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Australian Motor Industries (AMI) The Start

A presented to a luncheon of the members of Standard Cars Australia Dealers Group by Tony Atkinson President of our Club.  These are ex- Standard Car company and or dealer guys who meet at regular intervals to ‘keep in touch’ with each other.

A company called Eclipse Motors was established in the 1920s for the purpose of imported automobile distribution in Australia. The business expanded into automobile production at its Port Melbourne, Victoria location starting in 1952 under a new name: Standard Motor Company (Aust.) Pty. Ltd. The objective of the franchise for building cars in Australia was to avoid high import taxes, to provide local employment, and possibly establish an indigenous automobile industry. Therefore, the Port Melbourne assembly plant became a birthplace for the Australian motor industry. The factory imported complete knock down (CKD) kits and had the capacity to assemble about 100 vehicles per day.

The company was listed on the Melbourne Stock Exchange as Standard Motor Products Ltd - the majority shareholder being Standard Triumph International. It produced British models made by the Standard Motor Company and the Triumph Motor Company (which Standard had acquired in 1946). These cars were the Vanguard, Standard 8 and 10, and Triumph. In addition, the company manufactured the Ferguson tractor (Standard held the license for the manufacture of these tractors, and they provided the 4-cylinder wet sleeve engine (ex Vanguard).
The Vanguard was Standard's mainstay in the Australian market. The automobile was conceived by Standard's Managing Director, Sir John Black, as a car for sale in overseas markets - particularly Australia. From its introduction in 1949, it was one of the few genuine competitors to the Holden during the 1950s.
By 1956, the Standard Motor Company employed over 1600 workers at its modern assembly plant in Port Melbourne and the company had an extensive dealer network all over Australia.

Reorganization

The company ran into financial trouble in the late-1950s and the company regrouped and in 1958 was renamed Australian Motor Industries Ltd. Besides Standard vehicles, the AMI assembly plant now assembled Mercedes-Benz cars from Germany, as well as a full range of American Motors (AMC) vehicles from the United States. Other brands of cars were also assembled at the facility. These included the Triumph 6-cylinder range: the 2000, 2.5PI, and 2500TC. In the Australian market, the local assembly of these cars gave them a distinct price advantage over their UK rival, the Rover 2000. As a result, the Triumphs considerably outsold the equivalent Rovers, and these cars continue to be seen on Australian roads.
I believe that AMI was located between Graham and Bertie Streets about ˝ kilometre south of the Yarra River - an area that has probably now given way to the Westgate Freeway. I've heard that around 1962/63 AMI were assembling Toyotas, Standard Vanguards, Triumph Heralds, Ramblers from American Motor Company, Mercedes Benz sedans and Mercedes Benz trucks. A pair of Mercedes Benz trucks would be quietly assembled in a separate area at the eastern end of the plant while the MB sedans, Vanguards and Ramblers etc. would move down an assembly line. I believe that it was only for a brief time that AMI assembled the Triumph Herald as it was to prove unsuccessful.  The story goes that the car was too fragile & had a tendency for windows to pop out on rough unmade Aussie roads.
The sedan assembly line went up one side of the factory through the paint shop and then back down for final installation of the mechanicals and trim.  Up in the roof area of one section of the factory a mezzanine floor had been built.  This housed the trim section where the seats, door panels and head linings were made. There were rows of sewing machines and large work benches where the vinyl and cloth materials were cut out in preparation for sewing and gluing.
I also believe that, on the assembly line below, it was quite common to see Vanguards, Heralds and Ramblers intermixed moving down the line in succession and all of the same colour as the paint shop used the same colour for a number of makes and models.  I guess that it was probably only by good chance that different makes and models were assembled with the correct pieces!
The hours of work at the factory were from about 7.30 am to 4.15 pm.  At the lunch break the line was stopped and the workers made their way to the company canteen. We hear that the AMI canteen served pretty good meals and because they were probably subsidised, were very good value - a fine meal would be had for about 2/6.  I guess that for many workers this was their main meal for the day.
Over the two week period around Christmas & New Year, the assembly line would be shut down to carry out maintenance of the machinery, tools and assembly jigs.  I have heard that this was good opportunity to earn a bit extra as there was plenty of overtime available including weekends and public holidays. On Boxing Day the pay was double time for the first four hours with triple time for the next four hours.

Operations with AMC

AMI assembled a broad range of AMC cars, all with right-hand drive and carried the Rambler brand name. This means that Australians could purchase a Rambler Javelin, AMX, Hornet, or Matador long after the Rambler marque was dropped from use on the equivalent U.S.-made models.
Complete knock down kits were shipped from AMC's Kenosha, Wisconsin facility (all knock-down kits to all assembly operations were from Kenosha), but the Australian cars were assembled with a percentage of "local content" to gain tariff concessions. This was done using parts and components (such as seats, carpet, lights, and heaters) from local Australian suppliers. AMI specified what parts were not to be included in the unassembled kits sent by AMC. That's why the door tag on an AMI assembled car has no trim number -- AMC didn't know how it would be trimmed inside. That's also why colour choice was limited in Australia -- the bodies were painted at the body plant just like all bodies going to Kenosha. AMI therefore had to order specific colours, and only had a limited supply of each. Instead of being fully assembled the body had the engine, transmission, front suspension and rear axle installed (as well as a few other parts such as door latches), and then was pulled from the line. Other necessary parts specified by the assembler were boxed and shipped inside the car for assembly at the final destination. It is unknown exactly how many parts were included to be installed by the assembly operation that varied with each operation.
American Motors cars were assembled in Port Melbourne by AMI up to 1978. The company retained a niche market as the sole U.S. sourced cars available in the Australian marketplace. For example, the Government of New South Wales selected the Rambler Rebel and Matador as "VIP" transport in the 1970s.

Toyota and Buyout

The first Toyota ever built outside Japan was assembled by AMI in April 1963: the Toyota Tiara.  The AMI production of Toyotas expanded in the 1960s to also include the Crown, Corona, and Corolla assembled at AMI's Port Melbourne factory. As a fast growing company, Toyota Motor Corporation of Japan took a controlling interest in AMI in 1968, as well as a 40% share in Thiess Holdings, an importer of light commercial vehicles, which it renamed Thiess Toyota.
Recognizing the majority owner of the company and the products that it manufactured and marketed, AMI renamed itself as AMI Toyota Ltd in 1985. The company continued to be listed on the Australian Stock Exchange with a minority Australian shareholding until 1987, when Toyota moved to acquire the shares held by the remaining shareholders.
The Japanese company then amalgamated the company with its other Australian operations in 1989 to form two arms. The Toyota Motor Corporation Australia which was responsible for passenger vehicles and Toyota Motor Sales Australia, which was responsible for both Toyota commercial vehicles and Hino trucks.
Toyota vehicle production was transferred from the historic Port Melbourne factory to the company's new $420 million facility at Altona, Victoria in 1994. In an interesting turn of operations, the Australian facility now exports CKD kits to assembly plants in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.