The company was first registered on 2 March 1903 by R. W. Maudslay. He was a civil engineer by profession but realised the enormous potential of the horseless carriage, and with a gift of £3,000 from Sir John Wolfe-Barrie he became a motor manufacturer, establishing a small factory in a two-storey building in Much Park Street, Coventry. Having undertaken the examination of several proprietary engines to familiarise himself with internal combustion engine design he employed seven people to assemble the first car, powered by a single-cylinder engine with three-speed gearbox and shaft drive to the rear wheels. By the end of 1903 three cars had been built and the labour force had been increased to twenty five. The increased labour force produced a car every three weeks during 1904.
The single-cylinder model was soon replaced by a two-cylinder model quickly followed by three- and four-cylinder versions and in 1905 the first six. Even the first cars boasted shaft drive as opposed to chains, and the engines were not merely "square" but had 6" diameter pistons with a 3" stroke. As well as supplying complete chassis, the company found a good market selling engines for fitting to other cars, especially where the owner wanted more power. Although Alex Craig, a Scottish engineer, was engaged to do much of the detail work, Maudslay himself was sufficiently confident to undertake much of the preliminary layout. One of the several derivations of the name "Standard" is said to have emanated from a discussion between Maudslay and Craig during which the latter proposed several changes to a design on the grounds of cost, which Maudslay rejected, saying that he was determined to maintain the best possible "Standard".
In 1905 Maudslay himself drove the first Standard car to compete in a race. This was the Tourist Trophy in which he finished 11th out of 42starters, having had a non-stop run. In 1905 the first export order was also received, from a Canadian who arrived at the factory in person. The order was reported in the local newspaper with some emphasis, "Coventry firm makes bold bid for foreign markets".
The company displayed at the 1905 London Motor Show in Crystal Palace, at which a London dealer, Charles (later Sir Charles) Friswell agreed to buy the entire factory output.
In late 1906 production was transferred to larger premises and output was concentrated on 6-cylinder models. The 16/20 h.p. tourer with side-entrance body was priced at £450. An indication of how much this was can be gained from the fact that a draughtsman earned £3 a week. In 1907 Friswell became company chairman. He worked hard to raise its profile, and the resulting increase in demand necessitated the acquisition of a large single-storey building in Cash's Lane, Coventry. Even this was inadequate after the publicity gained when a fleet of 20 cars, 16/20 tourers, were supplied for the use of Commonwealth editors attending the 1909 Imperial Press Conference in London. In 1909 the company first made use of the famous Union Flag Badge, a feature of the radiator emblem until after the Second World War. By 1911 the range of vehicles was comprehensive, with the 8-horsepower model being produced in quantity whilst a special order for two 70 hp cars was at the same time executed for a Scottish millionaire. Friswell's influence culminated in supplying seventy 4-cylinder 16 hp cars for King George V and his entourage, including the Viceroy of India, at the 1911 Delhi Durbah Coronation Festival Royal Durbah. In 1912 Friswell sold his interest in Standard to C. J. Band and Siegfried Bettmann, the founder of the Triumph Motor Cycle Company(which became the Triumph Motor Company). During the same year the first commercial vehicle was produced, and the 4-cylinder model "S" was introduced at £195, the first to be put into large-scale production. 1600 were produced before the outbreak of the First World War, 50 of them in the final week of car production. These cars were sold with a three-year guarantee. In 1914 Standard became a public company.
First World War
During the First World War the company produced more than 1000 aircraft, including the Royal Aircraft Factory BE12, Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8, Sopwith Pup and Bristol F.2-B in a new works at Canley that opened on 1 July 1916. Canley would subsequently become the main centre of operations. Other war materials produced included shells, mobile workshops for the Royal Engineers, and trench mortars.
Civilian car production was restarted in 1919 with models based on pre-war designs, for example the 9.5 model "S" was re-introduced as the model SLS although this was soon superseded by an 8 h.p. model.
