History : Project Gimbal

Keith Adams unearths another fascinating might-have-been from his BL files. Here is the story of Project Gimbal, a feasibility study into a collaboration with General Motors.

This document spells out the pros and cons of a Joint Venture with the American giant. How would it have worked, how could the model ranges and factories have been integrated? Read on…

Dealing with the General

In 1977 and ’78, BL management was feverishly working towards developing a new Joint Venture with a major manufacturer in order to secure its future survival. We already know lots about the potential deals with Renault and PSA (specifically, Chrysler Europe), which you can read all about in the articles at the following links.

However, many other manufacturers were seriously considered and – most intriguingly of all – these included General Motors’ British arm, Vauxhall. The choice of GM for detailed examination stemmed from the analysis contained within BL’s Business and Planning Board paper, Collaboration – Possible Partners for BL Cars, published in 1977.

In a nutshell, the paper concluded that the most suitable partner for BL would be Honda, as it would allow the British company to retain substantial control over the Joint Venture. Next best choice was Mitsubishi, although with the proviso of positive results from further research, and the results of any initial talks that were undertaken.

Project Gimbal: Moving to a bigger carmaker

The reason for favouring the Japanese companies was that BL thought that it could remain in the driving seat of any Joint Venture. Whether this proved to be the case with Honda is open to debate, but this was clearly the company’s preferred option instead of getting into bed with a larger manufacturer, which would likely consume BL.

The first choice in this category was General Motors and, in the document spelling out Project Gimbal, the reasons were laid out succinctly:

  • GM had very strong financial and technical resources
  • Vauxhall’s model range complemented BL’s better than any rival manufacturer. ‘GM’s small-sector competitor for the Metro (LC8) is not planned for launch before 1982,’ the document said. 
  • GM was significantly weaker in Europe than North America and ‘would potentially welcome a means of strengthening its position.’

In 1977, GM was easily the world’s largest carmaker, with 7.05m built by 797,000 employees worldwide. Its model range – globally – encompassed cars, off-roaders, commercial vehicles, trucks, buses, railway locomotives, construction equipment, household appliances, electrical and electronic equipment, automatic transmissions and braking systems. No wonder BL was worried about the ramifications of a potential tie-up.

The state of play at Opel and Vauxhall

In 1977, Opel built more than 900,000 cars and held a 19% share of the German market. According to the Project Gimbal documentation, ‘Opel’s reputation has been based on conservatively-engineered, well-styled products that have retained a strong following on the German market.’ It was considered a relatively-profitable operation at the time across its two major car plants.

Vauxhall was less successful – with 93,237 cars sold in the UK for a 9.1% share of the market, the document summed-up: ‘Since the 1960s, Vauxhall has offered a succession of indifferent products, lacking the styling and engineering flair of its Opel counterparts.’

However, it was on the up in 1977 – since 1975 and the introduction of the Chevette and Cavalier, Vauxhall had been rebuilding its market share in the UK. Also, a significant stage in GM’s integration of its car operations took place in 1976, when imports of the Cavalier commenced followed by UK production the following year. The Opelisation of the UK model range was ramping up, with the arrival of the Carlton and Royale, which were both imports.

Project Gimbal: Why would GM want to work with BL?

Project Gimbal: The Austin Metro, due in 1980, would have given GM an earlier entry into the supermini market than it would have with the Corsa/Nova in 1982.
The Austin Metro, due for launch in 1980, would have given GM an earlier entry into the supermini market than it would have with the Corsa/Nova in 1982

BL management assumed that GM would be keen to join forces because of its weakness in European markets. It lagged behind Ford and, according to BL’s numbers, a combined GM/BL alliance would become Europe’s largest car company.

At the time of the Gimbal project, GM was alone among the volume players in not offering a supermini. Although the Chevette was priced and marketed as a supermini rival, it never really fulfilled this role – and it wouldn’t be until the arrival of the Corsa/Nova in 1982 that this situation would be reversed.

There were also ongoing concerned about the size of GM in the USA. The Federal Trade Commission’s enquiry into the activities of US carmakers was underway and, at the time Project Gimbal was being drafted, there were fears of a recommendation to break up GM – and a strong European manufacturing arm would be more likely to survive being separated.

How would the dealers integrate?

