Saturday, September 13, 2014

Designed on One Island, Built on Another

When most modern Americans think of "imported cars", the brands that they likely to name are Asian. Whether actually imported or built in factories in the US, Asian manufacturers (particularly Japanese firms) retain a significant share of the American automotive market. The post World War II era in the US was a completely different market with most small, economical cars coming from England. With the directive of "export or die" hanging over their corporate heads British firms knew that the North American market was their key to survival. But with the arrival of a number of Japanese brands in the US, the days British mass-market car sales in America were numbered. The roots of this demise run deep into many different areas, but one deserves a close look by enthusiasts of classic British cars - Britain's assistance in creating the Japanese automotive juggernaut.

The beginning of automobile production in Japan dates back to the dawn of the twentieth century with various home-built cars, some of which were steam powered. The earliest series produced car was built by the Shokai firm with a production run of 10 cars.

Japanese engineers were keen to learn about automobile production and many went to either find employment with, or observe, car makers world wide. Several of these missions ended with successful negotiations to build those maker's cars on Japanese soil.

In 1918 the British Wolseley firm licensed the production of their A9 and E3 cars and their CP truck to a consortium operated by the Japanese shipbuilding firm of Ishikawajima and Tokyo Gas and Electric Industrial Company.  For the sum of £80,000 paid over ten years - regardless of production numbers, profit or loss - Wolseley would assist in training, equipping and managing the factory in Japan.

Wolseley Type CP by Ishikawajima (

The first purely-Japanese built Wolseley did not appear until 1922 and it was more labor intensive to build than planned for. The resulting high cost meant that the selling price was much higher than the market would accept. Soon, financial problems meant that the payments to Wolseley were reduced. The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 destroyed the automobile assembly line and the small finished stock of cars.

The CP truck line was another story in that the Japanese military paid a subsidy to truck builders provided that they met certain criteria. The Japanese-built Wolseley qualified and went into full production.

The post World War II period saw the same devastation visited on Japan as central Europe. In addition to rebuilding their nation, the Japanese were ruled by the Allied military. Everything from the production of food, clothing and industrial output was tightly regulated. The first transportation need in post war Japan was trucks. Demilitarized trucks were used for rebuilding, shipping goods and personnel transportation. The demand for private cars was filled somewhat by sales of American cars owned by departing US military brass. Car production for civilian use did not begin until 1947 when 300 cars were allowed to be built.

Nissan/Austin A40 (
As the economy improved and military rule ended, Japan's automakers were looking for opportunities to produce larger, more desirable cars than the three-wheeled vehicles that made up most of the light car offering at the time. Once again, England steps in.      
In 1952 an agreement between Nissan and Austin resulted in the Japanese production of the Austin A40. The agreement called for Nissan to purchase "completely knocked down" A40 Somerset kits for assembly in Japan. Everything needed to assemble the car was contained in a large crate and Nissan workers unpacked the components and put everything together on a short assembly line.

The terms of the agreement allowed Nissan to sell the finished cars only in Japan. No royalties were paid to Austin for the first year but the second year, the greater of 2% of the retail value of the cars or £10,000 would be due. The royalty would gradually increase over five years to the greater of 5% or £30,000.
Nissan/Austin A50 (

In 1954 Nissan signed an additional agreement with Austin to build the larger A50 Cambridge. The agreement also allowed Nissan to source locally produced components and delete them from the CKD kits. Parts built by Nissan were sent to the UK for validation. At the end of A50 production, the car was 100% Japanese, including the engines. Nissan went on to produce a slightly modified BMC B-series engine line until 1980.

The Rootes Group was not to be left out of the running and in 1953 they signed a licensing agreement with Isuzu (the successor firm to the Ishikawajima consortium) to build the Hillman Minx, Commer vans as well as being the sole importer of British built Rootes vehicles. Isuzu paid Rootes a one-time fee of £50,000 and a royalty of £25 per car after the first 2,000 units.
Isuzu/Hillman Minx (Flicker User Vic Hughes)

Initially, Isuzu assembled Minxes from CKD kits, but the Japanese Ministry of  International Trade and Industry required that the Japanese partner in these so-called technology sharing agreements produce vehicles completely made of Japanese components within five years. This requirement opened the door for many well-known UK parts manufacturers to set up shop in Japan in a similar arrangement.

