Document of the Month January 2018

This month's document has been chosen by Charlie Gallant, our Deputy Archivist.

Having grown up on a smallholding in the Forest of Dean, it was perhaps unsurprising to my parents that one of my first proper words as a small child was 'tractor'! Perhaps this humble agricultural machine is not something instantly associated with the British motor industry, however there were a surprising number of tractors built by motor companies, especially after the Second World War. These records are represented today in our Archive, both pictorially and in document format.

My document of the month is an order transfer card which records one of the key decisions in the history of the Standard-Triumph Motor Company – the transfer of all tractor making assets of the company to Massey-Ferguson. While this doesn't seem like a particular exciting document, it represents a period in Standard-Triumph's history which I, until recently, knew relatively nothing about.

An order transfer card and letter sent to Suppliers regarding the transfer of all Standard-Triumph's tractor interests to Massey-Ferguson, which took effect on 31 August 1959.

Why this document?

The history of the British Motor Industry is well known for its complex family tree of mergers and deals between manufacturing companies. There are many financial benefits to teaming up with a similarly minded company but the reasons why Standard-Triumph would decide to sell off its tractor assets were initially unclear to me.

The Standard Motor Company was founded in Coventry in 1903 by Reginald Maudslay (his brother, Cyril already making claim to the family name with the Maudslay Motor Company). It manufactured cars until the beginning of the First World War, when it switched to aeroplanes. Postwar, when cars began to be produced again, the company started fairly well and the appointment of Sir John Black as Managing Director in 1929 led to a number of beneficial deals, including the purchase of Triumph in 1945.

The following year the manufacture of Ferguson-Brown tractors at Banner Lane commenced. This was another deal organised by John Black which hugely benefited Standard, because the merger not only filled up the vast space left over in their factory by the end of wartime production but was also a means of funding the development of new cars – something Black was especially interested in.

The Ferguson-Brown Company was vastly successful at Banner lane and the first tractor off the production line (the TE20, more popularly known as the 'little grey Fergie') outsold its motoring counterparts. In 1950, for example, out of the 97,000 vehicles produced by the Standard Motor Company 55,000 of these were Ferguson tractors – almost 60% of output for that year. The Fergie also overtook its American competitors who had previously dominated the agricultural market to the extent that Henry Ford apparently nicknamed it the 'grey menace'.

Sir John Black behind the wheel of the first Ferguson Tractor on 7 August 1946. Harry Ferguson is standing to the left of the man in the hat. They are posing outside the Banner Lane factory where the tractors were made.

So if this deal was so successful for the two companies, why did they part ways? Primarily, all was not well between John Black and Harry Ferguson. A lucrative merger in 1953 between Ferguson and the Canadian company Massey-Harris improved tractor production dramatically. According to his obituary John Black became resentful of this transition and the 'relegation' of Standard-Triumph to the status of a contractor rather than an equal of the Ferguson marque. Following injury from test driving the Swallow Doretti (a car which ironically used the 'wet liner' engine which made Standard-Triumph cars and Ferguson tractors so successful) John Black was encouraged to resign by the Board due to 'health' problems in January 1954. The damage, however, was already done. Massey-Ferguson decided it no longer wished to work with Standard-Triumph on a permanent basis and within a few years, Standard-Triumph had made the decision to separate completely by selling off the Banner Lane factory along with all of their tractor assets and stock to the Massey Group.

Accompanying the voting card are two letters to all stakeholders in the Standard-Triumph company dated August 1959 detailing the beneficial reasons why the sale was taking place. This included the expansion of Standard-Triumph, increased output and a range of new motor cars. The thought was that company finances would be streamlined and production would be more efficient. The Standard Tractor Company (1959) was also set up to replace Ferguson production. The company's period of independence would soon be over, however, as Standard-Triumph was bought by Leyland Motors in 1960, barely a year after the sale of Banner Lane had gone through.

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