What would have happened had Jaguar merged with Leyland instead of being combined with BMC during 1966?
Ingvar Hallström, from Sweden, ponders this very notion and comes up with some interesting thoughts in his excellent counterfactual history piece – a story of how Britain really could have produced the best luxury and sporting cars in the world. We won’t spoil the ending, but you’re going to like it!
The alternative Jaguar-Rover-Triumph dimension
HERE is an interesting counter-factual what-if is the story about a possible Triumph/Rover/Jaguar/Daimler-merger. What if William Lyons had sold Jaguar to Leyland in 1965? And what if Leyland had bought Rover as they did in 1967? And what if the subsequent company had not merged with BMC in 1968? That would leave a very strong PAG-like group in the late 1960s, to handle almost all the needs for the upper class and upper-middle class , without the financial burden of sorting out the mess that was BMC at the time. So, the story begins:
Donald Stokes had been a very successful sales manager for Leyland during the 1950s. As he had made a fortune in sales for Leyland, the managing director Henry Spurrier invested all his confidence in Stokes by appointing him managing director in 1960, while Spurrier retired as chairman. Stokes was given a carte blanche, and set out for an aggressive shopping spree in the early ’60s. Stokes’ master plan was the insight that success laid in up-engineering the competition. Money accumulated would be invested in purchases, quality improvements and excessive research & development. Improved products would lead to better sales, concentrating on high-margin products would lead to bigger profits. It seemed to be a winning formula. Contrary to popular belief in the industry at the time, Stokes theory was that the competition invested too little of its profit back into the business. With foresight, he saw some harsh times ahead, but convinced the Leyland board that his initial overspendings would make Leyland the most profitable business in Britain within ten years time. The board approved, and when Spurrier died in 1964, Stokes became chairman of the board.
In 1960, the troubled BSA Company wanted to rid itself of its cars and motorcycle businesses, to further concentrate on arms manufacturing. Thus, Leyland acquired Triumph Motorcycles, Carbodies and Daimler from BSA. In 1961, with the acquisition of Standard-Triumph, the Triumph cars and motorcycles was finally brought under the same roof after being separated for 25 years. Though the Standard marque was to be discontinued, the name survived as the newly-formed umbrella company was christened British Standard. Edward Turner was appointed chief executive of the motorcycle division, and after an extensive market research and frequent visits to Japan, Turner advised Stokes on increased research and development resources, as he saw the Japanese competition as an almost insurmountable threat to the business. And the outcome proved successful, as Triumph to this day is the only remaining major player left besides Honda, Suzuki, Kawazaki and Yamaha.
The purchase of Carbodies made the management at BMC very uneasy, and as a counter-move they acquired Pressed Steel in 1962. This started the famous ‘War of Parts’, as Pressed Steel was sub-contracted for providing Triumph with bodies. With George Turnbull appointed director of manufacturing, the mess was sorted out during the following four years, as Carbodies had to expand their business and build new factories. This enabled them to provide completed bodies for all the needs of British Standard. The final contracts between British Standard and Pressed Steel were ended in 1966, and since then Britain had two competing semi-independent body manufacturers, to the benefit of the entire market.
Though British Standard was now clearly going up-market, there was a gap between the performance oriented Triumph marque and the luxurious Daimler. The range had to be filled in between. In 1965, Donald Stokes had talks with Jaguar boss William Lyons. Lyons was mostly concerned that the integrity of Jaguar had to be maintained, and Stokes managed to reassure Lyons on that point. The plan was to make a fully integrated company of premium cars, where every marque had its place in the hierarchy, while at the same time maintaining and strengthening the individual brands integrity and core-values. The fact that British Standard already had improved quality over BMC and Pressed Steel, was also a beneficial factor for Lyons.
Thus, in 1965, British Standard bought Jaguar for an undisclosed, but probably very large, sum of money. William Lyons retired from the car making politics, though he stayed on as a consultant for future Jaguar development. In 1967, British Standard bought Rover, finally filling in all the blanks in the production line-up. In 1968, the government approached Stokes on a possible British Standard/BMC-merger. Advised by business analysts with insight into the vast Nuffield empire, Stokes politely declined the offer.
After the Standard-Triumph acquisition, Stokes made some significant changes in the Triumph program. With Harry Webster appointed technical manager, the development of the cars Triumph had in pipeline was fast-tracked in progress. Stokes had plans for pushing Triumph up-market, to form a performance-oriented brand. The Triumph Vitesse was launched in 1962 to much acclaim and an unexpected success, obviously tapping into an unexplored market sector. Also in 1962, the Herald-based Spitfire roadster was launched.