That the Japanese auto industry grew into a world-beating production powerhouse is well-known. The irony being that as Japanese producer's world market share grew, Britain's declined. Eventually firms such as Nissan and Toyota opened assembly plants in the UK and Honda for a time allowed their Civic to be built by the remnants of British Leyland where it was badged a Triumph. Even into the early years of the 21st century, the majority of models produced by MG-Rover in England were Honda based. 


Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Classic Camera and its Classic Shots

Film Foto Forever
John Oliver runs the Film Foto Forever Web site where he posts articles about the joys of photographing with film in a related blog. John recently came into the possession of a Leica IIIC 35 mm camera that originally belonged to his wife's grandfather - Jack Holliday - who had passed away a short time ago. The camera came with a large number of slides that Holliday shot and John is painstakingly digitizing them.

One of the first batches completed included a selection of photos taken at the 1956 Watkins Glen Grand Prix. These photos captured a a series of candid moments of course workers, spectators and competitors. You'll want to bookmark his blog to keep up with the new posts. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Names in Our Cars
Dan Carney of the BBC's Autos Web page posted an interesting feature about the names of equipment on automobiles that were derived from their inventors. For example, the MacPherson strut (shown) so common on today's vehicles was the brainchild of Ford of England's Earl MacPherson.

Check out the rest of the feature here.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Finally - A Web Site that Allows You to Browse Self-Service Scrappers

Haunting scrapyards is one of those activities that requires no explanation to those who "get it". On the other hand, for those who don't, no amount of proselytizing will win a convert.  Count me (and most of my friends) in the first group. While browsing a yard in person is always the best way, some very smart types created the next best way: a Web site that lets you check out the inventory of 90 (as of this writing) yards across the USA.   

Row 52 provides this vital service at no charge to the user. You can search by year, make and model, or you can check out any yard in the system in its entirety if you are so inclined. The site also has contact information for local "pullers" that will - for an agreed-upon fee - pull your specific part and ship it to you. 

Useful tool or another time suck? You can thank me/hate me later.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

BCF 2014 Show Artwork and Theme

It is my pleasure to unveil the official artwork for the South Alabama British Car Club's 24th Annual British Car Festival Supported by MINI of Pensacola.

As you can see, the club is celebrating the half-century anniversary of the Sunbeam Tiger, that Ford V8 powered sports car from the pre-Chrysler Rootes Group. Last year's Festival drew an impressive six Tigers and we hope to top that number this year with a few tasty incentives for ALL Rootes Group cars on display.

2014 also marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the British Invasion with the arrival of The Beatles on American soil. 

The show committee is working hard to make this our best show ever.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Oil Those Hinges

If you've never seen an MGB or MGC door hinge you might be surprised at the robust nature of it. While replacements are readily available (through Moss Motors, for example) it's not something that you would enjoy replacing especially if it failed due to a lack of lubrication. Lubricating the MGB/MGC door hinges is a simple task, made so by the clever engineers at MG. 

Open your car's door and look at the top of the hinge strap that bolts into the door itself. You'll see the word "OIL" cast into the hinge and a trough that leads into the part of the hinge you can't see deep in the body support. This trough is where you add a few drops of light oil. The oil follows this trough to the pivoting mechanism, keeping it squeak (and seizure) free. 

Door hinge lubrication can be scheduled at the same time you do an oil change and chassis lube.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Hemmings Motor News Reports on BCF 2013

The May 2014 issue of Hemmings Motor News carried an article featuring the 2013 British Car Festival. The two-page spread included a write up by Executive Editor Richard Lentinello and numerous photos from the event.

Details in the article about the community of Fairhope, past cars shown at the event and dates for the 2014 event were included as well. I recommend that you purchase a copy from your favorite bookstore or newsstand, but if you can't wait, the nice folks from Hemmings have an excerpt from the feature that you can browse here.

