Foreign car concessionaires (Part 3)

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In the third part of our series covering the importers of foreign cars we deal with Fiat, Porsche, Abarth, Skoda, and Alfa Romeo, once again emphasising the spares and service facilities which the Concessionaire makes available to British owners.

Fiat

Fiat (England) Limited, Water Road, Wembley, Middlesex.

Regular imports of Fiat models into England began as early as 5905 and the Fiat showroom in St. Martin’s Lane was a well-known centre for enthusiastic motorists in the early days of the century. By 1905 Fiat models were widespread and many provincial towns were served by fleets of Fiat tams while sports and racing models were regular competitors at Brooklands. The original importers eventually formed a company called Fiat Concessionaires Ltd., and a service department was established in Western Avenue.

After the 1914-18 war, during which Fiat cars and commercial vehicles were imported into Britain, the sale of Fiat models was considerably expanded, and some local assembly of Fiat models began. A wide range was offered, among them several with bodywork by Short Bros. of Rochester and Weymann’s among others. Fiat models were appearing in racing and hill-climbs, the best known being the 21-litre ” Mephistopheles which E. A. D. Eldridge, the famous Brooklands racing driver modified by the installation of a Fiat aero engine, in which he broke the World land speed record at Arpajon in France, at 146 m.p.h. in 1924. This was the last car to break the World land speed record on a public road. In the same year, Fiat (England) Ltd was founded, a separate British company with its own directors. The early ’30’s saw a further expansion of Fiat sales. The introduction of the 500 ” Topolino ” model in 1936, and of the 1100 in 1937 made Fiat among the most numerous of imported cars in Britain. The company moved its headquarters to Water Road in Wembley at this time, returning to the same address in 1955 when operations were resumed after the war. At the same time it undertook responsibility for the import and sale of Simca models as well,

Managing Director of Fiat (England) Limited is Dr. G. Boella, assisted by Mr. S. Donn, who is responsible for sales management. The service Manager is A. Sesia. Public Relations Officer is A. Woolf.

It is difficult to estimate how many Fiat cars are at present on the roads in Britain. Estimates vary from 25-30,000, largely of post-war manufacture. The difficulty of assessing the number on the road accurately is influenced by the fact that substantial numbers have entered the country over the last 15 years in the hands of service and diplomatic personnel. The demand for spares for pre-war models indicates that there is still a substantial number of pre-war models on the road, including some dating back to the early ’20s.

Current import figures are in the region of 5-6,000 a year, the level of sales being particularly affected by delivery problems, for although Fiat output at Turin is now approaching 750,000 a year, demand is in excess of supply all over the world. Even in Italy, delivery of all models is subject to a 6-13 weeks delay.

All cars for the British market are loaded into special trains inside the Mirafiori works in Turin and travel direct to Le Touquet or Dunkirk, depending on the number involved and the urgency of the demand. The cars are then either flown by Silver City to Lydd or taken by car-ferry from Dunkirk to Dover. The journey to Wembley is completed by car transporter.

Parts of British origin are used in a number of models; bearings, brakes, and door locks are typical, although the majority of the components in question are manufactured by Fiat or Fiat subsidiaries under license. An example is the overdrive available on the 2300 saloon and station wagons. This is a Laycock-de Normanville unit made by Auto Bianchini for Fiat. Fiat draws extensively upon British sources for production equipment and for components for other products such as aircraft, railway locomotives, marine engines, tractors, and commercial vehicles. Among other interesting production facilities, the plating plants used at Mirafiori were supplied by Electro-Chemical Engineering Ltd. of Shcerwater, Surrey, which has delivered 14 automatic plating plants over the past few years. Cars for the British market are mostly fitted with Pirelli tyres manufactured at Burton-onTrent and with Exide batteries.

New car preparation is now carried out in a special plant covering some 6o,000 sq. ft. in Coronation Road, Wembley. Cars are handled on a line system and the work entailed involves removal of the polythene wax protective finish in which the cars are shipped from Italy, a comprehensive check of all components, and a complete repetition of the final assembly inspection to ensure that no damage has taken place in transit. Finally, each car is tested on the road for a distance that may vary from a mile to 4 miles, and is then washed and polished before collection by the dealer. Dealers are then expected to carry out yet another pre-delivery check.

