By CLIFFORD WEBB
The first new car designed from start to finish by British Leyland since the British Motor Holdings-Leyland merger two years ago is now at the pre-production stage and could well be launched next spring. Details circulating in the industry suggest that it is entirely orthodox with a fore and aft engine in the front driving the rear wheels. In appearance it follows the present European formula for success with a popular priced car, fastback. low profile with distinctive headlamp dominated grill.
I understand it will be offered with a wide range of engines from 1500 c.c. upwards. The car is Clearly an attempt to beat Ford at its own game by using well-proven engineering. This will replace the technically sophisticated front wheel drive. Hydrolastic suspension which has been a feature of B.M.C. cars for the past decade. The new model will be marketed exclusively by Morris dealers who have been growing increasingly impatient since the Maxi went to their Austin colleagues. They expect each variation of the model to be carefully priced so that it is competitive with its Ford equivalent.
“Given that sort of car “. said a Birmingham dealer last night. ” we could at last begin to make the sort of headway we have been promised since the merger. but have not seen”.
It will also close the glaring gap in British Leyland’s extensive range of cars. The gap is most apparent on the Continent where both Fiat and Ford have provided a relatively unsophisticated, medium sized saloon aimed at clearly identified price sectors of the market. With its ” book” capacity for producing 1m. cars a year Austin- Morris (the heart of the old B.M.C. group) is the cornerstone on which British Leyland’s fortunes rest.
It is reluctantly admitted that original estimates of Maxi sales were grossly optimistic. It now seems to be settling down at 3 per cent of the United Kingdom market. With production cutbacks already made, this would seem to be acceptable for a second line model, but nowhere near sufficient for a front runner. The new Morris is clearly designed to fit this role.
For the first time for many years the British firm will have a design which lends itself to mass production on the sort of scale it must have to compete against the big German, Italian and American car makers. George Turnbull, managing director of Austin-Morris, said recently: “Our new model plans are pretty well finalized up to 1973 and sketched in for five years beyond that. We will be pursuing our successful emphasis on advanced engineering and also adding more conventional ‘trendv ‘ models.
“Our range will provide something for everyone and our franchises will be the most attractive in the country.”