The cars : Triumph Acclaim development story

It was a brave new world for BL – a Honda built in the UK but, in many ways, the Triumph Acclaim represented so much more.

When launched in 1981, the Acclaim was heralded as the first of a long line of Honda/Rovers but, more importantly than that, it proved once and for all that British assembly line workers were among the best in the world.

Say hello to the Japanese

Triumph Acclaim

In 1978, Mark Snowdon, the Director of Product Development at Austin Morris, had started to look at the idea of cooperating with another car company. The idea was to produce a new mid-sized car intended not only to replace the Triumph Dolomite, but also to give BL a middle market shot in the arm.

The wisdom within the company was that BL was in no position to develop a new car quickly and cheaply enough to get on the market much before the LC10 cars were launched. The Triumph SD2 was long dead and any further new model programmes would be a distraction for the company, which was putting all its efforts into the development of the next generation of mid-sized cars.

Snowdon initially looked at European manufacturers, but concluded that companies such as Renault and GM, with whom the company had held exploratory discussions, were much larger organisations and would soon come to dominate BL in any future joint ventures.

Joint ventures into the future

A long and exhaustive search into potential suitors then followed and a serious investigation into which suitable competitors would a) BL like to cooperate with, b) not feel engulfed by and c) had a suitable mid-sized car in development.

According to internal documents on the subject, the companies that were shortlisted by BL were:

  • Alfa Romeo
  • AMC
  • BMW
  • Chrysler (US)
  • Chrysler (UK)
  • Fiat
  • Ford
  • GM
  • Honda
  • Mazda
  • Mercedes-Benz
  • Mitsubishi
  • Nissan
  • Peugeot-Citroën (PSA)
  • Renault
  • Saab
  • Subaru
  • Toyota
  • Volkswagen
  • Volvo

As Ray Horrocks stated at the time, ‘Chrysler UK was number one and Honda was number two.’ Much groundwork was covered in pursuing the Chrysler deal, and the project, which was called Dovetail, would have involved a partnership, a rationalised range of factories (Longbridge, Poissy, Cowley, Ryton, Solihull and Browns Lane), and a slimmed-down range of cars.

The combined BL-Chrysler range of cars would have looked like this: (BL) Metro, (Chrysler) Horizon, (Chrysler) Alpine, (BL) Princess and (Chrysler) C9/Tagora, Rover, Jaguar, sports cars and the off-road vehicles.

So, should BL have gone with Chrysler?

Looking at the plan, and putting aside the relative merits of the cars on offer, it did seem to have a firm footing. But the deal with Chrysler fell through when the US parent company pulled out of the UK, leaving the company to be bought by PSA (Peugeot-Citroën).

Negotiations continued after the sale but, following a final meeting between Michael Edwardes, David Andrews and the Chairman of PSA, Jean-Paul Parayre, on 6 September 1978, it became clear that PSA was not interested in hiving off any of its UK operations to the British company.

BL was eventually relieved about losing Chrysler UK to the French – once PSA started running the company, it quickly became apparent that the Anglo-French operation had actually been in worse shape than it was thought to be!

So, should BL have gone with Renault?

Serious talks with Renault had also been taking place since early 1977 and, by the following summer, discussions had reached a point where a collaborative plan was being finalised. The intention was for Renault to offer BL the upcoming R9 model to produce in return for marketing rights for the Land Rover in Europe and the USA.

However, Edwardes felt that Renault viewed BL as a weaker partner and the terms of their agreement stacked heavily in favour of the French. The Renault 9 would only be marketed as a BL product in the UK – and the company would have no rights to export it anywhere else under their own name. Worse than that, some high-ups within Renault felt that they should be allowed to continue to sell their version of it in the UK.

In fact, speaking in the early months of 1978, Michael Edwardes had stated that he would have liked to increase his cooperative links with Renault but, due to delays, the deal was never finalised and so, on 1 April 1978, Edwardes found out by reading in the Financial Times that Renault had, in fact, decided to partner with AMC in the USA – and market Jeeps worldwide. The deal was off. It was always felt that the company would eventually engulf BL, because of their relative sizes – and this was something that no one in the company felt was desirable.

Honda enters the fray

With the French out of the equation, it became apparent that the second choice of Ray Horrocks was now the best option left. When presented with the idea of a possible collaborative partnership with Honda – and after much persuasion – management eventually agreed that the Japanese company could be a suitable partner to do business with.

As soon as the BL Board gave the go-ahead to pursue talks with the company, Michael Edwardes put the feelers out in Japan regarding how Honda would feel about collaboration. When the soundings came back as positive, Edwardes asked his colleague on the Chloride Board and ex-Ambassador to Tokyo, Sir Fred Warner, to telex the President of Honda, Kyoshi Kawashima, and ask him to consider a deal with BL.

Shortly after, a positive response was forthcoming, and arrangements were made to begin talks on neutral ground in San Francisco between the management teams of both companies. BL’s delegation was led by Ray Horrocks, David Andrews and John Bacchus, and they jetted off to Japan in October 1978 to begin formal talks with Honda.

This was a shrewd choice of partners because, at the time, Honda was approximately the same size as BL, and it was regarded as an innovator and as being the most ‘European’ of all the Japanese car companies.

