Simon Weakley, a former Austin Rover marketing man, steps into the realms of counterfactual history by probing a scenario in which Leyland Motors and British Motor Holdings did not merge to become British Leyland in 1968.
Read it to find out how this fictional scenario pans out…
What if Leyland had walked away?
The future is not ordained or predetermined. People and groups have choices and sometimes a definitive fork in the road is reached, should we go one way or another, a clear choice. One such choice was developing strongly in 1967, should Leyland Motors merge or, indeed, make a takeover bid for British Motor Holdings (BMH), the new company that consisted of British Motor Corporation Limited (BMC), Jaguar Cars Limited and Pressed Steel Fisher Limited – a small worldwide but upmarket player taking over the third biggest motor group in the world?
On paper the answer should have been no – British Motor Holdings was eight times the size of Leyland Motors, and BMH had a very healthy cash position, two very successful model ranges, Mini and ADO16, the BMC 1100, and had doubled in size since 1960, as well as having substantial overseas plants, sales and distribution. On the basis of recent past performance, logic dictated that BMH would have fought hard to retain its independence.
As recently as 1966, the group had made a healthy profit, paid a strong dividend to shareholders and started to ready its new mid-range 1500cc front-wheel-drive car for production. Leyland Motors, for its part, also had strong sales and profit growth and had made a successful bid for Rover cars in 1967 to consolidate its position as a specialist producer of cars where margins were higher while being a key player in heavy trucks with some well-respected brand names. Why take the risk of trying to digest BMH with all the investment, product and industrial issues moving forward? Rover-Triumph and the heavy trucks still had plenty of growth opportunities, full order books and a world economy set for significant growth into the 1970s.
So, let’s imagine what might have happened if Donald Stokes and his team at Leyland Motors had walked away…
The last meeting at Chequers hadn’t gone very well. Tony Benn, Secretary of State for Industry, had organised a meeting between George Harriman (Chief Executive of BMH) and Donald Stokes (Chief Executive of Leyland Motors). The importance of the occasion could not be overstated. This was the final charm offensive by the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, who had determined the country would be best served by having one strong British-owned volume motor manufacturer.
The two Chief Executives arrived separately one Friday night in May 1967 – Harriman in his Vanden Plas Princess 4-Litre R, with the registration number BMC 1, chauffeur in tow, and Stokes driving himself in a Triumph 2000 estate. Wilson wisely judged that the two needed to be treated to a lavish five-course dinner and shown the sights of the long gallery. Meetings had been going on for the previous 12 months, with the instigation of the Industrial Reorganisation Committee (IRC), but neither side could ever overcome the main obstacles (i.e. agree a share swap that protected both companies’ shareholder interests) and agree the composition of the Board of Directors.
Disagreements over leadership
Leyland wanted their man Donald Stokes as Chief Executive, with Harriman (right) as Chairman, whereas the BMH team wanted their newly-appointed Chief Executive, Joe Edwards to have a joint role with Stokes, which was not acceptable to the Leyland men. There had also been differences of proposed structure.
BMH wanted to continue with a holding company structure whereby the main companies operated separately but could pool resources and component sharing as required. Leyland wanted a fully-integrated company with one Chief Executive driving the business forward.
The meeting at Chequers was cordial enough. After pre-dinner drinks and a tour of the long gallery, dinner commenced and the protagonists got down to business. Neither Chief Executive wanted to show their hand so it was up to Wilson to get the ball rolling.
Merger in the national interest
‘I think you both know why you are here gentlemen,’ Wilson said. ‘It is the belief of this Government that the country’s needs would be best served by having one strong Motor Manufacturer to take on overseas competition and I want you both to know that myself and my Secretary of State for Industry, Tony Benn, are here to help in any way we can. I have spoken to the IRC and, in principle, we can make funds available to help any new company through the transition.’ Wilson went on to say that he hoped that the two very different management teams could work together, one a buccaneer and the other a steady management team with a good track record.
Both Chief Executives felt that it was appropriate and dignified to make positive noises about the Government’s position and to carry on exploring the opportunities a merger might bring. Wilson and Benn clearly felt that BMH had lost its way and that the chronic overmanning, myriad of inefficient plants and production and poor recent product development meant that a merger with stronger management was the way forward for BMH and Leyland to prosper. This, too, was the era of bigger is better and, in many other industries, takeover and consolidation was taking place, not least the aircraft and steel industries. Volume and turnover seemed to trump any idea of value added and gross margin in this era of merger and acquisition.
