Tuesday 24 January 2012


Motor Assembles - A Story


A small South African Assembly Plant that
became a major Manufacturer


This memoir relates the post war history of the South African Motor Industry as seen primarily from the involvement of Motor Assemblies Ltd, just one of the several manufacturing plants that comprised the industry. To-day MA has become the manufacturing arm of Toyota SA Ltd.

It is a personal story told by some of the participants and concerns their and others’ place in the history of the industry. Most of the facts and figures are well known and have appeared elsewhere but this time the telling should be without Company hype.

However, the events that occurred rather than the participants provide a much more important picture of how the world’s motor manufacturers reacted to both economic and political pressures over the years. South Africa was very much atypical of the industrial developments spawned through the medium of the motor industry.

Not all those great industrial names featured in this story survived.


The rights of M Compton and T J Gallwey to be identified as the authors of this work have been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved.  No parts of this work may be reproduced without prior permission of the copyright owners.

From the time of the 1920's the American car had shown itself superior to others in withstanding the Colonial conditions to be found in Africa and Australia. First in 1924 Ford, and then in 1926 General Motors, began car assembly in Port Elizabeth to supply the South African demand. This development has to be seen against the condition of the roads, if that is what one could have called them. In the 1940s there were very few major roads that were tarred so a system of “National Roads” was set up after WWII with the aim of rectifying this situation. But even by 1971, of the 171 000km of Provincial roads, only 20 000km were surfaced and of the 10 000km of National roads linking the major cities there were still 1 000km without tarmac. The American cars not only had high ground clearances but their design was also uncomplicated and they were easy to repair in primitive conditions.

The establishment of these plants was based not only on the products, such as the Model T’s suitability, but also on the economics of Imperial Preference, since in reality the right hand drive imports came from Canada. It also reduced freight volume by locally assembling from what became known as CKD kits while to minimize inland freight these assembly plants were built at the coast. In the 1920’s it is also difficult to think of a European car that could compete in terms of value for money let alone practicality. Further assembly plants were delayed by the impact of the 1930’s depression but as the effects wore off so other US manufacturers planned for their expansion in the SA market. However, the participation of their importers was very necessary as each held not only a specific sales territory but also their own Import Permits. In the post-World War II period these relationships were to be vital.

Prior to the second World War the Chrysler agents in the Cape (Atkinsons) and Orange Free State (Oates) decided to build an assembly plant at Paarden Eiland near Cape Town in order to supply their sales areas but the outbreak of the war delayed the completion of the plant until 1941.

At much the same time the Hudson and Willys importers, Stanley Motors, commissioned a plant at Natalspruit near Alberton in the Transvaal to be known as National Motor Assemblers. After the plant’s post war opening, the Austin A40 was added for a short period until displaced in 1950 by Peugeot and Rootes products, for which Stanley Motors had also become the distributors. This was the first plant to be built away from the coast and, although in the area of the biggest vehicle market, the Transvaal, it was not seen as the most cost effective location for an industry dependent upon imported material. Things were, in time, to change.

In the early 1940's the Chrysler Agents for Natal, McCarthy Rodway (Dodge) and Forsdick Motors (Chrysler, Plymouth and De Soto) also came to the conclusion that they too would have to start local assembly if their Chrysler products were to continue to sell well.  Atkinson Oates also invested in the plant. The Americans then designed a plant for them to be located in Durban and to be called simply enough just Motor Assemblies Ltd (MA).

The MA company was registered in 1941 and authorised to buy five acres of land at Lerwick Road, Wentworth but, due to the war, no plant could be built and the land was leased to the Government. Plant construction started in 1946 and the first General Manager, Hank Lisseman was not unnaturally an American and his main responsibility was to oversee the transfer of assembly technology. Apart from regular Chrysler, Dodge and De Soto sedans a range of Dodge and De Soto Pick-ups were also to be produced. Production commenced in 1948 and a total of 3418 units were built in that year.

In 1947 construction started of a plant for the assembly of Studebakers at Uitenhage north of Port Elizabeth and the first unit left the production line in 1947 while two years later production of the Austin A40 was transferred to it from National Motor Assemblers and in 1951 the VW Beetle was added. In 1956 the plant name was changed to that of the Volkswagen franchise holders South African Motor Assemblers and Distributors (SAMAD).

Another immediate post war plant, this time at East London was started as a contract assembler, Car Distributors and Assemblers (CDA), with Packard, Nash, Renault and Standard models to produce.

The position of most of the European manufacturers was generally similar to that of Chrysler where a number of different dealers each imported directly for their Province-based sales territories and contracting for the assembly of their own imports. For GM and Ford the situation was rather different as they had dealers in almost every town, large and small, as well as country communities. This was particularly important in providing support to customers such as farmers who ran not only their cars but also pick-up trucks and three tonners.

When the various company boards for both pre- and immediate post-war assembly plant construction gave their go ahead for the investments they could not have realised that the days of popularity for the large American car were shortly to end. The improved road network of the 1950’s was no longer so "colonial" and car ownership was increasing amongst the middle and lower income urban population. The European car had also improved greatly in reliability and ride so that names such as Vauxhall started to replace that of Chevrolet and Ford Dagenham products out-sold those from Ford of Canada.

South Africa was also a member of the Sterling Currency Area, which, when the Pound was devalued in 1949 became an important consideration for a buyer as well as in the issuing of Import Permits. In 1947 a Ford V8 cost £504 when a side-valve 950cc Morris Minor was £475 but after the devaluation the Ford was £650 so the Morris became more interesting, in particular to those who lived in the towns.
But Chrysler, at that stage, had no European make, nor partner and were in any case facing the competitive threat from the Big Two of Detroit. However, it so happened that McCarthy Rodway also held the franchises for Nuffield products - Morris, MG, Wolseley and Riley - for Natal, as did one of the other MA shareholders, Connocks, for the Transvaal. It was natural that, to offset the declining sales of American cars, and to increase Nuffield sales and keep the assembly lines full, the first Morris products came off the Motor Assemblies production line in 1949.

In the aftermath of the Second World War various countries in the New World started to formulate policies for both industrial development and self-sufficiency. The most far reaching of these was arguably to be found in the Argentine and Brazil but India, Australia and South Africa decided to incorporate similar policies albeit with different approaches. The need to conserve foreign exchange and the growth of Nationalism had in each case given impetus to localisation as well as the realisation that in difficult times, such as had been experienced in WWII, when imports of cars had completely dried-up, traditional suppliers should not be trusted.

In the 1930’s, shortly after GM and Ford started their assembly operations, a small component supply industry had established itself producing tyres, glass, batteries and interior trim materials. These industries had become very strategic at the outbreak of war, as had the production of steel by Iscor. It is not surprising therefore that after 1948 the new Nationalist Government decided from the 1950’s through to the 1980’s that these foundations should be built on and to try to use the Motor Industry as the "locomotive" for Industry in general.

There can be no argument that the initial pace of the industry was set by GM and Ford. They were then the market leaders but with internal resources and systems that could not be matched by the others, in short very professional. That they were not able to hold this position is one aspect explained in this memoir.  But it must also be acknowledged that many people who worked in the Industry spent their formative years in Port Elizabeth only to join the competition, taking with them this professionalism and know-how.

In effect, with the exception of Ford and General Motors all these immediate post-war plants were labour intensive contractual assemblers with minimum investment, interested mainly in products for which they held sales franchises but also willing to work for any other suitable clients.

The industry would also not have been as effective in dealing with Government without its own Association - NAAMSA - National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa. Much credit for this must go to its second Director, Frank Locke. NAAMSA ensured that the motor industry was never faced with Government regulations on “Job Reservation“, which in almost every other industry, including the component suppliers, ensured that certain work, on a Provincial and or Industry basis was reserved for certain race categories. NAAMSA thus played a leading rôle in best meeting both Industry and Government’s aims in an industrial development that would not have occurred otherwise, and which today provides employment and considerable export business.

Original MA plant in Lerwick Road, Jacobs, about 1961.  Beyond the trees behind the end of the building is the Clairwood horse racing course.  Lansdowne Road runs across the end and leads to the body shop and paint shop to the right of the picture.  Down the left side of the building is the unloading bank running the length of the building.  CKD material arrived by goods train curving in on the left corner but some material was stored outside.

The Motor Assemblies production of Nuffield products was initiated in 1949 with the 950cc side-valve Morris Minor and at that time the plant consisted of a CKD unpacking area, body shop with main frame fixtures and spot weld guns for each model followed by a finishing line where the body in white was completed, a paint shop using nitro cellulose lacquers, a trim shop where the interior trim including the seat covers were made, a body trim line, mechanical assembly line and final inspection and rectification.

Apart from the Minor, production was started for the Cowley, Oxford and Isis models from Morris plus Wolseley, Riley and as a first outside the UK, the MG TD. As was more or less standard for all the vehicles produced in SA at this time, the paint, glass, tyres, batteries and interior soft trim were locally produced, primarily to reduce the value of imports and make their associated permits go further.

Viable production, even with only basic assembly and moderate investment, requires volume, and there were several motor manufacturers without their own volumes to justify this, so that the availability of contract assemblers like MA was of commercial interest. Export of vehicles in CKD form was also not a monopoly of the US or UK industry and other European manufacturers without a dealer network in SA were interested in establishing themselves in a market which, following the victory of the Nationalist Party in 1948, was seen to be less and less tied by tradition to America or the United Kingdom.

In the Heavy Commercial vehicle sector of the industry, market leaders were AEC and Leyland, both with assembly in Durban.

Adding to the model availability, Fiat contracted out assembly to CDA, Auto Union to SAMAD and Peugeot to Stanley Motors. In 1952 Standard Triumph came to Motor Assemblies.

In 1954, after the formation of BMC in 1952 and the merger of Nuffield and Austin empires, Austin, on what was not a very strong South African market position, decided to build a plant to be located at Blackheath, near Cape Town. So in 1955 Austin assembly moved yet again! The major benefits of this plan were to come later with all BMC assembly transferred to Blackheath as well as importation and distribution functions.

In 1956, Chrysler, determined to become a serious challenger to the dominance of GM and Ford, decided to start their own plant at Elsies River near Cape Town, first taking over the production from Paarden Eiland and later that of MA although, to help soothe their still important dealers and MA shareholders, left the production of pick-up trucks in Durban.

By May 1957 Motor Assemblies had produced 50 000 vehicles and employed 750 people.

This was the 20,000th Morris Minor when it came off the production line in May 1957.  From the left: Dick Russel, Ian Barratt, Ken Scallon, Dennis Probert, Bimbo Munro, Jack Johnston, Christiaan van Staden, Andy Cameron, Dave Martin, John Bokhorst, Wally Griffiths and Terry Dunbar-Curran

At around this time Forsdicks were taken over by McCarthy Rodway and now as Nuffield, Austin and Chrysler agents, were able to give MA important leverage over BMC and Chrysler, at least for a time.

In 1958 there was a relaxation of import control, which allowed the import of fully built up units not seen in any volume since before the war. This was short lived as annual sales increased from 59 000 in 1956 to 90 000 in 1958, increasing the outflow of foreign currency. By the beginning of the 60's the Government was putting together the final touches of a local content programme that would change the face of South African industry, and not just that of motor manufacture. That the programme had to go through several phases and modifications was inevitable as shall be told.

