Opinion : Was the Triumph Acclaim Japanese or British?

Chris Cowin delves into the history of building the Triumph Acclaim at Cowley, countering the myth it was simply a screwdriver operation unpacking and assembling Japanese kits.

Such a belief is rather unfair to the people who worked there in the 1980s.


Triumph Acclaim: Totally equipped to Triumph

Triumph Acclaim – 1981-84

Both answers to the question in the headline are correct. Although derived from Honda’s Ballade and undoubtedly a Japanese car in conception, the ‘totally equipped to Triumph’ Acclaim had enough ‘UK content’ (largely because the body was pressed from British steel at Cowley) to count as a ‘British car’ for trade purposes. This was crucial to its success, ensuring it fell outside the 11% limit on Japanese cars in the UK, while giving it unhindered access to all EEC markets.

That set it apart from the first Nissan Bluebirds built at Washington, Sunderland in 1986, which were (initially) assembled from Japanese Knocked Down (KD) kits with very limited UK content and, as a result, fell under the restrictions placed on Japanese cars.

New kid on the block: the Triumph Acclaim entered production at Cowley in autumn 1981

A great deal was changing at the sprawling Cowley site in 1981 as BL geared up for the introduction of the Acclaim that October, as well as the shift of Rover SD1 production from Solihull by the year end. Beyond that, late 1982 would see production of the Austin Maestro begin, first of the long-awaited LM range.

The Pressed Steel Fisher (PSF) plant, located where MINIs are now manufactured by BMW, built bodies for a range of BL cars including the  Morris Ital and Princess, as well as the Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit bodyshell. Until October 1980, a section of the plant had been dedicated to upstream MGB production, with completed bodyshells then being trucked to Abingdon already painted and trimmed.

The demise of the MGB might have seen those halls falling silent, but instead work began on installing the press lines for Acclaim. When the project was first conceived, Triumph Acclaim production was projected for Canley, where it would have helped preserve the jobs of Triumph workers. However, Canley was then slated for closure as BL streamlined its manufacturing footprint, and building Acclaim at Cowley instead resulted in many people transferring from building MGs to building Triumphs (of a sort).

Just how British is British?

Acclaim bodies were pressed from British Steel at Cowley, as this advert details with pride

Re-equipping PSF for the Acclaim was part of a £70 million investment by BL of which they were very proud, and people who heard journalist Chris Goffey (on BBC Radio 4’s The Reunion back in August 2020) jokingly describe Acclaim production as the ‘nailing together’ of Japanese kits should read the following description of how the bodies were in fact built (as published when Acclaim was launched):

‘Four press lines have been installed including a new fully automated line of 180-inch bed-width presses, for producing the one piece-body side and other major panels. These presses have been designed so that die changes can be made in less than an eighth of the conventional time.

‘This Press Shop development has created an opportunity for BL to participate in a major first for the British machine tool industry. Encouraged by BL Engineers, the firm of Wilkins and Mitchell has combined with the Hydraulic Engineering Company of Chester to design and produce the first large hydraulic press to come from British industry.

‘From the Press Shop panels are transferred to the body framing and sub-assembly area. Here the underframe, side and roof panels are united to form the bodyshell. This body-in-white facility features a combination of manual and automatic welding techniques. Of the 2700 welds needed to assemble the complete body, 550 are applied automatically. The car underframe, consisting of four sub-assemblies, is assembled by a robot welder and the bodyshell is constructed in an automatic framing jig before further welding operations are carried out and the door, bonnet and boot lid assemblies are fitted.’

No nails involved…

Multi-welder at work on the Acclaim side panel

Acclaim bodies united with their running gear

At this point Acclaim bodies made their way through the enclosed conveyor bridge over the Oxford bypass, en route to the Paint Shop. They may have looked Japanese, but at this stage in the process they were almost 100% British by origin, put together from British steel.

The Paint Shop was brand new and accounted for £35 million of the £70 million Acclaim investment, though its capacity of 3500 bodies per week indicated it would play a role in production of other cars beyond Acclaim. The new cathodic electro-coating process ensured the Triumph Acclaim had a finish to compare with the best.

From here, the car bodies moved on to the assembly line in the North Works of the Cowley plant where they were mated with all the mechanical, electrical and trim components that went into production of a complete car. BL took on board a great deal of Honda’s manufacturing expertise to build Acclaim, with the production process involving new techniques such as the ‘stuffing up’ (as they called it) of powertrains into the bodyshell, all of which resulted in excellent build quality and warranty costs far lower than BL models of the past.

The 1335cc aluminium engines came from Japan

Many of the parts fitted on the line were indeed Japanese, shipped from Honda with crates arriving at Tilbury. These contained engines, gearboxes, suspension units and the moulded fascia panel. But much else that went into a finished Acclaim was British sourced, including driveshafts, radiators and seats. This was on top of the easy to find items which even a classic CKD assembly operation would tend to buy locally such as tyres, batteries, glass, seat fabric and carpeting. This shopping list of British components allowed boss Harold Musgrove to estimate that while Acclaim production supported 2000 jobs at Cowley, adding on jobs in the component industry brought the figure closer to 10,000.

