Rootes Group - Britain's Second Largest Car Company

Rootes Group - Britain's Second Largest Car Company

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Language: English

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once britain's second largest car builder the roots group incorporated many of the nation's most famous marks including hillman sunbeam humber and talbot to create a rival to the much larger british motor corporation during the 1950s and 60s by 1980 though the roots group was gone its legacy being one of the most spectacular collapses in automotive history as mismanagement government intervention and poor choices helped to bring down this giant of the british car industry the tale of roots begins like many other car builders with one man
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william billy roots who in 1914 in the small village of hawkhurst kent ran a bicycle shop before branching out into motor vehicles after an apprenticeship with single motors of coventry establishing a sales and service company with the assistance of his younger brother reginald roots who had trained as an accountant in the admiralty with a 2 400 pound grant from their father also named william roots equivalent to 50 000 pounds in 2021 the pair created roots limited a vehicle distributor based in maidstone the county town of kent and by 1924 had secured a place as a
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franchisee to austin motors for showrooms in and around london making them among the largest car distributors in the uk with branches in southeast england the midlands and across western europe in 1925 roots limited purchased the coach builder thrupp and mabely which had been founded in 1760 and had evolved its craft from horse-drawn carriages to motor cars building bodies for rolls-royce and daimler models but over the next decade the roots brothers taking influence from the likes of ford of america as to stylistic and technical design planned their rapid expansion into
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becoming their own manufacturer making attempts to buy a stake in the standard motor company and the clino engineering company but both failed due to the 1929 wall street crash opportunity presented itself though as britain's biggest car firms morris and austin continued to grow exponentially thanks to the likes of the austin seven and the morris eight leaving smaller car firms like hillman and humber in a poor financial situation as they struggled to compete against the midland giants therefore in 1927 roots secured an investment in the hillman company followed a year later by humber bringing
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both firms together under the roots umbrella group and thus merging their factories into one this merging of the two firms under the roots name worked wonders for their productivity allowing the combined capital of each company to refresh the product line and see a new range of three cars developed the hillman minx the humber 12 and the larger hillman wizard the wizard which was launched in april 1931 was aimed squarely at the export market to the colonies of the british empire as well as the commonwealth but this desire to sell abroad meant it was too large
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too slow and too expensive for uk buyers and thus only 6 000 was sold before the car was dropped in 1933 though the wizard was a disappointment the company's second model the hillman minx would be the opposite a smash hit that would put the roots group on the map upon its launch in 1932 and one that would see sales success for the next 40 years as a quintessential part of the british motoring scene being cheap easy to run and highly competitive with the rival maurice 10 while the humber 12 also launched in 1932 was another modest machine that sold
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reasonably as the product range increased through the 1930s the roots brothers made a superb car building team with billy roots being the driving force behind the company's models while reginald's kept an eye on the finances with hillman and humber models gradually becoming more parts interchangeable as the decade progressed being built around a common chassis and body shell produced by press steel while thrup and maybelly continued to provide bespoke coach work for low-volume luxury machines in 1934 roots added another firm to its ranks in the form of the anglo-french
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std or sunbeam tolbert darak a builder that created a wide variety of products ranging from high-end luxury limousines and sports cars to trolley buses but after the company was stricken by financial collapse following the 1929 wall street crash route secured itself as a creditor to the std group prior to its demise in june 1934 meaning that the rights to each of the brands was now theirs to revive on a new range of sunbeam and talbot models with the onset of world war ii roots created shadow factories at stoke ardmore and wright non-dunsmore near coventry
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helping to construct aircraft engines for the war effort while following the creation of the wrighton plant the firm had increased its building capacity from fifty thousand to over one hundred thousand cars per annum accounting for fifteen percent of the uk car market while efforts by the company to build thirty percent of britain's bombers including the bristol blenheim and the hanley page halifax provide 10 000 merlin engines and repair 21 000 aircraft together with maintaining 60 of britain's armored cars and assembling 20 000 american lend lease support kits meant the company had drummed up superb public relations
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roots cars were also prided among the top brass of britain's armed forces the hillman minks and the humber snipe being favorites as staff cars and vip transports with field marshal bernard montgomery making use of a humber super snipe as part of his campaign while billy roots was asked to lead the industrial reconstruction of coventry after the german blitz of november 1940 which devastated the ancient city center the efforts of billy roots to get the city back on its feet earning him a knighthood upon the end of the war in 1945 the roots group like many parts of the uk industry
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placed a slant on export sales in order to remain competitive establishing satellite companies in australia as roots australia building cars at a local facility in harrisfield near melbourne and in the middle east specifically iran where a localized variant of the hillman hunter known as the pecan was constructed from a factory in tehran and would remain in production as a saloon until 2005 and as a pickup truck until 2015 one notable mistake by billy roots though was his snubbing of the then little-known german car called the volkswagen which had been utilized as part of a