Project Bounty kicks off

The Honda version, the Ballade, demonstrates just how little input British Leyland had in the design of the Triumph Acclaim. As part of the licencing agreement, the Ballade was not marketed in the UK so as not to tread on the toes of the British-built car.
The Honda version, the Ballade, demonstrates just how little input British Leyland had in the design of the Triumph Acclaim. As part of the licencing agreement, the Ballade was not marketed in the UK so as not to tread on the toes of the British-built car

Negotiations were long and hard, but good progress was made – the negotiation groups talking with Honda were shown the likely product that the joint venture could be based upon, and the news coming back the UK was all good thus far. In early 1979, Mike Carver, BL’s Head of Business Strategy, flew out to Japan to detail more concrete plans with Honda and sound out what products they could offer and see how it would fit into the BL range.

After seeing the prototype of the then yet-to-be launched Honda Ballade (above), a notchback version of the second-generation Civic, Carver was pleased with what he considered to be a product that would fit in nicely with the future slimmed down BL range of cars. In no way did Carver reflect to Honda the mild sense of disappointment that the BL negotiation group had felt when they saw the Ballade – they felt that a hatchback would have been a more preferable option.

The relationship between the two companies’ negotiating and engineering teams mirrored that between the Ballade and the BL range. Indeed, once a rapport was established, the nuts and bolts of the collaborative effort were brought to a satisfactory conclusion at a very rapid pace. Traffic between Birmingham and Tokyo was thick and fast, so much so that, on Boxing Day 1979, Sir Michael Edwardes flew out to Japan to meet Honda President Kyoshi Kawashima and officially sign the collaborative deal between the two companies.

The deal is done – Honda and BL join forces

Boxing day, 1979 and the deal is finally done. The implications of this partnership were far ranging, resulting in the wholly Japanese-influenced Rover-badged range of cars, a new factory for Honda in Swindon, UK and the adoption of improved working practices in British Leyland's factories. It all ended in acrimony in February 1994.
Boxing Day 1979 and the deal is finally done. The implications of this partnership were far ranging, resulting in the wholly Japanese-influenced Rover-badged range of cars, a new factory for Honda in Swindon, UK and the adoption of improved working practices in British Leyland’s factories. It all ended in acrimony in February 1994…

It was then that Project Bounty was born, and the plan to develop the Ballade into a Dolomite replacement began. It was down to the Jaguar Rover Triumph (JRT) division to tune the Ballade to appeal to more European tastes.

Production was earmarked for the Canley factory, where Dolomites were then built, but this coincided with Edwardes’ streamlining of BL’s factories. The internal re-organization that resulted in JRT being phased out in favour of the Light Medium Division meant that the Acclaim would be incorporated into the Austin Morris range and be built at the under-utilised Cowley factory in Oxford.

Following initial market research, BL strategists became more bullish about the chances of Project Bounty’s success on the British and Continental markets. As a result, BL upped its production targets for the new car. The view within the company was that the this car, to be marketed as the Triumph Acclaim, was so complementary, that it would not steal sales from the Metro or the LM10, both hatchbacks.

Potential opportunities emerge

The Acclaim was emerging as good enough to be regarded as much more than the stopgap it was intended to be. It might have been earmarked as a replacement for the Dolomite, but marketing strategists knew that as the Morris Ital and the Austin Allegro were fading in the market, potential customers would look at the Acclaim as a natural alternative instead of the competition. That was the hope, anyway.

Ray Horrocks already knew that the ‘discreet collaboration programme’ with Honda was going to be more far reaching than a simple licence deal to build the Ballade in the UK. It was obvious that the car would form part of the model range after the launch of the new British middleweight cars. The production targets for the Acclaim were set at 1500 per week.

It would prove to contribute more to the British economy than people may have initially predicted, using 80% British-sourced parts, contributing to 70% of the ex-works price being British. Horrocks also dropped hints that, although the car’s 1335cc engine was produced in Japan, it could be built in Britain, if the volumes dictated it.

A Honda-engined Metro? If only…

Horrocks also dropped a very subtle hint that it was ‘conceivable’ that the engine could be used in other BL products. The fact that the Austin Metro would require serious and expensive changes to its floorpan in order to accommodate the engine did not stop tentative investigations into this very plan.

Before the launch of the Acclaim, plans were drawn up to extend the collaborative deal and codenames were allocated: HD9 was to be a hatchback version of the Acclaim, HD14 was to be a very small car and the HD17 was an executive car. The HD9 and HD14 amounted to nothing more than paper projects – there was no need for them in the then-current Austin Rover range.

However, the HD17 would go on to become the XX or Rover 800 as it eventually appeared. Significantly, these codenames and projects would indicate that, even as early as 1981, BL were looking at Honda to ‘assist” with the development of their future models – and that, following the Montego in 1984, there would be no more entirely British saloons produced by the company.

