IT was on this date 125 years ago that one of the great names of Scottish automotive history began life in Glasgow.

Albion Motors is how the firm became to be known in its heyday as the largest company in the automotive industry in Scotland, but it began on December 30, 1899, as the Albion Motor Car Company Ltd. It was the brainchild of Thomas Blackwood Murray and Norman Osborne Fulton, two men who were true pioneers of the automotive industry in Scotland having been involved in Arrol-Johnston, the manufacturers of the first automobile wholly produced in Britain.

Murray’s father John Lamb Murray, an architect and civil engineer who drove the second motor car in Scotland, mortgaged one of his properties near Biggar to provide finance for the new venture and he is believed to have suggested the name Albion. They began operations with seven of a workforce in a first-floor factory in Finnieston Street, Glasgow, which meant the early cars they built had to be winched out of the windows onto the road below.

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That first car was marketed as a “dogcart” as it was based on a carriage used by hunters with the 8hp engine squeezed into the space where the hunting dogs would have been kept. Claiming it could do in excess of 12mph, John Lamb Murray paid it a glowing compliment in the sales brochure: “I find the mechanism extremely simple and my coachman has picked up the driving and management of the machine very readily and is now an efficient driver.”

We know exactly how that first product looked because the second one ever built was sold to John Lamb Murray and he preserved it so well that in 1922 it was able to be driven to the then Royal Scottish Museum. The car now resides in the collections of the National Museums of Scotland (NMS), having been loaned out to Biggar and Upper Clydesdale Museum, founded by the late and much-missed Brian Lambie, once the provost of Biggar who was involved in many heritage and history projects such as the Albion Archive.

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That second-ever Albion was magnificently restored by a team from the NMS led by Gemma Frew, assistant conservation engineer. In her online blogs, she described how the car was rebuilt and had dangerous asbestos removed before new leather upholstery was fashioned to make the car look “as good as new”. Frew wrote: “While the vehicle will never be roadworthy, the conservation has given it the stability and aesthetic appeal for it to be put on display and be appreciated again.”

The Albions were popular from the outset, and in the first decade of the 20th century, the firm concentrated on motor cars.

A third director, John F Henderson, bought into the company and with his capital injection, Albion was able to move to new and much larger premises in South Street which, perhaps confusingly, is on the north bank of the River Clyde at Scotstoun.

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It was here that the Albion success story began to take off and the firm became associated with the two products with which the Albion name is most associated – trucks and buses. Along the way, the Albion motto developed: “Sure As The Sunrise.” That motto was incorporated into the famous logo emblazoned on the metal badge which showed the name Albion against a red sunburst.

Though they had built their first commercial vehicle in 1902 – an innovative half-van – it was in 1909 that Albion began the move into what would become their trademark products, trucks and buses. It was such a successful transition that they stopped car production and moved full-time into commercial vehicles. Though obviously they could not know what was coming, the timing was propitious as Albion became one of the chief producers of trucks for the British forces during the First World War as well as artillery carriers and torpedoes.

About 7000 of their three-ton A10 trucks poured out of Scotstoun, and many were later converted to mini-buses and charabancs after the war which unfortunately had the effect of reducing orders for new vehicles. It is estimated that there were just five vehicle manufacturers in Scotland after the war, down from a peak of 70. But that slump was only temporary as word had spread of the Albion trucks’ reliability and orders poured in from abroad.

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The 1920s saw Albion hugely develop its bus production, with Glasgow Corporation becoming a major customer, and in 1930, the company changed its name to Albion Motors. The famous “V” range of buses became a mainstay of Albion, with the Viking, Valiant, Valkyrie and Victor bus chassis in demand.

In 1935, Albion took over its one-time rival, Halley Industrial Motors, which had gone into liquidation. Both premises on the north side of the Clyde churned out vast numbers of trucks for the Allies in the Second World War, and Albion also began to make arms again, providing tens of thousands of revolvers for the British Army.

The industry consolidated after the war and it was no surprise that Leyland took over Albion in 1951. What was a surprise was the progressive abandonment of the Albion name which still had a resonance with the public.

Leyland eventually moved full production out of Scotstoun to Bathgate but the works remained as a producer of components such as axles. It still turns out components today for the American Axle and Manufacturing company.

I am indebted to the website of the Scottish Region of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport for John Fender’s report of a speech given by Brian Lambie some years ago. I think their assessment of Albion is spot on: “The contribution that Albion made to the early development of road haulage is now often overlooked. The company’s products were renowned for reliability and were exported to many countries, notably Australia and in Africa and today the company is still making automotive components.”

Albion will be remembered in Scotland as probably the biggest and best manufacturer in the history of Scotland’s automotive industry which, sadly, is virtually all we have left – the history.