1970s Vauxhall dealer
(Picture: Picador Vauxhall)

In the UK, how the GM/BL model range would be sold was cause for much debate. Given that there would be considerable model overlap, and much in the way of rationalisation that needed doing, it was interesting that BL was considering repeating many of the mistakes it had made in the past. It said: ‘There would be potential for the retention of marque names and for marketing products in competition with those from other GM divisions.’

And that meant a quick move to a two-franchise operation, incorporating selected Opel dealers into the existing Vauxhall and BL networks. In Germany, Opel would retain the single network, with BL discontinuing its dealers there. In the rest of the world, each franchise would be individually chosen, with the stronger marque retaining the dealer network.

In the USA, the divisional approach would result in ‘significant’ opportunities for BL. For example, Jaguar could be sold by the Pontiac Division in competition to Cadillac; the Triumph TR7 by Oldsmobile in competition to the Chevrolet Corvette. The existing BL network in the USA would take a long time time to run down.

How would the model ranges integrate?

Small cars

The Metro (LC8) would be sold throughout Europe by all networks. Badging as an Opel and selective use of upmarket trim/performance packs would be used to give identity to different network offerings.

Medium Sector

In the short term, BL has a significant product weakness in the UK, due to the lack of a strong medium-sector competitor for the Ford Cortina. A quick move to a two-franchise GM/BL sales operation in the UK gives a potential means of overcoming this weakness by the offering of a rebadged Opel Ascona as a supplementary model to the Morris Marina.

This interim range could continue until 1981/82 when a new medium front-wheel-drive model, probably based on GM designs with Leyland power units could be introduced to replace the Marina. Allegro would be replaced in 1980/81 by versions of the new GM T Car.

To give BL the medium products it needs as soon as possible, it would be desirable to offer versions of both new GM FWD cars (T and U Car replacements – Astra Mk1 and Cavalier Mk2) through the BL  network in the UK. Depending on available components, and the proposed bodystyle offerings, it might be possible to:

  • Offer the GM T Car with an A-Series engine
  • Offer the GM U Car with an O-Series engine
  • Engineer unique sheet-metal for BL-badged models
  • Offer unique BL derivatives (such as three-door/five-door alongside Opel estate)

The rationalisation of the real-wheel-drive Chevette production to Ellesmere Port could go ahead and the Chevette remain as a unique Vauxhall UK offering. This range would be developed as a sports/coupe/pickup/Recreational Vehicle (RV) range alongside the GM T Car versions.

Large/executive sector

In the large sector, the Princess and Carlton/Rekord are aimed at similar market sectors, with the Carlton/Rekord offering a newer, stronger product. A potentially attractive means of overcoming a direct product clash in this sector, giving an incremental model, would be the assembly of the front-wheel-drive GM X Car (below) to replace the Princess, possibly using O-Series engines.

The GM X Car was very similar to the Princess in size and configuration, as well as being significantly lighter. In the long term, both FWD and RWD cars could stay in the BL-GM range as competing model lines.

The Vauxhall Royale/Opel Senator and Rover SD1 are also aimed at similar sectors, though very different in concept. A separate network approach could allow both to remain in the range, competing internally. Subsequent plans would develop component or body commonality – this would be a long-term exercise as both models are relatively recent.

Luxury sports

Jaguar and sports products could be franchised by one of the combined GM/BL networks throughout Europe according to market conditions, and offered as ‘captive’ imports by GM US. As indicated in the medium sector review, the RWD T Car platform might potentially be developed for sports/RV applications as the mainstream family car business is taken over by FWD versions.


The 4×4 ranges of BL and GM are largely complementary. Land Rover’s major strengths lie in this the market for commercial and military 4×4 vehicles, whereas GM 4×4 vehicles are aimed more at the recreation market. The potential for a combined 4×4 range using the individual strengths of BL and GM in this field would be considerable. In addition, the Land Rover offers a product that could be marketed alongside the GM BTV (below) as a joint range for markets in developing countries.


Keith Adams


  1. another very interesting article, i drive a 1992 rover 216 cabriolet, registered on 15th april 1992, trying to find development history to launch and cant find anything of use

  2. Interesting, but would GM, whose fortunes were on the up in Britain in the late seventies, really want to join up with an ailing British Leyland. Also I can imagine the unions in British Leyland and the government of the day refusing this sort of deal as it could lead to heavy job losses.

