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Chrysler United Kingdom Limited - a History of the Company

August 1971.

Chrysler United Kingdom Limited was founded as Rootes Motors Limited and the famous names carried by its products have their origins in the earliest days of the motor industry.

The Humber Company, originally famous for its bicycles, made its first car in 1899 and won a special reputation for the comfort and quality of its products. The first Hillman appeared in 1907, whilst Sunbeam cars, which first appeared in 1899, have been winning races and breaking speed records with remarkable regularity for more than 60 years.

Commer Cars Limited first began making commercial vehicles in 1905, and Karrier Motors Limited was established in 1907 and since 1918 has specialised in municipal vehicles.

However, the development of the Rootes Company can be traced back to the village of Hawkhurst in Kent, where William Rootes Snr., ran a general engineering, and cycle manufacturing business. In 1898 he bought his first car and opened a motor sales section which, after the emancipation of the motorist, rapidly grew to dominate the business.

After the 1914-1918 War, his two sons, William (the late Lord Rootes) and Reginald, took over active control of the business, which was by then centred on Maidstone, formed Rootes Limited and transferred the headquarters to London.

By 1926, with offices and showrooms in Devonshire House in the heart of London's West End and branches in many parts of the country, they had created the largest motor distribution company in Britain, and probably in Europe.

The Rootes brothers were not, however, content to rest upon their reputation as salesmen of drive and imagination. It was a time when many famous and old-established vehicle firms were reeling under the impact of the introduction by British pioneers such as the late Lord Nuffield and by companies representing American interests, of new volume production methods whith were bringing down prices and creating a new mass motoring market.

William and Reginald Rootes were convinced that with an injection of new ideas and manufacturing methods a number of these companies could be re-shaped to meet the demands of the volume-producing age. In 1927, they acquired an interest in the Hillman Car Company, and this was quickly followed by a similar interest in Humber Limited and the Commor commercial vehicle concern.

In 1931, the Hillman Wizard was ambitiously launched as a new quality family car for world markets - and the fact that it only met with limited success did not deter them.

During 1931, the Hillman Minx was introduced. It was an immediate commercial success and was to become a classic name in motoring history.

The commercial vehicle division also enjoyed its full share of expansion. Tilling-Stevens Limited had joined the Company in 1951 and its Maidstone Plant in Kent, was re-organised for the production of an entirely new Rootes diesel engine.

In l953, assembly of commercial vehicles was concentrated at an entirely new plant at Dunstable, Bedfordshire, thus releasing additional production space at the parent plant a few miles away at Luton and permitting the development of wider model ranges.

Rootes export division grew with equal rapidity and further associate companies were established in key markets while overseas assembly operations were steadily expanded.

In 1960, the Rootes Board decided to embark upon another major phase of expansion involving the production of a new small family car (the Hillman Imp) with rear-mounted 875 cc aluminium engine.

Although intensely competitive, the world's small car markets had been growing steadily in importance and a new model was considered essential to make the Rootes car range - then extending from 1390 cc to 3 litres - fully competitive.

A site for the necessary additional plant was already available on land owned by the Company adjacent to its Dunstable factory. However, instead of utilising this site, Rootes were presuaded by the Government to undertake the establishment of an entirely new plant and organisation at Linwood in Renfrewshire as part of its programme for stimulating the economic development of this region of Scotland.

The project involved the construction of four main production blocks covering over one million square feet; the selection and installation of hundreds of the most modern machines in Europe; the planning and application of high-efficiency production techniques; and the recruitment and training of an entirely new labour force.

Keeping pace with this work was the construction of new roads, new railway and dock installations, new housing and the provision of power, water, gas and other essential supplies on a very large scale.

On 2nd May, l963, H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh officially opened the new plant on schedule and also launched the Hillman Imp, the first car to be produced in Scotland for more than 30 years, and the first British production car to have a rear-mounted engine or an aluminium power unit.

Since that date, the Imp range has been steadily widened.

Early in 1966, Rootes increased its investment at Linwood by a further £14 million by the acquisition of the former Pressed Steel Company plant which occupies an adjacent site.

Together, the two Rootes' Companies at Linwood employ some 8,500 people and incorporate the largest toolroom, press shop and painting and trimming facilities in Scotland together with an aluminium die-casting division which is unique in Britain.

This was very much a personal, triumph for the brothers especially as William Rootes had tested the prototype himself over thousands of miles in Europe and North Africa.

In the years that followed, other famous names such as the Sunbeam, Clement-Talbot and Karrier companies, together with smaller concerns, joined the Company - and by 1939 Rootes was firmly established as one of Britain's "Big Six" vehicle producers, which between them accounted for more than 90% of the industry's total output.