Enter the Triumph Acclaim – totally equipped… 

The cars : Triumph Acclaim development history

The interior benefitted from new front seats (using Ford Cortina frames!) and more UK-friendly trim materials and colour schemes.
The interior benefited from new front seats (using Ford Cortina frames!) and more UK-friendly trim materials and colour schemes

Politically, the Acclaim was a very interesting proposition. During the 1970s, the European car makers had looked upon the inexorable march of the Japanese with great suspicion and, once BL’s collaborative plans entered the public domain, the French and the Italian Governments, in particular, began to raise concerns that Project Bounty was, in fact a Japanese ‘Trojan Horse’, a way the they could circumvent the import quotas set by the Europeans.

In a strongly worded letter to The Times just one week before the official launch of the Acclaim, Sir Michael Edwardes defended his product in the strongest terms: ‘The launch of the Triumph Acclaim, which results from a unique piece of collaboration between BL and Honda, will not go without significant debate.

‘Some people will see the project as a realistic response to the rapidly changing nature of the world automotive business, being fully in line with BL’s business and market requirements. Others will find it unacceptable and, to put it crudely, describe it as prejudicial to the Triumph name, a ‘sell-out’ to the Japanese and in conflict with BL’s opposition to the import of Japanese cars into Britain.’

Edwardes: The Triumph Acclaim was no Trojan Horse

Externally, the Triumph Acclaim was almost pure Honda Ballade - only the smallest of details differentiated the two, and that was the case in European markets, too. (Photograph: Rene Winters.)
Externally, the Triumph Acclaim was almost pure Honda Ballade – only the smallest of details differentiated the two, and that was the case in European markets, too. (Photograph: Rene Winters)

What Edwardes was saying in emotive terms was that the Acclaim was a ‘proper’ British car in as much as that it was directly responsible for saving 2000 jobs at the Cowley factory and helped maintain countless jobs in the UK component industry.

Yes, this is undoubtedly true, but in 1981 inter-manufacturer collaboration with the Japanese on this scale was yet to become fashionable, so competitors and commentators remained unconvinced.

So politically, the Acclaim may have been a hot potato, but what about the car itself? Well, BL Engineers at the newly-opened Gaydon facility had worked feverishly on the Acclaim during its gestation period in order to tune the car into the tastes of the intended customer base.

Niggles during testing and development

There were dark mutterings of ‘things that broke’ during testing – the usual things that happen during vehicle development, but Honda would never acknowledge that anything was wrong at all, even if they would quite happily share the fix. Mechanically, the Acclaim was pure Civic/Ballade with the same 1335cc engine, end-on gearbox and independent suspension, front and rear by McPherson struts.

As with the Honda Ballade, the body was light, the Engine was willing and excellent performance with what BL referred to as 'Triumph virtues”. It is fair to say that the Acclaim was an eager car to drive, but it did fall short of British Leyland principles of space efficiency.
As with the Honda Ballade, the body was light, the engine was willing and provided excellent performance with what BL referred to as ‘Triumph virtues’. It is fair to say that the Acclaim was an eager car to drive, but it did fall short of British Leyland principles of space efficiency

It had a 91-inch wheelbase, barely longer than the Metro’s, and a low roofline, which meant that, whichever way you cut it, the Acclaim was a cramped car inside.

BL’s contribution to the car was the re-designed seats (that were actually very good – and used Ford Cortina frames) and ‘Europeanisation’ of the interior trim and colours. The seats were smaller than the original Honda items, but did not free up enough space from a car that had none.

Triumph Acclaim – on the road

The ‘Edwardes letter’ aside, the lead-up to the Acclaim’s launch was very quiet and it failed to grab the public’s attention in the way that the Metro’s had. The public perceived it as the re-badged Japanese car that it was, but did not condemn the car for that, reasoning that if it was built in Britain, it was as British as the (German-built) Ford Cortina, if not more so.

Triumph traditionalists may have looked on aghast, but many of the Dolomite’s customers did return and buy an Acclaim when it came to trade-in time. The road testers found that they had a further BL product that they could test and not be embarrassed by the fact that there was so little to be excited by (like the Ital).

It was praised for good performance, excellent economy, high levels of build quality and an appealing, engaging nature. Betraying its Japanese origins, it also had an excellent level of equipment – things that road testers and customers alike looked upon in a positive light. BL had swallowed some pride and learned some lessons from the Japanese.

What the papers said: mostly good news

In its road test of the Acclaim against established rivals, What Car? magazine summed the car up very favourably: ‘The new Triumph Acclaim is a good new car and it displays all the qualities needed for success in this section of the market; refined engine and transmission, fine crisp handling, creditable comfort and a good economy potential.

‘Perhaps just why the Acclaim was not voted top by either our (customer clinic) panel or ourselves could therefore be a subjective matter concerning its image – the car is clearly just a Japanese design dressed up very thinly by the odd plastic Triumph badge, and so BL are really due little credit in engineering though they may be in production if they continue to match Honda’s high standard.

The Acclaim’s market appeal does seem to be rather questionable in view of the fact that one associates Triumphs as traditionally British cars, but of course that is something for buyers to judge.’

Grappling with the Anglo-Japanese question

Clearly, the magazine’s road test staff could not come to terms with a ‘British’ car being so oriental, but it did not stop them being impressed with the way the car performed. ‘…the Acclaim’s engine is already a known quantity, and a smooth and responsive unit it is too.