Donald Stokes left the meeting at Chequers feeling he had been given the green light to pursue his ambitions to lead what would be the third biggest motor manufacturer in the world and Harriman left feeling somewhat dejected. He felt the BMH Board was being backed into a corner and with profit forecasts for 1967 being dire (in fact a loss of £3 million was predicted), he could hardly argue that his management team was strong and successful. However, the profit forecasts kept changing as BMH struggled with the very weak market of 1967 and a serious lack of product actions to boost the home market.
Ambitious production targets
If BMC could keep its weekly production up to 15,000 a week and sell into its markets then break even was possible, but that would involve it managing to capture 35 per cent of the UK car market. Strikes at suppliers and component shortages might blow them off course into a significant loss situation. Cost control was a serious issue and BMC could still not adequately cost its cars – some older, low volume cars such as A40, Minor and Westminster were losing money and Mini and 1100 relied on huge volumes to be profitable, but warranty costs on these two products ate into profits.
Stokes went back to the Leyland Board and, at the next Board Meeting in July 1967, recommended that further studies be carried out by an ex-Leyland man, Jim Slater, now a city financier in his own right. This would take three months and it was agreed by Stokes and Barber that a decision whether to proceed would take place by October 1967 by which time it would be clear if BMH had met its forecasts of a £3 million loss. The UK market continued to be challenging as credit hire purchase controls were applied and it looked like the total market would only be about 1 million cars sold in the UK, of which if they were lucky BMC would have 350,000 sales mostly of Mini and BMC 1100.
Why BMH and Leyland couldn’t join up
On a sunny morning in July 1967, a young graduate Steve Hopkins, drove into the car park at Longbridge where he worked in Product Planning, reporting to Roy Haynes, ex-Ford, and the BMC arm of BMH’s new product planning supremo based at Pressed Steel Fisher in Cowley. He parked up his new management car plan Riley Kestrel 1100 and walked over to an anonymous block of offices near Q-gate to start his day. Product planning was a completely new concept to BMC.
Before Joe Edwards came back as Managing Director of BMC in 1966, Harriman had spent his days in the styling studio at Longbridge with Issigonis and Dick Burzi, BMC’s in-house stylist. Their unholy alliance ensured that no other departments were really involved in product development – hence why the 1800, new 3-Litre and the soon-to-be launched ADO14, the 1.5-litre car soon to be christened Maxi, were commercial failures and surrendered the middle and lucrative family market to Ford and Vauxhall, plus a resurgent Rootes Group.
Steve’s job was to do the background work needed to put a serious product-led revival in place and present findings to Roy Haynes, who was working to fill the gaps left by Harriman and his team. Roy had just recruited a promising young stylist from Ford, Harris Mann, whose brief was to develop a range of attractive cars to bring to market for the 1970s and regain the lost ground that the 1800 and 3-Litre models had conceded. Roy Haynes was fresh from doing the product planning on the Cortina Mk2 (below). It had been a stunning success for Ford of Great Britain and was being exported all over the world.
How to deal with the Cortina
Two in five cars sold in the UK were fleet cars and the Cortina was smack bang in the middle of that booming market and costed to make a handsome profit for Ford. On that sunny July day in 1967, Steve had started to do a major study into the new car market and had employed a market research agency to carry out a study into the needs and wants of the family car buyer in the UK. Millward Brown Market Research were employed to carry out a series of in-depth focus groups were groups of new car buyers were got together.
It soon became obvious to Steve and his boss, Roy Haynes, that the new ADO14 was going fall well short of meeting expectations. Its design and styling had been frozen except for the potential for minor tweaks and, to save money, it used the doors and centre section of the 1800, itself an ungainly car in an era of high style. It was also heavy, slow for a 1.5-litre and had front-wheel drive which would put off most of the potential fleet customers in the 1.5-litre market. The private market for a car retailing at £1000 in the UK was actually quite small.
Millward Brown diligently carried out its focus groups through the summer of 1967, and the following main conclusions were made in the final report presented to Product Planning in September 1967.
BMC generally had a good reputation for technical advancement and a very loyal following for the Mini and 1100 models. However, the 1100 needed a more powerful version and boot space was considered poor compared to a Ford Cortina of similar price. Reliability was also an issue especially for fleet buyers (who were interviewed separately). The 1800 was considered too big, too expensive and too thirsty to be a serious contender, and sketches shown of the new ADO14 also gave cause for concern regarding poor results for styling and the front-wheel-drive technology for fleet buyers.
The older models such as A40, Minor and Cambridge/Oxford were regarded as being well past their sell by dates and were no longer considered by most buyers. Buyers liked the Cortina for its simplicity, styling, specification, price and large boot. The Arrow series Hillman Hunter was also gaining ground in the family market and the new Viva was considered much better than the original version.
