By 15 November 2008 0 Comments Read More →

Blogs : November 2008

15 November

Chrysler-Rover…

KEITH ANDREWS

Chrysler-Rover

…I JUST thought about the recent (around one year old) Cerberus takeover of Chrysler and, suddenly, it dawned on me…

It’s an almost EXACT re-run of what happened to Rover. Right down to the part played by ‘Ze Germans‘…

In the mid-1990s, the struggling remains of Rover were sold to BMW, who (fronted by ‘Burnt Pixierider’) promised great things from a supposed synergy, (which was – frankly – a difficult sell to the Germans). In the late 1990s, Daimler-Benz (fronted by ‘Jerking Shrimpp’) made the exact same sort of (likewise spectacularly wide-of-the-mark) promises of wonderful things to come from their acquisition of Chrysler.

A few years after their purchase, when it became patently obvious that German engineering and British production lines were never destined to be a great combo, Ze Germans at BMW were keen to sell… and, because no other established manufacturer would touch what they were selling, they ended up selling to a group of businessmen optimistically called the ‘Phoenix Consortium’.

‘Cerberus’ was the guardian to the gates of a fiery place and the ‘Phoenix’, as I recall, had to burn in flames as part of the lifecycle

Likewise, a few years after their purchase, when it became patently obvious that German engineering and USA production lines were never destined to be a great combo, Ze Germans at Daimler were keen to sell… and, because no other established manufacturer would touch what they were selling, they ended up selling to a group of businessmen called ‘Cerberus’. (Okay, someone’s going to have to let me in on the joke, since ‘Cerberus’ was the guardian to the gates of a fiery place and the ‘Phoenix’, as I recall, had to burn in flames as part of the life-cycle. Why do they always have to be named after mythical creatures so closely associated with a fiery demise?)

Three years ago, with market share plummeting, company assets having made their way down the toilet, past the U-bend, through the sewage-treatment plant and halfway out to sea, Rover (under Phoenix) finally collapsed under the weight of its own failed structure, having begged the government (who had already put up with more than enough of its crap while struggling to make it viable about 20 years earlier) for a bail-out.

…Okay, the scene is set, and Cerberus has hired Bob Nardelli (who was forced out of Home Depot after decimating their share price shortly before being hired to work as CEO of Chrysler but who still insisted on taking $200m+ out of the shareholders’ pockets as a leaving gift) to play the lead role… Let’s see how this all plays out shall we?

I know that I’ve likened Detroit to the British car industry a lot lately but it only just occurred to me that Chrysler actually enjoyed that scene so much that they bought the screenplay and are re-living it here on an even grander scale.

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Alistair
Wellington New Zealand
11/18/2008
Have a look at the excellent US Truth About Cars website. A significant body of US opinion wouldn’t care if all three US makers disappeared into bankruptcy – good riddance. Lots of parallels with BL being drawn.
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Ali G
staines
11/16/2008

It wouldn’t affect the UK market, I would rather see Chrysler bite the dust than GM or Ford.

Aye.

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Jason18tc
11/17/2008
I bet Obama will bail them out, unlike out government who would rather bail out posh city bankers
Dave
11/17/2008
The big question is whether a bailout would be helpful. Chrysler is privately held, so I’m not sure what the procedures for its bankruptcy would be. However, GM or Ford could declare bankruptcy and never totally cease operations. If they could do that and use it as a way to escape the United Auto Workers union, they could probably emerge from the bankruptcy as a healthier and more competitive company. The legacy costs of each vehicle (due to ancient UAW contracts) are a big part of why GM and Ford have a hard time meeting competition properly in the market.
Jack
11/17/2008
MG Rover was a lost cause dying a slow long painful death. The customer base was drying up as the OAP’s turned their attention to Kia and Hyundai.
Dave
Cookeville, TN, USA
11/16/2008
I’ve been saying exactly the same thing since about 2 days before Cerberus took over Chrysler. Will Chrysler last as long as Rover did is my question (2012). If you want to know more about this, read the 2000 book “Taken For a Ride” by Bradley Stertz. Even then, he had a good grasp of what was going on with that takeover (which had been billed as a merger). Great blog as always.
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CTG300
Wirral, England
11/15/2008
A neat point about ‘Cerberus’ and ‘Phoenix’. The fiery connection seems even more appropriate given the increasingly frequent use of the term ‘cash burn’ in the context of the Detroit 3!
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Vie
Truro
11/15/2008

Hate to say it, but I’ve been saying the same thing since Daimler bought Chrysler. To the extend that I created a detailed outline a couple of years back tracing how Chrysler would run under the new – non Deutch – management:

The 300C becomes the 35, and gets new headlights.
The Crossfire gets a new front bumper and becomes the CrossfireT
The PT Cruiser becomes the 25, with a new 25Z version coming out later with different badges and bodykit pre-installed.
The Seabring becomes the 85.

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14 November

That’s it, then

STEVEN WARD

I ATTENDED British Car Auctions in Brighouse today – the auction where I learned to bid and buy with the Big Boys some 11 years ago.

