It’s owning up time at BL Cars. The exact worth of the past three years recovery operations is about to be evaluated.
The first of the LC10 cars, the Austin Maestro, is about to be launched.
In a sense, the company have spent the past couple of years in a kind of limbo. To the public’s eye that is. There has been frenetic work going on within the firm’s confines to effect the Edwardes led recovery, but the twin public activities associated with BL – rationalising, and spending Government funds – have become so usual that the Great British Shareholders have stopped noticing.
Of course, the BL managers have from time to time been seen doing sensible things – building the Acclaim, launching the Ambassador, consolidating the existing cars into models like the recent Rover Vitesse and MG Metro Turbo. They’ve been promising profits before long, too, but not they said, before the lifesaving new middleweight saloon, the LM10, comes out. Nothing has been possible until that debut.
Now the middleweight car is here. It is production ready, and it couldn’t be substantially changed now, even if the engineers had not done their job properly. It is locked into a launch at the beginning of March next year, and to a Geneva show debut.
You can depend on the fact that the salesmen are getting anxious ; they must put 100,000 Austin Maestro’s into new owners hands before 1983 is out.
The LM10 will need to be a better car than the Metro. In 1980 there was tremendous sympathy and a good deal of pent up demand for any ‘buyable’ BL car. The Metro arrived, it was a world beater in key respects and because it was so good, people tended to forgive some of its awkwardness of style and harshness of powertrain. Since then, the Sierra and Corsa and BX and 100 have happened. Cars have changed. Second time around, they’ll be far less understanding for faults. BL have had the time, they’ve had high British purchase prices, they’ve had our development money and they’ve had their Metro experience. This time the car must be just right ; just as good as a Ford would be.
The LM10 is a product of just three years work. It is well known that when Sir Michael Edwardes came to the firm at the end of ’77, the middleweight cupboard was bare of forward plans. The final LM10 shape was designed by David Bache who has now parted company with BL. He was the man most responsible for the shapes of the Range Rover, Rover SD1 and Metro. His LM10 concept was chosen ahead of a similarly practical but slightly more rakish and GM-like shovel-nosed car, produced by Princess and TR7 designer Harris Mann. The BL managers chose the Bache ‘upright’.
For the first time in a decade a big selling BL car will have a really nice gearchange ; the Cowley robots and the revitalised workforce will see it is well built.
We can remember ending one of our pre-release Metro stories on the note that here, for the first time, was a car which kept up with the best opposition, a car for which nobody needed to apologise. This Maestro seems much the same, proof that there is real car building understanding still here in Britain.