When Project Barb was launched in 1963 as the Triumph Renown, it came with the 2.0-litre six, complemented by a top of the line 3-litre model, with an enlarged version of the small Daimler V8. In 1964, the Daimler SP250 got a new body, designed by David Ogle. The car received the 3-litre update of the V8 and was renamed the SX300. It proved to be a strong seller in the states, above the TR-line in price as a more luxurious competitor to the E-Type. When the Vitesse Mk II was launched in 1965, it had been updated to 2-litre specification. The criticized rear suspension set-up was also dealt with. Also in that year saw the revised Spitfire Mk II, complemented by a small coupe, the Spitfire GT. As the Herald had been discontinued at that time, the Spitfire cars received the revised Vitesse Mk II chassis and engines.
The successful Vitesse continued on until 1968, despite the fact that its successor the Dolomite was released in 1965. Though rumors was circulating at the time that Triumph had a front wheel drive car up its sleeve, these rumors proved to be untrue. The Dolomite was a plush and racy alternative to cars like the small Vanden Plas and Alfa Romeo Giulia. Also In 1965, the TR5 was revealed, with a new chassis and rear suspension set-up. The big four was replaced by a fuel-injected 2.5-litre straight six, though the car kept the body from the old TR4.
In 1966, Pininfarina got two jobs from Jaguar. First, the large Jaguar Mark X received an update and was presented as the Mark XI. With small and subtle means Pininfarina made the car look less bulbous, it received more formal and stringent lines combined with some Italian flair. It came with the 4.5-litre Daimler-V8 only. With these changes, the car finally made some sales in the important US-market. The second Pininfarina conversion that year was the task of redesigning the stop-gap solution Jaguar needed before the upcoming XJ6. Keeping the S-Type’s rear end, and with a front end similar to that of the Mark XI, the car emerged in 1966 as the Jaguar Mark III. The car was available with the 3.4 and 4.2-litre engines. At its launch, The Mark II and S-Type was discontinued. Although seen publicly as an obvious stop-gap solution, the Mark III remained a reasonably good seller, just shy of 30 000 cars produced.
Also in 1966, the old Daimler-developed Majestic was replaced by a car spun off the Mark XI platform. The new Daimler Majestic was presented as an alternative to the somewhat more expensive Rolls-Royces, while the Mark XI had set its sights on Bentley. In 1967, a facelifted Mk II version of the Triumph Renown was presented. With subtle measures, it had received a new front- and rear end that significantly improved the looks of the car. Along with it came the option of the 2.5-litre engine, with or without fuel injection. A highly stylized estate version was also presented, where the entire rear end of the car comprised of an enormous glass-back. It proved to be an industry first.
In 1967 and with the Rover purchase, the entire range of cars were,
at Triumph; the newly-developed Dolomite, the older Vitesse and its off-springs Spitfire and Spitfire GT, the Renown, and the TR5.
Rover had the P5, P6 and Land-Rover.
Jaguar had the E-type, the Mark III, and the large Mk XI.
Daimler had the Majestic and the SX300.
In the pipeline where the Stag, the TR6, and at Rover; the Range Rover and the P8 and P9. At Jaguar, the XJ6 was right around the corner. Immediately after British Standard acquired Rover, they approved the P8, P9 and Range Rover for production. The Turner-developed V8 from Daimler was a very good engine, though it proved to be too heavy for the broad range of cars British Standard now had in mind. Thus, the new V8 that Rover brought into the company provided a good opportunity to refresh the entire engine-line. The Turner-engine was eventually phased out, though it stayed on until 1972 due to delivering problems with the Rover engine.
Replacing the SX300, although in 2+2-seater form, the Triumph Stag was released in 1968 with the 3-litre Daimler V8. It received an absolutely stunning Michelotti designed body, with a fully retractable soft-top. An updated Rover V8-version arrived in 1972. Alongside the Stag, an updated Spitfire and Spitfire GT Mk III arrived. Michelotti had used some clever skills to make them appear more in line with the newly developed design language from the Stag. Complementing the Stag was a special-bodied Rover 3500 Coupe, made in very small numbers between 1968 and 1970. Based off the Zagato Show Car from the 1967 Turin Motor Show, unclothed Rover chassis were flown to Italy to receive their hand-made bodies at Zagato before being flown back again for final completion. Almost double the price of the standard saloon, some 352 cars are supposed to be made. In 1968, the TR5 got an updated body refresh by Michelotti. The car, re-named the TR6 proved to be a great success.