Special Sale of the day was courtesy of Lex Leasing and their 200+ fleet cars Flog It, Hall 1, 10.30am. Lex, one of the major fleet players in Europe, always offer decent cars: well specified, fully serviced, realistically priced and thoroughly prepared to sell first time around. In the good old days, they used to help CAR compile their special ARG audits and reviews on reliability. Indeed, they still run all MoD cars and commercials.

Anyway, I’d calculated today was realistically the last significant de-fleeting of our beloved MGRs. There were only a dozen or so Rovers in the sale, having been returned to the pool and prepared for disposal. All were good colours, upper-end spec and boasted fully documented, uninterrupted service histories. A dozen Fleet Rovers is a real event nowadays (just look at a motorway service station car park for confirmation).

Sadly, this is where my auction review ends. I couldn’t bring myself to watch them get slaughtered in the ‘ring.

Had I a bought a Rover and, believe me, I desperately wanted to, my business overdraft wouldn’t be so healthy – of that I’m certain

Their ‘plates bore the names of long-since closed Northern Dealers, which was upsetting in itself. I got the impression Lex were happy just to unload the cars at any cost, no realistic offer refused; a 54 ‘plate 25 103 SEI five-door in Nightfire, 112K, 12 service stamps – immaculate – was, at best, expected to fetch £800. Rover 75s, new and old style, petrol and diesel abounded.

For the first time ever, I didn’t buy an MG-R car at this sale. I looked at every potential option of buying British for retail, but I simply could not justify it on any sensible commercial grounds. That’s why, today, my car buying ‘Korea’ had a change of direction and I sung from Rev. Child’s hymn sheet. I bought a Hyundai Coupé, faultless mechanically and bodily, and thoroughly competent in every aspect.

By the close of business today, I’d taken a decent margin out of it. From previous experience, I know that gross margin won’t be eroded by warranty claims or my time consumed by a disappointed customer. Had I bought a Rover and, believe me, I desperately wanted to, my business overdraft wouldn’t be so healthy – of that I’m certain.

Sad but, unfortunately, true and I’m not proud in writing this blog. I’m just sad and needed to tell someone whom I felt would understand.

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Rob B
11/17/2008
Didn’t even fancy buying a couple as private punts?
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Andrew Elphick
11/16/2008
A sad day, reminiscant of the overnight depature of Coventry’s Talbot’s over night 20 years earlier. Will the auction halls of the land of the free see a similar sight in 2013 one wonders?
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13 November

The Chilean MGs

KEITH ADAMS

I LOVE the Internet. There, I’ve said it. Without it, I’d probably still be a Civil Servant, shuffling paper in a windowless office in Lytham St Annes, but it’s true.

The term ‘global village’ may have been a term coined by Wyndham Lewis in his book America and Cosmic Man (thanks Wikipedia), but its application to the worldwide web seems somehow fitting. This has never been truer when it comes to the flow of information about cars sold in other parts of the world.

A few years back, if I wanted to find out about cars sold in China or South America, for instance, I’d have to go down to the library and hope that it had a copy of World Cars on the shelves. If not, it would be something of a struggle. Nowadays, a quick trip to Google or any one of several forums is all that it takes. Having posted the story about Roewes with MG badges on being sold in Chile recently, it was good to see that the importers of these cars have a slick looking website – and on it you can now examine the product.

Firstly, these are SAIC-Roewes and not NAC-MGs, which clearly demonstrates that SAIC Motor knows that the MG marque (I dislike the word ‘brand’ – that’s what you do to cows) is the only way forward outside of China. Secondly, that also shows that the company has more faith in its own cars than it does in those built down the road on ex-Longbridge equipment in Nanjing.

Judging by the comments at the end of the news story, you’re unconvinced about these cars… Just be assured that the MGs we’re going to get in Europe will be unlike these badge-engineered specials and more homogenously designed. Still, for now, it’s nice to see MG saloons back on sale in the European-speaking world – shame, though, that we will have to wait a while yet before we can buy them here in the UK.

Website: www.mgmotors.cl

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modern gentleman
coventry – deepest peru
11/16/2008
Excellnet research Keith. Unfortunately the cars do not bear close analysis, if they were any good they would have photographed the cars in the flesh instead of using computer enhanced pictures. The interior of the 550 looks better than that on the launch car, but that display is so naff. Obviously car buyers in Chile are a lot less demanding than here in the UK.
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Hilton Davis
So Shields
11/15/2008
The cars look nice, but the photos are obviously Roewe images with badges replaced. The MG750 is a copy of a traditional Rover 75 with MG badges – rather than a more sporting UK built MG ZT
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Bill Winters
11/14/2008
The 550 looks good, shame the Chinese forced MGR to go under, imagine what MGR would be making today if the deal had gone through. We night have the lovely 75 coupe, TF coupe, the 550 would have been here years ago. The Chinese just did not know what they were doing.
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Mark
11/15/2008
The Chinese knew just what they were doing. As a going concern with 5,500 workers to get rid of to survive they’d have faced a terrible backlash. Better to let it go under, pick everything up for a song and be seen as some kind of Godsend when you restart small scale production.
Will
Belfast
11/13/2008
It’s also occasionally interesting to view other countries manufacturers sites to see vehicles we know sold as different brands / variants eg. Vauxhalls sold as Chevys in Brazil, C4 saloon in China, 206/C2 in China, Clio saloons in Poland, Fiesta saloons in India (Ikon), South America has a different new Ka, North America has a different new Focus. Iran is selling a facelifted 405, and a mk1 R5 with kia running gear.
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Andrew
11/14/2008

Maybe someone should fly over there and drive 1?

