History of the Austin Motor Car Company England the War Years
World War I
"The Great War" temporarily changed the course of the Company. Some idea of the Longbridge war effort can be gained from following facts:
8,000,000 shells were produced
650 guns manufactured
2,000 aircraft manufactured
2,500 aero engines manufactured
2,000 truck and lorries manufactured
Plus a whole host of other war material
The war created a massive production capacity, which was to become a very real post war handicap. Fortunately Austin recognised this and planned, when peace came, to concentrate on a single car: the 20. This was an entirely new car available in three different body styles. The price in 1919 was £495, £305 cheaper than its 1914 counterpart. The engine used in the 20 was adapted for use in a paraffin fuelled tractor, which went on to win many agricultural awards. The engine was also adapted to power a 1½ ton truck.
Despite the measures taken, when the company accounts were presented for the 2 years ending 31 Dec. 1921, the dire state of the business was clear for all to see: losses amounted to £38,750, debts owed by foreign countries cancelled, depreciation of assets etc., all leading to a bottom line total of secured and unsecured indebtedness of £2,037,963. Austin's ordinary shares plunged in value from £1.35½ to £0.05 in the period Jan 1920 to March 1922. The response to this was the production of a scaled down 20, called the 12 and the introduction of the Austin 7.
The Austin 7 was exhibited at the Olympia Motor Show in 1922. With a list price of £225 it became an instant success. Those who previously thought owning a motor car was beyond their means suddenly discovered that they, too, could now enjoy car ownership. The 7 was raced at Brooklands and Monza with great success. The motoring press loved the car; it quickly became a vogue and orders poured in from all around the world.
To accommodate this success, the factory had to grow. In 1926 the factory expanded to cover 62 acres and the workforce stood at 8,000 employees producing 25,000 cars.
The Company continued to prosper, even during the depression in the late 1920's - early 1930's. The range of models also increased during this period.
The 7 was being manufactured under license in the U.S.A., Germany and France helping the 7 to become the most popular car in the world. A great deal of publicity was generated by the 7's success on the race track (in 1924 it won a total of 168 racing awards), as well as its ascents, in1928,of Ben Nevis and Table Mountain. In 1931 the 7 became the first 750cc car to attain a speed of 100 mph in Britain.
The Company continued to prosper and in 1936 Sir Herbert Austin was elevated to the peerage,taking the title of Lord Austin of Longbridge.
During World War II
Lord Austin was appointed as Chairman of the Government sponsored shadow factory scheme for aero engine production. As well as overseeing the Longbridge contribution to this, Austin also oversaw the construction of a new factory at Cofton Hackett, where it was intended for both aero engines and aircraft to be produced.
Longbridge had to be blacked out for the war, this involved covering the entire factory roof (over 120 acres) in camouflage. The work was done in an amazing time of just three days!
Once again some idea of the enormity of the war effort can be seen in the following production figures:
Over 1,250,0000 rounds of 2, 6 and 17-pounder armour-piercing ammunition.
2,500,000 ammunition boxes.
Over 500,000 jerricans.
Over 500,000 steel helmets.
100,000 bogey suspension and driving gear units for Churchill tanks.
Over 36,000 wheeled vehicles including: six wheeler trucks, gun portees, RAF Tenders and ambulances.
The shadow factory at Cofton Hackett produced over 3,000 machines including: Fairey Battle light bombers, Mercury and Pegasus aero engines, Lancaster heavy bombers, Stirling bombers, Hurricane fighters, Horsa gliders, Beaufighter fuselages.
At the height of the war over 32,000 personnel were working on the Austin production front.
Lord Austin died, after a short illness, on May 23rd 1941. He was succeeded, as Chairman, by E. L. Payton, who in turn was succeeded by L. P. Lord as Chairman and managing Director in 1945.