All Car Central Magazine

A Little More History on the British Motor Industry. 1945 To 1970
By Geoff Wheatley


A Little More History on the British Motor Industry. 1945 To 1970

The Second World war had been over for three years but Britain was still be rationed for most of the day by day niceties like food including bread, gasoline, cloths and virtually all luxury goods like a motor car. The waiting time for a new car was between twelve to eighteen months. Why, because Britain was exporting everything that the world would buy in order to pay off its huge war debt. The principle market was the USA where the mighty dollar was the golden currency throughout the world. In 1945 when the war ended the British pound was worth four US dollars but in order to boost exports the British government took the dramatic step of devaluing the pound by 40%.

Exports boomed but imports like food and of course fuel simply became more expensive. In an effort to improve the production of export vehicles and to benefit from the devaluation of sterling both Nuffield and Austin announced, in October 1948, that they had engaged in talks that would result in a ongoing exchange of information on such things as manufacturing economics, purchasing and design. The stated objective was to create maximum standardization between the two companies. The Government encouraged this exchange between Britain’s two leading motor manufactures and went further by suggesting a Standardization Committee for the entire industry. The Nuffield/Austin companies held their first meeting in November 1948 at the Longbridge factory and the first order of business was reducing the vast number of electric components used by the two companies.

This committee continued to meet well into 1949 with some success; however, what the Ministry of Supply who encouraged this activity, did not understand was that the two leading figures in this attempt at co-operation were hardy on speaking terms. Lord Nuffield and Leonard Lord had fallen out in 1936 when Nuffield virtually sacked Lord as CEO of the Morris Company after only a years tenure. They did nothing to encourage the work of the committee, and never attended one meeting. Because of this by the end of 1949 it was obvious that any idea of a merger between the two companies was not on the cards and a press announcement stated that despite the success of the committee no further confidential information would be exchanged. This did not please the Government but little could be done at that time due to a pending election.

For the first and last time in the British motor industry the two leading companies had started on the road of sound economic policy with the prospect that both costs and quality could be improved resulting in better and less expensive products. However, as stated this was short lived and it would take another year or two before the British Motor Corporation was formed under the Direction of a new Conservative British Government who also purchased an interest in the merger to enable a Civil Servant to sit on the board and in theory guide the progress of the merger.

Of course this never happened. There was no cooperation between the two companies each one operating exactly as it did before. No joint research teams, no design co-operation, no new production developments just two companies one in the North and the other in the South working independently.

In fact it was the stated policy of the new CEO who was an Austin man that this would continue in the interests of individual development. Even the pay rates for the workers in each company were different which in time led to the industrial strikes that plagued the industry.

Nuffield retired soon after the creation of the BMC and this did not help the imposed merger. He was always viewed by his workers as one of them which in reality he was, starting work at the age of fourteen and creating one of the largest motor companies in the world and acquiring a king’s ransom for his troubles. Even during the depression years of the 1930’s Nuffield never laid off any workers. His policy was to reduce the work week when required for a few weeks or months but he made sure that every worker went home with something in his pay packet.

The general moral in the Morris Empire certainly dropped when it became the BMC and it is interesting to note that until that time there had never been a strong union component within the company, a situation that was soon to change.

As governments changed between 1945 and 1970, the virtual end of the British Motor Industry, more and more tax dollars was poured into the industry including of course the Thatcher investment in the Deloran project that cost the Government around $45 million.

There can be little doubt that this fiasco had an influence on the decision by the Blair government not to save Rover/MG a few years later. Today there is nothing left of a once creative and successful industry, well almost nothing, there is still the Morgan Company that was started a hundred years ago and still in business. To my knowledge they never accepted a cent of the taxpayer’s money, guess there is a moral to that somewhere.
Geoff Wheatley ©; Contact Geoff Wheatley


Morgan 7 hp Runabout 1901


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