All in all, BL was able to state that only 30% of the ex-works value of a Triumph Acclaim was Japanese, a figure which Manufacturing Director Andy Barr said he expected would fall towards 20% in the near future as more items were localized. There has always been some dispute over the figure for local content, which can be calculated in a variety of ways, but it was clear the Acclaim was not simply a car ‘manufactured in Japan and exported in kit form for overseas assembly.’

This was crucial because, if judged as such, it would have fallen within the restrictions which applied to imports of Japanese cars to Great Britain.

The Japanese Gentlemen’s Agreement

Commencing in 1975, and formalized in the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1977, the Japanese car manufacturers had agreed to freeze their share of the British market at the 11% reached by 1977, in order to give companies like BL a breathing space to restructure. Such restraint would ward off, the Japanese hoped, more rigid import controls that Britain’s Trade Unions in particular were clamouring for.

The Acclaim alone was expected to take 3% of the market (roughly equivalent to all of Toyota’s UK sales volume) and would account for around 10% of Austin Rover’s annual production in the years to come. There was no way that could have been shoehorned into the 11% envelope (implying all existing Japanese brands including Honda would suffer a quota cut) without that system collapsing.

That was something many people predicted was imminent anyway, as the Japanese manufacturers and their dealers could claim their restraint had simply led to more imports from Europe rather than a recovery in Britain’s car industry. A parallel agreement covering light vans had already come unstuck and, in the near future, the Japanese would abandon similar voluntary restraint measures in the USA.

What’s classed as a Japanese car?

Bob Edmiston who owned the Subaru import business was someone who raised this issue before the Acclaim was launched, complaining that BL was allowed to import what he called car kits outside the 11% quota. But BL was able to retort (through the letter pages of The Times) by explaining that the Acclaim would have considerably more than 50% UK content and thus could not be classed as a Japanese car.

The 11% voluntary restraint, which the Japanese manufacturers reviewed annually, continued to be observed through the 1980s (to the relief of Austin Rover among others). When Nissan first started assembling the Bluebird at its new Sunderland plant in 1986, it was judged as a Japanese car and therefore came within the 11% quota, with Phase One at Sunderland being a classic assembly operation.

That was far less of a concern for Nissan as it was simply replacing the previous Japanese-built model with the Sunderland-assembled car, and sales continued on the same level, with Nissan owning 6% of the Japanese 11% share reflecting its strength (as Datsun) relative to other Japanese brands in the UK in 1977.

Bluebirds are Go: The first Nissan Bluebird to leave the Washington plant in Sunderland. In the early phase of production, an assembly operation less ambitious than BL’s investment in Acclaim production

But if this issue had not been rendered a non-issue by the high British content of the Acclaim, then the project would have made little sense for either BL or Honda.

It should perhaps be added that,while France and Italy continued to operate formal quotas on Japanese imports (which dated back many years), the British Government (even under Labour in the 1970s) believed in free trade and felt introducing such protectionist restrictions contravened commitments made under the GATT process, and thus the Gentlemen’s Agreement was negotiated at a lower level between trade bodies (the SMMT and JAMA) and was voluntary.

However, it wasn’t just the 11% rule that made it crucial the Acclaim qualified as a British car.

Why the Acclaim made it to France and Italy

If the Acclaim had been classed as a Japanese car, it would have been difficult to export to countries which imposed limits on the import of Japanese cars including, as mentioned above, France and Italy, which were BL’s two biggest export markets in the early 1980s. The whole project would therefore have been undermined, from another direction.

The French, or more precisely Renault, had been hostile towards BL’s relationship with Honda from the start, comparing Britain’s car factories to a Japanese submarine or aircraft carrier. They were similarly agitated when the Honda partnership expanded, to include the manufacture of Honda cars in BL factories (from 1986), a venture described along with the Rover 800 as a ‘Trojan horse.’

This implicitly admitted that Honda-derived cars (or Hondas) built by BL with sufficient British (thus ‘European’) content could sidestep France’s strict 3% market share limit on Japanese car imports.

The Acclaim did, giving a modest boost to Austin Rover’s sales in France (which took around 3000 Acclaims annually) and paving the way for its Rover 200 replacement, which did better (6000 French sales in 1987). Despite a lot of sabre-rattling, there was little the French could do to keep out the Acclaim.

What was different about the Nissan Bluebird

It was different with the Nissan Bluebird one should note, which even after exports from Sunderland commenced in 1988 was barred by the French for a while based on insufficiently European content, even though the European content of Bluebirds had risen with the addition of engine assembly at Sunderland in 1988, and would soon surpass the 80% level beyond which nobody could quibble.

Triumph Acclaim in France

But if the French were all bark and no bite, it was different with the Italians.

