As was the case in the UK, many export markets suffered badly during the 1960s and 1970s. Denmark is a case in point, where the growth and success of the early 1960s gave way to tragedy in later years.
Former BMC/BL dealer Erik Løye explains how it all went wrong…
“From BMC to Rover” in Denmark
Right after WWII the need for any new motor vehicle in Denmark was enormous, but without any motor industry to speak of and almost no foreign currency to pay for imports, this was a difficult situation. This led to the introduction of a quota system which in the early stages favoured commercial vehicles and buses: only individuals, organisations and businesses with a need of national interest were awarded a Purchase Grant for a passenger car. However, as time went on and the immediate need for commercial vehicles and buses had been met, the situation for passenger cars was relaxed.
During this period the majority of foreign currency earned by Denmark came from our export of butter and bacon to Britain, as the British economy had not yet recovered. A large proportion of this revenue had to be spent in Britain, so imports from Britain were favoured by the Danish trade policy of the day, thus giving the British motor industry a preference in our market. Ford and GM, who both had assembly plants in Copenhagen supplying the Scandinavian market, benefited from this, along with the Rootes Group, Standard and other British manufacturers. But the Austin and Nuffield Group distributors both concentrated on the manufacture of the more profitable commercial vehicles and buses. This meant that when BMC was formed its share of the Danish car market among British car makes was nowhere near the share it had in its home market.
By 1952 the restricted Purchase Grant system was supplemented by a currency premium-free sale scheme (publicly called the Dollar Premium), which meant that a buyer without the Purchase Grant had to pay double the normal retail price. The demand for new cars was so great that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had his coffers stuffed, and the politicians realised what a great source of income they had found. From 1956 car import was liberated but a car tax system introduced instead. Passenger cars and motorcycles were taxed at a progressive rate, which meant that the tax on the cheapest microcars and motorcycles amounted to about 75%, medium-priced 100%, and up to 150% for the most expensive vehicles. Vans, trucks and other commercial vehicles didn’t carry the tax but were not allowed to be used for private transportation – and they were issued with yellow license plates for control purposes. As a concession to small businesses, a 50% reduction was granted to vans with passenger seats in the load area but no windows were allowed in the back. In practice, this led to some standard estate cars having their rear windows blanked-off (such as the Minor Traveller which was sold as the Minor Combi). This arrangement was discontinued in 1969.
Austin was represented in Denmark by De Forenede Automobilfabrikker A/S (DFA), the country’s only vehicle manufacturer. DFA’s main business was the manufacture of buses, trucks and rail-buses. This was given up in the middle/late Fifties and focus was then turned to the Austin agency – which they had gained in the early post-war years (before WWII they had held Fiat, Studebaker and FN franchises). They also handled the distribution to their dealer network (and later to a chain of outlets of their own, Austin Huset [Austin House]), and their premises in Odense were rebuilt as a Pre-delivery Inspection Centre. Most local distributors in Denmark represented more than one manufacturer and DFA also imported NSU mopeds and motorcycles, and later for a while cars; these were sold though another dealer network.
Since 1928 the Nuffield Group had been represented in Denmark by Vilh Nellemann A/S, who also held the Nash agency. Shortly after the end of WWII Nellemann formed a new company, Dansk Oversøisk Motor Industri A/S (DOMI) to which the Nuffield agency was transferred. As stated earlier, DOMI was mainly founded for bus manufacture and the assembly of buses, trucks and vans. For this purpose a fairly large factory was built outside Copenhagen, which also handled the import of cars from the Nuffield Group – some in CKD kit form for local assembly – and distribution of cars and spare parts to the dealers. Towards the middle of the Fifties the immediate demand for buses had been met, so DOMI stopped making buses to concentrate on imported cars and commercial vehicles. Vilh Nellemann A/S retained the Nash agency (which meant that VN imported and marketed the Austin Metropolitan, not DFA). VN acted as DOMI’s main dealer in central Copenhagen and some provincial cities. DOMI took on some new agencies in this period – Borgward (only the Isabella), for a short period Chrysler and Plymouth, and from 1956 BMW. From 1961, when Borgward closed, the DOMI dealers only sold Morris etc – since 1958 BMWs had been sold trough a separate dealer network until the BMW operation was taken over by another distributor around 1965.
Standard-Triumph were represented by Nordisk Diesel A/S – a member of the largest Danish industrial group, Burmeister & Wain: shipbuilders and makers of the Mammoth 2-stroke marine turbo-diesels. Nordisk Dielsel also represented Ferguson tractors (made sense engine-wise) and Simca. Around 1960 the Standard-Triumph agency was taken over by a company called ISIS Motors A/S, who already had the SAAB agency. ISIS Motors’ main activity was the sale and maintenance of Atlas Copco contractors’ machinery. As part of a British Leyland reorganization in Denmark in 1969, the Standard-Triumph franchise went to DFA.
