Blog : If we’d not had the Acclaim…

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Stephen Harper

Metro Saloon - Stephen Harper rendering

With all this talk about 1979 and the upheaval of British Leyland following the election of a new Government, I couldn’t help but wonder how things might have been if the Honda deal had fallen through and we hadn’t had the Acclaim. I’m pretty sure we would have had to have do with a Metro with a boot…

That’s why, when the first Acclaim came into the Longbridge Studio, we all breathed a sigh of relief  – the styling was bland and the interior was a sea of black plastic, but build and ride were tens or hundreds of times better than anything out of our Engineering Department at the time. Admittedly, despite its awkward metamorphosis into a Triumph, using just a badge and a selection of new trims, colours and seats, it was never going to beat the Escort… but the Acclaim did, at least, save us from another Riley Elf/Wolseley Hornet.

The sketch for the ‘Melftro’, with wheel designs inspired by the AR logo and Fiat Strada, was far more endearing than the actual product by Roger Tucker, but I was too young to have a chance to try out my ideas.

Roger Tucker Metro saloon

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

51 Comments

  1. Back in the late 70s….the Mk1 version of VW Polo with a boot was called the Derby. The top drawing is a dead ringer for one of them. Who came first?

  2. KC – I’d say neither, the Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet did so sticking a notched boot on their smallest car offering was old hat by 1979

  3. I don’t know why people call the Acclaim bland for 1981, the styling was quite contemporary and there was still a large market for small saloons. Also most people who wanted to buy British and buy a reliable car now had a valid choice.

  4. I agree with KC. The drawing does look a bit like a VW Derby.

    I also think the Acclaim was the right car for BL at that time. The Japanese were making huge inroads on the British market and at least the tie up with Honda provided a car that the public could have (almost) the best of both worlds. A British built and badged car with reasonably pleasing design, on the market far quicker than BL could have managed on their own.

  5. The sketch looks great. I think it would have worked as a four-door in particular.

    More generally, nice to see something by Stephen Harper, many of whose sketches we’ve been treated to over the last couple of years on this site. There’s surely a book to be published drawing together his work with a commentary on how it fitted in to the wider AR landscape.

  6. Even in such dire circumstances there was much potential in having the Metro spawn a near-dizzying number of bodystyles from existing 3/5-door hatchback and 3-door Metrovan to 2/4-door saloon, 3/5-door estate, 2-door cabriolet, 2-door pick-up, 3-door “coupe” (e.g. VW Polo MKII / IIF) and one or two other unrealised variants.

  7. Yet another interesting styling sketch that didn’t go anywhere – one thing’s for sure, BL wasn’t short on design talent in the early 80s. The Acclaim though has never really tickled my fancy as a successor to the Dolomite. Granted, it was a well engineered car, and perhaps (I’ve never been in one) was much better screwed together than BL’s contemporary offerings (although, the Ambassadors we had seemed reasonably well built, and the later HL we had was extremely well trimmed). I have never seen the Acclaim as a worthy Triumph. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t sporty. It didn’t have a stylish dashboard. In fact, I can’t help feeling that the Acclaim would have worked better as a Morris, and in fact that the Ital should never have happened, and the Morris Acclaim should have gone on sale instead. Saly though that would have been a premature end to the Triumph name….however, if the TR8 could have soldiered on until 1984, maybe the ‘SD3’ could have been badged Triumph:- it had much more convincing styling, and had a performance model in the Vittesse, which was a nice car IIRC…..then the only thing to address would have been that dodgy Honda dashboard…….

  8. @1: I think the Derby did, it did not reach the UK for many years after it had been on sale in Germany. I remember (vaguely) us following one on Holiday in the mids 70,s, my father working at Whitley for Chryslers at the time was very interested in it, as the Golf and Polo were on their Radar but not this.

    I recall it being slow (Ok we were in a Rapier), but interesting at the time, car having a big boot for its platform being near Avenger size in foot print, big booted with just two doors.

  9. The Acclaim was a truly awful car. It was too small for a medium sized car, too large for a supermini class car , flimsy in the extreme, rusted away as you breathed on it , and in my experience was prone to – wait for it – head gasket failure. One of the worst Japanese cars , palmed off on hapless BL

  10. The Acclaim was a brilliant car, it started, it stopped, it had good seats, drove well, rode well and went round corners. In short it did everything a car was supposed to do. I never found either of my 2 ‘small’ more ‘big enough’. As for HGF, every car with a head gasket can suffer that if you let all the water run out, I certainly never had an issue with either of mine. What I did have an issue with was the rear wheel arches rusting and the front valence, but that was it. Rust wise wit was way better than the fiesta or escrot of the time, and the Astra and Nova were no better

  11. My uncle swore by (and not at!) his Acclaim. Said it was one of the best cars he’d owned.

    Until rain started getting in the bonnet vents. My uncle sealed these up, but then there was some sort of airflow issue IIRC.