At the time that import restrictions were lifted in 1958 Borgward had already started to make a very good local reputation with the Isabella, particularly in the country districts with bad roads. The importer maintained very good relations with several Government Ministers, in particular the Minister of Economic Affairs and the relationship was seen as a chance for Afrikaners to gain a foothold in the industry. They now increased their imports and one of Borgward’s engineers was sent to South Africa to conduct a detailed study of local manufacturing possibilities and initiate the manufacture of certain parts with a spares application. With this information they made a number of direct proposals as to how the local content system could be organised and were well prepared for the future although their experience in production outside of Germany was confined to Mexico. Once the governments local content plans were made known Borgward’s backers concluded a contract for assembly with MA. It was more than disappointing that the parent company in Germany went bankrupt and we shall never know what long-term impression they might have made on the market.

After import regulations were re-imposed, those manufacturers active in built-up exports to SA started to re-examine the long term potential of the market and several decided to get more firmly established while there was a chance. This led to Fiat, Mercedes Benz (1960), DKW / Auto Union and Alfa Romeo going to CDA for their models to be assembled.

However, from time to time assembly arrangements were changed. In 1962 Fiat decided to leave CDA in East London and move their production to MA. Their new Managing Director had big plans for establishing themselves firmly in SA, and that the then current 1100, 1500 and 2300 models justified this view. Using MA as their production base they felt their own staff had sufficient experience of parts manufacture in South America to comply easily with the local content regulations.
Soon after this change, assembly was also to be started at MA for Volvo and Lancia.

Since the very start of the motor industry there have been not only the disappearance of manufacturers but also takeovers and mergers so that there was an ever changing scenery but with consequences nevertheless reaching the shores of SA. As already noted the first major UK merger was that of Austin and Nuffield to create the British Motor Corporation in 1952 although for a few more years their individual distribution systems ran independently. In 1960 Jaguar had taken over Daimler and in 1966 BMC merged with Jaguar to form British Motor Holdings.

Almost in parallel, Leyland had bought Standard Triumph in 1961 and expanded its heavy commercial vehicle side in 1962 with the purchase of Albion, Guy and AEC and in 1966 acquired Rover/Land Rover. These developments led the way to the inevitable fusion of BMH and Leyland in 1968 to form British Leyland.

MA was to be considerably affected by all these changes. The first significant products of the Austin / Morris merger were the badge engineered, Farina-styled ADO 7, Austin A55 Cambridge-Morris Oxford V-MG Magnette MkII-Wolseley 15/60-Riley 4/68 look-alikes and Austin 7 / Morris Mini 850 so that when they were introduced in 1960 production of these units was shared between MA and the BMC plant in the Cape. This production sharing continued until 1962.

Nevertheless, MA had a unique position in producing sports cars in CKD form. The MG sports car was only ever produced outside the UK in South Africa. Production started at MA with the TD and changed in 1957 to MGA 1500 roadster. The MGA 1500 Coupe was to follow as well as MGA 1600, 1600 Mk II and Twin Cam. With Standard Triumph as a customer it was natural that their TR-series should be built starting with the TR2 in 1955 and running until the last TR 3A came off the production line in February 1963. Spitfire assembly followed from 1963 to 1967.

The Government, through the deliberations of the Board of Trade and Industries, had looked at the local content systems used in other countries and after considerable consultation with the motor industry and component manufacturers decided that, if SA were to maintain reasonable trade relations with countries that were not in favour with the Nationalist Governments policies, a different approach was needed.

In order to implement the policy, in the late 1950’s the SA Board of Trade initiated a dialogue with the motor industry through their trade body, NAAMSA. The outcome, intended to spread the technology as far as possible, was a proposal for a graduated increase in local content but based on a horizontal integration with as broad as possible a base of independent component suppliers, such as existed in the UK, rather than the vertical model favoured by GM and Ford in America.

The final proposals were therefore, that, while on the one hand the high Customs import duties would be maintained on completed vehicles and spare parts, on the other hand these duties were to be rebated when sub-assemblies and parts were imported in a specified CKD form. It further proposed to introduce an Excise Duty based on the average weight of a particular model but which was also to be rebated, provided certain local content levels were reached by mass according to a specific time scale. At the time some observers thought that the 50-odd models available then would be reduced to half a dozen. But this was thought by others to be unacceptable to all parties.

The Excise Duty factor of mass had the great advantage that it could be easily checked and this formula did not bring into the calculation any distortion of profit or other secondary costs. This concept was expected to encourage the basic steel-related industries making castings, forgings and metal pressings for which the basic materials were in most cases already made. But it did not favour light weight, high cost components such as instruments, or complicated assemblies such as gearboxes or axles.

The starting point was to be more or less the existing local content by mass taking into account the battery, tyres, glass, trim, odd small parts and consumables. The incorporation of these materials had only been a purchasing function as the suppliers were local operations of established, high reputation, manufacturers such as Firestone, Dunlop, Goodyear, Lucas, Exide, ICI and Pilkingtons.

There can be no doubt that GM and Ford thought that there was little chance of the fragmented competition being able to conform to the local content regulations, or for new-comers to enter the market. Therefore they thought it would only be a matter of time before they had the market to carve up amongst themselves. Apart from each announcing R4m plant investments the approaches differed. GM already had an in-plant facility modelled in a way on their US subsidiary Delco and they produced batteries and pressings for their light truck bodies. They expanded this horizontal structure by increasing the size of their press shop to satisfy the major volume of new local content as well as expanding into engines (with components made in-house), radiators and other fabrications. Ford also decided to follow the engine route for local content with an engine machining and assembly facility with a capacity of 30 000 units a year but, they planned to obtain all other items from outside suppliers.

Introduced as Phase I the initial requirements for “Manufactured Models” were to reach a 35% content by 1963, at which point a review would have already been made as to how much further and by when this should be followed by Phase II. There was also a category for “Assembled Models” which only had to reach 25% local content but volumes were limited in some relation to previous import permit limits. The local content requirement for these was raised to 30% by the end of 1966 and 35% by the end of 1967. In this way the smaller volume companies were offered a chance to survive and grow and maybe later convert to “Manufactured” status. Those “Manufactured Models” that reached the 35% level but could not attain viability over this target would be able to continue as “Assembled Models”.

When in 1964 GM opened its engine plant, they together with Chrysler and Ford still had a 50% market share in passenger vehicle sales, due largely to the introduction of US so-called Compact models, as well as 4 and 6-cylinder UK models from Ford and Vauxhall.

To the surprise of the Government and the Big Two, the independent assemblers were to show that, even if they could not match the investment capability, they could make full use of the pioneering work being carried out by GM and Ford in developing a supplier industry, and by doing this they need not be excluded from the market so easily. Motor Assemblies, like the other independent assemblers, found most of its customers without the resources of a parent motor manufacturing concern and thus without not only investment capital but the engineering know-how and systems to develop local content. If it was to stay in business the only response was to offer a local sourcing facility in addition to assembly and in 1960 a Vehicle Engineering section was created for this purpose, under the control of Mike Compton. BMC also decided to use the increased local content requirements as a reason to transfer the Durban part of their production to their own plant in the Cape, so the first MA customer for an increased level of local content was Standard Triumph.

The Standard 8 and Vanguard had been MA's initial Standard Triumph products but with the introduction of the Herald range in 1959, and the 2000 to come, there was some hope that they could attain a production volume that would sustain the introduction of local content. For various reasons, not least a design that did not fully take into account African road conditions, the Herald failed to meet its sales targets. Hence in time only the 2000 remained as their hope for the future and it was introduced as an “Assembled Model” in 1965 with 25% local content.

The primary objective at MA was to be able to retain assembly clients by presenting a viable plan whereby they might meet the local content objectives, obtain the excise rebate, and not have to invest heavily in tooling or dedicated production facilities. There were also a large number of actual and potential component suppliers who were more than interested in expanding their facilities and so doing their bit to help both the Government and Manufacturers reach their targets.

The increased assembly volume and number of clients, an unsatisfactory experience with operating a double shift and recognition that the original paint facility was not then state of the art, caused the MA shareholders to agree in 1959 to the construction of a new paint shop. There was no additional property directly adjacent that could be used for this expansion and the nearest available site was about 500m away in Lansdowne Road and of sufficient size for the future construction of a new body shop and off-line vehicle storage. Bodies in the white (bare metal) would be transported by tractor trailer units and returned fully painted by the same system.

Almost the first components to be localised at MA were seat frames as the trim was already made and the main requirements of tube manipulation and seat springing existed at several potential outside suppliers making steel furniture. To these were added items with a spare parts demand such as oil and air filters, hub caps, shock absorbers, suspension springs and exhaust systems. Firstly, since in many cases the production facilities existed at “pirate“ manufacturers, and secondly because the addition of spares gave a greater volume of parts over which any tooling could be amortised.

Unfortunately not too many of the early component suppliers were good at production planning or quality! It was one thing to make after-market parts with no exacting delivery date, sometimes using “knife and fork” methods, and quite another where non-delivery was going to stop either the production line or vehicle delivery. The after-market for “genuine” parts was also not normally a factor used, as the official dealers of the car manufacturers were required to sell only genuine parts. Likewise the normal supply route to independent parts factors had clients where low prices and good margins were of greater importance than quality. The appreciation of what quality meant on a series production basis was normally as absent as that of the equipment or the systems required to control it.

The need for increasing local content did not go unnoticed by several European OE component manufacturers and through the 1960’s plans were put in hand, normally based on their own experiences outside of Europe or the USA, for local manufacture. Of major importance were transmission drive shafts (GKN/Anglo-Vaal), wheels (Rubery Owen/Vecor), radiators (Coventry Radiator/Silverton), disc and drum brake assemblies (Girling), engine piston-ring-pin assemblies (Hepworth & Grandage/Wellworthy/Lauf Lumenite) and electrical components (Lucas, Bosch). Already active in the after-market and more than willing to add to their volumes were Woodhead Kempo (shock absorbers, coil and leaf springs), Armstrong (shock absorbers), BTR (rubber components), and Smiths Industries (spark plugs). Later, some US companies also joined the fray - Thompson-Ramco (pistons and rings), Borg Warner (rear axles) and Motorola (alternators and regulators). This potential also attracted non-OE manufactures such as Quinton Hazel (exhaust systems) and Repco from Australia (brake drums and discs) as well as new investments from outside the motor industry such as construction company Murray and Roberts into iron castings.

It was always intended by Government that Iscor would supply as much as possible of the steel requirements, but there were production limitations in high quality steel sheet for external body pressings and specialised alloy forging steels from USCO. There was also no suitable source for complex castings. As a result of these circumstances the investment plans of Ford and GM were assisted by the Government. At their behest, it introduced the concept of “Approved” manufacturing schemes whereby, until the local availability of suitable castings and forgings, un-machined parts could be imported, be locally machined, and still qualify as local content. A similar concession was given to steel strip needed for the more specialised large external body pressings.

Taking an opposite track was CDA which was coming more and more under the influence of Mercedes Benz and trying to obtain for their clients less rigorous content requirements for low volume / high value units. In contrast, MA seemed to offer, with a clear realisation of the need to localise, a better long term possibility for customers (actual and potential) and could even be a potential take-over target if all went well.

However, to everyone’s surprise Fiat were not to be outdone and raised the stakes quite considerably by making an announcement that they too would be applying for an engine manufacturing programme using the same “Approved” concessions. This manufacturing activity would also be out-sourced, in an even more surprising move, to Turin Motors, a small engineering company in Johannesburg.

In short, not too many manufacturers were going to be left behind, at least at this stage of the game.

