Obituary : Tony Benn 1925-2014

Keith Adams

Tony Benn

Tony Benn, lifelong supporter of the empowerment of the working class and architect for industrial change as part of the Harold Wilson-led Labour Government between 1964 and 1970, has died aged 88. He opened the Post Office Tower in 1966 as Postmaster General, then oversaw the development of Concorde and the formation of International Computers Limited as Minister of Technology – but, for readers of AROnline, his biggest impact on the industrial landscape was his role in the creation of British Leyland.

Tony Benn had been a rising star in the Labour Party sincing joining parliament in 1950, and would make himself an indispensable part of Wilson’s 1964 Government, which chimed perfectly with the times. Britain was confident, forward-facing and building brilliantly for the future, embracing what was coined at the time as the ‘white heat of technology’. Despite the outward confidence, Britain’s economy was struggling, though, with a balance of payments deficit and falling industrial output. And with a Socialist manifesto to pay for, the first matter of business was to cut defence budgets, and bring to an end the British Empire.

Tony Benn’s grand vision for industry was something to behold. It involved amicable mergers between the principal players – and, in the car industry, that meant encouraging Donald Stokes to start talking to George Harriman with a view to BMC and Leyland joining forces. At the time, this policy of merger was commonplace within the motor industry – one only needed to look at Germany and the formation of Audi out of NSU, DKW and Wanderer, and their subsequent take over by Volkswagen to see that this was an international phenomenon, and not just the ambition of a British politician.

Benn was committed to protecting manufacturing jobs in Britain and maintaining UK ownership of the country’s largest carmaker was essential in achieving that aim. The creation of British Leyland, therefore, was his idea. He would subsequently say that he, ‘did not want the British Motor Corporation destroyed by Ford and General Motors. If we had done nothing, BMC would have collapsed.’ Co-operation was the way forward for Tony Benn and, when successful, the cost to the taxpayer would be minimal, while the benefits could be great – when it worked.

The formation of British Leyland should have been a merger of equals but, following a couple of poor financial years, the balance of power tipped in Leyland’s favour. That meant Donald Stokes and Leyland essentially annexed BMC, changing the dynamic of the agreement and causing seismic shifts in what was to become of the national carmaker. Not least in the relationship with the unions, which were gaining strength and confidence to fight the management at every opportunity. Benn, who was also Chairman of the Industrial Reorganisation Committee, always felt that British Leyland’s management, and not the unions, were to blame.

Within a year of British Leyland’s formation, Tony Benn recalled, ‘Had lunch with Donald Stokes and the Leyland board. The number of strikes now in the motor industry does indicate a complete breakdown of communication. When we began talking about this, they said that Barbara Castle’s speech last year – in which she had said that power was passing to the shop floor – had done more damage than anything else. I said that it seemed incredible that if this was true – and none of them denied it – there should be any difficulty about it being openly declared. Although they were conscious of their own managerial defects, they were still a long way from realising that relations with the workforce required a great deal more time and effort, thought and participation than they were giving.’

In 1970, Labour unexpectedly lost the election and remained in opposition until October 1974. During those four years, British Leyland’s once-bright future had become unstitched, thanks to a combination of lost output through strikes, a collapsing world economy because of the Energy Crisis and a weak model range. Within weeks of returning to office, Labour was forced to bail out British Leyland and it was Trade and Industry Minister, Tony Benn, who told the House of Commons that the Government would be buying a majority stake in the company – and then subsequently propose its model and industrial strategy.

Harold Wilson and Tony Benn were forced to save British Leyland from going under – the effects on the Midlands, had the company gone under, would have been unimaginable in 1974. The company still operated from more than 50 factories and employed around 200,000 workers. The Government commissioned the Ryder Report and it was Tony Benn who agreed its contents, putting it forward to Parliament.

