Essay : Counterfactual BMH – what if Leyland had walked away?

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Simon Weakley, a former Austin Rover marketing man, steps into the realms of counterfactual history by probing a scenario in which Leyland Motors and British Motor Holdings did not merge to become British Leyland in 1968.

BMC 1963

The future is not ordained or predetermined. People and groups have choices and sometimes a definitive fork in the road is reached, should we go one way or another, a clear choice. One such choice was developing strongly in 1967, should Leyland Motors merge or, indeed, make a takeover bid for British Motor Holdings, the new company that consisted of BMC Limited, Jaguar Cars Limited and Pressed Steel Fisher Limited – a small worldwide but upmarket player taking over the third biggest motor group in the world?

On paper the answer should have been no – British Motor Holdings was eight times the size of Leyland Motors, and BMH had a very healthy cash position, two very successful model ranges, Mini and ADO16, the BMC 1100, and had doubled in size since 1960, as well as having substantial overseas plants, sales and distribution. On the basis of recent past performance, logic dictated that BMH would have fought hard to retain their independence.

As recently as 1966, the group had made a healthy profit, paid a strong dividend to shareholders and started to ready its new mid-range 1500cc front-wheel-drive car for production. Leyland Motors, for its part, also had strong sales and profit growth and had made a successful bid for Rover cars in 1967 to consolidate their position as a specialist producer of cars where margins were higher while being a key player in heavy trucks with some well-respected brand names. Why take the risk of trying to digest BMH with all the investment, product and industrial issues moving forward. Rover-Triumph and the heavy trucks still had plenty of growth opportunities, full order books and a world economy set for significant growth into the 1970s.

So let’s imagine if Donald Stokes and his team at Leyland Motors walked away

History: The British Motor Holdings story

The last meeting at Chequers hadn’t gone very well. Tony Benn, Secretary of State for Industry, had organised a meeting between George Harriman (Chief Executive of BMH) and Donald Stokes (Chief Executive of Leyland Motors). The importance of the occasion could not be overstated. This was the final charm offensive by the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, who had determined the country would be best served by having one strong British-owned volume motor manufacturer.

The two Chief Executives arrived separately one Friday night in May 1967 – Harriman in his Vanden Plas Princess 4-Litre R, with the registration number BMC 1, chauffeur in tow, and Stokes driving himself in a Triumph 2000 estate. Wilson wisely judged that the two needed to be treated to a lavish five-course dinner and shown the sights of the long gallery. Meetings had been going on for the previous 12 months, with the instigation of the Industrial Reorganisation Committee (IRC), but neither side could ever overcome the main obstacles (i.e. agree a share swap that protected both companies’ shareholder interests) and agree the composition of the Board of Directors.

Sir George Harriman

Leyland wanted their man Donald Stokes as Chief Executive, with Harriman (right) as Chairman, whereas the BMH team wanted their newly appointed Chief Executive, Joe Edwards to have a joint role with Stokes, which was not acceptable to the Leyland men. There had also been differences of proposed structure.

BMH wanted to continue with a holding company structure whereby the main companies operated separately but could pool resources and component sharing as required. Leyland wanted a fully-integrated company with one Chief Executive driving the business forward.

The meeting at Chequers was cordial enough. After pre-dinner drinks and a tour of the long gallery, dinner commenced and the protagonists got down to business. Neither Chief Executive wanted to show their hand so it was up to Wilson to get the ball rolling.

‘I think you both know why you are here gentlemen,’ Wilson (right) said. ‘It is the belief of this Government that the country’s needs would be best served by having one strong Motor Manufacturer to take on overseas competition and I want you both to know that myself and my Secretary of State for Industry, Tony Benn, are here to help in any way we can. I have spoken to the IRC and, in principle, we can make funds available to help any new company through the transition.’ Wilson went on to say that he hoped that the two very different management teams could work together, one a buccaneer and the other a steady management team with a good track record.

Both Chief Executives felt that it was appropriate and dignified to make positive noises about the Government’s position and to carry on exploring the opportunities a merger might bring. Wilson and Benn clearly felt that BMC had lost its way and that the chronic overmanning, myriad of inefficient plants and production and poor recent product development meant that a merger with stronger management was the way forward for BMC and Leyland to prosper. This, too, was the era of bigger is better and, in many other industries, takeover and consolidation was taking place, not least the aircraft and steel industries. Volume and turnover seemed to trump any idea of value added and gross margin in this era of merger and acquisition.

Donald Stokes left the meeting at Chequers feeling he had been given the green light to pursue his ambitions to lead what would be the third biggest motor manufacturer in the world and Harriman left feeling somewhat dejected. He felt the BMH Board were being backed into a corner and with profit forecasts for 1967 being dire (in fact a loss of £3 million was predicted), he could hardly argue that his management team was strong and successful. However, the profit forecasts kept changing as BMH struggled with the very weak market of 1967 and a serious lack of product actions to boost the home market.

If BMC could keep its weekly production up to 15,000 a week and sell into its markets then break even was possible, but that would involve it managing to capture 35 per cent of the UK car market. Strikes at suppliers and component shortages might blow them off course into a significant loss situation. Cost control was a serious issue and BMC still could not adequately cost their cars – some older, low volume cars such as A40, Minor and Westminster were losing money and Mini and 1100 relied on huge volumes to be profitable, but warranty costs on these two products ate into profits.

Stokes went back to the Leyland Board and, at the next Board Meeting in July 1967, recommended that further studies be carried out by an ex-Leyland man, Jim Slater, now a city financier in his own right. This would take three months and it was agreed by Stokes and Barber that a decision whether to proceed would take place by October 1967 by which time it would be clear if BMH had met its forecasts of a £3 million loss. The UK market continued to be challenging as credit hire purchase controls were applied and it looked like the total market would only be about 1 million cars sold in the UK, of which if they were lucky BMC would have 350,000 sales mostly of Mini and BMC 1100.

Product planning: why BMC and Leyland couldn’t join up

maxi_01

On a sunny morning in July 1967, a young graduate Steve Hopkins, drove into the BMC car park at Longbridge where he worked in Product Planning, reporting to Roy Haynes, ex-Ford, and BMC’s new product planning supremo based at Pressed Steel Fisher in Cowley. He parked up his new management car plan Riley Kestrel 1100 and walked over to an anonymous block of offices near Q-gate to start his day. Product planning was a completely new concept to BMC.

Before Joe Edwards came back as Managing Director of BMC in 1966, Harriman had spent his days in the styling studio at Longbridge with Issigonis and Dick Burzi, BMC’s in-house stylist. Their unholy alliance ensured that no other departments were really involved in product development – hence why the 1800, new 3-Litre and the soon-to-be launched ADO14, the 1.5-litre car soon to be christened Maxi, were commercial failures and surrendered the middle and lucrative family market to Ford and Vauxhall, plus a resurgent Rootes Group.

Steve’s job was to do the background work needed to put a serious product-led revival in place and present findings to Roy Haynes, who was working to fill the gaps left by Harriman and his team. Roy had just recruited a promising young stylist from Ford, Harris Mann, whose brief was to develop a range of attractive cars to bring to market for the 1970s and regain the lost ground that the 1800 and 3-Litre models had conceded. Roy Haynes was fresh from doing the product planning on the Cortina MkII (below). It had been a stunning success for Ford of Great Britain and was being exported all over the world.

ford_cortina_1600e_4-door_saloon

Two in five cars sold in the UK were fleet cars and the Cortina was smack bang in the middle of that booming market and costed to make a handsome profit for Ford. On that sunny July day in 1967, Steve had started to do a major study into the new car market and had employed a market research agency to carry out a study into the needs and wants of the family car buyer in the UK. Millward Brown Market Research were employed to carry out a series of in-depth focus groups were groups of new car buyers were got together.

It soon became obvious to Steve and his boss Roy Haynes that the new ADO14 was going fall well short of meeting expectations. Its design and styling had been frozen except for the potential for minor tweaks and, to save money, it used the doors and centre section of the 1800, itself an ungainly car in an era of high style. It was also heavy, slow for a 1.5-litre and had front-wheel drive which would put off most of the potential fleet customers in the 1.5-litre market. The private market for a car retailing at £1000 in the UK was actually quite small.

Millward Brown diligently carried out its focus groups through the summer of 1967, and the following main conclusions were made in the final report presented to Product Planning in September 1967.

BMC generally had a good reputation for technical advancement and a very loyal following for the Mini and 1100 models. However, the 1100 needed a more powerful version and boot space was considered poor compared to a Ford Cortina of similar price. Reliability was also an issue especially for fleet buyers (who were interviewed separately). The 1800 was considered too big, too expensive and too thirsty to be a serious contender, and sketches shown of the new ADO14 also gave cause for concern regarding poor results for styling and the front-wheel-drive technology for fleet buyers.