In the early 1920s saloon bodies were first offered; previously all cars had been tourers. The bodies had, since the move to Bishopsgate Green, been made in Coventry by the company itself, but it was not until 1922 that they were mass-produced, using a wooden track along which they were pushed by hand. The company was justifiably proud of the modern factory at Canley, boasting in its advertisements "It is a beautifully lighted and well-aired factory standing on the edge of a breezy common away from the city din and smoke, that the finishing touches and test are given to the All British 'Standard' Light cars which issue there to almost every quarter in the world".
It was about this time during the early 1920s that the slogan "Count them on the road" appeared on every advertisement. By 1924 the company had a share of the market comparable to Austin Motor Company, making more than 10,000 cars in 1924. As the immediate post-war boom faded, many rival marques were discontinued. Cars became steadily larger and more elaborate as manufacturers sought to maintain sales. During the 1920s all the models were named after towns, not only near the factory such as Canley and Kenilworth but also further afield – Teignmouth, Falmouth, and Exmouth.
By the late 1920s profits had decreased dramatically due to great reinvestment, a failed export contract and bad sales of the larger cars. In 1927 the inadvisability of matching the larger more elaborate trend became apparent and the 9 hp Fulham with fabric body was introduced at £185. Production was concentrated mainly on one basic chassis with a 9 hp engine. The importance of standardisation was now appreciated and only one alternative was offered. In 1929 Captain John Black joined the board from Hillman as joint Managing Director and one thing he encouraged was the supply of chassis to external coachbuilders such as Jensen, Avon and Swallow Sidecar Company (which would become Jaguar).
The coachbuilding company of Avon during the early 1930s commenced producing cars with a distinctly sporty appearance, using as a foundation, a complete chassis from the Standard Motor Company. These chassis were ordinary production units, used because of their sound engineering design and good performance. Known as Avon Standard Specials they catered for a select market too small for Standard themselves. Later the Swallow Sidecars coachbuilding company decided to produce a complete car and again utilised a Standard engine and chassis. This was known initially as the S.S. and later as the S.S. Jaguar, still using Standard mechanical parts.
It was not until 1930, after the replacement of artillery wheels by spoke wheels that the distinctive radiator shape first used on the 6-cylinder models in 1906 was finally abandoned. In 1930 before the worst of the depression the Big Nine was introduced which together with the 6-cylinder Ensign and Envoy constituted the complete range. Here standardisation was taken a step further with the bodies on 9 hp four-cylinder and 15 hp six-cylinder being almost indistinguishable except for bonnet length. The Big Nine was soon followed by the Big Twelve and sales for the second six months of 1931 exceeded those of the whole of the previous year. In 1932 there was a Royal visit to the Canley works by the Duke of Gloucester who came to open the Canley Pavilion outside which he took delivery of a new 6-cylinder model. Reginald Maudslay left the company two years after this honour and died soon afterwards on 14 December 1934 at the age of 64.
1935 saw all production transferred to the Canley site. Extensive re-organisation occurred including a continuous track being laid down in the paint shop on which the cars were completely painted.
Through the 1930s, fortunes improved with new models, the Standard Nine and Standard Ten which addressed the low to mid range market and at the Motor Show of 1935 the new range of Flying Standards was announced with semi streamlined bodies. The Flying Standards came to the market in 1936 with their distinctive streamlined sloping rears virtually replacing the existing range of Nine, Twelve, Sixteen, and Twenty. The Flying Standards were so-called because of the major radiator design change, topped by the Union Flag badge apparently streaming backwards in contrast to its previous forward-facing position. Almost all the Flying Standards had 4 cylinders, but in 1938 two new factories were opened at Fletchampstead and Banner Lane, and a completely new engine was offered. This was a 20 hp V8 which made British history by pioneering independent front suspension on a mass-produced light car, an achievement repeated exactly 21 years later with the independent rear suspension on the Herald.
The Southwards Car Museum on the Kapiti Coast, New Zealand has on display a Standard Flying V8 registered with an English number plate and which it claims only 350 were made. They state in their exhibit that 9 still exist in the world and New Zealand originally had 3 of them. The engine was a 20hp Side Valve (90 degrees) V8 and the car had a listed maximum speed of 85 mph (137 km/h). It cost £349 when new.