Sadly, it was flawed from the outset, as the company’s management under Wilson’s Government, was encouraged to work to Benn’s treasured policy of ‘industrial democracy’. This was meant to empower the workforce and have them roll their collective sleeves up and work hard to save British Leyland. Instead, it handed power to the shop stewards, and the subsequent loss of production, due to industrial action, was a tragedy on an national level – and one that an idealist like Benn would never have imagined. But then, he was far more principled than those to whom he’d handed over power.

Benn then became Energy Secretary and Eric Varley replaced him at Trade and Industry Minister – his direct involvement with British Leyland was over. In March 1976, Harold Wilson resigned as Leader of the Labour Party and Benn’s attempt to run for leader failed, with him finishing fourth. James Callaghan won, and Benn remained on as Energy Secretary.

The British Leyland experiment was very much on life support when Tony Benn’s talents were diverted elsewhere in 1976 and, truth be told, as laudable as his ideas were for the nationalised carmaker, they were unhinged by excessive industrial action, that under-developed model range, a lack of rationalisation within the company and, most tellingly, an increasing loss of confidence from the British buying public. Of course, it would be easy that this was naïveté exhibited by a principled man that was out of touch with the mood of the working man – or at least their union leaders – especially considering that he’d already found them too militant back in 1969. That would, though, be underselling Benn’s grand vision for British industry.

It’s easy for armchair experts to criticise Benn for railroading BMC and Leyland into a merger of unequals, stating that the failure of BMC ended up bringing down the once-great Leyland part of the company, but the potential for success was there for all to see. Equally, by not merging, both could have been lost even sooner – as even successful Rover and Triumph never really had enough working capital as an independent entity to develop models for the future.

Benn’s legacy in the car industry might well be a controversial one but, without his intervention, the British motor industry as we knew it may well not have even made it into the 1970s – certainly BMC was on the edge of oblivion when the company was taken over by Leyland in 1968 – and, again in 1974, when the company was about to fall off a cliff, he stepped in and managed its Government bail-out, without which, British Leyland would have died. Some would say that might have been a case of industrial natural selection but, without  British Leyland, Birmingham, Oxford and many other production centres could have become industrial wastelands.

The mere thought of standing by and letting that happen was against everything that Tony Benn believed in…

Keith Adams
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  1. No doubt well intentioned, the BL/BMC merger was far more self-destructive than anything Ford or GM would have done to it.

  2. Benn was such a nice, well meaning bloke with the lot of the working class man in his mind. Unfortunately, most did not share his altrusitic vision of sharing and democracy and simply bent things to their own agenda.

    Tony Benn ended up a really being a “Tim Nice But Dim” sort of character being used by the unions and militants to further their own greedy power struggle. Anyone remember “the longest suicide note in history”?

  3. A thoroughly decent & principled man if utterly misguided. The latter was born out by the merger of BMC & Leyland. The idea of merging two UK car companies together was a good one but a BMC Rootes merger would have been far better since the companies products complimented each other.

    Rootes could have provided the RWD cars in the Arrown (Cambridge replacement anybody) & Avenger which would have meant that there wouldn’t have been any need to develop the Marina, Instead the money could have been spent on a replacement MIni, coming on stream in around 1973. This would have been a runaway success in light of the oil crisis & probably kept Linwood open without the £160 subsidy three years later.

  4. Small detail: Wanderer was part of the original four companies that – Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer, hence the four rings in the logo – formed Auto Union in the 1930s and had nothing to do with the 1960s consolidation.

    What actually happened is that after WWII, all the Auto Union factories were under Soviet control in the East, and DKW started anew in the West. In the late 1950s, the ‘big’ 1000 cc DKWs were rebranded Auto Unions with the four-ring logo, and around the same time (1958) Mercedes took over as they wanted the Düsseldorf facility for building Mercedes vans. DKWs and Auto Unions from that point were exclusively built in Ingolstadt. The last DKW/Auto Union model was a DKW again, and when Mercedes sold out in 1964 that last DKW got a four stroke engine developed by Mercedes and became an Audi. Audi merged with NSU and the lot got snapped up by Volkswagen, who largely left NSU langhuishing from the RO80 debacle and built up the Audi brand instead. After the last NSU left the works in 1977, Audi even snatched NSU’s slogan ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’…

    • Not quite…NSU was bought by VW and then merged with Auto-Union to form Audi-NSU Auto-Union AG; it was Auto-Union VW bought in 1964 – but not all of it – I think Wanderer is still owned by Mercedes, so technically the 4 rings should be 3.

