Archive : A Name Acquired, another Retired

From TIME magazine
Business: A Name Acquired, another Retired
Monday, Sep. 24, 1979

For at least two generations of Americans, it was the saucy, two-seat symbol of unfettered youth, an affordable magical machine for Peter Pans of all ages. Its TC midget model, introduced in the U.S. in 1947, with hip-high fenders, a drop-down windshield and a price tag of roughly $2,000, launched the postwar era of the open-topped, wind-in-the-hair sports car. Adoring owners formed clubs around it, raced it and tinkered with it incessantly. Fans still pay up to $17,000 for a model in good condition. But last week Britain’s chief automaker, BL (formerly British Leyland), announced that it will soon discontinue the perky little MG.

More than two-thirds of all MGs are bought in the U.S., where the four-cylinder, two-seater $7,195 MGB model is the current favorite. But sales have been slipping. Production has fallen from 46,619 in 1976 to 41,681 last year. Laments BL Chairman Sir Michael Edwardes: “We can’t afford to back a loser.”

BL, which also makes other well-known cars, including the Jaguar, the Rover and the Triumph, has been stalled by a long history of weak management and skimpy engineering. The firm’s strike-prone labor force is a national joke. One wheeze: “Leyland workers don’t go to work, they sign the visitors’ book.” BL has only 20% of the British market.

When the company was nationalized in 1975, the Labor government agreed to pump in about $2 billion by 1980. Sir Michael is expected to ask for still more subsidy, even though the current Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher has vowed not to help industrial “lame ducks.”

Britain’s union leaders are also in no mood to help. When BL announced that along with scrapping the MG, it will chop 25,000 jobs from its bloated work force of 165,000 and close plants over the next two years, the unions not already on strike immediately began talking about a company-wide walkout.

Keith Adams
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