The older models such as A40, Minor and Cambridge/Oxford were regarded as being well past their sell by dates and were no longer considered by most buyers. Buyers liked the Cortina for its simplicity, styling, specification, price and large boot. The Arrow series Hillman Hunter was also gaining ground in the family market and the new Viva was considered much better than the original version.

Haynes vs Issigonis – mid-market confusion

maxi_02

However, running completely parallel to Roy Haynes, Alex Issigonis was still working on ADO14 and getting it ready for market. It had just one engine, a 1.5-litre overhead cam unit and a five-speed gearbox, two body styles, one trim level and a very stark interior. There were to be a five-door hatchback to set it apart from the completion and a conventional four-door booted version (above). All summer testing was going on in Portugal and in Finland to make the new product as reliable as possible.

The product just wasn’t market ready, though. When Haynes saw it he was appalled at the exterior styling, the stark interior and the minimalist dash board. The gearchange was also very poor to the point of not being able to engage the gears properly without constant adjustment of the cables for the cable change. Product Planning considered that, despite the car being planned for a weekly production of 4000 units, the actual market potential was 1500 at most – even with both versions. The launch date of 1968 would have to be put back until January 1969, whilst Haynes tweaked the styling, redesigned the interior and had engineering improve the gearbox.

In September 1967, Product Planning held their first meeting to discuss the findings of the Millward Brown Market Research study into family car buyers. Round the table were Roy Haynes chairing the meeting, Harris Mann from styling, Steve Hopkins, the recent graduate, and Charles Griffin from engineering. Notable absentees were Alec Issigonis, Chief Engineer, BMC and Dick Burzi, the Longbridge stylist. Slowly, but surely, they were being sidelined and Issigonis did not command the same respect with Joe Edwards as he had with George Harriman.

Getting the mid-range mix right – in product planning

Morris Nomad added much needed versatility to the ADO16...

Roy got the meeting started: ‘Thank you for coming today gentlemen. We are here to discuss the findings of the Millward Brown study into the family car market and make some important decisions about the product plan for BMC going into the 1970s. I want to say here and now that, in my view, there needs to be a fundamental shift of direction if this great company is going to survive, it’s that serious’.

There were general nods of agreement and quite a sombre mood around the table. ‘I would like to thank young Steve here for commissioning this research and burning the midnight oil to get us where we are today. I hope you are not planning to be home to see your wives or girlfriends for tea because this is going to be a very long session’ he quipped, to gentle laughter. Roy asked his Secretary, June, to prepare some strong coffee and biscuits and one of the most important meetings for BMC’s future began in earnest.

‘You’ve all had a chance to read the Millward Brown report, so I’d like to go round the table and get your overall views please’ said Roy. Let’s start with you Steve.

‘Well, I would say the clear finding is that the family car market is growing in size, and buyers in that market want good styling, value for money, a large boot and reasonable servicing and running costs. After all, nearly half the family car market is going to fleets – many of those decisions are being made by Fleet Managers and Cortina, Viva and Hunter are taking that, while our rear-drive cars are too out of date and our front-drive cars are too complex. We need at least one car to compete against Ford Cortina and basically be our version of that car, because that is where the market is. It needs to be where the Maxi is going to be but be less complex and meet the needs of the market. The Cambridge/Oxford, Minor and A40 need to be phased out’

‘Any other thoughts, Steve?’

‘Well, although the 1100 is still doing very well, it either needs replacing in the next few years or updating. The styling needs modernising, a bigger boot needs to be made available, a wider range of engines as 1100 just doesn’t cover it anymore and maybe a hatchback like BMC Australia are planning.’

‘What about the Mini?’ said Roy.

Issigonis 9X

‘Well, as we all know Alec is working on 9X (above) at the moment which could replace the existing Mini in two years time. We have all seen it, and it’s well ahead of the opposition. It has a hatchback, he is planning a new DX engine, OHC, and it’s cheaper to build, both body in white and the suspension is conventional. However, can we afford it? It’s going to cost at least £15 million to put into production and the profit margins are going to be slim. Mini is still selling strongly, so an update is another option instead.

‘If I had to choose between new Mini and a new car to compete against Cortina, then I would go for the family car because, if we get it right, the profits will be huge compared to anything we have got at BMC and we can look at replacing Mini in the early 1970s.’

‘What are your thoughts, Charles’, Roy said, knowing full well that Charles was close to Issigonis and wanted to gauge his reaction.

‘Well, Roy, I can tell you now, Alec isn’t going to like it one bit. He sees his new 1500 as the future in family car design, and the new Mini as essential to build on what he has achieved for BMC. He will see a conventional rear-drive family car as a massive step backwards, so you’ll get no backing from his team at Longbridge. He will be straight in to see the old man (Harriman) with his point of view. However, my view is that we have got to look at the market as it really is and Ford is screwing us into the ground and so are the other Yanks to be honest.

‘If you’re talking about BMC surviving what with all the other problems, then we have got to develop a new family car for the fleet market and fast, but I hope we can build into it some technical refinement so that we are seen as having one of the best family cars in the sector which builds on our reputation for innovation, so I want it to handle well, ride well and be good on motorways.’

‘Very well put, Charles. Over to you Harris, what do you think?’

‘Well, I think most of my thoughts have been already put across so I will speak from a styling point of view, and product positioning. Firstly, I completely agree that we have a glaring gap in the market for a rear-drive family car or range of cars. Ford, Rootes and Vauxhall are fielding or planning two cars across this sector. I’ve seen some sketches of the new Anglia replacement and that car is going to do very well and compete head on with our 1100. Obviously, the main challenge is producing a Cortina competitor, but ideally we need two related cars to compete in this large family sector and take the fleet market back again from the Americans.

‘In terms of styling, the BMC front-drive cars have a family resemblance that works for Mini and BMC 1100, but falls well short for 1800, 3-Litre and the new 1500 which frankly is a bloody disaster. How it got that far without someone telling Issigonis that it was useless I will never know – it’s going to bomb in the market unless we do something about it. Our new family car needs to be high style, but European, not American in style, so not another coke bottle shape like the Victor and Viva. It needs a wide range of body styles off one platform and it needs a coupe for the US market which is buying that type of car. That way it can appeal to the UK fleet market, European buyers and the US market where we are struggling with MG 1100.

‘Oh, and it needs a bloody big boot, a wide range of engines, decent dynamics, a five-speed gearbox and a wide range of trim levels. I agree with what Lee Iaccoca has said at GM, you can sell a sporty car to an old person but you can never sell an old person,s car to a younger person or the family man, so let’s go for a sporty range, high on style, specification and desirability where we can command a higher margin. It’s not just about cost, it’s about providing that bit extra that the customer will pay for.’

Sir Alec Issigonis on his retirement

‘Well, thank you gentlemen, I’ve heard what you have all said and this is my view. I will work through the range and try to be realistic about what we can achieve given the company’s financial position. After today we need to take a product plan outline to Joe for the next Board Meeting and get Harriman’s support. I appreciate the lads at Longbridge working with Alec are going to be gutted and we are going to have some resistance but if we don’t move fast then BMC is finished and we will all be fighting over what’s left.’

‘Starting with Mini, I think that what Alec is trying to do is great, a hatchback, updated engines in an easier to produce small car. Yes, it’s just what we need, but we can’t afford it yet. Also is it a bit too small or can we replace the Mini and BMC 1100 with one model range covering the small and small family sector? So I propose we look at a facelift of Mini, a wider range of engines and some vibrant colours and trims to take the car into the 1970s. I think it’s got at least five years left in it which gives us a chance to get the replacement right for around 1973.

‘Moving onto the BMC 1100, we already have planned a 1300 version due this October, starting with the upmarket MG, Riley and Wolseley versions but progressively getting us Austin and Morris versions in 1968. That is a start. As you know I’ve been working on a facelift proposal with a new front end, new fascia and a 1300 GT version to make the range more sporting in intent. Engineering have been improving and refining the Hydrolastic suspension to give it a smoother ride with less pitching.

‘I think we need to go further. I suggest we offer a proper booted version like were doing for the new 1500, the conventional boot and take the hatchback idea from BMC Australia. There’s no reason why we cannot offer the 1500 E-Series engine with the 5-speed box and have the range topper as a GT with twin SU carbs. That broadens that car’s appeal for the 1970s and I suggest we get that done for the 1968 Motor Show so the new range is available for 1969. That should see the BMC 1100 back were it belongs as the best-selling car in the UK.’

‘Moving on, I agree with what has been said, we need a range of conventional high-style cars to compete with Ford and the others going from the Anglia replacement through to the Cortina with appeal both here to the fleet/family man and for export to the US, Australia, South Africa and Europe where we are very weak at the moment. We need that ready for October 1970, if we start now and the Minor, A40 and Cambridge/Oxford will be phased out for these two new but related models.’

‘What to do about the new front-drive 1500? That’s a tricky one, but sadly we have already spent too much on capital investment with the new engine etc. I suggest that we delay launch until 1969, put an improved gearbox in, improve the dashboard and interior, tidy up the front end and see if we can up the engine to 1600cc so at least it hits the market bang in the middle. We can have a range of bright colours, a GT version with twin SU carbs and some bold colours and we might just attract the private buyer looking for something different.