The P6 got an extensive refresh in 1968 by the new chief of design David Bache. The much wanted six-cylinder version was released on an extended platform, code-named P7B. The looks improved significantly with the longer nose, slightly reminiscent of the earlier turbine-prototypes. As Rover proved unsuccessful in developing a new six on its own, the tried out 2.0- and 2.5-litre from Triumph was used instead as an intermediate step. But the big surprise that year was the high-end 3500, delivered with the new Rover V8. For productivity and esthetic reasons, the longer nose was used across the entire range, including the V8 model.
In 1968, The Jaguar XJ6 was launched to much acclaim, and the Mark III was discontinued at the same time. 1968 also saw the first major update of the E-Type, the Series II. The same year saw the launch of the Daimler Empress, alongside the limousine version, the Daimler Regency. The Empress was based off the Mark XI platform, though it had a new body with formal coachwork. It looked like a modern interpretation of the razor-edged designs from Hooper. The Regency was a limousine based off the Empress, but with a 21-inch extension, partitions and jump seats. Both cars were powered by the big Daimler V8. This proved to be a good strategy, as when the Queen Elizabeth got hand of an Empress for her personal use, she declared it the best car she’d had since her beloved Rover P4. Courtesy of the dying English coachwork industry, some spectacular one-offs was made based off the Empress, among them a slightly vulgar two-door Dockers’ Special convertible. The Empress and Regency line continued to be the absolute top of the line models at British Standard, until the late 1970s and the new Daimler Conquest.
In 1968, a new and long-term strategy was laid out for British Standard. It included a complete revision of in-house platforms, making for few overlaps but much collaboration between the departments. The plan was laid out by Spen King and Gordon Bashford, and consisted of a system of flexible platforms, called the A, B, C and D-cars. The A-car was supposed to replace the Dolomite in the mid-1970s, also providing the underpinnings for the replacement to the Spitfire and GT. The B-car was planned as a bigger car, replacing the Renown, Stag, P6, and in shortened form, the TR6 and E-type. The C-Car was to replace the XJ6 and P8. And finally, the D-car was to replace the top-of-the-line Daimler models. The point was to make the platforms flexible, with easy access to shortening or lengthening the cars as needed for different purposes and different specials.
The brand strategy that was implemented meant that Triumph was to be marketed as the junior performance brand, with Rover on top of it, providing gentleman expresses for the old money. Jaguar was to be a far more graceful and racy, more performance-oriented almost extrovert choice. And lastly, Daimler, the absolute top-of-the-line, with Rolls-Royce in the line of sight. Thus, because the cars were marketed to different people who wouldn’t cross-shop the brands, British Standard could survive on essentially only four different platforms, sharing much of the invisible parts without losing brand integrity. Instead of seeing it as brand dilution and diversion of resources, the thought was that the cars would complement each other, the different brands combined would sell more in this way, than if the brands were phased out and the divisions compartmentalized.
A new engine policy was also decided upon. Triumph made small fours and small sixes. Rover made big fours and small V8s. Jaguar made big sixes, with a V12 in development, and Daimler made big V8s. With so much in-house engineering knowledge of refined sixes, it thus came to be that British Standard did as BMW, and concentrated its resources on developing a new range of small and big sixes, based off the same architecture and with some interchangeable parts. In 1974, the new family of in-line sixes was presented, ranging in size between 2- and 4-litres.The old XK-engine was thus discontinued, after being in use since 1948. The big Daimler V8 was phased out in 1972, as it was replaced by a Jaguar-developed V12. In hindsight, it proved a stroke of luck that Rover had acquired its V8 from Buick, as there seemed to be no end in all the ways it could be configured. The Rover four was phased out, though Triumph continued developing its slant-four, now in collaboration with Saab who had done some tinkering with turbo-charging. All other needs and cars for the mid-’70s and beyond would be provided for by the new family of sixes.
In 1969, the Dolomite received a minor refresh, with a longer boot and a new rear- and front-end. With updated styling, it looked more in line with the recently developed Triumph styling theme. In 1970, Rover launched its biggest line of cars, the Rover P8, actually named after its internal code-name. At the same launch came the mid-engined Alvis TG 21. The cars were delivered with the Rover V8 in 3.5 and 4.5-litre versions. But the biggest surprise that year was the launch of the Range Rover, a luxury off-road station-wagon. Also that year saw Spen King replacing Harry Webster as Technical Director. Though the V8-powered P5B was launched immediately after the takeover, it was destined to have a very short life, axed at the arrival of the P8. In that short time, it became an instant classic. The aged Alvis TF 21 was discontinued at the launch of the TG 21. Up until then, it had been more or less hand-made in very small numbers, in the end not more than a couple of dozens a year.
