Essay : The Eighties and Nineties at Land Rover

Nigel Garton on his time spent at Land Rover.

1982-1994 were turbulent years at Land Rover, and ultimately saw the company grow massively. Here’s the view of a man in the engineering department…

IN ITS far-reaching programme of changes in 1975, The Ryder Report never addressed the Land Rover operation, leaving it separate to the rest of the Rover-Triumph Division. I remember many hours of confusion within the ranks, before an organisation for Land Rover within the group was formed. On the engineering side of things, many questions remained unanswered – Leyland Cars was a huge group, and part of Ryder’s findings was that a new Engineering Division should be formed, based at Solihull.

To be headed up by Spen King and Fred Maxwell, the programme never progressed very far, thanks to the confusion prevalent in the organization at the time. However, buildings were found at Broad Oaks House (known as Maxwell House due to its Coffee coloured glazing), Solihull, and Drayton Road, Shirley. The new Engineering Centre was to be based at Monkpath, Shirley, and buildings were found, and initial concept work headed up by Duncan Currie began. A full-scale model of the site was actually shown to us at Longbridge, but that was the last we saw of it.

By now, Jim Callaghan was getting fed up with Ryder and his efforts at the NEB – and his failure to get BL working again forced the PM to sack him. Michael Edwardes took over and ended up heading up the entire BL organisation. At a stroke he tore-up the Ryder Engineering proposals, and created a smaller more streamlined operation called BL Technology, again, with Spen King at the helm, based at – of all the places – Gaydon.

Gaydon had been offered to BL after the Ryder Report, because the site was no longer needed, following the RAF’s abandonment of the V-Bomber deterrent (in favour of the controversial Trident Nuclear submarines programme). Gaydon initially would provide a centre for test operations (incorporating a useful vehicle test track), because vehicle design was kept within the Build Plants. It would be another 12 years before John Towers set-up a Group-wide Engineering Centre, based at Gaydon.

Back to Land Rover. Following the Edwardes re-organisation of 1980, it was decided that a separate Company should be set up, to complement the cars division (at the time, called the Light-Medium division), and it was named Land Rover Ltd. Headed up by Mike Hodgkinson, its headquarters were at Lode Lane Solihull. Headed up by David Andrews it was now part of the massive Leyland Bus & Truck Division. Our area of Engineers was allocated to Land Rover.

Land Rover and Austin-Morrs were still very much separate entities at the time, though. Whereas we were based in Solihull, Austin Morris (Light-Medium) had based its Engineering department at the discarded Triumph plant at Canley, and it seemed little information flowed between the two. Cars were – at the time – headed up by Harold Musgrove and Joe Farnham from Chrysler headed up the Engineering team.

An umbrella Company (Which Land-Rover and Light-Medium fell under), now known as BL Cars was formed, and it was headed up by Ray Horrocks. Both Horrocks (cars) and Andrews (trucks) were subordinate to Edwardes.

Updating the original Landie

The new Land Rover Company had inherited only one product under development, and that was a replacement for the original 88- and 109-inch Land Rovers. Its style was virtually the same as existing car’s, but with all-new componentry. The two versions of the new Land Rover were to be available in 100- and 110-inch wheelbases. Two new engine programmes were also underway: a 5-bearing petrol and a V8, introduced within a modified Series 3 Land Rover, known as Stage 1.

On the surface Hodgkinson’s new Land Rover Company looked quite attractive: a small workforce, a highly profitable range of vehicles, with new programmes underway. Military vehicles formed a huge part of this operation, with several versions of the Series 2 and 3, plus the large V8 Forward Control version, known as the 101-inch.

Total Land-Rover volumes would be in the region of 70,000 vehicles per annum.

Very early into the new programme, it was decided to drop the 100-inch version and concentrate all our money on the 110-inch Stage 2. To cover the loss of the 100-inch it was decided to stretch the production dates of the Series 3, and continue the lucrative market in Africa for the Series 3 CKD (Completely Knocked-Down kit) versions.

This decision forced a number of design compromises, due to the amount of required of carry-over parts between Series 3 and Stage 2. The Stage 2 concept hit trouble, when its new design windscreen was dropped and replaced with a replica of the original 2-piece screen. Doug Young, who headed body Engineering, was furious. After a terrible row caused by this decision, he threatened to leave the team, unless the single piece screen was reinstated. Thankfully, management saw reason, and the single-piece screen returned…

Other problems in this area continue to haunt the Land Rover Defender to this day – and all because of the management strategy to produce the Series 3 and Stage 2 together. In reality, is was a decision akin to running the P6 alongside the SD1. Dream on…

Range Rover’s advance…

We were also getting signals from the market place – all was not well with the 2-door Range Rover. After market converters were purchasing these vehicles from us, and modifying them into four-door versions, and some were even fitting diesel engines. All of this was seen by management as a taboo practice, and was frowned upon by Land Rover Engineering. At the same time, sales of the Range Rover dropped to below 100 per week (from its heyday of around per 300 week), and attempts by Hodgkinson to force Engineering to revise the Range Rover (giving it the four-door body and diesel engine it so desperately needed) were met with resistance. A shortages of engineering capacity was the main concern – many were tied up working on the Stage 2.