    I would’ve liked to have seen more collaboration between Triumph and Honda, focusing on sporting cars like the Type Rs. The VTec was a worthy engine, and a Stag replacement in the S2000 would’ve been great.
    (Who knows, perhaps in an alternate universe my old Accord coupe was a TR10 coupe? 🙂 )

    If Honda hadn’t worked with Rover, they could’ve went with Renault. The Renault 9 could’ve been the Acclaim.
    The Clio would’ve been a worthy basis of a Metro replacement.
    The Eagle Medallion and Premier would’ve been Rovers instead.

    Instead of struggling in the UK (and dropping the Laguna), Renault-Rover would’ve been flourishing.

    Perhaps when Ford were looking to buy Land Rover, they could’ve got the whole company?
    The Ford Orion could’ve been the Acclaim. Though it would’ve went pear shaped with the Escort/Orion and Maestro/Montego replacements in 1989 based on the mk5 Escort (see Volkswagen Pointer and Logus/Apollo for how this could’ve ended up).

    Peugeot Citroen could’ve lumped them in with Talbot, the Acclaim could’ve been a Horizon saloon. The ‘R8’ moment could’ve been Citroen ZX based (very underestimated car), with the Chinese style saloon replacing the Montego.
    The big Peugeot-Citroens that traditionally struggle on the market could’ve at least shared a platform with a big Rover.

    Alfa Romeo could’ve struck a deal, a sporting Maestro as the ARTRU and as a Triumph. Maybe not.
    The other side of that, a Nissan Cherry saloon?

    Or perhaps Toyota? In 79 the E70 Corolla got a contemporary straght-edged facelift. Quad lights or a split grille to differentiate it and it could’ve been a new Toledo. JDM Corollas got fuel injection – this could’ve been the Triumph USP.
    The Celica would’ve made a nice Triumph coupe / convertible, and the MR2 an MG.
    The Rover brand might’ve been used instead of Lexus (although it didn’t stop Honda using Acura).

  12. There is a fundamental law of car design somewhere which says you can’t derive a decent looking saloon from a hatchback. Nearly all of them in my memory have been absolute stinkers to look at – think of the Ford Orion, VW Jetta, Vauxhall Nova, Vauxhall Belmont, Fiat Tempra, Renault Chamade – the list is endless.

    Yet there have been some great notch-to-hatch conversions over the years, think Rover 800 Fastback for example and the recent crop of German luxo-hatches like the Audi A5 Sportback and A7, and the 5-Series GT.

  13. @ 1 & 11 The Derby went on sale in GB not long after its German launch. I recall seeing an R reg one near us when new.

    Not sure I accept the link between the Acclaim not appearing and a perceived need for a small saloon. Surely the reason for the Acclaim being offered only as a saloon was to avoid direct competition with the Civic?

    Saloons this small just look kitsch and pointless. The sort of car bought by the Bora driver I saw on Monday joining the M6 from a service area whilst stroking a heavily-groomed Yorkshire terrier on his lap.

    The genre also doesn’t sell in GB, although the Irish love ’em. VW was reported at the time as being disappointed by the Derby’s sales, even thoughi it was heavily advertised. Anyone recall the slogan ‘Today’s Derby – odds-on good for 1,000,000 furlongs’? Skoda dropped the Fabia saloon which accounted for less than 1% of the model’s sales, whilst the Focus and Astra saloon are no longer sold here.

    IMO the saloon Metro would have increased the Metro’s perceived ownership profile by ten years and soon become a landmark.

  14. “There is a fundamental law of car design somewhere which says you can’t derive a decent looking saloon from a hatchback.”

    I beg to differ. In my opinion the Rover 400/45 saloon is far better looking than the 400/45 hatchback. Although it’s the exception rather than the rule, it does prove that it can be done.

  15. Odd how no one mentioned the Renault 7? A booted version of the series 1 Renault 5. Imagine that with the 5 Turbo engine – a baby impreza before its time. Shame it never got to UK. The line drawing reminds me of the 9 which reminds me in turn of an AMC Eagle with end stage cancer.
    I don’t think Renault & BL or Rover a goer. French government bailing out British company? They’d have let it all collapse rather than do that. There’s more chance of the US entering a war at the beginning.
    Laguna/Safrane in no way killed Renault large cars. It was the replacement ‘150mph garden-shed school of design’ disasters that hurt it terminally. Not to mention diesel engines that ate EGR valves like a trucker mainlining bacon.
    There are a number of cars where a hatch to saloon chop worked well, Cavalier being one (the less said about the estate the better). The R8 worked. Some models of Jetta didn’t look too vile.
    In an ideal world all platforms would be extensible like the R8, they all managed to look good, others have been unsucessful but the long & short is simple – don’t offer what people want they won’t buy, whether you think it looks like the inbred child of a Metro & a blind drunk Carlton doesn’t matter if they’d just paid you for it.