Any offers???

Auric
11/14/2008
Yes the site is fairly smart looking apart from some slightly naff typeface choices in parts. The bit that bugs me though is the badly photoshopped MG badges in place of the Roewe ones. Would it not make more sense to feature the actual cars they plan on selling?
stuart
04/10/2011
what a load of bollocks

12 November

Finally… I’ve finished reading it

KEITH ADAMS

James RuppertI’VE never been shy to admit that out of the current crop of motoring writers, James Ruppert, was a big influence on my decision to take the plunge and try earning a living from the noble profession. His irreverent style made reading about used cars interesting… and his Kerbcrawler column in CAR Magazine during the late 1980s became essential reading for a budding used car buyer like me. Indeed, James’ comments at the beginning of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly would be the first thing I’d turn to each month – even before the Rover/BAe ramblings and scoops upfront in the industry section.

James’ insights into the dark and dank world of the used car trade were, of course, borne through experience – when he knocked on CAR’s door, and managed to impress Richard Bremner and Steve Cropley, he was earning an honest wage selling secondhand motors but, as we all know, one of the quickest ways of learning about human nature in a combat situation is through a trade-in negotiation.

I won’t spoil it for you – and let’s face it, we all know the plotline and the ending (carmakers consolidate, in-fight, lose sight of the opposition, get taken over by the Germans, go bust, and the cycle repeats itself in China)

I’ve corresponded with James on and off for some time now and it was flattering to discover that he’s a bit of a fan of AROnline – or, more precisely, the cars that we write about – and, unlike many in this business, is quite happy to admit having a love/hate relationship with British cars instead of just hate/hate as many like to pretend…

I was, then, pretty thrilled when James got in touch with me a while back to let me know he was writing a book on the subject. After months of waiting, it turned up and I was so excited that I blogged (well, posted James’ words) about the book before I managed to finish it – possibly a bad thing to do. However, as it happens, now I have finished the book, I was right to rave about it.

Basically, from start to finish it’s a thumping good read and, although some people might question the production values and reproduction of the pictures, they’d do well to get past that quickly and just enjoy the thing… I won’t spoil it for you – and, let’s face it, we all know the plotline and the ending (carmakers consolidate, in-fight, lose sight of the opposition, get taken over by the Germans, go bust, and the cycle repeats itself in China), but James’ take on it is both personal, honest and deadly accurate. The notion of using his family as a microcosm for the country at large is very, very clever.

There’s also a great deal of humour in there, too…

So, if you fancy an alternative take on the subject you all love and have £15 to spare in the run up to Christmas, do yourself a favour: buy a copy and stick it on your bedside table. You’ll love it.

Link: www.jamesruppert.co.uk

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11 November

Blackpool’s missing Range Rover? or TreVoR’s 4×4?

ANDREW ELPHICK

TVR 4x4A 2-inch sketch in the middle of a 25-year old copy of CAR Magazine raises an unusual question? Was TVR attempting to build a 4×4?

The prospect of building a 120mph ambulance on a separate chassis clad with polyurethane/glassfibre sandwich panels (like the innovative Reliant SS1) was certainly outside the Blackpool-based specialist sportscar manufacturer’s usual remit.

The article appeared in the September 1983 issue (to coincide with the arrival of the V8-powered 350i née Tasmin) and claimed that Carbodies was looking for partners for the (alas ill-fated) CR6 Taxi project.

Maybe TVR got wind of the Metrocab from rivals Reliant? Supposedly, in conjunction with Solihull, the project reached the stage of a scale wooden model styled by Steve Everitt, but went no further. With the potential for interchangeable body styles, was the Middle-Eastern market being targeted?

Tellingly, the reason TVR switched to Rover V8 propulsion from Ford’s Cologne V6 was political – Fords were sold in Israel; Rovers were not.

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anonymous
Planet Earth
11/11/2008

The irony being that the Rover V8 was designed by GM who sold Chevys in Israel.

Says more for the ridiculousness of religious politics than anything else.

As for the van, it looks like a cross between a Toyota Hiace and a Matra Rancho (the rear of which was made from fibreglass and polyester).

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Richard Kilpatrick
11/12/2008

I don’t believe Israel has much against “American” products as such, but Ford was a Nazi sympathiser and anti-semite. As such, however silly the realities of the situation, there is at least a “logical” reason why Israel would reject cars from Ford, but not from America.

For much the same sort of reason, Finland has a lot of Vauxhalls long after Opel was chosen as the continental European brand.