The agent for Rover and Land Rover was Skandinavisk Motor Co. A/S (SMC). SMC won the VW agency in 1948 – it would turnout to be a very important deal for SMC – and later the Porsche agency. SMC also represented Dodge cars and trucks and (very prestigious) Rolls Royce and Bentley. Rover and Land Rover was taken over by DOMI in 1969. Today SMC holds the Porsche and all the Volkswagen Group agencies; all other franchises have been given to other agents.
Jaguars were distributed by O Sommer Automobiler A/S, who also had the Jowett, Bradford and some British truck makers’ agencies. But more importantly, Sommer was one of the largest Volvo dealers in Copenhagen (then, Volvo didn’t have a distributorship in Denmark but each dealer imported vehicles and spares directly from Gothenburg, Sweden). When Jaguar took over Daimler (who hadn’t had an agent in Denmark) Sommer got this agency as well. In the 1969 reorganization, Jaguar and Daimler went to DFA, after which Sommer continued as Volvo car and truck dealers, later supplemented by a Renault car and van dealership (Volvo, Sweden, have represented Renault in Scandinavia since the early Eighties).
In 1971 British Leyland told DFA and DOMI that it wanted a unified representation in all export markets as a consequence the new model strategy – Mini, Morris rear-wheel-drive models and Austin front-wheel-drive models. In February 1972 this resulted in DOMI taking over DFA and British Leyland buying a 20% share of DOMI (more or less financing the takeover). In the next year or so the dealer network was trimmed to avoid too much inter-dealer competition. The combined number of 240 dealerships was trimmed to around 140.
Sales performance of cars
This could easily be called “The rise to success by BMC, continued by British Leyland Motor Corporation and the collapse of BL Cars”.
As stated car sales in Denmark were restricted until 1956 but British cars enjoyed both personal and trade policy preference. Neither Austin or Morris had a part of cars sales that matched their British sales; in fact, the combined BMC market share in Denmark was around 5% at this point. Both DFA and DOMI changed their strategy and rebuilt their premises to handle the pre-delivery checks of imported passenger cars, vans and light trucks. British cars had at this point a poor reputation for being unreliable and of inferior build quality. In my opinion, BMC cars were cars of good quality but not always very well assembled. This was taken care of by a very painstaking pre-delivery procedure – every nut and bolt was checked and attended to as required, along with such things as panel alignment, paint and chromework, water leaks and mechanical adjustments – an extension of the assembly line, so to speak. From 1966/67 every car and van received a complete body anti-rust treatment. This is one of the main reasons for the growth of BMC’s and later BLMC’s market share, which rose to around 10% in 1960, 15% in 1966 and to over 20% between 1970-1977. Of course, good marketing, pricing, models and dealer backup were other important reasons.
Pre and early BMC model sales
I don’t know when exactly DFA started to market Austin but I don’t remember seeing any examples of the A40 Devon/Dorset or A70 Hampshire. On the other hand, the A30 and A40 Somerset were common sights, and a few A90 Atlantics (who can forget seeing one of these), A125s and A135s could also be seen. The A50/A55 Cambridge sales didn’t amount to much.
Morris had been established since before the war and a number of 8s and 10s that had been in Free Port stock during the war years were sold in 1946. A few further examples were imported, along with a few MG T-series, MG Y-series and Riley RMs, prior to the new model range being introduced in 1948. Of these, the locally-assembled Minor sold well, and some Oxfords and a few Sixes were imported too. Wolseley was introduced to the Danish market in 1952 with the 4/44, but that was a rare car here. The sister (or was it a brother) model, MG Magnette ZA/ZB sold in fair numbers. In 1954 the Oxford Series II and Wolseley 6/90 were launched. The sales of the Oxford outnumbered those of the previous model and the 6/90 sold better than the Morris Six which it replaced (the Isis was “to special order” only, as were the Wolseley 1500 and Riley’s new 1.5, Pathfinder and 2.6). 1955 saw the new MGA, which became every boy’s dream – and more than a few lucky ones had it come true: the MGA became the best-selling sports car until the MGB did even better. The launch of the Minor 1000 saloon and the popular Combi (a Traveller without rear side windows, at reduced tax) in 1956 really set Morris sales rolling in Denmark and lent awareness to the rest of the range, contemporary and coming.
