BMC 1100/1300 : Irish variations

Ireland was an interesting market for BMC>Rover, as for a short while, not only were they importers, but they were a CKD assembly operation. Andrew Ryan takes up the story…

 The spares and service depot of Standard Triumph (Ireland) Ltd, in the mid-Sixties.
The spares and service depot of Standard Triumph (Ireland) Ltd, in the mid-’60s.

Austin & Morris had two separate importers/assemblers. For Austin, there was Lincoln & Nolan, which also had the Rover agency and Morris cars were assembled by the Brittains Group. Lincoln & Nolan was taken over by Brittains in the 1960s.

Ireland also had a separate company that assembled MGs and Rileys. This company was Booth Poole and it was also taken over by Brittains. Booth Poole for example assembled MGBs in the 1960’s, as noted in the excellent MGB book by David Knowles (see footnote 3, below).

Jaguar and Triumph both had separate companies with Triumph having a wholly owned agency – Standard Triumph (Ireland), while Jaguar had a local agency – Frank Cavey.

With the creation of BL, there were moves to simplify these arrangements. Britttains dealt with the Austin-Morris and MG franchise, while Rover, Jaguar and Triumph were combined into a separate company – British Leyland (Ireland).

The Brittains Group produced cars on the Naas Road, Dublin, in a large assembly operation, but strangely had separate dealer networks for both Austin & Morris – 80 dealers overall (40 a-piece).

Brittains lost the BL franchise in 1974 when BL ‘sacked’ the company. By this stage, Brittains also had the Datsun franchise in Ireland, though the company never recovered from the severance of the BL franchise and collapsed in 1977. The move caused huge problems for BL in Ireland and embargoes were placed on BL complete imports into Ireland by dock workers, through this was rescinded. One way of circumventing this was to move Mini CKD assembly to another company, which was Reg Armstrong, though this ceased in 1978.

By the late ’70s BL had a normal import operation located on the Cashel Road in Kimmage as well as small factory making car seats, though this closed in the early 1980’s. The company’s market share had fallen from over 20 per cent in the early seventies to just 7-8 per cent in 1978. This was to fall further when CKD operations ceased and in 1979, thanks to another embargo, the share fell to around 3 per cent.

BL Cars (Ireland) became Austin Rover (Ireland) in the early 1980s and the company enjoyed a recovery in market share to the levels of the late ’70s, though with a significantly reduced dealer network. However, the company hit problems in early ’90s and the market share fell dramatically to below 1 per cent. Though this recovered to around 3 per cent by the late ’90s, the share collapsed due to Rover’s problems with BMW in the early 21st century. The situation is still very weak and unlikely to improve in the immediate future.


1) Datsun Ireland emerged from the ashes of the Brittains Group and became a very strong player on the Irish car market. Their large import facility on the Naas Road in Dublin was where part of the Brittains operation existed.

2) In his book “Motor Makers in Ireland” (ISBN: 0 85640 264 8), John Moore says the following:

‘The Government of the Irish Republic, like so many others during the years follwing the Great Depression, relied heavily on protectionist measures and policies to retain some control of its economy. The motor industry was naturally a prime example of these policies at work. One result was that many cars were imported in completely knocked down (CKD) form and assembled locally, with obvious benefit to the employment figures. It was also made almost prohibitively expensive to buy any car which was not assembled in the Republic. These policies lasted until the early Sixties, when the Government signed the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement, which was aimed at giving Irish agricultural produce easier access to UK markets. Even the accession to the Common Market in 1973 did not completely remove the tariff barriers which were specially negotiated in order to protect the jobs involved, and allowed to remain until 1984.

At the height of the CKD boom there were twelve firms involved, assembling vehicles for Fiat, Ford, British Leyland, Mercedes Benz, Peugeot, Renault, Volkswagen and Toyota cars, and Heinkel bubble-cars. The only attempt to assemble CKD cars in Northern Ireland was made in the early Sixties, when the Clarence Engineering Co. Ltd of Belfast, then the Triumph agents, built Triumph Heralds.”

3) In his book “MGB” (ISBN: 1-90143-225-4), David Knowles reports that CKD assembly in the Republic of Ireland amounted to 188 roadsters (beginning December 1964) and 216 GTs (beginning March 1966); production ended in February 1976.

4) In his book “MG Saloon Cars from the 1920s to the 1970s” (ISBN: 1-90143-206-8), Anders Ditlev Clausager relates:

‘The majority [of 2-door MG 1100s] were sold in North America, although in 1966-67 the two-door model was also offered in certain European markets, including Eire. There is no accurate fix on the numbers of Mk1 two-doors for non-US markets, except that Eire is thought to have taken 264 CKD cars.

With thanks to Andrew Ryan for producing this article

Keith Adams


  1. The cars were not the only Leyland products built up from CKD kits in Eire. CIE (Compas Iompair Eireanan – the state transport company) built up thousands of the popular Atlantean double deck chassis and allied these to Duple MetSec bodies or Belgian VanHool – and both of these were also CKD kits, the latter being assembled by McArdle. CIE fell out in increasing measures with Leyland as the 70’s progressed, and the 0.680 Leyland units were progressively replaced with a DAF unit – ironically just a licence built 0.680 – and it all ended when Bombardier/GAC opened a plant in Shannon in 1983 to make a series of German designed single and doubledeck buses specifically for Eire.
    A an aside, Eire also insisted on local assembly when they purchased the British Rail MK III coaches in the early 1980’s, these being built up at the Incicore works.

  2. One would presume that the popularity of Japanese cars in Ireland throughout the early 80s onwards may be something to do with a lack of BL products being available?

    @Dave Harrison – Would local Irish assembly of British Rail MK III be required to fit bogies of the Irish rail gauge?

  3. a very interesting article bmc “irish variations” as im from ireland its a great insight into car manufacture in the 60s and seventies i wonder how many bmc 1100/1300 still survive, a great piece of irish history.thank-you.

    ps. where can i purchase john moore’s book “motor makers in ireland” many thanks.oliver

  4. @ Will – No, it was the standard MK III bogie supplied by BREL, and just gauged to the Irish 5’3″.
    Of note is the fact that the Irish MK III’s are now surplus to requirements and have been inspected by a few UK operators.

  5. Thanks for the comments about the article.

    I wrote it about six years ago and I think it is due for an update at some stage.

    The Irish Republic was no different from many smaller markets where cars were assembled to benefit local industry.

    An issue of Motoring Life from 1969 lists the following cars assembled at that time: Fiat 600/850/1100/124, Mini, Morris Minor, Hillman Imp/Minx, NSU Prinz 4/110, Renault 4/10, Ford Escort/Cortina/Corasir, Triumph Herald/Vitesse, Opel Kadett, Vauxhall Viva, Volkswagen Beetle, Austin/Morris 1100/Oxbridge.

    As to comments about Leyland buses, it should also be noted that Leyland Trucks were assembled by CAV in Dundalk & North Wall in Dublin. Interestingly, in the late 1980’s Leyland buses made a reappearance on Irish roads after the appalling GAC/Bombardier buses were axed. That bus broke down on the day of its launch. It was a foretaste of a less than stellar operational record.

  6. I well recall visiting Ireland in the late sixties and early seventies as a kid. The Morris Oxford and Austin Cambridge had the the same rear fins in Ireland, unlike Britain where the Cambridge fins were “rounded off”.

    • That was just from 1969, when Cambridge production ended in UK. They used the Oxford rear wings on the Cambridge branded cars here. Before ‘69, the Cambridge had the usual curved rear lights.

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