In production : Longbridge in 1984

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

A fascinating batch of photos of Longbridge in 1984 has come to light, and they’re too good not to share. Ex-Austin Rover Maintenance Engineer Stuart Collins took these shots while ‘on the line’, and recalls the marvellous details in the pictures.

This is the Sciaky robot welding line, again there were two identical lines with Unimate robots. This threw up an interesting fact, as the robots were hydraulic it was deemed a Fitter’s (mechanical) job to program them and Electricians could not touch them due to demarcation!

Stuart Collins worked at Longbridge from 1979 to 1998, and saw many changes in his time at ‘The Austin’. Thankfully for us, he remembered to take his camera into work and took some great pictures of the factory in full flight.

‘Most of my time was spent in the New West Works, initially on Metro followed by the Honda Body In White line,’ Stuart said. He added, ‘I moved on to the 200/400 spot-welding line with a six-month period in the East Works for the commissioning of the K-Series engine line.

‘I even got sent on holiday to Talent Engineering for a few weeks to program some spot-welding robots producing the front subframe when the K-Series was fitted to the Metro/R6. Luckily, I left before the Phoenix Four era so my pension is safe with BMW. I now work for JLR at Solihull looking after the robots fitting glass to the Range Rover and Discovery.’

The pictures and captions are all by Stuart.


This is the KUKA underframe transfer machine which spot welded the rear floor, main floor and front end together. There were two identical machines that cost £7.5m each at the time.

The five-door Metro line

The next few pictures are the British Federal-built Metro five-door line. It was designed with four sets of interchangeable tooling and would batch build the four doors required for the five-door Metro one at a time (R/H front, R/H rear, L/H front and L/H rear).

Each set of tooling comprised a multi-weld station, 45 degree hemming press tooling, final hemming press tooling and HF (high frequency) curing station. The tools were changed using trailers and an air-powered winch on a tug truck to pull the tools into station.


Overview of the line


Looking along conveyor towards load end


Multi-weld station


The 45° hemming tooling


A couple of robots that spot-welded components to the inner door frame


Close up of one of the spot-welding robots (ASEA Irb90/S2)


One of the Fitters (Kevin Dwyer) carrying out a tool change – normally done between shifts

Standard Rover system of one working while two look on, fitters are (L to R) Hammond Pearson, Kevin Dwyer and Jim Phillips


Overview of maintenance ‘satellite’ workshop that covered general maintenance and immediate breakdown response. Conveyor in background has bolt-on parts for square shape 213/216 model


Foreman’s office – the only one Stuart knows is the Foreman in the white coat, Tony Cox


Fitter Jim Phillips carrying out maintenance on one of the three-door inner machines


Electrician Derek Thomas showing the size of one of the robots


Calendar on right proving it’s 1984


Comfy chair and soundproof booth, so the guys could get some sleep on nightshift.

Metro three-door production

This batch of photographs are of the Metro three-door and tailgate welding and hemming lines built by Steelweld.


L/H door line control panels. For info, today’s equivalent of those panels is a 12-inch square multi-function touch screen display!


Tailgate welding and hemming line


R/H door line with pallet of tailgate outer skins in foreground


Door hemming presses

Inside the New West Building

Both show a pair of Unimate Puma 560 robots applying sealant to the bootlid outer skin of the square shape 213/216 model before the inner stiffener panel is inserted prior to hemming
Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

10 Comments

  1. Very interesting indeed.

    The one thing that really struck me is the monumental task of ‘tooling up’ for car production. Makes you appreciate why, for BL>MGR in particular, great looking prototypes often never saw production.

  2. My late Austin Metro was registered in 1984, so these pictures were probably how the factory looked when she was manufactured. Fascinating. Thank you.

  3. Absolutely amazing. I have never been inside a robotised ( car ) factory, and never realised just what a commitment to expenditure on tooling there was .

  4. I too, never realised just what a financial commitment there was on tooling.

    As Dave Dawson said it “Makes you appreciate why, for BL>MGR in particular, great looking prototypes often never saw production”.

    Big “Thank You” to AROnline, and of course Maintenance Engineer Stuart Collins!

  5. Great to see the photos, reminded me of the exciting time in 1980 when we launched the Metro. This involved many tours of the factory for media and VIP folk, and in subsequent years I was involved in many such tours for other visitors. The most common reaction from people who had never seen the factory before was that they couldn’t understand how a car could be sold at such a low price when it involved such a huge amount of sophisticated tooling and so much labour input. A factory tour really was worth more than decades of advertising ! Of course, the new West Works body shop with the famous robots was only a part of the total Metro manufacturing process at Longbridge, which also, in those days, still included casting of cylinder blocks and heads in the North Works Foundry, proper forging of crankshafts in the Longbridge Forge, machining and assembling of engine and gearbox components, sewing of interior trim sets and many other ‘in-house’ processes in addition to the familiar paint and final assembly facilities. It really was a ‘self-contained car factory’, although it was still necessary to bring in thousands of items from suppliers every day, from pressings, brought by special trains from Swindon directly into the Body shop, through to wheels and tyres and electrical items.

    Years later, in a tour of the BMW Hams Hall engine factory, I was struck by the fact that virtually all of the things that the guide proudly pointed out to us as examples of advanced manufacturing, such a the robot tugs guided by underfloor wires, had been done at Longbridge many years before!

    • The publicity goes to whoever is buying the drinks at the time.
      Witness Volvo claiming to have built the world’s first transverse six-in-line engined car with the S80. Fortunately, there were some British journalists in the room to put them straight.

  6. Great pics. I worked at new west works in summer of ’96 on the Rover group student placement scheme, place was big and remember it had a new robot line for producing Rover 200 BIW that cost something like £60m I think, definitely where the money went as offices were basic! Remember climbing up into the upper levels to go and find a body shell, you could walk around the place for ages, including up into the tunnel going over the Bristol Road across to the assembly buildings. Think it was all built c1980 for the Metro. The old west works next door for mini production was ancient by comparison. Not been up that way for years but guessing it’s all demolished for housing now?

  7. A very interesting and valuable range of photos of how it was back then. Who would have thought that 21 years later it would all be over? Still sad.

    I have similar thoughts when looking at old photos of the Tyneside & Wearside shipyards.

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