By Julian Mounter Motoring Correspondent
British Leyland, anxious to rejuvenate its image, is flirting with the idea of returning to international motor sport. The corporation may also market a high performance version of the Morris Marina, tuned and modified by the March racing team, in a deal similar to that operated successfully for many years by Ford and Lotus. I understand there have been top level meetings in London, Longbridge and Coventry to discuss the corporation’s image and a decision may be taken soon.
The special Morris Marina, fitted with a 3.5 litre V8 Rover engine, is being studied this week by the March team’s chief designer and engineers.
Longbridge sources say that British Leyland is worried that most of its sales are to middle-aged or elderly people, while companies like Ford, with its sporty versions of standard saloons, are building up customer loyalty among the younger generation. Lord Stokes, British Leyland’s chairman and managing director, decided. in the face of considerable opposition, to sever the few remaining important links with the racing and rallying world two years ago when demands on resources, caused by safety and pollution regulations, became too much.
Now that the company is making profits again and because the new model policy is proving successful, it is becoming harder to resist the pressures from sections of the sales, marketing and public relations staff. If there is a return to competition it will be gradual, with the emphasis on a maximum return for the minimum of capital outlay and for the minimum involvement of personnel.
A small works rally team may be set up to concentrate on the prestige events. but the bigger part of the involvement would be in lending full works backing to private entries.