During the spring of 1982, while Britain was focused on events in the South Atlantic, BL was fighting another skirmish over the invasion (as some termed it) of Italy with a car of Japanese design. Italy stuck rigidly to the terms of a 1950s agreement which restricted car trade between Italy and Japan to 2300 cars annually in either direction.

Signed at a time when the Japanese were concerned their home market might become overrun by Fiats, it now served to make Japanese cars virtually unobtainable in Italy. Fiat applied pressure to have the Acclaim considered as Japanese and the first batch of 88 cars was impounded in Milan.

However, BL was able to supply certificates of origin which detailed the European content of the Acclaim and, after the intervention of the British Government and the payment of a tax, the cars were released. It was difficult for the Italians to win without undermining the claim of their own Alfa Romeo Arna (a joint venture between Alfa Romeo and Nissan) to be classed as European rather than Japanese. (It was also sold in the UK briefly as the Nissan Cherry Europe).

That battle won, the Triumph Acclaim went on to sell well in Italy. It was a factor in BL increasing sales to 32,000 cars in 1982 representing 2.2% of the market and second only to France where BL sold 37,000 cars (1.9%).

The Acclaim advances in Europe

Italian advert for the Triumph Acclaim. ‘The symbol of driving pleasure’

With France and Italy open to it, the Acclaim became a useful arrow in BL’s export bow on the continent. The agreement with Honda gave BL exclusive rights to market the Acclaim in all EEC markets where, classed as a British car, it escaped the tariffs that applied to imports of Japanese cars. So while the Dutch were offered the Triumph Acclaim, the (non EEC) Swiss were instead offered the original Japanese-built Ballade by Honda.

In addition, both Spain and Portugal (which were applying to join the EEC) imported the Triumph Acclaim, both being markets that were essentially barred for Honda. In years to come Austin Rover (then Rover) would see exports to Europe on an upward trend. The cars developed in joint venture with Honda, which could sidestep restrictions and tariffs that still applied to imports from Japan, proved popular across the Channel and, by the mid-1990s, Rover was selling as many cars on the continent as in the UK.

The Triumph Acclaim got that ball rolling, although the Triumph name baffled some as, in continental Europe, it was associated almost exclusively with sports cars. Triumph saloons had disappeared from most European export markets in the early 1970s with the exception of the higher-powered Dolomites (Sprint and, sometimes, 1850HL) which had remained available in some countries.

But, having sorted out all those manufacturing and trade logistics, what was the Acclaim like as a motor car?

Was the Acclaim a success?

The Acclaim came in three versions (at first)

It was first unveiled at the Earls Court Motorfair in October 1981. The Triumph name was appropriate in Britain as this compact, well-equipped saloon was aimed at a similar slot to the Triumph Dolomite (in 1300/1500 form) which had left the scene in 1980. The car in the back catalogue that came closest to Acclaim was perhaps the old front-drive Triumph 1300, which had been a great success for Triumph in the 1960s.

The Acclaim was equally successful in sales terms, obtaining 3% of the UK market at times, achieving production targets with over 134,000 built over three years and boosting BL’s European export trade.

However, while the Acclaim was successful as a consumer good, many car people lamented the storied Triumph marque had been applied to a car of patently Japanese conception which would, given the parallel death of the Triumph TR7/TR8 sports cars, prove to be the final Triumph.

The Acclaim was a lightly reworked version of Honda’s four-door Ballade sedan, a model itself derived from the Civic hatchback. This resulted in a rather cramped little saloon, which with Honda’s skills in packaging no match for BL, offered less interior space than many customers were accustomed to. In all probability, a Metro notchback (if built) would have rivalled the Acclaim for interior space, for the Metro wheelbase was only a fraction shorter than the Acclaim.

Why the Acclaim was such good news

The original: Honda Ballade in Japan, where it was sold through Honda’s upscale Verno sales network, and positioned as quite a posh little saloon

The drawback of tight interior dimensions was, though, offset by the willing 1335cc aluminium Honda engine coupled to a smooth five-speed gearbox (or Triomatic as the Hondamatic auto box was hastily re-christened). There was an excellent level of equipment, and superb build quality which was achieved almost from the start by the Cowley production line, where (according to former employee Mark Etheridge) the Acclaim was termed ‘the best car we ever built.’

Even if many of the parts were British sourced, there had been little opportunity for BL’s Engineers to diverge from the Honda Ballade’s original design, with differences introduced for the Acclaim confined largely to damping, carburettors, seats (which were broader and based on Cortina frames), badging and trim. In that sense, this definitely was a Japanese car, with the Acclaim looking almost identical to the ‘original’ Honda Ballade (which was not a problem as the two were never marketed in parallel in any country).

Equipment levels certainly did justice to the launch slogan of ‘Totally equipped to Triumph’ with even the basic HL version offering features not usually seen in this class. Three models were available at the launch, the others being the HLS and the CD (a posh trim designation never used before or since by BL and generally taken to mean ‘Corps Diplomatique‘). Only during 1982 was a cheaper L model added to the range.