The only news for 1971 were a couple of updates. First, the Spitfire and GT Mk IV appeared, with refreshed looks. The second update was the arrival of the XJ6 Series II. Thirdly, was the introduction of the Series III Jaguar E-type. With it came the introduction of the entirely new V12, on the 2+2 chassis in open or closed form. As the E-type had been criticized for gaining weight with age and becoming more of a boulevardier, a stripped and cheaper E-Type roadster emerged. It was based off the SWB chassis and came with manual only. The 4.2-litre had been sent away to Cosworth Engineering, who made a highly sought after revision of the engine, with a new head and fuel injection. The loyalist crowd was very pleased, the car was maintaining the E-Type spirit, and became an instant classic. In 1972, the Mark XI-cars saw another revision, this time maintaining only the chassis, while every other body panel was changed. It was styled in the contemporary angular theme that Pininfarina had developed for the Fiat 130 Coupe. It was named the Jaguar Mark XII and Daimler Double Six respectively. Engines provided was the 3.5-litre V8 and the new V12, though the Daimler came with the V12 only. Also In 1972, two years after its debut, the Range Rover became available as a four-door. With it came the option of the P8’s bigger 4.5-litre V8.
In 1972, a re-bodied Triumph Dolomite debuted with an angular and contemporary design by Michelotti, as a stop-gap measure until a replacement could be made. In the meantime, the upcoming A-car was developed, slightly smaller than the stillborn SD2-project, but with better packaging and style. In 1974, the Triumph and Rover medium-sized cars were replaced by the new B-car, named the Triumph Renown and Rover Sterling respectively. The Renown was given an angular, racy and somewhat provocative design, styled by William Towns, though he succeeded in giving the estate version a remarkably beautiful look. It came to be regarded as the most elegant estate car in the market. The Sterling was an in-house design by David Bache, similar to the stillborn P10 and SD1-projects, but somewhat smaller in size, with a fastback, slightly reminiscent of the Ferrari Daytona. For the Rover, a new five-link rear suspension was developed, giving the car unprecedented ride and comfort. The cars were powered by the new range of sixes and the Rover V8.
In the 1960s, Land Rover had almost single-handedly cornered the word market for off-road vehicles, though with time, it had met some fierce competition from other makers, most notably Toyota with its Land Cruiser. In 1973, Land Rover revealed their third line of cars, the Land Rover Discovery, placed in between the Land Rover Series III and the Range Rover. Based off the architecture from the Range Rover, but simplified and with more sturdy looks, it was available in two- and four door form. With that move, Land Rover closed the gap and retained market share and world dominance. Also, in 1973, William Lyons made his final remark on history when the new V12-powered XJ-S was presented. It was considered an abomination and was soon forgotten, more or less left to wither on the vine. In 1975, the new 2+2-seater coupe Triumph Lynx and convertible Triumph Stag was presented, based off the B-car. Complementing the range, the Triumph TR7 emerged in open or closed form on a shortened platform. It received Michelottis last design for Triumph, with an angular and wedge-shaped profile. Though, as it was done by an Italian, it actually had some flair.
1975 seemed to be a good year for Jaguar, when they finally revealed the E-type replacement, called the F-Type. Equipped with a stunning and very curvaceous body, penned by Pininfarina, it was hailed around the world as the it thing to have, from Bristol to Beijing. Based off the new TR7 chassis, but with Jaguars independent rear suspension and tweaked handling, it was unilaterally deemed a true and worthy successor. It was powered by the newly developed straight sixes, though for weight-reasons and handling, the V12 never made it into the F-type. At the same time, the XJ6 Series III arrived, refreshed by Pininfarina. A two-door coupe was considered, but never made it into production due to some problems with sealing the frameless windows.
