Factory owner: MG Motor UK
Address: Longbridge, Birmingham, England
Factory status: Closed
Built: Original factory built 1895. Many alterations between 1905-1979.
The site now known as the Longbridge plant was once an area of farmland between Lickey Road, Lowhill Lane, and the mainline railways. This was purchased by printing company Pike and White, who built a factory on the site in 1895. Herbert Austin bought the disused Longbridge site in 1905, it having been repossesed by the bank in 1901. The Austin Motor Company enjoyed success in its early years, becoming a public limited company in 1914, and building a new on-site power station in the same year.
Everything changed when the first World War started later in July. Car production was halted, and instead the factory produced weapons, military vehicles and aircraft. During this period the factory trebled in size. The original ex-printers became South Works, with North Works and West Works being added. The war was over by 1918 and the factory returned to car production, although for a time still produced aircraft for civilian use.
Herbert Austin lost sole control of the company in 1921 following financial trouble, although was appointed chairman of the board of directors. However the company’s fortunes turned for the better with the introduction of the popular Austin Seven in 1922. A new administration block was built in 1926 stretching along Lickey road. By 1936, the possibility of war was coming again, and a series of tunnels were built under the site so that manufacturing could continue if the factory was damaged by enemy bombs. War started in 1939, meaning again the factory turned to producing aeroplanes and other things required for the war effort. After the War, the factory went back to producing cars, although development work had stopped during the war, so the cars were essentially 1939 models with minor changes. Development to the area south of South Works, known as the Flying Ground, started shortly after the war, with the ‘Kremlin’ administration block built in 1948, and the Chassis Assembly Building (CAB) in 1951. The CAB later became Car Assembly Building, and then known as CAB 1 after CAB 2 was built in 1963. Painted and trimmed bodyshells were brought into the CAB by underground conveyer and joined their chassis and engine inside.
Austin merged with rival Morris in 1952, forming the British Motor Corporation (BMC). In 1956 an exhibition hall was constructed on the Flying Ground, which is still there and visible from the Q-Gate entrance. A multi-storey car park was erected parallel to Low Hill Lane in 1961, capable of storing 3300 cars as they awaited dispatch. The space saved was used to make another CAB alongside the first, finished in 1963. This brought the theoretical capacity of the site up to 10,500 vehicles per week. The ‘Elephant House’ was built on the Flying Ground in 1965 as a lorry showroom. Much of the Flying Ground is still there today, with the exception of the car park, demolished in 2001 for safety reasons.
BMC merged with Jaguar in 1966, and then with Leyland cars (who already owned Rover and Triumph) in 1968 to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation. Longbridge was gearing up for production of the Austin Allegro, and in 1971 a conveyer was built over the Bristol Road to take completed bodyshells from West Works to the rest of the factory for completion. BL were also concentrating on a new small car, which was to become the Austin Metro. A new factory was built on land purchased from the hospital, and filled with high tech robots to produce the new vehicle. New quality controls were introduced at the same time, and the Metro was launched in 1980. The Metro was updated regularly and remained in production for eighteen years, although it was later rebranded Rover 100.
The government had taken control of financially struggling BL in 1975, and later sold it to British Aerospace in the 1980s. A tie-up with Honda beginning in 1981 and the Austin Metro both brought success to BL/Austin-Rover, renamed Rover Group in 1987. BMW bought the Rover Group, who also had factories at Cowley and Solihull, in 1994 for £1.7bn. BMW/Rover intended to replace the long-running Mini with an all-new model, and development was done in the 1990s. Part of South Works was demolished to make way for the new car, and the Rover 100 was discontinued in 1998. However in 2000, BMW decided to sell Rover but keep the Mini brand, so plans to build the Mini at Longbridge were cancelled. BMW kept the Cowley plant, meaning the Rover 75 production line had to be moved from Cowley to Longbridge, at a cost to BMW of £40 million. BMW sold Land Rover to Ford, and a consortium led by John Towers, called Phoenix Venture Holdings, bought Rover. Under PVH, and now called MG Rover, the company carried on as before, with few changes to the factory or models produced by it. To raise capital, MG Rover sold the Longbridge site to developers St Mowden, and rented the site back from them. After unsucessfully trying to find a foreign partner, MG Rover collapsed in April 2005, calling in PriceWaterhouse Coopers as administrators. St Mowden started demolishing parts of the site, and what was left of the company was sold to Chinese company Nanjing Automotive.
In 2007, Nanjing Automotive’s newly founded British division, MG Motor UK, relaunched the MG TF. This model has been in limited production since. In 2011, MG introduced the MG6, which is assembled at the Longbridge plant.
Vehicles produced at Longbridge