Did You Know?
- Hillman Imp
Early Motor Car Manufacturing in Scotland
With a long history of engineering and in manufacturing ships and railway engines, it was only natural that Scotland should be involved in making motor cars. After all, Scots had invented the modern road surface of tarmac (named after John Loudon MacAdam) and had re-invented pneumatic tyres (by John Boyd Dunlop) after the first such tyre had been patented by Robert William Thomson 40 years earlier. And a steam-powered "horseless carriage" was built and demonstrated in Edinburgh by William Symington in 1786.
Companies such as Arrol-Johnston, Argyll and Albion were established before the end of the 19th century and in 1903 an Arrol-Johnston vehicle drove the 840 miles from Land's End in Cornwall to John O' Groats in Caithness. But although small-scale car production continued after the First World War, these companies fell by the wayside. Despite efforts to sell in England, there was not a big enough market in Scotland. The Beardmore Motor Company in the 1920s was more successful, especially with a taxi-cab but production, but this was moved to be nearer its main market - in London. By the 1930s, car production had virtually ceased in Scotland.
The Hillman Imp
In the aftermath of the Suez crisis in 1956, European car manufacturers rushed to create small cars which used less fuel. This was the era of the first Morris Mini, a small car capable (just) of carrying a small family. The Coventry-based Rootes Group developed such a new car with a number of unique features - an aluminium alloy engine, positioned at the rear and angled at 45 degrees instead of vertically. Perhaps as an unintended prediction of the car's unreliability, the car had a wheel brace which could be used as a hand starter if the electrics failed!
To manufacture the new car, the company needed more manufacturing plant. But instead of expanding in their English factories in Coventry, the government (full of ideas about how they should dictate to commerce and industry about how to manage their businesses) persuaded Rootes to build in the unemployment black spot of the West of Scotland. Thus the factory in Linwood near Paisley and 14 miles west of Glasgow (across the road from a pressed-steel plant and not too far from the steel manufacturing plant at Ravenscraig in Lanarkshire) came into being.
HRH The Duke of Edinburgh officially opened the plant in October 1963 when he drove the first production Hillman Imp (which is now in the Transport Museum in Glasgow).
Although the car was sold in large numbers in England - and attempts were made to export it abroad - the Imp was seen as a "Scottish" car at least in Scotland and sold well there. The Imp was often the first car that many Scots had ever owned. Most of the workers were Scottish (few English employees were willing to transfer to Scotland, leading to a lack of experienced staff at Linwood). Many of the production line staff were from the declining Clyde shipyards - and brought with them their militant labour relations ideas.
The car was launched with too few cars in the showrooms and as production was rapidly expanded, quality control suffered and the car began to develop a reputation for unreliability. Production was also being disrupted by a spate of industrial disputes - there were 31 stoppages in 1964 and only 50,000 cars were produced that year in a factory capable of manufacturing 150,000 units. Even so, 1964 was the high point of production, declining to only 19,000 in 1975, the last full year of manufacture. In total, 440,013 cars were built by the time the last car rolled off the production line in March 1976.
Car production continued at Linwood on other models - the aged Hillman Hunter and Avenger models. Losses by Rootes resulted in it being taken over by the US Chrysler company but cost cutting just led to a further deterioration in quality. Chrysler sold out to the French Peugot-Citroen who renamed their UK operation Talbot. In May 1981 the entire manufacturing complex was closed, making 5,000 workers redundant.
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