Haynes vs Issigonis: mid-market confusion
However, running completely parallel to Roy Haynes, Alex Issigonis was still working on ADO14 and getting it ready for market. It had just one engine, a 1.5-litre overhead cam unit and a five-speed gearbox, two body styles, one trim level and a very stark interior. There were to be a five-door hatchback to set it apart from the completion and a conventional four-door booted version (above). All summer testing was going on in Portugal and in Finland to make the new product as reliable as possible.
The product just wasn’t market ready, though. When Haynes saw it he was appalled at the exterior styling, the stark interior and the minimalist dashboard. The gearchange was also very poor to the point of not being able to engage the gears properly without constant adjustment of the cables for the cable change. Product Planning considered that, despite the car being planned for a weekly production of 4000 units, the actual market potential was 1500 at most – even with both versions. The launch date of 1968 would have to be put back until January 1969, whilst Haynes tweaked the styling, redesigned the interior and had engineering improve the gearbox.
In September 1967, Product Planning held their first meeting to discuss the findings of the Millward Brown Market Research study into family car buyers. Round the table were Roy Haynes chairing the meeting, Harris Mann from styling, Steve Hopkins, the recent graduate, and Charles Griffin from engineering. Notable absentees were Alec Issigonis, Chief Engineer, BMC and Dick Burzi, the Longbridge stylist. Slowly, but surely, they were being sidelined and Issigonis did not command the same respect from Joe Edwards as he had from George Harriman.
Getting the mid-range mix right – in planning
Roy got the meeting started: ‘Thank you for coming today gentlemen. We are here to discuss the findings of the Millward Brown study into the family car market and make some important decisions about the product plan for BMC going into the 1970s. I want to say here and now that, in my view, there needs to be a fundamental shift of direction if this great company is going to survive, it’s that serious.’
There were general nods of agreement and quite a sombre mood around the table. ‘I would like to thank young Steve here for commissioning this research and burning the midnight oil to get us where we are today. I hope you are not planning to be home to see your wives or girlfriends for tea because this is going to be a very long session’ he quipped, to gentle laughter. Roy asked his Secretary, June, to prepare some strong coffee and biscuits and one of the most important meetings for BMC’s future began in earnest.
‘You’ve all had a chance to read the Millward Brown report, so I’d like to go round the table and get your overall views please’ said Roy. Let’s start with you Steve.
‘Well, I would say the clear finding is that the family car market is growing in size, and buyers in that market want good styling, value for money, a large boot and reasonable servicing and running costs. After all, nearly half the family car market is going to fleets – many of those decisions are being made by Fleet Managers and Cortina, Viva and Hunter are taking that, while our rear-drive cars are too out of date and our front-drive cars are too complex. We need at least one car to compete against Ford Cortina and basically be our version of that car, because that is where the market is. It needs to be where the Maxi is going to be but be less complex and meet the needs of the market. The Cambridge/Oxford, Minor and A40 need to be phased out.’
‘Any other thoughts, Steve?’
‘Well, although the 1100 is still doing very well, it either needs replacing in the next few years or updating. The styling needs modernising, a bigger boot needs to be made available, a wider range of engines as 1100 just doesn’t cover it anymore and maybe a hatchback like BMC Australia are planning.’
Formulating small car plans
‘What about the Mini?’ said Roy.
‘Well, as we all know Alec is working on BMC 9X (above) at the moment which could replace the existing Mini in two years time. We have all seen it, and it’s well ahead of the opposition. It has a hatchback, he is planning a new DX engine, OHC, and it’s cheaper to build, both body in white and the suspension is conventional. However, can we afford it? It’s going to cost at least £15 million to put into production and the profit margins are going to be slim. Mini is still selling strongly, so an update is another option instead.
‘If I had to choose between new Mini and a new car to compete against Cortina, then I would go for the family car because, if we get it right, the profits will be huge compared to anything we have got at BMC and we can look at replacing Mini in the early 1970s.’
‘What are your thoughts, Charles’, Roy said, knowing full well that Charles was close to Issigonis and wanted to gauge his reaction.
‘Well, Roy, I can tell you now, Alec isn’t going to like it one bit. He sees his new 1500 as the future in family car design, and the new Mini as essential to build on what he has achieved for BMC. He will see a conventional rear-drive family car as a massive step backwards, so you’ll get no backing from his team at Longbridge. He will be straight in to see the old man (Harriman) with his point of view. However, my view is that we have got to look at the market as it really is and Ford is screwing us into the ground and so are the other Yanks to be honest.