Rich Tysoe
11/13/2008
I think you’ve got things slightly back to front, it will have been about products sold in israel (or bearing brands percieved as pro-israeli) being unwelcome in arab countries...
Richard Kilpatrick
11/14/2008
Ah, yeah, that makes sense. I never grok prejudices like that. I’m sure that Israelis buy Rolls Royces too, doesn’t seem to stop the princes…

9 November

Ah, the joys of Bangernomics

KEITH ADAMS

 

SINCE the the 1st November, my recently purchased £500 1994 Saab Aero has proudly been wearing a tax disc on its windscreen. No big deal, I hear you say, but making a £180 outlay on a car that cost such a (relatively) small amount of money seems like a significant event to me. It also marks the point where my principal daily driver (of the moment) is what many people would call a banger even though a 2008 Subaru Outback also currently resides on the fleet as a long-term test car for What Diesel magazine.

I’d originally bought the Saab with the intention of using it as a repository for spare parts for my own shiny example, while donating its 16-inch deep-dish alloys to my Saab 900T16S Aero. However, after meeting the seller, seen how much love and attention he’d given the car and my own inspection of the car the following day (yes, I bought in the dark, without looking at it… I know, I know), I realised that, despite having 210,000 miles on the clock, the old warhorse actually has a considerable amount of life left in it given that so much of the original car has been replaced.

I’d originally bought the Saab with the intention of using it as a repository for spare parts for my own shiny example, while donating its 16-inch deep-dish alloys to my Saab 900T16S Aero…

I’d originally bought the Saab with the intention of using it as a repository for spare parts for my own shiny example, while donating its 16-inch deep-dish alloys to my Saab 900T16S Aero…

Instead, then, of laying the car up and stripping it for parts, I brought it home, and have taken it on as my daily driver. The timing couldn’t have been better either – as petrol prices continue to fall, the economics of running my big, sporting saloon – which will do 30mpg all day long – suddenly don’t seem that bad at all. Yesterday, I filled it up at 92.9p/litre, which, when compared with the Subaru’s 106.9p/litre, seems almost a bargain. Okay, the new car does 45mpg and the Saab’s been doing 32mpg, so the economics of fuelling still weigh in favour of the new car – but the Saab has 225bhp (possibly a little more, since I fitted the Abbott Racing manual boost controller I had lying around in the garage) and that means it’s a little more entertaining. Also, I’m not so worried if someone dinks it in a supermarket carpark…

And let’s not get involved with the depreciation and running costs. I’ll happily service the Swede myself, but would I feel as happy doing that with a brand new Scooby? Exactly.

In truth, I can understand why people run new cars – and enjoy my time in them but, for some reason at this point in my life, I seem happiest running around in something old and worth very little. Does that say something about me? Probably…. Watch this space, though – I might feel differently when things start going wrong with the Aero.

Now let’s hear similar stories from all you Rover 600/800 owners…

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Will
Belfast
11/10/2008

I have always driven sub-£1000 cars. Had a few gems and a nasty Orion, but all have had character. Recently found a £250 Cinquecento for a friend that is an absolute hoot to drive, like a go-kart, fun at sub-national limit speeds! (No rust, as Fiat started galvanising, and a simple to maintain pushrod engine)

Extras can be added, satnav, bluetooth, a tape adaptor to headphone jack and you even have iPod connectivity 🙂

See no point in buying brand new, losing £1000s by driving it home, having to spend a fortune on dealer servicing, cringing every time someone goes near it. Sometimes go on the classifieds and see that interesting items are in the sub-£500 bracket, and am frequently surprised.

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James Anness
Southend-on-Sea
11/10/2008
My 1990 Volvo 740 SE estate (bought in 2003 for £800 from Peter Simpson of Car Mechanics fame and perhaps worth £200 now) does everything that I want a car to do for me, so I see no reason to replace it with a newer model until it falls apart, which I don’t expect to happen for quite some time. In the meantime, the money I’m saving by not buying said newer model (most likely on HP) can be spent on the finer things in life 🙂
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Andrew Elphick
11/09/2008
Keith karma is just a hard shoulder away! I must admit I appreciate having a heap, but at the same time its to have some shiney metal outside if anybody knows this medical term let me know, maybe its CHPD?
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7 November

Why do I want one of these?

KEITH ADAMS

LAUNCHED in 1976, with the first car finding its way into its new owner’s garage a couple of years later, the Aston Martin Lagonda is one of those truly unforgettable cars. I still remember the first time I saw one – I was on a school trip to London in early 1980 and we’d stopped en route at Watford Gap services. It was a grey day and, as we trudged from our coach towards the cafe, I spotted the Lagonda in the car park. It was silver – and, even from 100 paces, it looked massive. It looked awesome. It looked like a craft from outer space.

These mental images came back to me yesterday as I paced around Aston Martin Works Service in Newport Pagnell while my colleague, Mark Dixon, took pictures. I’d been looking at an early Lagonda – Saudi registered – that looked in remarkably fine fettle. The interior worked as it should – and, as you can see from the dashboard, it’s stacked with digital instruments, touch-sensitive switches and out of this world design features. In short, all the things that would engage the brain of a ten-year old kid obsessed with cars. Today, nearing 40, that passion continues unabated – and it’s cars like the Lagonda that continue to do it it for me.

Four-door supercars are coming back into vogue, thanks to the arrival of the Porsche Panamerica and Aston Marton Rapide next year (and the possibility of the Lamborghini Estoque after that), so will the Lagonda be viewed as a brave experiment – something years ahead of its time – or a foolish folly?

