It’s May 1969, and we’re inside the Austin-Morris showroom of Impact Garage of Mortlake near the leafy suburb of Richmond, Greater London. It’s literally a few days since the launch of the Austin Maxi, and this dealership has one of the original batch of 7000 cars offered for sale and evaluation on display. This is an optimistic time for dealers such as this as British Leyland had just launched its first new car – but there are many more exciting new cars to come.
It’s not all milk and honey, though, because as the Austin-Morris story will tell you, the newly-formed British Leyland Motor Corporation is slowly being suffocated by industrial action. A typical example of this is a wildcat strike taken by ten internal drivers at Pressed Steel Fisher (PSF) Cowley, which threatens to endanger the jobs of more than 1000 car production workers. The strike is called because the drivers want additional money for emptying bins full of industrial waste on top of their regular duties.
The ten strikers – internal transport drivers at Pressed Steel Fisher – crippled the factory which produces MGB and Morris Minor bodies because management brought in private contractors to empty the bins instead – and, in a heavy-handed response, management laid off the plant’s 1000 workers and shut down operations forthwith. However, after ten days, the strikers have called off their action, leaving management with the job of recalling the laid-off workers and restarting operations at the plant. If nothing else, this industrial contretemps has shown the full scale of the problems within the car industry right now. It can only get better, especially in a booming market…
So, tell us about the cars
Used cars share space with the brand new Austin Maxi 1500. You can see the showboards on the wall behind, clearly asking the question: ‘What’s so new about the Austin Maxi?’ What indeed? Just an opening tailgate, a five-speed gearbox and an all-new overhead cam 1.5-litre engine. The Maxi had all the fives and wasn’t afraid to use them – more’s the pity that new car buyers weren’t that excited by the prospect of owning one. But neither was BLMC’s management, which grappled with all manner of issues getting the Maxi into production, and then subsequently turning it into a decent car.
That said, what wouldn’t you give to be in Impact Garage’s showroom right now, with its mix of BMC 1100s and 1800s and a nearly-new Jaguar S-type? You can almost smell the warm vinyl and rubber from here. Lovely…
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