Ever wondered how Austin Rover ended up with its iconic green and blue chevrons?
Thanks to Declan Berridge, here’s the full story. Enjoy!
Further to recent discussion of the Austin Rover logo, I thought it would be interesting to trace its development. I don’t claim that this is comprehensive, and some of the dates are approximate, but it’s a start.
Herbert Austin founded the Austin Motor Company in 1906, and designed the company’s first emblem, the winged wheel, himself. The wings represented speed, as did the clouds of dust that could be seen at the base of the wheel. This was usually accompanied by the now-familiar Austin script. The ‘Flying A’ mascot was designed by chief stylist at Austin, Dick Burzi, and would become synonymous with the brand during the post-war years.
William Morris entered the motor industry relatively late, in 1913. He chose the insignia of his hometown, Oxford, for his company badge, which represents an ox fording the river Isis.
The MG brand was introduced by Cecil Kimber, General Manager of the William Morris-owned Morris Garages Ltd. The simple but very effective octagon badge made its first appearance in a press advertisement in July 1923. The first MG cars appeared in 1925, but the octagon was only used on the sill treads at this stage. Its first appearance as a radiator emblem came in 1928, the same year that the MG Car Company was formed.
Percy Riley designed and built his first quadricycle in 1896, at the age of just 14, while working for his father’s Riley Cycle Company. He went on to form Riley (Coventry) Ltd in 1913, and the familar blue diamond badge was born, with the legend ‘The King of Cars’. By 1921, Riley was promoting itself with the line ‘As Old As The Industry’, and by 1925 this has evolved into the company motto, ‘As old as the industry; as modern as the hour’, which would be a feature of the badge until the mid-1930s.
Frederick Wolseley turned his attention to car production in 1895, with a model designed by his nephew and employee, Herbert Austin. The distinctive illuminated radiator badge made its first appearance in the mid-1930s, almost a decade after the company had been bought by William Morris. It remained a feature of Wolseley cars right up until the final model in 1975.
William Lyons first used the Jaguar name on his SS cars in 1935. When the company name was changed from SS Cars Ltd to Jaguar Cars Ltd ten years later, the cars carried the winged Jaguar badge beneath a Jaguar’s head bonnet mascot. The famous leaping cat mascot had been designed by company draughtsman Gordon Crosby at Lyons’ behest in 1927, but was initially offered only as an optional extra. It was not until the mid-1950s that started to supplant the jaguar’s head mascot on factory cars. The head motif would re-appear on the badging, such as that used on the Jaguar 2.4 litre, and modified versions of both the leaping cat and jaguar’s head motifs remain in use by Jaguar to this day.
As well as having one of the oldest names in the motor industry, Daimler also has one of the oldest insignia, with the company script having changed little since at least 1910.
By 1938, William Morris’s Nuffield Group consisted of Morris, MG, Wolseley and his most recent acquisition, Riley. During the post-war years, the Nuffield Group used a heavy block capital serif font both as its corporate typeface and for the Morris logotype.
British Motor Corporation, 1952
The merger of the Austin Motor Company and the Nuffield Group resulted in the creation of the British Motor Corporation Ltd and its jingoistic red, white and blue rosette.
By the 1960s, BMC was consistently using the following logotypes for each of its passenger car brands, including the newly-launched Vanden Plas marque. Those used for the former Nuffield marques are all-but-indentical to relevant companies’ pre-merger insignia, but the traditional Austin script had been adandoned in favour of the former Nuffield typeface – a clear indication as to which of the BMC partners had the upper hand at this point.
Leyland Motor Corporation, 1963
The Leyland Motor Corporation was established in February 1963, following a period of fierce acquisition by commercial vehicle manufacturer Leyland Motors Ltd, with the group taking over Standard-Triumph Ltd in 1961 and Associated Commercial Vehicles (which included AEC, Maudsley and Thornycroft) in 1962.
The Leyland roundel made its first appearance in 1964. Colloquially referred to as the ‘catherine wheel’ or ‘flying plughole’, it initially featured an inner ring holding an italicized, sans serif, capital L – somewhat redolent of today’s Lexus symbol.
LMC’s sole car division, Standard-Triumph International, was still being represented by the following logo at this stage:
By 1965, the centre of the roundel had been redesigned and a border added, holding the LEYLAND legend.
With the demise of the Standard marque that same year, Triumph was now represented by this neatly extended version of the corporate logo. However, the car division was still called Standard-Triumph International Ltd, and its parts operation – Stanpart – continued to be promoted into the 1970s.
In March 1967, LMC acquired the Rover Co. Ltd (and its Alvis subsidiary).