‘The hatchback, five-speed gearbox, smooth engine and huge interior space will sway some buyers who are willing to overlook the styling. In the medium term, somewhere around 1974, we can replace or rebody it along with the 1800 and replace two cars with one car at the top of the BMC range. We will give the 1800 a facelift, the new Wolseley 18/85 is launched next month and we have an 1800 S planned so that will do until the 2200 version comes along in 1971.’

That’s the models. Now to the marketing and branding… I for one think it’s frankly ridiculous having six brands across a range like the 1100. It confuses the public especially in export markets. We still have the two Dealer Networks competing with each other. I suggest we keep those, but split the brands. Morris gets Wolseley as its luxury brand and MG as its sporting brand and Austin gets Riley as its luxury brand and Cooper/ GT as its sporting brand. I think we should drop Vanden Plas as a separate brand and just have a VDP version right at the top of certain model ranges. Austin will do the high-tech, front-wheel-drive cars and Morris the rear-drive family cars with the Mini sold through both sales franchises. That way there is much less overlap and the public starts to see Austin and Morris as two distinct product lines again.’

‘So, gentlemen are we agreed that we work up a product plan called the ‘Product-Led Recovery’ and take that forward to Joe Edwards for consideration by the Board? It’s up to them to cost it and see if we can proceed possibly with some Government funding through the IRC. Harris can you start working on some design sketches for the new family car, and Steve can you start working with me on putting all this together in a report for the end of the month.’

‘Will do,’ they said in unison.

Out of the BMC ashes – a new plan emerges

So September 1967 was the turning point it was agreed in principle to update the Mini and BMC 1100, improve the 1500 (ADO14) where possible, start working on a related but two-range family car on two wheelbases but with similar styling to cover Escort and Cortina markets under the Morris brand, ditch the X9 Mini replacement but take the work Alec had done and look at a new car to replace both Mini and BMC 1100 around 1973/74, and do a product update on 1800 with a new 1800 S version and get the Wolseley 18/85 launched successfully and bring out a Riley version for the Austin franchise sitting at the top of the BMC range with Jaguar sitting above that with their new XJ6 and possibly a 2-litre and 2.4 -itre car to sit in between and take on Rover/Triumph.

This coherent product plan was taken to the Board in October 1967 and agreed to proceed. £25 million was agreed to develop the new Morris range codenamed ADO28 and this included making major improvements to Cowley and building an overhead gantry across the A34 between South Works and North Works. Morris, MG and Wolseley versions of ADO16 would cease when the new Morris ranges became available in October 1970. Issigonis was still left in charge of front-wheel-drive development but Charles Griffin was made Engineering Director, Morris Products.

Harriman was not very well at this stage and stepped down as Chairman becoming life President of BMH and Joe Edwards became Chief Executive of BMC and temporary Chairman. A further streamlining was agreed – as a consequence, the new Morris models would be built at Cowley’s South Works, all BMC 1100 models and Mini at Longbridge and the new ADO14 and 1800 ranges at Cowley’s North Works. Edwards agreed that, if the merger with Leyland did not go ahead, then BMH would go to the Government to seek £50 million from the IRC to fund the complete reorganisation of BMC as agreed with the new models and develop a new Jaguar S-type with a 2.0-, 2.4- and 3.4-litre engines to sit below the yet-to-be launched XJ6.

This would cost a further £12 million to develop and would need a new production site as Browns Lane could only handle E-type and XJ6. For 1968, the A40 and Austin Westminster ranges would cease production. The Morris Minor and Morris Oxford would have to struggle on until October 1970 when the two new Morris model ranges were available. Likewise, the disastrous Austin 3-Litre would be launched in Deluxe trim in 1968 and kept in production until the new baby Jaguar S-type came on stream around 1972. At that point the biggest car in BMC’s range would be the Riley and Wolseley 2200 six-cylinder model which would, hopefully, be taking some sales from the Rover and Triumph 2000 models that created the sector.

In the same Board Meeting the Finance Director of BMC was now forecasting that BMC would make a £21 million loss, a terrible situation and Jaguar would make a profit of £6 million but that was being used up in development costs on XJ6. It was agreed that this information be relayed to the IRC and Harriman would ‘phone Donald Stokes personally. In the end, the Leyland Board met in late October 1967 and agreed that, with those losses plus the capital investment needed to turn BMC around, they could not recommend to shareholders that they proceed with a merger or takeover. No amount of arm twisting from the IRC or promises of Government grants would change the Board’s mind. The merger was off!!

New beginnings – after the merger that never happened

Apache 1972 A

The year of 1968 was the turnaround year for BMC. Initially, the BMC 1100 received the updated 1.3-litre engine in 60bhp form and was made available in significant numbers in Austin and Morris versions as well as the upmarket MG, Riley and Wolseley versions. The MG 1300 also got the Riley three-circular instrument fascia board and both MG and Riley versions had a 71bhp engine from the Mini Cooper S. There was an immediate sales uplift of 25 per cent on that model and it was back taking 15 per cent of the UK market with production volumes of 7000 a week out of both Cowley and Longbridge. These were launched in March for the August plate change coming up.

For October 1968 there were a raft of new models planned by BMC. The ADO16 1100 range finally got the larger boot which was a similar style to the one coming out on ADO14 now called Austin Maxi and a hatchback as well as the existing arrangement. Two-door models were finally available to replace the A40 and the 1.5-litre E-Series had been updated to 1.6-litres and launched as the Austin 1600 along with Riley and Cooper versions using twin SU carbs producing 85bhp. 1300 and 1600 GT models were also launched in both Austin and Morris versions. The Austin and Morris 1800 S model and the Riley 1800 S were also launched to complete the range and a raft of improved trim changes were introduced.

The Mini had some interim changes. The Riley and Wolseley versions received the 1.1-litre engine and wind up windows with concealed door hinges and a Mini Super Deluxe also received the same door arrangements and a 1.1-litre option to fit between that and the 1100 Cooper and 1275 Cooper S.

The market had also improved to 1.1 million and BMC managed to get 36 per cent of the market and the company returned back to a break even position. Loss-making models had been eliminated and Joe Edwards had continued the cost drive reducing manning through natural wastage by a further 10,000 staff and employing a more professional purchasing team, some from Ford, who negotiated hard to get bought in component costs down slightly. There was still duplication and chronic over-manning but BMC was moving in the right direction. The model mix had improved and margin per car was up slightly as the upmarket BMC cars sold better with the larger engines and raft of sporty models.

In January 1969, Raymond Baxter (the new PR Manager recruited from the BBC), launched the Austin Maxi 1600 Super and Super Deluxe in both hatchback and saloon form as well as a GT version with twin carbs and a Riley version with burr walnut fascia and leather seats in Portugal. The improved rod-based gearchange and 1.6-litre engine made the car acceptable if not great, and the press gave the model a lukewarm reception due to its styling. However, it was much better than the prototype that Issigonis had planned to launch 12 months previously and engineering had worked hard to make it acceptable. The car got off to a reasonable start selling to private buyers and the saloon version to a few fleet managers, and it took 3 per cent of the market in the first six months of 1969, against 16 per cent for ADO16, and 10 per cent for Mini.

Another important milestone was reached in 1969. The IRC released £50 million of investment for the new BMC models and updated facilities at Cowley while the design of ADO28 was finalised by Charles Griffin and Harris Mann’s styling was approved. There would basically be two model ranges and a high-style coupe. The smaller car would be available as a two-door saloon and a three-door estate car and sit on a 90in wheelbase and have a length of 162ins. Named Morris Modena, the car was a direct Escort and Viva competitor with a 1.1-litre and 1.3-litre A-Series engine and a 1.6-litre E-Series engine mated to a four-speed gearbox.

Suspension was conventional, but tuned for a sporty drive. There would be 10 versions starting with the 1100 Deluxe and offering and MG 1300 and 1600 versions as well as a Wolseley 1300 and 1600 – all carrying the Modena name badge. The styling was contemporary and European in flavour with low running costs. The MG and Wolseley had twin headlights and a traditional radiator grille. All the Morris models had sports bucket seats, a sports steering wheel and a radio with twin speakers as standard. Getting the reps to like the car and offer something more than Ford or Vauxhall was the key to this high style but cheap to produce car. Target profit was set at £100 a car for the Morris versions and £200 for the MG and Wolseley versions – more than double what ADO16 was achieving.

To be launched in June 1971, the larger car in four-door saloon and five-door estate were to be launched sitting on a 96in wheelbase and 174in overall, 2in longer than the yet-to-be launched Cortina MkIII. This model would have a 1.6-litre E-Series engine, a 1.8-litre B-Series engine while, planned for 1972, was a 2-litre OHC version of the B-Series to complete the range. In a naming competition, given the choice of three names, Major, Maestro and Marina, the workforce at Cowley overwhelmingly chose Marina. The key features of this car were a large boot (much larger than the Cortina), five trim levels including an Deluxe, L model, HL, MG and Wolseley derivatives, the later featuring full leather seats. All models except the deluxe model will feature a five-speed gearbox as standard, a new gearbox designed for this model and the upcoming Jaguar S-type.

