By Clifford Webb
British Leyland is placing substantial orders for machine tools, power presses and assembly line equipment necessary for the first phase of the £400m to £500m expansion programme outlined by Lord Stokes, the chairman. Wilkins and Mitchell, the Darlastan, Staffordshire, manufacturers of heavy power presses, yesterday confirmed it had received orders from British Leyland for more than £2m worth of body presses.
It is understood that further orders will be confirmed shortly. The present orders are for delivery to a number of the group’s plants before next summer. They include some large 600 and 800 ton presses of the type used to produce big body panels. The first of the 23 presses are destined for the Swindon plant which at present supplies panels for the Morris Marina assembled at Cowley, the Austin Allegro at Longbridge, and MG sports cars at Abingdon.
The new Swindon presses will almost certainly be used to produce panels for a new large Austin saloon, expected to be launched late next year. Swindon is now assuming a more important role in the new centralized manufacturing set-up announced by Lord Stokes on September 6. It will be headed by Mr Bill Davis, the former managing director of Rover-Triumph and now the corporation’s director of manufacturing.
Plans are understood to have been made for Swindon to produce panels for both Austin Morris and Rover-Triumph. Orders have also been placed with Renault’s machine tool division for a £2.5m automated transfer line to machine aluminium heads for the first of a new family of engines due out next year. Orders worth £65,000 have been placed with Paterson Hughes Engineering for a body assembly line and storage system , for Triumph’s plant at Speke, Liverpool. The same company is already installing its Stor-Trak overhead conveyor system at Austin Morris Cowley. It will be used to store body panels before assembly.