Making a financial success

Even though BL was paying Honda a royalty, the low warranty costs and limited discounting of this largely retail market car suggest this was a profitable venture. Colin Thirsk worked in the Parts Department of a BL Dealer at the time and remembers: ‘All we ever sold for this vehicle was service items and body panels. All the (replacement) mechanical parts that were part of the initial package went obsolete after two years and were written off. We’d never seen anything like it.’

Certainly, the project was a highly beneficial learning exercise for BL which contributed much to the ongoing design and production of vehicles, while also demonstrating that British workers could, when given the right conditions, build cars just as well as their Japanese counterparts.

The Acclaim certainly succeeded as a stop-gap during the three-year period it was on sale, with many customers who would have found the prospect of an Austin Allegro or Morris Ital unpalatable being kept in the fold by this Anglo-Japanese hybrid. But there was no denying the compromises they and BL had made when choosing the Acclaim.

Not the most progressive of designs

Honda came up with some very progressive designs in the 1980s, but this rather prim and prudish saloon wasn’t one of them (and indeed it sold poorly in its native Japan). A bigger car, potentially with a hatchback, would have been preferable for the British market (and was the original objective), but BL had to take what was on offer when they first met with Honda in the late 1970s. And the Ballade was it.

A 5 door hatchback cousin of the Ballade (and thus the Acclaim) later arrived in Japan as the Honda Quint, but this was only made available to BL customers in Australia (as the Rover Quintet of 1983-85: A built-up import). A few of the Honda version were quietly sold by Honda UK within their restricted sales quota, as the Honda Quintet – at a time when BL was directing British & European hatchback buyers towards the homegrown Austin Maestro introduced in early 1983.

Nonetheless, industry observers saluted the Triumph Acclaim which, after some early issues were overcome, turned into quite a success. Honda also thought the start of UK production compared well to their recent commencement of Accord production in the USA. What would become the Rover-Honda partnership had got off on a good footing.

The partnership would evolve with the next version of the Ballade being adopted by BL as the Rover 200 saloon in 1984 (now built at Longbridge) with a little more “Anglicization” including the British-engined 216 models introduced in 1985, and from 1986 onwards BL (or Rover Group as they were renamed) started building the Honda Ballade version alongside the Rover-badged car on behalf of Honda.

Also in 1986 the Rover 800 (marketed as the Sterling in the USA) broke cover – jointly developed with Honda (in the “XX project”) and thus taking the partnership onto a new plane. For a short time the Honda Legend version was built alongside the Rover at Cowley while Honda’s Sayama plant in Japan built the Rover 800 for the Japanese domestic market alongside the Legend.

The top of the range Triumph Acclaim CD

But returning to the Triumph Acclaim. Why has it become an established part of automotive folklore that it was merely assembled by BL, rather than built under licence, which would be a more accurate description?

In part, it must be down to that distinction between conception and manufacturing. It was a Japanese design with very little British influence and, in that sense, a Japanese car. Unless one follows the intricacies of international trade quite closely it may seem odd that it would qualify as a British car based on the origin of its components, with the steel body making a big difference.

This conundrum isn’t unique to the Acclaim of course. The Mini is undoubtedly a British car, but when built in Australia from mostly Australian parts (with over 85% local content at the early 1970s peak) they qualified as Australian cars (and you might have trouble persuading some Australians they were not). The Minis built by Innocenti had less local content, but some still refer to them as Italian cars.

With a few exceptions (like those early Bluebirds) cars built in the Nissan, Toyota and Honda factories in Britain in recent decades have counted as ‘manufactured in the UK’ and, in that sense, have been British cars, not Japanese. When international comparisons of car production are drawn up, they are credited to the UK and not Japan (which would occur if they were simply assembled from kits: the “CKD” cars assembled by British Leyland in Belgium until 1981 were credited to Britain’s car manufacturing total).

However, they bear Japanese brand names so, depending which hat you’re wearing, it can be valid to call them Japanese.

But perhaps the British contribution to building Acclaim gets forgotten because the truth spoils a good story. For many the introduction of the Triumph Acclaim as the final car to bear the Triumph badge is seen as a form of national humiliation and, if you’re telling a tale of humiliation, there’s seldom room for nuance.

In pubs and chatrooms down the years the story of the Acclaim has been explained in a nutshell as simply assembly, as a screwdriver operation, or as nailing together. Indeed, any suggestion to the contrary is likely to earn the response: ‘Everybody knows it’s just a Japanese Honda with a Triumph badge’ – which, in a sense, it was of course. It’s a hard argument to win…

Chris Cowin

59 Comments

  1. ” people who heard journalist Chris Goffey (on the recent BBC Reunion broadcast) describe Acclaim production as the ‘nailing together’ of Japanese kits should read the following description of how the bodies were in fact built (as published when Acclaim was launched):”

    No surprise when the journalist in question was a BBC presenter. With countless people now refusing to pay a tax just to use a TV set – and it being called the Biased Broadcasting Corporation – this anti-British dig from Goffey is to be expected.