Condor
ADO68: Project Condor

Meanwhile, Harris Mann was working on a high-style Coupe based on the larger ADO28 and badged solely as an MG to be sold in world markets but, especially, in the USA. Codenamed Condor, it was to based around the new 2.0 OHC engine, and have a twin-cam version which would also form the basis of the new Jaguar S-type. The planned launch date was October 1972

Both these models were frozen in design terms in the summer of 1969, and prototypes were produced and testing began in earnest. Product Planning estimated that these two models should sell at a rate of 8000 a week for world markets and generate £40 million of additional profit per year for BMC.

Finally, the Mini received its full upgrade for the 1969 London Motor Show. A squared-off front was applied by Harris Mann and the new car was christened the Mini Clubman available as a 1100 saloon and Traveller and a 1275 GT with the 72bhp power pack. The Cooper S retained the existing body shell but received a 76bhp version of the same engine. Other Minis also finally got the wind-up windows and concealed hinges plus some vibrant new colours. Sold as both Austin and Morris versions through the two franchises, the little car had its best ever sales performance in 1970 selling 340,000 units in world markets.

On the marketing side, BMC as an overall brand became more prominent. The decision was taken to add a the BMC rosette to the lower wings of all BMC cars and the BMC rosette was displayed in all front windscreens as a stick on logo in the top left-hand corner. A new advertising campaign carried the strap line,’ BMC – Make for the cars that Make sense.’ Totem illuminated signage was developed for the dealerships with the sub-brands shown below, Austin, Riley and Cooper for the Austin dealers, and Morris, MG and Wolseley for the Morris dealers, 5000 dealers in total just in the UK. The decision was taken to keep many of these small local dealerships as they encouraged brand loyalty and local people kept going back to the same dealer over and over again.

1967_Pininfarina_BMC-1800_Berlina-Aerodinamica_01_ (600x325)

At the Turin Motor Show of 1968, Pininfarina showed two design proposals based on the BMC 1100 and BMC 1800 platforms called Aerodynamica (above). They were high-style updates of the existing models and showed what BMC could do in the 1970s should they choose to do so. They certainly fitted in with the high-tech aspirations for the Austin franchise. Roy Haynes and Harris Mann had to decide whether they were right for BMC or whether they should develop their own replacements for the front-wheel-drive ranges.

Certainly, by 1974/75, the BMC Mini, ADO16 1100 and Maxi/1800 would all need replacing and, in truth, BMC could only afford two model ranges to replace four models. A three and a five-door hatchback slightly larger than Mini could replace the Mini and 1100 and a hatchback family car could replace both the Maxi and the 1800/2200, but that decision was some way off.

Financially things improved markedly in 1969. Firstly, UK sales were stronger as the market grew and the updated BMC ADO16 and the new Maxi in two body styles made a significant difference to sales. The company managed 38 per cent of a 1.2 million market and exports improved as well. Profits came in at £10 million which was short of what was required but a big improvement on the £21 million loss of 1967.

1970 was a frustrating year in many ways as marketing waited for the new Morris products, Modena in October and Marina in June 1971. The revised Mini, including Clubman, sold very strongly though and ADO16 became even more popular – the company finally achieved 40 per cent of the British market again for the first time since 1965. The new Conservative Government of Edward Heath acknowledged that Joe Edwards had a achieved a remarkable turnaround in BMH’s fortunes. The new Jaguar XJ6 had been launched in London personally by William Lyons and, by 1970, long waiting lists were building up. Many considered it to be the finest car in the world!

jag_heritage_jaguarxj6_1967_01

Eventually, in October of that year, the first truly new BMC car was launched as the Morris Modena with its MG and Wolseley derivatives. It was a huge hit with 20,000 pre-orders from fleets and private customers following the 1970 Motor Show. The Morris Marina was even more popular and considered a fine competitor to the Ford Cortina MkIII. It had more interior space, much more boot space and a wide range of engines and trim levels. It hit the family car market bang in the centre and was soon the second-best selling car in the UK, with the ADO16 at number three and the Morris Modena at number five.

In the first full year of all the new models being available the UK market boomed and 1.7 million cars were sold. BMC managed to take 44 per cent of the market while Jaguar had a record year as it launched the XJ12 and readied the new S-type for launch in 1973 when it was widely expected to achieve world-wide sales of 50,000 units from a new production site at Castle Bromwich, an ex-aircraft production facility.

In 1972, BMH made total profits of £65 million, £55 million from BMC and £10 million from Jaguar Cars, more than enough to finance the new model replacements being worked on for 1974/5. The turnaround was complete and the group sold over 1 million cars for the first time. Yes, problems remained, the company still employed too many people, the unions still had too many restrictive practices and product quality was still an issue. The four front-wheel-drive models all needed replacing and all had their problems to varying degrees, but the company was profitable, asset and cash rich and had a very strong Dealer Network in the UK and a strengthening network in world markets especially Europe.

All was set for the second phase of the product-led recovery, a replacement Mini with new OHC engines and a five-door version to replace ADO16, code named Metro. Above that a new front-drive family hatchback with far better styling and a long wheelbase saloon and hatchback to replace the Maxi and 1800 were on the horizon. The main decision was whether to go in-house with Harris Mann designs or develop the Pininfarina concepts from 1968 further and have a more avant-garde style for the high-technology Austins.

This is a purely fictional article and none of the events actually happened – the author therefore hopes that none of the real-life characters mentioned in the piece take any offence and see the article for what it is, an interesting look at what might have been.

Appendix 1
BMC Austin Franchise 1971: Model Range

Austin Mini

  • Austin Mini 850/1000 Deluxe
  • Austin Mini 850/1000/1100 Super Deluxe
  • 
Austin Mini 1100 Cooper
  • Austin Mini 1275 Cooper S
  • Austin Mini Clubman 1100
  • Austin Mini 1275 GT
  • Austin Mini Clubman Estate
  • 
Riley Elf 1100/1275

Austin 1100/1300/1600 (ADO16)

  • Austin 1100/1300 2-door and 4-door Deluxe
  • 
Austin 1100/1300 2-door and 4-door Super Deluxe
  • Austin 1100/1300 2-door and 4-door Super Deluxe hatchback
  • Austin 1600 4-door Super Deluxe hatchback, 5 speed
  • Austin 1300/1600 GT hatchback
  • Austin 1300/1600 Super Deluxe Saloon
  • 
Austin 1300/ 1600 GT Saloon
  • Riley 1300/ 1600 hatchback
  • Riley 1300/1600 Saloon
  • 
Austin 1600 Cooper hatchback/saloon
  • Austin 1600 Cooper S, 2-door hatchback
  • Austin 1600 Cooper S, 4-door hatchback

Austin Maxi (ADO14)

  • Austin Maxi 1600 Deluxe hatchback, 5-speed
  • 
Austin Maxi 1600 Super Deluxe hatchback, 5-speed
  • 
Austin Maxi 1600 GT hatchback, 5-speed,
  • Riley Maxi 1600 hatchback, 5-speed
  • Austin Maxi Cooper, 5-speed
  • Austin Maxi 1600 Super Deluxe, 4-door saloon, 5-speed
  • 
Austin Maxi 1600 GT, 4-door saloon, 5-speed
  • 
Riley Maxi 1600, 4-door saloon, 5-speed
  • Austin Maxi Cooper, 4-door Saloon

Austin 1800

  • Austin 1800 Super Deluxe
  • 
Austin 1800 S
  • 
Riley 18/85 and 18/85 S
  • 
Austin 2200 Super Deluxe
  • 
Riley 2200 Six

Appendix 2
BMC Morris Franchise 1971: Model Range

Morris Mini

  • Morris Mini 850/1000 Deluxe
  • Morris Mini 850/1000/1100 Super Deluxe
  • MG Mini 1100
  • MG Mini 1275 S
  • Morris Mini Clubman 1100
  • Morris Mini 1275 GT
  • Morris Mini Clubman Estate
  • Wolseley Hornet 1100/1275

Morris Modena

  • Morris Modena 1100/1300 Deluxe 2-door
  • Morris Modena 1100 L/1300 L 2-door
  • 
Morris Modena 1300 HL/1600 HL 2 door
  • MG Modena 1600 2-door
  • Wolseley Modena 1600 2-door
  • Morris Modena 1100/1300 Deluxe Estate
  • Morris Modena 1100 L/1300 L/1600 L Estate
  • 
Morris Modena 1300 HL /1600 HL Estate
  • Wolseley Modena 1600 Estate

