Lord Lambury, KBE

Leonard Percy Lord was born on 15 November 1896 in Coventry, youngest of two children. His father, William Lord, at the time was a Superintendent of the Public Baths while his wife, Emma (née Swain) held the post of Matron. In 1906 William and Emma took the licence of the Hope & Anchor Inn. Around this time Leonard began to attend Bablake School, an old establishment with a strong technical bias including a fully equipped carpenter’s workshop and a working forge. Leonard did well enough to continue his education beyond the statutory leaving age of 13. His fees, like many of the Bablake’s boys, were paid for by Coventry Education Committee.

When William Lord died in 1911, aged only 44, Emma gave up the tenancy of the Hope & Anchor. Leonard left school two years later aged 16 and used his technical training to get a job at Courtaulds as a jig draughtsman. He briefly moved to Vickers, before joining Coventry Ordnance Works for the duration of World War One. After the war he worked for a number of engineering firms.

In 1921 he married Ethel Lily Horton, whose background was similar to his own and would have three daughters. In 1922 Lord moved to Hotchkiss which made power units for Morris cars. Originally a manufacturer of machine guns, Hotchkiss was now part of the supplier chain set up by one of the motor industry’s leading entrepreneurs, William Morris, to 'feed' his Morris Motors assembly plant at Cowley near Oxford. The Morris strategy throughout the 1920s was to take over suppliers, set up new companies and purchase ailing rivals. Thus it was, in 1923, that Hotchkiss was taken over and renamed Morris Engines.

This proved opportune for L
ord who was handed the job of purchasing and commissioning the updated equipment required. When he discovered that the new automatic transfer machines were not reliable, he recommended they should be reconverted to individual units. His boss, Frank Woollard, remonstrated that this would be admitting that we have spent a vast sum of money on a mistaken policy, but Lord argued that the firm would lose more money if it ignored his advice.

William Morris agreed. So in 1927 he bought the bankrupt Wolseley Motors and
appointed Lord to overhaul its out-of-date factories. He was so effective that in 1933 Morris made him Managing Director of Morris Motors itself. Lord then began the modernisation of the Cowley factory, utilising the mass production techniques introduced to Britain from the United States by the Ford motor company. He also established a new model range to improve the company's market position. Herbert Austin, founder of the Longbridge factory outside Birmingham, was the other major force in motor manufacturing and had, to date, dominated the small car market with the popular Austin Seven. But the Seven was now a decade old and the Morris Eight, launched in 1934, gradually took over its position as the best-selling small car in Britain.

By 1934 Morris was a
multi-millionaire bearing the title Lord Nuffield in recognition of his generous charitable donations and his business empire had become the Nuffield Organisation. He had come to rely on Leonard Lord, both as a friend and as a dynamic manager who could be trusted to keep a firm grasp on the business.

When Nuffield eventually fell out with his protégé, it was not because of Lord’s forceful personality. Having promised to step back from the business now he was in his mid-fifties, Nuffield found himself unable to cede the amount of control Lord had begun to feel was due to him. The personal rift which developed between them was deeply hurtful to both men.

In August 1936 Leonard resigned and, with Ethel, embarked aboard the Queen Mary for an extended voyage around the Americas. Nuffield was a generous man and on Lord’s return in 1937
appointed his now unemployed friend as manager of the Nuffield Trust for Special Areas, which held £2 million for distribution to development schemes benefitting areas in economic distress; but Lord was looking for a way back into the industry and in 1938 he accepted an offer from Nuffield’s great rival, the Austin Motor Company. As Works Director at the Longbridge factory he began to modernise their manufacturing process as he had done at Cowley.

Lord Austin was by now in poor health. Nevertheless, he played a key part in preparations for World War Two as Chairman of the Shadow Factory scheme. His death during 1941 made Lord the most powerful man in the company. Joining him was George Harriman who had been faithfully at his side since they met at Morris Engines in 1923 while Harriman was still an apprentice. Lord directed Austin’s war effort which included two shadow factories building Lancaster and Stirling bombers. The impressive productivity of Longbridge led Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Aircraft Production, to give him an additional responsibility as Controller of Boulton Paul Aircraft Ltd with a remit to boost their production of Defiant night fighter planes.