  5. He championed Concorde as the technology minister which makes him the messiah as far as I am concerned. With hindsight it ended up a magnificent white elephant, but during the 1960’s the idea of a 1350mph jet carrying 130 passengers was a great idea. Then the Yom Kippur war and the 747 happened.

  6. In a way Benn probably saved hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Midlands by intervening in 1968 and 1974 to keep a British owned car industry.
    BMC was starting to struggle by 1968, when British Leyland was created, as their model range was overlapping, the Mini only made modest profits and some of their cars like the Morris Minor were ancient and becoming an irrelevance. It was inevitable that Benn saw a tie up with Leyland, which was far more profitable and had a huge presence in the commercial vehicle secotr, as logical. Also six years later when the merged company almost went under, he nationalised it to save 180,000 jobs.
    Benn may have been misguided, some of his views were often staggeringly naive such as industrial democracy, but at least he did save a large part of the British car industry from collapse in the seventies and probably had he not intervened in 1968 and 1974, then the British Leyland/ Rover story could have ended in the seventies.

  7. Some may not like his politics, but if you want to know what a conviction politician is, Benn was the embodiment, the holy grail.

    He had integrity without equal. Nobody can say that about those three ponces from LibLabCon. At all.

  8. One only had to see the contribution to the UKs GDP by British Leyland along with the numbers who could have been made unemployed if it had gone bust in 1974 to realise Benn had to act.
    His general idea was a noble one, but he perhaps misunderstood the Unions and the destruction they were to do to BL between 1974 to @1980, it’s market share collapsed and due to dismantling its world wide production and sales arms post Ryder Report it remained ever more dependent on domestic sales, sales which remained in a state of terminal decline to the company’s death in 2005.

  9. A good bloke with a real industrial vision. Far from the greedy financial plans which run the economy today and destroy jobs everywhere in the UK and in Europe.

  10. I’m not sure Germany is a good comparison, as they have no equivalent of British Leyland; VW-Audi, BMW and Daimler/Mercedes are 3 superpowerful entities, and VW’s main expansion has mainly been in recent years since about 2000.

    The effect of BL was to drag down the profitable prestige and commercial vehicle companies,to bail out the loss making BMC parts. Leyland Trucks could have been one of Europe’s leading commercial vehicle makers, if it had been able to mainly concentrate on its activities and expand into Europe

  11. #7

    The intention was to stop Concorde AND the TSR2 project, Concorde could not be cancelled, the commitment with the French meant that Britain would still pick up half the tab whatever.

    They were both stupid projects, TSR2 would have been another financial disaster, the aerospace industry promising the earth and delivering little as usual

  12. @14 I think Leyland trucks was a world leader at one point, either selling or licencing engine technology to DAF ( oh the irony) all those years ago.

    VW almost went under once, the trouble with BL at the time apart from industrial relations was our “empire” mind-set , or “not invented here syndrome” and surely “I will just go outside and smoke my pipe”. “It will do” must be another.

  13. I am sick of the eulogies to this little ****. He was a limousine liberal of the very worst kind, enormously wealthy courtesy of Benn Brothers, a peer of the realm , yet pretending ( or perhaps that should be trying to pretend ) that he was one of that elusive species the common man. he did quite enormous harm to both our industries and to the nation as a whole. Good riddance

  14. @15 TSR2 looked like it was going to deliver on all of its promises. We had to kill it to get US aid.