‘There is never a hint of harshness at any point in the rev-range; the Triumph eagerly accelerates to 60 mph in 12.7 seconds and the rev counter needle easily flicks round to its 6000rpm red line.’

Also, ‘the gearchange is very light and direct with well chosen ratios, although fifth is a pure overdrive of little use at any other time apart from cruising – top speed in fourth is actually one mile per hour faster, at 90 mph.’

Sales success follows positive launch

Nevertheless, the Acclaim did prove popular, reaching a best of 2.71% market share in 1982, slightly shy of BL’s bullish predictions of 3% once it became a fully-fledged Austin Morris product. In line with BL’s private concerns, it did feed off the Allegro and Ital to a degree, but also helped restore some pride in the products of the beleaguered company.

The car suffered from no reliability issues (as the trade would often say ‘It’s a Honda, isn’t it!’) and secured itself a niche in the market, being beloved of those sometimes referred to as the ‘Eastbourne set’. They survived well with nary a trace of rust on them, the engines in rude health, thus proving that the Acclaim was indeed an amalgamation of the good points of Japanese engineering and British assembly work.

BL quickly learned much from the Japanese and gained much knowledge on how to improve the standard of assembly of their own cars: ‘The most critical thing it achieved was to prove to BL Engineers that BL Assembly Workers could achieve good quality if the product was DESIGNED FOR ASSEMBLY, which previous cars manifestly had not been,’ is how one insider related the situation.

Smoothing-out the Acclaim’s styling

The Honda Ballade received a mild facelift in 1982, which BL wasn't privy to... except...
The Honda Ballade received a mild facelift in 1982, which BL wasn’t privy to… Except…

With smoothed-out frontal styling, the Acclaim takes on an altogether different personality - gone is the fussy Honda Civic grille/light treatment, and in its place a Colt Tredia/Cordia-style arrangement. To effect these changess would have been a cheap and much-needed way of differentiating BL and Honda products.
With smoothed-out frontal styling, the Acclaim takes on an altogether different personality – gone is the fussy Honda Civic grille/light treatment and, in its place, a Colt Tredia/Cordia-style arrangement. To effect these changes would have been a cheap and much-needed way of differentiating BL and Honda products

Smoother bumpers and smoked rear lenses - again, cheap and effective changes. Picture was created by Gordon Sked in January 1981.
Smoother bumpers and smoked rear lenses – again, cheap and effective changes. Picture was created by Gordon Sked in January 1981

The sketches, penned by the BL Styling Department, clearly show that the Designers initially worked under the false assumption that they would be able to alter the car’s styling – as was the case with the next collaborative venture, the Rover 213/216. This was not to be the case.

Goodbye Triumph, hello Ronda

Whatever, both BL and Honda were pleased with what they had produced with the Triumph Acclaim and, as things proved, it was the precursor of more, much more, to come. This car only had a three-year production run (1981-1984), and it was the last Triumph-badged car, but don’t consider it to be a failure in any meaningful way.

The Acclaim may also have been the product of a marriage of convenience, but it led directly to the range of 1980s and ’90s Rovers and a partnership that resulted in Hondas being built in Longbridge, Rovers being built in Japan and Honda setting up a production plant in Swindon.

A total of 133,625 examples were made and, ultimately, it was the start of a lasting and largely harmonious partnership between Honda and BL – later Rover Group. It’s an industrial tragedy that British Aerospace decided to scatter the Honda-BL joint venture to the four winds, when it sold the Rover Group to BMW in January 1994.

The Acclaim has a strange legacy – final Triumph or proof that the UK could build reliable dependable cars, depending on your point of view.
The Acclaim has a strange legacy – final Triumph or proof that the UK could build reliable dependable cars, depending on your point of view
Keith Adams


  1. Criticising the Acclaim for perceived lack of “space efficiency” is like criticising Claudia Schiffer for being a blonde! What about outstanding performance, reliability, performance, economy and (a new concept for BL at that time) build quality????
    Suddenly the irrelevant matter of “space efficiency” disappears into thin air…

    • Not really, if you’re a family man…

      Agreed it was all the things you said, but it was still bloody cramped – even alongside price rivals such as the Renault 9, VW Jetta, etc.

    • I ran one for 4 years, space never even occurred to me and I’m six foot 3. Can’t believe the stick they’re getting on here. Mine thrashed the back roads for years as well as the motorways and never complained. I would have another if I could find one. If there had been a sport or 1.6 or something It would have been hot to trot.

      • My dad had one and we were a family of four and it never seemed any smaller than the Ford cortina he had before it and was a smarter looking car.

  2. I remember when the Acclaim was first produced and how refreshing it was to drive – lovely engine and gearbox, light clutch, well put together and lots of equipment – it did everything right that Austin Rover had been doing wrong. It deserved to sell more – people were still against Japanese cars at that time, and very suspicious of them – but the Japanese made the whole world raise their game and we have a lot to thank them for. The Japanese car companies have been incredibly loyal to the UK – which is more than can be said for European car companies (who sell lots of cars to us gullible Brits but can’t be bothered to build them here)- we must be the most un-discerning car buyers in the world, we buy German cars for their badge snobbery(expensive) and French cars (stylish and cheap but terrible build quality) and criticise the Japanese for making ‘boring’ cars (made in UK, reasonably priced, well designed, very well built and as reliable as a Swiss watch)

  3. I an see what they mean about space efficiency with the Acclaim. My parents had one when I was about 9 or 10(bought new by my grandparents) that was fine ordinarily, but if we were going away, (Folks, me + younger brother) for more than a few nights, the old-school Paddy Hopkirk roofrack had to be bolted on to provide the necessary capacity.