British Car Festival 2014 Venue Change

After three successful years on the South Lawn of Faulkner State Community College in downtown Fairhope, 2014's British Car Festival is on the move. 

Last year Dr. John L. Borum, the college's chancellor shared the plans for development of the South Lawn. He told show officials that the school was to build a pavilion, restrooms and an attractive wall around the perimeter of the field. He stressed that he was doing his best to schedule the construction so that the festival would not be affected. It turns out that circumstances will not allow the site to be finished in time for the show. 

Site committee members reacted quickly and approached Fairhope United Methodist Church - the site of last year's Friday evening welcome party - about moving the show to their lovely church campus. The church leadership graciously agreed and British Car Festival has a site directly across the street from the college venue. 

View Larger Map

The church site is shaded by old-growth oak trees and the show site is a mixture of well-maintained asphalt and fine gravel. There is a gourmet class barbeque pit near the site as well as restrooms and a dining hall open to the event. It is one block further south from downtown Fairhope so access to the shops and galleries will be just as convenient. 

SABCC is looking forward to another fine British Car Festival on October 25th as we celebrate the musical "British Invasion" of 1964 and the fiftieth anniversary of the introduction of Sunbeam's V8 powered Tiger.

A partial view of the show site- Click for a larger image

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Movement to Ban Jaguar E-Types

A mothers movement has been established to remove the classic Jaguar E-Type from the nation's highways because it resembles a phallus. Wendy Bouffant, 41 of Dallas, Texas is a mother of three teenage daughters who was horrified to see what she calls, "a shocking resemblance between that car and the male sexual organ." 

Wendy Bouffant
Ms. Bouffant's crusade began last year on April 1 when she and her daughters happened upon a group of Jaguars parked outside a high-end restaurant in downtown Dallas. "We stopped on the way in to admire these old cars - they were all parked right at the front door - when my oldest daughter, Kaylee- she's 17, saw a long sports car and mentioned how much she liked its looks. I looked over at the car she was talking about and saw her running her finger down the fender of it and I was just dumbstruck," she said. "I was almost screaming at her to get away from it and don't touch things like that."

Ms. Bouffant's cries were overheard by the maitre d' who rushed outside to offer his assistance. Upon hearing of the cause for her distress, he explained that these cars were owned by some of his most loyal customers and, having known them for many years, could vouch for their impeccable taste and community standing. Thoroughly nonplussed, Ms. Bouffant gathered up her daughters and left the parking lot, shielding her 13 year-old's eyes from the sight of the sports car that upset her sense of propriety.

"When I got home, I started searching the Internet to see exactly what that horrible car was. I found out that it was called an XKE." 
A Jaguar E-Type, Being Touched

The more Ms. Bouffant researched the Jaguar, the more convinced she became that it was menace to the young women of America. "I knew instantly," she said snapping her fingers," that its first initial being an 'X' it had to be something smutty. I saw pictures of that car with young women just draped all over it. Let me tell you, it does not belong out in public. It's pornographic."

With the counsel and encouragement of her pastor, the Reverend Will B. Dunn of the Congregation on the Edge in Dallas, Ms. Bouffant is organizing Texans United to Remove Disgusting Sportscars. Its mission is to ban the iconic E-Type from the highways of the state of Texas, "and hopefully, the rest of America, too," Ms. Bouffant adds. 

A core group of TURDS is bringing the issue to the attention of Texas state politicians via phone calls and face to face visits with state representatives and the governor. Ms. Bouffant stated that aides to Governor Rick Perry "listened closely and offered support for her fledgling organization. They told me that they have been investigating the possible connection of these disgusting cars to Obama's liberal agenda".

A rally on the statehouse steps drew tens of people to hear about this threat to the minds of Texas' young women. Ms. Bouffant stated that afterwards she was approached by several "like-minded, right-thinking people," for assistance in starting a chapter of TURDS in their hometowns.   

When contacted by this writer for a reaction to this story, a Jaguar Land Rover North America spokesman said, "Go away."