As the war drew to an end Lord began to plan for a return to civilian production. Building on its wartime contribution, the motor industry was at the forefront of efforts to rebuild Britain's shattered post-war economy and Leonard Lord took a prominent rôle in the nation’s drive to earn foreign currency. He regularly undertook two voyages per year to promote Austin products and a succession of new assembly plants was set up in territories including Canada, Australia, Argentina, South Africa and Mexico.

In the spring of 1948, for example, he embarked on a five week tour, visiting dealers and charming government officials across Portugal, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and the Canary Islands. The results of Mr Lord's tour will be watched with the utmost interest, but one thing is certain, Austins will be earning even more hard currency for Britain when he gets back in April. His efforts to design the right car for the American market were less successful. Lord steam-rollered the sports convertible A90 Atlantic into the 1948 Austin product range but it failed to sell in the United States despite intensive publicity.

He also set up a rather different enterprise in 1949 at Bargoed in Wales which manufactured a sophisticated pedal car designed for children. The factory’s purpose was to provide employment for ex-miners suffering from the lung disease pneumoconiosis caused by inhalation of coal dust. At the same time Lord embarked on a determined drive to take Longbridge to the forefront of the post-war industrial world. A series of modern facilities was constructed on the old flying ground, culminating in 1951 with the state-of-the-art ‘Car Assembly Building’, clad outside in glass and fitted inside with an advanced set of automated production lines.

Nevertheless the position of the British motor industry was steadily weakening in world markets making a merger between the old rivals at Longbridge and Cowley inevitable. Though Lord Austin was gone, Lord Nuffield lived to see the formation of the British Motor Corporation (BMC) in 1952 with its headquarters at Longbridge. The new structure appeared to treat the merging organisations equally by distributing the top jobs between the existing senior managements. This was, however, an illusion. In 1954, the same year that Leonard Lord received a knighthood, Lord Nuffield accepted the honorary post of President and went into retirement leaving Lord to become Chairman with his own protégé, George Harriman, as Deputy Chairman.

It took two years of damaging in-fighting to reach this point which Lord, still nursing a festering resentment over his departure from Cowley, did nothing to discourage. This would become BMC’s biggest weakness. Austin and Morris continued to run separate dealerships, between them selling six marques and several models dating back to 1947/8 to a confused public. Lord’s solution was 'badge-engineering'. A limited number of the established engineering ‘platforms’ would be refreshed by replacing the old-fashioned styling with a choice of new body styles utilising some or all of the six different badges available. This would cut production costs and provide a smaller model range without sacrificing the perceived brand-loyalty of customers. He asked Pininfarina, the Italian design house famous for its work with Ferrari, to create the designs and a series of elegant ‘Farinas’ began to launch in 1958.

At the same time Lord was concerned that BMC’s products were less advanced than those of its continental competitors. So in 1955 he recruited Alec Issigonis, British designer of the acclaimed post-war Morris Minor, putting the factory’s impressive technical facilities entirely at his disposal. Issigonis and his small team began work on a family of three new cars until the end of 1956 when the ‘Suez Crisis’ sparked anxiety about world fuel supplies. Lord personally instructed Issigonis to put the two larger cars to one side and concentrate on a fuel-efficient small car which must be on the market within two years. It was a brave gamble to unleash the creativity of his maverick designer in this way and he was rewarded with the revolutionary ‘Mini’; but innovative engineering was expensive and the development period was too short to undertake a thorough testing programme. Issigonis himself commented: ‘When Len Lord told me to go ahead and build it I was horrified. I even told him he was mad to build a car on what we had been able to demonstrate at that stage.’

In 1961 Lord stepped down as Chairman of BMC and in 1962 was elevated to the peerage, choosing the title Baron Lambury of Northfield. In his retirement he turned his attention to another of his interests, raising Hereford Bulls for breeding on his farm in Gloucestershire. He died aged 70 on 13 September 1967 at his home in Warrens Gorse near Cirencester just as Britain's motor industry was about to move into another crucial phase. Negotiations were already underway for the merger which would bring together what was left of the British motor industry as the British Leyland Motor Corporation though this time BMC was the weaker partner.

