Eighty-year-old Hans Hossle of Brugg worked at Automontage Schinznach from 1963 until its closure in 1972. He enjoys looking back on this special period of Swiss automobile history, a time when AMAG assembled vehicles for Chrysler and Dodge and provided them with a Swiss finish.
Mr Hossle, you spent nine years working for Automontage Schinznach. How did you find your way to AMAG?
Hans Hossle: I was born and raised in Baar, so right near AMAG’s present-day headquarters. Later, my parents moved our family to the canton of Aargau, where my father found work at a spinning mill in Windisch. When I was a young man, I found work there as well. Back then, AMAG in Schinznach was known for paying well, so when I was 23, one Thursday, I paid a visit to Mr Huter, who was Head of Automontage at the time. And I already was able to start work on the following Monday. That was in 1963.
You mentioned the good pay. How much did AMAG pay back then?
At first, I was paid by the hour. My hourly wage was 4.80 Swiss francs. Five or six years passed before I was offered a permanent employment contract. And then, my monthly salary was 970 francs. As a frame of reference, lunch in the canteen cost 1.50 francs at the time. If you wanted to earn some extra money, you could report for the occasional Saturday shift to work on preparing things for production. And if you also helped out with the work unloading the railway cars in Birrfeld, you earned 70 francs for two hours of work.
How did you get from your home in Brugg to work in Schinznach?
At the time, I had a VW Beetle and usually drove it to work as well. But AMAG also offered a shuttle bus service back then. The employees who lived the farthest away picked up colleagues in the morning from home on the way to Schinznach with a VW bus and dropped them off again at home in the evening. One bus even drove back and forth between Germany and Automontage.
What exactly did your job at Automontage entail?
Well, during my time in Schinznach, we of course mainly assembled three models: the Chrysler Valiant and the Dodge Dart and Barracuda. The individual parts were shipped in wooden crates by boat from Detroit to Rotterdam and then transported on to Schinznach by rail. The customs clearance was handled directly on-site at AMAG, where a duty-free warehouse was located specifically for this purpose. Together with two of my colleagues, my job was to receive the crates, open them and check whether the contents matched the papers provided.
What did that look like?
For instance, 24 engines would be packed in one wooden crate with the carburettors and screws placed in the spaces in between. All of the parts for 24 cars fitted in 12 crates. Of course, the contents did not always correctly match what was stated on the papers. Sometimes, only left wings were delivered, so you had to reorder the right ones. Then it took four to six weeks until they arrived. So we always kept a small store of parts to ensure assembly could continue. Someone would pick up the wood from the crates once a week.
Was there anything else notable about these deliveries?
All body components were greased to protect them from salt water during the trip across the Atlantic. This meant that we had to wash them at our assembly station first before passing them on to the body shop. Sometimes body components also had dents that needed to be fixed up. At the painting station, they were then spray-painted or dipped in whichever colour the customer had requested.
Did each individual part really come all the way from Detroit to Schinznach?
Not exactly. The Americans did, in fact, deliver each screw and nut, but we sourced the car windows from a manufacturer in Switzerland. Glass would have been too fragile for the long trip.
How many vehicles were assembled at Automontage each day?
We worked on two assembly lines. The internal production target was eight cars per day – Monday through Friday. But we usually managed to complete nine. Then we would be paid for an extra hour of work. A total of 140 people worked at Automontage, including 10 to 15 apprentices. All of the work was done by hand; nothing was automated. Sometimes, people from Chrysler in the US came for visits to see how we worked. One time, one of them said, “What you do in a year we do in a single morning.”
Did all employees always do the same thing, or did they switch between different tasks?
It was fully specialised; everyone always did the same task, 50 weeks a year. During the summer, we had two weeks off when the plant was closed. That’s it. One person, for example, was in charge of test drives. He took each vehicle leaving the Automontage production line and drove it around the AMAG site and along public roads, such as to the top of the Bözberg.
Then Automontage closed in 1972. What was that like for you and your colleagues?
It was, of course, a radical decision. But assembling vehicles from the US no longer made sense for AMAG. I can still remember it exactly: in March 1972, all Automontage staff were invited to an information event at the schoolhouse in Schinznach. There, the announcement was made that the closure would be happening at the end of September. Anyone who had found a new position was free to leave immediately. The others, like myself, who stayed until the end and helped complete all the remaining jobs received an extra payout of 4000 francs. On the last day, there was a big closing ceremony.
What came next for you professionally?
Luckily and by chance, after my time at Automontage, I joined the Swiss Army. At the barracks in Brugg, I was able to start out as a supervisor, and then later director, of the shooting range. Up until I retired.
How do you feel when you look back on the period of your life at Automontage?
It was a lovely time, and I look back on it very fondly.