By BASIL CARDEW
Last night a neatly dressed man of 55, built like an athlete, was handed a slip of paper in his office in the administration block of the British Motor Corporation works near Birmingham. The office block is known to B.M.C. workers as “The Kremlin.” The man is George Harriman, chairman of B.M.C. Every night he receives a similar secret slip of paper giving the exact total of the vehicles produced bv his giant group of companies with more than 85,000 workers and over a score of factories.
But last night was a special occasion. Harrlman’s note recorded that B.M.C. had broken another record ; production had soared to 748,470 in the year ended on July 27, a magnificent gain of 24.6 per cent over the previous year. Overseas production was up by 20.8 per cent too. Britain’s biggest car man was pleased, but not completely satisfied. He looks forward to producing and selling a million vehicles a year. What sort of car?
He said to me last night: “People want a functional car with the smallest overall package but the largest space inside. Not to big, but it must be the latest in line and in mechanics.”
Harriman ought to know. His car empire is the fourth largest in the world. He has spent all his life in the motor Industry, starting as an apprentice in the days of the bull-nosed Morris, at an engine factory in Coventry. He worked under the great Leonard Lord â€” now Lord Lambury, who is still his hero. For a man of such eminence in industry, Harriman lives simply. He does a little fly fishing; he plays golf with his wife for a fortnight in Kent as his holiday, and on winter Saturday afternoons you may often see him on the open terraces of Aston Villa ground.
Behind his and BMC’s triumph were three brilliant developments. The first was the gradual introduction of automation into B.M.C.’s factories, done with sufficient tact for the unions to accept it. Plant worth millions was declared obsolete, scrapped, and replaced by machines which stamped and drilled automatically in a tenth of the old time. The second was shopping abroad to improve the shape of Austin and Morris cars. For a figure reputed to exceed £100,000 a year, the white-haired Italian masterdesigner Pininfarina agreed to reshape B.M.C. cars. I have been in the B.M.C. “Kremlin” when as many as 30 roughly drawn front end shapes of cars have been handed in a sheaf to Lord and Harriman.
“We have got to decide which one we like,” they told me.
Their choice was sound. The first Pininfarina lines went into the Austin A40. Many people were startled by the complete breakaway from the bulbous shapes fashionable until then; but it was a winner, and B.M.C. went on from there to restyle its other cars Farina-fashion. The third big development was the front-wheel drive, transverse-englned Minis, now growing up into a complete range of cars. Fitting the engine sideways gave enormous economy of space, the Harriman formula of ” big inside, small outside.”
Behind this development was the shy, brilliant Alec Issigonis, who had earlier designed the everlasting Morris Minor. These are the three pillars of B.M.C.’s present success. But success mustn’t stand still. And it won’t. I have seen in the padlocked garage under the B.M.C. ” Kremlin” prototypes of cars for the next five years. Forward thinking ; that is perhaps the fourth secret of the success Harriman celebrates today.