Morris Marina

  • Morris Marina 1600 Deluxe 4-door
  • Morris Marina 1600 L/1800 L 4-door 5-speed
  • Morris Marina 1600 HL/1800 HL 4-door 5-speed
  • MG Marina 1600/1800 TC, 4-door 5-speed
  • Wolseley Marina 1600/1800 4-door 5-speed
  • 
Morris Marina 1600/1800 Deluxe Estate
  • Morris Marina 1600 L/1800 L Estate
  • Morris Marina 1600 HL/1800 HL Estate
  • Wolseley Marina 1800 Estate

Morris 1800



  • Morris 1800 Super Deluxe
  • Morris 1800 S
  • Wolseley 18/85 and 18/85 S
  • Morris 2200 Super Deluxe
  • Wolseley 2200 Six

Copyright, Simon Weakley 2016

48 Comments

  1. The image of Issigonis shows the boxed No 10 Meccano set he received on retirement.

    After his loss of Office Issigonis, closed the door on personal relationships with those who he considered to be disloyal, ie those who continued to work with BL management, one of those being Alex Moulton

  2. Excellent article although I don’t necessarily agree with its conclusions.
    How far would Harold Wilson and Anthony Wedgwood Benn have gone to force a merger with Leyland?
    Ford UK’s grip on the fleet car market did not start to wane until around 1982 and the arrival of the Vauxhall Cavalier MK2. They got in first and dictated the market.
    As I see it BMC’s problems were a direct result of France’s rejection of Britain’s 1963 application to join the EU. As a consequence the size of market they were able to sell in at a competitive price was very restricted, and the UK car market plateaued in around July 1966 and remained stagnant until 1971. BMC had capacity designed to feed export markets which it could not sell into at the right price.

  3. Enjoyed the article though curious to know where Coventry Climax are in this counterfactual scenario given they were producing the CFF/CFA V8 for use in the Jaguar XJ Junior (presumably the new S Type mentioned in this article) as well as possibly the MGB?

    Also do not think Riley or Wolseley were really viable marques in terms of sales to justify their continued existence though like the idea of Cooper / GT being Austin’s sporting brand, MG in turn being Morris’s sporting brand with Vanden Plas being BMC’s Radford / Wood & Pickett (selling both pre-set and bespoke versions of certain models that eventually filter down to mainstream models).

    Reckon BMC’s problems were a combination of Britain’s application for EEC membership being rejected, marginalizing of pre-BMC Morris personnel that were responsible for Morris’s reputation in properly costing its cars and not dropping the Farina B cars with inferior componentry for essentially an early/mid-60s version of the counterfactual’s Morris Modena / Morris Marina (albeit with more advanced componentry).

  4. I pretty much agree with all the plans although I wonder whether it would have been cheaper to create a two litre engine by adding an extra cylinder to a 1.6 E4 rather than reengineering the B series.
    If the radiator were moved to the front, I guess it could have been put in the Maxi if desired.

  5. BMC’s problems were caused by De Gaulle blocking UK’s entrance into the EEC. Instead of looking at investing in more foreign production, on top of the Innocenti and Belgium plants, it ploughed money into factories that wee spread across the UK in non motor producing areas – therefore losing out on more continental business. Had they invested heavily in foreign manufacturer instead of being insular and narrow sighted, BMC could have grown their business considerably, as did FIAT and Renault did during the 60s and 70s and would probably have still been here today.

  6. An interesting what if? article. It’s always fascinating the ponder what would have happened if something diferent had been done. I find reading about prototypes that were never productionised inetesting in a similar way: what would have happened to the companies fortuns if that car had been put into production?
    On the subject of prototypes I’d be highly interested to hear more about the proposed ‘new’ Jaguar S-Type that was mentioned above. If enough information can be unearthed, this would make for a very interestin article on its own!

  7. I really did enjoy you scenario, and a few years ago wrote my own around how Leyland could have evolved itself into a major European Automotive and Aerospace group (like BMW) by avoiding the advice of Benn and Wilson’s desire for a National Motor Corporation.

    I agree with you very much that the ADO16 was not fully exploited at the end of the 60s through to its replacement in the mid 70s, even more absurdly because the investment development was done for the subsidiary markets with the Nomad and Apache, we should also not forget Innocenti in Italy who turned the mini into a smart and funky looking hatchback which given some hydragas sub frames (again developed by Moulton) would have given them 9/10ths of a Metro ability 6 years earlier and given that the Clubman was 5 years old already in 74, surely it should have been the ideal replacement and just what was needed in “Fuel Crisis” Britain.

    But I would not have gone chasing the fleet market with BMC own Escort / Cortina, I can understand why it was tempting and I am sure dealers were pointing at the Arrow and saying why can’t we have one of those and you can see why as the Arrow was able to go head to head with the Cortina mk2 and Consul despite being little more than a reskin of existing mechanicals. But it was not so easy for BMC (as the Marina proved), they did not have the benefit of what was a very well developed powertrain that Roots had, their own had been on the back burner for some years while resources were focussed on the FWD developments and still born projects like the V4, you also have to add to this that the tooling was tired for both powertrain and the running gear and needed renewing.

    I would also challenge the logic of going head to head with Ford and Vauxhall well costed cars made in by BMC standards modern and efficient factories, plus Chrysler coming to the market with clean sheet designs (the Avenger and what was to be the still born 180) from fully modernised factories, BMC simply could not produce the cars cheap enough to get involved in the inevitable price war for the fleet market. The resulting cars would just as the Marina did prove too expensive to bring to the market and generate too little profit during their short shelf life to have any hope of recovering their investment. The only thing it would they would be effective at would be stealing sales from the groups own products, just as the Marina did with the ADO16. To me the investment in such cars would be better spent making sure our FWD cars were as cheap to run on a fleet as a RWD car (I will call this project: Cavalier 2).

    I think your strategy for the Maxi is spot on, get the new Stylist from Ford to do what he can, whilst with Issi side-lined into his own Meccano projects department to free engineering to upsize the engine to a 1600 with sporty twin carb derivative and resurrect the 1300 version (more on that later) and a 5 speed gearbox for the 6 cylinder 2.0 and 2.4 derivatives.

    To my strategy broken into Short Term (Next 3 years), Medium Term (3 to 6 years), long term (6 to 10 years) delivery to market.

    Short term (Save the ADO16)

    1: Consolidate dealers into a single network.
    2: Brands to become our trim levels, accept Mini which would become its own Brand
    Morris – L
    Austin – HL
    Wolsey – HLS
    MG – Sport L
    Riley – Sport HLS
    3: Emergency facelift and re-engineering of Maxi hatchback and Saloon (as above) into a range of 1600 cars, with twin carb for MG and Riley versions.
    4: Pininfarina asked to freshen up the ADO16 raising the bonnet line for the E series and front mounted radiator, A series 1100 and 1250 Morris and Austin saloons, 1300 E series Wolsey saloon and Morris and Austin 5 Door, 1600 E series single carb for MG and Riley variants (twin carb part of a dealer fit tuning kit).
    5: Mini given a tidy up to sort out what can be done quickly to keep it fresh, generate less warranty claims and make it cheaper to build whilst not spending too much cash.
    6: MGB gets a tidy up and 1600 E series to replace midget, using MGC front end to enable E6 engine to be used in 2000 for MGD and 2400 in Riley derivative (note this engine was designed to meet tighter emission requirements, which makes it ideal for US market).
    7: 1800, gets 2 .0 and 2.4 E6 with 5 speed
    8: E series and E diesel introduced to LCV so enabling B series to be phased out (so avoiding expensive retooling for marina / O series), RWD axles and transmission sourced from 3rd party (ie Axles from GKN as Volvo did and why not buy in Gearbox from Volvo)

    Medium Term (Call in the Italians)

    1: Pininfarina and engineering tasked with reskinning the ADO16 into a tidy 3 and 5 door hatchback, while engineering work hard on service cost and reliability. To be sold as the BMC 200 Series (1100, 1250, 1300, 1600)
    2: Pininfarina and engineering tasked with reskinning the ADO16 into a tidy 3 box 4 door saloon and estate to be sold as the BMC 400 Series (1300, 1600)
    3: Pininfarina and engineering tasked with reskinning the Maxi into a new midsized 3 box saloon, fast back hatch and estate but widened just enough (ie not as wide as a 1800) to take an E 6 to be sold as the BMC 600 Series (1600, 2000, 2400)
    4: Bertone and engineering tasked with reskinning the Mini into a 3 door hatchback (1000, 1100, 1250) to establish Mini as a distinct brand and look from BMC wider range.
    5: Pininfarina asked to clothe two 600 series sub frames in a Dino like body (project MGF) to create our new MG 500 & 700 (1600 / 2000) and Riley 900 (flared wheel arches for wider tyres, leather interior and a 3 carb 2400).