    • The GM tie up was the brain child of Michael Edwards and is detailed in his “Back from the Brink” memoirs. He found a willing accomplice in the form of local Vauxhall management, however GM Europe/US had no appetite for it at all, preferring to press on with consolidating its own European business and effectively killing Vauxhall in all but name.

      • It really is hard to see what was in this for GM. And would anybody have really wanted a BL version of the Astra with an A series engine or Cavalier with O series rather than the real thing with modern Family 1 / 2 power units?

  3. That sounds like a much more comprehensive deal than what happened with Honda, effectively, BL’s volume car division (apart from the Metro) would end up like one of the VW subsidiaries (Skoda and Seat) with little real engineering independence, but rather rebodying group platforms.

    While the Metro would give Opel a supermini 2 years earlier, it would be completely different from the rest of their rwd range. Presumably they’s still replace it with something akin to the Corsa/Nova during the 80s anyway?

  4. It would have potentially given the Metro a suitable diesel assuming the Nova/Astra’s Isuzu-sourced diesels (possibly adapted to a 3-cylinder) or even the Scamp prototype’s Viva-based diesel engines could have been made to fit.

    The trouble with Project Gimbal is BL would effectively share a similar fate to Saab and still potentially be sold off to PSA if it manages to survive.

      • Am referring to the mk1 Austin Metro, not the later R6 Metro/100 that featured the 1.4-1.5 PSA TUD diesels.

        AFAIK the only diesels considered for the mk1 Austin Metro, were the 993cc Daihatsu C-Series 3-cylinder turbodiesel used in the Daihatsu Charade (G11/G100) or a 1.5 version of the 1.8 3-cylinder VM Motori HR392 used in the Alfa Romeo 33 (saw the latter on a forum a while back).

    • The trouble is the Metro was really a parts bin lash-up hung around Mini/Allegro mechanicals including the A Series with transmission in sump. Installing a modern powertrain with end on transmission would have required major re-engineering along the lines of the 1990 R6. Would GM really have wanted to engage with this when their own contemporary engineered super-mini was only a couple of years down the road? Another quick and dirty Chevette facelift was all they needed to mark time.

  5. Very interesting, but bearing in mind what GM did to Saab and others, I’m glad it didn’t come to pass. Can’t help thinking that Michael Edwardes’ ‘Dovetail’ plan to merge BL with the remains of Chrysler UK would’ve been the ideal scenario.

  6. I remember suggesting a “what if” merger between BL & Chrysler UK a few years ago, which didn’t impress much.

    My idea was to replace the Allegro with the Horizon, & Maxi & Marina with the Alpine, both re-engined with BL units to avoid using the Simca engines.

    • In principal E Series (if it could be made to fit) height may have been an issue but width wise you might even be able to fit in an E6, and without doubt powered Horizon / Alpine range would have been very desirable line up in the 70s for BL. But I do not think it could ever have been a commercial or a political reality.

      The real world discussions between BL / Chrysler or in reality BL was represented by HMG at the table came about in I think 1975 when Chrysler was threatening to pull out of the UK unless they received assistance from the UK Government in line with BL’s support. Had the deal not been brokered between HMG and Chrysler then HMG would either have had to face the closure of Chrysler UK or nationalise it, and nationalising it would have made it part of BL.

      At the time Simca was still profitable and of interest to Chrysler (they also had had a longer and much more successful relationship with Simca) so it’s unlikely Chrysler would have put Simca on the table or licensed the Alpine to BL, the Horizon at that time was still planned to use Chryslers own new FWD platform, it was some 1 to 2 years later that it was decided to adopt a shortened Alpine platform for the European version in the interests of saving costs; again this was unlikely to have been licensed to BL. Whilst everything has its price, it’s hard to imagine the cash strapped UK Government of 1975 being willing let alone politically able to spend UK Tax payers money buying in foreign technology.

      So the reality would have been the following; HMG would have gifted the Chrysler UK factories (Dunstable, Linwood, Ryton and Stoke – and one thing BL did not need was more factories) and the design centre at Whitley which was world class along with the UK workforce. Products would certainly not have been world class, the Arrow, Spacevan and Imp should have pensioned off at the start of the decade, the Avenger which existed in porotype Mk2 form was adequate but its styling had aged badly and really needed a full reskin, that left the Commando Truck which was the most modern UK light truck cab at the time.