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pre-war morale campaign by adolf hitler in order to mobilize the nation in the run-up to hostilities but roots when he was asked to assess the model to see if it had any potential production value considered it too ugly and unattractive not realizing that he and later ford as well had passed over what was to become one of the world's best-selling cars in 1949 the roots group was floated on the london stock exchange and also added to its arsenal the diesel engine builder tilling stevens in 1950 in order to provide an in-house diesel truck engine while exports accounted for 70
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of production by the middle of the decade complete knockdown or ckd kits of the minks being shipped to plants in australia new zealand and south africa for assembly although north american models were sent out fully built finally things came full circle when roots in 1955 purchased the singer company at which billy roots had been an apprentice half a century earlier their former birmingham factory being a component storage and distribution hub while the singer brand was slotted into the roots hierarchy between the low end hillman and luxury humber marks with a series of badge engineered minx
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derivatives being sold as the gazelle and later the vogue things turned for the roots group though in the late 1950s as while the company could produce a hundred thousand cars per year this and its narrow range of products meant it was still playing second fiddle to the larger british motor corporation or bmc which held under its banner the morris and austin brands therefore proposals were made for routes to merge with standard triumph who were building both small family cars under the standard mark and highly successful triumph roadsters but the merger proposal collapsed due to
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a conflict of personalities with the failure of the merger roots was denied access to the standard eight a model which would have allowed them to compete directly with the austin mini an economy car that was taking the uk market by storm in the wake of fuel rations imposed due to the 1956 sewers crisis undercutting regular saloons like the minx therefore roots was left no choice but to create their own economy car under project apex what would eventually become the hillman imp the desire for roots to compete with the mini by way of the imp though was a decision on which the entire
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future of the firm hinged and would include a brand new factory expansion at the existing wrighton plant but planning permission was blocked by the uk government who in a bid to solve pervasive unemployment problems in southern scotland as the shipbuilding and locomotive industries failed demanded that the firm construct a new facility in areas which were suffering economically unless a plant was established at linwood near glasgow 300 miles from the company's heartland of the west midlands constructed between 1960 and 1963 the linwood plant would employ 5 500 workers across scotland and produce
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150 000 cars per year with building costs being shared by government grants to help carry the financial burden while at the same time early imps underwent development and testing in coventry with an engine derived from a fire pump that used an all-aluminium alloy overhead cam configuration and full synchromesh aluminium transaxle which though highly advanced for the time caused problems later down the line the creation of both linwood and the imp though was one plagued by many other external and internal issues that little by little brought the roots group into a dangerous financial
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position starting in 1961 with a three-month strike at the group's london pressing company british light steel pressing or blsp on the grounds of job security though it's theorized that this was a bid by the trade unions to increase their control over the firm resulting in a lack of supply for body shells that cost the company three months of production and their profits collapsed by 85 percent between 1960 and 1961. at the same time progress on the imp project was running late and going over budget all while in the wake of the minis launch more and more economy cars
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entered the market like the ford anglia but the roots group's lack of experience with regard to small cars such as these showed in the final design for the imp the car being rear-engined and fitted with a four-cylinder water-cooled power plant mounted longitudinally behind the rear wheels taking much of its inspiration from billy root's own experiences in the united states with the likes of the chevrolet corvair in 1963 alongside the launch of the imp the 22 million pound computerized linwood factory was formally opened by his royal highness the duke of edinburgh on may 2nd but unbeknownst to the duke
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large portions of the factory had not been finished and thus were hastily hidden away from the royal visitor by curtains while the mp was filmed driving around in was one of only a dozen finished cars nevertheless the car and factory were now working but the honeymoon quickly ended when build quality and reliability issues came pouring in from customers the reasons being due in part to the car's innovative but complicated rear engine design but also due to labour issues in union strife thus the 150 000 car per year volume of the linwood plant was never reached by the imp alone
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the facility being a financial black hole for the company for the remainder of the decade production of the imp was also a logistical nightmare for roots as while the cylinder blocks for the diecast engine were cast in linwood the machining and assembly could only be done in coventry and thus unfinished imps were shipped on mass by train 300 miles to the writing factory had the work done and then shipped 300 miles back to linwood for final assembly the result being the car's price rising to the point where it cost 508 pounds or 10 878 pounds in 2021 60 pounds more than
10:54