Motor Assemblies involvement with Fiat’s local content programme assisted considerably in making the learning curve easier to climb. Their Argentinean experience permitted them to take a practical, engineering-based approach rather than what might have been written in manuals – if they ever had them. The Turin factories would remove parts from sub-assemblies that would not even be considered by other manufacturers, and approval was given locally in South Africa without reference to Italy. Apart from the assembly documentation being comprehensive, all the required part production drawings and material specifications were made available. In addition there were quite a number of Italian immigrants who were ex-Fiat employees owning small manufacturing factories in the Johannesburg region, and this network was engaged to make Fiat parts.

Fiat’s decision to increase local content by the machining of engine parts might not have occurred without what was then new technology. When Ford and GM set out their machine shops they were based on what were conventional lines where individual single-purpose machines were linked and machining carried out in the same sequence as the machines were set out on the floor. It was conventional practice but was very capital intensive requiring large volumes to provide viability. Fiat and their contractor Turin Motors considered that, by using a combination of a Numerical Control (NC) machining centre and limited special purpose machines, the capital requirement could be reduced significantly and this would enable them to compete with GM and Ford.

There were several problems with this approach that were not taken into their calculations. One was that a detailed and complicated planning system was needed to carry out the correct machining sequence and achieve the correct machine loading. The other was that there was a complete lack of experience as to how NC machines and their computers worked. Both the machine sales staff and the customers understood the principles but a technician had to be sent from Europe to resolve many of the problems encountered. MA considered that, although production had not started, this approach was also valid for the Toyota engine and also signed up with Turin Motors. These initial encounters with NC machines resulted in serious production line stoppages at MA at times, especially in the early stages. But the financial advantages were proved correct.

The Fiat 1500 provided a valuable increase in output and was perhaps the first car to be built with real enthusiasm.  Fiat’s determination to reach the required local content levels also gave very valuable insight as to their methods, including that of establishing new suppliers.

It is also appropriate to mention the Turin Motors approach of using general purpose machines such as plano-millers with say three blocks mounted in different ways on the same machine and being machined in one pass. This may have been very practical so far as machine usage was concerned but meant that some operations were performed out of sequence and thus keeping track of production progress was a nightmare, with huge problems of missed operations. It was a very unusual way to do it but on small to medium volumes was viable and therefore marques with marginal volumes could meet the requirements and survive.

After the withdrawal of the Herald from the market all the Triumph resources centered on the marketing of the 2000 making it essential that it reached at least the 25% level. But in time it went on to reach the 35% content level by the end of 1967.  To do this MA took the lead role with a free hand to choose the components to be localised provided the economics were satisfactory. In the process the MA engineers gained valuable experience in local manufacturing processes. A major advantage was that unlike say Fiat, the local OEM suppliers were all from the UK, the most important of which were established in SA. This made it much easier to source locally, for example, disc brake calipers, clutch assemblies and drive shafts. This MA staff know-how would be fully utilised in the next year or so for the development of Toyota.

In 1964 Phase II of the local content programme had started with the obligation to reach a 45% level by the end of 1968. However, it had already been made known that those who wished could continue to a 55% level in the following 3½ years, the main incentive being the higher rebate of Excise Duty. However, those manufacturers who had reached the 35% level but who could not viably proceed, would be permitted to continue with the status of an “Assembled Model”. If able to increase their market share and achieve the viability required, they would then be permitted to obtain “Manufactured” status and the tax rebates this brought, without any limits on volume.

While the initial local content targets were not too difficult to attain they were to become progressively harder, particularly for those who were independent importers and with lower sales volumes. While in terms of free enterprise the greater the competition the better, in reality the lower the number of manufacturers there were, the better would be the economic results of the government’s manufacturing programme. Where heavy investment was needed for model-specific tooling, this was no particular obstacle for those selling reasonable volumes of their own products, but not so for a local importer who was only a profit orientated intermediary between the foreign based manufacturer and the local customer.

One of the most outspoken objectors to the whole local content programme was Walter Essex Clarke of CDA. On behalf of their main customer, Mercedes Benz, he maintained that it would never be possible to obtain components of a satisfactory quality level in South Africa for such as MB, who he argued had very high standards to maintain. His demands appear to have had little effect on Government policy. At a later stage, to meet them, MB contracted to buy many body pressings from VWSA, which must have been another first for South Africa.

Volvo, imported by Lawson Motors in Johannesburg had also projected an up-market image, backed by a very successful local saloon car racing and rallying programme. In 1960 an assembly contract was given to MA who first started with production of the 544 but then quickly changed to the then new 122S. For Volvo this was also the first time they had supplied material in CKD form. Having started with a limited local content programme they were encouraged by both the entry of Mercedes Benz into the Local Content race and their objections to it, which Lawson’s thought might succeed. They followed the MB route of going for a large number of body pressings but did so first with Datsun, which proved to be very problematic as the Swedish engineers had tried to save on tooling costs by using a lot of hand work. The serious quality variations of this approach led them in 1973 to follow the MB route by moving not only the body press work to VWSA but also the vehicle assembly.

Lancia was another up-market make whose importer, TAK, hoped they could remain in business, at least for a little longer, by participating in local assembly.  Production started at MA with the Appia, followed by the Fulvia Coupe, Flavia 1500 Sedan and 1500 Coupe, the latter yet another one off for MA - the only production site outside of Italy to complete a Pininfarina-made body. The body shell was delivered fully assembled only requiring painting and trim. The world-renowned body builder was not that impressed with this news and had a special B-post badge produced to fit in place of the normal one emphasizing that it was a Pininfarina design.

The last Chrysler units to be built by MA were D250 pick up trucks which were more than competitive to the GM and Ford equivalents and still had many supporters, particularly in the SA Railways and Provincial Governments’ Roads Departments. Later the Japanese were to take over the market of all three American manufacturers in this sector. This particular MA production line was started in 1960 in the place previously occupied by the old paint shop, and had also been used to assemble BMC trucks of various sizes until 1962.
Lancia Flaminia Coupe as trimmed by Motor Assemblies

In setting their initial local content strategy the SA Government had not expected that in the early 1960's Japan would become a major export customer for iron ore, coal and wood chips. Nor had they foreseen that the Japanese at a diplomatic level would point out that there were no reciprocal imports helping to balance the trade between the two countries. The volume of exports was also much larger than could be compensated by the import of consumer products such as radios and cameras.

This diplomatic pressure led to a number of SA businessmen, with SA Government encouragement, making trips to Japan to see what was on general offer and it should not have been a surprise to them to find that MITI, that all powerful of Japanese Government organisations, had earmarked the motor industry to be the leading trade partner with SA. Some of the first businessmen to make this pilgrimage were Afrikaners from Pretoria with close ties to the Nationalist Government and who had been privately assured of import permits for products that they were interested in. They were not however motor men and it was perhaps just as well, since what was on offer then in Japan would not have excited anybody from the industry.

To the brothers Thys and Andries Bekker the Japanese Motor industry should owe a never-ending debt of gratitude as the importers of the first Datsun model, made by Nissan. Because the price was so low and the terms unrepeatable they placed a test order for just 100 built-up so-called 1-ton pick-up trucks with a 1000cc petrol engine, in spite of the fact that as rather large and typical Afrikaners neither of them could sit in comfort behind the steering wheel! Little were they, or anybody else for that matter, to know that this visit to Japan was not only to be the death knell of the US pick-up but in time the Japanese dominance of the market.

The LDV was an excellent product with which to open up the market because it was a commercial vehicle not subjected to excise duty or local content requirements. The first deliveries were to urban companies such as dairies and, since it was the buyers’ employees who did the driving, maybe this space problem was not a major feature at this time. Sales of the first 100 units went so well that a more permanent arrangement had to be made and this involved a trip by the Bekkers to MA and, without much delay, in 1962 a contract was signed to assemble just 1000 trucks in the next 12 months.

In spite of the desire to sell automotive products to SA, the Japanese Government was very conscious of the government’s apartheid policies, as well as its repugnance to the rest of Africa with whom they also wanted to do business. They therefore laid down simple and clear rules for their exporters to follow - no investment, direct or indirect and no credit - payment by Letter of Credit.

Once it was clear that Datsun LDVs could be sold, to accommodate the Japanese, the SA Government had to modify the local content plans somewhat, first delaying the introduction of local content regulations on commercial vehicles and then in a more significant ruling, providing a period in which new entries could build up their local content to the then required levels of local content without penalty. This was not to be the last change made to help the Japanese as one of SA’s major trading partners.

It was also at this time that McCarthy Rodway made management changes and the then Sales Director, Noel Horsfield switched to a subsidiary, Illings, as Managing Director. He and the new McCarthy Chairman, Pat McCarthy then made the trip to Japan, also with government encouragement, to see what products they could obtain for this business subsidiary that they had decided was in need of new direction. They came back with the agencies for earth-moving equipment manufacturers Komatsu and Hitachi as well as Mazda. Not surprisingly, the latter in pick-up form, was to be assembled from 1963 onwards in the McCarthy Rodway “family“ by MA.

For the first time worldwide, two competing Japanese manufacturers were to find their products assembled in the same factory! But this situation was not to last and from the Japanese point of view, was to get even worse after MA agreed to assemble models from Toyota and Mitsubishi as well.
Dr Albert Wessels was another Afrikaans businessman, involved in clothing manufacture and already using Japanese textiles but who was also looking for new industrial opportunities. Spurred on by the perceived success of Datsun and wanting a little light diversion from a recent divorce he obtained the franchise for Toyopet products, the then commercial vehicle range of Toyota, and imported the first Stout test unit in October 1961. The Toyota car franchise was already taken and at that time all he could do was wait and see if it became available although at this time its need was questionable.

Realising that his fellow Japanese importers seemed to be making progress with MA it should have been no surprise that he and Hennie Klerck, the Managing Director of the newly formed Toyopet Commercials Company, should visit Durban to talk about and finalise an assembly contract for 1963.

All these new clients with absolutely no motor industry experience were willing for MA not only to build their vehicles but also to plan and execute their local content obligations.

Apart from the fact that Wessels and Klerck were in good company with Fiat, Standard Triumph and Datsun who all wanted to do their best to comply with the Government regulations (which was not the case with Mazda, Volvo or Lancia!) there was little to do but to follow the route taken by the others. However, one of the major reasons that Datsun and Mazda had come to MA is that McCarthy Rodway had a subsidiary, Airco Engineering, which, while its main business was the manufacture of Carrier air conditioning, had also built the load bodies for Dodge pick-up trucks assembled at MA.

The first Toyota product to be built by MA and with a load body similar in size to a Dodge D250, was the Toyopet Stout, a 1,5t pick-up with beam front axle of somewhat larger dimensions externally than the Datsun LDV that was by then taking the market by storm. However, the internal dimensions of the cab were not much better than the Datsun but more importantly the market reaction was nevertheless favourable. At the same time assembly was started of the Tiara pick-up, but with a mono construction local content was neither viable nor technically possible and production was ended.

It was not long after the introduction of the Stout that MA was asked to look at the introduction of the Corona 1 ton Pick-up, a direct competitor to the Datsun “Bakkie“. Also there was a revised Stout with a lower payload, larger cab and independent front suspension marketed in Japan as the Lite Stout! Not surprisingly Toyota SA chose to call this model the Stallion. It was supplemented later by the Dyna, a forward control pick-up.

When the Corona LDV was first introduced in1965 it was an instantaneous hit, probably because the load body had somewhat more style to it than that made for Datsun and the cab interior was more passenger car in size and style so that it fitted in with the trend of using LDV’s as a replacement for the family car, especially as the lack of Excise duty made them much cheaper.

