By GEOFFREY CHARLES,
Rapid re-thinking inside the BMH-Leyland group has led to a decision to postpone their next family saloon, the 1.5-litre BMC, until next year. Up to early February, Sir George Harriman, chairman of the group, was setting October as the date for introducing his new front-wheel-drive model, designed to slot between the 1100/1300 saloons and the bigger 1800s.
There has been sharp conflict on whether the BMC 1.5 could be launched this autumn in absolute confidence of its appeal and engineering reliability. BMC were still smarting from the initial production lag and 70,000 troublesome first-batch samples of the Austin 1800. The BMC 1300, announced last October, is still a rarity, mainly because of production difficulties.
At this stage, I would forecast that the BMC 1500 will be launched next spring, and that not less than 10,000 will then be in dealers’ showrooms. British Leyland watched Ford’s new Escort operation with envy. By the Escort’s launching date of January 17, nearly 12,000 had been built and distributed. The 1500 should fill the gap in British Leyland’s middle-range family cars.
Sir Donald Stokes, chief executive, is extremely optimistic about its future. Styling has been one of the car’s worst bugbears. The first prototype, built about three years ago, looked like a smaller replica of the BMC 1800. After much pencil-and-saw work by BMC and Pininfarina, it emerged more recently in different form: still unbelievably compact, but too obviously chopped about and modified.
From the restyling between now and next spring should emerge a car that will sell not just on advanced engineering but on looks.