Opinions of Len Lord remain as controversial as the man himself. His successor George Harriman gave instructions for his mentor’s office to be preserved as he left it the day he retired. The less partial Miles Thomas astutely recognised a basic contradiction in people’s reaction to him: 'When he was relaxed Len Lord was a friendly and fascinating character. Like many a man with a brusque unyielding exterior, he was shy at heart. His apparent rudeness was a protective mechanism. But he certainly achieved results in making motor cars, and although he upset many people, his ideas worked and helped executives who were paid a bonus on production to receive larger monthly cheques'.

So what was his legacy? He was a driving force behind the essential modernisation of production methods at both Cowley and Longbridge, enabling the British motor industry to compete in world markets. He spearheaded an export drive fundamental to Britain's post-war economic recovery. Yet his judgement in relation to the marketplace was not always sound. Finally, though he was the mastermind behind the union of the industry's two major rivals, something which had once seemed unthinkable but in the end became inevitable, he failed to ensure that the two elements worked in harmony. This Achilles’ heal would hamper all efforts to revive Britain’s motor industry for decades to come.


Sir Leonard Lord Interview September 1960

BMC World

Soon after the record-breaking financial year ended on 31 July 1960 we interviewed Sir Leonard Lord, Executive Chairman of The British Motor Corporation, in his Office at Longbridge.

In the record year just ended, a high proportion of the total output of 650,000 vehicles was exported, including 110,000 to the U.S.A. and Canada. Since the Government have again called for increased exports, would you give your views on the export drive ?

'We take our export responsibilities very seriously indeed. None of us could live without exports, let alone enjoy the standard of living we feel we ought to have. In B.M.C. it is our firm policy to endeavour to export at least half our output. Of course it varies from model to model but that's what we are aiming at overall. The motor industry has set an example to the whole country in exporting, and BMC. is now one of the world's leading exporters, but cars don't sell themselves; they sell on price and quality, and against intense foreign competition. Don't forget that West Germany and possibly at this moment France are each producing more cars now than Britain, which ought to keep everyone on their toes.'

Will the credit squeeze make the Corporation cut down on its £49 million expansion plan?

'It will not! The plan will go right ahead until it is completed in 1962. This is long-term planning to provide us with the productive capacity that we and the country-need in the future. World demand for vehicles is growing and our capacity has to grow accordingly. Some other country like France or Germany will provide those cars if we can't, it's just as simple as that. When we are planning for years ahead we can't let passing things like a credit squeeze affect us. During the last credit squeeze there were plenty of pessimists who thought we ought to cut down our £26 million expansion plan at that time. Of course we didn't and so, when trading became easier again, we had the capacity to take advantage of it, and you can see the result of that in the record year we have just.

Some people seem to think that when all the present motor expansion plans are completed we will have too many cars. What do you think?

'There have always been these gloomy prophecies for as long as I have been in the industry. We would be in a poor way now if we had acted on them. 'What we are doing in BMC. is to spread motoring even more widely and particularly by our Austin Sevens and Mini-Minors, and produce those cars in greater volume than any other model. At the same time we must have a range of cars to meet all needs right up to the luxury class. In other words, we produce both in volume and variety, which keeps us buoyant in competitive conditions.

‘Competition will get keener, but we should thrive on it, and think of the potential demand from the rapidly developing countries. They want roads first nowadays, not railways; and that means trucks, tractors, and eventually, cars as well.

'Recent figures show that British car exports to the United States-the industry's best market-have fallen considerably. What is BMC.'s experience?

'Our market there is mainly in sports cars, and for the first six months of 1960 we have maintained our high sales in North America. The compact cars introduced by the American manufacturers have mainly reduced the sales of imported saloon cars-"sedans" as they call them-but they haven't affected the sports-car market except by increasing the overall stocks held by distributors and dealers, and so reducing their selling activities. ‘It is reported that American manufacturers have over-produced their compact cars by some million units. We are the biggest producers of sports cars in the world, and we see an enduring market for them in the U.S.A. There's a big field, too, for our Austin Sevens and Mini-Minors particularly as second or even third cars for such uses as shopping in the city. These are two types of cars that the Americans just don't make themselves. so the compact cars do not directly affect them.'

Are not more markets closing to us?