  4. My uncle had one in that burgundy colour most of them seemed to be.
    I remember him saying it was the most reliable car he had ever owned, but I also remember the car struggling a bit on a gradient on a Dual Carraigeway up a hill.

  5. I remember a lot were burgandy, my Gran’s was beige, as were many others.

    Navy blue also seemed common, & I’ve seen a few in silver & metallic green.

  6. Ours was fairly reliable however two fairly major failures to proceed were recorded; firstly the cambelt snapped in a car park in Machynlleth, which was convenient considering we lived in Essex. Secondly the electronic ignition module on the bulkhead packed up.

    It was the rust that finally saw it chopped in for a 213 though. Front valance, bonnet edge under the chrome and the bootlid were all well on their way to perforation by the time it was 8 years old.

    • The last Triumph car and the absolute masterpiece of the brand. The greatest achievement of Sir Michael Edwards after the sacking of red Robbo. Joking aside it was a highly competent little car way better then BL’s own home grown efforts which in due course were to bring about the death of the Austin brand as BL rolled its final M car dice. Many people actually discovered through Acclaim ownership the benefits of a Japanese car, migrated over to Honda or Toyota and never looked back.

      • @ Mark, those who bought an Acclaim and wanted to support Austin Rover, after hearing bad reviews for the Maestro, went for the Honda engined Rover 213. Then they’d buy another 213 and then upgrade to a Honda engined R8. The 213 kept buyers loyal as they wanted to buy British, but wanted a reliable car and something classier than an Escort.

      • It was a truly horrible little buzzbox, which rotted away faster than you could look at it, had no room inside, folded up like wet paper in even a minor accident…. need I say any more?

  7. I worked on the Bounty development team at Longbridge & Gaydon.
    One of the first things we did was get rid of the adhesives used in the body in white construction. This ruined the durability of the vehicle on the Belgian pave durability cycle at MIRA. Lesson learned, the “uneccessary” adhesives were reinstated. The body shells when built as Honda intended did twice the mileage the BL engineered products could endure on pave, at which point we declared them effectively unbreakable.
    On high speed testing on the autobahns in Germany the Ballades kept the test drivers in gainful employment when the power trains in their BL models were being repaired! Again the Hondas were a revelation, and their durability achieved legendary status within the company.
    Trust me, those truly WHERE the days!
    A wonderful time to be a development engineer before the industry sold its soul to the microprocessor!

  8. I couldn’t believe this came with a Triumph badge when it was launched. Back then a Triumph had to be either old fashioned or daring to look at & the Acclaim was neither.

    Probably badged as such as the car fitted into no other brand other than a small Rover which it’s replacement of course was.

  9. But remember this was replacing Dolomite, which, in itself was a small car. This was a step up.. and I’m sorry, it was the only car at that moment, that was engineered so well that even a bunch of monkeys could screw them together.. the Japanese got it right….

  10. As a former line worker at the Cowley Plant,I agree with the comments made about the Acclaim. This was a superbly engineered small car, everthing would slot together with the minimum of effort unlike some of the ADO models of the time this allowed a process known as doubling up (unofficial)wherby you could perform both yours and a mates operation for 20 mins allowing him to have a 20min rest and he could do the same for you.

  11. If I built the Triumph Acclaim it would have got air-conditioning as standard on all models to fend off the feeble japanese heater-linked ventilation system fittted, this system was good on part heat settings with cool face/warm feet stratification but as soon as you went into the hot segment the cool air became horribly warm, toasty and stuffy and if you set it to heat and demist at the same time the fresh air vents would be starved of any air.

  12. I remember delivering a 1983 Maestro 1.3 HL to a company car user in Barnstaple from Birmingham and picking up his 1982 Acclaim having a complete blast on the way back over the A39 pacing a then Sirocco such a willing smooth engine at any revs. Could not understand why anybody would have changed the Acclaim for a Maestro especially a clunky early one felt such an old vehicle in comparison.

  13. Seeing that the Maestro wasn’t launched for another 18 months after the Acclaim, it’s a shame ARG never managed to reverse engineer some of the build quality and reliability into it’s own mid range models!

    Surely they had enough time to learn what’s needed to make a reliable car?

  14. However easy these were to screw together , they were a truly horrible little car , and a very unfitting end for Triumph whose cars up till then had been rather desirable

  15. At least they could show the way ahead for a few years, with the minimum amount of “jobs for the boys” production methods, even if the rust proofing could have been better.

    Also the Dolomite was long overdue for a replacement by this point.

    • Indeed it would have been. I was going to swap my 1500 for an Acclaim until I found that I could not get comfortable in one due to the lack of space. I’m not that tall, but I have long legs and there was insufficient seat adjustment or legroom in the Acclaim for the British market. In fact, I would say that it was not much bigger than a Mini inside.

