Essay : BMC’s world-beaters
In the series ‘British Leyland – The Grand Illusion’, I argued that the sales success of the Mini and the BMC 1100/1300 (ADO16) encouraged motor industry executives, the Government and pundits alike to think that the British motor industry had a sustainable future as a global player. These hopes were ultimately dashed by a combination of poor design, poor build quality and chronic industrial relations which resulted in a brand image about as dire as it is possible to get.
Has any organisation had a poorer image than British Leyland did at the end of 1977?
Four decades ago, on 19 June 1974, the last UK-built ADO16, a Vanden Plas 1300, emerged from the Kingsbury works in London. Overseas production continued into 1977, with such exotic fare as the Austin Apache and Authi Victoria. The exact number of ADO16s built is confusing. I have come across three sets of figures, 2,132,980, 2,151,007 and 2,250,757.
For a dozen years, the combination of the Mini and ADO16 was an amazing sales success both at home and in export markets. For many overseas buyers, they were the only British cars they ever bought - and their Leyland-funded successors seemed less appealing.
So how well did they sell?
Here are the statistics. First of all the annual production figures, all for the calendar year. The Mini had been on sale since August 1959, the first ADO16 variant, the Morris 1100, produced only at Cowley, was launched in August 1962. CAB2 at Longbridge began producing ADO16s in August 1963.
In addition to this, a further 1,788 CKD ADO16s were manufactured at Longbridge in 1975 for export, but these were not complete vehicles. In 1968, Mini production ceased at Cowley, which also ceased ADO16 production in 1971. The all new Austin Allegro, the ADO16s ill-fated replacement, was launched in May 1973.
So how did the Mini and ADO16 perform in export markets?
Here are the statistics.
Annual Exports including overseas manufacture
By analysing these statistics, we can see that 50.86% of all Minis and ADO16s produced between 1962 and 1974 were sold overseas. Broken down by model, 61.81% of Minis found overseas buyers, compared with 33.78% of all ADO16s. By any standards, Alec Issigonis deserved the knighthood conferred on him in June 1969. In that year alone, 73.3% of all Minis produced went to export markets, along with 38.21% of all ADO16s. Indeed, BMC/BLMC exported more ADO16s than the entire production run of Austin Allegros, some 667,192 cars produced between 1973 and 1982.
Mini, ADO16 and Allegro share of the UK market
|Year||Mini||ADO16||Allegro||Total UK market|
1967 was the last year the Mini and ADO16 were produced at both Longbridge and Cowley – jointly they attained a 26.67% UK market share.
1970 was the last full year the ADO16 was produced at Cowley, in order to free up spare capacity for the new Morris Marina. In that year the Isssigonis twins had 19.83% of the UK market. The ‘Barber Boom’ of 1972-1973 caught the Austin Morris division of British Leyland on the hop and they simply could not produce enough Minis, ADO16s and Marinas to meet demand. The UK car market expanded by 27.38% in 1972, while BLMC could only expand their car production by a paltry 3.32%.
After the ADO16 ceased UK production and gave way to the Allegro, we can see that in 1975 the Mini and Allegro share of the market was 12.39%. In five years British Leyland had lost 7.44% of the UK market, a trend the all-new, product-planned Austin Allegro was meant to reverse. After the ‘Barber Boom’ and the demise of the ADO16, demand for British Leyland cars remained static at best in an expanding market.
The best year for the Allegro in the UK market was 1975 when 63,339 were sold. Only in 1973 BLMC had managed to shift 59,198 ADO16s along with 28,713 of the new Allegro. The year previously, 1972, when the ADO16 design was a decade old, 102,449 ADO16s had been sold.
By number crunching we can calculate that between 1973 and 1979 British Leyland manufactured 597,370 Austin Allegros, of which 385,584 were sold in the UK. This means that 35.45% were exported.
On average BMC/BLMC produced 163,937 ADO16s a year. In contrast British Leyland produced on average 66,719 Allegros a year. With the relative failure of the Princess series of 1975, the decline of the Mini as it aged and the disastrous sales performance of the Allegro, the volume cars division of British Leyland ceased to be a major world player. All the funding that came courtesy of the British taxpayer, British Aerospace and BMW failed to reverse this.
In retrospect, we can see that the golden age of the British-owned motor industry was between 1962 and 1974. Not only did the Mini and ADO16 smash sales records, but there were other innovative British cars such as the Rover P6, the Range Rover, the Jaguar XJ6/12 and E-type. Less glamourous, but equally important, were the Triumph and MG sports cars, the Land Rover and the Triumph 2000.
BMC may have been in a financial mess when British Leyland was formed in May 1968, but it was sorting itself out. In this writer’s view, Leyland’s coffers may have supported BMC in the years 1968-73, but paradoxically also brought about its long term demise as a volume producer by saddling it with the unattractive Allegro design instead of the ADO22, developed from the original ADO16 by Charles Griffin and Roy Haynes.
With the Allegro, British Leyland abdicated leadership of the front wheel drive market to Fiat, Renault and Volkswagen and, ultimately, there was no way back.