'The tendency is for more countries to start producing their own cars. Our answer in many cases is to set up assembly plants in those countries to take advantage of the lower duties on CKD. sets of vehicle parts as compared with built-up cars. 'This isn't taking work away from our British factories; on the contrary, it is providing work for them in producing CKD. sets for overseas assembly. It is giving us business which otherwise would have been lost, or opening markets formerly closed. As a world-wide industry with a stake in many rapidly developing countries we must be prepared to develop in this way.'

What about Europe-isn’t that a difficult market ?

'It certainly isn't easy to sell cars in Europe, which is extremely price-and-quality-conscious, and has its own big car manufacturers; but we have just got to do it, as a Corporation and as a nation. 'As you know, six countries (France, Western Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg) have linked up in a "Common Market". They will gradually get rid of all tariff barriers between each other, but keep up a common tariff-wall against the outside world. Britain could not join because it would have meant putting up a tariff against the Commonwealth as part of the "outside world"; but we have joined, with six surrounding countries, in a Free Trade Area, in which, while there will be free trade between them, each country will maintain its own tariffs against other countries outside.

'BMC. welcome this, because the "outer seven" area includes in the Scandinavian countries some of the best European markets. We want to see a link-up between the Common Market and the Free Trade Area. We have made a manufacturing arrangement with Innocenti of Milan which will enable our cars to be produced inside the Common Market-and sent to countries like Austria that are in the Free Trade Area. The Farina styling of our cars has proved popular, and proved that we were right in keeping in line with European taste and trends.'

Are you generally satisfied with the contribution the workers are making ?

'Yes, indeed I am; we couldn't get the record production we are getting if people generally were not working flat out. We suffer more from the effect of outside disputes than we do from our own stoppages. Take Austin's-since as long ago as March we have not lost a single vehicle from disputes originating at Longbridge or in other BMC. factories, but we have lost 1,670 vehicles and 1,728 bodies as a result of outside disputes. 'There is a great readiness to use the negotiating procedure, and management are determined to give a fair deal when men have a fair case and pursue it through procedure, and I think this is being increasingly recognized.

'As I see it, the only fly in the ointment at present is the Friday nightshift strikes which are against national agreements and union policy and can put our general working out of balance, but the number supporting these strikes has fallen steeply in recent weeks and the unions concerned have been trying hard to solve this problem.'


Estate Duties

Lambury, Lord (formerly Sir Leonard Lord), of Warrens' Gorse. near Cirencester. president of the British Motor Corporation (duty paid, £86,214 -19 Oct 1967)

LORD LAMBURY: Barony for services to motor industry.

Lord Lambury, KBE, president of the British Motor Corporation (formerly Sir Leonard: KBE), who died yesterday at the age of 71. will be long remembered by his colleagues in the British motor industry and his countless friends and acquaintances, throughout the world. For his lifelong services to that industry, he was awarded a barony in the New Years Honours List of 1962 and assumed the title of Lord Lambury of Northfield.

Leonard Percy Lord was born in Coventry in 1896 and was educated at Bablake School, Coventry. Leaving school at an early age, he was apprenticed to the engineering department of Courtaulds Ltd. Coventry. From there he went to the Coventry Ordnance factory, and later to the Daimler Company and other engineering firms in London and Peterborough.

From an early age, the tall, mechanically minded youth had decided to make his fame and fortune in the growing automobile industry, in which he was certain there was adequate scope for his talents. In 1922 he joined the Hotchkiss Company at Coventry and stayed there until 1927, when he was invited by Mr. W. R. Morris (the late Lord Nuffield) to take charge of the firm of Wolseley Motors Ltd. later purchased by Morris.

After successfully reorganizing the Wolseley company, Leonard Lord was appointed managing director of Morris Motors Ltd. in 1932, in which position he controlled the Morris works at Cowley, the Wolseley works at Birmingham and also the MG. and Riley factories at Abingdon. Berkshire.

Always a man of unflagging energy, Leonard Lord took the unprecedented step of retiring at the age of 40 in 1936 and travelled abroad extensively. But he was never truly happy unless happy unless he was working, hard and in January, 1937 was appointed manager of Lord Nuffield's £2m trust fund to aid the Special Areas. He gave up this post in March, 1938, and returned to the motor industry, becoming a member of the committee of management and works director of the Austin Motor Comany Ltd. In June, 1940, Lord Beaverbrook appointed him in addition, as government controller of Boulton and Paul Ltd, to hasten production of the urgently needed Defiant night-fighter aircraft, which played a major part in eventual victory in the air.