    Long Term (Consolidation)

    Engineering tasked with developing a new family of engines to replacing ageing A and flawed E. all engines iron block with alloy head with belt drive OHC

    S4 4 pot small block 5 bearing 1000 to 1400 cc Single OHC petrol
    S4 4 pot large block 5 bearing 1400 to 2000 cc Single and Twin OHC petrol and diesel
    S5 5 pot large block derivative 6 bearing 1750 to 2500 Single and Twin OHC petrol and diesel

    A new range of End on gearboxes with an alloy block
    4 speed low torque for engines up to 1600 cc
    5 speed low torque for engines up to 1600 cc
    5 speed high torque for over 1600 cc engines

    Engineering tasked with developing 3 core platforms

    Mini – for small block engine
    200/400 – 4 pot large block
    600/800 – 5 pot large block

    Bertone tasked with utilising Mini platforms for following range

    Mini 3 a compact 3 door hatch using the Mini SWB platform
    Mini 5 a compact 5 door hatch using Mini LWB platform
    Mini Van Compact box van using Mini LWB platform

    Pininfarina tasked with using the platform for the following range

    200 3/5 Door hatch using 200/400 SWB platform to take on Golf sized cars
    400 4 Door Saloon and Estate using 200/400 LWB platform to take on Golf sized cars
    600 GT Estate using 600 / 800 SWB platform (only available as MG and Riley spec) to take on SD1
    800 4 door saloon and Estate using 600/800 LWB platform (only available as Austin and Wolsey spec) to take on Granada and Volvo
    800 5 door fastback LWB platform (MG and Riley spec) to take on premium SD1 and act as halo model

  8. The idiotic politicians and pundits seemed to think that more investment, which could not be generated internally, could overcome Common Market trade tariffs.
    Fiat, Renault and VW did not sell more cars than BMC because they were better, but because they sold into a larger market. And because they sold more cars, they made more profit and could reinvest more.

  9. Very interesting Graham, I did wonder if the Maxi saloon with the 1750cc E series could have replaced the 1800 so slim down the range & not tread on Triumph & Rover’s toes as much.

    Not sure where this would have left the E6, would that have fitted into a Maxi?

    • Not quite I think is the answer but it would not have needed much as it was resigned to fit into an 1800 engine bay with an end on radiator which was dropped to improve refinement long before it reached production.

  10. Also the mention of 5 Cylinder engines, recently when discussing them in one of the Rover pages someone suggested they were hard to make before fuel injection became common.

    • Yes you need fuel injection, but in my plan they would appear from thw mid 70s when affordable electronic fuel injection was available. It was even being tested on the SD2 slant 4 engine before it was killed off.

      • We know that with the benefit of hindsight, but how realistic would it have been for product planning to know it several years in advance? Even more, know it with a certainty that a company’s long term planning could rely on it?

        • I think it was quite reasonable to be planning a 5 cylinder engine in the late 60s as we have the following evidence.

          Fuel injection both mechanical and electronic were around on premium volume production cars in the early 70s including a system manufactured by Lucas (Triumph 2000 PI of 1968), also noting that the cheap as chips Plymouth Cricket (US spec Hillman Avenger) also had an electronic fuel injection system (all be it a primitive single barrel system) to meet the US emissions requirements.

          Rover were looking at a 5 cylinder engine in the late 60s to fill the gap between the Rover 2000 and the V8.

          Audi launched their first 5 cylinder engine onto the market in 1978 (which in my plan would have been the earliest date BMC would have launched a 5 cylinder engine car).

          My plans for a BMC 5 cylinder engine is in the premium 2 Litre plus sector of the market (just like Audi and where Triumph had pitched the 2500 PI) which makes Fuel injection affordable in the late 70s.

          So in conclusion it would not have considered it unreasonable in the late 60s in planning a product for the late 70s to have a 5 cylinder fuel injected engine in the mix, as the technology existed and was being worked with in the West Midlands at the time and Audi delivered just such a product to market in the late 70s.

          • VW were another early adopter of fuel injection.. Their Type 3 1600 and Type 4 411 being available with Bosch Jetronic from late 1968.
            A 1970 411LE was the least reliable car I ever owned, but that’s another story (of 18 year old electronic components in damp Lancashire).

  11. Even though there was a lot of room to further develop the A-Series (many of which never entered production), it kind of puzzles me why the DX engine in the 9X project was not carried over as a replacement for the A-Series slotting below the E-Series.

    Since if Issigonis’s DX OHC engine was developed along somewhat similar lines to the larger E-Series than in theory at least it should have been possible to increase the max capacity of the 1-litre Inline-4 DX to a 1.3/1.45-litre with the 1.3/1.5-litre DX Inline-6 in turn being uprated to a 1.6/1.75-litre if needed, in the same the E-Series was originally conceived as a 1.3-litre Inline-4 and 2.0-litre Inline-6 only to be updated to a 1.75-litre Inline-4 and 2.6-litre Inline-6.

    So the production DX engine would take over from the A-Series, while the E-Series largely takes over from the B-Series sans the 2.0 O-Series, with the 2.0-litre O-Series in turn also spawning a 3.0-litre 6-cylinder unit to take over from the 2.9/3.0-litre C-Series unit slotting above the 2.6 E-Series.

  12. Good article and some interesting what if s. Looking at bmc overall it had too many cars competing with each other, not enough customer appeal and the models had to soldier on for far far too long until replaced.
    This spelt disaster for the future unfortunately. Like the idea of condor, a 2 litre coupe for the world, especially the USA with mg badge. If they had got this one right ,it could of blown the Datsun 240 z into yesteryear, made some fantastic profit and the bmc image would have gone into the stratosphere. If only……

    • In certain respects BMC can be seen in this problem as being a reflection of the UK in the 1960s, on the one hand you have a backward looking nation, wishing things could be like they were in the old days and this can be reflected with BMC products such as the “half timbered” Morris Minor Traveller and on the other hand a forward looking nation focusing at the cutting edge of science, technology and social change and this can be reflected in products such as the ADO 16 with its fwd and clever suspension and classless appeal.

      The end result however was both a nation and a business going nowhere but down in the 1970s.

      • As an certified Anglophile I’m sorry to say your description of Britain in the 60s still seems true today, as it very much reminds me of, and seems to convincingly explain, your recent and current Brexit difficulties.

  13. Also by investing in a fleet car, which was the area where Ford UK were strong, BMC were diverting resources away from improving their front wheel drive technology, an area where they were leaders. This enabled their European rivals to catch and surpass them.
    The styling of the Allegro was apparently personally chosen by Lord Stokes and George Turnbull in December 1968, and approved by the BLMC board in September 1969, so had BMH remained independent I suspect the ADO22 would have gone into production instead. Remember the ADO16 did not fade away, but had its production capacity reduced to make way for the Marina at Cowley. And as already commented here, the Marina ate into ADO16 sales, as a Morris badged ADO16 was no longer available at Morris dealers.

  14. Interesting scenario – but I’m missing the impact that work relations would undoubtedly have had on BMH in this scenario just as they have in real history (or else, an explanation why they wouldn’t). Take the strike-happy 1960s/70s British unions out of the picture, and you don’t need to prevent the Leyland-BMH merger to get a much better situation by 1972 than it was in our timeline.

    And then, a minor (no pun intended) niggle: “Modena” with an English pronounciation sounds way too similar to “Marina” for the two to be used alongside each other as model names, I’d think.

    That said, I’d still be interested to see an exploration of how the car business of Leyland Motors would have continued in this scenario, and how it could have developed beyond 1972. Here are some thoughts I have on how such a timeline could continue all the way to 2016:
    * The Leyland car business (despite some critical conflicts with the unions) successfully consolidating into and continuing as an upmarket producer with the brands Triumph, Rover and Land Rover and still existing in 2016, albeit fully or at least majority-owned by Honda;
    * Jaguar eventually being split off from BMH again, much as it was from BL in our timeline, but being in a much weaker position today because of head-on competition from Rover and, in recent years, not being joined to a cash cow like Land Rover – unless Jaguar gets bought up by a strong car corporation with deep pockets like, say, Volkswagen;
    * the rest of BMH, i.e. mostly BMC, eventually failing much for the same reasons that BL/ARG/Rover did in our timeline, but possibly earlier, the 1980s or 1990s – with Mini either going under too or surviving in a similar fashion to our timeline; IMO a spin-off and survival of Mini would be the more likely, the later BMC/BMH goes under.

    But then again, with something more appealing in place of the Allegro, and maybe a Riley brand successfully established in the upmarket sector and marketed across Europe instead of being killed off, and work relations being handled maybe just a little better, a very different outcome seems conceivable too. I just think it would have to be at the cost of someone else, compared with our timeline (probably the likes of Rootes/Chrysler UK, and a Vauxhall weakened further before the recovery thanks to Opel-derived product kicks in).

  15. Svenman

    I can’t see the Leyland car business having anything to do with Honda. The origins of that deal, the Triumph Acclaim, was to cover the lateness of LC10.