Standard-Triumph and Rover benefited from the preference of British cars right after the war. Vanguard I and II sold well; some Mayflowers and a few Renowns were sold. Later, only the Standard 8 and 10 sold in any numbers. The Herald sold well right after its launch but later sales fell. The Spitfire did well for a long time, and some GT6s found their way to customers too. The Vitesse didn’t quite suit the Danish market, but the 2000 and 2.5 PI found a niche. The TR sports cars did sell in limited numbers, but they were always noticed when passing you.
The Rover P3 was rare but the P4 enjoyed fair sales throughout the Fifties. The P5 and P6 were niche products until the V8 models arrived; just as in Britain, the P5B became the favourite transport of government ministers, while the P6 3500 became a real contender in the executive sector of the market. Land Rovers sold well to anybody needing the versatility.
Sales of BMC’s common models
The introduction of the Farina-styled ranges saw an increase in sales for both distributors. The A40 Futura did better than the A30/35 had done, the midrange models – Cambridge, Oxford, Magnette and Riley – more than doubled the sales performance of their predecessors, as did the 6-cylinder models, which really put BMC cars in the mind of the middle classes.
Later, the Mini – which luckily didn’t start to sell in great numbers until 1961, when initial difficulties had been ironed out – swept the small car market and together with the 1100 placed BMC among the top-selling carmakers in Denmark. When the 1800s replaced the mid-sized Farinas they (more or less) held on to the market share in the midrange, helped by the Maxi from 1971/72, which became the natural step upwards for the thousands of 1100/1300 owners. By 1968 BMC was competing the second place in the market with Ford and GM. VW was then untouchable in first place.
In the following years, when all BLMC marques came under the wing of DOMI, the way to first place had started – VW Type 1 (Beetle) sales had started to fall more than the newly acquired Audi and NSU models could gain. From 1972/73 DOMI was the largest (in volume) distributor in Denmark and kept that place until 1977. This was very much helped by (later not very loved) models like the Marina, Maxi, Allegro and Princess which bought in new customers to the DOMI dealerships, just as the Minor, Mini and 1100 had done before.
During the early Seventies Triumph was marketed as an upmarket range competing BMW and the likes. Unfortunately, this didn’t succeed; the last Triumph sold in Denmark was the 2000, as a stopgap between the BMC 1800/2200 range and the Princess. Sales of Rover and Jaguar were better and they had a reasonable slice of the executive end of the market. But they, too, suffered from the slump in quality and especially the Rover SD1’s reputation was damaged. Land and Range Rovers always had good sales in their special niche.
The sales peak is illustrated by totals sales of 20500 in 1975, 25000 in 1976, 21000 in 1977, representing well over 20% of the passenger car market. This was very much helped by a locally introduced 3-year warranty scheme in 1975. The last few years leading up to this had been difficult for car sales in general in Denmark – first the oil crisis in the winter 1973/74 and later, when sales had just started to pick up in the spring 1974, a temporary 50% increase of the already hefty car tax was introduced for the remainder of 1974. This meant that very few cars had been imported since mid-1973 and statistics for the period prior to the introduction of 3-year warranty (2nd and 3rd year covered locally) were based on these pre-summer 1973 cars. As most will know now, the quality of BL cars had fallen to an unforeseen low level. This lead to warranty claims massively surpassing any predicted calculations. Rumours at the time had the scheme covered by an insurance company, which, confronted with the claims cost, withdrew the policy. However, the scheme was stopped by new-year 1978 and sales dropped sharply to 10000 in 1978, 5000 in 1979, 2500 in 1980 and finally 1200 in 1981. Later in the Eighties annual sales dropped as low as only 200 cars.
In the meantime DOMI tried desperately to stop this downward spiral by taking on additional agencies: Subaru (which flopped) and Daihatsu (with some success but not enough to counter the BL sales fall). In 1979 DOMI took over the Renault agency. Sales were handled through the former distributor’s dealer network – the Renault agency was lost in 1982 as Renault made a deal with Volvo to market their passenger cars, light vans and trucks in the Nordic market though the Volvo dealer network. Hopes and exceptions were high prior to the introduction of the Metro at New Year 1982. Unfortunately, it became yet another fiasco; only very few Metros were sold during the introduction period and after some month dealers started to re-export cars back to the UK, where demand couldn’t be met – which involved converting the cars to RHD. It was said that this traffic took place in Holland and Belgium, as well.