        • The Triumph Acclaim had a Honda engine – although I’ve heard reports there were thoughts of fitting the base “L” model (introduced later) with the British A+ engine (1275cc). Its 1984 successor the Rover 200 had a Honda engine if a Rover 213, and a British engine (S series) if a Rover 216.

          • Thank you for having answered. Obviously no real Triumph engine would be under the bonnet of the car

    • Chris Goffey has not been a BBC presenter for over 21 years!

      Whilst he was wrong, I recall reading at the time of its launch, in that bastion of leftist thinking the Sunday Express that the Triumph Acclaim was not a true “British Car” as it was just being built from just from parts shipped in from Japan.

    • Anyone who thinks cars are assembled using nails is clearly not worth listening to.

      I notice that a drama series called “Industry” has just started, I was looking forward to seeing some production lines – it’s actually about the reckless professional gamblers in the City of London; who frequently have little idea of what goes on in industry – only how to asset-strip it.

    • To be fair to Chris Goffey – his “nailed together” comment on how Acclaim was built was an off the cuff remark in a broad-ranging discussion of the history of BL. He was simply echoing a common misconception in a jocular way. That “Reunion” BBC broadcast (in which Goffey was an invited guest alongside others including Harold Musgrove) is worth a listen. (via the link in the article).

    • That’s an awful lot to read into one presenter commentary, one that was trying to be trendy by using a stupid and ignorant cliche.
      As long as the BBC continues to be attacked equally, by the further left and right wings, for not truly representing an individual viewer’s version of the truth, then they’ll have got the balance about right

    • BL had failed big time and had to resort to buying in Hondas simply to have something to sell. Thats not being anti-British its a statement of fact. This constant refusal to acknowledge reality, face our problems and do something about them results in this country continually being at the bottom of every league table except Covid deaths. I suggest it would actually be patriotic to turn round and say yes we are absolutely crap – but we understand that and are going to do something about it.

      • I agree, without Honda BL probably would have probably would have gone bust by the mid 1980s due to the failure of the M cars.

        Too many people don’t seem to have noticed that nothing stays the same for too long in the areas of economics & international poltics, even ones who should know better.

      • Oh dear , Paul , you really are suffering from a bad case of the British disease of running ourselves down . I doubt that there is any treatment in your case

    • The depressing British disease of running British institutions into the ground rears its ugly head. You would think this site is the last place you would find it, those who know about the British car industry know the folly of letting British companies collapse.

      Alas Eric here is in bed with such patriots as Jacob Rees Mogg, who had such confidence in brexit and Britain he got an Irish passport while his investment fund moved its money to Ireland.

      They are the sort of people who attack the BBC and they are also the people betraying Britain.

      • @ Bartlebe, it’s not just Britain who has seen a huge decline in manufacturing and not just countries that have right of centre governments. France, where the centre left has been dominant for over 40 years, has seen the bulk of its car industry outsourced to cheaper countries, and its traditional heavy industries have mostly gone. Also most Western countries can no longer compete with China on cost grounds for products like computers, mobile phones, radios, mass produced clothing and children’s toys and the quality is simular to what is made in the West. The world had changed, and I think the future for the West is in producing higher end products that the CHinese cannot compete with and green industries.

        • This move eastwards started in the late 1950s when the Japanese industries started to catch up on the established industrial nations in terms of quality and price in certain market areas. Gradually this spread to other far eastern countries starting to industrialise.

          It’s interesting to see how China copes in the next few years with the Covid situation causing production issues like chip shortages & a government who seem to be drifting into a more anti-western, nationalist area which make customers go elsewhere.

  2. It breaks my heart to see Nissan’s Washington plant described as Sunderland. Otherwise a fine article for a very good car. Was it the Acclaim or the Metro that saved BL?

    • I always refer to it as Washington, as you know, but as this was Chris’s story I left it be. The problem you have here is that Nissan itself refers to the plant at Sunderland so you’re always going to be up against that.

      • We have distant relatives who work there, and although they come from Sunderland they always call the plant Sunderland! Must be a corporate thing

      • The Nissan Sunderland Plant is actually in Washington (Washington New Town area), but obviously Nissan name it as the Sunderland Plant because that’s the nearest City area that it is located.

        Washington used to be run by “Washington Development Corporation” but for a long time is now part of Sunderland City Council’s territory

  3. The Acclaim is a Anglo Japanese car, designed in Japan, modified by BL and built here with mainly British parts.

    If you look at production nowadays parts come from all over the world and many manufacturers use the same parts in their cars. Back in the 00s BMW, Audi, Ford and Peugeot had a problem with parts provided by one OEM supplier which stopped production of diesel engines, the parts if I remember coming from Italy. JLR proved how British their cars are by having to fly parts in from China early on during this pandemic. No car these days is a car of the nation. In fact the Qashqi was Co designed in Europe and Japan where it is both produced from parts designed in France, so what nationality could you call it?

