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Did you think Spridgets were built at Abingdon?

ncbugeye

Jedi Warrior
Offline
This is a personal experience piece that I hope others may find interesting.

You may have seen it written everywhere, that Sprites and Midgets were built at Abingdon, even in the "official" documentation. But as is always the case with car manufacturing, the parts are drawn together in various places to make assemblies, and then moved to other places to install those assemblies.

BMC (later BLMC, later BLMH, later BL, later Austin-Rover, then BMW, then oblivion) was always a hodge-podge of different companies spread over the entire map, ill-suited to manufacturing cars in the late 20th century.

Take the Spridget. It started as a design project in Donald Healey's operation at Warwick, conveniently located about halfway between the Austin plant at Longbridge, where many of the big Healeys were built, and the Morris plant at Cowley. A few miles further from Cowley was the MG plant at Abingdon where the Bugeye Sprite was built.

Cowley was the old Morris plant about 3 miles outside Oxford. On one side of the Oxford ring road there was the old Morris Assembly Plant, and on the other side of the road was the old Pressed Steel Fisher (PSF) plant that made car bodies for Morris. A covered bridge actually carried the moving production line across the highway right from the Body pant to the Assembly plant. It had windows and you could see the moving car bodies.

Austin, Morris and PSF were later absorbed together as BMC together with Wolseley, Riley, SU, and a dozen other small companies. The two Cowley plants across the road from each other were renamed "Cowley Assembly" and "Cowley Body".

Abingdon's role as a place where cars were built reduced - it increasingly became the home for the performance folks including the organization that later became BL Special Tuning.

I used to work at Cowley from 1975-1978. I have to say immediately that I wasn't a BL employee - I was a Systems Engineer working for IBM, looking after their System 370 Model 158 mainframe computer and its operating system. I spent 80% of my work time during those three years at that location. My desk (such as it was) was in a temporary hut (that had been there 30 years) at a window that looked out at the above-mentioned production line bridge just before it left the body plant. That was where the computer room was.

So where is all this leading?

Right outside my window there was an open area with some loading bays just before the line started across the bridge. Every day a number of transporter trucks would pull up to the bay and remove from the line ... MG Midgets and MGBs ... and load them up six to a truck. They were not complete - they lacked wheels and engines. But otherwise they were COMPLETE, including hoods, wipers, chrome, interior, seats, steering wheel etc. These trucks then transported the almost complete Midgets and MGBs to Abingdon (a distance of about 8 miles) where the wheels and the engine were installed. Everyone knew it was just make-busy-work for Abingdon.

Sprites had ceased production a few years earlier. The Midget was the rubber-bumper version built to meet the US crash regulations. The wheels at that stage were the Rostyles that were made under contract by some other company, and the engine was the Triumph 1500 - the big-wigs upstairs had decided the A-series was too hard to modify to US emission regulations, although it actually wasn't. The Triumph 1500 engine was shipped from Triumph's plant in (I think) Birmingham or Coventry.

So ... Midgets (and MGBs) were made mostly at Cowley in the later days. The MGB and Sprite/Midget body were ALWAYS made at Cowley, but over the years, the Abingdon content decreased gradually, and after the racing projects were all completely cancelled and Special Tuning was shuttered, the Abingdon plant became a liability. It was such a small plant in a pretty country town - it was just one of the many things that just wore the company away from an efficiency point of view. Eventually Abingdon closed completely. Cowley Body was somewhat more modern and flexible than the others, so it handled an increasing share of the assembly line load.

Fast forward a few years. The Cowley Assembly plant, a relic of the 1930s, was thankfully bulldozed to make way for a very nice shopping mall with a very pleasant hotel at which I have stayed. The only thing I miss is the tall 'MORRIS' chimney stack that was a landmark for miles around. I wish they had preserved that.

BMW decided to produce a new MINI at Cowley - the new factory is near the old Body plant. Everyone knows that the new MINI shares virtually nothing but the transverse engine and a few styling features with the original Mini, but it is a successful world car and BMW is clearly investing in it. It has parts sourced from all over the world – I heard tell that the new 2007 models have an engine made by Peugeot.
 

jlaird

Great Pumpkin
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Fasinating, thanks for that.
 

spritenut

Luke Skywalker
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Re: Did you think Spridgets were built at Abingdon

Chris
I read that only 400 some odd Sprites were built at Cowley and only in 1967. These had an M in the chassis ID.
I have never seen one personally but would like to.
This is something I read many years ago so I don't know for a fact.
 
OP
ncbugeye

ncbugeye

Jedi Warrior
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Re: Did you think Spridgets were built at Abingdon

I simply don't know the facts any further than what I saw with my own eyes and asked BL employess to explain to me. At the time the Midget shuttle was a standing joke among the BL folks I associated with, none of whom were production-line people, of course. It symbolized the hopeless basket case that BL had become.

I can make some guesses, being a Brit resident in the UK at that time.

It may be to do with the fact that there were so many labour disputes and stoppages of one kind or another at BMC factories during that era - it may have been the assigmnent to Cowley was a tactical move by the company to avoid one of the labor disputes with a successful model that had a full order pipeline in the United States.

Perhaps the trucks from Longbridge with the A-series engine/gearbox assemblies were diverted to Cowley for that period of time and the final assembly and testing was done for that period at Cowley. I imagine it would not have been possible to do that few of them at Cowley unless most of the assembly work was already being done there.

I do not doubt that in earlier years there was MUCH more Abingdon content - at the outset with the Bugeye, probably bare painted bodies were shipped from Cowley. But in those later years it had dwindled to almost nothing. Abingdon was a very small plant.
 

10musketeer

Jedi Trainee
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Re: Did you think Spridgets were built at Abingdon

Very interesting. Thanks for taking the time to share that!
 
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