    Still, there is no, and can never be, any excuse for the wallback VW Polo. As automotive vileness goes nothing has plunged the pits of human degradation to a further extent…

    Come back Allegro, all is forgiven!

  16. @Lockupchap

    The Irish love their saloons, and all sorts of variations can be found there on the new car market, such as:

    – Opel Astra saloon (the previous gen saloon was a very nice car, a great example of getting hatch to saloon conversions spot on)
    – Ford Focus and Mondeo saloon
    – Toyota Corolla saloon
    – Mitsubishi Lancer saloon
    – Subaru Legacy saloon
    – Renault Fluence saloon (diesel, not EV) and Laguna
    – Nissan Tiida

    Strangely, Chevrolet no longer sells new on the Irish market.

  17. I always liked the Focus saloon, looked better than the hatchback. That always reminds me of a magicians assistant who’s been chainsawed at mid thigh.
    Has anyone else noticed how companies are increasingly dumping what they want to sell on us, as opposed to what we actually want to buy? Its like if you mentioned the term customer service to anyone under 30 you’d spend the next hour explaining the meaning of the word customer & the concept of assistance to same..

  18. I’ve also noticed plenty of ROI-plated saloons which aren’t available here, and certain models which are available both sides of the border being way more popular ‘down South’ such as Nissan Maxima etc. Funny how these things seem more popular despite a near identical demographic, I wonder how that situation arose?

    Jemma – “Like a Trucker mainlining bacon” 😀

  19. Jemma, I’m pretty sure car makers build what people want…that’s why crossovers (love them or hate them, I’m in the hate camp personally) sell and saloons don’t.
    People don’t buy what they don’t want, and buy what they err, do want.

  20. Mr Frank is right.

    These are billion dollar industries, they have whole marketing departments that read the market and see what sells.

    Small saloons haven’t sold since the Orion/Belmont days.

    SUVs are where it’s at, so they’re flooding the market with the things, because the majority of new car buyers want them.

    Capitalism.

    Maybe one day, with 3D printing, cars will be more customisable. Want a Japanese diesel coupe? Bam! There it is.

  21. Long before the 5 door Metro I sketched a 4 door saloon version on the Metro with the 6 light window treatment and two tone paint badged as a Wolseley Metro – an upmarket saloon from Austin Morris. I think it would have worked very well as a 4 door with upmarket trim. It would not have competed against the Triumph Acclaim and should have gone ahead. That was in 1980 when I was 16! It suprised me in 1988 when ARG launched a 5 door Metro VDP with two tone treatment very similar to what I sketched in 1980. I was sorry that Wolseley and Riley vanished from Austin Morris product portfolio

  22. I do not agree with this buy what people want stuff spouted morning noon and night.

    They are marketed,you are told they are a great lifestyle/recreation vehicle.

    Mcdonalds has the gall to call their greasy burger joints that turn our kids into fat slobs “restuarants”.

    I like to think that people have choice,but most of us just buy what the next man buys because he says they are bang on.

    I like the look of the Juke but would never have one because they have no room whatsover in them.

    Capitalism indeed.

    I wonder when Bentley will make a car that makes its own cocaine and produces hookers that could suck the skin off an apple?

  23. Why, when anyone is writing an article on any BL car do they feel the need (whether justified or not) to criticise it ibn some way or another? Even the writer or this article, a supposed BL/AR follower, fan etc feels the need to call the Metro bland!! The Metro was a pretty little, well proportioned car that still looked reasonably fresh in 97 when it was axed. I am sad to see that BL bashing exists even among the people that are supposed to be fans of these cars, sad, very sad….

  24. @17 I stand corrected as 77 was when it entered production which would have made it the R and S plate. We must have seen pre production one may be out on evaluation, it was German reg and as we were in a Rapier it was summer 75, 76 would have been a Sceptre estate and 77 was an Alpine. Explains though why my Father was so interested in it and prepared to follow it for a good few miles. I dont recall it being disguised and we knew it was a VW so it must have been badged to some extent.

  25. @28

    You clearly don’t know who Stephen Harper is. He designed lots and lots of cars – and is featured heavily on this site. If anyone is qualified to say what is and is not bland, it is Steve…

  26. If the Honda collaboration and the Acclaim hadnt happened in 1981 there would have been no SD3, XX or R8 either. Without those cars Rover would have died around 15 years earlier than it did. On the other hand if the Honda based HHR hadnt been launched in 1995 perhaps Rover would still be with us today!

