Archive : 30 years ago – Ford and ARG’s negotiations go public

During the 1986 negotiations between Ford and Austin Rover, Longbridge’s future model plans were shared with the American company’s executives.

Thirty years ago this week, news of this became public knowledge – does it mean that K-Series were shared with Uncle Henry? This is how The Guardian reported the story.

Metro secrets given to Ford 

The Department of Trade and Industry confirmed yesterday that Austin Rover was required to give confidential commercial information to its principal rival, Ford, at the height of merger talks last year. But officials refused to comment on Labour allegations that the former Trade and Industry Secretary, Mr Leon Brittan, instructed Sir Austin Bide, the Austin Rover Group Chairman to hand over the market sensitive information.

This is despite the opposition of the state car group ‘s senior management. Labour MPs told the Commons on Wednesday that during the merger talks Ford saw the production costs of every Austin Rover model.

Cars and market data shared

They claimed that it allowed them to engage in a discount war in the showrooms last summer, which gave the Ford Fiesta a 7.4 per cent market share compared with the Austin Metro’s 4.5 per cent. Before the talks the Metro had outsold the Fiesta.

Mr Terry Davis, a Shadow Trade and Industry spokesman, described the decision as amounting to industrial sabotage. He alleged that Mr Brittan had put pressure on Sir Austin Bide and demanded to know if that act had been authorised by the Prime Minister.

Pressure from Labour

The forceful disclosure of information to a competitor amounted to negligence of the national interest, complained Labour MPs. The DTI refused to comment yesterday on whether any Government pressure had been applied on Austin Rover to enter into the reciprocal arrangement on the exchange of confidential information.

But the Government did bow to pressure from Labour and Conservative MPs that the balance of British representation on the boards of a new amalgamated Leyland Truck and DAF truck company ought to be reconsidered.

Keith Adams


  1. That certainly would explain a few things. However, the bottom line was that in the 1980’s the MkII Fiesta was a cooler car to want to have – especially the XR2 – with superior engines (the Metro\100 had to wait until 1994 for the K-Series.
    I had a 1988 1.4 Sport and it was a great little car to drive and I much preferred it to mum’s wheezy MG Metro.

    • The Rover Metro gained the K-series engine in 1990. Many Mk2 Fiestas used crappy old Kent engines. The Vauxhall Nova was also superior to the Mk2 Fiesta in most respects.

      • Except for its gear shift. Learner me thought the Nova’s shift was diabolical compared to the Mk3 Escort I had my first few lessons in.

      • OMG I got the date wrong !
        I mentioned the 1.4 Fiesta which had the CVH engine.
        The 1st gen Nova was ugly.
        My argument was what the under thirties aspired to.
        Everyone wanted a Golf GTI.
        Those of us who couldn’t afford one and was not impressed by the Renault 5 or Peugeot 205 were broadly left with the Fiesta or Metro. Of the two the Fiesta looked cooler. Vauxhall were never cool in the 80’s.

      • The 1.2 Nova could really go and no surprises when it became the boy racer’s car of choice in the nineties. Also it came in a variety of body styles, including two and four door saloons, which the Fiesta and Metro lacked.

        • The Nova saloon seemed to be a nod to the buyers of the old Chevette saloon, the 80s were an age when the UK motorist was still conservative and manufacturers had to sell a saloon variant of their hatchbacks (Sierra Sapphire, Astra Belmont, Orion etc.).
          Buyers tended to be of a more mature age than the regular GTE wannabe buyers.

          A Metro saloon was planned – – but never made it.
          It would take until the introduction of the Fiesta to India (Ikon) and later the USA for saloon variants of these to appear (though not the UK – not even Ireland who still get Focus saloons).

    • 950 and 1100 Mk2 Fiestas had the Kent (Valencia) engine. 1.4 and 1.6 had the CVH. Allegedly why the Mk2 had a more bulbous bonnet was to accomodate the extra height of the CVH (and the Lynx diesel) engine.

      • Nothing alleged at all – That’s why the Mk2 had the redesigned front end. It was reported widely at the time – and obviously makes sense when you think about it!

  2. The Metro with the K series came out in 1990.

    I had a Mk 2 Fiesta in the mid 90’s for a while, and hated it. The interior looked awful, cheap and ill fitting. I had an early Metro a couple of years before that and that was a nicer place to be, apart from the rust.

    • I forgot to wear my anorak but was thinking of the AR6 rebody.
      The Metro’s interior was OK, and in between buying MGBs & TR7s I had three Fiestas before moving to Rovers. The Fiesta interiors were fantastic. I had a 1.1 Ghia and it had the most comfortable seats of any car I’ve ever bought.

      • The Mk2 Fiesta had two different dashboards depending on spec, there was the basic dash in the Popular, Popular Plus and L, and everything above that (S, Ghia, XR2) had the highline dash which was of better quality.

        It was Ford’s policy at the time two have two different mouldings for lowline and highline models – I remember on the Mk3 Escort and Orion it was similar, the base and L models had a hard cheap plastic dash, whilst if you went up beyond GL spec you got a soft feel dash (which cracked in the sun!)

  3. Just the sort of idiotic action we see today from clueless Ministers pissing about with things they no absolutely nothing about.

    • I speak from the future and if you think Ministers are idiotic in 2017, just wait to see what’s coming! The same MP’s that handed over Rover IP to a competitor without a care in the world in the 1980’s where no doubt flying the flag for Brexit and spouting take back control 30 odd years later.

  4. I’m glad Ford didn’t get Austin Rover as a Rover 200 with a 1.4 CVH engine doesn’t bear thinking about, although the K series might have made the Escort a far nicer car. Seriously, though, I reckon Ford would have kept the bits they liked and weren’t direct competitors like Mini, Land Rover and Range Rover and dumped the rest, so it’s for the best the takeover didn’t go ahead.

  5. I bought a Nova 1.3SR in 1984 £4300 on the road.
    It was a great little car and would eat XR2s and 3s for breakfast.
    Very reliable and cheap to run but as time went on they seemed to get worse with face lifts etc.
    The one i had in 1984 was fantastic for the money compared to a fiesta or escort.
    The MK4 Cortina i had in part/ex for the nova was total crap!

  6. Wasn’t it the case the Govt were looking to sell AR (ie get rid of AR) and they identified Ford as a candidate? Surely Ford would not proceed without a deep look into the state and future plans of AR.
    Would AR have fared better if they joined the Ford family and not BAE?

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