This is counterfactual history. Bill McWilliam discusses what could have happened if Leyland had walked away from the merger with British Motor Holdings.
The following counterfactual story, in the form of a fictitious article from the August 1971 issue of CAR magazine, describes model plans of an independent Leyland for the early-to-mid 1970s.
CAR magazine | August 1971 | Scoop!
LEYLAND – and the ALL-NEW Rover-Triumph cars that will make Britain Great.
The Germans may have their sights set on invading Europe, but with his dynamic range of new machinery, Sir Donald Stokes will fight them on the highways.
It has now been four years since Sir Donald Stokes infamously, at the eleventh hour, walked out of negotiations with British Motor Holdings (BMH), a merger that that would have created the fourth largest vehicle manufacturer in the world and would also likely have made him one of the world’s greatest industrial leaders.
Lambasted by the press for sabotaging the opportunity to create a British Automotive Superpower, he later defended his decision by stating that, in the fifteen previous years, since the merging of Austin and Morris and the creation of BMC, the company was still a shambles, consisting of overlapping and muddled model ranges, a chaotic dealer network where garages sitting side by side were selling similar ranges of cars under different badges and vastly differing dealership terms.
Added to that he pointed out that BMH had still not managed to rationalise the company’s scattered network of inefficient factories which complicate or, in many cases, duplicate production. His belief was that, if BMC had been unable to merge its operations effectively within a decade and a half, it would be highly unlikely that – particularly with Rover and Triumph added to the mix – an efficient, profitable and successful vehicle manufacture could be created out of the merged companies within the next ten years. One must bear in mind that then – as now – Leyland on its own was a highly profitable company.
The state of Rover-Triumph today
Rather than dwelling upon what might have been, and the powerful position he may have held, Stokes has instead doubled his efforts to prove that his Leyland company can produce a range of world-beating quality cars. Since the merger talks broke down Rover has brought us the much sought after P6 in V8 form along with the outstanding Range Rover off-roader. Meanwhile, Triumph has revamped its entire range – the 2000 and 2.5 receiving a comprehensive and highly successful makeover two years ago around the same time as the Karman-designed TR6 replaced the TR5. All 2.5-litre engines in both models now have fuel injection.
At last year’s Motor Show the Toledo and 1500 replaced the Herald and 1300, and the Dolomite (below) killed off the aging Vitesse. The other significant newcomer to the range has been the Stag convertible-grand tourer, which overnight rendered the old Mercedes SL280 obsolete. Only the Spitfire and its GT6 sibling remain from the era before merger talks- but both have recently received significant facelifts.
As the performance marque, expect to see Triumph’s increased involvement in motor sport – in rallying, saloon car racing and the European Touring Car Championship.
But that is only the start!
Within weeks, and in time for the Earls Court Motor Show, Leyland will reveal two of the most significant new cars of this year. With Britain poised to join the Common Market in less than 18 months these are the cars that will spearhead Leyland’s attack on car markets of Europe as well as improve sales in The Commonwealth and across the Atlantic.
Triumph Dolomite Sprint 135
Yes, this is a 2.0-litre 16-valve version of the Dolomite saloon that was introduced late last year. This road rocket with, as its name implies, 135bhp has a top speed of 120mph and 0-60 time of only 8.0 seconds. However, this is not some homologation special like the Escort RS1600. This is going to be a refined four-door executive saloon. Insiders tell us that achieving the planned 135bhp from production versions of these technologically advanced engines has not been an easy task and have also revealed to us that fuel-injected versions are currently undergoing testing – developing 150bhp with a potential 125 mph top speed! Expect these in showrooms within a couple of years.
P8 Rover 3-Litre/4-Litre
It is well known that the replacement for the well respected, but ageing Rover P5 will be with us within a few weeks and will finally put an end to Rover’s ‘Auntie’ image. Pre-production models shown in this magazine (Scoop January) show this to be an imposing, transatlantic styled four-door saloon sitting on a 112-inch wheelbase and of around 190-inches in length. This is Rover’s response to the highly-acclaimed Jaguar XJ6, as well as to next year’s all-new, range-topping Mercedes W116.