      To be fair, they were good to drive and the engine was a little gem, but they seemed to rust worse then a Dolomite. The Accord would have been a good Dolomite replacement and had the advantage of a 3 door coupe / hatchback.

      • Indeed, it was the trend to replace a car with something bigger, not smaller and less powerful… the Accord was a bit bigger and available with 1.6 and 1.8 litre engines and the hatch “Coupe” was an interesting alternative..
        However, Honda also had a Golf/Strada/Escort sized car: the Quint>>>
        Something Rover Australia sold as the Quintet…

    • The Accord was already on sale in the UK and Europe, so presumably Honda would only allow BL to make something they weren’t planning to sell themselves over here, the smaller Ballade.

      As a product, BL well to sell as many as they did really, a small, dull looking 4 door saloon with little room inside is hardly what you’d think of as an obvious showroom star!

  16. I have just come back from the Hoveton classic car show here in North Norfolk where there was an A regular Triumph Acclaim-in beige of course.

  17. One of the BL cars that passed me by when they were plentiful.

    A work colleague wrote of his mustard coloured Volvo 343 (yes a 343 not a 340) – a spectacular accident whereby he reached into the glove box or something similar and hit a postbox at about 40mph.

    Armed with little more than thirty bob and a mates rates loan from me, we visited Henlys of Northampton to look at their knackered trade-inns parked out back. An hour or so later we had haggled the price of an Accraim down to somewhere near realistic.

    It started EVERY time, NEVER missed a beat, went like a stabbed rat and did him proud for two years despite him driving it like he’d stole it day in day out.

    My own personal memory of the Acclaim??? One of the few standard cars where the speedo needle could go right off the end of the clock when going downhill on the M1 between Luton airport and the A5 junction late one night…. they only read up to 100mph.

    • I remember driving 3.0 transits for Securicor on the M6 – we could get the speedo needle all the way round to zero again. Happy days. 🙂

  18. Could the Poissy engine have been fitted into the Metro or Mini had the joint-venture with Chrysler UK been an option? Have to also admit the idea of an Imp-powered Mini in 875-928cc form is quite appealing (especially if the 970-1275cc A-OHC is produced), beyond the Marshall brothers Super Saloon Minivan/traveller modified hybrid racer and similar motorsport hybrids.

    TBH it would seem pointless to fit the Metro with the 1.3 Honda EJ unit let alone the 1.3 EV unit used in the SD3, the 1231cc ER unit used in the mk1 City / Jazz as well as the later 1.3 D13 used in the mk2 City (that together with a Honda gearbox was also apparently proposed to power R6 at one point) would have been more suitable along with the smaller 1.2 D12 (and hypothetical 1136cc or under D11).

    Of the other carmakers shortlisted by BL for joint-ventures, the only ones that immediately stand out (although not without potential pitfalls) are:

    Saab – due to their previous work with Triumph (along with producing a better Slant-4 based Saab V8 project) and their reliable over-engineered cars.

    Nissan – due to their previous history with Austin / BMC along with at the time still using a few engines that could trace their roots to both the A-Series and B-Series units to the point certain parts were allegedly interchangeable.

  19. My dad bought one new in 1982. I remember driving it on many occassions and being amazed at how smooth and fast it was. The engine was an absolute peach comapared to any other BL and Ford my dad had owned prviously. It was an automatic with OD and i just about managed to touch the magic ton on the A10.
    It never ever broke down. I used to change the oil and filter and that was abut it.
    Rust finally killed it though.

  20. Yes, that 1982 facelift of the Ballade was mild, but Gordon Sked’s etchings of the Acclaim facelift showed potential. Of course it wasn’t much longer till the Rover 200 / SD3 was launched in ’84.

  21. I drove a gold L Acclaim back in the day (1988), 119,00 miles and only then did it need a timing belt. Tyres lasted forever, 75,000 miles the ecu module packed in aside form that it never missed a beat. Only real niggle was when replacing back brakes, the mixture of Honda parts and BL parts had Unipart confused. First small family car we had when first married and our first baby on the way. Moved up to a Montego after that, well someone had to and I loved the Montego too, so much had 2 of them! Loved The Old BL / Austin / Rover cars

  22. Regarding extension of this collaboration: I presume HD9 was the Honda Quint(et) which also emerged as a Rover in Australia? Wonder what HD14 would have been then, a possible Mini successor based upon the Honda City?

    • I remember the launch of the Quintet at the NEC in 1980. I thought it was a useful decent looking car, supplementing the Accord 3 door using the same engine. Sadly I didn’t see that many on UK roads.

  23. Or, considering the size of the second generation Honda City (356-360 cm), might HD14 rather have been an early Metro successor??

  24. The good news is that there are only 126 of these excrescences left ; the bad news is that that is 127 too many !

  25. @ christopher storey, perhaps not quite the most distinguished car to bear the Triumph name and there was no Sprint in the range, but I wouldn’t say it was a dreadful car. Maybe badging it as an Austin, Austin Acclaim sounds quite good, could have been better.