  27. Its a shame the Acclaim-a superb carwas Triumphs swansong,this marque could have gone the distance i believe,only if things were different.

  28. Renault was BL’s initial choice of partner but, with gov’t funding shrinking this side of the channel while the French, wisely, invested in their state-owned money pit (Renault lost far more cash than BL did in the 80s) Michael Edwardes apparently foresaw BL being dwarfed by Renault and turned to Honda, at that time a company of similar size to BL which made a genuinely complimentary pairing.

    Steven’s picture is much nicer than the full-scale prototype but seems to have the advantage of every panel being modified. Interesting that the plastic (?) frame around the front lights resembles the facelifted Citroen Visa. I rather like that sort of functional styling that was fashionable back then.

  29. @36 I agree, to me the Honda based Rovers that followed it were more naturally Triumph. I think the decision was based on market research that showed people thought of Triumph as being the maker of cheap sports cars and Rover as prestigious saloons. What they forgot to check was that we actually liked cheap sports cars as the MX5 and MGF/TF showed.

    To me the smarter decision would have been to have kept the link between Rover cars and Land Rover, developing the SD1 platform as a basis for a range a large estates (a British Volvo). Basic body shell could have served as a basis for 2 models, a cooking version aimed at family market (a sort of mobile Fisher Price Ball Pit) powered by 4 and 5 cylinder petrol and diesels evolved from the O series (for use in Land Rover and Discovery as well). And a V8 with a more prestigious nose and a Range Rover with higher spec chassis components, a split tailgate, and a leather and walnut interior sitting on top of the range. With proper alignment of the platforms, a large amount of componentry and interior plastics could be shared with the Discover and Range Rover.

    The sense would have been then to work alongside Honda with the Triumph brand. Hindsight would be that though the Metro was special enough to go ahead, we should kill the LM10 and LM11 and assemble as well as the Acclaim rebadged Civic / Accords etc to buy time to co-develop with Honda a new generation of Euro/Jap cars aimed at the premium end of the volume market.

  30. Sorry an error above the second parapgraph 3 sentance shouls read.

    “And a Rover V8 Estate with a more prestigious nose and higher spec chassis components, a split tailgate and a Leather and Walnut interior sitting on top alongside the Range Rover”

  31. The Acclaim was an excellent car. Yes it was a funny size and looked a bit bland, but what it did, it did far better tna other cars on the market.

    My father-in-law had an HLS and for me it was a revelation: that engine, that gearbox. I’m glad we didn’t get a BL version of the Renault 9. now that truly was an awful car1

  32. Drove a Metro for 10 years, practically moved home with the car, such efficient use of space. i do not think the booted Metro would be practical, how can you fit a cooker inside?

    An estate car version of the Metro hatchback, now that would have been a proposition!

  33. I remember my parents had to get rid of an old washing machine, & the best way they found to move it was my borrowing a Metro from a friend of the family, as both their cars were saloons.

    It’s not surprising when my Mum needed a new car are year or 2 later that she got a Metro.

    An estate Metro sounds great, especially to fill the void left by the Mini Clubman estate being dropped, & would have made for a more practical van version than the hatchback.

  34. I guess small ‘supermini’ estates didn’t catch on til the 206 estate. Possibly the Skoda Favorit, if you think of it as a big small car rather than an Escort competitor.

    If you wanted a bigger hatchback, you got directed to the Maestro / R8, if you wanted an estate you got shown the Montego estate / R8 tourer

  35. First notch back??? what about the Renault 7 based upon the 5 and made for the Spanish market.
    According to WIKI made from 1974. Where as the Derby was made from 1977.

  36. @Colm

    Good call, the Cordoba estate beat the 206 by 3 years. Was around similar era. Then followed few years later by Clio estate and slow selling Yaris Verso.

    Brazil had a Corsa estate. Though Vauxhall / Opel had the Meriva and Agila instead.
    Ford similarly had the Fusion.

  37. The “metro with a boot” concept would have been interesting had it happened and the Honda/BL developed acclaim had never come to light;the original small hatchback was not that particularly spacious in the rear legroom-wise and it’s boot was just about acceptable for a weekly shop or a small weekend away trip.

  38. Small saloons are v practical for impecunious small families, a category I and mine fell in to. We got the kids on the back seat and a double buggy into the boot of a 1.2 Nova saloon, which replaced our old Metro. Really cheap insurance and 50 mpg on unleaded. People said ‘you want a hatch – more stylish, better residuals, you’ve got a double buggy – you can fold down the back seats, blah blah’. (Hate being told what I want – I can work that out for myself). News; you can’t fold down the back seats if the kids are sitting in them. Small saloons are practical when you’ve got kids. But not aspirational.

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