British Motor Holdings, 1966
When the British Motor Corporation acquired Jaguar in December 1966, a new holding company – British Motor Holdings – was formed, with BMC Ltd and Jaguar Cars Ltd as its operating subsidiaries. BMH itself was not used as a brand, although it would have appeared on company stationery and in corporate documents.
Thus, Jaguar and Daimler joined BMC (and its six sub-brands), forming BMH’s portfolio of passenger car marques. On the commercial vehicles side, BMH now encompassed the former Jaguar subsidiaries: Guy trucks and Daimler buses.
British Leyland Motor Corporation, 1968
The British Leyland Motor Corporation Ltd was formed by the politically-arranged merger of British Motor Holdings with the Leyland Motor Corporation Ltd.
A new logo was duly created by the simple expedient of extending the border of the LMC logo upwards to incorporate the word BRITISH.
Logos for the plethora of sub-brands were hastily created along the lines of LMC’s 1965 treatment for the Triumph brand, while continuing to use the established font styles for each marque. BMC Ltd remained as the volume car group for the time being.
1970 saw the demise of the BMC Ltd and with it, the BMC brand. The volume car division became Austin-Morris (formally ‘Austin Morris and Manufacturing Group’) while the Specialist Car Division consisted of the three premier companies: Jaguar Cars Ltd, The Rover Co. Ltd. and Triumph Motor Co. Ltd. Alongside these sat the Truck and Bus Divsion, Special Products Division and finally, British Leyland International.
As a result of these changes, the handful of BMC-badged vans and trucks were rebranded as either Austin-Morris or Leyland, depending on size. Also, a funky new variant of the logo had by now been added for the newly-independent Mini brand, while the Riley brand had been discontinued in 1969.
By 1972, the individual text styles were replaced with the same sans serif font that had been used for the Leyland logo in 1970.
British Leyland, 1975
As a result of the rationalisation and restructuring that followed the publication of the Ryder Report in 1975, BLMC was renamed British Leyland Ltd, with four operating groups: Leyland Cars, Leyland Truck and Bus, Leyland Special Procucts and Leyland International.
The new logo retained the distinctive BLMC roundel but dispensed with the border and text.
The main logo was supported by six brand logotypes that were used within showrooms to denote which marques were sold. For this purpose, Vanden Plas was considered to be part of Austin, MG as part of Morris and Range Rover as part of Rover. As for the ‘marqueless’ cars, history was observed in that the Maxi fell under Austin while Mini and Princess were deemed to sit within both Austin and Morris.
BL Cars, 1977/78
Under the stewardship of Michael Edwardes, British Leyland Ltd became BL plc. The passenger car division was renamed BL Cars Ltd and was itself split into three main divisions: Austin Morris Ltd, Jaguar Rover Triumph Ltd and BL Components Ltd. The JRT division was an umbrella company for three further companies: Jaguar Cars, Rover Triumph Cars and Land-Rover Ltd. Underlying these changes was a conscious decision to play down any association with the British Leyland era and instead place the emphasis on the five key brands. In Back from the Brink, Edwardes said: ‘It was vital to get people’s attention focused on Jaguar, Austin, Rover, on Leyland for trucks, on Land Rover and on Unipart. The only way to do this seemed to be provide the holding company with a low-profile, uninteresting title, and so BL was born.’
For the BL Cars era, the roundel was reworked once more: it lost its central ‘L’ and was reversed out on a square background with radiused corners.
In the earliest publications it was usually used either on its own (for corporate purposes) or with the ‘Austin Morris’ logotype. The JRT division was represented only in plain text. Also, the badging on cars was not changed at this point.
Determined to send a loud and clear message that it was now about the brands, BL raided the archives to adorn the covers of these first brochures with some very traditional emblems for each of the five main marques. The Austin Morris edition was given a pale blue background, the Jaguar Rover Triumph one dark blue.
Backgroud info: the Austin crest
These brochures featured the coat of arms which Herbert Austin had adopted on his ennoblement in 1936, when the title Baron Austin of Longbridge was conferred on him. Based on the historic Austin family armorial bearing, the new shield rendered for Lord Austin incorporated several elements that would symbolise his keen support for hospitals and various other charitable endeavours. The traditional chevron on the central shield was replaced by a cross – representing protection in heraldry, but also reminiscent of England’s national symbol, the St. George Cross; the company was Austin of England, after all. Wheatsheafs and lozenges – symbolising bounty and constancy – were placed in the four segments, while the gold colouring represented generosity.
This crest supplanted the original ‘wheel and wings’ as the Austin company emblem, and continued to appear on a variety of Austin publicity material until the end of the 1960s, as well as appearing on the Austin-Healey Sprite badge until the car was re-badged as an Austin for its final model year, 1971. The crest’s central shield also clearly provided the inspiration for the seemingly-anonymous badges used on the various ‘marqueless’ cars, including the Mini, Maxi and Montego.
