This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the first appearance of a brand that launched an entire automotive sector and today is familiar to every motorist up and down the land.
On 16 April 1971 in McDonald Road, Edinburgh, the first ever Kwik Fit centre opened its garage doors to motorists offering the new concept of ‘fast fit’ services, replacing components while drivers waited. In its early days the centre focused on exhaust replacement, followed by tyres, but as automotive technology developed over the subsequent years, Kwik Fit has succeeded by ensuring its range of services developed in parallel.
From a single location and a team of five, Kwik Fit now employs over 5,000 people in more than 600 centres across the UK, as well as operating the largest mobile tyre fitting fleet, with over 200 vehicles. In addition to the UK operations, today there are also more than 240 Kwik Fit centres in the Netherlands, Italy and Hungary.
Over 50 years the company’s apprentice scheme has grown to become a sector leading training programme which is rated outstanding by Ofsted and now trains 150 new apprentices every year – more than 4,000 people have started their automotive careers as Kwik Fit apprentices. The training they experience has evolved significantly since 1971 – matching the advances in vehicle maintenance equipment and automotive technology.
For example 50 years ago, while most electric vehicles were uninspiring (but essential) milk floats, some belonged to the space age – the battery powered Lunar Roving Vehicle or ‘moon buggy’ was first used on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission of 1971. Today, the shift to electric is embedded in the UK car market, and Kwik Fit already has more than 300 technicians servicing electric vehicles.
A driver visiting the centre in 1971 would have had the option of perhaps 14 different tyres. Today Kwik Fit stocks more than 650,000 tyres in its centres, covering an incredible 1,941 different specifications. Correct wheel alignment provides better handling and reduces tyre wear but in 1971 wheel alignment was a lengthy process carried out by relatively few garages. Today, Kwik Fit centres use laser wheel alignment technology to provide a diagnostic reading within minutes, producing analysis which customers can view in real time on screens in reception.
And whereas the foundations of the business were built on the regular demand for new exhausts due to their short lifespan, today many exhausts will last the lifetime of the vehicle and drivers can go through their entire motoring life without ever replacing one.
The anniversary is being marked with a plaque at the McDonald Road centre to highlight the milestone date. Mark Slade, managing director of Kwik Fit says: “Kwik Fit founder Sir Tom Farmer spotted the opportunity in meeting motorists’ needs for the most frequently replaced components – exhausts and tyres – and combining it with the growing desire for faster customer service. Car technology has changed dramatically since then, but one thing which still runs through our core is the customer service ethos which the Kwik Fit team has focussed on every day since April 1971. We’re incredibly proud to have been keeping the UK safe on the roads for 50 years and look forward to the developments of the next half century.”
Sir Tom Farmer, who sold the company in 1999, said: “Although I moved on from the business many years ago, it still gives me great pride to see Kwik Fit at the forefront of the UK automotive industry. From the day we opened our first centre we set out the way we wanted to conduct ourselves and the relationship we wanted to have with our customers. We eventually put that in writing as the Kwik Fit Way and I think that is important in the brand’s longevity – having a consistent set of values at the heart of an organisation is vital if it’s going to last and stay relevant.”
Kwik Fit’s plans for the near future include increasing the number of technicians trained in servicing electric vehicles, further development of its mobile fitting service – which is already the largest fleet in the UK, rolling out calibration services for advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and increasing its network of MOT centres that are directly connected to the DVSA system.
Then and Now – How times have changed since Kwik Fit launched
|16 April 1971||Today|
|UK’s best selling car||Austin 1100/1300||Vauxhall Corsa|
|Typical cost of new car||Austin 1100 – £833 base price
(£12,041 in today’s money)
|Vauxhall Corsa – from £16,315|
|Size of GB car parc||10,443,000 cars||30,491,221 cars|
|Private cars registered for the first time||1,462,100||2,023,149|
|Driving licence holders||Under 19 million||Over 33 million|
|Car ownership||48% of households had no car or van||24% of households have no car or van|
|Price of petrol||7.42p per litre (4 star)||123.90p per litre premium unleaded|
|Cost of an electric vehicle||$38 million
(Cost of lunar roving vehicle programme for 4 vehicles)
|£40,490 – Tesla Model 3
(6,585 sold in March 2021)
|UK centres||1||Over 600|
|Mobile tyre fitting vehicles||0||Over 200|
|MOT tests carried out||0||Approx 1 million pa|
|Number of different types of tyre stocked||14 approx||1,941|
|Average gross weekly earnings – men full time||£32.90||£756.00|
|Average gross weekly earnings – women full time||£18.30||£635.60|
|National GDP||£768,159 million||£1,956,992 million|
|Average house price||£4,387
(£63,414 in today’s money)
|Prime Minister||Ted Heath||Boris Johnson|
|Leader of the Opposition||Harold Wilson||Sir Keir Starmer|
|Sport and culture|
|Number one single||T Rex – Hot Love
(George Harrison – My Sweet Lord was the best selling single of the year)
|Lil Nas X – Montero (Call me by your name)|
|English football top division leaders||Leeds United
(Arsenal were eventual champions that season)
|Scottish football top division leaders||Aberdeen
(Celtic had games in hand and were eventual champions that season)
|Reigning rugby Five/Six Nations champions||Wales||Wales|
|Reigning cricket county champions||Kent||Essex (from 2019 season)|
|Reigning BTCC champion||Bill McGovern – Sunbeam Imp||Ash Sutton – Infiniti Q50|
Kwik Fit research plus data sources listed below