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…
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for BL in Ireland and embargoes were placed on BL complete imports into Ireland by dock workers, through this was rescinded.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