Top 5 classic cars you never knew were made in Scotland
It’s St Andrew’s Day! To celebrate all things Scottish, we look back on Scotland’s automotive history – including the controversial Argyll GT
Alba gu bràth!
Scotland remains culturally significant for scientific innovation, engineering and construction, yet boasts little to no automotive history when scouring the history books. Perhaps masked by innovations from the Celtic minds of Alexander Graham Bell, John Logie Baird and Alexander Fleming, automotive modernisms are lost between screenings of Braveheart and Trainspotting.
However, dig beyond the deep fryers and screams of ‘Freedom!’ and you'll find Scotland is responsible for the pneumatic tyre courtesy of Ayrshire-born John Boyd Dunlop, alongside the overhead valve engine from the gallantry of Arbroath genius David Dunbar Buick; the founder of the Buick Motor Company.
Yet, for every mind-bending stroke of brilliance, Scots have then counterbalanced such revolution with a hefty dollop of idiotic failure. Grab your Irn Bru and bowl of Cullen Skink as we take a look…
Although Scotland was united with England after a ground-breaking agreement in 1707, it took 270 years for the Celts to adopt Sassenach production techniques and promptly go on strike. Manufactured by the Rootes Group, the Hillman Imp was a response to the small-car boom of 1960s Britain after a hike in fuel prices, courtesy of the Suez oil crisis. Except, production didn’t go well.
Imps were built in the Linwood factory to the west of Glasgow after government pressure was put upon Rootes to create jobs in areas of high unemployment. The Hillman was a radical design for the time, boasting an aluminium rear-engine canted at 45 degrees. But then the strikes came with several high-profile industrial disputes that killed the car stone dead.
There were 31 stoppages alone in 1964 and only 50,000 vehicles built from a factory capable of at least 150,000 units per year. Poor regulation for quality control ensured standards were low and the Imp gained an infamous repute for self-detonating whenever the sun came up, or the 1966 World Cup was mentioned. Linwood was sold to Peugeot-Citroën in the 1980s, who axed the plant completely.
Oh boy, where to start with this one! Of all the lessons in vehicular business to take from the bizarre concept of the Argyll GT, don’t trumpet the use of Morris Marina door handles. Originally a revival of the respected pre-war Argyll brand that died away in 1932, the GT was designed and built in Lochgilphead by businessman Bob Henderson. The design was futuristic and rather daring, with a box section chassis and space frame clothed in fibreglass, housing a turbocharged Rover V8 mated to a ZF 5-speed gearbox. Zero to 60mph was reportedly breached in only 6.4 seconds.
The construction was wonderfully simplistic, too. By removing only ten bolts, the entire rear section – encasing the engine and gearbox – came away for ease of servicing. But behind the headlines lurked a multitude of bastardised parts from some of the worst cars of the time. The suspension came from a Triumph 2500, the hexagonal tail lights nicked from a Datsun Cherry and interior components bought from Volvo’s stock surplus. The steering wheel came from British Leyland and the door handles were pure Austin Allegro/Morris Marina.
A production car made an appearance in 1983 but without the Turbo V8. Instead, the engine came from Renault in the form of a Douvrin V6. Sporting an asking price of £30k – more than most Ferraris of the time – yet finished with the tact of Pablo Picasso on LSD, the Argyll GT found no buyers. Quoted as making twelve cars a year, not a single one was sold.
Founded as the 20th century took full swing at ramping up car manufacturers with dreams of respect and riches, Arrol-Johnson represented Scotland’s first step into the foray of vehicle manufacture. George Johnson, a locomotive engineer, teamed up with Forth Rail bridge engineer Sir William Arrol, bankrolling a ‘Dogcart’ that first appeared in the mid 1890s.
In typical Scottish fare, things didn’t start out well. Production was moved from the original Camalachie factory and into Paisley after the factory burnt to the ground, but that didn’t halt innovation. Whereas rival machines of the time broke the driver’s wrist or killed him outright when trying to start the engine, the Dogcart provided a luxurious alternative to death; a starting rope that rose through the floor.
Numerous versions of the Dogcart were sold to dissident elites before a management take over led by famed industrialist William Beardmore found production moving to Dumfries. Taking inspiration from Henry Ford’s American production line, Albert Kahn – designer of the Model T factory across the pond – helped the company produced a ‘Victory’ model at the end of WWI. However, the vehicle proved unreliable and despite a merger with Aster to find new investment, Arrol-Johnson closed its doors in 1931.
Perhaps the embodiment of Scottish automotive success, Albion motors still (technically) exists today. Originally setting up shop in the town of Biggar within Scotland’s central belt, the company flourished after escaping the anxiety-ridden period where British Leyland controlled the company’s every move.
Founded in 1899 by two previous Arrol-Johnson employees, Albion set out to produce passenger cars; a venture that lasted only 15 years. Superseded by efforts to make buses and heavy-duty trucks, BL sold the renamed Scottish firm outright in 1980. Engineering efforts saw fire engines employed across Britain for decades. Mark Knopfler sang about the brand in his 2009 release ‘Get Lucky’ – some useless pub trivia for you there.
Currently a part of American Axle & Manufacturing, the Albion Motors name may have been made defunct in 1973 after merging with BL, but it’s products are still used in under the AAM marque in Detroit, Michigan.
The AC 3000ME enjoyed a troubled production history. Besides failing industry-standard crash tests, the 3.0-litre Ford Essex V6 powered sports car was launched at the 1973 London Motor Show, yet it took a further six years before the model reached showrooms.
After 71 AC 3000MEs were sold between 1979 and 1984, production was halted as the health of the company manager was failing. During a period of recession, the company was also in financial trouble – a sad end to one of Britain’s most respected marques.
As AC drew its dying breaths, the company’s ultimate collapse played out in Hillington, Glasgow. The English firm were steadfast in producing 40 cars per week in the new Scottish factory to get the sports car brand back on its feet. Instead, only 30 cars were built, including a development car tested with Alfa Romeo’s V6 engine. AC (Scotland) aimed to rectify the model’s maladies but ended up calling in the receivers in 1985.
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