  4. One feature that was carried over from the Ballad and I guess a Honda sourced part was the then rather dated and to European taste, a strange choice of a Digital “Flip” Clock rather than by then widely adopted LED digital clock.

  5. Good article.

    Minor point but cathodic ecoat = water based dip primer would not guarantee no orange peel if the subsequent colour coat and COB lacquer are applied incorrectly, eg insufficient solvent.

    It seems a shame that so much was spent on introducing a press line (no mean feat/needs some very big holes in the ground) only for the site size to be reduced and BMW having to take over PSF Swindon and bring Mini panels in from there rather than being pressed on site.

    I would like to echo the point made that if the BL assembly guys were given good parts (design and manufacturing quality) they were capable of building very good cars.

    • I heard the production lines ended up being overmanned because the Acclaim parts could be fitted together without any fettling needed to get them to fit..

    • Chris C, S building at Cowley still exists , it was a large press shop with a number of lines – these days it is used for BIW subs. It was actually BMW that moved line 20 to Swindon! Without the hydraulic press – these have gone out of favour, not sure if the other presses are still in Swindon – more likely somewhere in India!
      BMW did have a plan to relocate one or both of the big tri-axis presses at Swindon to Cowley – obviously realising their error during the turmoil of the Rover days. Of course they did plan a huge press to support Mini but this was diverted to Solihull when BMW gave up on Longbridge.
      The issue with shipping panels relates more to the skin panels, this is due to pallet density. Skin. Panels need good separation and protection during transit. You end up shipping a lot of fresh air and then empty pallets back.
      It makes no sense shipping skin panels – all efficient car plants press them on site.

      • I just checked, all 5 presses from line 20 are still at Swindon but not used for production. They are used for try-out. Testing new or modified tools prior to running again. They are 40 years old!

  6. I would argue that the Nissan Qashqai is more British/European than the Acclaim, seeing that it shares platforms with Renaults and was styled/engineered in the UK

    In reality the Acclaim has the same level of Britishness a British built Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, a Japanese design made in the UK.

  7. The account in the article refers to the reliability of the mechanical parts of the Acclaim, a workmate bought an Acclaim at launch, his verdict, “it does not go wrong” at a time when makers gave a cursory 6 months warranty, “5 speed box and 40 mpg”, 30 mpg was more typical of the competition. I believe floor pan rusting was the graceful end of life of a typical Acclaim, It is a car which slipped away and few can remember

    • I had a Honda engined Rover 213 and even though the car was near the end of its life, the engine was near silent, the gearchange precise and the economy very good for a 1980s car. The 1335 Honda engine that powered the Acclaim and 213 was probably one of the best engines of the decade, being economical, very refined and almost bulletproof. Compared with the rasping and not very economical 1.3 Ford used and the ageing Austin A series, this engine was a revelation.

      • I think the engine used in the 213 was actually 1371 cc, versus the Acclaims 1335 cc. Power output was about the same I think (going from memory).

        As for both the Acclaim and Bluebird’s designation as being “British” cars”, you have to start somewhere. It gave BL a shot in the arm at a time when other Japanese brands were making in-roads to the UK and diverting sales from British manufacturers.

        I sometimes think it would have been better if Honda had bought into Rover rather than BMW or the Phoenix 4 . Sadly we’ll never know…

  8. The deal with Triumph got Honda in the door in the UK and EC where I believe they still make some models, including for the USA/NA market. My Nephew bought a Honda Civic Sport 5 door HB, with Stick in 2018 and it was assembled in the UK.

    • It’s really more accurate to say your nephew’s 2018 Honda Civic was “manufactured in the UK”, not merely “assembled”. Honda in Swindon is about as vertically integrated as a car plant gets. They start with raw aluminium ingots (or “aluminum” as Americans say : )) and produce engines. They start with sheet steel and produce the complete car body. Unfortunately that plant is scheduled to close in 2021 – but that’s another story.

  9. The anti-UK hostility from Renault , the Acclaim a trojan horse, a threat to France, yet the Acclaim was built in Britain, today Renault in the UK are a spent force, a market share of 1 in 8 40 years ago to around 1 in 45 in recent years, , how long before Renault pull out of the UK except for possibly their Dacia brand? Save themselves the cost and trouble of developing RHD cars for such a limited market of the UK.

    • @cyclist, I doubt Renault are too bothered as their alliance with Nissan means they can supply Nissan with hundreds of thousands of engines and the Micra is made in a Renault factory. Also Dacia is another way to enter the British market, as their budget cars have been a big success over here. However, the main Renault brand has faltered over here for years and their dealer network has halved.

      • I see plenty of new Clios, Meganes & Captures so Renault are doing something right. The had a cull of the low selling models a few years ago.