Who cares? I just want one. It seems like the ideal upgrade for a Princess or SD1 owner with ideas above his station!

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Richard Kilpatrick
Sutton Coldfield
11/10/2008

Absolutely love them. From a reliability point of view I’d want as recent as possible a model, but I’ve seen a nice black-but-messed-with (analogue dials) early one sell for under £10K – I want one with CRTs ideally.

If we had a garage, running a classic was a serious option to running the Citroën – I considered Delorean, Lagonda and of course either DS or CX (and for a second or two, SM, before common sense kicked in).

The membrane switches I’ve seen replaced with flush stainless buttons, and that looked like a tidy practical update.

I’m also a fan of the pop-up lights, but only because they enhance the sheer “WTF!” of the overall design.

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Capt. Slow
11/07/2008

It’s like Marmite I suppose, you love it or hate it – I’m very much in the former camp. I really don’t like the steering wheel, but that’s solved by fitting one from a late car. Didier, Tickford made a couple of LWB Lagondas, but most were the standard size.

I never knew they used S1/S2 Jaguar XJ steel wheels under those trims – or is that not standard and fitted for want of the correct item?.

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Adrian
11/07/2008
That dashboard looks completely bonkers!
DIDIER ZIANE
glasgow uk
11/07/2008
a superb piece of motoring, so ahead of its time!! AML had big balls in launching a car that nearly drowned the company. still now they cost mondeo money in top condition!! i prefer them in bright red or black, was there a lwb version as well? they appear now and then on ebay or carsandclassic…
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Mark Pitchford
11/07/2008
There was something about wedges of all shapes and sizes. I loved these, Princesses, TR7s and TVR 350i (one of which sits in my garage)…
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KC
Nottingham
11/07/2008

I have a different opinion about one point in the article…..”and even from 100 paces, it looked massive. It looked awesome.”

I’m old enough to have seen a few of these on the roads when they first appeared and the one thing that always surprised me when I saw them in the flesh is that they are much SMALLER than I expected. You aren’t prepared for how low they sit – roof line is almost waist height and that low profile makes them appear longer than they actually are, and the overall impression is the opposite of a massive Bentley-type machine

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alicecat
11/07/2008

I never liked them. When launched they seemed to be a flashy gimmick on a par with most “supercar” launches. It was an unsuccessful waste of money which still looks tacky today.

The body shape was designed by Bill Towns; an excellent designer but also happy to push the boundaries of truth (did that big Hustler really have a V12 engine? nobody was allowed to look under the bonnet and it all looked a bit like Granada 4 cyliner to me!) He came up with the basics of this “supercar” in 1973ish with the Minisima – a brilliant piece of foresight which predated the Smart by 30 years and still had 4 seats. He recycled the basic shape again for the Hustler kit car – again a brilliant concept. The supercar version of his one vehicle was a bit of a disappointment.

Marty B
11/07/2008

Do I see Vauxhall wiper/indicator stalks there??

Makes a change from Ford cast offs..

Doive
11/09/2008

Yep, Chevette column stalks – by far the least advanced part of the S1 Lagonda interior, but probably the most reliable. When people ask, I point out that my cars are fitted with AM Lagonda column stalks 🙂

The Lagonda was an utterly mad mad car, even now it looks bonkers. The later S3 and S4 cars looked better with the triple headlights, and were much better built. I would gladly have one.


3 November

British Leyland in The Times

IAN NICHOLLS

For the last three months, I have been reading all the BL stories in the Times Online archive service. All of the horrors are there and it was good to read the stories as they originally appeared and not rely on our selective memories and that of authors who have written about the subject. Reading about British Leyland from 1968-1985 in great detail, one can see how times have changed and what could have been done differently and how it dovetailed with the politics of the era and I argue helped contribute to major political change in Britain.

On paper, and in theory the BMH-Leyland merger seemed a good idea, to create a British automotive manufacturer with the capacity to produce 1.25 million units per year at a time of seemingly inexhaustible world demand for motor vehicles. With the natural arrogance that all politicians possess and a 100-seat majority, Harold Wilson, the Labour Prime Minister was able to sell his idea to Donald Stokes and George Harriman and gained the support of senior trade union leaders for the formation of the British Leyland Motor Corporation in May 1968.

The master plan was that BLMC would expand to meet world demand and increase its economies of scale to match foreign rivals. Rationalization would be through expansive evolution. Existing overlapping BMH/Leyland models would continue while demand existed for them and then they would be replaced by a single BLMC developed vehicle for the required market slot, which would be produced in greater numbers. The surplus labour force would be mobile and was to be re-directed to other areas within BLMC to increase production of other models to meet increasing world demand. Good examples of this were the Rover/Triumph cars projected for the 1970s.

The SD1 was intended to replace both the Rover P6 and Triumph 2000/2500, while the SD2 was to replace all the Triumph saloons. Produced in single model modern factories, production rates were to eclipse what had gone before.

The new combine had a workforce of 185,000 and this was to be 185,000 reasons why things would go wrong. If BLMC was a covenant between Government, workers and management, then it was the workforce that were the first to betray Harold Wilson’s honourable vision.