In May, 1941, on the death of Lord Austin, he became deputy chairman and joint managing director of the company and was responsible for the great expansion in air-frame and aero-engine production in the company's wartime shadow factories. Mr. Lord succeeded E. L. Payton as chairman and managing director of the Austin Motor Company Ltd., in 1945 and held this post until 1952, when Lord Nuffield named him in his succession as chairman and managing director of the British Motor Corporation, the merged Austin-Nuffield group which had been created in November, 1951.

In the 1954 Now Year's Honours list, Mr. Lord was designated a Knight Commander of the British Empire. In August, 1958, the offices of chairman and managing director were separated and Sir Leonard was appointed executive chairman of the whole group. He retired from this position in November. 1961, assuming the new title of vice-president of the British Motor Corporation, at which time Mr. G. W. Hariman, CBE., took over the responsibilities of running Britain's largest motor manufacturing group.

Sir Leonard, as he was called during his more active days in the British motor industry, was tall, bespectacled and " straight to the point". He had considerable success during his lifetime in and around the motor industry, he never forgot that he went to the top from the factory floor . . . and was intensely proud of his humble origin.

His distinction as an industrialist was paralleled in a lesser degree by his success as a farmer. He was a well-known breeder of Hereford cattle, won numerous prizes at agricultural and one of his beef steers was judged supreme champion at the Royal Show in 1949. He lived at Warren's Gorse, near Cirencester, Gloucestershire.

Sir Leonard Lord Gives Up Post (7 November 1961)

Sir Leonard Lord, executive chairman of the British Motor Corporation, is to resign at a board meeting to be held on Tuesday. Until that time his successor will not be known. Sir Leonard will remain on the board as a non-executive director, and is to become the vice-president of the corporation. Sir Leonard, who was knighted in 1954, began the long association with the companies which were later to form the BMC. when he joined the Hotchkiss Engine Company, of Coventry. in 192'~'. The Hotchkiss concern was subsequently bought by Mr. W. R. Morris. now Lord Nuffield. Later, when Lord Nuffield acquired Wolseley Motors the then Mr. Lord was given the job of reorganizing the business.


November 1958

1 January 1962

Prime Minister's List (Barons). LORD, Sir. LEONARD PERCY, for services to the motor industry.

28 March 1962


The barony conferred on Sir Leonard Percy Lord in the New Yea'r Honours was gazetted last night by the name, style and title of Baron Lambury, of Northfield in the county of Warwick.

Lord Lambury to Head BMC.

Lord Lambury, formerly Sir Leonard Lord, is to succom the late Lord Nuffield as president of the British Motor Corporation, the corporation announced last night. Lord Lambury, who is 66. is vice-president of the corporation. He remains on the board, to which he is consultant.

18 May 1962

Lord Lambury. formerly Sir Leonard Lord, took the oath and subscribed the rol. his sponsors were Lord Kindersley and Lord Brabazon of Tara.

Sir Leonard Lord Gives Up Post.

Sir Leonard Lord, executive chairman of the British Motor Corporation, is to resign at a board meeting to be held on Tuesday. Until that time his successor will not be known. Sir Leonard will remain on the board as a non-executive director, and is to become the vice-president of the corporation. Sir Leonard, who was knighted in 1954, began the long association with the companies which were later to form the B.M.C. when he joined the Hotchkiss Engine Company, of Coventry. in 192'~'. The Hotchkiss concern was subsequently bought by Mr. W. R. Morris. now Lord Nuffield. Later, when Lord Nuffield acquired Wolseley Motors the then Mr. Lord was given the job of reorganizing the business. He joined the Austin Motor Company in 1938 and became chairman and managing director when Lord Austin died in 1941.

2 December 1960

Sir Leonard Lord, chairman of the British Motor Corporation, yesterday issued a statement saying that there was no foundation whatever for the suggestions that his company was concerned in any negotiations with Standard-Triumph International. A similar denial was also made on behalf of Rootes Motors by a company spokesman. Standard-Triumph shares have risen Is. 6d. in the past three days. to close last night at 9s., on rumours of a possible takeover bid. Yesterday"s denials were made following press reports that these companies, were interested in such an agreement.