Whereas in Japan the load bodies were pressed with stylish curves, in SA they had to make do with somewhat rectangular designs because at that stage there was no chance of recovering the tooling costs of pressed panels. It was most certainly the Corona 1500 LDV that set the foundation for Toyota in South Africa as the Datsun 1000 LDV had for Nissan.

When these first Japanese LDV’s successfully entered the SA market there could have been very few people who gave them a chance to repeat this story in the car sector, nor at that point were there any provisions in the local content regulations to let them even attempt to do so. The Japanese themselves thought otherwise and very soon started pressing their importers and the Government to permit imports and in this they were successful, the first make to be assembled being the Datsun 1200 Sedan followed shortly afterwards in June 1966 by the Toyota 1500 Corona. The government again assisted by giving a short period for them to reach the same 45% content level as their established competitors which they were able to do.

In 1966 there were 16 030 Japanese vehicles sold in SA making it their 3rd largest export market.

Yoshi Aikawa with the first off-line Toyopet Stout at Motor Assemblies in 1963

In 1954 MA management changed with Bob Burnie becoming General Manager in place of G. S. Lissaman. His successor, John Sully, then aged about 35, was appointed in 1957. An ex-Fleet Air Arm pilot who had the bad luck to be invalided out of the Service (but the good luck that it was in Durban) minus one lung, and where he found his first wife and congenial surroundings in the post war period. His only obvious qualification to run a motor plant was an enthusiasm for cars but he was an up and coming yachtsman, a sport in which Noel Horsfield, one of the Directors of McCarthy’s and Olympic yachtsman, was heavily involved. John too was later to be nominated as one of SA's 1958 Olympic team that went to Melbourne and he was also for many years the SA Flying Dutchman Champion. Under John's management the company was to be transformed out of all recognition over the next few years.

Sully inherited Mrs Pam Wright as his private secretary and as a management team Roy Bruce (Chief Engineer), Les Mitchell (Company Secretary), Tony Campbell (Accountant), Charles Cull (Production Manager), Dave Martin (Production Supt.), Stan Dickens (Supplies), Ian Barratt (Plant Maintenance) and Arthur Collison (Shipping). This latter was at the time perhaps the most important job, but least appreciated, requiring a detailed knowledge of Customs and Excise regulations and the documentation that went with it.

Of this team only Charles Cull, who hailed from the UK Midlands, had worked in the industry before. He had been sent to SA by Austin at the time the A40 went into production at SAMAD. After moving to MA he had encouraged trim and body shop experts from Coventry, in the form of Arthur Swain and Andy Cameron to join him in Durban. Production planning and scheduling was a major activity and was based on considerable time and motion study. Headed up by Derrick Nevitt the staff came from the local clothing or shoe manufacturers.

MA were one of the first Durban employers to establish a medical clinic and the second nurse to work there, Pauline Hatch, started in 1957. Once a month she met with 4 or 5 other Durban industrial nurses to compare notes but there was also a part-time factory doctor, Dr Tweedie. Two of his main concerns were lead poisoning (a lot was used in the body shop) and TB. The latter was also a reason for regular visits by the mobile x-ray unit.

Apart from employees health the clinic dealt with work injuries. The production manager and foremen were not happy to be losing time with their staff leaving the lines to attend the clinic but after the arrival of John Sully it was made clear to them that the clinic could reduce absenteeism through sickness or injury and a sick note from the company doctor was preferable to one given from outside. In the early 60s a larger clinic was built and Dr Tweedie worked at the plant full time.

There was one aspect of an assembly plant in Durban that was perhaps not fully appreciated when plans were first drawn up and that was the quality of the pool of Coloured (mixed race) labour available. With hands-on training from the likes of Charles Cull and Arthur Swain they were able to produce a first class product to standards that were equal to, if not better than, those found at the time in England. The fact that the co-called Coloureds in Durban have English as their home language greatly facilitated this training,

However, later in 1960, the departure of Charles Cull to the new BMC plant in the then Rhodesia found Roy Bruce with the additional responsibility of Production Manager.

To put life into the local content programme and his Vehicle Engineering department, in 1960, Sully also hired Mike Compton who came from a R&D background in the UK motor industry and in due course he was to be joined by Engineers (and Natalians), Tim Gallwey in 1966 and Colin Downie in 1967, the latter coming from Ford.

Of the MA clients only Fiat made any major commitment to the planning and execution of their local content development and transferred an engineer, Dario Gonella, to South Africa using where possible MA's experience and at the same time establishing their own suppliers. MA was also to draw on Fiat’s experience.

The first Japanese representative to become involved with MA was Ryu Miyakoda of Nissan and he was followed by Yoshii Aikawa from Toyota. They were both Johannesburg based and, as delegates from the sales companies, acted primarily as post boxes between SA and the factories in Japan. With Toyota the connection was even more distant as Aikawa and his successors worked for Toyota Sales Company which was separate, even on the stock exchange, from Toyota Motor Company which built the vehicles.

Although MA had started a local content programme for Volvo there came a time when the Lawson Motors management thought they were becoming too reliant on MA and should employ someone themselves and appointed Alois Rosner. As mentioned earlier they bought many body pressings from Datsun which created problems for MA quality personnel but gave valuable lessons for the MA engineers.

During the early years the assembly procedure was so unsophisticated that if support were needed, the European manufacturers sent personnel to Durban. In any case neither BMC nor Triumph plants had much to offer in this respect. The arrival of Fiat, Lancia and Volvo resulted in a number of visits to Europe, normally made by Sully but also by Roy Bruce and provided a window on new production methods. John Sully was the first from MA to visit Japan and much later, Mike Compton the second.

The 25,000th Morris Minor (a 4-door 1000) came off the line in June 1958.  By then c.36 000 other vehicles had been built since the plant opened.  In the picture from left are: John Sully, Charles Cull, Dick Russell and Roy Bruce.

When it was confirmed that the new Phase II was to come into force with a new local content target of 45% to be reached by the end of 1968 the industry had yet again to re-think their individual strategies but this also came at a time of change within the industry in general. Overall SA vehicle sales had by now increased and all the assembly plants were being expanded, including MA. In 1958 there had been 900 000 licensed vehicles on the road and by 1967 this had increased to 1 580 000.

As already noted, by 1963 MA volume had by now grown to the extent that a new paint facility was needed and soon after that a new body shop was required. This was located next to the paint shop, each change giving in turn more assembly space in the old plant. However, when in 1966 MA started to plan for the assembly of Magirus Deutz heavy duty trucks for Illings, as well as Fiat and OM heavy trucks for Fiat, it was clear that even more space was needed. This was done by taking over an old factory in Leicester Road, Mobeni into which Mazda LDV production was also moved, and this activity also brought contracts to assemble US Reo and Kenworthy trucks and later on Henschel.

When Standard Triumph was absorbed into Leyland in 1961 it had no particular direct effect on MA since at that point Leyland only had commercial vehicle interests. However, when BMH was merged into Leyland to become British Leyland it was a different story and it was only a matter of time until production of Triumphs was moved to Cape Town at the end of 1968. In total MA produced 16 035 Standard and Triumph units over a 17 year period.

Of all MA’s assembly clients, Fiat was by far the most aggressive, increasing their dealer network and advanced in their local content plans. They had found a source of small suppliers, mainly in the Johannesburg area who were of Italian origin, thus spoke the right language, were intuitive engineers and more importantly, were interested in investing in component production facilities of which the most significant was to be the production of engines by Turin Motors. However, Fiat management wanted, as a matter of policy, to control the assembly facility themselves and planned to make an offer to purchase MA.

They were beaten by the brothers Bekker who, while John Sully was on a trip to Japan made a direct offer to McCarthy’s. They were not that concerned that they were asked to wait for Sully’s return before receiving a firm answer and they were so confident of success that their offer was made well known amongst the senior MA staff, several of whom would have been happier if the plant had fallen to Fiat. However, to the surprise of all, on his return to Durban, John Sully advised McCarthys against a sale and the Bekkers returned empty handed to Pretoria to think over a different strategy.

Not long afterwards Dr Wessels made his approach to McCarthys and this time they accepted the offer made and at the end of 1964 control of MA passed to the newly created Toyota SA. The most immediate impact was the notice given by both Datsun and Fiat with both starting the construction of their own new plants at Rosslyn, North of Pretoria, with the transfer of Datsun production taking place in 1966 and Fiat at the end of 1968, six years after seconding the first staff to South Africa.

Dr Wessels took control of MA on December 31st 1964, leaving the previous management in place. Apart from Toyota, after the withdrawal of Datsun and Fiat, the assembly clients left were the Illings Mazda and Magirus trucks, Triumph, Volvo and Lancia, the latter unable to add much to production volumes but all of them much to the skills needed for the quality requirements of a passenger car .

Once Toyota SA had its own manufacturing plant the range of models was to be expanded with the Hi Lux and Hi Ace and the Dyna, a medium commercial. The extra space of the Leicester Road plant made this possible.

With sales of the Corona LDV, as well as the Stout and Stallion, going well the next step was to introduce a passenger car into the range. In 1965 the Board of Trade approved the proposal that assembly of the Corona, with 1500cc ohv engine, could start with minimum local content. However, production of the model’s soon to be introduced successor, the Mk II, with 1600 or 1900 ohc engine should commence not only with an assembled engine but also with a locally machined cylinder block, head, crankshaft and camshaft. The respective castings and forgings were to be imported from Japan until such time as suitable local items could be sourced. It was now necessary to add an engine assembly facility and it was decided to locate this in the Leicester Road plant. At this point, the experience gained with the machining of Fiat engine parts led to the contract for the cylinder block and head being given to Turin Motors with the crankshaft, connecting rods and camshaft going to GKV. The Corona was introduced in 1965 and was fitted with the 1600 engine from the end of 1968 when the Mk II was introduced. They continued to be built in parallel, with the MKII fitted with the 1900 version of the same engine.

In 1964 the NMA plant had been sold to the Rootes Group for Hillman, Humber and Sunbeam production alongside which Peugeots were also being assembled. In the mid-60s NMA started manufacture of the Peugeot 404 engine and, in another uniquely SA development, it was also fitted to the Hillman. By then the American Motors Rambler had entered the market and was assembled initially at NMA. In 1967 Chrysler took over Rootes and in 1968 Dr Wessels took control of American Motors Rambler importation and distribution but, rather than be produced in a Chrysler plant, its assembly had been moved to the Datsun plant in January 1968. Not surprisingly Rambler assembly was transferred to MA in 1969.

This was to be Dr Wessels first adventure into trying to spread his risks in the motor industry as he was, at this stage, not too sure how the SA / Japan relationship might go at a political level. American Motors had a Representative office in Johannesburg staffed by Frank Reid who, prior to the assembly transfer, had planned an ambitious local content programme covering engine, pressings and rear axle. A contract had been given to Turin Motors for their 6-cylinder engine to be made locally in order to meet local content targets but serious problems were encountered at times. Even so, plans to cast engine blocks came close to realisation, but the economics were not favourable so in 1971 MA initiated an investigation to fit a GM engine.

