The British motor industry is one of my earliest memories; my father was a director of the Rootes Group and he was one who definitely brought his work home. To a small boy it was the delight of the brochures for new models but also exotic characters from export markets who would come down to Sunday lunch, Emile Bustani being notable among them.
I have explored different aspects of the history of motor manufacturing in Britain in, now, four books. The first was War on Wheels about the mechanisation of the army in WW2 and in an article I wrote for The History Press. This was followed by Ordnance which shifted the camera to WW1 and, of course, the first appearance of the tank. I then moved my focus to people and I wrote about my father and the Rootes Group, but also Lord Nuffield, senior managers at Dunlop who contributed significantly to the war effort and a number of others in Dunkirk to D Day and my article on Civilian Expertise in War. The fourth book, How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World, was a quest to discover the origins of the companies and how they fitted into the British manufacturing story. It is a story of larger than like entrepreneurs such as Lawson and Hooley working in creative tension with brilliant engineers
The British motor industry has so much to be proud of, not least its service in WW2. I quote from War on Wheels.
‘The time for testing came at 11.00am on Sunday 3 September 1939, when war was declared.
Bill Williams, now Deputy Director of Ordnance Services (MT) at the War Office, went to Chilwell that morning to lead a group of senior serving officers meeting, possibly for the first time, the newly called up members of the Army Officers Emergency Reserve. These latter included ‘Reddy’ Readman who would take over as COO at Chilwell, Bob Hiam, who would command the depot at Old Dalby, Robby Robinson, who would command the depot at Sinfin Lane, Derby, and Dan Warren who would take a lead role in scaling, the dark art of estimating the quantity of spare parts needed to maintain vehicles in battle order.
Also on that Sunday in Birmingham the executives of the Nuffield Motor Company met to put into action the plans they had prepared for war. Through the various parts of the Nuffield Group it would over the next five year contribute aircraft and weapon production in addition to a great many vehicles. The remainder of the big five motor companies had been working with the Government on preparations for war, mainly the manufacture of aircraft. On that Sunday, though, the car plants themselves were placed on a war footing. The men who arrived for work the following day would be instructed to complete those cars already started, but then to leave the shop floor ready for war production. In many cases the contracts were slow in coming and the companies had to keep their workforces occupied one way or another; some had to be laid off. The motor industry, because it was set up to manufacture on a production line largely from metal and because it had a broad range of other skilled men, would be more than busy for the next five six years.’