Out of desperation, he turned to the Coventry-based company Carbodies, and commissioned them to undertake the Body and Door design work. It proved to be a very fortuitous decision – Carbodies needed a four-door platform for a new Taxi it was developing.

Initial Luxury versions of the Range Rover sold like hot cakes – they featured alloy wheels, and more luxurious interior trim – but most importantly, their success proved there was a massive potential profit in upmarket versions of the car.

Stormy waters…

Once Range Rover’s march upmarket began, it seemed we could do no wrong – even the Duke of Edinburgh came to see the new, refurbished South Works, with the new production Lines. Within a year, however, all our dreams were in tatters again and Hodgkinson left for pastures new.

To shed some light on these difficult events, I remember a very difficult meeting we had with Tom Barton and Mike Broadhead, who headed Land Rover’s Engineering team, some two years earlier. In effect, the Engineering Team felt that with Stage 2, we were going in the wrong direction. Our competitors were now flooding the Market with smaller SUVs – Daihatsu, Suzuki, and Toyota were producing these cheaper, more accessable cars, and Land Rover was nowhere to be seen.

To be fair, Hodgkinson had done a deal with MSA Santana in Spain, to build Suzukis, but the outcome of this meeting was met with the usual short shrift from management. The argument on what Land Rover should and should not build had been going on for ages. Strangely, its most ruthless critic, proved correctly that a smaller vehicle, say of Oden/Freelander size, would sell hugely. Today, it is Land Rover biggest seller.

Furthermore, the Oil crisis in the late Seventies had hit Land Rover hard. Dwindling demand in struggling third-world nations, coupled with huge revenue losses in oil producing countries, such as Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, hit Land Rover Sales hard. The directors expended massive effort trying to seek alternatives to hard currency (e.g., using Raw Materials from these countries in lieu of currency), but got nowhere. The Launch of the Stage 2 was a damp squib – volumes were terrible at around 200 week – whereas the Series 3 was still running at around a 1000 per week.

Although having been given £200m to spend, Hodgkinson didn’t have the luck of Gilroy – the SD1 factory seemed to have been up for sale for ever. Japanese and German companies looked at it, but none were interested in building cars there. Today owned by Ford, it houses components for Land Rover assembly, but attempts to build 4x4s there have been scuppered by the weight restrictions imposed on the factory.

As employees, all we were told was the company was in a bad way, and a new MD would be starting straight away…

In with the new…

Tony Gilroy, who had been a figurehead at the launch of the Metro, and who had been responsible for steering Freight Rover at Common Lane back into profitability, taken over.

Well, there was a character…

A hard Irishman, who had grew up around the Ford Motor Company, he ruffled feathers around the factory. As his first general meeting, he stormed onto a platform in the Mothballed SD1 Factory, and with the entire workforce assembled in front of him, launched a speech about the demise of the company. He used graph after graph to illustrate why this was happening, demonstrating the harm the Stage 2 was doing to the company. After a while he calmed down…

He then put forward a plan to save the Company. New products would be the company’s saviour: well, blow me down with a feather – the 100-inch Land Rover, cancelled by Hodgkinson, was to be introduced as a 90-inch – as quickly as possible – and an updated versio of the four-door version of Range Rover, code named Eagle, was to be introduced to the USA, where profitability would be much higher.

Work on a replacement for the improved Range Rover, codenamed Pegasus, would be commenced as soon as possible, and work on a new model, codenamed Jay, would start even sooner – its task: to take on the Japanese. A further new model for the military, codenamed Llama would also commence.

To pay for this massive programme, Land Rover would cease its 13 worldwide plants, concentrating all production at one vast site in Solihull. The ex-SD1 factory and Paint Shop would be reopened to accommodate the new Models. We could hardly believe our ears! All Engineers were to support cost cutting activates to further support this investment.

Out with the old…

Gilroy ruled with a rod of Iron. Within weeks, the whole Directorate was replaced, and new faces came in. John Hall came in from Freight Rover, to lead the new Product Policy team. Fred Boulton came in from Leyland Vehicles to lead Engineering. Out went Tom Barton – although he had retired, he was not allowed to interfere with this plan. Then huge areas of the Engineering team were wiped out. The Engineering block was running with blood.

As quickly as it started, it was over, and we settled down for several years of highly successful work. By now, Bill Morris had taken up a very high position. I knew him well from the old days – he was a fantastic guy, and he chaired one of the teams I worked on.