In 1970 SA produced 200 000 passenger cars and 95 000 commercial vehicles and by the early 1970’s SA had 14 plants producing models from 10 makes but by the mid 1970’s of the now 15 plants only 2 were SA owned in contrast to the 5 in the early post war years. This was certainly not the scenario that the Board of Trade had had in mind when they started off on the local content route to industrialisation 15 years before! But the industry was also caught out. Not only did Ford and GM think they would have the market to themselves but some component suppliers got things badly wrong too. GKV assumed they would get all or most of the forgings business so their plant was far too big. On the other hand Borg Warner under-estimated the demand for their rear axles and were swamped by the number of orders they received.

The foreign-owned assembly plants were those of General Motors (Port Elizabeth), Ford (Port Elizabeth), Chrysler (Cape Town and Silverton), VW (Uitenhage), Fiat (Rosslyn), BMW (Rosslyn- previously Praetor where Willys Jeep were assembled as well as BMW’s under the name of Cheetah mainly for Rhodesia), British Leyland (Cape Town), Peugeot (who had taken over the Natalspruit CDA plant from Chrysler), Citroen (who had built a small plant in Port Elizabeth), Alfa Romeo (who had also built a small plant at Brits), Rover (who had built a plant in PE) and Mercedes Benz (East London). The SA owned plants were MA / Toyota SA (Durban), and Datsun (Rosslyn).

The predominance of foreign-owned plants was the consequence of the ever-increasing investments required in order to maintain the necessary levels of local content, investments of a magnitude that an independent importer could never justify. These importers also never had the full access to the engineering resources of their Principals and were seldom party to the designs of the future so that they were unable to calculate the period of time over which any particular investment might be recovered. In the same way they were never able to invest in a large enough dealer-network that would ensure sufficient sales to generate the required volumes - a circle of ever decreasing size.

A good example of this was Lawson Motors, the Volvo importer, who later took on the importation of Renault as a second string which was assembled at that time by CDA. It was not a commercial success and in 1975 the Renault franchise was taken over by Dr Wessels, his second effort at diversification away from Toyota. Lawsons themselves assembled Volvo trucks in Durban and although they moved car assembly to VW in 1973 they were eventually overtaken by both a lack of finance and, if that was not enough, the anti-apartheid boycott of SA by Swedish companies.

The number of assembly plants was reduced through mergers and acquisitions in Europe. In the late 1960’s the Bekker brothers sold Datsun to the mining house Messina Transvaal who wished to diversify, changing the name to Rosslyn Motor Assemblers and welcoming contract customers. One of their first customers was Renault, followed by Peugeot who closed the old NMA plant in 1978. Peugeot having bought Citroen in 1975 eventually closed the PE plant and production also moved to RMA.

The Chrysler plant in Silverton had been started to manufacture axles but production was transferred there from Elsies River plant in Cape Town which was then sold to Leyland. In 1976 Illings, by then part of Anglo-American, decided to merge their interests with Chrysler and the build of Mazda was transferred to Silverton, later to be known as Sigma. The creation of British Leyland, the combination in the UK of BMC and Leyland had led to the closure of the Rover plant in PE and in 1978 it was planned to transfer their production from Cape Town to Sigma, a plan that was never executed as Leyland withdrew from the SA market. One further make was added to the market in 1982 when assembly of a Honda model was started by Mercedes-Benz.

The large foreign company owned vehicle plants as well as component manufacturers were not only able to draw on well qualified people seconded to work on their local content programmes but also had tried and established internal systems adapted to such developments. In addition the large vehicle manufacturers also ran Graduate training schemes which, when backed by job rotation, provided a flow of new local talent.

The local contract assembly plants had to find other ways around their lack of know-how and in any case, in the 1960’s the motor industry in general was not renowned for its employment of university graduates.

In much the same way that for the assembly process the contract plants had, to a large extent, used immigrants with already acquired know-how, so a similar route was needed to take forward the demands for increases of local content. However, the vast diversity in components and their respective production methods meant that it was not possible to justify product specialists and much of the product related skills had also to be learnt by more generalised manufacturing staff.

Another major deficiency was what would today be considered a total lack of the understanding of quality. This affected the contract assembly plants, raw material manufacturers and the component suppliers, while the motor manufacturer-owned plants were themselves not that much more advanced.

There was also the question of fundamental approach – was increasing local content a function of purchasing or engineering departments?

The major players such as GM and Ford with long established operational structures considered that their Purchasing Departments should take prime responsibility with those of Engineering, Manufacturing and Quality providing support. MA and several smaller players with somewhat lean structures decided that Engineering should take the lead with both technical and commercial responsibility, at least until such a time as the local content targets had been met.

Regular deliveries were ordered in by the Supplies Manager (Bob Malcomess) on contracts placed by Vehicle Engineering. There were pros and cons for both methods but the latter was able to implement projects far faster, which was at that point very important in both meeting local content targets and obtaining as long as possible a tooling amortisation period. On the few occasions when this procedure was not followed some seriously bad choices were only narrowly avoided.

In contrast to some of the larger plants, several of the smaller plants were also run and managed by motor car enthusiasts who did not just carry out their jobs for the pay at the end of the month – they actually enjoyed driving, could relate to the products and were quite often seen competing in competitive motor sport. With such people employed the results were often better thought out than those involving the larger and more bureaucratic industry leaders.

The existing and potential local component manufacturing industry was motivated by several aspects of the local content programme apart from profit. For those who, up to then, had just been “pirate“ spares manufacturers there was the chance of obtaining respectability as an OEM supplier. For others the potential was to be able to diversify from existing similar but not motor industry related products, while there were several who already had a technology agreement with a European or American parts manufacturer and saw the benefits of being able to sell increased volumes.

However, for several established OEM suppliers in Europe and America the SA requirement for local content presented problems. In many cases it was their technology, rather than the car manufacturers, that was needed to produce components and in general they were not supportive to the SA Government’s plans. They had also experienced similar industrialisation measures in South America, India, Korea and Australia where technical solutions were not always commercial ones.

Nevertheless as the local content programmes progressed, and the larger car manufacturers needed specific technology-intensive components to meet their targets, and perhaps to preserve the supplier / manufacturer relationships, these OEM suppliers started to invest and produce. An example would be Lucas who felt able to build a very modern and exemplary plant with the greater volumes that had become available by then, also justified by the greater readiness of assemblers to buy “black box items” such as starter motors and alternators.

For Motor Assemblies and the other small producers this was a lifeline and the OEM’s were not going to turn down business when it boosted their overall volumes to enable them to adopt more sophisticated production methods. This co-operation did little to reduce the number of models in the market and the only consolation for the Government was that these foreign companies brought technology as well as investments.

How did the change from import to local take place?

Apart from establishing a model programme for the immediate future, the first requirement was to establish the base vehicle mass to which the local content was to be calculated, in other words to weigh 10 units and establish an average. In those days model variations were little more than the number of doors and any extras were a matter for the dealer.

In the negotiations with Government establishing the programmes many actual and potential component suppliers had made proposals and the components they made became the first potential incorporations to which were added those items that the plants thought could be made without too many difficulties. If the mass of these items provided a margin over the required target the next aspect was the commercial consequences.

In order to evaluate the relative price effects the manufacturers supplied what were known as “deletion“ prices for items that might not be supplied as part of the CKD pack. These prices with the addition of import costs became the target for local component manufacturers and a bone of considerable contention as they seldom represented the actual purchase price of the manufacturer. In most cases it was for the importer to decide if the premium to be paid could be recovered in the car price or was less expensive than withdrawing from the market. In most cases, to the actual component price had to be added the amortisation of the full or partial tooling costs, but in some cases this could also be offset against the price obtainable from spare parts made from the same tooling.

Supplier quotations were normally obtained on the basis of component drawings supplied by the car manufacturer and with not very much importance being placed on the proposed method of manufacture. Often data regarding materials or process specifications were missing as this know-how belonged to the OEM supplier, not the manufacturer. However, the acceptance of a quotation was subject to the supplier obtaining engineering and quality approval of pre-production samples within a certain time frame.

While the likes of GM and Ford established quality control departments for this purpose and were able to make approval on an autonomous basis, the smaller plants such as MA were only able to establish very basic facilities. In any case the Head Offices of Volvo or Toyota wished to evaluate the quality for themselves. For this reason many parts either never made it or took an unreasonable time before approval was obtained.

Once approval had been made and deletion from the CKD pack agreed, local component production would start and these deliveries were subject to some form of inspection. Nevertheless, engineering approval for pre-production samples may have gone off well only for full production supplies to fail, either on plant arrival or on line fitment, sometimes because samples had not been made “off production tooling”. Either way this normally brought vehicle production to a standstill. In most cases if parts got this far they normally were found satisfactory in the field.

In these early days there were very few cases where MA and similar plants developed their own local suppliers, it being much more normal for a supplier to try to sell to them on the basis that he already had, or was about to obtain, a Ford or GM order.

The improvement of quality was an on-going challenge led primarily by Ford and GM who, with the use of regional inspectors, insisted on certain internal measures and monitored supplier performance. When problems did arise they had the ability to send in at short notice production and quality engineers to resolve them. Suppliers with consistently good supply records were rewarded with publicity and plaques to hang in their offices. ISO 9000 was a long way into the future but these schemes were not so different in concept. Not having the resources to work in the same way it soon became clear to Motor Assemblies that the only alternative to resolve quality problems was by detailed inspection of parts as they arrived

These early quality assurance measures were primarily directed to ensuring that the supplied parts fitted and did not cause assembly line stoppages. Whilst glass was an early culprit by far the worst problems related to exhaust systems. That the components offered a service life equal to the imported item was of secondary importance. However, in these early days, none of the parts made in SA could be considered safety critical.

However, the localisation pace was increasing and incoming inspection started to include dimensional checks for items such as brake drums and disks as well as dynamic shock absorber testing. There was new investment in quality personnel and equipment, as local engine assembly and parts manufacture started, with a temperature controlled measuring room located at Mobeni. The standards were those set by Toyota and some very expensive measuring equipment was installed there. Two dynamometer stands were installed, one for testing engines off the line, the other, in a special cell, for longer term component testing.

As part of the move to local engine manufacture a temperature controlled measuring room was established at Mobeni with air gauges, optical camshaft measuring rig, Nikon projection microscope, and Talysurf for measuring surface roughness.  They marked the start of equipping the plant with expensive and sophisticated equipment for quality monitoring, and evaluating the paint quality on finished products from suppliers.

But the need for new plant attitudes was highlighted when management happened upon a noisy unloading scene in the Stores. It transpired that our new local crankshafts were being removed from their individual cardboard boxes, the wax wrapping was then removed, and the shafts were being thrown like potatoes into a skip! In a similar manner body panels were stacked against each other on the floor with a lot of resultant damage and then staff complained about the poor condition in which they had arrived from Japan!

The Japanese had some understanding of the fact that deviations from their component specifications were necessary due to supplier limitations and where necessary concessions were given. However, there were suppliers, particularly of UK origin, who had great difficulty in understanding not only why Toyota had made certain design requirements or dimensional tolerances, but did not believe they enforced them in their own manufacture. Having been forced reluctantly to accept Toyota requirements it was later found that they had even adopted such measures for their general production.

There were also aspects of the Toyota product that did not meet local marketing or potential customer expectations, in particular so far as ride and handling were concerned. These were related to the very different conditions of the roads and driving speeds between Japan and South Africa. There had been similar problems in Australia so that Toyota was, to a degree, understanding in the desire to modify specifications. The first Corona 1500 models sold utilised a suspension developed for Toyota’s own 1600GT and MA’s own developments with shock absorbers and tyre sizes.