    P8 would probably have been launched, while something like SD1 and SD2 would also have been launched. I imagine that without the Austin/Morris FWD “bias” their replacements would have stayed RWD like the 3 and 5 series

    I imagine the Land Rover and Range Rover would have been developed sooner than they were, it wouldn’t have taken until the 80s to develop the 90/110 and 5 door RR

  16. @ Ian Nicholls
    I completely agree. The pursue of the “simple car” with the Marina was a complete waste of time and resourses. Instead, they could have used the Victoria / Apache styling as 4 door saloon along with 5 door hatchback version with the rear end from the Maxi / Nomad. At the same time they should have available the resourses to improve, refine, and make reliable the driveline and suspensions of the ADO16. These improved mechanicals would have stayed in front of the competition even into the 1970’s where they would continue to serve under the reskin necessary for the replacement models.

  17. The events following the July 1966 credit squeeze have been allowed to distort our view of BMC at the time. Ford UK barely made any profit at the time, but they did not go into panic mode like HMG who thought BMH were heading for the rocks, mainly due to the collapse in car sales they themselves had inflicted.
    What we got was a forced marriage in which a truck manufacturer and low volume car maker gained the upper hand over the UK market leader.
    The premium products of Rover and Triumph were less affected by the credit squeeze than the volume manufacturers, and this was reflected in the share price of Leyland in 1967. Also Leyland’s booming truck exports inflated their share price.
    The whole merger came about because of an extra-ordinary set of circumstance that favoured Leyland and gave the ultimately false impression that it was a well run company.
    The credit squeeze hurt BMH more just as Leyland were peaking, thus causing the
    Share price to favour the truck men. After the merger BMC sales recovered as Mini and ADO16 production soared to new heights whilst in 1969 Leyland trucks experienced it’s first major strike in decades. The Leyland men saddled BMC with the Marina and Allegro whilst the truck business went into decline when faced with serious competition from Sweden.

  18. Regarding Leyland in this or a similar scenario, what if Leyland managed to instead acquire the Rootes Group in the early/mid-1960s from under the noses of Chrysler?

    Since in theory the Rootes Group appears to be an ideal base for Leyland as a marque to grow as opposed to BMC / BMH (Leyland Imp, Leyland Swallow, Leyland Asp, Leyland Alpine, Leyland Tiger with Rover V8, etc), slotting below Triumph and effectively succeeding the than discontinued Standard marque.

    • Nate

      I think the problem is the same as with British Leyland, Leyland simply did not have the money to develop Triumph and rover let alone turn Roots around. We should note that he reason Chrysler failed was simply economics, Linwood, Ryton and Stoke simply could not build Arrows and Avengers in enough numbers and at a price that made them economic, it was this reality which saw the investment slashed in 1970.

      Also note the reason Standard focussed on the Triumph brand was again economics, it was simply was not the viable to be fighting it out with BMC, Ford and GM on their production volumes, they needed to have a price premium.

      The mistakes of Leyland management to me are clear

      1: They took the focus away from their Truck and Bus business which was where the profits were generated.

      2: They focussed on achieving dominance in the UK market (taking over Rover and BMC) instead of developing opportunities rapidly expanding European market for their Triumph and the Leyland brands.

      • Agree to some extent with Leyland as it was with Triumph and Rover largely overlapping though who the likes of BMC, Leyland and others acquired in that period was not a given.

        The Rover Company considered going with BMC at one point before choosing Leyland, while it is suggested in Sir William Lyon’s book that he would have chosen Leyland instead of BMC had Sir Henry Spurrier not retired in 1963 and lived a bit longer.

  19. Was it possible to grow any brand in strike torn Britain in the 1970’s?
    The country was visibly tearing itself apart to the benefit of the importers.

  20. Leyland Motors was in the running in acquiring the Rootes Group prior to the latter being snapped up by Chrysler.

    Cannot say though a smaller company like the former Rootes Group living on under the Leyland marque has a better chance of working than desperate efforts at re-branding Austin-Morris cars as Leylands.

  21. Looking at your car line up, I see you’ve dumped the Austin 3ltr. While this was a sales disaster it actually was not a bad car and with a change of engine (2.6 E series or better 2.8 coventry climax v8) and a restyle could have been a very good car.

    It also showed that hydrolastic, hydrogas suspension could work on rear wheel drive. A cut down version would have made an excellent basis for your Morris Medina/Marina. And indeed for a replacement to MGC/Austin Heally

    • You are very right it was a good car, but it was selling into a small market sector which was already well covered by Jaguar and Rover, so it really was a wasted effort investing in its development and shows how poor BMC understanding of the market was (1800, 3 Ltr, Maxi).

      I suspect the platform would have cost too much to make to be used as a basis for a volume car to go head to head with an Escort / Cortina, although may be some of the undertsanding from the project may have been useful.

  22. I may be wrong but wasn’t the floor plan simply the same as an 1800 which did have a “transmission tunnel” to increase rigidity. All of the development costs would have been paid. The alternative would be modify a Maxi floorplan.

    If you look at the assets of BMH in 1967 then Hydrolastic suspension was definately one of them. You could have had a FWD car that rode and handled like a Maxi, 1800 or one that rode and handled like a Marina.

    The other big asset was the E-series engine. Properly developed this could have replaced both the A, B and C engines in a varity of 4, 6 and 8 cylinder versions. This would have lead to common tooling and componentary that would have reduced cost overhead. Instead Leyland developed (and underdeveloped) the triumph slant four, the Rover 2.3 2.6, The 0 series, the A+ and various other still born project, with the E getting precious little deveopment and not used in either the Marina, The Princess (smaller engined versions, the MGB, the midget,MGC, Austin 3 ltr or smaller versions replacing the A series in either ADO16, or the mini.

    • The Maxi has the same doors’ & therefore the same windscreen profile as the 1800. However the latter was a wider car so the floor pan would have been different,

      The E series was developed into the S series via the R series but Intake your point about exploiting its modular nature more. Originally the E was to have been made available as a 1.3 four which would have made a 2.0 six. However if a 1.6 version had been created, as it was with the later R & S series units, a five seater 2.0 could have been created. This would probably have fitted in the Maxi if the radiator were repositioned to the front & would have been more appealing than a six come the fuel crisis of 1973.

    • The E-Series could have also spawned 1114-1311cc 3-cylinder versions (including the reputedly related ECV3 unit) with potential engine sizes as low as 870cc via the 1160cc E4 though wonder whether it was possible to further decrease the capacity of the 1160cc / 1300cc 4-cylinder E-Series variants to below 1000cc in order to replace the 998 A-Series?

      On the one hand can see the advantages of developing the E-Series family to range from a 870cc 3-cylinder to a 3496cc+ V8, yet on the other hand can an engine known to be both tall and heavy in 4-cylinder form really be made to fit into a Mini outside of the custom Andy Saunders Maxi-Mini 1750, let alone have been a significant improvement over the DX and existing A-Series engines (plus various shelved A-Series developments)?

      From what is known so far about the E-Series and related developments the theoretical E engine family appears as follows:

      E3
      870-1311cc (or 749cc at lowest via potential 998cc E4)
      E4
      1160-1750cc
      E6
      2000-2622cc
      E-V8
      2600-3496cc (or 2320cc at lowest via 1160cc E4)

      Also cannot see how either the 1750 E4 or 2000 E6 can replace the 2.0 O-Series (plus M/T-Series successors), the E6’s power was below-par even in 2.2 E6 form while the E4 was already at the limit capacity wise preventing the 1750 E4 from becoming a full 2.0 outside of a few overbored racers though to be fair the E4 did have some potential of being turbocharged via the 150 hp 1.6 S-Series that powered the Rover 216 Vitesse Janspeed Turbo.

  23. I have always been of the belief that the Marina should have been fwd and based on a development of the ADO16 platform- with wheelbase extended to between 96 and 98inches. The engine range should have been 1.3 A series, 1.5/1.75 E-series.(or 1.6 E-Series) Body style should have been similar to the Roy Haynes Marina but the fwd packaging would have allowed a slightly larger boot and passenger compartment. This would have given the car several USPs over the Cortina/Viva/Avenger/Arrow- fwd, 5spd gearbox, hydrolastic suspension and small OHC engines.

    It would have made a lot more sense to develop the car from the 1962 ADO16 components rather than ones from 1948. In addition by keeping the car fwd it would not have sent out the message that Leyland did not have faith in fwd. Although it is true that here in Britain we still loved simple mechanicals and rwd the clever European manufacturers with which the Marina had to compete were quickly moving towards fwd. The car based on the extended ADO16 platform would have had similar proportions to the Renault 12 and AUDI 80.

    Leyland did not have the development budget or the economies of scale to successfully build a Cortina competitor so it would have been better to invest in improving their existing fwd mechanical layout more reliable and cheaper to manufacture.

    Not producing the E-series in 1.3 form was also a mistake. Having built the engine in 1.5 form the extra cost of putting the 1.3 into production would have been minimal. Even if the manufacturing cost were greater than the 1.3 A series it would have offered buyers an OHC engine matched to a 5-spd gearbox which would have been almost unique in the early 70s improving Leyland’s reputation for cutting edge engineering.

