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Austin Company History

Published: 24th Mar 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!


Austin Archive

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By the late 1930s, the famous company founded by Sir Herbert Austin was doing well. Having recovered from a perilous financial situation during the 1920s (saved largely because of the huge success of the diminutive Austin Seven), the firm was well-established as a producer of reliable (if rather conservative) family cars. As the Second World War loomed large, the Austin lineup included the hugely successful Seven, the popular mid range Ten and Twelve, plus a variety of larger machines (including 14hp and huge 18hp models). During the conflict civilian production was halted, but was quickly re-started in the mid-1940s, at first producing updated versions of the pre-War models. The arch-rival firm of Morris (started by William Morris - Viscount Nuffield) was also an extremely successful firm during the late 1930s. Its well-liked products included the affordable Morris Eight (unusually for a small car of the time, featuring hydraulic brakes), plus the mid sized Ten and Twelve, also the much larger but similarly styled Fourteen, Sixteen and Eighteen. The War temporarily finished car building for public consumption, but when hostilities ceased Morris very soon established production again, and like Austin initially built cars based on pre-War variants to satifsy demand as the UK tried to return to normal.

During the late 1940s Austin introduced a new range of more advanced overhead valve models, including the original A40 (four-door Devon and two door Dorset - not the later semi hatchback) and the A70 Hampshire. Many of these cars were exported, earning valuable revenue for Britain at the time. In 1951 the company launched a new small car, intended to build on the strengths of the pre-War Seven. This was the unitary construction A30, which was an instant hit. Meanwhile, Morris had introduced the extremely effective Minor and the larger (but similarly-styled) Oxford. These models proved very popular with buyers.

As a result of the formation of the British Motor Corporation in 1952, the two rival companies found themselves under the same operating umbrella. This led to a unified approach to engine design, with the overhead valve 803cc unit from Austin’s A30 finding its way into the Minor. In 1956, a revised and enlarged (948cc) version of this motor became the first of the legendary A-Series units. The same basic design was to continue in production for well over 40 years! The new, similar in concept but larger BMC B-Series 1.5-litre motor was installed in both Austin Cambridges and Morris Oxfords (as well as in contemporary MG Magnettes and the MGA, for example), and the C-Series six-cylinder unit powered all Morris Isis and the upmarket Austin Westminster models.

Towards the end of the 1950s, ‘badge engineering’ was unashamedly applied to the mid-range Cambridge and Oxford models, which now differed only in trim and badging. This approach, which resulted in huge economies of scale in production terms, was also applied during the 1960s to the Minis, the front wheeldrive 1100/1300 range, also the wide bodied 1800/2200 ‘Land Crabs’.

Conversely, during the 1970s the respective badges were applied to distinctly different models - for example the front drive Austin Allegro and the rear drive Morris Marina. Inspired by the late, great (Sir) Alex Issigonis, the front wheel drive Mini (introduced in 1959 in both Austin and Morris forms) proved to be truly revolutionary, and set the pattern for small car design which still continues nearly half a century on.

Amidst the well-documented trials and tribulations of the British Leyland empire (resulting from the amalgamation of many diverse motor companies), the Morris name disappeared in 1984, when the Ital was discontinued.The Austin name was also consigned to oblivion in 1987, after the decision to badge future models as ‘Rovers’. As with many family cars of the 19870s/80s, some of the last versions of Austin/Morris models are now exceedingly rare. Examples include the Marina, Ital, Allegro, Maestro and Montego – only small handfuls of each of these models now survive.

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