Chile’s BMC operation remained a specialist small-scale facility throughout its lifetime. However, what marked out Chilean Minis and ADO16s from their counterparts from across the globe was that they were produced in fibreglass…
Story told by Rodrigo Toledo.
BMC in Chile: A potted history
The World Cup football competition was held in Chile in 1962. In that same year, and as a consequence of that event, the government of the time started encouraging the production of television sets, radios, household appliances and cars in Chile, to improve the material well-being of Chileans and thus providing them with these “symbols of economic development”. Up until that time, the total number of cars in the country was small and those vehicles that did exist were a quite old. They were mainly all imported vehicles, although some were produced in a small assembly plant that Ford owned in Santiago. This plant produced pick up trucks, trucks and some American cars which were very expensive to run for the majority of Chileans.
With this new policy, the Chilean government tried to accomplish three things: substitute imports (a typical obsession of Latin America between 1930 and 1990 – this was supposed to save foreign exchange for the country and create employment), modernise the vehicles on the road in general and enable many more people to buy a car, and develop an industrial zone in Arica, a beautiful town situated 2,100 km to the north of Santiago and about 20 km from the Peruvian border. The theory was that the car and electronics industries would encourage the development of a series of complementary industries.
The biggest setback of this policy was that Arica was situated such a long way from the iron and steel and glass-producing industries which were found in the area of Concepción and Talcahuano, 500 km to the south of Santiago and 2,600 km from Arica. Also, the all important parts and components factories for vehicles were also found in Santiago or in nearby towns. Besides, up until now, nearly 90% of all car sales have been in the central and southern parts of the country and all government offices and banking institutions are concentrated in Santiago, which obliges all companies to have general offices in the capital.
At the beginning, anybody who owned a factory or workshop in Arica – and they were favoured with fiscal benefits – and had a manufacturing licence from a company, could assemble motor vehicles. Thus, in 1962, a total of 6,615 cars and trucks rolled out of 22 authorised plants; moreover, three of these possessed BMC licences, and the three produced the same type of vehicle, the Austin 8cwt/Morris O-type van and pickup models, without including another which produced the Land Rover, and another which assembled the Triumph Herald and the Standard 12cwt van.
Of the five companies that held manufacturing licences, the most important one was EMSSA, which started out by assembling the Austin 8cwt pick up, and then the van version in 1963. They then started production of the Austin Mini 1000 in 1964, although some of the vehicles were produced under the Morris marque. After production had been halted during 1966, the plant started up again, and after injections of capital between 1968 and 1969, EMSSA became British Leyland Automotores de Chile, S.A. and was now under direct control of British Leyland. Production centred on the Austin Mini 1000 and the 2 door ADO16 model called MG 1300. The assembly line for this model was not ready until 1970-71, although it had been planned to open it in 1969.
The other companies which held licences were: the Compañía Anglo-Chilena, which assembled 216 Morris pick ups and 6 Morris Minor cars, in 1962; Industria Anglo-Americana which assembled six Morris pick ups in 1962 before concentrating solely on the production of Chevrolet pick ups and then closing down completely in 1965; Importadora FISK who assembled Land Rovers between 1962 and 1965, and INTEGRAUTO who assembled the Triumph Herald and Standard 12cwt pick up between 1962 and 1968. After 1968, the Triumph, Standard and Morris ranges were dropped, and Land Rovers were then imported from Spain (Metalúrgica Santana), and from England.
Incredible as it might seem there were in fact three companies assembling the same vehicles, the Morris 1/4 ton pickup and van. The difference was that EMSSA also sold them under the Austin marque while the other two companies only assembled the vehicles under the Morris brand. The Compañía Anglo-Chilena also assembled 6 Morris Minor cars. To start up, as you only needed to have a licence from the respective manufacturer, a plant in Arica, and comply with the incorporation of locally-made components which amounted to 25% of the final value of the vehicle to get the corresponding governmental licence to build vehicles, it wasn´t strange that 22 plants started production of vehicles; and you even had the situation whereby several companies produced the same vehicles, as was the case with the BMC pick ups, since they were assembled by three different assemblers in 1962. As an anecdote, EMSSA also assembled the Chevrolet Chevy II and the Chevrolet C-1434 pickup until 1965, the same as the Industria Anglo-Americana and another five companies.
This was the main reason why a higher percentage of locally-produced components was demanded (by the government). I still don´t understand why BMC awarded licences to three different companies in the same city and in the same country and in the same year to assemble basically the same vehicles. But the same may be asked of Chevrolet and Ford. However the situation resolved itself very quickly since the Compañía Anglo-Chilena closed down in the same year of 1962, and the Industría Anglo-Americana, after assembling six Morris pickups, preferred to concentrate on Chevrolet, although they also disappeared in 1965.
