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Birmingham City Council

A Brief History of Austin and Longbridge: The Early Years

The Early Years

Herbert Austin, founder of the Austin Motor Company, was born 8th November 1866 at Grange Farm, Little Missenden, Buckinghamshire. His family moved to Wentworth, Yorkshire where his father was appointed farm bailiff on Earl Fitzwilliam's estate. He was educated at Wentworth School, Rotherham Grammar School and Brampton Commercial College.

His mother secured an engineering apprenticeship for him with a firm in Melbourne, Australia, which he took up in 1884. After working for a number of companies he was invited by Frederick Wolseley to work for the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Company. He was so successful that he was offered the post of manager of their British operations, which he accepted and returned to England in 1893. Kellys Directory for Birmingham, 1894, names Herbert Austin as Inspector of the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Co. Ltd., 58 Broad Street.

Whilst working for Wolseley he built 2 experimental tri-cars, the first in 1895 and the second in 1896. This second car was exhibited at the Crystal Palace exhibition of that year.

The first 4 wheel Wolseley was built in 1899. This car was entered for the Automobile Club of Great Britains 1,000-mile trial in 1900 and took first prize. In 1901 the Wolseley Tool and Motor Company, with financial backing from the Vickers Armaments concern, was founded at Adderley Park with Austin as its manager. In 1905 Austin resigned from the Company in order to start his own company the Austin Motor Company.

Austin had identified a suitable site for his factory whilst working for Wolseley's. The site, seven miles from Birmingham, was at Longbridge. It was well served by road and rail with ample room for future expansion. Finance for the company was provided by: Austin, Frank Kayser of Kayser, Ellison and Company, and Harvey du Cros of the Dunlop Rubber Company. Although the purchase of the site and buildings actually took place on 26th January 1906, Austin had already installed himself and his staff in the empty buildings and was at work well in advance of that date. The reason for this was that Austin wanted to exhibit at the Olympia Motor Show in November 1905. One of Harvey du Cross businesses: Du Cros Mercedes Limited, allowed Austin to use part of their stand to promote the fledgling company. Austin and his draughtsmen, armed with blueprints, generated considerable interest and managed to secure a number of firm orders.

When the first accounts for the company were published in October 1906 the net turnover for the company was 4,772 with 23 cars being sold: mainly 25/30's with a few 15/20's. By the following year the net turnover was nearly 00,000 and 147 sold. Austin enjoyed some small success during this period: the first car produced was entered in the 1906 Scottish Reliability Trial, and made a 3 day non-stop run. The second car built won the 100 guineas Dunlop Challenge Cup in the Irish Reliability Trial. Also in this year the 15/20 model had its bore increased by 1/8" and became the 18/24.

A private limited liability company was formed in 1908 by Austin, Kayser and du Cros with turnover going up to 19,744 and 254 cars sold. The 18/24 remained but the 25/30 got bored out to become the 40. Other manufacturers were making 6 cylinder engines, Austin could not ignore this development so he added 2 extra cylinders to the 40 and so the 60 was born. 1909 saw the introduction of a smaller, cheaper engined car: the 15. The 15 was unusual in that the driver sat centrally and above the engine. The 15 continued in production until 1919.

By 1910 nearly 1,000 workers were employed at Longbridge and a night shift was found to be necessary.

The 10 was announced at the Motor Show of 1910. This was another small, cheap model aimed at the Continental market, and made available in Britain in 1911. 1910 also saw the introduction of a very small, single cylinder engined model 7. Only 1 model 7 was built at Longbridge before production was transferred to the Swift Works in Coventry, a company owned by Harvey du Cros.

The Company successfully diversified into marine engines and also produced a 2/3 ton lorry in 1913.
In February 1914 the Company went into public ownership, the capitalisation realising 50,000.

Austin - The War Years
Austin - Post War to 2005
Science Library - Transport