‘If you’re talking about BMC surviving what with all the other problems, then we have got to develop a new family car for the fleet market and fast, but I hope we can build into it some technical refinement so that we are seen as having one of the best family cars in the sector which builds on our reputation for innovation, so I want it to handle well, ride well and be good on motorways.’
‘I’ve seen some sketches of the new Anglia replacement and that car is going to do very well and compete head on with our 1100.’
‘Very well put, Charles. Over to you Harris, what do you think?’
‘Well, I think most of my thoughts have been already put across so I will speak from a styling point of view, and product positioning. Firstly, I completely agree that we have a glaring gap in the market for a rear-drive family car or range of cars. Ford, Rootes and Vauxhall are fielding or planning two cars across this sector. I’ve seen some sketches of the new Anglia replacement and that car is going to do very well and compete head on with our 1100. Obviously, the main challenge is producing a Cortina competitor, but ideally we need two related cars to compete in this large family sector and take the fleet market back again from the Americans.
‘In terms of styling, the BMC front-drive cars have a family resemblance that works for Mini and BMC 1100, but falls well short for 1800, 3-Litre and the new 1500 which frankly is a bloody disaster. How it got that far without someone telling Issigonis that it was useless I will never know – it’s going to bomb in the market unless we do something about it. Our new family car needs to be high style, but European, not American in style, so not another coke bottle shape like the Victor and Viva. It needs a wide range of body styles off one platform and it needs a coupe for the US market which is buying that type of car. That way it can appeal to the UK fleet market, European buyers and the US market where we are struggling with MG 1100.
‘Oh, and it needs a bloody big boot, a wide range of engines, decent dynamics, a five-speed gearbox and a wide range of trim levels. I agree with what Lee Iaccoca has said at GM, you can sell a sporty car to an old person but you can never sell an old person’s car to a younger person or the family man, so let’s go for a sporty range, high on style, specification and desirability where we can command a higher margin. It’s not just about cost, it’s about providing that bit extra that the customer will pay for.’
Wrapping up future plans
‘Well, thank you gentlemen, I’ve heard what you have all said and this is my view. I will work through the range and try to be realistic about what we can achieve given the company’s financial position. After today we need to take a product plan outline to Joe for the next Board Meeting and get Harriman’s support. I appreciate the lads at Longbridge working with Alec are going to be gutted and we are going to have some resistance, but if we don’t move fast then BMC is finished and we will all be fighting over what’s left.’
‘Starting with Mini, I think that what Alec is trying to do is great, a hatchback, updated engines in an easier to produce small car. Yes, it’s just what we need, but we can’t afford it yet. Also is it a bit too small or can we replace the Mini and BMC 1100 with one model range covering the small and small family sector? So I propose we look at a facelift of Mini, a wider range of engines and some vibrant colours and trims to take the car into the 1970s. I think it’s got at least five years left in it which gives us a chance to get the replacement right for around 1973.
‘Moving onto the BMC 1100, we already have planned a 1300 version due this October, starting with the upmarket MG, Riley and Wolseley versions but progressively getting us Austin and Morris versions in 1968. That is a start. As you know I’ve been working on a facelift proposal with a new front end, new fascia and a 1300 GT version to make the range more sporting in intent. Engineering have been improving and refining the Hydrolastic suspension to give it a smoother ride with less pitching.
Getting the BMC 1100 up to speed
‘I think we need to go further. I suggest we offer a proper booted version like were doing for the new 1500, the conventional boot and take the hatchback idea from BMC Australia. There’s no reason why we cannot offer the 1500 E-Series engine with the five-speed box and have the range topper as a GT with twin SU carbs. That broadens that car’s appeal for the 1970s and I suggest we get that done for the 1968 Motor Show so the new range is available for 1969. That should see the BMC 1100 back were it belongs as the best-selling car in the UK.’
‘Moving on, I agree with what has been said, we need a range of conventional high-style cars to compete with Ford and the others going from the Anglia replacement through to the Cortina with appeal both here to the fleet/family man and for export to the US, Australia, South Africa and Europe where we are very weak at the moment. We need that ready for October 1970, if we start now and the Minor, A40 and Cambridge/Oxford will be phased out for these two new but related models.’
‘What to do about the new front-drive 1500? That’s a tricky one, but sadly we have already spent too much on capital investment with the new engine etc. I suggest that we delay launch until 1969, put an improved gearbox in, improve the dashboard and interior, tidy up the front end and see if we can up the engine to 1600cc so at least it hits the market bang in the middle. We can have a range of bright colours, a GT version with twin SU carbs and some bold colours and we might just attract the private buyer looking for something different.