Occasionally, all five key brand names would appear alongside the new roundel on corporate material:
In what looks like a false move, this hybrid black-on-white version of the new roundel was used in a 1978 Vanden Plas publication. It does not appear to have been used again.
Within a few months, BL had introduced modern, streamlined interpretations of each of the JRT marques’ traditional logos for use as the main branding on publicity material, accompanied by the secondary branding of the division name and BL roundel.
Backgroud info: the Triumph laurel wreath
The origins of the Triumph laurel wreath logo can be traced back to the late 1950s, when it was used to publicise Triumph’s victories in the Circuit of Ireland Rally. A revised version was used to mark the Dolomite’s success in the 1972 Mobil Economy Run, and featured prominently in the following year’s 50th anniversary celebrations. It continued to be used as a backdrop to the Triumph name and images until 1974, but was dropped following the formation of Leyland Cars. Its revival in 1978 also saw it applied to a car for the first time, when it was displayed proudly on the nose of the Canley-built TR7s. It made its final appearance on the Acclaim in 1984.
Background info – the Supercover logo
In Austin Morris brochures, the Supercover logo lost the ‘Leyland Cars’ roundel/text and gained a new slogan.
Contemporary JRT material simply featured the word ‘SUPERCOVER’ with the slogan underneath.
Later in 1978 BL presented the new Austin Morris logo. The JRT side of the business contuinued to be represented by their individual emblems, and again, no car badging was changed at this point. The first car to feature the new Austin Morris logo (minus the text, of course) was the Morris Ital in 1980.
The following extract comes from a 1978 BL publication introducing Austin Morris Ltd.:
The counterpart Jaguar Rover Triumph publication, seen here alongside the Austin Morris one, bears no branding at all, supporting the notion that adding the green bars was something of an afterthought. However, the use of green colouring throughout the JRT booklet suggests that BL had already had second thoughts about using dark blue for its premier division – perhaps due to the fact that this colour was already closely associated with other maufacturers, notably Ford and Lancia.
The new Austin Morris logo clearly captured the imagination of the graphic designers, as can be seen on the cover of a 1979 Motor supplement and on a paint and trim card from the same year:
In 1982, it received a patriotic makeover for this Austin Metro promotion:
By 1981, the five-bar logo shown below was being used, with the three extra green bars representing Jaguar, Rover and Triumph.
The Supercover and Leycare schemes had been brought together under the ‘Service’ heading which had its own logotype. However, for the time being, the original Leycare logo would remain (but without the old British Leyland roundel).
In Germany, Leyland GmbH accounted for Land Rover by using a six-bar variant of the BL Cars logo, proving that it was at least scalable (provided your piece of paper was wide enough…). Incidentally, some versions of this logo show Land Rover spelt with a hyphen, others without.
British Leyland France used a version of the logo that omitted the text on the bars, effectively predicting the style of the Austin Rover logo that would eventually emerge.
Around the Autumn of 1981, the Jaguar bar was removed from the logo on public-facing material (although it still appeared on in-house publications), marking preparations for the eventual sale of the Jaguar division.
However, the Service logo would retain its ‘Jaguar’ bar for some reason. By this time, the Leycare logo had also been redesigned and brought into line with the new blue/green colourway.
Also in 1981, the separate Freight Rover brand was created for the Sherpa range, foreshadowing the sale of the light commercial division that would eventually become Leyland DAF Vans (now LDV).
Austin Rover Group, 1982 onwards
April 1982 saw the first appearance of the new Austin Rover logo, developed by simply deleting the roundel and the text from the previous BL Cars logo. From this point forward, the individual bars of the logo ceased to stand for anything in particular, and this anonymity would pave the way for the imminent reintroduction of the MG marque… and the forthcoming demise of Morris and Triumph.
However, at this stage, Austin Rover Group was described as ‘a managing agent for BL Cars Ltd’, so the roundel was still lurking in background – albeit demoted – and would continue to do so until March 1983.
The previous Supercover and Leycare logos continued unchanged, despite the fact that the Princess depicted in the former was now defunct. They were joined by a new logo for Supercover Plus, an extended warranty scheme.
By the summer of 1982, the logotype had been subtly changed so that the words ‘Austin Rover’ sat squarely above the logo, thus marking the genesis of the definitive Austin Rover logo.
The launch of the Maestro in the spring of 1983 also marked the formal transition from ‘BL Cars Ltd’ to ‘Austin Rover Group Ltd’, bringing with it a number of other changes. The text in the corporate logotype was changed to upper case, and this would remain as the definitive Austin Rover logo until the launch of the Rover Group.
The Supersheild 6-year corrosion warranty was introduced, with a logo based on that used for Supercover Plus. Also, The Leycare brand was finally dropped in favour of ‘Austin Rover Service’, although still retaining the mechanic motif for a while.
