Ian Nicholls, AROnline‘s historian-in-residence, tells the Rover-Triumph story, and their part in the downfall of the British motor industry.
Here, in the seventh part, Rover and Triumph continue their expansion, and the exciting new Triumph 1300 goes on sale.
The story of Rover and Triumph: V8 future arrives
In January 1965 Rover successfully completed negotiations with General Motors to buy the rights to manufacture the ex-Buick V8. In order to assist in adapting an American design to British production methods, William Martin-Hurst persuaded Buick’s Chief Engine Designer, Joe Turley, who was 18 months from retirement, to come over to Solihull to live. Turley’s help was invaluable, but it would be 1967 before Rover produced a V8-engined car for sale.
In February 1965, the Leyland Motor Corporation announced that Trevor Webster, Director and General Sales and Service Manager of Leyland Motors, Lancashire, was being appointed Assistant Managing Director.
Trevor Webster would coordinate branches of management at Leyland in the absence of Donald Stokes, whose wide commitments necessitated an increasing amount of travel. Born in 1923, Trevor Webster had joined Leyland in 1938. After wartime service as an Air Engineering Officer in the Fleet Air Arm, he had rejoined Leyland post-war in a sales capacity in London, where he had worked under Donald Stokes.
Bernard Jackman starts to make his mark
On 1 March, Alfred Worster retired as Production Director of the Rover Company but remained a director. He was succeeded as Production Director by Bernard Jackman, who also joined the Board.
On 12 March, Thomas Addison and Jack Plane joined the Board of the Leyland Motor Corporation. They would play prominent roles in the creation of British Leyland.
On the same day, at the Geneva Motor Show, William Martin-Hurst of the Rover Car Company said of its P6 2000 model: ‘We could sell twice as many as we are making now and we are working steadily to expand production. I am delighted with the reception the car has had everywhere in Europe, especially in this cut-throat Swiss market. We have had our troubles with it, of course, but basically, as a motor car, it has brought nothing but praise.’
Rover P6 finally gets up to speed
Rover at last got its act together on the matter of P6 production in 1965, with Solihull producing 20,579 during the year, while Triumph produced 19,087 of its rival 2000. In terms of production and UK sales, the Rover P6 had begun to pull ahead of its Coventry rival, suggesting that the emphasis on high technology advocated by Peter Wilks and his team for the P6, despite its higher retail price, was paying off.
Five days later, Donald Stokes said that Standard-Triumph International had agreed to supply Saab, the Swedish firm with up to 50,000 car engines a year.
The agreement also provided for the joint development and production of a new Triumph car engine to be manufactured at Standard-Triumph’s factory in Coventry. This was further clarification of the deal first brokered in January 1964 between Saab CEO Trygve Holm and Standard-Triumph for exclusive use of the new slant-four overhead camshaft engine. Saab had settled on a 1709cc unit for their forthcoming 99 model.
That March Standard-Triumph announced the TR4A, which was a TR4 with independent rear suspension.
Rover takes over Alvis
On 5 June, it was announced that the Rover Company had made a £2,250,000 bid for Alvis, the military vehicle specialists with motor car and aero-engine interests.
Through the merchant bankers, Schroder Wagg, the company offered one of its 5s. ordinary shares for each Alvis 5 shillings ordinary, and 24 shillings in cash for each Alvis 74 per cent preference share. The takeover was amicable. Rover had been approached by Alvis Chairman and Managing Director John Parkes.
Alvis began in 1919 with the design and development of high-performance sports cars and from the many innovations attributed to the Alvis marque came the company’s first air-cooled aero engine in 1936. After the Second World War, Alvis was commissioned by the Ministry of Defence to design and develop the Saladin armoured car, a contract which had led the company deeply into the production of military hardware.
Total output of the Saladin and its derivatives, the Saracen, Salamander and Stalwart was 4262 vehicles.
Donald Stokes becomes Sir Donald Stokes
In the Queen’s Birthday Honours List announced on 12 June, a knighthood was awarded to Donald Stokes of the Leyland Motor Corporation. Five days after this Rover announced it had poached John Carpenter from Standard-Triumph. He was appointed an Executive Director of the Rover Company. At the same time Alfred Worster resigned from the company’s Board.
The Le Mans 24 hour race took place over the weekend of 19-20 June 1965. The Rover-BRM gas turbine car driven by Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart finished tenth overall, the highest-placed British car.
Standard-Triumph took the Engineering Department’s hack 2000 saloon, registered 6105 KV, to the event. The car was then driven down to Michelotti in Turin. Michelotti had wanted to create a show car out of a used Barb 2000 chassis. The whole episode was then quietly forgotten.
The Rover-Triumph story 1965: Management reshuffles
On 26 July, John Parkes, the Chairman and Managing Director of Alvis, was appointed to the board of the Rover Company. Three days later, A.B. Smith, Director and General Manager of the Rover Company, was appointed to the Board of Alvis.
As Rover’s General Manager since 1962, ‘A.B.’ as he was known throughout the motor industry, had played a big part in Rover’s rapid progress.
Alfred Bernard Smith was born in 1911. He had to leave school at 14 when his father died. To fill in time while waiting for a promised job with a Birmingham export firm he took a job at Rover’s Tyseley factory in 1925 as a stores boy. He was persuaded to stay on when his weekly wage of seven shillings was doubled and he was promoted to the Buying Department. Buying had remained his forte, and he had earned the reputation among component firms of being one of the most astute price negotiators in the business.
Labour unrest in the industry
On 12 August, Alfred Roberts, President of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, announced an inquiry into the causes of strained labour relations and strikes at Jaguar of Coventry and Rover of Solihull. This inquiry would be made by a 12-man joint committee of employers and union leaders.