Considerably lighter and more aerodynamic than the 12-year-old car it replaces, power will come from the 3.0-litre and 4.0-litre versions of the Triumph V8 introduced in the Stag last year. Word from the factory is that the well-documented reliability issues which plagued early engines have now been rectified and this unit has been chosen over the Buick-designed Rover V8 due to its more modern design and potential for further development. Expect high levels of equipment to be standard, including centralised door locking, electric windows and air conditioning.
At launch the 2997cc version will produce the same 145bhp as the Stag, giving a 120mph top speed, the fuel-injected 3996cc engine giving out around 210bhp and 135mph. Prices have yet to be announced, but expect the new Rover 3-Litre to be price at similar levels to the outgoing 3.5 Litre. Later on, in 1974 if our sources are correct, 32-valve fuel injected versions of the 4.0-litre will produce around 260bhp, giving a maximum speed in excess of 145mph! Along with next year’s Jaguar XJ12 saloon, this will be one of the world’s fastest four-door saloons – who will be King of the Autobahn fast lanes then?
To help keep all this power in check, Rover has been working closely with Dunlop to develop an affordable anti-lock braking system for this new car to give it the required stopping power. They will also ditch the unreliable Lucas mechanical fuel injection replacing it with a Bosch-based electronic system. A long-wheelbase version Rover 4-Litre is also planned, with a four-inch stretch of both wheelbase and length.
This Stag based fastback coupe (see Scoop January) will replace the GT6, taking the Triumph range more upmarket, with a three-pronged attack on the sports coupe market. Likely to be available as a two-seater or two plus two, this is a further reworking of the Lynx prototype we revealed early last year. The GT4 will use the 135bhp 16-valve engine from the Dolomite Sprint 135 – creating a sporty, entry-level car. The two GT8 models will use the Stag 3.0-litre V8 in standard 145bhp – a relaxed tourer or a high performance range topping fuel-injected 32-valve with 190bhp. These top-level cars will have 130+mph potential and reach 60mph in less than seven seconds, more than enough to fight off the Japanese Datsun 240Z which is currently sweeping up in the United States. Expect to see these cars along with a new 32-valve V8 version of the Stag at next year’s British Motor Show.
P10/RT1 – Rover 2000/3000/3500
If there was one area where the Rover/Triumph merger became complicated it was due to their duplication of 2.0-litre executive saloons. This was made more difficult because both were relatively new when the merger took place, and both were also extremely successful. Due to their success Leyland chose to ignore this conflict, but when it came time for planning their replacements logic dictated that one car would have to be sufficient to replace both. It was also decided early on that, apart from sports cars, all models over 2.0-litres would be badged as Rovers.
Originally codenamed Rover P10, this car has recently been renamed RT1. This will probably be Leyland’s most important new car and, at around 185 inches in length, it will be slightly larger than the two cars it replaces. With its streamlined fastback body style and opening tailgate it will be every bit as revolutionary as the P6 model was ten years before. Serious consideration was given to the new car being fitted with gullwing doors, but it was felt that the market might not be ready for this innovation just yet!
However, the new body style will address the space issues of the older car and, again, it will feature independent rear suspension and discs brakes all round, but the spaceframe design and (having given up on gas-turbine powerplants) the round-the-corner front suspension will be gone. Gearboxes will be either automatic or an all-new five-speed manual – highly geared to give exceptional economy.
As with the P8, power will come from Triumph-based units: the two-litre Slant-Four, but in eight-valve 110bhp form, the 145bhp 3.0-litre V8 and the fuel -injected 3.5-litre V8 giving out more than 180bhp. Both are Stag based units. Top models will have 130+mph performance. A smaller V8 of around 2.5-litres or possibly a new OHC six based on the Slant-Four may be introduced to replace the Triumph 2.5 and assist sales in countries where tax hinders the sale of larger-engined cars.
Later on, a five-door estate car is planned to replace the popular Triumph estates and regain market share from Volvo, the current leader in the big estate car market.