Theoretically every car in the 22-model range is available in Britain although the effect of import duties bears most heavily on certain models including the 1500 Station Wagon, the 1200 and 1600 Cabriolets, and the 2300 Special limousine, so that these arc available to order but are not stocked, a situation which also applies to the Bianchina 500, manufactured by Auto Bianchi.

There are some 50 distributors and 350 dealers in the United Kingdom many of these having dealt with Fiat models for upwards of 30 years. Some are exclusive Fiat dealers. A service school at Water Road is in full-time operation training dealers’ fitters and apprentices for the Wembley service organisation. Two service vans, each carrying some £7,00o worth of tools and equipment, offer additional facilities to dealers and distributors on the occasion of service weeks or when a special effort is needed to train the staff of newly appointed dealers or distributors. A high standard of efficiency in terms of spares in stock and special equipment and tools is required of all dealers and distributors.

Some 200 staff are employed at Coronation Road and Water Road. The two premises cover approximately i25,000 sq. ft. but every inch is already fully employed and Fiat is planning to open a second service centre and new car preparation works in the Midlands or North to provide dealers and owners with further backing and to increase the range over which factory trained services is available in support of the dealers.

Spares are available for all current models and the stores can deliver from stock any part, from body-panels to lock washers, to any part of the United Kingdom within 24 hours. A comprehensive but diminishing range of spares for the more popular mouels dating back to 1937 is also held and in many cases special parts for these models can be obtained from Italy in a comparatively short time.

Over the past three years an effort has been made to increase the availability of standard replacement units such as engines, gearboxes, brake shoes, linings, dynamos, starters, and carburetters, which are offered on an exchange basis. Replacement parts and new spares are obtained from the Fiat spare parts factory in Turin. Supplies of spares arc delivered by rail, except where a sudden nm on a particular component has resulted in a shortage at the Wembley stores, in which case they are flown from Turin. Scheduled service charges and a service voucher scheme are available to help owners keep costs down.

Another aspect of Fiat service facilities is seen in the fact that Fiat (England) Limited are sole importers into Britain of Weber carburetters. Here again large stocks of carburetters and parts are stocked and expert staff are employed to meet demand for information and advice as well as for the carburetters themselves.

Whether or not Britain enters the Common Market Fiat (England) Ltd. expect to enjoy an increasing share of the British market, basing their expectations on the remarkable degree of loyalty which Fiat owners show towards the make, and the extent to which they remain faithful to their choice of make, as well as on the continuing increase in the number of motorists who are turning to Fiats to suit their need. Moreover, with Fiat output expanding, the possibility of satisfying the demand improves from month to month.

Porsche

A.F.N. Ltd., Falcon Works, London Road, Isleworth, Middlesex. Importation of the Porsche was taken over by A.P.N. Ltd. in 1954, the Company itself having been founded in 1923 when they began manufacturing Frazer Nash cars, and later took on Agencies for several Continental manufacturers such as D.K.W. and B.M.W., the Frazer Nash-B.M.W. being is known in Britain before the war. The Managing Director IS H. J. Aldington, and General Manager, J. M. Burn.

A.F.N. estimate that there are approximately 1,200 Porsche cars in Britain at present but imports are limited by the factory to a yearly quota, which for Britain is 220 cars per annum at the moment. The cars are delivered by rail virtually from door to door, being loaded on wagons at Stuttgart and delivered to Islewort, the special wagons holding six cars each. Alternatively, many customers like to collect their car from the factory at Stuttgart and this can be arranged for British customers.

On arrival at Isleworth the wax protection is removed from the cars and a pre-delivery check is made before handing the cars over to dealers or customers. With a specialist car like the Porsche which sells in small quantities, the A.F.N. Sales and Service organisation is rather different from that of firms with quantity imports. A.F.N. claim to have a nearly complete coverage of the country for Service facilities but

for sales rely on their long connection with the motor trade They have found that firms which have the necessary type of customer for specialist cars cannot officially handle Porsche sales because it would endanger their franchises for English agencies, but they can in many cases represent Porsche as Service Agents.

No British parts are used in the cars. All models in the Porsche catalogue are on sale in Britain. Spares are available at Isleworth for all models back to 1954 although Service Agents arc required to maintain a minimum supply of day-to-day spares. Bulk supplies of spares are brought in by surface transport but special orders can be flown in by air at short notice. Cars with major chassis and body damage have to be returned to

Isleworth because the expensive jigs which are required to bring cars up to factory standards are only available at the A.F.N. works. Most mechanical parts can be changed by Agents under the factory exchange unit system. Selected personnel in Britain are trained at the Porsche factory and the factory service engineers visit Britain regularly and are available at short notice if called on by A.F.N. for consultation. A.F.N. also have Field Engineers who periodically visit Service Agents.