But although rationalising their production and integrating their activities, William Rootes and his brother took care to ensure that the identities of marques they took over were not submerged - and to this day the luxurious Humbers, the Sporting Sunbeams and the quality Hillmans retain distinctive personalities.

In 1939, all peace-time vehicle development was, of course, halted and the factories devoted entirely to war production. In fact, during the war, Rootes produced one out of every seven bombers made in the U.K. 60 per cent of the armoured cars and 30 per cent of the scout cars, as well as building 50,000 aero engines and assembling 20,000 vehicles imported from other countries.

After the War, the Company in common with the rest of the British Motor Industry, was called upon to make an extraordinarily rapid re-adjustment. Simultaneously it was necessary to undertake a complete new model programme, re-equip and re-organise the plants and create a world-wide sales and service network to assist the national export drive in which the motor industry was to take a leading role.

Both challenges were met promptly. in 1946, the Ryton-on-Dunsmore plant at Coventry which had been used for aero engine production during the war, was converted into a new assembly plant, releasing space for major expansion at the main manufacturing plant in Coventry, while the Aldermoor Lane Shadow Factory, also at Coventry was converted into an Engine Manufacturing Plant.

In the same year, in Melbourne, Australia, Rootes established its first overseas assembly plant. In 1947 marketing companies were also established in the United States, Canada and at strategic points in Europe to start organising the sales and service networks necessary to launch an export drive.

By this time the Company had also launched a major programme of expansion in its manufacturing plant, which between 1949 and 1954, doubled total output to just under 100,000 units a year - while exports rose dramatically.

This pace of expansion was steadily maintained and in 1963 total output had passed the 200,000 mark.

During this period, Singer Motors Limited with its range of medium-priced luxury cars, was integrated into Rootes.

In 1964, another major phase in the Company's development opened with the conclusion of an agreement with the Chrysler Corporation, one of the three leading vehicle producers in the United States, as a result of which Chrysler subsequently acquired 46 per cent of the Ordinary (voting) shares of Rootes Motors Limited, and 65 per cent of the ``A'' (non-voting) shares.

Explaining the Agreement, Lord Rootes (Chairman) declared:

``In view of the intense and increasing competition in the motor industry, both at home and overseas, it is a logical and desirable step in the future development of Rootes to become associated with a strong international organisation such as Chrysler.

``This association will be of obvious benefits in research, technical advances, production and other techniques. It will facilitate overseas development in many ways including dealer development and will be particularly advantageous in certain markets where overseas government action demands an increasing local manufacture and large capital expenditure.''

As a consequence of the agreement, the technological and marketing expertise of Chrysler has been freely available to Rootes since August, 1964. Chrysler and its associated companies have been collaborating in both the manufacture and distribution of Rootes products in a number of important overseas markets and in the spheres of production design, marketing and manufacturing development.

Another by-product of the Agreement was the integration of the activities of Dodge Brothers (Britain) Limited, a Chrysler subsidiary manufacturing a range of trucks in Britain with the Rootes commercial vehicle operations.

In January, 1967, the Rootes Board reported that, in the light of this experience and the need for the continuation of a five year multi-million pound capital expenditure programme, an even closer association with Chrysler would benefit both Rootes and the national economy.

As a result, proposals were accepted by Rootes shareholders which provided for Chrysler, which acquired its initial stake in Rootes for approximately £27,000,000 to invest a further sum of up to £20,000,000.

The Chrysler Corporation now owns 83.2% of the total equity share capital and 85.6% voting rights in Chrysler United Kingdom Limited.

Chrysler's programme of investment and development has enabled it to develop a world-wide network of inter-related companies in which each company supports and is supported by every other in the Chrysler Group. This has created a truly multi-national corporation, in which each company can draw upon the experience and the skills and the resources of every other in developing its own business and reaching its own objectives.

Chrysler's investment in the United Kingdom is vital to this programme. Great Britain is a major trade centre for the British Commonwealth, a member of the European Free Trade Association, and a major exporter to other world markets, and therefore Chrysler recognise the success of the Uni ted Kingdom operations as absolutely essential to Chrysler's success as a multinational corporation.

On July lst, l970, the name of Rootes Motors Limited was changed to Chrysler United Kingdom Limited. Changing the Company name gave Chrysler United Kingdom a greater international identity allying it even more closely to the third largest motor vehicle manufacturer in the World.

next up previous contents
Next: Notes on the Founders Up: Rootes Archive Centre Trust Previous: Development of the Group   Contents
Rob Allan 2016-01-03