        I do wonder how many people go into a showroom to look at a Dacia & end up buying a Renault when they realise how much all the additional extras bump up the price.

  10. Not pointed out at the same time, but Peugeot Talbot and Vauxhall were reducing the British content in their British made cars. The end of the Sumbeam and Avenger, which used British made drivetrains and used locally produced steel, saw the remaining British made Talbots mostly use parts from France. Also the new Cavalier was little more than an Opel assembled in Luton, with minimal British input.

    • Indeed – UK content on Astra and Cavalier was lower than the Rover 200 in 1985 (and almost certainly lower than the Triumph Acclaim in 1981-1984). A survey* in 1985 estimated the UK content of the Luton-built Cavalier at 47% compared to 82% for the Longbridge built Rover 200 (and 97% for Metro). The Cavalier body panels at that time were pressed on the continent and most components imported from Opel.
      In fact the “average” UK content of a Vauxhall Cavalier was even lower – as around a third of the Cavaliers sold were imported fully assembled in 1985.
      Looking at the whole Vauxhall car range (in which apart from Astra and Cavalier all other car models were fully imported) – UK content was only 22% which was causing a lot of agonizing in government in 1985.
      *Survey by the motor industry academic Dan Jones of the University of Sussex.

  11. Perhaps what hasn’t been documented is the part the Acclaim played in the decline of the typical garage service and repair workshop. A large proportion of any dealers’ revenue came from servicing, warranty repairs and routine maintenance after a car was sold.

    The Acclaim changed all that with it’s longer service intervals and almost faultless operation. Customers no longer arrived in Service Reception every 3000 miles for a service and long list of jobs to be done. We saw them at 7500 intervals for a routine service and absolutely nothing else.

    A few years after leaving ‘the trade’ I came across a number of aging Acclaims on the fleet I was then managing. These were typically used as pool cars and just kept going and going no matter what was thrown at them. Their end usually came when a piston ring failed and they started using oil. Then Catch22 stepped in because reliable engines meant there were no recon units so a rebuild was the only option.

  12. I worked for The Kenning Motor group when the Acclaim was released and trust me it was Japanese.
    The amount of Honda owners that were looking for spare parts always asked about the Acclaim and the amount of parts that came from the original Honda Prelude would suprise you.

    • Well Derek – all I can say (as I did in that article) is that – without any doubt at all – it qualified as a “British car” for trade purposes (otherwise they could not have sold it to EEC markets restriction-free).
      Certainly there were a lot of Honda sourced components including the engine. But the body was pressed in Cowley from British steel and many parts including driveshafts, radiators and seats were sourced from UK suppliers, as well as tyres, batteries, glass, seat fabric and carpeting. This shopping list of British components allowed boss Harold Musgrove to estimate that while Acclaim production supported 2000 jobs at Cowley, adding on jobs in the component industry brought the figure closer to 10,000.

      All in all, BL was able to state that only 30% of the ex-works value of a Triumph Acclaim was Japanese. In content terms it was not classed as a “Japanese car” though in conception terms it certainly was one.

      • Its a very interesting debate.I remember many of the parts having the exact number on them as the Prelude model had so were the parts British/European?.Was the original Prelude ever produced in the UK?.

        • Well you’re not wrong – a lot of parts were indeed Japanese. But enough weren’t that combined with the bodyshell being UK pressed from British steel and an allowance for “value added” in building the finished car at Cowley – it was classed as a “British car” in the commercial sense.
          Meaning that when (for example) the trade officials who determined how it should be treated when it was exported to Italy treated it in the same way as other British cars – like the Metro – able to enter the country without restriction.
          Rather than treating it as a “Japanese car” (in which case it would have been blocked from entering Italy).
          In that sense it was definitely a “British car” but (as the article explains) it’s quite valid to describe it as a Japanese car when not talking in those commercial “rule of origin” terms.

  13. What made them chose to market this car as a triumph over say, an Austin? Do we know? It’s something that’s puzzled me ever since I learned of this car.

    • Originally they planned to build it at Canley (the former Triumph factory) as that had the capacity – and Triumph branding would have seemed logical given the character of the car.
      The Triumph Acclaim was based on the design (Ballade) Honda was offering rather than one that fitted BL’s needs exactly.
      They would ideally have preferred a bigger, probably 5 door car – but adjusted strategy to fit the product – realizing there was an opportunity for a “Dolomite successor” (It was really more of a “Triumph 1300 successor”).
      The Ballade was an upscale spin-off from the Civic (sold through the separate Verno chain in Japan) and thus in many ways addressing a similar market to Triumphs of the past.
      1979 – with a sky high pound killing the export trade – saw BL forced to make severe cutbacks and announce the 1980 closure of Canley in a streamlining programme (CORE) which saw a lot of production concentrated on Cowley while other plants closed.
      The plan for Acclaim production shifted to Cowley and though they could then have changed the branding philosophy they chose not to – realising no doubt that as the Allegro and Ital were going to remain available it still made sense to position a little above and to one side of them rather than add another Austin (or Morris).
      There might also have been questions if the “core” volume car brands of Austin and Morris had “turned Japanese” at that point – initially the Acclaim was seen (and explained to the public) as a one-off venture rather than the start of a long-term collaboration.
      History shows that (from a business perspective) calling it a Triumph was the right call as they sold every Acclaim they planned to build.