The year that EMSSA was closed in 1966, was to sort things out. Apparently they returned their licence to Chevrolet, and just concentrated from then onwards on producing the Austin Mini, since the assembly of the Mini had started in 1964 under the marques of Austin and Morris, while from when production commenced again they only assembled them under the Austin brand. British Leyland supplied the necessary capital to establish British Leyland Automotores de Chile, S.A. in 1969, which replaced EMSSA.
Although the range of vehicles was rationalised, and production was concentrated in just one company, BL had to face the demands of the government with respect to increasing the amount of locally-produced components in the cost of the vehicles produced. This started off at a reasonable 25% in 1962, increased to 52.94% in 1968 and then went up to a crazy 70.22% in 1971.
Early production figures for the competing assembly operation, before BLMC rationalised the situation.
|MODELS PRODUCED||NUMBER OF UNITS PRODUCED||DATE OF PRODUCTION|
|EMSSA||Morris ¼ ton “O” type pick up|
Morris ¼ ton “O” type van
Austin ¼ ton van
(Also includes the Morris O type van)
|Austin/Morris ¼ ton van|
Austin ¼ ton pick up
Austin ¼ ton pick up
|Austin / Morris ¼ ton van|
Austin Mini 1000
Morris Mini 1000
|Compañía Anglo-Chilena||Morris ¼ ton “O” type pickup|
Morris ¼ ton “O” type van
Morris Minor saloon
|Industría Anglo-Americana||Morris ¼ ton “O” type pickup|
Morris ¼ ton “O” type van
|Importadora FISK||Land Rover||129|
|Standard 12cwt pickup||18|
(Produced until 1968)
I use the adjective “crazy” here because looked at in the context of such a small-scale total production (879 Austin Minis in 1968 and a total car production from all the other car manufacturers of 18,042 units) the companies would never be able to amortise the huge investment that the governmental plans demanded. In truth, the Chilean governments admitted to the non-viability of the project, and allowed the importation of components from Argentina and accepted them as if they were nationally-produced parts, and this saved Citroen, Peugeot, Fiat and Renault.
However, since BL Chile could not depend on another South American factory to supply it with components it came up with following ingenious solution:
Instead of importing CKD bodies from England for their assembly in Chile, BL Chile would manufacture its own bodies in fibre-glass in Arica, and thus be able to abide by the governmental plans and at the same time would be able to reduce their dependence on suppliers in Santiago and England, and without increasing the final cost of the car too much. Although the Mini did not look that good with a fibre glass body, thankfully the MG 1300 was no different to the English-built version. The major obstacle though was the great distance between Arica and the central area of Chile which inevitably increased the costs of transport to these areas. These transport costs amounted to 4% of the final on-the-road cost of the car. In the end, BL resolved the problem by air-freighting the vehicles.
Although the political and economical situation in Chile was not ideal between 1968 and 1971, the local manufacturers could not keep up with demand. This far outstripped the number of vehicles that could be produced in Chile to such an extent that after Salvador Allende had been elected President of the Republic, many of his opponents – in their panic – exchanged estates and houses in the most elegant suburbs of Santiago for Fiat 125s, MG 1300s and Peugeot 404s to escape from the country and into Argentina, since the demand for plane tickets was so great that there were just none left. The economic crisis and hyperinflation between 1972 and 1973 affected car production enormously, but even in spite of this BL still managed to produce 2,356 cars in 1972 and 2,038 in 1973.
The new military government which came to power after the coup which overthrew President Allende on 11 September 1973 introduced a revolutionary economic plan: the deregulation of import duty and of home market prices for all types of products, as well as massive privatisation of state companies and those that had recently been nationalised, anticipating Margaret Thatcher by 7 years. It was this new panorama together with BL´s problems in England which caused the closure of the Arica plant in 1974; However, BL Chile continued being a very important importer of vehicles until 1984 when, as a consequence of the terrible economic crisis of 1982-83, the company withdrew from the country. Up until then it had successfully sold the Austin Mini 850 and 1000 models, the Land Rover range, a few units – practically on a special order basis – of the Rover SD1, the Range Rover and Jaguar XJ6, although the sales of the Austin Allegro were not very successful.
Nineteen ninety-two saw the return of the Mini to Chile, this time under the Rover marque, together with the 414 Si 16v and the 600 and 800 ranges, with the 414 accounting for the majority of sales. The Land Rover range was imported by the Jaguar importer until 1998 when, due to the Rover crisis, the Volvo/Ford and Jaguar importer took over, and the current MG/Rover range is now sold by the old Jaguar and Land Rover importer.
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|Chilean MG 1300 ad|
Article submitted by Graham Arnold
Advert scanned and submitted by Rodrigo Toledo