    Concorde could only be realistically stopped before first flight (but only if the French agreed), and indeed in a subsequent interview for Radio 4 on their UK Confidential programme, Benn argued that he wouldn’t have started the project. However in 1974 he did fight to save it, despite Dennis Healy threatening the other ministers with cuts should it continue. By 1974 it really was too late, as production was underway and route proving was in progress. Basically the money had already been spent.

    What Concorde did pave the way for was Airbus. Which became the biggest airliner manufacturer in the world (and still is). So although the aeroplane itself was a commercial flop it did ensure that Europe could still produce viable commercial aeroplanes. That has kept UK (and European) jobs in the aerospace industry that otherwise would not exist now.

  15. @18, He was someone’s father, someone’s son.

    Nice to see a post imbued with a biographical authority segued with empathy.

  16. @18 There is a saying that if you can’t find anything to say about someone you should say nothing.

    1. He was not a peer of the realm for most of his life. He renounced that and changed the peerage system for the better.

    2. Being rich does not automatically make you aloof to the working class. Indeed he was one of the most engaging people I have ever met. Happy to talk to anyone and everyone, and listen. He was extremely intelligent (not always right – far from it to be fair)

    3. Our industries were on their way anyway. Short of closing our borders to trade completely, we had no hope against cheaper imports from elsewhere.

    His plan could’ve worked, however inept management and militant unions (he himself was not militant) doomed it to failure. His error was not realising this.

    Now if you want someone who really did harm to the country………… No I won’t go there. This post isn’t here to start an argument.

  17. Impossible to think of TB without thinking of Kenny Everett’s brilliant skit (“expanding the House of Lords”). Trying repeatedly to put his pipe in his mouth and missing every time. Brilliant.

  18. I suppose, to add balance to my diatribe, I should have said that one good thing he did was to oppose the Iraq intervention .

    The Airbus point is an interesting one. Concorde was not the first co-operative venture with Toulouse : the Comet nosecone was also used on the Caravelle, and the VC10 tailplane was built at Toulouse by Sud-Est

  19. My grandmother had an axe to grind, true; she’d been thrown out of the (then) Independent Labour Party (she’d been on the equivalent of the NEC and was present at the adoption of the CND symbol) but she was very anti-Benn; he always traveled by limousine then did the final mile or so in a Mini, driving himself, she said. Perhaps as an ordinary Yorkshirewoman she was offended by the gentry playing at being workingclass? She repeated the story often enough & I’ve no reason to disbelieve her.

  20. @24

    Tony Benn might have been born into a wealthy family, but he chose to renounce the peerage inherited upon his father’s death. In fact, he fought for a change in the law to allow him to renounce his peerage and stand again as an MP in 1963. He was a man of principle and his campaigning allowed two or three Conservative Peers to renounce their peerages too so they could become MPs. Tony Benn took on the establishment and won. That showed the character of the man and his determination for democracy.

  21. 50,000 employees in BL in 1974 ? Something like four times that! (Don’t forget it was making everything from Minis to rock-crushing plant). Also many thousands more involved in component manufacture and retailing.
    Sir Michael Edwardes once summed it up – “All we really achieved was a soft landing”.

    The fundamental idea of combining BMC and Leyland Motor Corp was wrong from the outset. As one of the staff at the BMC importer in USA remarked ; “The Brits seemed to think that if they tied two one-legged men together they’d walk like a two-legged man. In practice they just fall over each other.” Exactly what happened.
    What BMC needed in 1968 was a deep-pocketed new private owner and an inspired manager like Alan Mulally, who recently rescued FoMoCo.