Managing Director H. J. Aldington states that he does not anticipate any difference to Porsche sales if the Common Market arrives.

Abarth

Anthony Crook Motors Ltd., The Roundabout, Hersham, Surrey.

As well as being sole Concessionaires for Abarth, Anthony Crook Motors Ltd. are Concessionaires for Zagato and Viotti coachwork and Distributors for several other makes of high-performance cars. The Company, which is entirely British, was formed in 1947 and has represented Abarth since the first importation in 1957. The Managing Director is ex-racing driver Tony Crook, the Service Manager is D. W. Stock, and the Stores Manager dealing with conversion equipment is D. Wigley.

It is estimated that there are about 130 to 140 fully converted cars in this country either with Abarth bodies or the standard Fiat body. There are many more Fiats with partial conversions running about in Britain, and as Fiat Distributors Anthony Crook Motors supply cars in whatever state of tune customers require.

Complete cars which are tuned at the Abarth factory in Turin are brought to Britain by three different methods. They are sometimes loaded on trains and then shipped across the Channel and driven to Hersham, while other cars are delivered by Abarth transporters to a Continental port, then shipped to Britain. Some cars are driven from Turin to Le Touquet and then flown by Silver City Airways to Lydd and then driven to Hersham. The choice of delivery method depends on the urgency of the order. All engines built at the factory are bench tested and the cars are also road tested. They are tested again at Hersham, or if driven by road are tested en route. The protective wax is removed and the car is serviced before being passed on to dealer or customer.

Nearly all parts of the cars are of Italian manufacture, either Fiat or Abarth, with bodies by Abarth or Allemano. Virtually the only British parts are Girling disc brakes, although some British parts are used in basic Fiat cars. All models in the Abarth range are considered suitable for sale in Britain, nearly all of them being made in right-hand-drive form. Naturally the more expensive cars are not in such great demand as the r000 TC, moo Monomile and moo Twin Camshaft, which are kept in stock at all times. The area of the premises at Hersham covers some 130,000 sq. ft., including some 10,000 sq. ft. of space devoted to servicing and conversion of cars to Abarth specification. The Service Department is run by ex-Bristol Service Manager D. W. Stock, assisted by Tony Crook’s former chief racing mechanic J. Dennis. They and other key personnel make frequent visits to Turin for service instruction. About 40 people are employed by the U.K. Concessionaires. The vast majority of cars are sold to retail customers but cars can be supplied through the Motor Trade if required, bona fide dealers receiving trade discount.

Most spares for Abarth cars are in stock at HerSham and stocks are kept up to date. Urgently needed spares which are not in stock are flown from Turin to London at 24 hours’ notice.

Mr. Crook feels that future prospects for the smaller Abarths are quite bright whether we loin the European Common Market or not. He considers dim the i 000 Twin Camshaft, being a winner in most Continental races which it enters, has a good future here if raced by a serious driver. The more exotic types of Abarth such as the 2400 Allemano-bodied car bear heavy import duty and will, of course, benefit considerably if Britain enters the E.C.M.

Skoda

Motor Imports Co. Ltd., 7, Gresham Road, London, S.W.9. Although founded in 1938 the Czechoslovakian Skoda was not represented in the U.K. untilthe current Octavia model was introduced. After being represented in quick succession by various companies the present Concessionaires took over last year. Motor Imports Co. Ltd. is a separate British company which was founded in 1951. The Company Chairman is A. D. Clarke, Service Manager is M. Smart, Sales Manager is M. A. Findon, and and Public Relations Officer Peter Clark

Motor Imports Co. Ltd. estimate that there are about 3,000 Skodasin Britain at the moment. The cars are imported under a quota agreement between Britain and Czechoslovakia, the quota for 1962 being 1,000 cars.

The cars are loaded on railcars at Prague which travel across Europe, then on to the cross-Channel train ferry. In England the railcars arc taken to Acton Station, from where the cars are collected by transporter, so that they have covered a very small mileage when passed to dealers. No British parts are used on the Skoda, although a certain quantity of British machine tools and so on are used in the manufacture of the car.

