Engine prototype already ahead of BL targets
By Clifford Webb.
The new K series engine at the heart of British Leyland’s battle to prevent the Government cutting about £200 million from its £1.8 billion investment plan is already beating its performance targets in prototype form and could be in production at Longbridge within two years. The all-alloy unit in one-litre and 1.4-litre configuration is so light that one person can lift it. It will be built with three and four cylinders and, according to reliable sources, is already producing as much power as the best 1.6-litre engine available from competitors.
The figure of £250 million which has been widely reported is about £50 million wide of the mark. I understand that the plan calls for £20 million to be spent on engineering the K series to prepare it for volume production, and between £130 million and £150 million on re-equipping the Longbridge engine factory.
With other costs such as installation fittings and developing anti-pollution exhaust systems, the total package is £200 million. The implications of the K series on Austin Rover’s prospects cannot be overstated. The present engine plant at Longbridge, which also supplies Cowley, is outdated and expensive to operate. Some new machinery has been installed in recent years but at best it has been a patching-up job which does not compare with the computer controlled factories of European and Japanese rivals. Conditions have improved since engine workers had to pack worn-out machinery with shims and cigarette paper, but, the whole plant is in urgent need of retooling and reorganization. The intention is to retool it with computer-controlled machine centres which will be flexible enough to produce a wide range of engines.