  22. I’m sure we can’t blame Benn for the Austin Allegro, it was created while he was in opposition, nor can he be blamed for the company making poor products that fewer and fewer people wanted to buy in the seventies.
    If British Leyland had managed to make their cars properly, not have such a terrible them and us attitude between management and unions, and managed to be able to get replacements for the Mini and the Marina on the market by the mid seventies, it could still have been a major player like General Motors.
    However, what would have been more painful 40 years ago, allow the company to go the wall and for the few successful parts to be sold off to foreigners, with the loss of probably 150,000 jobs, or try to give the company a second chance to improve itself? I’m sure most people then agreed it had to be saved as it was still the most popular car manufacturer in Britain and was such a huge employer in the Midlands.
    Actually by the early eighties Benn could probably say he was vindicated by saving British Leyland as the company had introduced the popular Acclaim and Metro models, Jaguar was making a comeback, and the company’s losses and industrial relations problems were in decline, while the company still remained in public ownership.

  23. He has to be admired for being a man of principle, a man with vision. Francis says similar – a far greater man than any of today’s lot.

    The consequences of his non-intervention (in BMC, Leyland > British Leyland) would have been simply enormous!

    I think his vision for British Leyland was right even if the reality was far different.

    I also have to admire him for his more socialist beliefs even if they were sometimes too idealistic.

  24. Dave @ 29, while ultimately his style of socialism would probably have led to a siege economy and kept Labour out of power in the eighties, Benn at least was honest and principled and far better than the awful ConLibLab idiots we have now.
    Yet can we blame him for some of the terrible cars British Leyland made in the seventies, two of which were created in the Heath era, and industrial strife, falling market share and poor quality were evident as early as 1972. Also he could take credit for keeping British Leyland/Rover a major player into the nineties, and had he not acted in 1974 and let the company die, would the successful bits that thrive today like JLR and Mini still be around?
    Much as I disagreed with him on many issues, without Benn’s interventions in 1968 and 1974, the British car industry would have declined far faster and we could have ended up with nothing by the end of the seventies and Ford and General Motors were moving production abroad and imports would have filled the gap left by the end of British Leyland.

  25. Without the creation of British Leyland, it’s highly likely that the successful bits now would have been more successful for the last 40 years.
    For example, BMW’s growth has been built on the back of the 3 series, a direct rival to the Triumph Dolomite. One was developed and turned into a massive cash generator for the business, the other was allowed to die as all the funds went to propping up the volume business. Now the 3 series is the volume car, outselling the Mondeos of this world…
    Leyland might still be a giant trunk manufacturer (like Volvo for example)
    We might have been able to buy a 5 door Range Rover before 1981!
    I can understand not wanting BMH (and Rootes) to collapse, but dragging down the successful parts was a very high price to pay.

  26. @21 & @31

    I agree with much of what you say. He was at the top of his career at a pivotal point in British History but his solution for British industry was completely flawed as was the mindset of many in that period during the seventies and early eighties. However its easy with hindsight to criticise him but he was a thoroughly decent man and believed and spoke with conviction. He also realized there were so many individuals (born to rule) manipulating events for their own benefit and I think that was the period when he became more radical.
    Britain was in a period of social and economic civil war during those years and it is only in recent years we have recovered and found our footing only to throw it all down the pan and have to start again. Will we ever get it right……I hope so.

  27. one of his memorable sayings, those who own the wealth ( the 2 % ) use it to control those who produce it (the 98%).

    He likened the problem of union unrest as trivial in comparison to the power of the establishment such as the civil service, merchants banks and the IMF etcetera to frustrate the gosl of a better more prosperous society for all.

  28. @33, A good point and 100% true. I am not one of these “occupy” Loons but if things were a little more equitable I would be happy.

    Here we had a decent conviction politician and he was tainted as one of the Looney left- from the mind controlling media of course when all he wanted was everyone to have a fairer crack of the whip.

    On budget day today we are told the economy is on fire again (not sure if that’s with the help of zero hour contractors) and most of us are happy to blather through life repeating this BS. Like most Germans I don’t do credit i’m a cash man, who is the economy on fire for? my fuel is dearer, I get less services for my council tax and it costs me £80 to get a tooth pulled.