the mini while there was some good news for roots the mink still being a successful rival to the likes of the vauxhall victor and ford cortina and the sunbeam alpine being a desirable sports car for its era as it battled against the triumph tr series and the mgb the firm was still making a lost year-on-year and by 1964 it had attracted the attention of lynn townsend president of chrysler who was looking to expand his company into europe the same way ford and general motors had done initially purchasing 30 of the voting shares and 50 of the non-voting stock to become the
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largest non-controlling shareholder in the roots group as chrysler increased its influence on the roots group now holding boardroom representation as well as replacing the comma and carrier truck brands with their own dodge mark sir william roots retired in june 1964 placing his brother as chairman of the firm before passing away shortly afterwards on december 12th of the same year in 1965 more trouble brewed when bmc purchased the prestill bodybuilding company which included both the cowley and linwood facilities meaning that bmc now
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held direct control over the roots group as well as nearly every other car maker in britain but the linwood elements of prestile were eventually sold back to the roots group by bmc and renamed roots pressing scotland limited transferring to them all tooling necessary for assembly of roots products the following year the british government announced it agreed terms for a full takeover of the roots group by chrysler and although there had been earlier talk regarding either bmc or the leyland group potentially purchasing the ailing firm neither raised any objections or proposed an offer of their own and thus in 1967
12:27
control was formally handed over to the american giant whilst original roots passed the role of chairman to william roots's son william jeffrey roots with the former roots group now renamed chrysler europe its empire was slimmed greatly to improve the firm's mounting losses with the humber brand dropped in 1967 followed by the singer mark in 1970 leaving just the hillman and sunbeam talbot badges while that same year the long-awaited avenger was finally launched after chrysler funding helped bring the project to fruition the car being highly successful on the uk market against the likes of the
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morris marina ford escort and vauxhall viva and even seeing modest sales in the usa as the plymouth cricket though the future of the company showed promise the final nail in the coffin came with the 1973 oil crisis which rapidly damaged the sales of both american and european cars under the chrysler name and forcing the firm to the edge of bankruptcy with a 125 million pound bailout being provided by the british government in 1975 to stop widespread redundancies across the midlands and southern scotland in 1977 chrysler launched the sunbeam a
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somewhat successful hatchback that went up against the volkswagen golf and renault 5 in the small economy car market but sadly nothing could be done to reverse the company's dwindling sales matters becoming so dire that by this time the former roots group had lost its place as britain's second largest car maker to the tamworth-based reliant company famous for creating the fiberglass robin three-wheelers in 1978 chrysler's new president lee iacocca who had disapproved of buying the roots group back in 1966 valued the company's british operations at a mocking sum of just one pound
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and therefore in order to cut down the wider chrysler group's own losses sold the firm to peugeot including the company's shares in the french car builder simca which chrysler had slowly incorporated since 1963 before a full takeover in 1970 with future models of the range being sold under the tolbert brand with peugeot in charge the company quickly saw the losses being made at the linwood factory and after only 18 years of production the plant was closed in 1981 as operations were moved to writing making thousands of workers redundant while the facility itself was never used
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again being demolished in stages between 1982 and 1996 for the surviving tolbert brand this firm continued to produce low-end family cars like the solara and the taggara and hatchbacks including the sunbeam horizon and samba but following the recession of the early 1980s caused by the 1979 and 1980 oil crises the company faced a protracted demise as the car market tightened and their models failed to sell and by 1985 the psa peugeot citroen group were questioning whether the tolbert brand should be sustained as it created needless internal
15:03
competition with their own models in a last-minute decision the proposed tolbert arizona a replacement for the nearly 10 year old talbot horizon was dropped in favor of the peugeot 309 in 1985 with production taking place at the wrighton factory proving to be the beginning of the end for tolbert as their models were replaced on the coventry shop floor by british-built peugeot cars including the later 405 306 and 206 all of which sold in huge numbers until the writing plant closed in 2006 and was demolished to make way for the pro logist business park
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by 1987 tolbert had disappeared from coventry and the last few models to carry the brand namely the talbot horizon were being produced at the former barreras factory in madrid spain and in finland where upon the last example slipped quietly from the assembly line while the talbot mark as the final remainder of the roots group would last be seen on uk market versions of the fiat dicato motorhome continuing until their final end in 1994. to summarise while many consider the collapse of the roots group to be squarely down to the turbulent hillman imp
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the reality was that the firm's demise was caused by a variety of factors that all occurred around the time of the imps development including the three-month strike at blsp the government demanding that roots set up a new factory in scotland rather than their original proposal to extend their coventry facilities union strife and labor issues causing build quality and reliability problems and the overarching concern that the company was simply too small to compete against the giants of america mainland europe and british layland ultimately leading to its inevitable acquisition in the 1960s
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and subsequent discontinuation you

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