The Albion Motor Car Company Ltd. was established on the 30th of December, 1899.
Albion Motors is Scotland’s best known name in the motor industry. However, its history goes right back to the first ever automobile manufactured in Scotland – and in Britain, for that matter – the Arrol-Johnston Mo-Car, later known as the Arrol-Aster, manufactured from 1896 to 1931 by the Arrol-Johnston Car Company Ltd. The Mo-Car was designed by George Johnston, a locomotive engineer, and his joint venture with bridge engineer, Sir William Arrol, which began in 1895 as the Mo-Car Syndicate Ltd., employed two men who would go on to start Albion Motors four years later. Those two men were Johnston’s cousin, Norman Osborne Fulton, and Dr. Thomas Blackwood Murray, both of whom had been employed by Mavor and Coulson, makers of electrical and mining machinery in Bridgeton, where Fulton had been Works Manager and Murray, Manager of the Installation Department. At Arrol-Johnston, Fulton was made responsible for manufacture and assembly, whilst Murray’s electrical experience became invaluable as his first task was the development of electrical ignition in place of the incandescent platinum tubes of the Daimler engine.
On the 30th of December, 1899, Murray and Fulton entered into a partnership of their own and established the Albion Motor Car Company Ltd. in Glasgow, a city already renowned worldwide for its engineering excellence. Those two entrepreneurs were joined a couple of years later by John F. Henderson, who provided additional capital. Originally, Albion’s factory was on the first floor of a building in Finnieston Street, and it began with just seven employees. Later, in 1903, the company moved to new premises in Scotstoun and became one of the largest, purely engineering firms in Glasgow, employing 1,800 people. Albion also became renowned for its superior engineering and reliability, and its name appeared on vehicles between 1899 and 1975. Its slogan, ‘Sure as the Sunrise’, was adapted into the logo that featured on the radiator and badges of its models for many years and that helped to establish Albion’s identity wherever its vehicles were exported throughout the world.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, cars were hand built and they were expensive to buy. Things were very different from the large factories that we today associate with car production. In those days, before automation, computers and robots, cars were built by small teams of highly skilled craftsmen and women. Albion built its first private motor car in 1900. That was a rustic-looking, solid tyred dogcart made of varnished wood and powered by a flat-twin, 8hp engine with tiller steering and gear-change by ‘Patent Combination Clutches’, and it cost £400. In 1903, Albion introduced a 3115cc, 16hp vertical-twin, followed in 1906 by a 24hp four cylinder engine. One of the early custom models that Albion offered was a solid-tired, shooting-brake, which was a kind of luxury estate car with a pair of side hinged rear doors that were designed for use by hunters and other sportsmen who needed easy access to a larger boot space. The last private ‘Albion’ was the A3 Model tourer, powered by a 16hp monobloc, four cylinder engine of 2492cc.
At first, the firm made motor cars and, from 1909, commercial vehicles, however, from 1913, it concentrated on the latter, which helped it to survive the difficult years after the First World War. In fact, during World War I, Albion’s premises were enlarged to produce military vehicles and it built large quantities of 3-ton trucks, which were powered by a 32hp engine using chain drive to the rear wheels. After the war, many of those trucks were converted for use as charabancs. Later, in 1920, the company announced that estate cars were to be available once more, based on a small bus chassis, but it is not known if any were actually made. The earliest buses were built on truck chassis and it is known that two were delivered to West Bromwich in 1914 and, although Albion didn’t produce a purpose built, double decker chassis until 1932, it did deliver a few of those to the city of Newcastle upon Tyne prior to 1920.
In 1923, Albion’s first dedicated bus chassis was announced. Derived from its 25cwt truck chassis, but with better springing, it had seating options for between 12 and 23 passengers. A lower frame chassis, the Model 26, with 30/60hp engine and wheelbases from 135 inches to 192 inches joined the range in 1925. All those early vehicles had the engine in front of the driver, but in 1927, the ‘Viking’, the first forward control bus, with the engine alongside the driver, allowing 32 seats to be fitted, was announced. The first true double decker design was the ‘Venturer’, with up to 51 seats. The ‘CX’ version of the chassis was launched in 1937 and on those the engine and gearbox were mounted together, rather than joined by a separate drive shaft. Albion introduced a range of diesel engines, initially from Gardner, from 1933. By which time, the Albion Motor Car Company Ltd. had been renamed Albion Motors, a name change that occured in 1930.
After World War II, Albion’s range was progressively modernised and underfloor engined models were introduced with two prototypes in 1951. That led to the ‘Nimbus’, which appeared in production models from 1955. Complete trucks, and single and double decker buses, were built in the Scotstoun works until 1972 and the firm’s buses were exported to Asia, Australia, East Africa, India and South Africa. Almost all Albion buses were given names beginning with ‘V’, such as the ‘Victor’, ‘Valiant’, ‘Viking’, ‘Valkyrie’, and ‘Venturer’, except for the ‘Nimbus’ and the ‘Aberdonian’, which was designed to be the lightest, full size, underfloor engined bus. The ‘Aberdonian’ was a much more economic, in terms of fuel consumption, derivative of the ‘Nimbus’ and it was built between 1957 and 1960.
In 1957, Lancashire-based Leyland Motors acquired Albion Motors as the first step in an expansionist policy, which saw famous names like Scammell, A.E.C. and Guy succumb. Albion Motor’s name was changed, rather ignominiously, to Leyland (Glasgow) and later, in 1987, to Leyland-DAF. Then, in 1993, a management buy-out brought Albion Automotive, as it then became known, back into Scottish ownership. Since 1998, Albion Automotive has been a subsidiary of American Axle & Manufacturing, and manufactures axles, driveline systems, chassis systems, crankshafts and chassis components out of its premises on South Street, which it took over from the neighbouring Coventry Ordnance Works in 1969. Today, you can visit the Albion Archive, in Biggar, where Thomas Blackwood Murray originally lived. You can also visit the annual Veteran & Vintage Vehicle Rally at the showfield in Biggar, which is held in honour of the Albion Motor Car Company and its founders.