This all-new, mid-engined Coventry built sports car will set the long-running Triumph TR range in an entirely new direction. Styled by Bertone and powered by 2.0-litre and 3.0-litre engines, this two-seater draws heavily on the P6BS prototype and subsequent P9 sports car project.
As the first fixed head TR model, the larger fuel-injected 32-valve versions will have 140+mph performance and reach 60mph in around 6.5 seconds with a specification that will likely include anti-lock braking! That’s right ladies and gentlemen – in three years time you will be able to walk into your local Triumph dealership and purchase a new car that is every bit a match for either a Ferrari Dino or a Porsche 911. This aggressively-styled sports car could even see Triumph returning to Le Mans. With no convertible version of the TR7 planned, the existing TR6 may remain in production until US legislation finally kills off open-topped cars for good.
It is likely that 1975 will see the introduction of a number of new Range Rover models – including a four door, both in standard form and also luxury versions designed for the US market with electric windows, air conditioning, automatic transmission and leather upholstery. However, one does question whether there will be a market for this sort of opulence on what is essentially an off-road vehicle. At the same time, it is likely that Triumph engines will replace the Buick-designed V8 – probably in both 3.0-litre and 4.0-litre form.
RT2 – Triumph Toledo replacement
Late in the year or possibly early 1976 Triumph will replace the existing Toledo and 1500 models with a new two- and four-door front-wheel-drive model. Insiders tell us this will be based on the existing 1500 floorplan, keeping the same wheelbase and length – but engines will now be transverse mounted allowing the car to be considerably more space efficient.
We have been told that one of the main reasons for switching the Toledo to front-wheel drive is to allow the possibility of smaller economy front-wheel-drive models that may be required to broaden the range towards the end of the decade. Power for the new Toledo will come from new 1.3-litre and 1.5-litre units (60-85bhp), closely related to the Slant-Four, mated to all-new, end-on five-speed gearboxes. The aerodynamic fastback bodywork we believe will be Italian-designed (probably by Michelotti) and closely resembles the recently-launched Alfa Romeo Alfasud or Citroën GS.
We will likely see a 1500 version of the Dolomite with the new engine introduced around the same time – this will be aimed at more conservative (older) buyers.
It is likely that an all-new Triumph Dolomite (RT3) will appear some time in 1977 or possibly early 1978. This will almost certainly retain rear-wheel drive, but with the Triumph 2000 gone, it is likely to grow in size to become a posh Cortina – competing not just with the more expensive Fords and Wolseleys, but also with European prestige brands such as Alfa Romeo, BMW and Lancia. With the larger body size and retaining rear-wheel drive we are also likely to see larger engines. Further development of the Slant-Four in collaboration with Saab is possible including, we believe, a turbocharged version. Also don’t be surprised if top models gain the 2.5-litre, six-cylinder engines which will also see service in mid-range P10s.
The only model where the future is less certain is the nine-year-old Spitfire. As pressure grows, particularly in the USA, to outlaw open-topped cars its replacement seems unlikely, but our sources tell us a two-seat hardtop, with pop-up headlights and possibly removable roof panels, nicknamed Bullet due to its pronounced wedge-shaped design is being investigated. However, if that does get approved for production, it will likely be based on a shortened Dolomite platform and powered by 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre Slant-Four engines – in that case, expect a launch date early in 1975.
By the end of the decade we may even see a small front-wheel-drive Triumph based on a shortened RT2 platform or possibly a smaller version of the Range Rover with a 2.0-litre engine using a four-wheel-drive version of the RT3 platform.
With all of these new cars it is clear that by the mid-to-late 1970s Rover and Triumph will have become one of the most significant European car manufacturers with an unrivalled range of advanced, executive, high-performance saloon cars, sports cars and off-road vehicles featuring OHC four-cylinder or V8 engines, many with fuel injection, four valves per cylinder, five-speed gearboxes and front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, 4WD or mid-engined layouts.
With this new range of world-beating saloons, off-roaders and sports cars Donald Stokes’ Leyland will be able to take on anything the Europeans can offer… AND WIN.
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