    The trouble with the political classes is they have never done a stroke of work in their lives, and that twat Osborne says paying more tax will make me feel more aspirational.

    Sorry, it makes me feel angry and subversive.

  29. Glenn @ 30
    ” Also he could take credit for keeping British Leyland/Rover a major player into the nineties, and had he not acted in 1974 and let the company die, would the successful bits that thrive today like JLR and Mini still be around? ”

    Very good point, Glenn.

  30. not Mr Benn, but the Methodist Lord Soper, near the end of his life, when publically asked, “what are you most disappointed with” immediately responded “the trashiness of modern society”, the preoccupation with trivia, such as game shows, big brother, the cult of celebrity worship such as football and footballers, when there are so many serious issues to be challenged and rectified in our society

  31. He made me a life-long Conservative voter, & the reason I once went on a protest march.

    Benn was a control freak, he wanted (as most ultra-lefties still do) to control our thoughts, minds & stop free speech unless he agreed with it.

    I am referring to the Marine Offences Act which stopped free radio on August 14th. 1967 on the grounds that there were no spare wavelengths available – suddenly they found them after all the ‘pirates’ were off air!

    He was Postmaster General & in charge of this North Korean type legislation, such a democrat!

  32. Whatever Benn the man might have been he was a product of his time. A time I’m pleased has gone. Let’s hope the divisive push/pull of British politics can recede and we can have a more grown up, inclusive and progressive future with manufacturing at the heart of the economy.

  33. @37, Benn later became a champion of civil liberties and campaigned with his nemesis, Tory David Davis, to stop ID cards, something an even bigger control freak called Gordon Brown was very keen to inflict on the electorate if he won power 4 years ago. However, I’ll agree the Marine Offences Act was a joke and a more sensible answer would have been to legalise the pirates, but this was the establishment attitude of the time, to protect the BBC’s monopoly, same as he bailed out British Leyland, while Nu Lab let Rover and LDV die. Different times and different attitudes, as Benn was most powerful in the decades before Thatcher and Blair.
    Yet unfortunately, as Denis Healey revealed in his biography, Benn seemed to act as a magnet for any extreme Left grouping to infiltrate Labour as he seemed to encourage them and was the cheerleader for the party’s far Left. Had he become deputy leader in 1981, and he almost won that election, it’s likely Labour would have collapsed as a party and become a fringe group.

  34. I’m guessing one reason for not wanting independent radio it becoming another “licence to print money” commercial TV had become.

    Supposedly Labour had pledged to shut down ITV if they had won, in spite of it being popular with their core supporters.

  35. @ 40, The ultimate irony about ITV, which was created by the Conservatives and mostly disliked by Labour intellectuals, was ( and still is, to an extent) most popular among the Labour voting working class. On the other hand, the BBC has always found most viewers among the Southern, mostly Conservative middle class. It is probably true to say that Coronation St is vastly more popular in Workington than Wokingham.
    Mind you, I live in the North in a very working class area and would rather vomit than watch ITV most of the time. Also I have been known to vote Tory on some occasions, which dispelsa another myth.

  36. I understand that Lockhead were great fans of Tony Benn. Negotiating a fixed price aero engine with them for Rolls Royce forced them into liquidation. Another job-saving victory for his like.

    He understood the world in terms of what he wanted it to be, not what it is. Great for an intellectual curiosity but not someone you would want on your side….

  37. It’s didn’t help that Lockhead were caught bribing the Japanese transport minister to make sure JAL bought Tristars, something that probably cost them more sales then it ensured.

  38. The problem with Benn was he was too idealistic and wedded to the idea that socialism was the answer to everything even when it was clear it wasn’t and his own government were reluctant to indulge in massive nationalisation as they knew it would cost too much and would achieve nothing.
    Also withdrawing from Europe and introducing import controls would have impoverished the country and led to a massive reduction in choice in the shops.
    However, though, on issues such as ID cards, Iraq, corruption and waste in the EU and abuse of power Benn was usually right.