  26. Doubt an alliance with Fiat would have worked, though it would be interesting having Alex Issigonis and Dante Giacosa both under the same roof in consultancy roles.

    Would also be worthwhile seeing a comparison of the 100 Series and A-Series engines with the former used in the Metro and the Mini, despite reputedly being some 20kg lighter then the latter and featuring an aluminum cylinder head have heard the Fiat’s unit DNA allegedly traces to the pre-war period.

    • Fiat’s quality was even worse in the late seventies and early eighties. Remember this was the era of the Fiat Strada, a car that was notorious for premature rust and terrible quality, and the 127 wasn’t much better. Bl were better off forming an alliance with Honda, whose quality was faultless.

      • Do not disagree yet Fiat did later produce the Uno, Tipo and other vehicles with the 100 Series engine being a well regarded unit.

        Notwithstanding Alfa Romeo’s experience with Nissan (since the former were automotive minnows compared to BL with an even worse reputation), a case could be made for BL forming an alliance with Honda arguably even more so given Nissan’s history with Austin.

  27. @ Nate, Fiat came good later in the decade when their rustproofing was vastly improved and the Uno came on the scene. This really was a good little car and saw a big rise in sales for Fiat. Yet in 1979, a relationship between two companies whose reputations were low across Europe wouldn’t have been a good idea.
    Another reason Honda might have been keen to get into bed with BL was their low sales penetration in Britain at the time. Most people who bought Japanese chose Datsun or Toyota in 1979, who had a huge range of cars to choose from, and Honda, with its two models, one which seemed to straddle two sectors of the market, was a minnow at the time. It’s ;interesting that as the eighties went on and Honda powered two British Leyland/ Austin Rover cars, Honda’s sales and model range in Britain expanded.

    • Have a point on Honda, though to my mind Austin / BMC played a role in the rise of Nissan / Datsun and the latter even used engines that were said to be distantly related to the Austin units, with Nissan seeming to take an linear / evolutionary approach towards its engines that Austin / Nissan could have easily followed in better circumstances.

    • Good point about Japanese cars in 1979. My Dad’s first Jap car was a Mazda in 73, then a Toyota in 78. I got a Datsun in 79 and my brother bought an Accord also in ’79.

      It seems in those days if someone bought a far eastern car then they would likely do so again… as I did. BL’s tie up with Honda seemingly gave buyers the chance of a well designed and built “semi” Japanese car with a British named heritage

  28. I enjoyed this article but I didn’t get a reference, supposedly connected to UK pop culture: what do you mean by “Eastbourne set”?

      • Thanks!
        Out of curiosity, is it Eastbourne a popular place for retirees? Like Florida in the USA?

        • Most seaside resorts in Britain have large retiree populations, but Eastbourne is also a favourite for the older generations to visit for day trips and holidays. Shame people see Eastbourne like this as its a very nice place

          • Was it Car magazine that once called the Rover 213 the Eastbourne express as it sold to older people in seaside resorts?

    • My parents owned and ran seafront hotels in Eastbourne “The Suntrap of the South” from the early 1960s to the early 1970s, when UK family holidays were still much the norm. Even then, the number of retireds was higher than the average across the country. After my parents’ divorce, my mother stayed in the Eastbourne area, until dying aged 95. My step-father moved to Hastings (also many retireds), remarried and died aged 75. His car ownership was: prewar Opel Cadet, round-back Standard Vanguard, normal boot Standard Vanguard, Rover 105, Honda Accord. I recall the Accord being a good, reliable, ‘sensible’ car. That BL called a model the Acclaim, while Honda went for the Accord may have been just both plumping for the first letter of the alphabet, but “Acc…”?

  29. I was thinking if BL spent a bit on getting this model to market in the way of new presses and equipment, would it have been sensible that when Honda dropped the model and the Rover 200 was created from the replacement Ballade, would it have been prudent for BL to develop a Supermini from the floorpan of the Acclaim?

    I know that it might have cost money buying it from Honda, but as they had moved on they could have got a good deal? The wheelbase is 91″, which is less than a Renault 5 and only a smigde in bigger than the Fiesta (and 2.5 inches bigger than the Metro). The car handled well, and the space inefficiency could have been sorted by increasing the roof height and changing the seating.

    It seems to me to make sense instead of spending money on trying to develop a new advanced small car from the ECV3.

  30. 40 years since the Acclaim was launched and it was the start of a partnership with Honda that would last 17 years. Some people moaned at British Leyland getting into bed with a Japanese company and using a Japanese drivetrain and design, but the Acclaim was a quick fix for British Leyland that was relatively cheap and gave them a car that was reliable. Remember by 1981, the Allegro was fading fast and still the subject of jokes, and the Ital was merely a rehash of a 1971 car that straddled two sectors.

    • The Dolomite was another aging design, with the styling dating back to the 1960s.

      Supposedly production line workers were surprised the Acclaim panels would alway fit straight on without any fettling with a hammer!

