Fishermans Bend Car Manufacture: AMI
Australian Motor Industries (AMI) was an automobile assembly firm based at Fishermand Bend, that played a significant in the early history of the automotive industry in Australia. A company called Eclipse Motors was established in the 1920s for the purpose of imported automobile distribution in Australia. In the 1930s, with the assistance of Standard-Triumph, Eclipse was able to procure cheap land at Port Melbourne from the Victorian Government for the purpose of motor vehicle manufacture and built a plant on the site at the southern end of Salmon Street, Fishermand Bend, down the road from GM-H. After the war, Standard-Triumph bought into the company, built a new factory and began building cars from imported parts in the new assembly plant in 1952. These included the Standard 8, Vanguard, Spacemaster and the Triumph Mayflower. When Alick Dick, Standard-Triumph's Managing Director, visited the Port Melbourne assembly plant in 1954, it was fully operational. He was very impressed, seeing tremendous opportunities for expansion potential in the plant itself, with the flow-on benefits to increase the company's dominance in this region. By 1956, the factory employed over 1600 workers.
It would appear that the assembly of the 'Australian' Triumph TR3 roadster, introduced in 1957, was at first outsourced by Standards to Floods Bodybuilding Company in Footscray. Floods did a lot of coach-building for Standards prior to this assignment and saw the assembly of the trickle of CKD TR3 roadsters as steady and ongoing work for the company. By the fact that Standards had an extremely efficient operation, local Management saw the Triumph TR3 roadster as spasmodic in comparison and it made good business sense to outsource rather than disrupt or slow down the steady flow of the more popular Standard and Vanguard vehicles rolling off the lines, one of which was a Vanguard utility designed in Australia. By this time, the Standard name had negative connotations, so the Australian operation changed its name to Australian Motor Industries Limited (AMI) in an attempt to distance itself from anything simply "Standard".
In 1958 the company negotiated an agreement with Daimler-Benz to assemble and distribute Mercedes Benz vehicles in Australia. In recognition of this new agreement the company was renamed Australian Motor Industries and a new subsidiary company was formed to handle the Mercedes Benz franchise. Through its long association with the Standard Motor Company, AMI also held the franchise for Triumph cars and assembled Ferguson tractors through another subsidiary company of the group, British Farm Equipment. An extensive dealer network throughout NSW and Victoria saw Standard cars and Ferguson tractors sold side by side in country areas. The most popular car sold was the Vanguard model.
In October 1960, AMI signed an agreement with American Motors Corporation (AMC) to assemble the Rambler range of cars from complete knock down (CKD) kits. Another deal with Fiat was planned to replace the Ferguson tractors distributed by BFE. The Standard Motor Company had sold their tractor facility in Coventry to Massey Ferguson and focused on automobile production.
AMI ran into financial trouble during the Australian credit squeeze of 1961 and the company was forced to sell off many assets and vehicle stock to remain solvent. Part of the restructure resulted in the sale of their share in the Mercedes Benz franchise to the German parent company. In 1963 the company secured the Australian franchise for Toyota cars and began assembly of the Tiara range. From this point the financial position of the company steadily improved and by 1967 AMI was assembling 32 different models for the Australian market, as well as importing fully assembled Toyota Corollas for their dealer network.
Other cars assembled by AMI included the Rambler range from American Motors and Triumph cars from Leyland Motors. Leyland had inherited shares in AMI when it had merged with Standard-Triumph International in 1961. During the early 1960s the foreign share of the automobile motor vehicle market was estimated to be 95%, and as the only sizeable producer with a local equity, AMI continued to manufacture overseas designs.
AMI assembled the Triumph Herald from 1959 to 1966 and produced some unique Australian models. The Triumph 2000/2500 range was assembled in Port Melbourne from 1964 to the mid-1970s. By 1965, the demise of the Standard Vanguard and the loss of assembly rights for Mercedes-Benz vehicles left AMI with additional capacity to assemble Rambler, Triumph, and Toyota models.
Australian assembled Rambler Hornet
Starting in 1960, AMI assembled a broad range of AMC cars, all with right-hand drive and carried the Rambler brand name. This meant that Australians could purchase a Rambler Javelin, AMX, Hornet, American, Rebel, or Matador long after the Rambler marque was dropped from use on the equivalent US-market 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. Other necessary parts specified by the assembler were boxed and shipped for assembly at the final destination in Australia. It is unknown exactly how many parts were included to be installed by the assembly operation, that varied with each operation. Outside colors were chosen by AMI and were the same as used on AMI assembled Triumph and Toyota cars of that period. The distinctive AMI exterior emblems were used on Ramblers, as well as Triumph and Toyota cars assembled by AMI from 1968 onward.
A total of 24 AMC AMXs, all 1969 models were made by AMI between August, 1969 and July, 1970. All featured the 343 cu in (5.6 L) V8s. Differences to the RHD two-seater AMXs compared to the U.S. models included swapping the power brake booster and heater motor on the firewall, the power steering pump remained in its usual left location, although the rest of the steering components had to be on the right side of the cars. All of the Australian AMX interiors were finished in black featuring a unique RHD dashboard with a wood-grained instrument cluster in front of the driver. While the AMX was marketed as a performance muscle car in the U.S. marketplace, the Australian AMXs came with a large high level of equipment that was optional in the U.S., and these AMXs were advertised as personal luxury cars.
One AMC Gremlin was also assembled AMI in Port Melbourne for evaluation purposes and branded as a "Rambler Gremlin". The car features the standard 232 cu in (3.8 L) I6 engine with three-speed manual transmission, as well as right-hand drive and the mandated percentage of locally produced content. The Australian assembled Rebel was assembled from 1967 until 1971, even though the last year of the American model was 1970. 345 Rebels were assembled in 1970 and a further 307 in 1971. Australian Rebels were equipped with the round dials of the 1967 AMC Ambassador for all models and was continued with the 1971-1974 Australian assembled AMC Matador.
From 1971, Australian assembled Matadors were equipped with standard column shift automatic transmissions, power steering, power windows, air conditioning, and an AM radio. The engine in the later years was AMC's 360 cu in (5.9 L) V8. Options included exterior sunvisor, vinyl roof cover, tow hitch, and mud flaps. Registrations for AMC vehicles dropped after 1974. A total of 118 Hornets and 145 Matadors (118 sedans, 27 wagons) were sold during 1974. Registrations for 1975 were 136 Hornets and 118 Matadors (85 sedans 33 wagons). In 1976 there were 88 Matadors (78 sedans, 10 wagons), while 1977 saw just 24 Matador sedans and 3 wagons. Additionally, Matador coupe CKD kits arrived in late-1974, and the assembly of 80 cars began in 1976. One fully assembled AMC Pacer was imported for evaluation purposes.
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 the Matador as official vehicles in the 1970s.
The Toyota Tiara was the first Toyota model assembled by AMI. It was the first Toyota car ever built outside Japan with assembly by AMI commencing in April 1963. The AMI production of Toyotas expanded in the 1960s to also include the Crown, Corona, and Corolla assembled at AMI's Port Melbourne factory. Toyota Motor Corporation of Japan purchased 10% of outstanding AMI shares. As a fast-growing company, took a controlling interest in AMI in 1968 as a contract with the British Leyland ended. Toyota also purchased a 40% share in Thiess Holdings, an importer of light commercial vehicles, which it renamed Thiess Toyota.
Recognising 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. 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.