Factory - The history of BMC/Leyland in Victoria

The history of BMC/Leyland in Victoria has more twists than a good spy novel.

As detailed in Issue 16, when BMC formed in the UK they inherited a vast group of factories and subsidiary companies. As Austin and Morris had been fierce rivals for so long there was considerable duplication of facilities, but neither wanted to relinquish production volumes or market share.

This resulted in a sometimes fairly haphazard approach to production, the infamous badge engineering to ensure all brands had similar lines of cars, and significant power struggles between the former rival companies.

In some ways the situation in Australia mirrored that of the UK, with production facilities in each state, privately-owned distribution and assembly centres and, later, competing retailers for essentially the same vehicles.

The parent company in the UK failed to properly resolve these issues, which plagued them up to, and were partly responsible for, the take-over by Leyland. On the other hand, the Australian company did get on top of many of these issues to form a single and reasonably coherent corporation.

That was no small achievement, but was in part assisted by the fact that Morris and Austin had already shared some production facilities and distributorships in some states, particularly in Victoria.

Going back to the beginning, both Herbert Austin and William Morris had connections with Australia from before the War – Austin’s going back to before 1900.

Herbert Austin migrated to Sydney with his uncle in 1884, at the age of 18, to pursue a career in engineering. He was soon manager of a small firm that supplied components to the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Company.

Fredrick Wolseley, also from England, had invented and patented the world’s first mechanical shearing machines, and set up the company to produce them in 1887.

In 1889, Wolseley moved his company to Longbridge, Birmingham in the UK, but the association with Austin continued. In 1893 Austin returned to England, to take up the position of works manager for Wolseley. He designed the first Wolseley motor car in 1895-6, but left to form the Austin Motor Company, also in Birmingham, in 1905. When the Wolseley company went into receivership and was auctioned in October 1926, it was William Morris who out-bid Austin to buy Wolseley for £730,000 – sparking the intense rivalry between the two companies.

In the meantime, Austin’s connections with Australia had strengthened when his daughter married an Australian, Captain (later Colonel) Arthur Waite.

The Austin 7 was released in 1922, and the following year the first examples were shipped to Australia. Austin appointed Bob Wallace as Victorian distributor, and Arthur Waite returned to Australia shortly afterwards to develop a dealer network. A motorsport enthusiast, Waite had a racing Austin 7 shipped to Melbourne where he competed in, and won, the first Australian Grand Prix, at Phillip Island, in 1928.

With the increase in sales as a result of the publicity from the race win, Waite organised for local assembly of the Austin 7, with the bodies built by Austin Distributors in

Melbourne and Holden Motor Bodies in Adelaide. By this time, though, Austin Distributors had been bought by Sydney Albert (SA) Cheney. Interestingly, Cheeney also owned Frank McGowan & Co, the Victorian agents for Morris.

If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 18 of The Mini Experience. <plumshop>24</plumshop> 

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