An important change with the advent of local manufacture of the Toyota engine was that three specialists were sent from Toyota Motor Company (TMC) to oversee the final approval stages in late 1968. These were Hosono (Engine Design), Hikosaka (Machining) and Ohno (Quality). This was the first time that MA personnel had direct access to the factory engineering staff, and the personal interactions were very helpful in getting a better understanding of their approach and to establish contacts for the future.

Toyota engineers during their visit to Motor Assemblies, from the left: Mr Kondo - Resident Service Engineer; TMC Engineers Hikosaka, Hosono, and Ohno; Mike Compton, Tim Gallwey and A Abe - SA Office Manager

The demand for vehicles was increasing with the general economy and with it that for Toyota vehicles while there were still products from the Japanese range that could be added and that had market potential. However, making forecasts into the future it was also clear that in spite of the additional space at Mobeni, more still was going to be needed. Neither the Jacobs nor Mobeni sites were capable of expanding, nor were any neighbours willing to sell. A suitable green-field site was going to be needed. To this end Dr Wessels initiated some studies.

During this time of growth there was increasing friction between Toyota Marketing led by Basil Landau and MA led by John Sully, the former wanting new models assembled and into marketing-required specifications and the latter determined to do what he thought best within his opinion of the plant capability. This problem was not to get easier as time went on and was also the catalyst for Mike Compton leaving in 1969 to join Magirus Deutz as Chief Engineer. He was replaced by Colin Downie, and Tim Gallwey was moved to the engine plant, a change facilitated by the move of Triumph 2000 production to the BMH plant in late 1968.

Sully had transformed Motor Assemblies. When he started in 1957 it occupied just the original site in Jacobs covering some five acres. During his tenure he added a paint shop down the road and later a new body shop. Then he took over the Mobeni site for truck production, and finally he established the massive new plant at Prospecton. The number of employees had risen from 750 in 1957 to some 3 500 in 1972. He ran a tight and lean operation which was very profitable. But his modus operandi was reaching its limits.

The problem was that previously he had never occupied a senior management role nor any position within the motor industry. His own appointment was due to the patronage of Noel Horsfield of McCarthy Rodway as in fact was that of Roy Bruce and Mike Compton. They, together with his inherited most senior staff member, Les Mitchell, did largely what they were qualified and paid to do but the rest were pressurised to do as they were told by what might be described as a benevolent dictatorship and in reality there was no team.

As the operation changed Sully appointed staff who fitted well into his organisation but whose qualifications were in any case borderline or inappropriate, making them even more compliant with Sully’s concepts. The first of these newcomers was Ernie Comley as Chief Engineer as a consequence of Roy Bruce leaving for Illings. Whereas Vehicle Engineering fell nominally under Bruce, after his departure it reported to Sully. The second of these appointments was that of Colin Knowler as Planning Manager, also answering to Sully. Comley did not stay with MA very long and was replaced by George de Greef. None of these appointments in the late 1960’s had ever worked in the motor industry, itself making the transition from assembly to manufacture. The result was to be the lack of a professional approach with an understanding of the needs of high volume manufacturing, especially for sophisticated systems and procedures, and a stifling of initiative among the personnel. It was becoming clear that things needed to be changed but how and to what?

It was a classic example of a company having grown from a small operation to a large one which needed to add a sophisticated management system. Also, the skills and knowledge needed to run a large organization are markedly different from those required to run a small company and to grow rapidly to meet market demand. No longer could one man, even such a dynamic person as John Sully, give direction covering all the activities and complexities involved in constructing a new facility, installing state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities with complex technical issues and increasing the labour force to over 3 000 people. Given the rapid expansion there had been neither the time nor opportunity for him to learn the new approaches that were needed, and it is not clear that he ever realized the need to change. It was too much to expect the leopard to change his spots.

The first study initiated by Dr Wessels was to ascertain where a new plant should be located, either in the Durban area or for example Pretoria / Rosslyn where so many new plants had already been built. With the reduction of CKD pack sizes resulting from increased local content the old arguments for locating a plant at the coast were less valid. But with Port Elizabeth providing a home to some of the larger component suppliers the economics for a Transvaal location were not that good. In the end the decision to remain in the Durban area was based on the excellent skills of the then current, largely coloured (mixed race), work force. An important bonus to be considered was that the attraction to English-speaking Durban was much better for white managerial and technical staff, rather than to the Afrikaans-speaking Transvaal, nor would the existing staff be lost.

The second study was therefore the design and layout for a new facility including having the capability of expansion and bringing in-house activities such as component machining now either done or planned at sub-contractors.

Prior to these expansion plans Dr Wessels came to Durban more or less every week and he took a very active interest in the progression of the studies. However, by doing so he got to know the personalities involved and the way they managed and were managed. Visits to plants in Europe and Japan were organised to evaluate methods and potential sites were looked for in the Durban area.

The decision on location was to buy land at Prospecton on the south side of Durban in what had been a swamp but had been filled in from a neighbouring hill. One aspect of the plan was to combine truck and car production on one site with one body shop and one paint shop. In the longer term this was a bad decision as truck assembly and quality issues are markedly different from those for cars so that eventually a separate truck plant was again set up. Construction commenced in May 1970 and the first vehicle, a Stout truck, was produced at the end of May 1971. The plant covered 34.6 hectares with 81,000 square meters under roof and was later expanded to 63.4 hectares with 233,000 square meters under cover.

An aerial view of the new Motor Assemblies plant at Prospecton in the 1990s.  The body shop is in the foreground, the paint shop next, and then the vehicle assembly shop.  Beyond that is the engine machining and assembly shop and on its right is the trim shop.  Prospecton Road runs next to these buildings and to the right is the Product Engineering Centre and the training school.
Another decision was to take on the machining of the Toyota cylinder block and head as the volume had now reached some 1000 engines per month. For this purpose Sully at last and no doubt under pressure from Dr Wessels, recruited someone from within the industry, Tucker Lochhead from VWSA, an engineer who had received extensive training in management and he gradually effected some changes in the way things were done. Lochhead then recruited Peter Hutchinson from GM to be Engine Production Manager and in time support people were recruited in turn from others in the industry. Likewise Alec Spero was recruited from GM to be Chief Inspector for the engine plant and cut his teeth on MA activities with monthly visits to Turin Motors to sort out routine problems. Another important development was built on the contacts from the earlier visit of the engine specialists. That was the secondment of a young engineer from TMC for a year, one Takahashi. He strengthened the link to the factory engineers and thus greatly facilitated the flow of technical information and was a useful source for explanations of Toyota terms and procedures.

At the same time the increased volumes prompted a move from having engineers deal with a variety of components for a specific make or model, to specialists in particular areas. Hence Tim Gallwey concentrated on engines and control of their quality with a small incoming inspection operation, and taking charge of engine testing rather than it being under the assembly foreman. At the same time a group was formed around Keith Bennett within Vehicle Engineering to deal specifically with pressed parts across the range. This latter was taken a step further when a joint company was formed with neighbouring company Rowen for the production of pressed parts. An interesting product from this company was a kind of modular design for the air cleaner body whereby one set of pressings was used to provide four different layouts for the two engine sizes in two different body shells, again unique to SA. Also at this time a scheme was started in Vehicle Engineering to train technicians within the company through a three-year sandwich programme with the Natal Technical College. Thus were laid some foundations for a more professional approach to running the company.

Technical staff from the Engine Plant and Vehicle Engineering at a celebratory dinner were from the left: Malcolm, Eddie Whiting, Peter Hutchinson, Tim Gallwey, Tucker Lochhead, Naoto Takahashi (TMC), Colin Downie, Eddie Sharpe, Keith Bennett, Don Clark and Bert Wessels.
With the introduction of the Corona in 1966, Vehicle Engineering was expanded to include a test garage, and performance testing was conducted on public roads – down the south coast for some, and on the dual carriageway near Mooi River for altitude testing since it was at some 1 500m above sea level. Similarly a routine car test route was later established by going from Durban to Umzinto then via Ixopo to Pietermaritzburg and Mooi River, followed by a return leg via Greytown and Stanger back to Durban. Driving on this route alternated between clockwise and anti-clockwise directions. For testing of oil consumption it included one or more laps of the Roy Hesketh circuit near Pietermaritzburg.

Likewise routine specialist engine tests were commenced to monitor aspects more related to reliability issues, and regular “teardowns” were instituted to check for correctness of assembly including torques. The latter established that torque wrenches were being misused and twice-weekly calibrations were introduced. Similarly, after moving to the new plant, Colin Downie instituted a system whereby a few cars were taken regularly from the finished car yard and marked up with masking tape to show any appearance defects. In these various ways the first steps were taken towards establishing product quality auditing systems, although at that stage there was no formal collection or analysis of data. One would have expected these activities to be under the aegis of the Quality Control department but their rôle then was seen as catching faults on the line and “fire fighting” to implement fixes when they occurred, and to liaise with Service personnel.

In the old Jacobs plant the Factory Inspector had threatened to have air conditioning installed because of the high temperatures and unacceptable working conditions. The design of the new plant aimed to achieve a significant improvement in working conditions by heavy insulation of the roof and the installation of extractor fans to alleviate the effects of the hot and humid Durban climate. On the whole its layout and design was the same as the old plant as the same people were involved i.e. the Plant Engineer George de Greef and Planning Manager Colin Knowler. But for the new engine assembly operation the system was changed from manual movement on a roller conveyor to assembly on a fixture which was moved continuously by an under-floor conveyor. Similarly, special hot test stands were installed where each engine was run for some 10 to 20 minutes and the dynamometers were reserved for more specialised testing, facilitated by the installation of programme control equipment whereby stepped sequences could be run under semi-automatic control.

Toyota 7R SOHC 4-cylinder 1600cc engine on endurance test at Mobeni in late 1968. The interior of this test cell was hot and noisy and ran for 24h at times.  To reduce exhaust back pressure to the required standard it was difficult to silence and the neighbours complained including a visit from a local Durban city councillor!
With regard to block and head machining the increased volume meant that special purpose dedicated machines could be justified on a once-through layout. However, due to the limited size of the staff, it was not feasible for the in-house selection of machines and design of jigs and fixtures. As a result a turn-key approach was adopted whereby a number of vendors were invited to tender for the manufacture of complete lines for these two components. The negotiations were handled by Tucker Lochhead with assistance from Hutchinson and eventually an order was placed for a sum of about R5M. In addition there was the cost of the new dynamometer cells, hot test stands and specialist measuring equipment such as a 3-dimension co-ordinate measuring machine and specialist calibration equipment. At the same time the increase in large pressed parts required the acquisition of specialist grid-line surface tables whereby body panels and complete body shells could be checked dimensionally. Similarly, whereas previously inspection and Standards Room activities had been combined, they were now separate. Thus the Standards Room provided a service to engine plant machining and to incoming inspection in the engine plant, assembly plant, and body shop, plus to Vehicle Engineering for dimensional examination of first-off samples.

Engine machining raised a new problem. It became necessary for the inspectors to read instructions and to fill out record forms. The African personnel now prevalent in the plant were unable to cope and the solution was to seek people with at least Standard 8 education. It was complicated by ridiculous Government regulations whereby Africans living on the East side of the city (e.g in Kwa Mashu) were not allowed to work on the West side. The same applied vice versa to those living on the West side. This resulted in the recruitment of Indian inspectors. They were a great success but complicated the buildings situation as apartheid rules required that they have separate change rooms, showers, and canteen but some compromise was worked out.

