Coventry, the European Detroit

Jaguar engine factory coventry

Coventry, the epicentre of car making in Europe for decades

From London Euston to Coventry it can take you at least 1 hour on a train.  You can also take your corker and drive for a bit more than 2 hours on the M40 (or the M1) to get there and as well a 35 minutes helicopter ride from Central London will lead you to the Private Jet specialised Coventry Airport. All the roads lead to Rome !!

Coventry is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England, very close to Birmingham. Historically was part of Warwickshire. It is the 9th largest city in England and the 12th largest in the United Kingdom. Their glorious days happened decades ago thanks to the Auto industry. It was nicknamed the British Detroit as on the eve of World War I, one third of all the vehicles sold in UK were coming out from Coventry Factories.

There are loads of things to visit in town, but the main attraction is the Coventry Transport Museum (very well ranked by Google). It is placed in the centre of Coventry, which was the centre town of the British car industry (and second in the world at one point) and I would nicely advice to pay a visit to such a town if you are not far from London visiting the UK.

There you could have found as much as 51 automaker companies (compared to over 90 in Detroit) in just one city. The amount of skilful workers was probably the largest in Europe and not only for cars, but for bikes too. I’d also highlight the amount of talent inherent to the town at some point time in this sector.

Daimler produced the first ever-built British car in 1897 in Coventry. Since then, the manufacturing industry grew until it reached a peak in the 1950s and 60s. At this stage, the UK was the second-biggest carmaker in the world and a host of the major companies were based in and or around Coventry, including the British Motor Corporation (maker of the Mini), Jaguar and Rootes Group. During this period, the average wage in Coventry was about 25% higher than the rest of the county! What a huge amount of wealth for the country!

The last large car producer in the town, Jaguar Land Rover, closed its Browns Lane factory in 2005 (and demolished the building) and at the moment the only big carmaker in town is the London Taxi Company, who builds the iconic London black cabs.

Many of the brands in Coventry were created at the very beginning of the Horseless Industry and here goes some examples:

Rover was founded in 1878 and started building cars in 1904, The Daimler Motor Company Limited was founded in 1896, The Swift Motor Company started operations in 1900, The London Taxi Corporation Ltd in 1899, Lee Stroyer (Coventry Climax) in 1903, Humber Limited started investing in cars in 1896, Lea Francis was established in 1895 to then start manufacturing cars in 1903 (and bikes in 1911), White and Poppe started selling engines and gearboxes in 1899, The Maudslay Motor Company was founded in 1902 or the bike maker Coventry-Eagle began operations in 1903.

Sunbeam sport uk advert

During World War II, a big amount of factories was used to build airplanes and used them in the war following the Shadow program, but also, the factories lacked a lot of international competence and the creating of British Leyland and the acquisition by Chrysler of Rootes Group started the decline of the British Industry. Even though the British government after WWII did a good effort to become competitive (by basically exporting at least 50% of production) and by trying to recover from the war quicker than the rest of Europe, the reasons for the sluggish performance of British Automakers are not easily disentangled. Among the causes suggested we find a weak new model designs, poor economies of scale as there was still many small automakers, comparatively high costs and prices with the main international players like the US and even the German Mercedes, the strong trade union influence on the shop floor and an inadequate management and government policy to lead the sector too. It is clear that no single explanation will lead to explain the crisis and decline in the sector fully, but a combination in certain degree in all of them will.

With this article we just want to stress the importance of Coventry as a carmaker town in the world (only behind Detroit) but also the entrepreneurial spirit of the British people in order to create such a vast capability in terms of craftsmanship, financing, workforce skills, leadership, etc.

At the moment Coventry is running a millionaire program in order to bring back some of the auto glory to town. Hooray!

Less known stories, Racing History
02/06/2018 - 11:38
Less known stories, Racing History
01/22/2018 - 11:58
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