‘The hatchback, five-speed gearbox, smooth engine and huge interior space will sway some buyers who are willing to overlook the styling. In the medium term, somewhere around 1974, we can replace or rebody it along with the 1800 and replace two cars with one car at the top of the BMC range. We will give the 1800 a facelift, the new Wolseley 18/85 is launched next month and we have an 1800 S planned so that will do until the 2200 version comes along in 1971.’
How to market the new cars
‘That’s the models. Now to the marketing and branding… I for one think it’s frankly ridiculous having six brands across a range like the 1100. It confuses the public especially in export markets. We still have the two Dealer Networks competing with each other. I suggest we keep those, but split the brands. Morris gets Wolseley as its luxury brand and MG as its sporting brand and Austin gets Riley as its luxury brand and Cooper/ GT as its sporting brand. I think we should drop Vanden Plas as a separate brand and just have a VDP version right at the top of certain model ranges. Austin will do the high-tech, front-wheel-drive cars and Morris the rear-drive family cars with the Mini sold through both sales franchises. That way there is much less overlap and the public starts to see Austin and Morris as two distinct product lines again.’
‘So, gentlemen are we agreed that we work up a product plan called the ‘Product-Led Recovery’ and take that forward to Joe Edwards for consideration by the Board? It’s up to them to cost it and see if we can proceed possibly with some Government funding through the IRC. Harris can you start working on some design sketches for the new family car, and Steve can you start working with me on putting all this together in a report for the end of the month.’
‘Will do,’ they said in unison.
Out of the BMC ashes – a new plan emerges
So September 1967 was the turning point when it was agreed in principle to update the Mini and BMC 1100, improve the 1500 (ADO14) where possible, start working on a related but two-range family car on two wheelbases but with similar styling to cover Escort and Cortina markets under the Morris brand. Then to ditch the 9X Mini replacement but take the work Alec had done and look at a new car to replace both Mini and BMC 1100 around 1973/74.
Then to complete a product update on 1800 with a new 1800S version and get the Wolseley 18/85 launched successfully and bring out a Riley version for the Austin franchise sitting at the top of the BMC range. And finally, with Jaguar sitting above that with its new XJ6 and possibly a 2.0-litre and 2.4-litre car to sit in between and take on Rover/Triumph.
This coherent product plan was taken to the Board in October 1967 and agreed to proceed. £25 million was agreed to develop the new Morris range codenamed ADO28 and this included making major improvements to Cowley and building an overhead gantry across the A34 between South Works and North Works. Morris, MG and Wolseley versions of ADO16 would cease when the new Morris ranges became available in October 1970. Issigonis was still left in charge of front-wheel-drive development, but Charles Griffin was made Engineering Director, Morris Products.
Harriman steps down
Harriman was not very well at this stage and stepped down as Chairman becoming life President of BMH and Joe Edwards became Chief Executive of BMC and temporary Chairman of BMH. A further streamlining was agreed – as a consequence, the new Morris models would be built at Cowley’s South Works, all BMC 1100 models and Mini at Longbridge and the new ADO14 and 1800 ranges at Cowley’s North Works. Edwards agreed that, if the merger with Leyland did not go ahead, then BMH would go to the Government to seek £50 million from the IRC to fund the complete reorganisation of BMC as agreed with the new models and develop a new Jaguar S-type with a 2.0-, 2.4- and 3.4-litre engines to sit below the yet-to-be launched XJ6.
This would cost a further £12 million to develop and would need a new production site as Browns Lane could only handle E-type and XJ6. For 1968, the A40 and Austin Westminster ranges would cease production. The Morris Minor and Morris Oxford would have to struggle on until October 1970 when the two new Morris model ranges were available. Likewise, the disastrous Austin 3-Litre would be launched in Deluxe trim in 1968 and kept in production until the new baby Jaguar S-type came on stream around 1972. At that point the biggest car in BMC’s range would be the Riley and Wolseley 2200 six-cylinder model which would, hopefully, be taking some sales from the Rover and Triumph 2000 models that created the sector.
In the same Board Meeting the Finance Director of BMC was now forecasting that BMC would make a £21 million loss – a terrible situation – and Jaguar would make a profit of £6 million, but that was being used up in development costs on XJ6. It was agreed that this information be relayed to the IRC and Harriman would ‘phone Donald Stokes personally. In the end, the Leyland Board met in late October 1967 and agreed that, with those losses plus the capital investment needed to turn BMC around, they could not recommend to shareholders that they proceed with a merger or takeover. No amount of arm twisting from the IRC or promises of Government grants would change the Board’s mind. The merger was off!!