On arrival at the Brixton depot a pre-delivery check and check for transit damage is made before passing the car on to the dealer. The Octavia is the only model Sold in large quantities as the sports version is not considered suitable for this country.

Approximately 130 main dealers have been appointed in England and Wales, all of whom are bound by an agreement to stock spares and give after-sales service. Motor Imports Co. Ltd. give training to dealers’ mechanics at their Brixton premises and employ a staff of 60 themselves. Spares for all models are held in stock and are replenished by sea or air freight if spares are urgently required.

Czechoslovakia is not a member country of the European Common Market and so imports would not be affected by Britain’s entry. Sales are strictly governed by a bilateral agreement in which cars are imported on a strict quota agreement in exchange for British cars, the majority of British cars going into Czechoslovakia being supplied by the Rootes group.

Alfa Romeo

Thomson and Taylor (Brooklands) Ltd., Canada Road, Oyster Lane, Byfieet, Weybridge, Surrey.

The firm of Thomson and Taylor was formed by the late Ken Thomson and the late Ken Taylor in 1926 to tune and build racing cars at Brooklands and under the direction of Reid Railton they built for .7ohn Cobb the car which still holds the World Land Speed record at 394.20 m.p.h. The company has also been responsible for many other items of engineering equipment outside the motoring field including mobile compressors, valve processing machines and special equipment for enabling limbless drivers to use certain cars. /n 1935 the firm took over the agency for Alfa Romeo and have held it ever since, although it was announced at the Motor Shaw that Alfa Romeo would be setting up their own sales organisation in Britain during 1963. The Managing Director is R. E. Tongue, Sales Director is J. Fifer and Service Manager, P. Home.

It is estimated that there are upwards of 2,500 Alfa Romeo cars in the U.K. at present and in the last full year of importing some 95 cars were sold. This rather low figure is mainly due to the fact that six of the present seven-model range are only made in lefthand drive form. During 1963 all models in the range will be fitted with right-hand steering, which should improve the sales position.

The cars are delivered by covered railway wagon from Milan to Dieppe and then across to Newhaven on the train ferry where they are collected and driven to Byfieet. Sometimes cars are railed from Turin to Dunkirk, then by sea to Dover and on to London by rail.

Alfa Romeo cars use quite a large proportion of British parts. On cart using drum brakes Girling parts are used except for the drums and linings, the drums being special finned ones. On models with front disc brakes complete Girling assemblies are used. Handbrake assemblies and linings are also British made. Other British made parts include propellor shafts, engine bearings, shock-absorbers, timing chains, oil seals, Steering assemblies and leather trimming materials. All the British parts are fitted on new cars at the factory.

On arrival at Byffeet each car has the preservative wax removed and is washed and polished. The car then undergoes a road, test and any adjustments are made. Any transit damage is rectified and the paintwork is examined for blemishes., Before despatching the car to the dealer or owner a record is built up of the make and type of a number of accessories such as distributor, dynamo, starter, wiper motor, petrol pump, instruments, lamps and so on. Owing to continual changes in specification it is necessary to keep this record so that the Parts department can despatch the correct item for each car.

Thomson and Taylor’s service organisation includes five mechanics who specialise on Alfa Romeo cars and they have at their disposal a large range of special tools and jigs. Dealers mechanics have complete access to the Thomson and Taylor service organisation. The parts department is geared to provide a 24-hour service 5 1/2 days a week and a large stock of parts is kept at Byfleet. Spares are stocked for the 1900, 2000 and Giulietta which covers all models since 1951. Some spares are available for the 2500 model and others can be obtained from the factory. No spare parrs exist at the factory for pre-1939 cars but Thomson and Taylor hold certain stocks for most cars dating back to 1930 many of which they manufacture themselves. Indeed the Alfa Romeo factory refer all enquiries for pre-war Alfa spares to Thomson and Taylor. Forty-five personnel are employed by Thomson and Taylor and at the moment eight distributors have been appointed to sell and maintain Alfa Romeos.

As regards future prospects the greatest boost to increased sales in s963 will come from the change over of all models to right-hand drive as a good deal of sales resistance to left-hand drive cars has been encountered. Even if Britain does not enter the Common Market, the recent Purchase Tax reductions and the advent of right-hand drive will, hi Thomson and Taylor’s opinion, result in tremendously increased sales.

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