In a week when we’ve been marking the 40th anniversary of the Austin Ambassador, it seems natural to ask the question: why was it in production for such a short period of time? It’s a fair question and one that hasn’t really be answered fully… until now. So, what’s the missing piece of the jigsaw? Step forward, the Austin LM14/LM15 programme.
We’ve already featured this car briefly in the Meet the LM family story, but it’s interesting to revisit this Maestro/Montego derivative as it could well have been a more successful addition to the range than the company had predicted when it was conceived in 1978. The concept was called either LM14 or LM15 depending on which product plan you were reading – but, in all instances, it was pitched above the LM11 Montego.
As is very obvious from the accompanying images, the LM14/LM15 was a five-door fastback that made use of the centre section of the Austin Maestro (LC10) and like, the Austin Montego, would have occupied the upper-medium C/D-segment. When the LM14/LM15 appeared in the 1978 Austin-Morris Product Plans, it was anticipated to hit the market in 1984-86, which would explain the investment being put into the Ambassador – it could have ended up living on to 1986…
From the wooden mockup in these images, the LM14/LM15 certainly looked the part, arguably ending up as the best-looking member of the LM family. With its sloping fastback and large tailgate, there was a family resemblance with the Rover SD1, and in 1978, when planned, its principal rivals would have been the Chrysler Alpine and Volkswagen Passat.
When LC10 was conceived in the mid-1970s, it was anticipated that the launch would take place in 1980-1981. However, that time frame slipped because the Mini Metro (LC8) programme was prioritised over it, and development resources were so thin by this time, Austin-Morris could only handle one major programme at a time.
That put the Montego, Montego Estate and LM14/LM15 programmes back further, making the need for the Ambassador all the more pressing – not least to maintain volume production at Cowley. But that leaves the question as to why the LM14/LM15 was cancelled in early 1981, especially considering its more upmarket positioning than the Montego (the base model LM14/LM15 was to be a 1.6-litre car, not 1.3-litre like the Maestro and Montego).
Firstly, we can assume that the LM14/LM15 didn’t progress very far, aside from its entry on the Austin-Morris product plan. We’ve never seen any full-sized clay models of it, nor have any of AROnline‘s contacts any recollections of working on it. Roy Axe confirmed that the Montego saloon and estate were the only variations heading for production when he arrived in late 1981. Therefore, we can confirm it was canned earlier in 1981, possibly in 1980.
Undoubtedly, the reason for that would have been the lack of resources in general at the time, and the concentrated effort being put into the arrival of the Maestro and Montego – with the benefit of hindsight, though, it was an unfortunate decision to make.
In August 1981, the Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 was launched, and the five-door version soon established itself as the best-selling model. That was followed by the Ford Sierra in September 1982, which until the Sapphire’s arrival in 1987, was available as a five-door hatchback and estate only. In both cases, with hatchback and saloon bodystyles offered, all buyers’ desires were covered. Offering the Montego as a (questionable-looking) saloon ended up closing off a significant section of the buying public.
Chalk it up to another opportunity missed…