  39. Whatever I said about Benn re: free radio, I still respect him as a Parliamentarian, I also really admire Dennis Skinner!

    In a previous business I had to deal with politicians, what amazed me was the cross-party friendships that occurred between the most unlikely people.

    Unfortunately the ‘characters’ are all going – we are left with a wishy washy lot, most of whom have never had a real job.

    Back to BL, what we needed in the late ’60’s & ’70’s was a motivation of the whole workforce, from senior management downwards, had Benn worked on this the outcome could have been vastly different.

    I have only bought 2 cars for my personal use that were not made in the UK.

    The first was a new BMW CSA coupe which was rubbish – every time in rained the windows wound down, so I had to drive it with my fingers on the up buttons.

    I then had a couple of Jags which were great but very badly built, I then tried a Merc 500 which, compared to a Jag, was like a tank & just as unreliable as the Jags.

    Since 2001 I have had 3 Jags, the first a 4l XJ8 – brilliant, a new XKR – never went wrong in 6 years, and now a nearly new ex-Jag management XF 3lDS – the best built car I have owned.

    We can make great products in the UK, and if, as Tata seem to be doing, we can instil pride in the workforce & invest in development, we can regain our position as world leaders in vehicle manufacture – roll on the new ‘3 series’ Jag!

  40. Tony Benn banned pirate radio to stop you listening to all those permissive drug taking beat combos that were corrupting the nations youth!

  41. One of the better decisions to save RR, they survived to be second in the world at 20% market share, engines still based on that RB211, almost double that of Pratt & Whitney.

    It was not quite the cut-price deal with Lockheed which overwhelmed RR, their engineers were no longer capable, the RB211 simply did not deliver the specification, the old guard Hooker and Rubbra etc, long-retired and in their seventies were called back to show the way, so deficient was the RB211 at the time, Hookers comments on the first stage efficiency of the test engine, “it takes a genius to design 90%, an idiot 80%, the test RB211 was 78%”

  42. @ 46, the myth that somehow German cars are totally reliable, talk to my uncle about the Audi he owned in the eighties that refused to start in wet weather and had the ultimate humiliation of being jump started by a Lada. I’ve always thought most German cars are vastly overpriced, overrated and not particularly reliable cars.
    OTOH I’ve always had a soft spot for Volvos. Extremely tough, durable and reliable cars that seemed to remind me of the Rover P5s for their ability to last and comfort.

  43. @49. I’ll second that! Volvos are amongst the most under rated of cars. To me the 240 series is one of the most important cars ever built , if any car should have been awarded European car of the decade its the 240. Rover would have done well to have imitated Volvo when replacing the P5 instead of entering the cu de sacs that the P6 and SD1 tuned out to be.

  44. Considering the first P6 was on sale in 1963 they would have needed a crystal ball to even see the original 140 3 years later!

  45. Lord Soper is someone I have no time for. He opposed Britain’s involvement in the second world war, preached pacifism while it was on, resulting in a BBC ban and got a peerage afterwards. If you volunteered for RAF bomber command and somehow survived you got no official recognition from the state in the form of a campaign medal. There is no justice in this world, at least for those with no connections.

  46. @ 50, I can remember the Volvo 7 series being one of the most comfortable and well equipped car in its class. These really were the spiritual heirs to the big Rovers from the sixties and many of their clientele were former Rover owners who’d had a bad time with an SD1.
    The 240 is a classic that lasted for 20 years with few alterations to its original design and was still selling well when it was finally withdrawn in 1993.

  47. TSR2 would have been a world beater the Americans objected to a nuclear bomber on the grounds the crew sat in tandem not side by side. On one test flight it left a lightning chase plane standing with only one afterburner.Labour then ordered the US F111 at great cost and when that was having problems cancelled that as well saying we did not need one anyway.All TSR2 airframes jigs etc were broken up in great haste to stop the next government restarting the project

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