With the move from the old Jacobs plant Dr Wessels took an equity stake in Airco Engineering and they then moved their truck body operation into the space that had been vacated at Jacobs, as they were running out of space in the existing premises. It was the second such move involving a supplier company, as Wessels had taken over the First National battery company which subsequently supplied all Toyota batteries. Quite some years later this process was extended by taking over a number of other component manufacturers.

Once the new engine plant was running Tucker Lochhead’s responsibilities were changed to a broader remit as Sully realised the need for a more professional operation. Thus he took overall charge of production. One change was to appoint Bob Stapleton from Accounts as manager of the paint and body shop side of things, a not very predictable person for the job. Another change was to send Tim Gallwey to TMC for three weeks of training in their quality systems and his subsequent appointment as Assistant QC Manager. On the assembly side he recruited Brian Ewer, a graduate electrical engineer who had been trained as a manager at Felt & Textiles, John Sully’s old firm. Yet another change was the appointment of someone to analyse production data in terms of cost or consumption per vehicle, which produced some startling results such as the excessive consumption of sound deadener. How come this had never been done before?

Separately from all this, a new professional Personnel Manager was recruited from a major local company. Up until this time it had been a very amateurish operation (probably the most amateurish in the whole company), mostly concerned with the formalities of hiring and firing. There were many anomalies in appointments and pay levels, without any proper structure for assessing appropriate skill levels across departments or for determining pay levels, promotions, or salary increases. In some areas there was no proper management structure, let alone any proper system anywhere for personnel development, nor any system for training despite repeated suggestions from Dr Wessels.

A development on the quality front concerned paint. In earlier days there had been some chemistry input to the paint shop operations and this had been treated as part of the production operation. Now that overall volumes had risen substantially it became necessary to set up the beginnings of a paint laboratory, and weaning it away from the production operation was not easy. However, in time, specialist equipment was purchased so that proper specialist tests could be carried out on the paint itself, on vehicle body parts, and on incoming components. However, vendors then required the provision of test specifications against which to evaluate their products. By this time a new TMC on-site representative had been appointed with strengthened responsibility. He brought with him a full set of Toyota standards documents and these were used to set up the beginnings of materials test requirements. In combination, these developments emphasised the need for the appointment of a graduate in the emerging field of materials science who would also be able to look after metallurgy, rubbers, plastics, adhesives and so on.

Roundabout this time there was a change in the manner of dealing with suppliers. In the earlier days these had tended to be adversarial in nature and somewhat at arm’s length. But, as the technical level advanced, there was a slow change towards a more collaborative approach on the basis that neither side could afford to have the other go under. As a result vendors started to alert MA to their problems and requested discussions on how to proceed. As part of this process the manufacture of the piston gudgeon pin highlighted the need for a more cautious approach in SA. In Japan TMC could use a low chromium alloy but in SA this carried the risk of metallurgical problems due to the less tightly controlled production operations, so in time a higher chromium alloy was adopted along with oil quenching rather than water. The lesson was similar to that of the variability of Volvo pressed parts from Datsun due to the inconsistency of the local manual labour.

An interesting feature of the new plant was the office block. Its design was heavily influenced by the layout Sully had seen at Volvo who had adopted an open-plan layout. The ground floor was taken up with a large kitchen and canteen. Above it was the so-called technical floor occupied by engineers and planners and the top floor was for administration such as Accounts and Supplies. However it was not long before corner cubicles were erected as people in supervisory positions found a need for privacy and for documentation security. It also led to what Volvo people described privately as “over communication” as subordinates could see when their immediate superior was free and consequently requested their involvement in decisions rather than making them using their own initiative. Over time these expanded in number so that eventually all three sides of the floor were taken up with such cubicles, in rejection of what had seemed like an enlightened step.

The new plant saw the abandonment of the old dip tank approach for the application of anti-corrosion material to the underside of the vehicle which had extended halfway up the doors. It was very effective in the field, so much so that NMA bought the old tank and then made some publicity about their “improved rust protection measures”. But it was very messy and seriously disliked by the body shop production management. So it was replaced by installing the latest E-paint technology for the undercoat whereby the whole body was immersed in the paint which would ensure wrap-around effects. It was the first such plant in SA. But it required the provision of suitable holes so that the bodies would not float which meant that the traditional truck bodies had to be modified. The other big change was to replace phosphating with zinc chromating. These changes were expected to effect significant improvements in product quality and in productivity but there were serious unforeseen problems.

Turin Motors was an important supplier to Motor Assemblies for Fiat and Rambler engines and Toyota blocks and heads so it was important for the TMC engineers to visit them.  On the left is Mr Y Iida from Toyota Motor Sales in Japan who played a major role in coordinating the initial  assembly and local content plans.  Sixth from the left is Bruno Savioli, the Technical Director of Turin Motors.
The paint quality was consistently bad, so much so that on one particular day only nine bodies out of a daily flow of 250 were accepted by the inspection crew. Drastic action was required and the new direct connection to TMC was called into play. Help was requested and three specialists from the Takaoka plant for Corolla production were sent to resolve this problem and to undertake visits to major suppliers to reassure TMC on that front as well. They were shocked by the unscientific manner in which paint tests were conducted and by the generally amateurish style of operation. Although this helped to spur the development of a proper paint test laboratory they were unable to solve the basic problem. Eventually it was discovered that the plant operators were relieving themselves by peeing into the tank, perhaps due to inadequate or inconvenient provision of toilet facilities. The resulting bacteria bred quickly in the environs of the dip tank and caused the poor paint quality. The addition of a biocide to the paint cured the problem.

This problem was to have major implications since production output was way below the expected level and this faced Sully with a dilemma. It would have made terrible reading on the monthly production reports sent to Dr Wessels so the issue was fudged, but after some months the truth could be concealed no longer. When the Chairman realised how badly he had been misled he took steps to appoint his own man inside the company who would report directly to him, and advertisements were placed for such a position. Not surprisingly Sully could not accept such an arrangement and he resigned. Wessels appointed Tucker Lochhead as acting General Manager while he reviewed things. He engaged head hunters to find a new Managing Director and ended up appointing Geoff Graves from Ford who, since he had reached their retiring age of 55 and could no longer hope to obtain the top job there which, in any case, had always been given to be an American. This prompted the return to VW a few months later of Lochhead where he became Technical Director, a loss criticised by TMC personnel.

Sully’s interventionist style had led to a group of managers who were not accustomed to taking full responsibility for making independent decisions. The result had been a growing slackness in operations and seriously short-term attitudes, added to their amateurish approach and lack of systems. The time was ripe for a shake-up. Graves proceeded to recruit various people from Ford, the most important being Ralph Broadley who effectively became Graves’ understudy and later replaced him as MD when he retired. In time more and more Ford people joined the organisation and a more professional regime ensued. One appointment was that of Ray Long charged with setting up a supplier quality assurance system which would have MA staff located at major centres to conduct quality checks and audits. Initially it supplemented the existing inspection approach but later replaced it.

However there were problems as these people knew only the Ford way of doing things and tried to “bolt on” Ford systems, procedures and terminology. Although they engineered a significant number of distinct improvements in various parts of the operation, they lacked the skills to assess independently and maybe to appreciate, the merits of doing things in other ways. These attitudes caused serious problems of “indigestion” which led to the departure of some of the staff e.g. Tim Gallwey, and Bob Patterson of Supplies, in 1973. It also meant that later on, when needs and techniques had changed, they no longer had Ford to provide them with the requisite new skills and knowledge. The previous lack of personnel development within MA came back to haunt them.

There was also a group of long term senior employees who were left behind by the new systems. These included Dave Martin (truck plant), Charles Cull (assembly plant), Stan Dickens (Supplies), all of whom had yet to reach retirement age. The problem was how best to use their skills and experience. Mostly they were allocated to “special assignments” whereby they could be used in trouble-shooting type rôles. But it represented a significant loss of status and esteem and was another failure of the new management to endear itself to the existing employees. However it was obvious that major changes had taken place which had been badly needed and the new people laid the foundations for the next leaps forward.

Rowen (SA) made a variety of pressed parts so the TMC engineers wished to see the operation.  From left: Naoto Takahashi (TMC), Tim Gallwey, TMC engineer, Tucker Lochhead, Tony Roberts (Rowen), Koizumi (TMC), MD Rowen, TMC engineer.

Later Developments

In 1984 a 2000 ton plastic bumper moulding machine was introduced. Then in 1985 Toyota SA took over the Rowen press plant in Mobeni, renamed as Toyota Stamping Division. With increased investment it was run 24 hours per day on a three shift basis to meet market demand. Colin Downie established a closed test track at Eston in 1985 on 180 hectares for testing in secret and safety. It had a tarred fast track with banked looped ends for high speed testing, a rough road durability track, and numerous special surfaces in line with TMC’s test facilities. Paint technology was enhanced in 1988 by installing a reciprocating electrostatic colour spray system, the first in the SA motor industry. In 1989 a tool and die making facility was built at a cost of R50 million with a full CAD/CAM capability, to make car body dies and also run on a three shift system. Its competence was illustrated when in 2001 it received a tooling order from a major German company for one of its new models to be launched in Europe. In 1990 a Product Engineering Centre was opened at a cost of R5 million to bring together all engineering staff for the first time on one site with 104 engineers and 77 technicians, a far cry from Mike Compton on his own!. In late 1991 a new R80 million flexible component machining facility was commissioned.

On 23rd March 2001 the 1½ millionth Toyota built in SA came off the line. MA was then Durban’s largest employer with 7,800 employees on its books, up from 3,500 in 1972. Its capacity by then was 470 units per day i.e. one vehicle per minute. Also in 2001 the first robots were installed for spot welding and the application of body sealers. The company bought Metlink in September 2001 for the supply of exhausts, fuel tanks, chassis, box bodies, seat springs, and other metal fabrications, with premises in Jacobs and Prospecton.

Eventually Toyota SA was the top seller in every segment of the SA vehicle market and MA was the biggest plant in SA. No one could have foreseen this development when Motor Assemblies first started in the 1940s. Furthermore its history has so many unique features that it makes a remarkable story of industrial development.

After the completion of this story in 2009 we realised that there was at least one missing element – that of the full production figures for the Jacobs plant from 1948 to 1970 covering both cars and commercials. We had access to the car production figures that had been rescued by Colin Downie but without the figures for commercial vehicles we could not show the whole picture. An inquiry to NAAMSA led us to understand that their sales figures no longer existed from the pre-computerisation age and other potential sources drew a blank. A chance meeting between Colin Downie and Ryno Verster (author of “Thanks for the Mini Memories, A South African Mini Story”) changed this. Ryno had spent many days at NAAMSA scanning all their records and could supply our missing figures. We have now added this data with the various makes and model produced together with the volumes as well as the relative production time periods. It has to be admitted that changes in reporting methods has meant that some of the figures have had to be adjusted but what we now have is a very reliable “best estimate” covering no less than 166 000 passenger cars and 144 000 commercial vehicles. These figures have been added as Appendix B.

The original text has received changes to add, clarify or make minor corrections and we have taken the opportunity to add further pictures.


Without the South African component manufacturers there could not have been such a wide ranging programme and this table lists most of them. Some had their local origins in the mining industry and diversified into car parts. It was also made easier because of parent companies in Europe or the States.