  31. @ Richardpd, the Dolomite had its roots in a car that was introduced in 1965 and sales were tailing off when it was cancelled in 1980. It was a good car, but long in the tooth by 1980 and bigger engined cars were thirsty. The Acclaim was a totally new car that owed nothing to the Dolomite and a 1.3 fwd car was just what the market wanted in 1981, judging by the huge success of the Astra and the Escort. Also the Honda 1.3 allied to a five speed transmission meant 40 mpg was possible in everyday driving.

  32. The name ‘Ronda’ was used internally when describing the ‘left over’ 2nd Gen Ballades that Honda returned to Rover, just before the end of the production run, with thick paint which couldn’t be rectified. There we dozens, possibly hundreds, of them.

    They were de-badged to be used as pool cars throughout the company for 3 years and were usually thrashed everywhere!

    • There are very few examples of the Acclaim on the road, they vanished without notice, a former owner told me they were prone to corrosion of the floorpan pressing, is this correct and a reason why so few are left?

  33. A major reason “UK content” on the Acclaim was so high was that the body was stamped from British steel at Cowley (rather than being built up from imported panels as would be the case in a classic assembly operation). The high UK content (or “EEC content”) was crucial to allowing the Acclaim to be exported without quota or restriction to all EEC markets and also Spain & Portugal (who were negotiating to join). It also allowed the Acclaim to fall outside the 11% market share quota that applied to Japanese cars in the UK. If either of those things hadn’t been true, the project would have made no sense at all for either BL or Honda.

  34. I’m slightly confused by that BL/Chrysler JV, and what it would have meant for the existing factories

    As the only volume BL products to be continued were the Metro and Princess, why did they need both Longbridge and Cowley? I assume that the Metro would have been a replacement for both the British Sunbeam and the French Simca 1000 – would there have been Simca badged versions made in Longbridge? – but what would Cowley have made other than the Princess?

    And the Tagora is a direct competitor to the Rover SD1 and upper Princesses.

  35. (Replying to Maestrowoff): Ideally (and I don’t know if this was the plan but it should have been ) … the Metro would have been sold (suitably rebadged/cosmetically changed) through Chrysler’s dealer network across Europe, as well as the Austin version sold through the BL network. Such a “Chrysler Metro” would have replaced the very “challenged” (on the continent) Sunbeam and ancient Simca 1000. With Chrysler having a much stronger continental network than BL that should have allowed production volumes (and the viability of the whole project) to come closer to the market leaders like Fiesta and R5 that were being built in volumes of approx. 500,000 annually.
    But that didn’t happen and the Metro production facilities at Longbridge (which were planned when annual output of 350,000 cars was being discussed) never built more than 200,000 Metros in a year. Meanwhile following the purchase by PSA the (former) Chrysler dealers filled that gap with the Peugeot 104 derived Talbot Samba (270,000 were sold spread over the five years 1981-86). So PSA enjoyed the boost to scale economies, not BL ….

    • For the downsides Peugeot initially experienced with being forced to take over both Citroen and Chrysler Europe (at the expense of their own projects that were delayed or cancelled), they seem to benefit from the greater volumes upon the launch of the 205 and other models both prior and after.

      Would Peugeot have experienced the same degree of success without either Citroen or Chrysler Europe and would they have eventually been able to expand in producing similar volumes on their own or unwillingly forced by government intervention into increasing pre-existing ties with Renault?

      • Peugeot saved Citroen, as they were in financial difficulties after the huge cost of developing the CX, and taking over Maserati. They also kept many of the unique Citroen features like the hydropneumatic suspension on their cars, but by the mid eighties were moving away from their idiosyncratic designs and weird features like the revolving speedometer, and making the cars more mainstream and popular outside France. The BX deserved to do well, it wasn’t too weird to scare away potential buyers from marques like Ford, but not too mainstream to scare away the loyal Citroenistes.
        As regards the Chrysler side of things, a sensible rationalisation occurred when the ageing Simca range was killed off and the Chrysler Europe designs like the Alpine were rebadged as Talbots and sold more on price than anything else, until Peugeot abandoned the marque and switched the Talbot factories over to producing Peugeots.

    • I can see that with the Metro, though the Samba was more than just a badge engineered 104 shortcut and I wonder what changes could have been quickly made to the Metro to produce a Chrysler version, especially as whereas the 104 was an existing product, the Metro wouldn’t start production until 1980

      • @maestrowoff, the Samba was a better car than many people thought. Unlike its other Talbot stablemates, it used Peugeot drivetrains and, unlike the Sunbeam it replaced, it was fwd. Buyers were getting a Peugeot with a different badge and lower prices, but for all car magazines praised the Samba and it was quite a good cars, sales were modest in the UK due to the badge.

  36. It’s funny to see the usual criticisms for lack of space efficiency.

    One thing that BL should have learnt during their 40 year decline is that people don’t buy cars for space efficiency, especially if said efficiency comes at the cost of compromised looks and / or a noisy transmission. How many times do you drive with more than one or two people?

  37. When at university in 1997 I had a 1984 HLS in Zircon Blue with matching blue interior. The least likely car to have a banging stereo, so we fitted a Kenwood head unit, amp and sub-woofer in the boot. Also fitted Rover 214 14″ wheels, which improved steering feel and grip massively over the skinny 155 section tyres fitted as standard. Sold it and bought a 214Si instead, which was written off by a copper

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