The Austin motorcars are a famous part of British history. Their name dates back to the birth of Herbert Austin in 1866 who was born in Buckinghamshire but spent time living in Australia before returning to Birmingham when he was 27 years old.
After studying architecture at Brampton College, Herbert Austin moved to Australia aged 16 years old, to work for his uncle’s engineering firm in Melbourne. During this time, he married Helen Dron (in 1887). Living in Australia ignited his passion for motor cars, as frequent drives into the outback encouraged him to consider the need for petrol cars. After Austin had moved back to Birmingham, he became manager of the Wolseley Tool and Motor Company (1901). Shortly before this, he won first prize for the 1,000 mile trial with a four-wheel vehicle – with a single cylinder engine. Resigning from the Wolseley Tool and Motor company in 1905, Austin decided he wanted to set up his own motor company and found premises to do so, in Longbridge. 1905 then, became the year for the founding of the ‘Austin Motor Company.’
In 1906, Austin released his first car known as the ‘Endcliffe Phaeton’ – costing drivers £650. This was an incredible achievement, seeing as he had only founded the company 1 year earlier! What enabled Austin to do this so quickly, was his diverse range of skills which had now extended to draftsmen, marketer and, of course, skilled engineer. He was also able to take on a workforce – enabling around 120 cars to be sold during the first year of production. After attempting to make trucks, Austin reverted back to his original love: making cars. In 1914 his operations had grown to the extent that he had around 2000 employees and produced about 1000 cars. Of course, these were the years leading up to the First World War: a war that forced Austin to change his vision somewhat.
Rather than stop production completely, Austin turned his attentions to how he could help his country. After the First World War had finished, Austin had incredibly managed to produce trucks, armoured cars, searchlights, generators, fighter aircrafts, shells and even ambulances with his team of over 20,000 employees (mostly women). His contribution to the war was rewarded in 1917 when he was knighted, becoming Herbert Austin KBE.
After this time, however, the rollercoaster of Austin’s incredible career took a massive dip. Government contracts were cancelled leaving Austin unsure of what to do with his large workforce and very few orders! Financial problems meant that the administrators had to be called in and Austin was left with a very difficult decision about whether or not to continue trading. His method of choosing, however, was very unconventional.
The side of a coin was to decide the company’s fate! If it had landed the wrong way up, we may never have had cars such as the popular Austin Seven (1939), the A40 Devon (1947) and, of course, the Metro (1980). Despite his death in 1941, his name and memory lives on and has caused joy to many motorists since the company’s formation way back in 1905.
During a recession, there are very few products that increase in value. This is true for the majority of many cars that are bought and sold in today’s marketplace. By contrast, many classic cars not only retain their value but increase in worth, as they get older.
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