Around the world : New Zealand

The history of BMC>Rover is certainly not limited to the UK, and at the height of the post-war years of the ‘Empire’, there were production facilities all over the world.

Ian Walker comprehensively charts the history of one such operation: the New Zealand market.


Rover down under…

The former Standard-Triumph assembly plant at Nelson, as depicted in a BL Worldwide brochure.

The former Standard-Triumph assembly plant at Nelson, as depicted in a 1970s BL Worldwide brochure.

Up to 1930: Early days

Austin

The Austin story in New Zealand probably starts with a man called George H Scott. He became the agent for Austin of England in 1909 and was so effective that within four years Austin was the top-selling British car in New Zealand. Scott was appointed official Austin factory representative in 1919, and he appointed a number of distributors between 1919 and 1930:

Distributor Territory Year appointed
P H Vickery Invercargill 1919
David Crozier Christchurch 1919
Godfrey Magnus Motors Wellington 1921
Seabrook Fowlds 1925
New Zealand Farmers Co-operative Society Taranaki Province 1929
Austin Motors Otago Province 1929
Anderson & Hansen 1925
Seabrook Fowlds Hawkes Bay 1930

In 1924 the Austin 12 was selling well at £475 each.

Morris

Morris was handled by the Norwood family’s Dominion Motors. Charles Norwood was a director of Rouse and Hurrell, a coachbuilding company. He secured the Ford Agency for them but left in 1912 to found Dominion Motor Vehicles Ltd. A story told to me by a former chauffer of Charles Norwood’s son, Sir Walter Norwood, has Charles Norwood bribing his way onto the Wellington Harbour Pilots launch and getting aboard a Passenger Liner that had William Morris on board. The story has Norwood with the Morris Agency before the ship docked in Wellington, much to the chagrin of the would-be agents waiting on the quay.

Car sales

Sales of “BMC>Rover” brands for 1926
Austin Morris Triumph Standard
1784 851 165 134

1930-1960: Local assembly begins

SKD (semi-knocked down) assembly

Rover

Rover appears to have started assembly in NZ around 1930. A plant was built on Jackson Street, in the borough of Petone. In his book, Assembly: New Zealand Car Production 1921-98, Mark Webster identifies the plant as the first true assembly of British cars in NZ and the first overseas assembly plant for a British car in the world. Petone lies at the Estuary of The Hutt River and in later years the Hutt Valley was the largest car assembly locality in the country. This was probably due to its proximity to our capital City and seat of Government, Wellington. Webster’s text is confusing on actual start date. He has Colonel Frank Searle leaving England in 1931 to take over the newly opened Rover factory and Ernest Lewis as Managing Director in 1930. Rover 10/25s were assembled using local springs, NZ Beech framing and other local components.

The Rover Company of New Zealand changed its name to the British Sales Company and went into voluntary liquidation in February 1933. The factory building was taken over by J Gadsden & Co in 1933. They produced sacks, bags and tinplate cans and containers. Gasdens later became part of AHI Ltd. (Webster’s book has a typological error here, as he states ICI.)

Morris

In 1931 an English-assembled Morris Minor sold for NZ£100, but by 1934 the price had more than doubled to NZ£208. Mainly due to protectionist tariffs designed to protect a local assembly industry. Conversely, locally assembled Austin 7s retailed for NZ£178 each in 1935. In 1934 Dominion Motors set up a Morris assembly plant at Newmarket, in Auckland.

Austin

Distributor Seabrook Fowlds set up an Austin assembly plant in the adjoining Auckland suburb of Epsom around 1935, Webster’s sources vary between 1934 and 1938. Assembly was from SKD or Semi Knocked Down form: a chassis in component form but with the full assembled body shell. Austin operated under the umbrella of the Austin Distributors Federation, comprising the original distributors who had been appointed by George C Scott. Each of these companies “assembled” their own Austins.

However, in 1938 the federation created Associated Motor Industries (AMI) as its assembly division and in 1946 purchased a three large disused military stores on leased NZ Railway land in Petone. Most of New Zealand’s car assembly plants were requisitioned or converted to war supply factories for the duration of the second world war. The plant was on McKenzie Street, named after a former Mayor of the Borough, David McKenzie. However the road was later incorporated into The Western Hutt Road and renamed thus.

In August 1946, still using SKD kits the first post-war, locally assembled Austin rolled off the line at Petone. The model mix was mainly Austin 8s and 10s and locally manufactured trim items accounted for about 5 percent of car content.