      Considering this, you can see why the UK Government gave Chrysler enough money to stay in the UK, long enough I think they hoped till they got the income from North Sea Oil to enable them restructure UK industry, however UK economic policy was to take a redirection first from the IMF and then with the change of Government in 1979.

    • Even second time around when Rover were looking for tie-ups and Daimler(Mercedes) were looking rid of them.
      Imagine a Roverised Chrysler 300.

      A new P5? Or would it sink like the Lancia Thema rebadge did?

  7. I couldn’t imagine a tie up between British Leyland and Chrysler being successful, as both were ailing companies in the late seventies and Chrysler wanted to withdraw from Europe due to mounting losses. However, there was some common ground as both Chrysler and British Leyland were keen on fwd and hatchbacks, and Chrysler would have welcomed British Leyland’s expertise on developing executive cars as their 180/ 2 Litre series had bombed.

    • They were keen in France (Simca) for FWD, but they were not part of the deal, the UK (Roots) end favoured RWD because that is what the fleet market wanted. Had the Alpine been developed as first conceived in the UK it would have been like the SD2, using a stretched Avenger Estate platform.

      In 75 when it was discussed, UK engineering team was pretty much all but finished with work, with the Avenger face lift finished. Although styling in the UK was working on what became the Tagora, the French had engineered the Alpine and were working with Detroit on the Horizon, there was no expectation of the UK being given the executive car to engineer.

      However the cash injection gave them the Sunbeam and Dodge 50 series (US Van Cab, converted to European light truck) as well as Commando and Spacevan face lifts. After that many got the opportunity to move to BL as Edwards got M series cars underway. later followed by styling when Roy Axe moved to BL a few years later.

    • I agree a BL/Chrysler operation would have had limited (if any?) success. Yes, the Chrysler 180/2L were not seen in any great numbers. A shame – my Uncle had a 180 which was nice until it crashed & was written off. He replaced it with a 2 Litre, but then changed to a Sceptre.

      • @ Hilton D, Chrysler’s market share in Britain was fairly consistent at 8-9%, but Leyland would have had to work with a company that was one of Britain’s biggest loss makers in the late seventies, and Chrysler were preparing to jump ship because of this. Somehow a merger would have led to an even bigger lame duck, although using the Horizon with Leyland engines as a replacement for the Allegro and the Metro replacing the Sunbeam in 1980 would have been interesting.

    • Chrysler needed government warrants to stay alive by 1979/80 and Lee Iaccoca managed to deliver. Without the government help Chrysler was going the way of the Dodo to bankruptcy.

  8. Perhaps using Horizon and Alpine would’ve given Axe time to sort out Maestro and Montego’s styling…?

    • It could have given Leyland breathing space if both cars replaced the Allegro and the Marina, and possibly the Maxi, which was getting old by 1978. However, a merger between two ailing corporations would have seen huge job losses on both sides, and Chrysler weren’t known for the quality of their products, so it would have done little to lift the reputation of British Leyland. The best move was always the tie up with Honda, which generated three generations of reliable cars and helped stave off closure.

  9. I think British Leyland ultimately got the best deal with Honda. A merger of BL and Chrysler Europe would have been a suicide pact between two terminally ill motoring failed states. Mr Edwards made the right decision.

    • @ Mark, Chrysler’s woes in Europe were equally bad in America. Pulling out of Europe did little to stop Chrysler’s decline in America, where a poor product range and falling market share saw them flirt with bankruptcy in 1980, and only massive cost cutting, a government bailout and the K range of cars saved them from collapse.

  10. Ideally BL should have struck a deal with Nissan given the latter’s history with Austin / BMC instead of Honda as well as possibly collaborate with Saab on the Slant-Four / V8 engine family.

  11. Another benefit to a BL deal with Nissan, would be the fact that the Nissan CG and CR engines used in Micras can be easily fitted into Minis with the former even featuring similar displacements to the 998-1275cc A-Series engine and both Nissan units even being technically considered to be distant relatives to the latter.

    • A co-operation might have helped Nissan to develop their FWD range in the 1980s, as the Cherry was their only one until the FWD Sunny was launched in 1982.

      • Another plus would be Nissan learning how to make their cars during that period more stylish, along with Infiniti benefiting from Rover.

        BL with Nissan’s help could have developed RWD replacements for the MG Midget, MG MGB / Triumph TR7, Rover SD1 and more (as opposed to the FWD Honda route).

