Linwood was home to the Rootes car plant and the Pressed Steel company, both of which ceased production in 1981.
Linwood was to be Scotland's only volume car factory. Construction began in 1961 and the plant was opened on May 2, 1963, by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. The site had been chosen for its proximity to the Pressed Steel Fisher factory, which already built bodies for Rootes cars, and the Scottish plant was to produce bodies for the new Hillman Imp; an all new, compact, rear engined saloon powered by an innovative all aluminium engine, introduced in 1963 as Rootes answer to the Mini. Pressed Steel also produced the bodies for the Volvo P1800S coupe, as driven by The Saint (Simon Templar/Roger Moore).
Unable to expand their Ryton plant to accommodate production of the new car, Rootes were effectively obliged to build at Linwood in order to qualify for for grants, as the Government had introduced IDCs (Industrial Development Certificates), forcing businesses to concentrate new factory building in depressed areas of Britain. With the decline of shipbuilding in nearby Clydebank, in that respect at least, the area qualified.
Almost from day one, the Linwood plant was a major disaster. The local workforce had no experience of motor vehicle assembly, and both build quality and reliability suffered. The assembly work was tedious, repetitive and boring - these were the days before production innovations like Job Rotation were recognised as essential requirements for such environments, and strikes became a way to break the monotony. Suppliers remained based in the Midlands, adding to transport costs. Engine castings from Linwood were transported to Ryton for machining, then returned to Linwood for final assembly and installation, a round trip of some 600 miles.
Despite its innovation, the Imp's design was underdeveloped, and the launch was hurried to get the car on the road as soon as the factory was able to begin production. Coupled with buyer apathy to the new design, and poor build quality with resultant unreliability, sales were never to reach expectations. Although the period from 1963-65 had been successful, near constant strikes at the factory meant production suffered. Lost production and crippling warranty claims meant Rootes simply had no money for further development, they became uncompetitive, and suffered a decline they were unable to recover from.
Rootes were taken over by Chrysler in 1967. In October 1969, assembly of all Rootes medium range cars was transferred to Linwood. In 1972 a number of new cars were launched, either being manufactured at Linwood, such as the new Hunter, or using components manufactured there, such as the Avenger Estate.
The last major buildings on the site were demolished between 1996 and 1997, although the observant can still find a few remnants scattered around the area.
In 2007, the last of the factory buildings (which was located to the south of the complex) was demolished, to be replaced by new housing. The only building from the complex still standing is the office block, re-used as the St James Business Centre, known for several years as the St James Centre. Its appearance has been changed by new windows, but it is still recognisable.
Peak production was in 1964, although only 50,000 cars were produced that year in a factory capable of manufacturing 150,000 units. Even so, 1964 was the high point of production, declining to only 19,000 in 1975, the last full year of manufacture. In total, 440,013 cars were built by the time the last car rolled off the production line in March 1976.
- Hillman Imp Saloon
- Hillman Hunter Saloon
- Sunbeam Alpine
- Sunbeam Rapier
- Sunbeam H.120
- Humber Sceptre
As one who worked in Linwood (but not in the car plant), I recall that the poor labour relations were not entirely due to Union activity. A friend who did work there said one day that there would be a strike in the next week. I asked what the strike would be about and he said that he did not know but the car pound was nearly full and it was cheaper for the management to engineer a strike than lay workers off. He was right! The management sacked someone on the spot and everyone was out. The Fox
Rootes Factory Linwood
Linwood in the 70s part 1 of 3
Linwood in the 70s part 2 of 3
Linwood in the 70s part 3 of 3
- Gallery and summary of the Linwood plant
- BBC, Scotland on Film, Linwood factory
- Linwood featured on The Imp Site
- The Hillman Imp development story
- The recession bites in Scotland, Linwood feature. BBC News, May 19, 2009
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