The new A-car arrived in 1976 as the Triumph Vitesse. Powered by the slant four and the new line of small sixes, it proved to be a tough contender to the new BMW 3-series. A highly regarded special was the 1.8-litre 16 valve turbo-version, aptly called the Turbo Triumph. On a side-note, enlarged to 2.3-litre specification, that engine was chosen by Colin Chapman when the Turbo Esprit was launched in 1979. In 1977, the old Vitesse-based Spitfire and GT were finally put to an end. On a shortened A-car platform, the new Spitfire two-seater roadster was presented, alongside its fastback stable mate, the Triumph Firefly. Both cars received Italian designs, the Spitfire a rounded form by ItalDesign, the Firefly was provided a more angular design by Bertone. In 1978, both the Renown and Sterling received a minor face-lift, to be completely replaced in the early ’80s. With the virtual assault of the Spitfire, Firefly, Lynx, Stag, TR7 and E-Type, British Standard now had completely reworked their entire sports-car line in just a couple of years. At Abingdon, few people mourned the loss of the poorly updated Midget and MGB, when BMC killed off their sports car line and left that sector entirely.
Because of British Standard’s recent successes in the seventies, there was plenty of money at hand. A considerable amount was spent on quality improvements, updated productional processes, facilities and factories. The workers at British Standard were the best paid workers in the industry, and that made for some very happy people. Considering that the rest of the industry was plagued by strikes and unrest, British Standard made the decade without any significant troubles, actually coming out of it a better and stronger company than before. When Donald Stokes retired as managing director in 1979, he thanked the workforce, appraising their sense of loyalty and craftsmanship. ‘I can now leave at peace, knowing that British Standard really is on par with the best of them. Our joint efforts have finally proved that we are the Standard of the world’. And time seemed to prove him right. Contemporary road tests revealed that British Standard actually surpassed the quality ratings of Mercedes-Benz. A test between the Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9 and the Jaguar XJ12 6.0 HE dethroned the Mercedes-Benz and declared the Jaguar ‘The Best Car in the World.’
To save British heritage and get some insight in true craftsmanship, British Standard bought the debt-ridden Aston Martin company in 1974. In 1977, Daimler revealed the new D-car, replacing its Empress-line. Called the Daimler Conquest, it was a spectacularly slab-sided, angular and brick-like car, penned by William Towns. It proved to be the car of choice for dictators and rock stars alike, in the same league as the Mercedes 600. It was made in small numbers at Newport Pagnell, continuing the Aston Martin tradition of hand-made bespoke vehicles. In 1979 and with the help of Aston Martin, the Alvis TH21 was revealed to an unknowing and very surprised public. Featuring the trademarked folded-paper design of William Towns, it was equipped by a mid-engined Aston Martin twin-turbo V8. With 600bhp, it virtually crushed the contemporary Lamborghini and Ferrari competition.
In 1979, just in time for the Mercedes W126 launch, Jaguar and Rover presented their new range of C-cars, replacing the XJ6 and P8 respectively. Code-named CJ40, the new Jaguar XJ6 was styled in-house, with some consulting done by Pininfarina. The cars were offered with the sixes and V12s, with the 4.5-litre Rover V8 in between. The Rover Sovereign continued the brutal-looking style of its predecessor the P8, now penned by the new chief of design Martin Smith. Smith actually made a sort of fashion-statement with the new Sovereign, making its trademarked creases a household item around the industry.
As the new Alvis had gone up-market, and mid-engined cars had no direct place in the Rover line-up, The Alvis TG 21 was replaced in 1981 by the conventionally engineered Rover Sportsman, based off the C-car platform. It was a very sleek and elegant two-door hardtop coupe with frame-less windows. A full four-seater, the Sportsman seemed to be forever benchmarked in the magazines against the Mercedes S-Class Coupe. Alongside the Sportsman, a wedge-shaped four-seater convertible emerged with a highly original retractable hardtop. It was based off Chris Humberstone’s show car design, the Rapport Forté. Productionalized and based off the C-car, it entered the market in 1981 as the Jaguar X-Type, thus ending the eight year tenure of the unlucky XJ-S.
As Mercedes-Benz now clearly was the main arch-rival to the British Standard portfolio, from the launch of the CJ40 and onwards, British Standard now managed to synchronize every subsequent launch with the Mercedes line-up, not letting the competition get ahead. In 1981, after more than a decade of decline, British Standard finally bought out the Quandt family and acquired the more or less bankrupt BMW. As it happened, British Standard had replaced BMW in the market, and thus the powers at be felt more or less obliged to take the responsibility and try to save the failing company. There were also some hopes of reviving BMW’s dormant line of motorcycles, to complement the Triumph marque around the world.
The new managing director and chairman of British Standard John Egan stated: “We are feeling a responsibility to the fatherland. After all, the car is a German invention.”