To mark the launch of the Maestro, ARG adopted the distinctive font used on the Maestro’s publicity material for its corporate logo – but only, it seems, on Maestro brochures. The same font also started to be used for block headings in other brochures.
Meanwhile, across the Channel, BL France used these adaptations of the aftercare logos, but oddly depicting RHD cars:
The later Austin Rover France versions corrected this anomaly:
1984 saw an overhaul of the aftercare logos. The car silhouettes were replaced with the corporate ARG logo and scheme name was rendered in the ‘Maestro’ font. At the same time, Supercover Plus was rebranded as Supersure and the scheme’s slogan reverted to the original Supercover one. Also, a rash of new logos were added for various other ‘super’ services: the ‘Supersurance’ insurance scheme, ‘Supertrust’ breakdown cover, ‘Supercard’ budget card, ‘Supercheck’ used card inspections and ‘Supercredit’ finance schemes. While these logos now conformed to the new ARG identity, things were getting a bit out of hand…
…so ARG sensibly brought all these services together under the Supercare brand name. By 1985, they had also introduced a new corporate logo for Austin Rover Service, finally breaking the link with the Leycare mechanic.
Rover Group, 1986
The Rover Group was created in July 1986, under Graham Day. The strategy was to drive the company upmarket by focusing on what were perceived as the two strongest brands, Rover and MG. Day was of the opinion that Austin, in its 80th anniversary year, was seen as a relic of the Sixties and Seventies that had no place in his new empire; he famously declared that ‘young people do not want to drive an Austin.’
However, this transition would take some time to complete, and the four-bar Austin Rover logo would remain in evidence until the launch of the R8-series Rover 200 in 1989. During 1987 the Austin marque was removed first from brochures, and then from the cars themselves. The non-MG Metro, Maestro and Montego models were now officially referred to just by their model names, while greater prominence was given to the Rover logo in publicity material. During this transitional period, a fulll-range brochure would typically boast the Rover badge on the front cover and feature the Rover models first; the M-cars would be found on the later pages, and tucked away in a corner of the back cover would sit a monochrome version of the waning Austin Rover logo.
The launch of the Rover 200 range in October 1989 finally saw the new Rover Group branding supplant the Austin Rover logo, and within a year the new Rover Metro would consolidate the brand identity still further.
In 1992, a year after the demise of the MG Maestro and Montego models, Rover again revived the MG marque, this time for the RV8 – a re-invention of the classic MGB V8 roadster. A new version of the MG octagon was also unveiled, with the sides now sporting a gentle curvature and the background having a grooved appearance. The dark burgundy colouring provided a visual link with the main Rover Group identity.
The original Unipart logo (left) was reworked in 1975 (middle), and remained in use until it finally gave way to the corporate ‘Austin Rover Parts’ logo ten years later. However, the Unipart Group lived on, as did its instantly-recognizable logo.
Special Tuning and Motorsport logos:
Leyland Historic Vehicles (later BL Heritage) was formed in 1975 to manage and preserve examples of the cars produced by the constituent companies. While its administrative headquarters was based at Studley in Warwickshire, the collection of historic vehicles was located first at Donington Park and later at Syon Park in Brentford.
In 1983, the Austin Rover Group Heritage Trust (ARGHT) was formed as a partnership between the Austin Rover Group and the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust (BMIHT), with ARGHT owning the cars within the collection and BMIHT being responsible for their display and management. At the same time, the separate Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust was formed to handle the Jauguar/Daimler elements of the collection, in preparation for the sale of Jaguar. In 1993, a new purpose-built facility – the Heritage Motor Centre – was opened at Gaydon to house both BMIHT’s headquarters and the collection of vehicles.
Meanwhile, in 1985, BL Heritage Ltd had been transformed into British Motor Heritage Ltd, with a new mission: the remanufacture of bodyshells and other hard-to-find components to help keep popular models from the BMC>Rover family on the road. The first new bodyshells, for the MGB, appeared in 1988, and from 2001 onwards (when BMW dispensed with Rover), the company has been operating as an independent concern.
The ARGHT logo featured overlaid silhouettes of a classic Austin and a Rover SD1 (geddit?). The British Motor Heritage logo replaced the former BL roundel with the anonymous-looking outline of a veteran car, while the BMIHT logo built on this by adding interlocking cogs to represent industry. Crucially, the lower cog is shown breaking out of the rectangular border, a reflection of the fact that the Trust’s remit was to extend beyond just BMC>Rover…
The logo of BL Finance Ltd, which used a stylised version of the BL roundel, first appeared in the early Eighties, and stayed put well into the Austin Rover era. It was replaced by Austin Rover Finance in 1984.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.