CKD (completely knocked down) assembly

Austin, Rover, Jaguar

In 1948 the Petone plant tooled up for assembly of A40s and A70 Hampshires and Herefords. Between 1948 and 1954 8000 Austins were assembled. A number of Rover 75s were also assembled in 1948 and Mk V Jaguars in 1950.

The Petone plant was extended in 1953 and as well as increased production space the opportunity was taken to bring the entire Austin Distributors Federation under the same roof for the first time. The additions were officially opened by The Minister of Industry & Commerce on 17 November 1955. In 1956 a fence was erected between the plant and the next door Grand National Hotel.

Morris

At the Dominion Motors plant in Newmarket, Auckland, Morris Minors also began to roll of the assembly line in 1948 in a run that would last until 1969. Across town in Panmure, Morris Minor-based commercial vehicles ran on until 1972.

Standard-Triumph, Wolseley, Land Rover

In 1948 P H Vickery was also a partner in Motor Assemblies South Island Ltd who assembled Standards in Tuam Street, Christchurch. They also assembled Studebaker, Packard and Nash cars as well as many commercial vehicles. In 1949 along with 136 American models and 30 Wolseleys, they assembled 64 Standard 8s and 204 Standard Vanguards.

Standard Triumph NZ was formed in 1953 with its head office in Auckland. It took a financial stake in Motor Assemblies Christchurch plant. During 1959/60 the plant produced a Standard Vanguard Wagonette. A locally produced body, 40 pound cheaper than an imported one was fitted to a Vanguard chassis, which used the 6-cylinder engine later found in the Triumph 2000. The Christchurch assembled Triumph Herald was launched on the same day the car was launch in Paris. The local launch had beer where Paris had champagne. The Christchurch plant also assembled a few Land Rovers.

The CKD kits arrived in large wooden crates and an allied industry was established selling off the crates and timber for garages, sheds and all sorts of things.

Car sales

By 1954, largely as a result of Preferential Commonwealth Tariffs, British cars made up over 80 percent of all cars on New Zealand’s roads.

Sales of BMC>Rover brands for 1958-60 (Total market: 87,721)
Make Austin Morris Standard-Triumph Total
Sales 10,602 12,284 6,192 29,078
Market share 12% 14% 7% 33%

The 1960s: The market grows

The 1960s saw a rapid expansion in the New Zealand car market, with a spate of new models being introduced:

1962/63

Whilst the first Land Rovers had been assembled at the Standard Triumph plant in Christchurch, Series 2 production had been contracted to NZ Motor Bodies plant at Sylyia Park in Auckland. The Land Rover came in as an Agricultural Vehicle and was thus not subject to quota.

1964

Dominion Motors added the Riley Elf to their line up. At NZ£847, it was NZ£130 dearer than a standard Mini. It had its best sales in 1965, with 695 registrations or 8.7 percent of the small car market. A total of 1,975 Riley Elf cars were assembled between 1965 and 1970, with 1970 production being a mere 56.

The Morris 1100 and Mk II Wolseley 6/110 were also introduced, while Austin Distributors added the Austin 1100 to their range.

1965

Motor Assemblies, now part of Standard Triumph, purchased a failed government venture cotton mill in Nelson. (Cotton grew well in the sunny Nelson summer but died in the harsh Nelson winter). 25 staff transferred from Christchurch, and a further 75 locals were employed over the next few months. Production ceased at the Christchurch plant on August 24, and in October the first Nelson vehicle was produced. The model mix was Triumph Heralds and 2000s, and Leyland light commercials. The Nelson plant was successively owned by Standard Triumph NZ, British Leyland Corporation of New Zealand, New Zealand Motor Corporation (NZMC) and finally Honda New Zealand.

That year, a set of quins was born in New Zealand; the quins gained their parents – S R and S A Lawson – the gift of a new Morris Oxford, a joint venture between Dominion Motors and Four Square Grocers.

It’s interesting to compare the way similar cars were priced at this time:

Type/Class Make and Model Price (NZ£)
Mini Austin Mini 701
Morris Mini Minor 684
1100 Austin 1100 945
Morris 1100 938
Farina saloon Austin A60 1099
Morris Oxford VI 1129
2000 Rover 2000 1938
Triumph 2000 1489
Herald Triumph Herald 918
Triumph Vitesse 1099

1966

The Austin Gipsy was introduced to local assembly at the Austin Distributors Federation’s Petone plant in April. Built in long- and short-wheelbase forms, it was priced between NZ£1,478 and NZ£1,574.