These events had a devastating effect on the dealer network; some dealers supplemented their business with other dealerships, others abandoned DOMI altogether, and some simply closed their businesses. DOMI struggled on for a number of years, taking in BL / Austin-Rover cars (MG Metro, Montego, Maestro and Rover SD1, 800) whenever the rate of exchange was favourable (likewise with the Japanese agencies and the Yen). DOMI had expanded into the agricultural machinery line with the John Deere franchise and in 1985 they bought the company distributing the Russian Lada. At the time it was commented that now all the ailing car agencies rested with DOMI…
In 1989 the Austin-Rover agency went on to the Nic Christiansen Group, which already represented BMW, Honda, Škoda and Hyundai. Since the NC takeover, Rover cars have been positioned as an upmarket marque and only the top versions of each model have been marketed. Sales have not exactly been high, but steady. The turmoil of BMW’s sale of Rover caused a temporary stop to imports but doesn’t seem to have affected the customers in the long run.
Vilh Nellemann A/S, the original holder of the Nuffield agencies, acted as the Group’s main dealer in a number of Danish cities, held some component suppliers’ agencies (Smith Instruments and SU Carburettors) and was active in spare parts distribution in general. When the Austin-Rover activities were sold off, the Jaguar Daimler agency was retained by VN and supplemented by Lotus and Aston Martin. Their dealer businesses are now represents a variety of marques, including Ford and Fiat Auto. In 1996 the Nellemann Group, as it is now called, launched Kia Motors in Denmark, and sold them via the Internet with only a few service depots at which the Kia models can be seen. Later, a proper dealer network was built. The company is now owned and run by the third generation of the Nellemann family, Jac Nellemann.
About Erik Løye
My father bought a garage in 1951 in a north Copenhagen suburb and was appointed DOMI dealer in 1955. He knew Morris cars and the Nellemann family, having been employed by Vilh Nellemann, Copenhagen before WWII. His business expanded with the sales growth, and in 1959 my brother joined the business; I followed in 1965. Our father had died when the sales slump set in and after some years I left the business and my brother closed it a few years later. After two years as MD of a combined Fiat and Nissan dealership I left the motor business altogether for the computer business. The interest in cars have not left me and I follow the goings on of the motor business from a distance – not that I miss it and the conditions it has to operate in. Car sales in Denmark are now at a level not seen since the late Sixties.
Some might ask what are my favourite cars now. Since I left the motor business, my wife and I have owned a fair number of Fiats, Lancias and Alfa Romeos. I have since driven a hired Rover 414 and 820, not bad cars (both proving that the engines designed by the old BMC and their successors are good ones) but I do not imagine I would buy one today.
A selection of the cars renamed for Danish consumption. Please contact us if you know of any to add.
This Danish variant was produced by Dansk Oversoisk Motor Industrie (hence the name), based on the standard Minor chassis cab. DOMI added the integrated, all-steel rear bodywork, lower but longer than that of the standard O-type van, and offering a useful increase in loadspace.
|Morris 1000 Super Combi|
Another Danish offering, this time achieved by panelling-in the standard Traveller’s rear side windows and removing the rear seats. This makes an interesting counterpart to the Wadham-converted estate cars, which were basically Minor vans with side windows and rear seats added…
In an attempt to borrow some upmarket appeal (from Mercedes), the Danish distributor DOMI used the 300 name on the 6-cylinder Wolseleys from 1959 onwards. This proved to be a successful move, with these models outselling the contemporary Westminsters and Princesses by more than 2 to 1.
|Austin A40 Futura|
Although the Futura name was primarily chosen for the Swedish market (not only to suggest a futuristic car, but also to avoid confusion with the Swedish word ‘farin’, meaning castor sugar), the car was also sold as the A40 Futura in Denmark.
The Austin version of the Mini was sold in Denmark as the Partner from its introduction in 1959 until 1964.
In Denmark, the name Mascot is synonymous with Mini, having been applied to that car since 1961, right through to 1981, when official imports ceased. The generic name “Combi” was used for the estate versions.
The 1100 was introduced to Denmark in August 1962 as the Morris Marina. The 1300 (MkII) version was launched in 1968 as the Marina GT, but this should not be confused with the later, twin-carb 1300GT, which did not carry the Marina badge! When the Roy Haynes Marina arrived in Denmark in March 1972, the Morris version of the 1100/1300 was dropped, leaving just the Austins to hold the fort.
|Austin De Luxe|
Not just a new name, but a new engine too: this Spanish-built model used a 55bhp version of the 998cc A-series engine. Introduced in 1974, it also found its way into the Danish and Greek markets.
The 1800 was launched in Denmark as the Windsor in 1964, but the name was dropped at about the same time the Morris Monaco (see below) was launched in 1966, after which it was sold as the Austin 1800.
The Morris 1800 was sold as the Monaco in Denmark from 1966-1972, after which only the Austin 1800 was sold. See also Austin Windsor, above.