The fact-finding sub-committee of the Committee on Industrial Relations in the motor manufacturing industry, set up after discussions at the Ministry of Labour, would carry out the inquiry.
However, in spite of this Committee’s efforts, twice as much working time was lost through strikes in the motor industry in the first six months of 1965 as in the corresponding period in 1964. The issue of safety in the workplace was highlighted a fortnight later when two men were injured in an explosion in the Paint Shop of the Rover works at Solihull. The blast damaged a production line and 1000 workers were sent home.
Plans for a new Rover V8 escape into the press
In September, The Times newspaper claimed that claimed that Rover and Alvis were planning a new V8-engined car. Whether they had got wind of the P6BS (above), or just assumed that such a vehicle was a foregone conclusion is not known.
Back in the mid-1950s Alvis had poached Alec Issigonis from BMC to design a new car powered by a new V8-engine designed by Chris Kingham. When the firm’s management baulked at the cost and cancelled the project, Issigonis returned to BMC taking Chris Kingham with him. Alvis continued to manufacture cars using a 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine that had appeared in 1950.
Earlier in 1965, Leyland had announced a major £60 million investment programme. What this entailed for its car subsidiary was revealed on 24 September.
Speke factory plans crystallise
Standard-Triumph International announced that a factory was to be built on the 104-acre site at Speke, Liverpool close to the factory of Standard-Triumph (Liverpool) Limited (Speke No.1). It employed more than 1500 men on the manufacturing and assembly of car bodies.
The first phase would cost £3 million. More than £1 million would be spent during 1966. The first buildings would be for a paint and trim shop and a shop for body manufacture.
George Turnbull said: ‘This is a most significant development for our company and will lift us from our current output rate of 150,000 vehicles a year to the 200,000-a-year category, and with every possibility of expanding beyond this figure, if market conditions require it.’
The second Speke plant had been on hold since 1961, Alec Dick had cut the turf back in March 1960.
Triumph 1300 launched
On 15 October, the company announced a new model, the Triumph 1300. This front-wheel-drive saloon lasted in production until 1970. CAR magazine was so impressed that it nominated the Triumph 1300 as its Car of The Year.
Unlike the contemporary BMC front-wheel-drive range, the new Triumph employed an in-line engine mounted longitudinally on its gearbox. Styling was again by Michelotti, with the intention of creating a family look with the bigger Triumph 2000. It would not go on sale until January 1966.
The intention was to create an upmarket small car. In February 1966 it retailed for £797, while the rival BMC 1100-based Riley Kestrel and Wolseley 1100 sold for £781 and £754 respectively.
Triumph optimistic for the future
At that year’s British Motor Show, the Standard-Triumph PR machine was in full operation. The company claimed that they had sold out their next year’s production of the new, front-wheel-drive Triumph 1300 saloon.
Sir Donald Stokes, Chairman of Standard-Triumph International, said that orders totalling £20 million had been placed by the company’s distributors and dealers in the United Kingdom. It was a PR stunt that would be used again in the aftermath of the launch of the Austin Allegro.
On 22 October, Rover announced its financial results. With £205,000 for the full year’s contribution from Alvis, group pre-tax profits in the year to 31 July 1965 went up about £1,100,000 to £3,636,000.
Rover’s labour relations analysed
Jack Scamp, Chairman, and members of the Motor Industry Joint Labour Council began a two-day inquiry on labour relations at the Rover company beginning on 2 November. Rover, which lost ten per cent of its planned output the previous year through labour disputes, was the first car firm to be investigated.
The team operated out of the George Hotel, Solihull. The unions representing 7,000 Rover workers promised to cooperate. On the first day the team visited the Rover factory at Solihull. Their report was issued on 13 December 1965.
Jack Scamp said the next day: ‘We have received full cooperation from the management, trade unions and shop stewards.’
More than 100 strikes in 1964/65
In the 12 months up to the end of May 1965, there were 101 unofficial strikes at the works, which already had a bad history in spite of efforts by management and unions to get at the root of unofficial action.
The main recommendation of the inquiry was that the management and local union officials should jointly revise the system of works representation and consultation. They found nothing, they said, that common sense and better cooperation could not resolve.
However, neither side had met the formidable challenge presented by the rapid increase of manpower over the previous two and a half years to man the assembly line producing the Rover 2000.
Rapid expansion leads to a skills gap
Expansion had taken place in conditions of intense local demand for labour and the firm had been compelled to take on men with no previous experience in the motor industry or even in engineering. Many of the men had failed to understand the payment systems, there had been high labour turnover, and inexperienced and unsuitable men had been chosen as shop stewards.
Against this background the eight unions representing manual workers had worked independently and had even opposed one another instead of working together. The National Union of Vehicle Builders, with the most members, had recently taken steps, with welcome results, to improve the quality of Shop Stewards and to discipline members who took part in unofficial strikes.
The report recommended that the company should introduce a comprehensive induction programme for new employees and make sure that all workers understood their pay arrangements, the procedure for handling grievances and the system of consultation. The company should also provide accommodation for meetings outside working hours at which Shop Stewards could communicate urgent information and get corporate views.
Union unrest begins to mount
Maintenance work should be identified and carried out more promptly so that pieceworkers’ earnings did not suffer from unnecessary delays. The unions were recommended to improve their internal communications and to work more closely together. The choice of all Shop Stewards should be improved along the lines already adopted by the NUVB.
Edward Richards, the Industrial Relations Director of Rover, said: ‘We shall be approaching the unions as soon as possible to arrange a meeting to discuss the points raised… The sooner we get together the better.’
Moss Evans, Engineering Trade Group Secretary of the Transport Workers Union for the Birmingham area, said: ‘It is a well-balanced and fair report. The recommendations to both management and trade unions are sensible.’