        That said, find it difficult to envision a Nissan-derived analogue to the Acclaim and SD3. R6 and R3 are a bit easier to envision though perhaps it could have been butterflied away in favour of AR6, which was revealed a while to also been planned to form the basis of Maestro (AR7) and Montego replacements.

        While Minki-I would have been more viable with 55-101 hp 998-1348cc Nissan CG engines as opposed to a 973cc 3-cylinder K-Series engine (featuring a displacement range of 660cc or 800cc in the Spiritual concept to a hypothetical 1249cc unit).

        A Micra K11-based Metro would be cynical move compared to R6, R6X or AR6 with the Micra K11 like the R6 also featuring the 1.5 TUD diesel, yet was also available as a 4-door saloon and 5-door estate in certain markets.

        • Nissan Datsun was a much bigger brand in Britain in the early eighties than Honda, who only had two ranges of cars, and had developed a reputation for reasonably priced, very reliable cars. Yet would British Leyland be prepared to work with a company that had savaged their market share, or Nissan be prepared to take on a company with such serious problems. Honda probably saw the collaboration with British Leyland as a way of gaining more presence in Britain, which was low relative to Nissan in 1981.

          • It would largely be dependent on the historical ties between Austin/BMC and Nissan Datsun (as well as both companies allegedly having parts that are pretty much interchangeable with each other), from the pre-war 7-derived Datsuns to the the post-war generosity of Austin helping Nissan recover being repaid and whatever positive sentiments the people at Nissan have towards Austin / BL.

            There are some who argue that Nissan in some respects can be described as a continuation of Austin / BMC, with some viewing the K11 Micra as a more suitable Mini replacement then the BMW Mini.

            Whether a collaboration with Nissan would have succeeded is another matter though BL in better circumstances was capable of retaining some degree of independence even when collaborating (via AR6 forming the basis of Maestro/Montego replacements in place of R3/R8) with the exception of a proper RWD MGB/TR and Rover SD1 / Bravo replacements, where Nissan’s offerings would form a more suitable basis as opposed to the Legend-based Rover 800.

            With the rise of the Mazda MX-5, Nissan could even directly draw upon BL to help develop a suitable front-engined RWD challenger instead of the Metro-derived MGF/TF.

          • Meant to say – BL in better circumstances was capable of retaining some degree of independence even when collaborating with Honda

      • Funny enough it also seems there was a turbo kit for the Nissan CG engine that was apparently intended originally for the Japanese market Nissan Cube, which further warrants a comparison with the 1.4 K-Series Turbo prototype engine planned in the Metro SP.

  12. That Bedford Harimau appears to be a Viva based Basic Utility Vehicle (see Wkipedia) assembled in at least 6 countries. Other manufacturers such as Citroen, VW and Toyota have had a go with similar vehicles. Might be worth an article at some point.

  13. Started reading this and not finished but all I can say is what a dumb idea. First of all GM ran into financial problems later on similar to what BL suffered. And the idea of using an A series engine in a GM car sounds insane because the old BLMC was dealing with the hard truth of having to modify all their cars to emission controls for the US market, which all car makers had to comply with whether imported or domestic. But BLMC with their own financial issues were left with Jag/Rover/TR in the US in the mid 1970s and by 1980/81 TR was no more. Anyway the Japanese were eating BL’s lunch beginning in 1970 with the Datsun 240 Z sports car. The Honda Civic arrived in the US in 1973 just in time to deal with the gas crisis and never looked back. Other successful Japan imports were Toyota, Mazda and Subaru. GM was making a lot of crappy cars in addition to some that were successful in the US. But GM never was able to go head to head with the less expensive and better made Japanese cars.

  14. Had BL merged the company’s world-beating prowess at styling with quality equal to Honda, it would not have needed a merger to survive. All BL customers wanted to go with their beautiful cars was reliability dependability and low maintenance. This is where BL failed. How many engines had head gasket issues? How many cars were poorly assembled?
    Truth is BL didn’t even care enough to act on the warranty data that detailed exactly where the problems were and fix them.

  15. Struggling to see what GM would gain from this. If Vauxhall/Opel were an independent company then perhaps a tie up would have been useful, but with the size and spread of GM, they already had massive scale. The FWD J car was also produced in the US, Australia and Japan for example.

    The 1981 Cavalier was an instant success with its state of the art engines, sticking A and O series engines in it would have created an inferior product.