New beginnings – after the merger that never happened
The year of 1968 was the turnaround year for BMC. Initially, the BMC 1100 received the updated 1.3-litre engine in 60bhp form and was made available in significant numbers in Austin and Morris versions as well as the upmarket MG, Riley and Wolseley versions. The MG 1300 also got the Riley three-circular instrument fascia board and both MG and Riley versions had a 71bhp engine from the Mini Cooper S. There was an immediate sales uplift of 25 per cent on that model and it was back taking 15 per cent of the UK market with production volumes of 7000 a week out of both Cowley and Longbridge. These were launched in March for the August plate change coming up.
For October 1968 there were a raft of new models planned by BMC. The ADO16 1100 range finally got the larger boot which was a similar style to the one coming out on ADO14 now called Austin Maxi and a hatchback as well as the existing arrangement. Two-door models were finally available to replace the A40 and the 1.5-litre E-Series had been updated to 1.6-litres and launched as the Austin 1600 along with Riley and Cooper versions using twin SU carbs producing 85bhp. 1300 and 1600 GT models were also launched in both Austin and Morris versions. The Austin and Morris 1800 S model and the Riley 1800 S were also launched to complete the range and a raft of improved trim changes were introduced.
The Mini had some interim changes. The Riley and Wolseley versions received the 1.1-litre engine and wind up windows with concealed door hinges and a Mini Super Deluxe also received the same door arrangements and a 1.1-litre option to fit between that and the 1100 Cooper and 1275 Cooper S.
Strengthening market share
The market had also improved to 1.1 million and BMC managed to get 36 per cent of the market and the company returned back to a break-even position. Loss-making models had been eliminated and Joe Edwards had continued the cost drive reducing manning through natural wastage by a further 10,000 staff and employing a more professional purchasing team, some from Ford, who negotiated hard to get bought in component costs down slightly. There was still duplication and chronic over-manning, but BMC was moving in the right direction. The model mix had improved and margin per car was up slightly as the upmarket BMC cars sold better with the larger engines and raft of sporty models.
In January 1969, Raymond Baxter (the new PR Manager recruited from the BBC), launched the Austin Maxi 1600 Super and Super Deluxe in both hatchback and saloon form as well as a GT version with twin carbs and a Riley version with burr walnut fascia and leather seats in Portugal.
The improved rod-based gearchange and 1.6-litre engine made the car acceptable if not great, and the press gave the model a lukewarm reception due to its styling. However, it was much better than the prototype that Issigonis had planned to launch 12 months previously and engineering had worked hard to make it acceptable. The car got off to a reasonable start selling to private buyers and the saloon version to a few fleet managers, and it took 3 per cent of the market in the first six months of 1969, against 16 per cent for ADO16, and 10 per cent for Mini.
Investing in the future
Another important milestone was reached in 1969. The IRC released £50 million of investment for the new BMC models and updated facilities at Cowley while the design of ADO28 was finalised by Charles Griffin and Harris Mann’s styling was approved. There would basically be two model ranges and a high-style coupe. The smaller car would be available as a two-door saloon and a three-door estate car and sit on a 90in wheelbase and have a length of 162ins. Named Morris Modena, the car was a direct Escort and Viva competitor with a 1.1-litre and 1.3-litre A-Series engine and a 1.6-litre E-Series engine mated to a four-speed gearbox.
Suspension was conventional, but tuned for a sporty drive. There would be ten versions starting with the 1100 Deluxe and offering MG 1300 and 1600 versions as well as a Wolseley 1300 and 1600 – all carrying the Modena name badge. The styling was contemporary and European in flavour with low running costs. The MG and Wolseley had twin headlights and a traditional radiator grille. All the Morris models had sports bucket seats, a sports steering wheel and a radio with twin speakers as standard. Getting the reps to like the car and offer something more than Ford or Vauxhall was the key to this high style but cheap to produce car. Target profit was set at £100 a car for the Morris versions and £200 for the MG and Wolseley versions – more than double what ADO16 was achieving.
The larger car was to be launched as a four-door saloon and a five-door estate in June 1971 and would sit on a 96in wheelbase and 174in overall, 2in longer than the yet-to-be launched Cortina Mk3. This model would have a 1.6-litre E-Series engine, a 1.8-litre B-Series engine while, planned for 1972, was a 2.0-litre OHC version of the B-Series to complete the range. In a naming competition, given the choice of three names, Major, Maestro and Marina, the workforce at Cowley overwhelmingly chose Marina. The key features of this car were a large boot (much larger than the Cortina), five trim levels including an Deluxe, L model, HL, MG and Wolseley derivatives, the latter featuring full leather seats. All models except the deluxe model would feature a five-speed gearbox as standard, a new gearbox designed for this model and the upcoming Jaguar S-type.
