MGB in Oz
The history of the MGB in the UK is well documented. Not so well recorded is the history of the MGB in Australia. Thanks to a new website, all the facts are finally beginning to emerge.
Many car makers, Austin and Morris among them, began assembling cars in Australia after World War Two, to take advantage of tax concessions for locally produced cars.
By the time the MGA was launched in the UK in 1955, the 43-acre BMC assembly plant at Zetland still only consisted of one CKD assembly building, the Unit Factory (engines, gearboxes, axles, etc) and a handful of smaller administrative buildings.
The CKD building was assembling Series II Morris Minors in two- and four- door saloon, Tourer, Traveller, utility and van versions, Series II Morris Oxford and the short-lived Morris Isis. There were also around a dozen models of Morris and Austin commercial vehicles, from small vans to 7-ton trucks, being assembled in the factory.
In short, space was limited and it simply wasn’t practical to take on another model at the time, so assembly of the MGA was contracted out to Pressed Metal Corporation (PMC) in Enfield, about 14km to the West of Zetland.
Pressed Metal Corporation was completely independent of BMC through this period, but it did have ties to Austin. The NSW distributor for Austin vehicles from 1918 was Larke Hoskins Group, and in the late 1930s it established PMC, as 70% shareholder, to build motor bodies on a 22-acre site in Cosgrove Rd, Enfield.
The Austin A40 was assembled at PMC from shortly after the War, with the company even developing its own unique utility version. Similarly, they assembled A50 utility and other Austin products. Land Rovers were also built there from the early 1950s, originally from CKD kits but later the aluminium body panels were stamped at Enfield, with the chassis coming in as complete units.
Assembly of MGA 1500 began at Enfield in October 1957. By February 1958 they were being built at a rate of three per day, according to Pedr Davis in Sports Car World magazine at the time.
While Twin Cams and coupes were imported Completely Built Up, the 1600 MKI and MkII models were also assembled in Australia.
MGA 1500 engines and gearboxes were assembled then cold-run and hot-run tested, before being trucked to Enfield, while the chassis frame arrived complete.
However, Enfield did the rest – from welding the body panels together, assembling the suspension and chassis components, to painting, trimming and final assembly.
“Pressed Metal Corporation are particularly proud of their baked enamel finish”, SCW reported, “claiming that it is among the very best available this side of the Equator.”
With the introduction of the MGB in 1962, it was a natural progression that it would be assembled at Pressed Metal. At this time, Mini production was in full swing at Zetland and commercial vehicles were still also being assembled in the CKD building.
Meanwhile, production of Austin Freeway sedan and station wagon, Wolseley 24/80 and Morris Major Elite were taking place in the new Car Assembly Building (CAB1), which had been completed in 1958.
Tractors were also being assembled, from Semi-Knocked Down packs, in the company garage.
So, MGB assembly began at Enfield in April 1963, under similar circumstances to the MGA, with the official release on 10 May.
It is likely that the decision to assemble the MGB in Australia was made even before UK production began, but there are a number of reasons why it took almost a year for local production to get under way.
As reported in Issue 1, production in the UK began in May 1962 and of the first 500 built only two were right-hand-drive. The vast majority of early production was for the US market: 3,978 (88%) of the 4,518 built in 1962.
Secondly, there was always a time lag of around three months between CKD packs being made up in the UK and arriving in Australia. Peter Davis, whose job included making up the Knock Down Allocation Schedule (KDAS) said that KDAS had to be sent to England a full 12 months ahead of any model change.
Thirdly, stocks of MGAs at Enfield, usually a full month’s production on hand at any time, and on the water from the UK were sufficient for assembly to continue until mid-1962.
There was also the time required for setting up the assembly jigs and equipment and generally fitting out the factory for the change from the MGA, which had a chassis, to the monocoque MGB.
Although Zetland had state-of-the-art transfer machines for working on B-series engines, in four and six cylinders, all engines for the MGB (as well as MGA 1600 engines) came in as CBU. This was not unusual, as other engines also came in CBU, including A-series for the Mini at the time, and for the Cooper and Cooper S models in later years.