Car sales

CKD car registrations for BMC>Rover brands, 1 January to 31 June 1963
Austin Morris Standard-Triumph Wolseley Rover
2,292 2,571 1,078 324 127
NB: The sole Japanese CKD car on the list, a Datsun (ex-Austin engine, ex-Fiat Body)
sold 93 in the same period.

1970s: NZMC is formed

When Leyland Motors merged with British Motor Holdings in 1968 to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC), they had inherited quite a cluttered operation in New Zealand. Donald Stokes visited in 1969 in an attempt to encourage rationalisation. A joint BLMC/New Zealand Motor Corporation venture was proposed with a new plant in Auckland to have a capacity of 20,000 cars. However the only thing to happen was the formation of the New Zealand Motor Corporation, and even that took another couple of years to come about…

New Zealand market share, 1970

1971

Dominion Motors – still owned by the Norwood family – were joined by Seabrook, Magnus, Vickery and Crozier, thus forming the New Zealand Motor Corporation (NZMC). The chairman of the company was Walter Norwood (later Sir Walter), son of Sir Charles Norwood. The company was listed on the NZ stock exchange and became one of the twelve largest listed companies. The original New Zealand Motor Corporation logo showed two circles denoting the two Islands with five lines below the left one curving up between them into one line at the top right, five companies into one.

On its formation, NZMC had over 3000 staff, 40 retail branches, a bus and coachwork factory, a commercial, industrial and earthmoving equipment arm, and four car assembly plants, namely:

· Dominion Motors, at Newmarket, Auckland
· Dominion Motors Commercials, at Panmure, Auckland
· AMI, at Petone
· Standard Triumph/ Leyland Commercial, at Nelson

Land Rover assembly was carried out under contract by New Zealand Motor Bodies in Sylvia Park, Auckland, while some local pressing of Land Rover panels was carried out in New Zealand Motor Bodies Petone plant.

At this time the Petone plant was assembling Mini Clubman, Mini K and the Australian Tasman; the Maxi was added in November. In September of the same year, Nelson-assembled Rovers, Daimler Sovereigns and Jaguar XJ6s began to be exported to Australia.

The year was brought to a close with the announcement that British Leyland’s interests in New Zealand would be merged with those of the New Zealand Motor Corporation, thus putting Jaguar, Daimler, Rover, Triumph, Austin, Morris, Wolseley, Riley, MG, Rolls Royce and Bentley in the same stable. 550 BLMC staff transferred to New Zealand Motor Corporation.

1972

The Newmarket plant started to assemble Australian-sourced Morris Marina packs. Newmarket then had a staff of over 300 and was also assembling Austin and Morris 1100/1300. Panmure was assembling Mini Clubmans alongside its commercials, and was also building the Datsun 1200 under contract.

The Triumph Toledo 1500 entered production at Nelson. 768 were built between May ’72 and March ’74. The plant’s build methodology is described as Labour Intensive. Staff levels peaked at 472 in 1974.

1973

Assembly of the Triumph 2500TC began in Nelson, retail pricing being NZ$4,359 (manual) and NZ$4,680 (automatic).

1974

Panmure started to build Austin/Morris Marina 1.3-litre, 400kg van to replace the Morris Minor Panel van. It was available in white only, with blue trim.

100 of the Australian Leyland P76 cars were imported fully built up, until August of that year, when plans were announced for the model to be assembled at the Petone plant, using CKD kits shipped shipped from Australia. By the end of the year, the P76’s poor sales after the oil price shocks saw it go out of production in Australia, but assembly in New Zealand continued into 1976, totalling around 650 examples.

The year ended with the announcement that the former British Leyland of New Zealand’s Headquarters in Carbine Road, Mount Wellington, Auckland was being redeveloped as NZMC’s central parts warehouse.

1975

NZMC introduced the Austin/Morris/Wolseley 18/22 series, and with the expiry of NZ Motor Bodies’ assembly contract, Land Rover production was moved to Nelson, where the 110 and NZ Army 109 models were built. The last batch of 110s was actually built at Nelson whilst under Honda New Zealand ownership. For many years if one lifted the red-and-grey Honda corporate tablecloth in the Nelson plant boardroom, one would discover the green-and-yellow Land Rover tablecloth underneath…

By September, 800 Rovers had been exported to Australia, with Sir Walter Norwood trying to get the Australian Government to allow another 500 in. In Auckland, the first Austin Allegro rolled of the Panmure assembly line and the car was launched onto the market in November.