    • I agree with Maestrowoff, GM was coming good in Europe and the decline of Vauxhall had been reversed with the Cavalier and Chevette. Would GM really want to get into bed with Leyland and all its problems and have an A series powered Cavalier, although a Maestro with the Family 2 engines would have been a nice proposition. Possibly the only part GM would have been interested in would be Land Rover, where both companies experience with four wheel drive vehicles would have been beneficial.

  16. To expand on the Nissan-BMC idea on before through a maintaining of relations established with brief involvement between Nissan and Austin in the 1950s.

    Nissan during the 1960s Nissan were in fierce competition with Toyota and engaged in some questionable measures to catch up like buying Prince. While Toyota sought to complement their range, eventually steam-rolling ahead in the sales charts and gaining a profitable foothold in the Kei segment when it acquired a stake in Daihatsu.

    Meanwhile during that time BMC via Innocenti’s Mini-Mini later 750 projects (that also included a 500cc twin-cylinder Microvan) were developing what became 9X and X10, the latter two essentially inheriting the gearbox and 750-1000 modular engine.

    Whereas it is questionable if BMC could ever afford to bring 9X and 10X into production instead of an updated rebodied Mini and ADO16. Maybe Nissan and BMC could establish its own version of Renault and Peugeot’s Française de Mécanique joint-venture?

    Nissan gains a foothold in the Kei segment by adopting and fronting half the costs of the BMC / Innocenti projects, as its more modern production tooling would allow the required tighter tolerances of the DX modular engine to be met.

    BMC in turn gains a secure way to replace their updated Mini and ADO16 with use of clean-sheet designs after a short grace and proving period in Nissan’s domestic market as well as the possible use of Nissan’s NAPS emissions control system to allow BMC’s engines to remain in the North American market.

    Unlike the relationship between Peugeot and Renault, where was a greater degree of compatibility with Nissan and BMC were one to look at their FWD cars and engines.

  17. Partnering up with GM would have led to the demise of BL in practical terms. Possibly within a decade. The good bits would have been consolidated – probably into one marque (Rover? Triumph?), and then as GM’s own products shared ever more with the replacement ranges that came under BL’s umbrella the inevitable conclusion would be that there was no point in continuing with two similar, intertwined, ranges and dealer networks. Whichever was the poorer selling of the two (and in the UK it’s not guaranteed that would have been BL – it could easily have been Vauxhall) would have been jettisoned in much the same way that PSA consolidated what they inherited from Chrysler into Talbot, then quickly killed it off. The conclusion of it all could have been the Triumph marque continuing in the UK, selling rebadged versions of Opel’s designs.

    • @ John Shuttleworth, completely agree, it’s likely either British Leyland ot Vauxhall could have been axed with enormous repercussions for the British car industry. All GM would have been interested in would have been Land Rover and Jaguar, as these would have formed their luxury division, and the rest of British Leyland would have gone, although possibly the new range of trucks could have replaced the ageing Bedford range.
      It was for the best, both companies were kept apart and Vauxhall enjoyed its revival building Opel based cars and British Leyland developed an alliance with Honda.

      • In the mid 1980s GM wanted to buy Leyand & Land Rover, partially because Bedford hadn’t won an important MOD contract for lorries.

  18. GM had already and rightly realised that the way to success in Europe was to rationalise their Vauxhall and Opel brands around Opel products, the proof of that being their massively successful FWD cars from around 1980 onward. Apart from accessing prestige brands like Jaguar and Land/Range Rover (incidentally the only parts of BL Cars that Michael Edwardes thought worth saving) I don’t see how merging with BL Cars would have benefitted GM at that stage.

  19. GM probably wouldn’t want the massive liability of taking on British Leyland just as Vauxhall was recovering from an uncertain period in the seventies.After 1980, Vauxhall was producing a popular range of Opel based cars that had probably saved their British factories and didn’t need any tie ups with another manufacturer. Eventually when GM wanted another manufacturer, they took over Saab, though with very mixed results that led to the closure of Saab.

  20. I can see how it _might_ have worked.

    [1] Bedford and Leyland collaborate on designing a mid-range van to replace the lacklustre CF and the terminally-obsolete Sherpa series. Entry-level ‘light’ models to use FWD technology from the Cavalier, bigger models RWD with the Opel Cam-in-Head engine and a 5-speed ZF gearbox.

