History of the Company
Herbert Austin was born on 8th November 1866 at 3, Mill Cottages Little Missenden, Buckinghamshire, England. His father, a farmer, was Giles Stevens Austin and his mother was Clara Jane Simpson.
He was educated at Rotherham Grammar School and Brampton Commercial College, where he studied Architecture. Aged sixteen he emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, to join an uncle who was Works Manager of Langlands Foundry, a Melbourne engineering firm. During the following years he worked with various engineering companies, the last one being a subsidiary of the Wolseley Company of Great Britain.
He married Helen Dron, daughter of James Dron on 26th December 1887 in Melbourne. Herbert Austin, later had two daughters, and a son who was killed in France in the First World War. At the age of 27 he had an invitation from Frederick Wolseley to return to Birmingham, England, to supervise the manufacture of sheep shearing equipment.
It was in 1952 that the Austin Motor Company produced the Austin Champ under a military contract and was fitted with a Rolls Royce engine manufactured at Longbridge. The Champ was used by various Armies around the world. A civilian version was produced using the engine from the Austin A70 Hereford. It only sold in small numbers, and the Champ production ceased in 1956.
It is against this background that the Experimental Department looked at a completely new design, that would compete with the Land Rover, using the experiences gained with the Champ.
It really was starting with a clean sheet, one of the first decision they took was to adopt a new type of suspension that was called "Flexitor," which the army at their Bagshot Heath, Fighting Vehicles Research Department had been testing on a military trailer. So what impressed the Austin development engineers, the units did not need lubrication, and coped well with repeated impact over bumps. But would it be suitable for a four wheel drive vehicle, there was only one way to find out, build a prototype.
This was then carried out, and the team were happy with the results. One advantage with this system was that the units gave a natural damping to the suspension, and with the addition of hydraulic shock absorbers made for a controlled ride. The "Flexitor" units had been developed by Alex Moulton, who had produced the rubber cone on the Mini along with the hydrolastic on the 1100. They were manufactured by Moulton & Co Ltd. part of the Avon Group in Bradford-on-Avon. So using this system gave independent suspension all round by using trailing arms on which to mount the wheel hub.
Prototypes were built and a road proving programme started, testing was carried out on test tracks and also a 200 mile daily round trip with a full ? ton payload around the local countryside and back to the factory each day for inspection. The heating and comfort was fine in the summer, but in the winter period it was necessary to wear some heavy sweaters and coats. One of the early modifications was to re-routing the exhaust to exit at the RH side of the vehicle rather than to the rear, as in this position exhaust fumes were been pulled back into the interior.
At MIRA (the Motor Industries Research Assoc.) near Nuneaton Warwickshire, this purpose built facility, for hire to any interested automotive company, has the capability of testing virtually any type of vehicle from high speed cars to cross-country trucks. The facilities there consisted in those days of various types of track, rough road (Belgian Pave, which is largish smooth stones cemented into a road bed) off road track, dust tunnel, water splash trough even a banked high speed outer track. The Pave testing gave the equivalent of a total vehicle life in 2,000 miles of testing, so rough that drivers needed to switch after 30 minutes of driving.
Pave testing at MIRA
From the outset it had been designed as a rugged cross-country vehicle, the chassis used oval section welded steel box-section, and had a wheel base of 90 inches, which was 2 inches longer that the SWB Land Rover. Attached to the chassis at six points was the all steel body (unlike the Land Rover aluminium body) which was made from sheet steel with box section reinforcement.
The bodies were built and trimmed at Nuffield Metal Products Common Lane Birmingham. Although the steel bodies were put through the 'Rotodip' for protection against rust, in service rust did become a problem. The final painted and trimmed bodies were then transported to Longbridge for the final assemble (MK I). The MK II & MK IV were assembled at Adderley Park Birmingham.
Longbridge production East Works Series I
It was powered by the 2,199 cc four-cylinder petrol engine that was in the Austin A70 Hereford. It had proved to be reliable and although only producing 62 bhp @ 4,000 rpm power is not everything, torque is more important for this type of vehicle at 110 lbs/ft at just 1,500 rpm. Also available was a diesel engine of 2,178 cc which had its engine speed governed at 3,100 rpm and produced 55 bhp.
Petrol - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Diesel
With a four-speed gear-box with synchromesh on all forward gears, and a transfer box giving the operator the choice of either rear-wheel drive in high ratio, neutral for power take-off or four wheel drive in low ratio. Maximum payload was put at 10 cwt,along with a maximum drawbar pull 3000 lbs. This transfer box was superior to the one fitted to the Land Rover as with a little practice you could change between low and high ratio whilst on the move.
With Land Rover having such a hold on the market, it was difficult for the Gipsy (or Gippo as it was nicknamed at the factory with typical Birmingham slang) to be recognised a serious competitor. On factor was that it was only available in one chassis length, with the Land Rover having two with numerous body styles. Various publicity stunts were carried out to arouse public interest. In Birmingham the local car dealer had a 1 in 1 slope to prove that the Gipsy was a serious competitor. It attracted good media publicity, but the police were not keen as they felt that motorist would be distracted seeing the Gipsy on the roof, so after a few weeks it was all removed.
Birmingham Garage 1960
Longbridge used the idea and constructed its own 1 in 1 slope back to back version. The scary part was at the top when you had to descend and could not see the slope.
The Gipsy was available with various options that allowed the Gipsy to carry out many tasks.
A belt drive that can power various attachments
It was in the annual two weeks shut-down in July 1960, that the Gipsy track was transferred from East Works Longbridge to Adderley Park Birmingham and installed in No1 Machine Shop, as the Longbridge factory space was needed for the Mini engine production. So all the Series I were made at Longbridge, with Adderley Park now producing the Series II Gipsy. This also meant that the Experimental Department also moved from Longbridge.
