By John Hanson and Rod Ward
This is the story of a great British car marque and its pioneering founder, Herbert Austin. As a teenager Herbert went to work on a sheep farm in Australia, owned by Frederick York Wolseley. The confident young Austin told Wolseley he could make new sheep-shearing machinery work better. He was offered a position with the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Company in Sydney. Austin took out personal patents on the improved machines, and in March 1892 he returned to England with his wife and daughter. He sold the patents in 1892 in exchange for shares, and he was appointed Inspector of Machines and Works Manager in new premises in Birmingham, where bicycles were made during lulls in production. Austin persuaded the Wolseley board to invest in car production, which began in 1896 In 1901 Vickers, Sons & Maxim set up the Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Co Ltd in Birmingham, with Austin as manager, with a 33% shareholding. Austin remained chairman of the board until 1933, and the firm survived into the 21st century as builders’ merchants Wolseley Plc. When Vickers engaged J D Siddeley to build ‘Peugeot-type’ cars, Herbert Austin, still not yet 40, left Wolseley and set up his own firm, the Austin Motor Co, in Birmingham. He made a number of successful vehicle types, and in 1917 Herbert Austin was knighted for his contribution to the War effort, building aircraft and armoured cars. In the 1920s and 1030s Austin became famous for the Seven and the Heavy Twelve, among many other car types. In 1938 Leonard Lord, snubbed by William Morris, moved across to Longbridge to help the opposition. He reorganised the work processes, launched new models and prepared Austin for War. Lord Austin died in 1941. Leonard Lord oversaw the postwar growth of Austin, and its combination with the Nuffield group in 1952 as the British Motor Corporation. BMC became part of British Motor Holdings in 1966, then sank into British Leyland, later renamed Rover Group. The Austin name disappeared in 1987.