History : The BMC Board Files – the model line-up analysed

In the BMC Board Files, Chris Cowin, author of British Leyland: Chronicle of a car crash, unearths the minutes of BMC’s secret Board meetings and finds that they contain an honest view of the company’s model line-up. Here’s his review of the BMC Board meeting minutes for the 1968-70 period.

It makes for a fascinating read, even if there are a few too many home truths contained within.

Reviewing the BMC Board’s Minutes at Gaydon

The British Leyland board
The BMC Board files: (L to R) Harry Webster, George Turnbull, Donald Stokes and Filmer Paradise

A recent visit to the British Motor Museum at Gaydon gave me the opportunity to review the records of the BMC Board – a body which, within British Leyland, effectively ran the Austin Morris division. BMC continued to exist as a company within British Leyland, but its name was changed to British Leyland (Austin Morris) Limited in August 1969.

This group included in its membership (among others) Donald Stokes (Chair), George Turnbull (Managing Dierctor, Austin Morris), John Barber (Finance), Filmer Paradise (Marketing), Harry Webster (Technical Director, Austin Morris) and Alec Issigonis (Advanced Technical).

The Maxi, Marina, Allegro, Condor (a coupé that would have rivalled the Ford Capri), the Mini-based ADO70 coupé and the 9X Mini were all projects focused on by this group during the period concerned. One needs to read such records with a critical eye – many of the decisions which were apparently taken would later be reversed – but it serves as a useful ‘snapshot in time’.

What the BMC Board was saying

I’ve decided to extract and record a few nuggets of information – a lot of which were a surprise to me at least. More detail (and photos) of the cars and projects referred to can be found elsewhere on AROnline.

This article focuses on product development-related issues, but the Board was also heavily preoccupied by industrial relations problems during this period – a time Donald Stokes would describe as ‘anarchic’.

Maxi (ADO14)

In December 1968 (five months before the launch of the Austin Maxi in April 1969), there was optimism about the ADO14 (Maxi). George Turnbull said a lot of work had been done since September 1968 on improvements. Filmer Paradise said that, apart from the disadvantage of low power, the car is fully acceptable.

Turnbull said the four-door saloon version was being delayed until the end of 1969 by which time it was hoped more power would be available. (This was a reference to the 1750cc version of E-Series engine – that was not, in fact, ready until the end of 1970).

However, in February 1969, Webster reported that the ADO14 gearbox was suspect and Lord Stokes said this was very disturbing as it was vital that this model should be successful. Webster said that the fault in the gearbox was only a matter of detail and ‘if we catch up to last weekend, the gearbox should be alright’. (I’m not sure what that means to be honest!).

Lord Stokes emphasized that nobody must conceal any faults likely to arise on new models and especially in relation to ADO14. Reading between the lines, there was clearly a lot of frustration that problems with the Maxi were left to emerge at a very late stage.

Maxi timeline

In April 1969 – post-launch – Webster reported criticism of the gearbox, engine and styling from the press event in Portugal. He discussed plans for a new gearbox. (In the event, a rod-operated gearbox would be introduced in October 1970, replacing the original troublesome cable-change unit).

Morris 1500 saloon

The later introduction of the four-door saloon was still envisaged, with Turnbull saying that its introduction would help achieve volume targets. The apparent plan to introduce the four-door sometime after the five-door might (one can speculate) explains its near-invisible presence in various publicity films issued at the time of the five-door launch. They were initially hoping for ‘two bites of the cherry’.

There was a discussion about the poor penetration of the fleet market by the Maxi. Paradise said fleet customers were not a focus of the launch.

  • June 1969 – Interim modifications (to reduce harshness etc.) discussed.
  • December 1969 – Need for heated rear window discussed. By December 1969 plans well advanced for facelift. Discussion over whether the revised car should be called Mk2 or Maxi Super (favoured by Paradise). In fact, the revised models were introduced in October 1970 as simply Maxi 1500/Maxi 1750.
  • The four-door saloon appears to drop out of discussion during 1970. This may well be because (one can speculate) the definitive specification of the Morris Marina now included an 1800cc saloon (not originally envisaged) and this would have competed fairly directly with a 1750cc Maxi saloon.

BMC 1100/1300 (ADO16)

There was clearly a serious problem with the Austin America due to inadequate testing (linked to emissions equipment). In December 1968 (eight months after the US launch), problems of ‘evaporative emissions’ were discussed with revised fuel line clips being seen as the answer.

  • In February 1969 Paradise warned the ‘market for the America is about to collapse’ and Stokes said ‘we must have proper prototype testing’.
  • In April 1969 it was discussed that 12,000 Americas had been ‘reworked’ at a cost of £250,000. An additional problem was that the AP automatic transmission (apart from being prone to failure) lacked a ‘P’ position as expected in North America.

It appears the plan to capture a significant chunk of the North American small car market with the America was a victim of inadequate development. In its best year of 1969, 17,000 were sold in the USA (which compares to an astonishing 368,000 VW Beetles).

Also – discussion (February 1969) of upgrading Chile bodyshell production from fibre glass to steel. In July 1970, the facelift (Mk3 1100/1300 of 1971) was approved.