The SD1 was intended to replace both the Rover P6 and Triumph 2000/2500, while the SD2 was to replace all the Triumph saloons. Produced in single model modern factories, production rates were to eclipse what had gone before.

At school, I recall reading Alan Sillitoe’s novel Saturday Night, Sunday Morning in which the leading character, Arthur Seaton, works in an engineering factory. Sillitoe based this on his own experience of working in a Raleigh factory in Nottinghamshire. In the book, he brilliantly describes the hatred that Arthur Seaton feels for his bosses without ever really explaining the reason for this contempt, but it does offer an insight of the working class mindset in post-war Britain. In reality, the working class’ lot had improved little since 1945. While groovy young things swung in 1960s London, the working class in the Midlands factories still toiled away as they had always done. They were ripe for exploitation by politically motivated grass roots union activists who sought to use their grievances to their advantage.

Shortly after its formation, the BLMC Combined Trade Union Committee was set up under the joint leadership of Dick Etheridge, the senior union convener at Longbridge and Eddie McGarry his counterpart at Triumph, Canley. This unofficial body was not recognised by BLMC or the Union leadership, but was to prove a thorn in the side of management in the years to come.

BLMC chairman Lord Stokes may have been known as a super salesman, but even he was unable to sell to the BLMC shop stewards the idea of modern flexible working practices. In reality the shop stewards held the whip hand. De-facto control of the shop floor had been conceded to the stewards during the second world war in order to allow for uninterrupted production of wartime goods, and they were not about to concede it in peacetime. BLMC was the last British based manufacturer still using piecework and the British Leyland Motor Corporation Combined Trade Union Committee steadfastly resisted attempts to introduce Measured Daywork into their factories.

Cowley held out until 1971 and Longbridge conceded in 1973.

Strikes were epidemic throughout British Leyland in the 1968-1974 period and the only weapon the company had was friendly persuasion which fell on deaf ears. Profits were there for the making, but production levels rarely reached maximum capacity. BLMC borrowed against their potential profits which failed to materialize. This situation came to a head in the 1973 ‘Barber Boom’ when the Conservative government reflated the economy in a desperate effort to reduce unemployment. In an expanding car market, strikes prevented BLMC from supplying the demand for their cars. Buyers went elsewhere and when the ‘Barber Boom’ had subsided the company’s UK market share had slipped from 40 to 33 per cent. Lord Stokes always claimed to the end of his days that BLMC could sell everything they made and The Times archive bears him out. Unfortunately BLMC couldn’t or wouldn’t make enough vehicles.

Then came the oil crisis of October 1973, and worldwide demand for cars slumped. BLMC had failed to make hay while the sun shone.

As is well documented BLMC finally ran out of money in December 1974 and Harold Wilson’s Labour government stepped in with taxpayers money and commissioned Sir Don Ryder to report on the the company. The Ryder Report was a typical Government sponsored fudge and its findings were treated like they were the gospel itself. Instead of the usual hapless social worker doing their job being made the scapegoat, that honour went to the hapless John Barber and Lord Stokes, who quickly departed the scene.

Lord Stokes always claimed to the end of his days that BLMC could sell everything they made and The Times archive bears him out. Unfortunately BLMC couldn’t or wouldn’t make enough vehicles.

Instead of getting a grip on the industrial relations issue and playing it tough, the Ryder Report again fudged it and introduced ‘Industrial democracy’, which consisted of joint shop floor union/management committees. In these meetings management asked nicely if the shop stewards would accept modern working practices and not keep going on strike and they in turn politely declined. In reality the British Leyland Combined Trade Union Committee were still controlling things.

Politics reared its ugly head, the Labour party congratulated itself on saving the British car industry and the Conservatives under their new leader Margaret Thatcher voted against the Ryder recommendations. Leyland Cars began work on the LC10 and LC11, which a decade later would come to haunt Mrs Thatcher. By British Leyland standards they had been relatively strife free in 1975, apart from the obligatory stoppages to sabotage production of a new and acclaimed model, in this case the 18-22 Wedge.

In the spring of 1976, the world car market unexpectedly recovered from the effects of the energy crisis. As demand for Leyland Cars increased, the company plunged into an orgy of strikes that crippled production. Again customers went elsewhere and British Leyland’s UK market share collapsed further to 27 per cent. In 1977 there was at least a six month waiting list for the acclaimed Rover SD1 at a time when demand for other large engined cars was still depressed. Toolmakers all over British Leyland went on strike and crippled the company. When it was all over, British Leyland’s UK market share would drop to 23 per cent and down further to 20 per cent by the end of 1977, and this was a company with the production facilities for a 35 per cent share of the UK market. Despite this, demand for the SD1 was still high, but the Solihull workforce refused to contemplate the introduction of a night shift.

In October 1977, Sir Richard Dobson, the BL chairman, made some unwise remarks at a private function which were taped by a Marxist sympathiser who passed the recording to a hard left magazine. The editor demanded that all chairmen of nationalised corporations should be vetted and should be in favour of public ownership. Sir Richard resigned promptly and without any press hounding. From all I have read of Sir Richard Dobson, he seems to have been a gentleman. However from November 1977 it was to be no more Mr nice guy.