By the beginning of the war, annual production was 50,000 units.
Second World War
The company continued to produce its cars during the Second World War, but now mainly fitted with utility bodies ("Tillies"). However, the most famous war-time product was the de Havilland Mosquito aircraft, mainly the FB VI version, of which more than 1100 were made. 750 Airspeed Oxfords were also made as well as 20,000 Bristol Mercury VIII engines, and 3,000 Bristol Beaufighter fuselages.
Other wartime products included 4000 Beaverette light armoured cars and a lightweight "Jeep" type vehicle.
With peace, the pre-war Eight and Twelve cars were quickly back in production using tools carefully stored since 1939. Of greater significance was, in 1945, the purchase arranged by Sir John Black for £75,000 of the Triumph Motor Company, which had gone into receivership in 1939. Triumph was reformed as a wholly owned subsidiary of Standard named "Triumph Motor Company (1945) Limited". The Triumph factory was near the city centre and was completely destroyed in the blitz. A lucrative deal was also arranged to build the small Ferguson Company tractor which helped fill some of the large war time factory space. This arrangement was considered primarily by Black as a means to securing increased profits to fund new car development.
In December 1945 Standard Motor Company Limited announced that an arrangement had been made to manufacture Mr Harry Ferguson's world-famous tractors and Standard's newly acquired factory at Banner Lane Coventry would be used for the project. These tractors would be for the Eastern hemisphere, Ferguson tractors built by Ford in America for the Western hemisphere. Production was expected to start in 1946. Implements would be sourced separately by Ferguson who would also merchandise the tractors and the implements.
A one-model policy for the Standard marque (alongside a range of new Triumphs) was adopted in 1948 with the introduction of the 2-litre Standard Vanguard, which was styled on American lines by Walter Belgrove, and replaced all the carry-over pre-war models. This aptly named model was the first true post-war design from any major British manufacturer.. The beetle-back Vanguard Phase 1 was replaced in 1953 by the notch-back Phase 2 and in 1955 by the all-new Phase 3, which resulted in variants such as the Sportsman, Ensign, Vanguard Vignale and Vanguard Six.
The one-model policy lasted until 1953 when a new Standard Eight small car was added. This was introduced at £481. 7. 6. which meant it was the cheapest four-door saloon on the market yet it boasted independent front suspension, hydraulic brakes and an economical O.H.V. engine. At the same time in another part of the same building Standards were producing a very different engine, the Rolls Royce Avon jet aero engine of which 415 were made between 1951 and 1955. In 1954 the Eight was supplemented by the slightly more powerful Standard Ten which featured a wider chrome grille. The Phase II Vanguard was powered by a 2088 cc 4-cylinder "wet sleeve" engine producing 68 HP. This engine could be modified by using an additional intake system and two single-barrel Solex carburettors, producing 90 HP. Typically, the Phase II engine was one Solex carburettor, with 85 mm by 93 mm pistons. Standard Motors at the time supplied many of these engines to Ferguson Tractor distributed in the United States. The Ten was followed in its turn in 1957 by the Standard Pennant featuring very prominent tail fins, but otherwise little altered structurally from the 1953 Standard Eight. An option for the Ten, and standard fitment to the Pennant, was the Gold Star engine, tuned for greater power and torque than the standard 948 cc unit. Another tuning set, featuring a different camshaft and twin carburettors, was available from dealers.
As well as an overdrive for the gearbox, an option for the Eight, Ten and Pennant was the Standrive, a semi-manual transmission that automatically operated the clutch during gearchanges.
During the same year that the '8' was introduced, another car was displayed at the London Motor Show. This was a sports two-seater which had a modified Standard '8' chassis with a Vanguard engine in it. Its serious lack of luggage space, however, resulted in production being delayed until the next year when the tail was restyled to incorporate a generous boot. The car was badged as a 'Triumph' rather than a 'Standard' and the T.R.2 was a winner. Ken Richardson achieved 124 m.p.h. on the Jabbeke Highway in Belgium in a slightly modified car. As a result of the publicity, history repeated itself and small manufacturers again came to the Standard Motor Company for engines etc. including Morgan, Peerless, Swallow, and Doretti.. In a segment dominated, in the UK market, by Bedford, a number of UK automakers competed with under-powered forward control competitors. The Atlas was Standard-Triumph's contender.