    [2] ‘Metro’ to have been reworked to be a supermini rather than a mini; 3- and 5-door models based on a cut-down FWD Astra platform.

    [3] a “Poverty spec” van based on the RWD Chevanne with an A-series lump. Better than a Maestro van for sure!

    [4] a Collaborative ‘small hatchback’ like the Astra but using either the GM transverse-OHC engine and transmission or the E-series [this latter being reworked to have belt-driven OHC, crossflow porting etc].

    [5] A mid-range RWD car [Montego sized] using the 4-cylinder GM CiH engine or the Cavalier 1.8-2.0 OHC lump and transmission as used in the Carlton.

    [6] A SD1-replacement based on the RWD GM Senator platform – and moving with the times to use the Omega platform. Would have been a lot better than the Honda-platform which blighted the 800. Rover could have donated the V8 – suitably reworked to be OHC and with Bosch fuel-injection as standard – back to GM-Europe [remember it started off with Buick – a GM subsidiary!] to be fitted in the top-of-the-range Senators/Omegas. Call it the “Diplomat” for some retro-kudos in its homeland.

    So yes there were possibilities. Could there also have been a sporty ‘Triumph’ based on a shortened version of the Senator/Monza platform? Less plush, more aggressively styled/suspended, with the 200BHP 24V straight-six. Might have sold well in the US against the ‘sportier’ Mercedes coupes that were popular there in the 70s and 80s?

  21. The main area for collaboration I could see, which Mowog has mentioned in a really good post, is on commercial vehicles, where both the Bedford and Leyland range of medium sized vans were lagging behind the Transit, and also the antique HA van was still around in the early eighties. Replacing the CF, itself a decent enough van, and the underpeforming Sherpa with a new Opel engined van and more modern styling could have been a big success. Also the Chevanne could have acted as a replacement for the dated Marina based vans with Opel CIH engines until being replaced in 1983 by the Astramax. This would have avoided the cost of creating a Maestro based van and been a much better product.

  22. GM did prove to be interested in the commercial arm, but only because it had Land Rover under it’s wing. If the Westland debacle hadn’t happened they eould have got their hands on it.

  23. I’ve always found it odd why the HA van, which was introduced the same time as the HA Viva, didn’t receive an update with each new Viva, as the van would have received better engines, a bigger payload and much more modern styling. Maybe this could have removed the need to develop the Chevanne and the Bedford HC could have stayed in production until the Astramax was launched in 1983. Also the HC’s engine bay would have been able to take a bigger engine like a 1.8 slant four or an Opel 1.6.

  24. Also a one off Viva HA version was the Bedford badged “Beagle” camper van, converted by Martin Walter bodyworks I believe.

  25. Talks between General Motors and parts of British Leyland did continue over the course of the 1980s, from the World Van project to replace both the Bedford CF and Leyland Sherpa, possibility of merger between Bedford and Leyland as well as lastly a thwarted takeover of Jaguar.

    The latter likely entailing a smaller Carlton/Senator based Jaguar XJ80 known as “Jersey Junior”, an XJ40-derived Cadillac (aka Cadillaguar) and a new V12 from a pair of GM X 60-degree V6s as seen in the 1989 Cadillac Solitaire concept.


    • That’s really interesting. Ironic that despite GM making a shambles of replacing the CF, the Bedford/Vauxhall Luton van plant still exists, when LDV and the Transit plant in Southampton are long gone.

      Also had no idea Geoff Lawson (who was taken far too soon) was ex Vauxhall/Bedford, and his last job before joining Jaguar was as the chief designer at Bedford Trucks. Quite a leap from designing vans and trucks, to the XJ220 and XK8!

      • Although have nothing concrete it is my understanding the Super Van would not be entirely an Isuzu product. Not entirely sure what content if any Leyland was to contribute towards it although it appeared around the time of the LDV 201 and 202 project, only that Super Van had it gone ahead would negate the existence of the Leyland DAF 200 Series.

        From the link below near the end of the Bedford CF article, it says the World Van project originally began as a planned CG Eurovan from the early-1980s for introduction in the late-1980s, which was undermined due to lack of money and evolved into a proposed joint venture with Leyland as a replacement for both the CF2 and the Sherpa. Only for that to also be undermined due to government mismanagement and meddling, even messing up a planned merger between Leyland Trucks and Bedford.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.