However by December 1975, Japanese vehicles accounted for 27 percent of all New Zealand car sales. UK-sourced cars had 51 percent, Australia 16 percent and others the remaining 6 percent. So it was not surprising that the New Zealand Motor Corporation realised they needed a Japanese car. They chose Honda, despite the franchise being already held by The Moller Group, who had sold over 3000. The Honda franchise was to be additional to that for the BL marques.

1976

The first Honda Civic rolled of the Petone lines in February. Hondas shared body colours with the BL products being assembled there, so the first Civic was painted in Bold as Brass Yellow. That car is now owned by Honda New Zealand Limited.

Minis were still being assembled at the two Auckland plants, with 58,768 having been assembled between 1960 and October 1976. Full employment in New Zealand created severe staff shortages so a new toilet block was built to facilitate the employment of women on the production lines at the Nelson plant.

The last 70 Rovers for Australia were shipped from Nelson. Between 1971 and 31 March 1976 2,400 Rovers had been exported at a total value of NZ$8million. Nelson was now only building Triumphs and Land Rovers. The dash panel of the Triumphs was being made from kiln-dried West Coast White Pine, covered in walnut veneer from Queensland in Australia.

Planning was underway for the introduction of the Leyland Princess which would be the first front-wheel-drive car to be assembled at Nelson. Three Princess models were launched: the Deluxe manual at NZ$7691, the HL manual at NZ$8098, and the 1800 automatic at NZ$8455. The six-cylinder 2200 version was projected for NZ production in 1978. However, by 1977, Princess production was being stockpiled at Nelson with long-term storage protection measures, such as whitewashing all windows, being put into practice.

The year ended with flooding in Petone, and the mill stream adjacent to the Petone plant burst its banks and inundated the factory and storage yard.


1976-1996: Plant closures

This photo shows British Leyland's New Zealand truck assembly plant on Carbine Road in Mt Wellington, Auckland. Assembly took place in the main building with the saw-tooth roof, while the small building to the left served as the BLMCNZ head-quarters and the single-storey building in the foreground housed the Accounts and Service Office. The site was redeveloped in 1974/75 to become NZMC's P&A or Unipart division. Thanks to former NZMC employee Stewart Park for identifying this photo.

This photo shows British Leyland’s New Zealand truck assembly plant on Carbine Road in Mt Wellington, Auckland. Assembly took place in the main building with the saw-tooth roof, while the small building to the left served as the BLMCNZ head-quarters and the single-storey building in the foreground housed the Accounts and Service Office. The site was redeveloped in 1974/75 to become NZMC’s P&A or Unipart division. Thanks to former NZMC employee Stewart Park for identifying this photo.

The first NZMC factory to close was the former Dominion Motors Morris plant in Mortimer Pass, Newmarket; it closed in 1978 and production was transferred to Panmure. The Nuffield Street plant remained intact for many years, but there has been recent redevelopment of the area so I am not sure of its current status. However my last recollection of it is as a department store with the Nuffield Street façade still showing the Dominion Motors Ltd sign in the stucco. The shop extractor fans from the plant remained in the roof, having been used by the store’s interior designers as a decorative feature.

The second plant to close was Petone, in May 1983. Again, the plant is still intact at the time of writing, and the last time I passed that way it was being used by a freight company. An entry in Petone, a History, gives production figures from 1946 to August 1977 as 135,399 vehicles. No breakdown as to makes and models is available. The Petone Plant Manager, Austin Taylor, transferred to the Panmure plant. Born in Christchurch, New Zealand, he started his career with Standard Triumph in the UK as a cadet engineer in 1963. Standard Triumph sent him back to New Zealand and the Nelson plant, where he stayed for 2 years.

The Panmure plant was closed in 1987, but this again remains largely intact and currently houses many tenants, including a car dismantler, timber merchant, sea container storage/repair company and others. With Panmure’s closure, Austin Taylor was made redundant. He worked as Service Manager for Renault NZ before joining Honda New Zealand in 1991 as General Manager: Parts and Service. He still works for Honda New Zealand as Manager: Customer Relations and Fleet Sales.