In 1958 the Standard Atlas panel van and pick-up was first vended, a cab-over-engine design. It initially used the 948 cc engine from the Standard 10, making the resulting vehicle woefully underpowered, even with its 6.66:1 final drive ratio. In 1961, the Atlas Major was introduced, and sold alongside the original 948 cc Atlas. This variant was powered by the Standard 1670 cc wet-liner motor, as used with different capacities in the Vanguard cars, and the Ferguson tractor. The same engine was also used in Triumph TR2, TR3 and TR4 sports cars. To use this larger engine, a substantial redesign of the cab interior and forward chassis was necessary. The vehicles were of a high standard but not priced competitively, which resulted in relatively few sales. In 1963 the Atlas Major became the Standard 15, with a new long-wheelbase variant, with 2138 cc engine, became the Standard 20. Later that year, the Standard name became disused by Leyland, and these models were rebranded hastily as Leyland 15 and 20. By 1968 when production ended in the UK, all variants were powered by the 2138 cc engine and badged as Leyland 20s.
These vehicles were badged as "Triumphs" for export to Canada, and possibly other overseas markets. The van's tooling was also exported to India after UK production ceased, where the resultant vehicle continued in production until the 1980s.
By the later 1950s the small Standards were losing out in the UK market to more modern competitor designs, and the Triumph name was believed to be more marketable; hence the 1959 replacement for the Eight, Ten and Pennant was badged as the Triumph Herald; with substantial mechanical components carried over from the small Standards. Despite the separate chassis and independent rear suspension, the differential, hubs, brakes, engine and gearbox were all common to the last Standard Pennants. In order to build the Herald the company invested £2 1⁄2 million in a new assembly hall extension at the Canley plant which Standard had acquired in 1916. The builders of the three-storey building excavated 250,000 tons of soil and rock. Inside the building were three 1300 ft assembly lines equipped to be one of the most modern car assembly plants in the world. This turned out to be the company's last investment on such a scale at Canley: investment decisions after the merge with Rover would favour the newer plant at Solihull.
Overseas assembly plants were opened in Australia, Canada, India and South Africa. Sir John Black resigned from control of the company in 1954. Ill-health was cited as the 'official' reason for his resignation but it is now known the Board of Directors requested he end his relationship with the company. His deputy and long-time personal assistant, Alick Dick, assumed control. The company started considering partners to enable continued expansion and negotiations were begun with Chrysler, Massey-Harris-Ferguson, Rootes Group, Rover and Renault but these were inconclusive.
The Standard-Triumph company was eventually bought in 1960 by Leyland Motors Ltd which paid £20 million and the last Standard, an Ensign Deluxe was produced in the UK in May 1963, when the final Vanguard models were replaced by the Triumph 2000 model. Triumphs continued when Leyland became British Leyland Motor Corporation (later BL) in 1968. The Standard brand was ended on August 17, 1970 when a sudden announcement said that henceforth the Company was to be known as the Triumph Motor Company. The Standard name has been unused in Europe since then and the Triumph or Rover Triumph BL subsidiary used the former Standard engineering and production facilities at Canley in Coventry until the plant was closed in 1980.
BMW acquired the Standard and Triumph brands following its purchase of BL's successor Rover Group in 1994. When most of Rover was sold in 2000, BMW kept the Standard brand along with Triumph, MINI and Riley. The management of British Motor Heritage Ltd, gained the rights to the Standard Brand upon their management purchase of this company from BMW in 2001 (reference BMH website linked below).
There was talk of a possible revival of the Standard name by MG Rover for its importation of the TATA Indica (reference Channel 4 website below). However, for reasons relating to the ownership of the brand by BMW, the car was finally launched as the CityRover.
Cars manufactured by the Standard Motor Company:
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