Sir Michael Edwardes arrived at British Leyland on the day that the Triumph No.2 factory at Speke which (badly) made the TR7 went on strike. Edwardes promptly closed Speke with little uproar. The axeman cometh. Things remained quiet until late 1979, with the usual wildcat strikes and management attempts to defuse the situation.

In the meantime the Conservatives had won the May 1979 general election. The continuing turmoil at BL, played out on the nightly news had helped to discredit both the trade union movement and the concept of public ownership along with the 1978/79 ‘Winter of discontent’ in the eyes of many voters.

The next big clash came over the sacking of the senior Longbridge convener, Mr Derek Robinson. BL claimed Robinson was the mastermind behind many disputes. If that was true, then there were certainly many strikes that went unreported in the pages of The Times. This was the first of a series of disputes in which BL management took on the British Leyland Combined Trade Union Committee in full blown head on clashes over the next five years.

Gradually the BL management became estranged from senior full time trade union officials and Labour MPs when it dawned on them that BL was attacking the whole principle of the shop stewards movement in the company’s plants. Many senior figures in the labour movement had been shop stewards and they were appalled with what was perceived to be heavy handed and insensitive management techniques. The Cowley plant proved difficult to subdue, with one full time Union official accusing management of bludgeoning the workforce into submission.

The next big clash came over the sacking of the senior Longbridge convener, Mr Derek Robinson. BL claimed Robinson was the mastermind behind many disputes. If that was true, then there were certainly many strikes that went unreported in the pages of The Times.

Margaret Thatcher has been accused of de-industrialising Britain by appointing hard hearted axemen to run nationalised industries. They took their inspiration from the likes of Sir Michael Edwardes and Ian McGregor, later of British Steel and the National Coal Board, who was Deputy Chairman of BL until 1980.

The final big clash was the 1984 Austin Rover pay dispute at the time of the long miners strike. In September 1984 the Trade Union Act became law requiring secret ballots for strike action. Britain’s biggest union, the TGWU thought it could defy this law and commence an all out pay strike. Unfortunately for Moss Evans, the TGWU leader this was 1984, not 1974, and this was the Britain of Margaret Thatcher, not Edward Heath and he was dealing with Harold Musgrove, not Lord Stokes. The strike collapsed after two weeks thanks to the tenacity of Austin Rover chairman Harold Musgrove. Whatever one’s opinion of Harold Musgrove and his management style, the 1984 pay dispute was his finest hour.

But it had taken over 16 long years to get to this point where BL had a flexible labour force, and the tactics used to get there left a bad taste in the mouth. I can’t help but think this was what Harold Wilson, Lord Stokes and senior union leaders wanted in 1968 and quickly. In the light of the struggle to get there, was the whole concept of British Leyland ever a viable option?

Of course having slagged off the workforce I now have to be even handed and paste the management. Of course the Allegro is the easiest target, the Times reporting in May 1973 that BLMC envisaged a weekly production rate of at least 4500. By April 1974 production was just over half this figure. The car market was still depressed because of the oil crisis, but when it recovered, buyers did not opt for the Allegro which continued to decline. The Times reported in the mid 1970s that production of the Volkswagen Golf was running at 10,000 per week, so the buyers were going somewhere.

The most serious management error was the LC10/11, later re-christened LM10/11 cars. I have covered this ground extensively before, but since then I have found that both Ray Horrocks, head of BL cars, and Grenville Hawley, the TGWU’s senior motor industry official, drove LM10 before Roy Axe came on the scene and delivered his damning verdict on the cars.

Unfortunately for BL, they had discounted General Motors and their UK subsidiary Vauxhall in their calculations. Maestro and Montego might have sold better if Vauxhall had continued to produce cars like the MK1 Cavalier and Chevette, but instead GM took on Austin Rover in their own ball park, front wheel drive cars. The new MK2 Cavalier and Astra had class leading power trains and attractive state of the art styling. Austin Rover bungled on the styling aspect and created their powertrains by using bought in transmissions and re-cycling engines from the BL parts bin.

The MK2 Vauxhall Cavalier was launched in August 1981 and failed to raise much excitement from fleet buyers hopelessly addicted to the Ford Cortina.

When the Ford Sierra appeared on the market in September 1982, its controversial shape worried fleet buyers over re-sale values. They turned to the Vauxhall Cavalier instead, despite their traditional reservations about front wheel drive. The fleet buyers were impressed and Cavalier sales rocketed. The fleet buyers then looked at the Vauxhall Astra, which dated back to 1979 in its original Opel Kadett form and were impressed by that too. Very soon a vicious sales war broke out in which Austin Rover came a distant third. By August 1985 production was being cut back by 10 per cent at Longbridge and Cowley when the car market was expanding and the dream of Austin Rover remaining in the volume car business seemed to vanish along with 200 jobs.

Austin Rover bungled the LM10’s styling and created their powertrains by using bought in transmissions and re-cycled engines from the BL parts bin.

Then there is the government. Again I have dealt with this in another article. The Times does reveal that Industry Minister Norman Tebbit came under severe pressure over his dithering on whether to back Austin Rover’s demand for £200 million to replace the A-series engine with the under development K-series. Many of his cabinet colleges wanted Austin Rover to use reliable Honda engines.