Initially, virtually everything came in the CKD packs from the UK, but local input quickly grew. Even from the beginning, though, items such as the interior trim, batteries and tyres were locally sourced.
In order to reduce costs, Australian assembly was standardized as much as possible and some items that were options in the UK were either not offered or were standard.
For example, all locally-assembled MGBs came with wire wheels – though usually painted grey, with chrome as an option. All Australian MGBs also included an oil-cooler, mounted ahead of the radiator, and a front anti-roll bar. The fold-down hood was not offered on Aussie Bs, with all receiving the pack-away hood, and only in black, right up until 1970.
A couple of interesting problems arose when assembly began, which have latterly served to cause considerable confusion to historians and restorers.
The first relates to the car identification numbers, specifically the model Type. When the MGA 1600 was introduced, BMC changed to a new numbering format with a letter Y at the start to denote Australian production.
Thus the MGA 1600 in the UK was type GHN (where G stands for MG, H for engine size 1400cc to 1999cc and N for two-seat roadster), and in Australia should have been YGHN, but for reasons unknown, YGHN2 was used.
This may have been a logical step, as the MGA 1500 was the first open two-seater MG assembled in Australia, so the 1600 was the second in the series. This, however, is purely conjecture.
The English MGA 1600 Mk2 was therefore GHN2 and in Australia YGHN3. So when the MGB came on stream, GHN3 in the UK , its Australian version YGHN3 had already been used. To realign with the UK, the decision was made to stay with YGHN3 even though two completely different MG models would have the same model type designation.
The first Australian MGB was listed as YGHN, though the very next car is YGHN3. This may have been because of some uncertainty, given that YGHN3 had already been taken by the MGA 1600 Mk II, but most likely was simply a factory floor error.
The other problem that occurred is that many of the early MGBs assembled locally were fitted with ID plates identifying the manufacturer as Nuffield (Australia) Pty Ltd, Zetland, and also carried the Morris Motors emblem.
How or why this happened is a complete mystery and it is not known exactly how many cars were affected. It has been suggested that Pressed Metal may have had Nuffield plates left over from production of earlier model cars assembled in the factory and that a shortage of the correct plates supplied from Zetland meant the old plates were fitted to early MGBs.
However, as Larke Hoskins were Austin distributors, it appears that PMC did not assemble any Nuffield products until the formation of BMC Australia in 1954, so it would be strange for them to have Nuffield plates at all. It is equally unlikely that the plates came from the UK, as they were identified as Nuffield (Australia).
The only logical explanation seems to be that for whatever reason – maybe a shortage of the correct plates, or Nuffield plates left over from earlier assembly, or zero care factor – the plates were supplied from Zetland.
The fact that these plates carry the Zetland address seems to be one of the reasons many people have concluded that all MGBs assembled in Australia were done so at Zetland. However, as Peter Davis explains; “all sub-contract assemblers used plates with the Austin/Nuffield/BMC address.”
On early cars the UK production number is listed, which fits in the production schedule with Abingdon-built cars, followed by the Australian car number. By 1965, possibly late 1964, only the Australian car number was stamped into the plate.
Enfield plates were stamped by hand from the front, and are therefore fairly untidy, while Zetland plates are machine stamped, from the rear of the plate. From about June to December 1969 no ID plates were fitted to MGBs, which was common practice with all BMC cars of the period. From 1 January 1970 all Australian cars were fitted with Compliance Plates.
It terms of specification, because the major components were supplied from the UK, Aussie MGBs received the same on-going production changes as the UK cars, though some months behind because of the same delays that affected the MGA.
Also, because of the low volume production, virtually every shipment contained some engineering changes, often many.
If you would like to read the rest of this story, subscribe today or grab your copy of The BMC Experience from your local newsagent.
All back issues of The BMC Experience are now available in digital format from www.pocketmags.com.