Honda New Zealand was formed in August 1988 with a paid-up capital of NZ$36million. The new company purchased all Honda-related assets from The Steel and Tube Group (the owners of NZMC Limited), including the former Standard Triumph/Rover/Jaguar assembly plant in Nelson. This plant was closed 1996, at which time the manager was none other than Austin Taylor; he had thus completed his hat-trick of NZMC assembly plant closures. However, the Nelson plant was retained as a distribution centre, where all new Hondas from overseas were received. Staff there carried out the pre-delivery inspections, and also refurbished Japanese Used Cars (JUCs) before distribution and sale through Honda New Zealand’s retail arm, Honda Cars.

In 2002, the distribution centre was relocated to new, custom-built premises in Nelson. Part of the old Nelson plant was sold off to become a museum and events centre, while the remaining land and buildings were sold later that year, and are destined to become a shopping centre. At the time of writing, town planning considerations and local attitudes are holding up progress.

The Dominion Motors building on Mortimer Pass, Newmarket, Auckland 1 now serves as an annexe to a popular shopping centre. The name Two Double Seven being the street number of the main building. Picture supplied by Ian Walker.

The Dominion Motors building on Mortimer Pass, Newmarket, Auckland 1 now serves as an annexe to a popular shopping centre. The name Two Double Seven being the street number of the main building. Picture supplied by Ian Walker.

Posted in: Around the world
Keith Adams

About the Author:

AROnlineholic between 2001 and 2014 - editor of Classic Car Weekly, and all round car nut...

8 Comments on "Around the world : New Zealand"

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  1. Ken Green says:

    Ian walkers History of the New Zealand Motor industry is very interesting.
    .
    I first came to NZ for Standard Triumph on a Sales and Service Training trip in January 1965 in October of the same year returned as National Service manager for Standard Triumph NZ and finished up with NZMC in Wellington leaving in 1978.
    Names such as Joe Tatham, Peter Arnold. Ray Cutler, Peter Hall are but a few of the interesting people who worked in the Industry in those early years.

    One of the interesting things I had to do on that first trip was to inspect and report back on the Nelson building still with dirt floors which became the Assembly plant

    I would be interested in adding what knowledge I have of the 1965 to 1978 period if any update is developed in the future

  2. Ian Walker says:

    Hi Ken

    I am pretty sure I have heard your name mentioned and believe I was employed in 1981 by your NZMC successor, Keith Williams.

  3. Graeme Roberts says:

    There are a lot of errors in Mark Webster’s book; I suspect from wrong information being given to him in good faith; he didn’t start writing it until 2 years after the last NZ assembly plant closed and a lot of records disposed of.

    Morris Minor car assembly in NZ in fact finished in 1963 when the line was replaced by the 1100 – MG, Austin, Morris, Riley and Wolseley versions, all 4-door, were locally assembled in the 60s at both the Austin and Morris KD plants.

    We never got the updated Minor with silver-trimmed central speedo or the amber front and rear indicator lenses introduced in Britain after 1962. The Minor van did continue on in NZ until about 1972 when replaced by the Marina van which carried on into the early 80s.

  4. Ray says:

    I remember in my young days standing outside the Dominion Motors factory watching, if I recall correctly, 1100s and Minis coming out of the door after assembly at the end of the building. There seemed no parking at all and I assume they were taken to a car park somewhere, waiting to be shipped to a dealer.

  5. WarrenL says:

    You old salts should collaborate on a series of articles for AROnline, putting together everything you know for posterity. It’s important, especially when the sources currently available to the punter are so few.

  6. Glenn Aylett says:

    Another small country whose car industry is worthy of discussion is the Republic of Ireland, who wanted to develop a car industry by building CKD kits of British cars( mostly Ford and Rootes Chrysler). Indeed some of these made their way over here, the Chrysler Hunter was produced there and some Irish Cortinas appeared in the early eighties to top up production in Dagenham. I am sure Renault and Nissan Datsun had small assembly plants in Dublin, but I need someone to confirm this.

  7. Glenn Aylett says:

    @ Admin, thankyou, it’s interesting to read about these factories in Ireland and how protectionism created a thriving cottage industry. However, these weren’t car factories as we would understand them in Britain, with thousands of workers involved and a thriving local components industry, merely small factories assembling cars from kits in Britain. The end of protectionism saw these factories fall by the wayside as it became cheaper to import cars rather than kits to be assembled in Ireland.
    One Irish company that did seem to do well in the seventies was Waltham, producer of low priced music centres and televisions, whose products became popular in Britain. My family owned a Waltham music centre which lasted 14 years and my uncle still has one he bought in 1977.

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