Labour MP Gavin Strang said in parliament of Mr Tebbit, ‘Is Mr Tebbit prepared to go down in history as the saboteur of Britain’s only major indigenous motor manufacturer?’

Well, history records that he did back the development of the prone to head gasket failure K-series engine. Was Gavin Strang right after all?

But that’s another story.

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Feedback:
Chris Mills
11/10/2008
A very good article Ian, with one correction. The version of the K series that Tebbit backed the development of was not the same engine. Pre ’95 engines had a thicker wall block and wet liners. They rarely suffered from head gasket failure.
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Jonathan Carling
Yarm, Teesside, UK
11/03/2008
Very thorough and convincing. I think I’d add that the decision not to merge dealerships (which dated back to 1952) also played its part: first, it set two parts of the same company against each other, and second, it was confusing to buyers. Why couldn’t you buy a Marina from an Austin dealer until 1977?
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David Hayward
Southampton
11/03/2008

Interesting…but for a very good graps on all that was wrong with British engineering see the excellent portayal by Peter Sellers in I’M ALL RIGHT JACK.

My researches into GM’s history in the British Isles have included AC-Delco Division of General Motors Limited. As with Vauxhalls’ Ellesmere Port factory that was built on Merseyside with Government support (for the HA Viva), AC-Delco’s plant new Merseyside Plant was a new one at Moorgate Road, Kirby, Liverpool. Construction had started in 1956 in this high-unemployment area with Government assistance, but only because the Government had refused consent to building a new facility in Bedfordshire, near the existing Limited and Vauxhall Plants. However all chance of having a brand-new workforce with brand-new practices came to naught when they had to take on former dockworkers. The Southampton Plant was also affected but less so over the years until 1980ish when it was threatened with closure unless savingfs could be made. All staff were given the heave-ho and all were then ivited to apply to get their jobs back under a new prodcutive regime: the chance was taken to excise the dead wood etc. and those taken on were a model workforce. With a new clean slate, productivity soared.

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2 November

The best Rover advert ever?

KEITH ADAMS

Grabbed for the Rover 800 videos page of this website, I can’t help but think that this may be the best advert ever produced by Rover… It sums up the aspirations of the time so well, and managed to land a punch on the then-not-so-dominant Germans. With more like this throughout the 1990s, could Rover’s 800 have continued to have been a force? Or was the product too compromised?

Either way, enjoy the advert, and let us know if it’s the best, and comment on whether you reckon you know any better ones?

Oh, and also, if you can lay your hands on the R8’s Up Where We Belong spoof of the iconic 80s chick flick, Officer and a Gentleman, please let me know!

 


Feedback:
820Tickford
Tipton
11/14/2008

I remember the Russ Swift one and liked it a lot. I remember asking my Mom why the street was described as a dead end when you could leave through the alley way. She explained that you couldn’t get a car through the alley way to which I stuibbornly insisted you could, if it were a Montego 1.6L!

However, my favourite is still the 800 advert. There’s something about poking the Germans a little that appeals to my English nature!

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Ryan Taylor
Shetland
11/12/2008
Some of the old Metro ads were great – especially the one with Nigel Mansell taking one for a test drive, but crashing into Murray Walker as he backed out the showroom.
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Richard Kilpatrick
Sutton Coldfield
11/10/2008

Russ Swift’s Montego 1.6LX advert – apart from really liking the two-tone design on that era of Montego, it was a striking advert for a fairly run of the mill advert.

Does anyone else think that car adverts have somewhat gone off the plot lately? The Montego ad and the similar-era Ford advert with music by Bill Whithers showed “aspects of the car” – sunroofs, IIRC, were a big deal – and now you see an advert and it appears to be telling you that you’re going to be a middle-aged middle-class bloke desperately clinging to youth (Jaguar XF), part of a huge loving family (Volvo’s pointless XC60), or surrounded by Really Annoying Children With Regional Accents (Zafira).

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JUSTIN
BIRMINGHAM
11/09/2008
The red Rover 214 ad 1989/90 launch .”right up wher we belong”track-ah memories.I did like the Montego 1.6L ad through the car park though.
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Andy
Chesterfield
11/07/2008
Best ad ever was the “get uo to more in the maestro 1.3L ad – I think the music was “aint seen nothing yet” the car tipped up with its front wheels in the air and drove along. Then the boot opened and a balloon with the word “burp” on it appeared. Then a load of scantilly clad girls got in – as I recall. Pure class – its a wonder they never overtook toyota!
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Leslie Button
England
11/03/2008
I think the launch advert for the 800 Fastback was the best…. “Britisher Architekt”
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11/03/2008
The Montego advert where Russ Swift ‘pirhouetted’ a 1.6L version into a company car-park parking space without smashing into any other cars stands out in my mind as being the most interesting car advert of the time. The young executive who has apparently performed this feat of precision-driving subsequently traps his jacket in the back door of the car which lends the advert some humour. Austin Rover marketing wasn’t all poor, as this advert shows.
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Tim Baldwin
11/09/2008
My favourite ad was the drivingschool lesson in a MG Metro turbo
DazzaBloke
11/11/2008
I love those Austin Rover tv ads with Patrick Mower.
Posted in: AROnline Blogs
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

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