Developing US market plans
ADO68: Project Condor
Meanwhile, Harris Mann was working on a high-style Coupe based on the larger ADO28 and badged solely as an MG to be sold in world markets but, especially, in the USA. Codenamed Condor, it was to based around the new 2.0-litre OHC engine, and have a twin-cam version which would also form the basis of the new Jaguar S-type. The planned launch date was October 1972.
Both these models were frozen in design terms in the summer of 1969, and prototypes were produced and testing began in earnest. Product Planning estimated that these two models should sell at a rate of 8000 a week for world markets and generate £40 million of additional profit per year for BMC.
Finally, the Mini received its full upgrade for the 1969 London Motor Show. A squared-off front was applied by Harris Mann and the new car was christened the Mini Clubman available as a 1100 saloon and Traveller and a 1275 GT with the 72bhp power pack. The Cooper S retained the existing body shell, but received a 76bhp version of the same engine. Other Minis also finally got the wind-up windows and concealed hinges plus some vibrant new colours. Sold as both Austin and Morris versions through the two franchises, the little car had its best ever sales performance in 1970 selling 340,000 units in world markets.
BMC becomes more prominent
On the marketing side, BMC as an overall brand became more prominent. The decision was taken to add the BMC rosette to the lower wings of all BMC cars and the BMC rosette was displayed in all front windscreens as a stick-on logo in the top left-hand corner. A new advertising campaign carried the strap line,’ BMC – Make for the cars that Make sense.’ Totem illuminated signage was developed for the dealerships with the sub-brands shown below, Austin, Riley and Cooper for the Austin dealers, and Morris, MG and Wolseley for the Morris dealers, 5000 dealers in total just in the UK. The decision was taken to keep many of these small local dealerships as they encouraged brand loyalty and local people kept going back to the same dealer over and over again.
At the Turin Motor Show of 1968, Pininfarina showed two design proposals based on the BMC 1100 and BMC 1800 platforms called Aerodynamica (above). They were high-style updates of the existing models and showed what BMC could do in the 1970s should they choose to do so. They certainly fitted in with the high-tech aspirations for the Austin franchise. Roy Haynes and Harris Mann had to decide whether they were right for BMC or whether they should develop their own replacements for the front-wheel-drive ranges.
Certainly, by 1974/75, the BMC Mini, ADO16 1100 and Maxi/1800 would all need replacing and, in truth, BMC could only afford two model ranges to replace four models. A three and a five-door hatchback slightly larger than Mini could replace the Mini and 1100 and a hatchback family car could replace both the Maxi and the 1800/2200, but that decision was some way off.
Turning the corner
Financially things improved markedly in 1969. Firstly, UK sales were stronger as the market grew and the updated BMC ADO16 and the new Maxi in two body styles made a significant difference to sales. The company managed 38 per cent of a 1.2 million market and exports improved as well. Profits came in at £10 million which was short of what was required, but a big improvement on the £21 million loss of 1967.
1970 was a frustrating year in many ways as marketing waited for the new Morris products, Modena in October and Marina in June 1971. The revised Mini, including Clubman, sold very strongly though and ADO16 became even more popular – the company finally achieved 40 per cent of the British market again for the first time since 1965. The new Conservative Government of Edward Heath acknowledged that Joe Edwards had achieved a remarkable turnaround in BMH’s fortunes. The new Jaguar XJ6 had been launched in London personally by William Lyons and, by 1970, long waiting lists were building up. Many considered it to be the finest car in the world!
Eventually, in October of that year, the first truly new BMC car was launched as the Morris Modena with its MG and Wolseley derivatives. It was a huge hit with 20,000 pre-orders from fleets and private customers following the 1970 Motor Show. The Morris Marina was even more popular and considered a fine competitor to the Ford Cortina MkIII. It had more interior space, much more boot space and a wide range of engines and trim levels. It hit the family car market bang in the centre and was soon the second-best selling car in the UK, with the ADO16 at number three and the Morris Modena at number five.
Sales start to rise
In the first full year of all the new models being available the UK market boomed and 1.7 million cars were sold. BMC managed to take 44 per cent of the market while Jaguar had a record year as it launched the XJ12 and readied the new S-type for launch in 1973 when it was widely expected to achieve world-wide sales of 50,000 units from a new production site at Castle Bromwich, an ex-aircraft production facility.
