The Austin Pathfinder was an idea pioneered by Lord Austin in 1948. At the time, the town of Bargoed, like much of the South Wales valleys, was struggling – having been completely dependent on mining, the decline in the industry was leading to high unemployment and poor communities. Lord Austin conceived the notion of opening a factory which would employ only ex-mine workers who had been forced to leave the industry through the lung condition Pneumoconiosis, thereby assisting the fortunes of the area.
The factory was called the Austin Junior Car Factory, and opened in 1949, initialling employing fifty-five men. It started by making one model, a replica racing car, modelled on the Austin 7, and factory workers managed all stages of the car’s production process, from presswork and trimming to welding and painting, and about 200 cars rolled off the production line each week.
The factory was equipped to produce a roadster as well, and when in full operation was planned to employ upwards of 200 men. In 1962, the factory suffered a serious setback when an explosion within the paint plant destroyed the painting sections, and blew the roof off the rest of the factory. Such was the determination of the workers to keep the factory going however, that they insisted on showing up in overcoats and scarves to continue work in a factory with no heating and no roof until the repairs were complete some three months later.
The Austin Pathfinder was only manufactured during 1949-1950, making it an exceptionally rare treasure now. The car being offered at Anthemion is in beautiful condition and is particularly special for the part it played in the factory’s opening. The car was consigned by the family of Paul Matthews of Ystrad Mynach, who is photographed as a five year old boy “driving” his Austin Pathfinder up to the main entrance of the factory and handing the scissors to the Chairman of Gelligaer Urban Council for the factory’s opening. Also in the picture are the works director of Austin Motor company limited and the Lord Mayor of Cardiff.
The car comes complete with letters between the family of Mr Matthews and Austin Motor Co, Ltd, thanking them for the wonderful gift to their son and for “the honour of my son taking part in this ceremony…an event which will live long in our memories and always be appreciated.”
There is also a brochure picturing the workers of the time, commemorating the opening of the Austin Junior Car Factory, and a commemorative pamphlet with photographs and history celebrating 25 years of the Bargoed factory.
The Pathfinder was estimated to realise between £2,000 and £3,000 but achieved a hammer price of £4,800.00 at auction.