was released in 1964.
(Interestingly, Mitsubishi Australia later did a 65mm widening exercise when it derived the successful Magna from the Galant.)
The narrow-body Austin Freeway was launched to the Australian public in May 1962, but had a short lifespan of only three years, before production finished in September 1965, with about 27,000 completed units having rolled off the production line.
To add some Australasian brand confusion, in New Zealand the Austin Freeway was badged as a Morris Freeway and the Morris Mini Deluxe was badged as an Austin Se7en. All were made in the Sydney factory.
A local version of the BMC 1100 joined the line up, badged as the Morris 1100 and henceforth the smaller front-wheel-drive BMC models were all to be badged as Morris and the larger ones as Austins, borrowing from the established markets where Vice Regal cars were Austin Princess limousines and Morris cars were mass motoring cars.
Princess IV – Charles01
Production of the Morris Mini Moke started in 1966 but fitted with larger, 13-inch wheels and longer rear wheel arms, than the UK original 10-inch.
1972 Kimberley Series II
A local version of the Austin 1800 was also produced from 1965 and this was developed into the Austin X6 range in 1970 with a longer wheelbase than the original. These were called the Austin Tasman for the basic model and Kimberley for the high-end model. In New Zealand these were also sold with Morris badging and some were assembled there.
By 1969 BMC Australia’s parent company had merged with the Leyland Corporation to form British Leyland and a merger in Australia saw the creation of the British Leyland Motor Corporation of Australia.
BMC Australia continued to trade as a division of the new company but had been renamed the Austin Morris Division by 1970. The company name was changed yet again in 1972 when it became the Leyland Motor Corporation of Australia, with the Austin Morris Division carried across to the new company. However, the Austin brand disappeared.