Gipsy Experimental Dept. Adderley Park
Note the Gipsy on the left is a military version which has quarter bumpers added above the standard bumper. The next Gipsy is the department's recovery vehicle.
Gipsy production line at Adderley Park
There were various detail changes made to the suspension and steering in the Series II to improve cornering and reduce tyre wear, the 'Flexitor' unit had now a softer rubber compound, and because of problems with the trailing arm cracking under harsh conditions, heavier gauge metal was now used. The hydraulic shock absorbers were replaced with lever type dampers, and the ground clearance was improved. The steering-box was repositioned and now had a split track-rod, which was necessary because of the increased wheel travel afforded by the new 'Flexitor' units. As the Gipsy has to be filled up with fuel in remote places, the fuel tank now has a filler neck that can be extended to make it easier to fill from a jerrican.
LWB (111 inches) Pick-Up
A long wheel base version was added at 111 inches just one inch longer that the Land Rover, with heavy duty leaf springs connected to a beam axle at the back with the 'Flexitor' system at the front. There were various body changes, the most obvious were the new fresh air vents mounted on the front wings, below the windscreen were added a larger ventilator. The doors were now conventional with a proper galvanised handles and sliding glass windows. A pick-up version was also available which had a fibre-glass hard top, and had a payload of 15 cwt. A change was made to the transfer box, so that with the now two levers, so that both high or low ratios could be selected in four-wheel drive.
It was in 1962 that to get some publicity a Series II SWB Gipsy with a team of London University Students, completed the climb up Britain highest mountain, Ben Nevis, just 4,406 ft to the summit.
Looking at the task in hand
Attempts were made to dislodge Land Rover from their monopoly of supplying vehicles to the Armed Force but this was never very successful. In fact less than twenty were supplied, although the government did order several hundred for the AFS in the even of a nuclear attack. They remained in Government hands for nearly 30 years in storage. They were then sold off, much to the delight of collectors, who were able to purchase virtually new vehicles that were almost 30 years old, the ultimate GARAGE sale for Gipsy enthusiasts.
Market research shown that there was a need for more variants to fulfil the requirements of customers around the world. The Gipsy's were imported into various countries around the world, the only Gipsy's built outside the UK, was in Bogot?, in Colombia, South America by a company called Colmotores who assembled them from (CKD) complete knocked down kits, the venture only lasted about 3 years.
G4 M10 was SWB G4 M15 was LWB
Time for another update, for the Series III to be announced, but at the end of 1962, the replacement was called Series IV, and was given the title G4, of which no less that 25 different versions were now available. The standard suspension was now the semi-elliptic springs with beam axles. One of the main reasons for abandoning the Flextor, was the imprecise steering, it was on the wooly side, although it was very predictable. The 'Flexitor' version was still available al-round on the Short Wheel Base (SWB) and only on the front for the LWB, as it did give a more car like ride.
G4 Chassis and suspension
There were various advantages in using the beam axle, as going over bumps, the axle moved with the semi-elliptic springs allowing ground clearance to be maintained and the steering was more precise on the road. A bonus also was that on the short wheelbase version the turning circle was reduced from 42 ft to 35 ft and on the long wheelbase from 53 ft to just 43 ft.
Power from the petrol engine was increased by 10 bhp to 72 at 4,000 rpm, although the torque only increased by 2 lbs/ft to 112 lbs/ft at 1,500 rpm. The diesel engine now produced max power of 55 bhp at 3,500 rpm and the torque figure of 89 lbs/ft at 2,800 rpm. With the increased power the transmission was still well within its capacity to cope, in fact the transmission was though by many to be superior to the Land Rover, as it was possible to change into high or low ratios whilst on the move.
New Front Styling
Rear Lights & Steps
Although it still looked like a Gipsy, one of the obvious changes was the split front grille with a curved bottom part, which was detachable for installation of a winch and gave easy access to the steering box. The front bumper now had towing eyes, the fresh air vents on the front were now on the side near the doors. At the rear the lights were now flush with the rear panel, and protected by a handle like guard.
There were improvements inside with the instruments now in front of the driver in a full-length facia, in the centre as an optional matching ammeter and tachometer. On the passengers side was a lockable glove compartment and grab-handle, with more sound proofing, and improved seating and with matching door trims and armrests made it more comfortable to drive. The stalk on the steering column operated the horn and dip switch.
With twenty-five standard models available along with numerous options, there was a model that would cater for all customers needs. One unusual standard model that you could order was a Fire Tender version.
Longbridge Works Fire Tender MK II
Morris Engines Fire Tender
Austin Gipsy Fire Tender at Unipart Oxford
The occasion was the retirement of the Superintendent
For people who wanted to have their own body type, it was available as chassis - scuttle from the factory. If you did not need four wheel drive, it was possible to order it with only rear wheel drive. With this latest version the Gipsy was slowly beginning to make its mark in the market place. Plans were been made to increase production. when the Adderley Park factory had a major fire in 1963, which resulted in some lost orders. The Flexitor suspension option was dropped in 1965, and the G4 was now slowly gaining recognition in the market place.
It was at this stage that plans were considered to give the Body a major face lift. Artist impression on what was been considered is below. I thing that if it had been produced as shown, it would have lost its rugged charm.
In 1966 the merger between BMC and Jaquar took place and in 1968 it joined forces with Leyland Motor Corporation. With the new company BLMC making two competing ranges of four-wheel-drive vehicles, Land Rover and Austin, it was not too long before the Austin Gipsy was phased out.