  14. The Acclaim, probably more so than the Metro, saved British Leyland in the early eighties as the Honda connection meant it was reliable and good to drive. I suppose the lack of warranty claims and recalls, and the higher profit on a bigger car than the Metro, made the Acclaim a decent money spinner for the cash strapped corporation. I still saw many Acclaims in decent condition on the roads well into the nineties.

    • Certainly the low warranty costs and the relative lack of discounting compared to other models in the BL stable would appear to have compensated to a large extent for the royalty (I believe around £100 per car) that was being paid to Honda.

  15. Beside a few sketches that did not amount to anything, the fact BL did not have the opportunity to thoroughly diverge the Acclaim from the Ballade means that visually it can be seen as Japanese regardless of the UK local content (both the French and Italians were not convinced of its Britishness).

    Did not immediately notice the Acclaim/Ballade’s wheelbase wasn’t that far above a Metro’s, although probably should have cottoned on the 2nd gen Civic 3-door having virtually the same wheelbase and the original CRX actually being shorter than both.

    Reputedly the Metro saloon’s length was some 13 inches longer than the hatchback based on the info at BMH’s Online Collections page or in other words quite a bit shorter then either the equivalent Volkswagen Derby or Renault 7 yet with about as similar level of interior space as the Acclaim/Ballade.

    • Well it all comes down to what “language you are speaking”. As that article explains – if you are talking the language of design heritage then the Triumph Acclaim built in Cowley was a Japanese car, and the Morris Mini/Leyland Mini built by BMC/Leyland Australia in Sydney was a British car.
      But if you are talking the language of international trade and “rules of origin” then the Triumph Acclaim counted as a “British car” and the Australian built Minis counted as “Australian cars”.
      Nobody is wrong.

  16. A good article. I remember thinking that the Acclaim fell well short of the more modern designs at the time and I would never have bought one with the “Honda look” of the bodywork and dashboard. However, I feel it did much more good than sell quite well. It enable the two companies to learn how to work together which culminated in such excellence as the R8 range.

    I find seeing one at now at car events is quite interesting. For me, it is very much part of the key history of BL and Honda.

  17. The Acclaim started a long and fruitful relationship with Honda that would last until the Rover 600 and without Honda’s help, Austin Rover/ Rover might have found developing new cars a lot more difficult. Certainly adapting Honda designs was a lot cheaper and Rovers fitted with Honda engines were known for their reliability. I can remember owning a Rover 213 and it was completely reliable, far more than the 216 that used the 1.6 from the Montego.

  18. Having had a Honda Civic (HHR style) and Accord as company cars, I can vouch for the smooth delivery of power from their engines. This also applies to the earlier Accords & a Prelude that my brother once owned.

    My friend’s Dad had a 1983 Acclaim (HLS I think) that was kept till early 90s

  19. Great interesting article but one serious omission . I was hoping that you would include my favourite advert for the Acclaim which stated the dashboard “ was a masterpiece of the injection makers art” .
    This sums up my view of the Acclaim – hard to find anything good to say about this ugly cramped car which admittedly well built and had a great engine

    • @ Dave Handley, the Acclaim might have been a bit cramped in the back, but I wouldn’t say ugly, just a typical conservative Japanese design that could have been made by any Japanese company in 1981. Yes compared to the four headlamp, Michelotti designed Dolomite it replaced, the Acclaim wasn’t a great looker, nor had a performance version like the Dolomite, it was created to give British Leyland something competitive to sell.
      For its time, the Acclaim was good value, all models coming with five speed transmissions and even the basic HL having a decent level of equipment compared with base Escorts and Astras. In terms of economy, refinement and performance, the Acclaim was one of the best in its class as well.

  20. How British was a Mark 2 Cavalier of this era, which was mostly assembled from French and German parts, but qualified as British because it was assembled in Luton and had some British ancillary components? However, it kept thousands of people in employment in Luton and strong sales ensured the next generation of Cavalier would be produced in Luton, when production could easily have been transferred to Belgium.

  21. Yes it had plenty of British material content, but it was a Japanese car made in Britain with key components including the engine shipped in from Japan. Likewise Ford and Vauxhalls of this era may have been assembled in Britain (although many where not) – but where essentially German cars in design and key component content – as they remain to this day. I had several Fords in the 80’s and every one had a Ford Werke VIN plate.

    • @ Paul, all Vauxhalls from the Chevette onwards were Opel designs and by the mid eighties, all used Opel drivetrains and had minimal British content. Fords tended to have a higher British content, they had engine and transmission plants in the Uk, but imported most of their bigger cars from Germany.

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