I remember one frought meeting with Gilroy and Morris. One afternoon at around 5:00, we were called to Bill Morris’ office. We were told Tony Gilroy wanted to see us at 5:30. So, we had a pre-run with Bill (acting as Gilroy) in the Chair. He warned us not to argue – if you didn’t agree with what he was saying, note it down, but save it for later. At 5:30, Gilroy came in and sat down, but it was and Bill that initially led the meeting. After around two minutes, he stopped the meeting. Gilroy said: “I don’t want to hear why you can’t do it”.

Well off we go again, and up he gets again. Gilroy said, “Bill, this is hopeless. I sought the engineers out, and I want these results now – not why you can’t do it!” The meeting had by now become pretty heated, and one of our engineers stood up and challenged Gilroy on his Engineering knowledge. Bil went white, and Gilroy, to be fair, took it on the chin and walked out.

We were then dismissed from (what was left of) the meeting, but the guy who stood up to Gilroy was held back and was given a dressing down by Bill. You could hear the shouting as we walked away…

As promised, Solihull grew, and all the external Plants were closed. The Birmingham, Coventry, and Cardiff Plants were all retired, and production was concentrated at Solihull.

Mike Hodgkinson’s plans were well and truly scrapped – and with the introduction of the new 90-inch (Land Rover Ninety), all Series 3 ceased.

Political machinations…

Against the backdrop of all of this activity, the company lurched into horrendous organisation changes. By 1982, Michael Edwardes had had enough with his job, mainly due to the interference of Norman Tebbitt. He had been charged with the disposal of what the then current administration considered a millstone (BL) from around the Government’s neck.

Huge parts of the Commercial Vehicle operations were disposed of, including Freight Rover – to the the Dutch Company, DAF. Supporting this sale was an offer by General Motors for Land Rover. The Cars operation was under some low level talks with Ford, which was after the K-series engine. These talks went nowhere as Ford were not able to give any form of assurance on the huge Vehicle operations of BL Cars.

The sale of Land Rover to GM was a done deal, but huge public opposition to the sale led the government to halt any further talks. This dragged on for weeks. In an attempt to counter GM bid, the board suggested a management buy out. This fizzled out when the Government closed the door on GM, and Land Rover found itself back under BL cars, in effect, Ray Horrocks became head of the new group. Not to be outwitted, Norman Tebbitt carried on his adventure, and secured an agreement with Professor Roland Smith and Sir William Lygo, the Head of British Aerospace.

In 1988, the whole of what was now left of the once mighty British Leyland, employing around 200,000 people, was virtually given to British Aerospace. After a short honeymoon, British Aerospace got itself into serious Financial problems with a Saudi Contract. A diplomatic problem had lead to the Saudi’s cancelling a multi-billion Pound contract. This dragged on for ages, and the group losses were piling up. After a few scares, and and a couple of programmes being cancelled in the car division, the go for the takeover ahead was given. To us, there seemed no sense in this takeover – there is a world of difference between aircraft and car/commercial operations.

Let me explain.

British Aerospace spends vast sums of money on development. Equally, the Car industry does. However the huge costs are recovered quickly in aircraft, due to their massive values. The write-off can be amortised very quickly.

Within the Car Industry, these write-offs are difficult to recover quickly, and are dependant on sales performances either being met or exceeded. In many cases, volumes are not met, often previous model sales are not even matched. Clearly, in boom periods, when Volume sales are high, these costs do not cause any major problems.

With the successful Launch of Jay coming up, one would have thought Tony Gilroy was heading for success.

Graham Day, who had lead the Group very successfully, stepped down from running the Rover Group, and took a senior position within the British Aerospace board. His vacancy led to George Simpson heading the Cars Group. Gilroy was outraged, and left on the spot. Clearly, from a success point of view, Gilroy outshone Simpson by a mile, but lacked the larger-world requirements of the job. You have to be a city slicker, and good with the media.

John Towers had been recruited to replace Bob Dover (who had left for Jaguar), and was given Gilroy’s job for a short while. Simpson wasted no time in smashing up Gilroy’s empire. He quickly made Towers head of Rover Engineering at Canley, and scrapped the whole of the Land Rover management structure, integrating it into a new Cars operation. Hundreds lost their jobs, and for the next few years, huge redundancy programmes took place. Although these changes look awful, they didn’t actually it didn’t affect any vehicle launches. Discovery went into production in 1989 and the group carried on with the New Range Rover.

With John Towers leading from the Front, he had taken over as MD for group and Nick Stephenson was our Boss. By 1993, with the new Engineering Centre at Gaydon on its way, the new Range Rover Launch about to take place, huge developments in the Cars Group programmes, and with British Aerospace’s problems well behind them, and profitability on the cars again, it all went belly up again.