In 1972, BMH made total profits of £65 million, £55 million from BMC and £10 million from Jaguar Cars, more than enough to finance the new model replacements being worked on for 1974/5. The turnaround was complete and the group sold over 1 million cars for the first time. Yes, problems remained, the company still employed too many people, the unions still had too many restrictive practices and product quality was still an issue. The four front-wheel-drive models all needed replacing and all had their problems to varying degrees, but the company was profitable, asset and cash rich and had a very strong Dealer Network in the UK and a strengthening network in world markets especially Europe.
All was set for the second phase of the product-led recovery, a replacement Mini with new OHC engines and a five-door version to replace ADO16, codenamed Metro. Above that a new front-drive family hatchback with far better styling and a long wheelbase saloon and hatchback to replace the Maxi and 1800 were on the horizon. The main decision was whether to go in-house with Harris Mann designs or develop the Pininfarina concepts from 1968 further and have a more avant-garde style for the high-technology Austins.
This is a purely fictional article and none of the events actually happened – the author therefore hopes that none of the real-life characters mentioned in the piece take any offence and see the article for what it is, an interesting look at what might have been.
BMC Austin Franchise 1971: Model Range
- Austin Mini 850/1000 Deluxe
- Austin Mini 850/1000/1100 Super Deluxe
- Austin Mini 1100 Cooper
- Austin Mini 1275 Cooper S
- Austin Mini Clubman 1100
- Austin Mini 1275 GT
- Austin Mini Clubman Estate
- Riley Elf 1100/1275
Austin 1100/1300/1600 (ADO16)
- Austin 1100/1300 2-door and 4-door Deluxe
- Austin 1100/1300 2-door and 4-door Super Deluxe
- Austin 1100/1300 2-door and 4-door Super Deluxe hatchback
- Austin 1600 4-door Super Deluxe hatchback, 5 speed
- Austin 1300/1600 GT hatchback
- Austin 1300/1600 Super Deluxe Saloon
- Austin 1300/1600 GT Saloon
- Riley 1300/ 1600 hatchback
- Riley 1300/1600 Saloon
- Austin 1600 Cooper hatchback/saloon
- Austin 1600 Cooper S, 2-door hatchback
- Austin 1600 Cooper S, 4-door hatchback
Austin Maxi (ADO14)
- Austin Maxi 1600 Deluxe hatchback, 5-speed
- Austin Maxi 1600 Super Deluxe hatchback, 5-speed
- Austin Maxi 1600 GT hatchback, 5-speed,
- Riley Maxi 1600 hatchback, 5-speed
- Austin Maxi Cooper, 5-speed
- Austin Maxi 1600 Super Deluxe, 4-door saloon, 5-speed
- Austin Maxi 1600 GT, 4-door saloon, 5-speed
- Riley Maxi 1600, 4-door saloon, 5-speed
- Austin Maxi Cooper, 4-door Saloon
- Austin 1800 Super Deluxe
- Austin 1800 S
- Riley 18/85 and 18/85 S
- Austin 2200 Super Deluxe
- Riley 2200 Six
BMC Morris Franchise 1971: Model Range
- Morris Mini 850/1000 Deluxe
- Morris Mini 850/1000/1100 Super Deluxe
- MG Mini 1100
- MG Mini 1275 S
- Morris Mini Clubman 1100
- Morris Mini 1275 GT
- Morris Mini Clubman Estate
- Wolseley Hornet 1100/1275
- Morris Modena 1100/1300 Deluxe 2-door
- Morris Modena 1100 L/1300 L 2-door
- Morris Modena 1300 HL/1600 HL 2 door
- MG Modena 1600 2-door
- Wolseley Modena 1600 2-door
- Morris Modena 1100/1300 Deluxe Estate
- Morris Modena 1100 L/1300 L/1600 L Estate
- Morris Modena 1300 HL /1600 HL Estate
- Wolseley Modena 1600 Estate
- Morris Marina 1600 Deluxe 4-door
- Morris Marina 1600 L/1800 L 4-door 5-speed
- Morris Marina 1600 HL/1800 HL 4-door 5-speed
- MG Marina 1600/1800 TC, 4-door 5-speed
- Wolseley Marina 1600/1800 4-door 5-speed
- Morris Marina 1600/1800 Deluxe Estate
- Morris Marina 1600 L/1800 L Estate
- Morris Marina 1600 HL/1800 HL Estate
- Wolseley Marina 1800 Estate
- Morris 1800 Super Deluxe
- Morris 1800 S
- Wolseley 18/85 and 18/85 S
- Morris 2200 Super Deluxe
- Wolseley 2200 Six
Copyright, Simon Weakley 2021