Supplier Location Main Products Parent
Ace Motor Parts Durban Hub caps, reflectors, die castings
AE&CI Cape Town Supported and unsupported PVC Vyanide seating and headlining material ICI UK
AE&CI Durban Dulux paints
Airco Durban Rear bodies for LDVs McCarthy Rodway
Armourplate Port Elizabeth Toughened safety glass Pilkington UK
Armstrong Grundy Port Elizabeth Armstrong telescopic dampers Grundy, Australia
Auto Electrical Johannesburg Starter motors, alternators, wiper motors
Auto Industrial Johannesburg Machined parts from castings and forgings
Automotive Products SA Johannesburg & Durban Ferodo brake pads, Lockheed brakes, Borg & Beck clutches Automotive Products UK
Bag Stores Port Elizabeth RF-welded door, trim and seating panels
Barwells Alberton Iron castings
Bauer & Schaurte (BASA) Parys Cylinder head and bearing cap bolts
Borg Warner Uitenhage Rear axle assemblies Borg Warner USA
Bosal Pretoria Exhaust systems, jacks
British United Shoe Machinery Port Elizabeth Pressed parts BUSM UK
Bundy SA Kingwilliamstown Brake pipes, dipstick tubes Bundy
Champion Johannesburg Spark plugs Champion USA
Chloride Electrical Johannesburg Exide batteries Chloride UK
Datsun SA Rosslyn Pressed parts Messina Transvaal
Diesel Electric Pretoria Bosch alternators, starter motors
Durban Falkirk (Defy) Durban Iron castings
Dunlop SA Durban Tyres, tubes, Dunlopillo Dunlop UK
Dunlop SA Germiston Radiator hoses, fan belts Dunlop UK
Felt & Textiles Durban Rubberised hair, felt, carpet, foam padding
Firestone Port Elizabeth Tyres and tubes Firestone USA
First National Battery East London Battteries to Japanese standards Wesco
Gear Ratio Alberton Timing gears
Gabriel Cape Town Telescopic dampers
Geba Die Casting Pinetown Die Castings
Girling SA Johannesburg Girling drum and disc brakes, telescopic dampers Joseph Lucas UK
GKV Uitenhage Forging and machining of crankshafts, con rods & universal joints. Machining of hub and disc assemblies and drive shafts J/V of GKN UK and Anglo Vaal
Glacier Metal Pinetown Vandervell engine bearings Associated Engineering UK
Goodyear SA Uitenhage Tyres and tubes Goodyear USA
Greens Radiators Johannesburg Radiators
GUD Durban Engine oil, air & fuel filters
Guestro Port Elizabeth Road wheels J/V of Rubery Owen and GKN UK. Later merged into GKV
Hella SA Uitenhage Lights and wiring harnesses Hella Germany
Hubco Johannesburg Scissor jacks and tool kits
James Brown and Hamer Durban Grey and nodular iron castings for exhaust manifolds, hubs, brake discs and engine bearing caps
Joseph Lucas SA Johannesburg Lucas alternators, starter motors and regulators, Lucas batteries Joseph Lucas UK
Lauf Lumenite Roodepoort Wellworthy and Hepworth & Grandage pistons, pins and rings. Cylinder liners Associated Engineering UK
Lectrolite Products Johannesburg Reflectors, radiator caps, hub caps, generators, lighting, die castings
Mangolds Port Elizabeth Sand and Disamatic iron castings Murray & Roberts
Motorola Johannesburg Motorola alternators and voltage regulators Motorola USA
Natal Die Casting Pinetown Die castings
National Bolt Johannesburg Fasteners
National Lamp Grahamstown Light bulbs
National Die Casting Germiston Bumpers, overriders, chassis pressed parts, die castings
Non-Ferrous Die Casting Alberton Aluminium die castings, inlet manifold castings
Paulstra Johannesburg Engine Mountings Paulstra France
Payen Gaskets Port Elizabeth Engine gaskets Payen UK
Pigott & Maskew
Rubber mouldings
Pinetown Foundry Pinetown Iron castings
Plascon Durban Paints
Premier Metal Cape Town Seat frames
Quinton Hazell Johannesburg Exhaust systems, water pumps Quinton Hazell UK
Repco Port Elizabeth Brake drums. hub and disc assemblies, clutch assemblies Repco Australia
Rigby Pietermaritzburg Seat frames, small pressings
Rocma Germiston Rear axles, oil pumps
Rowen SA Durban Fuel tanks, pressings, component machining Rubery Owen UK
Ruberowen See Guestro

Rubery Owen Metal Johannesburg Pressed parts and forgings Rubery Owen UK
SA Spring Port Elizabeth Zig-Zag seat spring assemblies
SARMCOL Howick Rubber mouldings, extrusions, fan belts, engine & fuel hoses North British Rubber UK
Shatterprufe Glass Port Elizabeth Triplex laminated glass
Shockabsorber Services Durban Teleflo telescopic dampers
Silverton Engineering Pretoria Radiators, aluminium castings Associated Engineering UK/ Coventry Radiator/ Aeroplane & Motor Castings
Simasco Cape Town Sintered parts
SKF Johannesburg Ball bearings SKF Sweden
Smith Industries Pinetown Lodge spark plugs, air conditioning kits Smiths Ind UK
Thompson Ramco Uitenhage Pistons, pins and rings TRW USA
Timken Johannesburg Taper rolling bearings Timken USA
Transvaal Malleable Castings Johannesburg Malleable castings
Turin Motors Johannesburg Component machining - cylinder blocks, heads, crankshafts, con rods, flywheels. Engine assembly - Fiat & AMC Rambler
VECOR (Vanderbijl Engineering Corporation) Vanderbijl Park Forgings Anglo Vaal
Western Tanning Cape Town Leather hides
Westinghouse Johannesburg Bendix brakes Westinghouse UK
Woodhead Kempo Springs Coil and leaf springs Woodhead UK

Appendix B - Production Figures for Jacobs Plant


Motor Assemblies Production - Jacobs Plant - Passenger Cars
Units 1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971
Chrysler / Dodge / DeSoto / Plymouth 11,921 06


Nuffield and BMC Models


Minor 2 door 18,758 01

Minor 4 door 13,859 01

Minor Traveller Series II 14 02 12

Minor Traveller - 1000 690


Tourer 12 05

Wolseley 1500 816
Riley 1.5 744

Oxford MO 3,842 05

Oxford II 2,560 07


Oxford Traveller II 2 11
Oxford Traveller IV 332 06

Oxford III 120
Cowley II 2,108 02
Isis II 488 04

Wolseley 6/90 328 06 07

MG TD 345 07 03

MGA 1500 Roadster 404 03 06
MGA 1600 Roadster 184 08

MGA 1600 Coupe 64 11
MGA Twin Cam Roadster 64 02
MGA Twin Cam Coupe 24 08
MG Magnette ZB and Varitone 826 04
Wolseley 15/50 220 10
Mini Minor / Austin 2,413 02

Mini Traveller 156 08 09
Oxford V 1,416 05

Austin A55 Cambridge Mk II 876 05
Riley 4/68 468 08

MG Magnette III 412 02

Wolseley 15/60 504 05 10

Total Nuffield / BMC 64,970

Motor Assemblies Production - Jacobs Plant - Passenger Cars
1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971
Standard Triumph
Standard 8 501 12 08
Standard 10 1,461 01

Standard Vanguard I 1,858 05
Standard Vanguard Station Wagon 90 04/11
Standard Vanguard II 804 07 08
Standard Vanguard III 1,028 06

Triumjph TR2 354 10 12
Triumuph TR3 624 01 10

Triumph TR3A 72

Triumph Herald Saloon 1,436 11

Triumph Herald Coupe 732 12

Triumph Herals Convertable 96 09
Triumph Spitfire 883 07

Triumph 2000 MkI 5,712 01

Triumph 2000 Station Wagon MkI 384 05


Total Standard Triumph 16,035

Volvo PV544 462 04 12
Volvo 122S 4-door 7,382 03

Volvo 122 Station Wagon 1,008 03

Volvo 130 2-door 5,568 05

Volvo 144 4-door 5,449 02

Volvo 164 4-door / 6-cyl 1,456 11 12
Total Volvo 21,325

Motor Assemblies Production - Jacobs Plant - Passenger Cars
1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971
Fiat 1100D 1,900 09


Fiat 1500 16,748 05

Fiat 1500 Station Wagon 624


Fiat 2300 1,584 03

Fiat 850 2,160 08
Fiat 124 4,944 06
Fiat 124 Station Wagon 720 11
Total Fiat 28,680
Lancia Appia 3rd Series 96 03
Lancia Fulvia Coupe 1.2/1,3S Rally 223 04
Lancia Flavia Saloon 1500 431 09

Lancia Flavia Coupe 1500 269 10

Datsun Bluebird 310/410 2,182 03

Corona RT40 1,5l 2R 10,400 05
Corona RT41 1,6l 7R 7,534 01 12
Corona MkII RT62 1900 8R 7,481 07 12
Corona RT82 1600 7R 150 11
Total Toyota 25,565
1200 500 07/12
1300 198 11
American Motors
Rambler Rogue Sedan 3,664 01 12
Rambler Rogue Station Wagon 736 03 11
Rambler Rogue Hard Top 288 07 11
Hornet SST 840 08

Total Passenger Car 166,002

1. The numbers within the year boxes refer to the months of start and end of production.
2. The figures given relate to production except for models transferred to Prospection in 1970 and where sales figures have been used.

UK Production Dates

Minor MM 918 sv 1948-53
Series II ohv A-series 1952-56
1000 948 ohv A-series 1956-62
Riley One-Point-Five 1957-65
Wolseley 1500 1957-65
Oxford MO 1948-54
Oxford II 1954-56
Oxford III 1956-59
Isis 1955-58
Oxford IV Estate car 1959-61
Cowley II 1956-58
Wolseley 6/90 1953-59
Riley 2.6 1957-59
Magnette ZB and Varitone 1956-58
Morris Oxford V 1959-61
MG Magnette Mk III 1959-61
Wolseley 15/60 1958-61
Riley 4/68 1958-61
Austin A55 Cambridge MkII 1958-61


Motor Assemblies Production - Jacobs and Mobeni Plants - Commercial Vehicles.
Units 1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971
Light Commercials up to 2 250 kg.
Dodge, Fargo, DeSoto.D100 / 200 / 300 5,948

Standard Triumph
Vanguard 161

Morris / BMC
Morris J-type, J2, MVC. 5,151


LDV / Pick-up 15,897

Patrol, Junior, Caball. 3,671

Toyopet / Toyota
Tiara 3,836
Corona LDV 1500 RT40 32,262
Corona Mk II R66 4,863
Stallion LDV 5,660
Hi Ace 6,958
Hi Lux 13,613
Total Toyota 67,192
LDV B1500 15,322
E 2000 696
F1000 1,360
E360 942
Jupiter / Fuso
Jupiter Pick-up 953
Canter Truck 9
Motor Assemblies Production - Jacobs and Mobeni Plants - Commercial Vehicles.
Units 1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971
Light Commercials up to 2 250 kg.
Pick-up and Van 1100T 184
Total Light Commercials 117,486
Medium and Heavy Commercials
Over 2 250 kg GVM
Dodge, Fargo, DeSoto.D400 / 500 / 600 1,400

Morris / BMC
LD, LC FU, WE, FF 4,305
Toyopet / Toyota
Stout 9,794
Dyna 7,954
DA 110/115 1,614
Total Toyota 19,362
Fiat 362
OM 39
Magirus Deutz 434
Volvo 455
Nissan 513
Guy / Daimler 130
Henschel 78
Total Medium and Heavy 27,078
Note - The unit numbers have been extracted from sales figures with adjustment for stock, where applicable.