Crackling from the Radio 6:30am, one January morning, British Aerospace had virtually offloaded the whole lot to BMW. Directors were running around like headless chickens.

Apparently John Towers was opposed to this decision, and had fought a battle to get Honda to buy out their other half. It owned a minority of The Rover Group, but clearly its long-term strategy was Swindon, not Longbridge. With the failure of these talks in Japan, he had to accept defeat, and BMW got the lot.

The good thing was all the Engineering community was cheered – a world-class company steeped in its high excellence in Engineering terms had taken the reins! The continuous headcount reduction programmes, were immediately ended by BMW, and in fact, recruitment was gradually introduced. Initial response to Rover’s famous Lean Machine, was that if you were not lean, you are starving.

The final piece was fitted in the puzzle place, and we were re-located from Solihull to Canley.

Model Development

90 inch Stage 2

Most of the components up to its B-post, as well as its rear end already existed. Clearly, a new Body was needed, with new side panels and roof. Design of a new chassis was to be outsourced, to speed up the production. Within 12 months, pre-production vehicles were established, and the Launch took place in 1985.

Range Rover – Eagle Project.

To federalise a vehicle from scratch is a difficult task, but to modify an existing vehicle is even worse. Rover’s History on these projects was, to say the least, unsuccessful. The P6V8 NAS never sold, and similar fate befell the SD1 V8 NAS.

To overcome this problem, it was decided to create a separate company, known as RNNA, in the USA. In effect, it was Range Rover North America. It had its own headquarters and Final production completion, and most of the standard US-spec equipment would be built at Solihull, and RNNA would then complete the whole process, in the USA. Production of the Eagle at Solihull would be no for other versions, and RNNA would responsible for final conditions.

To meet US emissions, a 3.9litre engine had to be delivered wholesale. Chassis changes, new seating, and new Lighting to US regulations were also developed. By 1987, the first vehicles were on sale in the US. They were an immediate success, and production soon zoomed to over 600 per week. Not bad after Lord Stokes’ initial estimate of 25 per week.

Discovery Phase 1 – Project Jay

Initial concept work carried out in Styling led Gilroy to start this project off. A whole team was assembled in building 46 (formerly the old Plant and production Engineering Offices). Completely re-furbished with high level security entrances, the Project known as Jay started its three year journey into production. The V8 Engine was a bit of a mystery to me. Range Rover had abounded the twin carburettor set-up for a Lucas Fuel injection system. To protect the Range Rover brand, a cheaper V8 with twin carbs was initially re-introduced for Jay.

Alongside, a new Diesel Engine, codename Gemini 1, was also developed. The vehicle was not completely new, though – it was mounted on a Range Rover ladder chassis system. A fair amount of carryover parts were used for the body, too (i.e., the windscreen and doors), and these contributed to a substantial saving on Tooling.

Covered in blanket of secrecy, this Model went a fair way down its development before the Press got hold of it.

New Range Rover – Pegasus or 38a.

A fair amount of preliminary work had been undertaken over the years, on a vehicle to replace Range Rover. Finally, it was started. A new Team headed up by Stephen Schlemmer took on the project. Stephen took the project into its early prototype stage, but was removed in favour of John Hall. The project was a huge investment for the Company, and created a fair amount of friction within the Group.

The whole of North Works was re-furbished to build the vehicle. 38a, as it became to be known, was the name of the huge building housing the design Team. During its final months, BMW took over, and had a fair amount of criticism for its size. However, it was far too late in development, for the Germans to do anything about it.

It ended up being a very profitable vehicle, although its volume never matched its predecessor’s.

Later to be re-placed by BMW’s version in 2001.


A new military vehicle was started – its intention was to be a vehicle designed specifically to move quickly through the battlefield to carry ammunition to the Troops.

Llama was a completely new lightweight project with full Land Rover off Road characteristics. It was designed with a fibreglass Body, and intended to include a huge carrying capacity. Unfortunately it dragged on and was finally re-jected by the Military in Favour of a joint programme done by GM and Boultons.

Oden, CB40, Freelander

A new vehicle was in development with the Cars Group. Oden was a small 4×4 but lacked full off road characteristics. Many felt it did, but after a number of reviews, it got canned, to a more robust programme around a full off-road spec, with more Land Rover image. Production was agreed to be at Solihull. Clearly the basis of Oden was a Rover Marque, to build within their operations.

Most of the Oden team, plus a hefty amount of 38a personnel were transferred to Canley. Freelander, without the traditional Ladder frame, but still maintaining the high driving position proved to be one of the most successful vehicles ever produced by Solihull but designed at Canley.

Posted in: Essays, Land Rover
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created 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.

1 Comment on "Essay : The Eighties and Nineties at Land Rover"

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  1. Sheefag says:

    Nigel, I’m most surprised by the lack of comments, an excellent insider’s view which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading.

    Many, many thanks.

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