    One of recurring mysteries on pages of AROnline is the reason for many model/engine combinations not being available was down to lack of production capacity. A case in point is the 4 cylinder E-series not being used in the Marina or Princess. Bearing in mind that when it was first developed it was also to be in 1.3 form surely BMC/Leyland must have seen the potential to replace top A-series as well as B-series engines. The reason for the Cofton Hackett plant was to build 6000 engines a week but with the bullish productions hoped for the Maxi and the unrealistic market growth that was predicted they could only have been building less than 20% that number.

    • I very much agree with you that a FWD solution for the mid-range should have been the way to go, the Marina was just a distraction that they did not need and took volume and investment from the ADO16 which right up to its demise was always limited like the mini by production rather than customer demand.

      However why risk the ADO16 with a rushed job when its selling well, sure some light refreshment and upward movement with the E Series to create a 1500 premium version (as the Australians did), but if it is to be replaced it needs to be proper well sorted solution.

      However if you are planning to do something “quick and dirty” why not use the problem child with no hope of success, the one no one would miss the Maxi.

      So leave the ADO16 alone, but reskin the Maxi as a basis for a 100 inch 3 box saloon and estate which would have sat neatly between the 1800 and the ADO16, with a 1300 and 1600 E series, but if you had done that why not make it a tad wider to fit the E6 (with a front mounted radiator so not as wide as intended for the 1800) to give a 2000 and 2400 option as well (with a 5 speed) and so delete the need for the 1800 which was standing on Triumph and Rovers toes. I would however not employ some “wide boy” from Ford, this is a BMC customers get Italian styling so I think off to Italy to get something along the lines of the Fiat130 Saloon and Coupe that Pininfarina penned at the same time, tell me that would not lead to some soiling of the underwear in Dagenham.

  24. Fascinating what if. My only question is, in the absence of the merger, what would the new RWD products be based off? Either something very old or it’s pie in the sky, there’s no Triumph or Rover around with whom to share a RWD component pool.

    I like proposals to keep ADO16 ticking over with Nomad / Apache instead of wasting time and money on Allegro. Also with the poster above – realistically the only thing to do would be
    ” reskin the Maxi as a basis for a 100 inch 3 box saloon and estate which would have sat neatly between the 1800 and the ADO16 “, then call in the Italians. Just about everything could have been powered by E-series engines. Allow Jaguar to creep down market with a new Mk2 powered by an Eseries straight 6.

    In which case you may as well dump Morris right away and concentrate on Austin. Maybe keep the name for Vans and / or developing markets.

    • Probably some form of hydrolastic / hydragas RWD platform either derived from the Austin 3-litre or the MG EX234 prototype, ADO17 was also originally conceived as a RWD model prior to being converted to FWD.

      Read some consideration was given to using either hydrolastic / hydragas for ADO77, though BMC would have still had some options in the absence of ADO77.

      There were also plans by Jaguar to develop an XJ Junior project of roughly similar size to the Type 105 Alfa Romeo Giulia to challenge the Triumph 2000/2500 and Rover P6, which utilized components from the MGC and was to be powered by Coventry Climax 1.8-litre CFF / 2.5-litre CFA V8 engines.

  25. An alternative for BMC would be create a three brand approach – Austin Morris merged as one as it’s basic motoring, a slightly upmarket and reskinned Austin Morris either branded as Riley or Wolsey and Jaguar being at the top of the pile. Alec Ignossis brilliant 9x project could have been the basis of new models, but rebodied 1100, 1800 and 3000 models would have probably more realistic, with the 9x is being developed and stretched to fit these as replacement models until the 70s. The A and E series should have been used as the motive power for AM and Riley, while Jaguar could be invested in a 2000/P6 rival powered by a combination of E series and XK and spawn a smaller Jag sports car, and MG replacements.

    • From what I have read regarding the ADO16 version of the 9X, it seems it could have potentially been smaller than ADO16 in the same way the 9X was compared to the Mini. Being roughly of similar size to the sort of low-cost ADO16-based supermini some believed BMC could have produced or in essence a slightly larger 5-door 9X Mini as opposed to a true ADO16 replacement.

      At the same time BMC could have probably taken an evolutionary approach to their existing cars from the Mini being replaced by a version of Project Ant, ADO16 and ADO17 being rebodied (plus equipped with larger engines) with the 3-litre being potentially downsized and lightened.

      As for Jaguar it is still a bit early for them to use BMC engines, though they could have developed a Daimler V8 or V12 based 4-cylinder (or even a V12 based V6) engine as an entry-level engine for their 2000/P6 rival.

      Compared to both Riley and Wolseley, MG has both the volumes and brand recognition to slot between Austin-Morris and Jaguar.

      • MG would be another alternative for a mid brand.

        The 9X was stretched once to create a larger car, the basis could be used to grow again – VW have shown that modular floorplans are possible and with Sir Alec at the helm I feel they could have gone down this route. With styling at Cowley under Roy Haynes and engineering at Longbridge under SIr Alec, BMC could pull it off.

        Also with the engineering brilliance that Jag had in the engine department they probably could have turned the E Series into something a lot better. The V8 Daimler engine was extremely heavy as it was designed originally as the bigger engine and then designed down. It was also push rod which Jaguar would want to move away from to show they were advanced.

        • The concern with the 9X and 10X along any other upscaled models would be its gearbox layout and whether the DX engine in 4-cylinder form would have been able to adequately cover the lower-end of the E-Series range from 1100-1600cc, assuming there was scope for further enlargement of the 750-1000cc 4-cylinder unit as opposed to the 1200-1500cc+(?) 6-cylinder version of the 9X/10X engine?

          Perhaps Jaguar and Coventry Climax could make the 9X/10X engine more viable compared to what actually happened where it last appeared in 100 hp 1.3 6-cylinder form inside an MG Metro.

          At the same time the Mini, ADO16 and ADO17 along with the A-Series (via A-OHC), B/O-Series and arguably even C-Series still had plenty of life left to justify a lower-cost evolutionary approach being taken, unless it would possible to pension off such updates to BMC divisions outside of the UK.

          Figured Jaguar would be able to salvage the Daimler V8 by giving it a proper upgrade beyond the proposed 5-litre version, basically including a better executed version of the weight loss and update program done for the C-Series engine.

  26. As far as brands are concerned, I think Austin, MG and Jaguar are the only ones that had a hope of really surviving in a slimmed down but more successful BMH. Then again, I always liked the sound of ‘Sterling’ as a brand – perhaps that could have taken the role of Wolseley/Riley/Princess as the mid range brand. It just sounds that bit more modern/aspirational, despite the awful reality of how Sterling turned out in the US. So you’d have Austin today as being a bit like Mini but with a larger range of cars which (hopefully) were as innovative as they are trendy. Then there would be MG, which would sit somewhere between our universe’s SEAT and Alfa Romeo. Sterling would be somewhere between Skoda and Volvo or a bit like what the Rover company of the late 80s/early 90s would have been like if it hadn’t sunk under the weight of walnut and leather and chrome grilles. And on top, Jaguar, which would have been pretty close to the Jaguar of our universe, but perhaps just that little bit less ‘wannabe BMW’.

    • If BMC played it right, the Sterling role could have easily been taken up by Vanden Plas as a sort of itinerant experimental luxury coach-builder marque to cater for customers who want something a cut above the typical Austin or MG as well as maybe Jaguar, along with well-heeled customers who would have otherwise opted for Radford or Wood & Pickett versions of existing BMC models.

      On the other hand Jaguar had Daimler, which could have retained the V8 as its USP with the launch of the Range Rover possibly inspiring BMC to take Daimler in a new direction if not properly revive marque in a more Maybach role.

  27. Ah, forgot about Daimler and Vanden Plas. I’d imagine them as being alternative names for the same unit within a 2017 version of British Motor Holdings that would rival Rolls Royce (and who would they be owned by in our alternative universe?). Perhaps accompanied in this counterfactual BMH by an Aston Martin rival in the shape of (Austin?) Healey?

    • Apparently around that time the Healeys were unhappy at BMC, partly because of the MGC that was to also spawn a canned Austin-Healey version to replace the Austin-Healey 3000 as well as Jaguar undermining the Austin-Healey 4000 project due to perceiving it as a threat to the E-Type.

      So it depends on how much longer the Healeys would be willing to remain at BMC even without the formation of BL, should Jaguar’s protectionist actions against its perceived internal rivals continue.

      Ideally BMC would push MG to be more like Alfa Romeo comfortably slotting below Jaguar in a “Junior Jaguar” role and perhaps even later spawn an Aston Martin rival in this counterfactual scenario, yet it would depend entirely on Jaguar not undermining such a plan in order to pursue its own plans to go downmarket as was the case in their planned XJ Junior project to challenge the Rover P6 and Triumph 2000/2500.

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