Mini-related projects

In April 1969, ADO20 (the revised Minis introduced in October 1969, above) were under discussion. There was a plan to name the 850/1000 variants Carousel to go along with Clubman and Cooper. (The Climax name was considered and rejected).

At this stage it seems the plan was to keep the Cooper S in the line-up long-term, with the Cooper S Mk3 to have a ‘revised front end’ (the Clubman front presumably). Stokes asked Turnbull to ensure no royalties were to be paid to the Cooper company. (In the event, the Cooper S was left unchanged in October 1969, only being upgraded to the Mk3 bodyshell (round-nosed) in March 1970, with production ending in June 1971).

By May 1970 ways to take cost out of the Mini were being discussed. Paradise was asked to assess the sales impact of reverting to dry cone suspension on the Clubman (which was done shortly after).

New Mini (9X)


In November 1969 the ‘new Mini prototype’ was now ‘in running order’. Webster had driven it and was impressed. In April 1970 Issigonis was asked to prepare a second prototype ‘keeping the length of the vehicle to the same as the existing Mini’.

Stokes requested a paper showing cost improvements, ‘with particular reference to an engine study’. (The high cost of developing the proposed lightweight and compact DX engine intended for 9X would be one reason 9X never reached production).

Mini Coupé (ADO70)

Mini Calypso

This was discussed at length in April 1970. The model was to be based on the ADO20 Mini components and body under-structure. It was reported that Innocenti was keen to develop it and build it. By June 1970, a full-size model in wood had been completed by Michelotti with a prototype car expected by August.

Webster (who was keen on the project) had seen the wood model in Italy and liked it (a prototype of this car is now on display at Gaydon). As an intended Midget replacement, front-wheel drive would have been an issue in the North American market (the main market) which preferred rear-wheel drive. In the event, they just kept on building the existing Midget through to 1979.

Morris Marina (ADO28)

ADO28 Morris Marina

The original launch date target was the October 1970 London Motor Show (Coupé only). By the April 1970 Board meeting it was accepted that the launch would be in April 1971 when both coupé and saloon would be available. The estate and commercial versions were approved for future (1972) production at the June 1969 meeting.

Later (April 1970) Barber queried why no 1.3-litre estate was included in the plans (not, in fact, introduced until 1976).
By March 1970, there was concern at how costs on ADO28 had ballooned from a budgeted £17m to £35m.

Condor (ADO68)

British Leyland Condor

The idea of a coupé to rival the Ford Capri was strongly supported by George Turnbull – and crops up at most of the Board meetings of the period – during which plans changed from a coupé based on ADO28 Marina components to one based on ADO14 Maxi components.

The switch to front-wheel drive was being considered in February 1970 when it was reported ‘the Michelotti-styled model has now been accepted subject to minor changes but tooling costs would appear to be exceptionally high and consideration is being given to front-wheel drive in order to minimize the cost of tools’.

  • In March 1970 it was reported ‘styling proposals are being investigated for a new body shape on the Maxi chassis layout, with transverse engine’.
  • In May 1970 the Maxi base was confirmed. Turnbull believed Condor could be ‘the next major launch from British Leyland’ but Barber counselled caution.
  • By June 1970 ‘a styling sketch based on ADO14 had been developed and an E-Series six installed in an ADO14 to start some initial proving tests’. (This vehicle was never produced).

Austin Allegro (ADO67)

Austin Allegro (ADO67)

  • November 1969 – Styling was approved.
  • December 1969 – ‘Investigating Hydragas rather than Hydrolastic to save cost’.
  • March 1970 – Interior styling approved.
  • April 1970 – Hydragas agreed on.
  • May 1970 – Three bodystyles (two- and four-door saloon and estate) confirmed as was engine range 1100-1750cc.

Barber was pushing for cost reductions (he identified a need to take out £15 per car) and querying why ADO16 will ‘run on’ and overlap with ADO67 (which it did during 1973/4). Turnbull says this might be the two-door ADO16 only (it was two- and four-door in the event).

  • In June 1970 Engineering was directed to reduce costs by re-designing subframes.
  • In July 1970 a cheaper subframe solution was discussed which saved 30 pounds of weight on front and 36 at rear… (elimination of subframes was later (after launch) criticized as preventing Allegro from enjoying the full ride benefits of Hydragas).


In 1968, consideration was being given to the assembly of Mazda cars by BMC Australia – because that operation (with its Zetland factory) required 50,000 cars a year to break even and the market was only supporting production of 48,000. The Board was nervous about the public relations implications of this move stating ‘the Mazda idea should be done with minimum publicity but would be profitable’.

Stokes pointed out that ‘the Leyland group already manufacture the Toyota car in Australia’ (a reference to the assembly of Toyotas by long-standing Triumph assembler AMI in Melbourne). In the event, BMC/BL did not build Mazdas in Australia.

Subsequently, in June 1969, the new sheet metal for the X6 Tasman/Kimberley (YDO19) was approved. At this meeting it was stated that it was the plan to ‘introduce this model into the UK in lieu of ADO25’ (The Austin/Morris 2200 of 1972). That didn’t happen.

Diesel B-Series 1800cc

This was under discussion in April 1969 and by November 1969 was being tested. In March 1970, Webster reported he had recently driven a vehicle with the 1800 B-Series diesel installed and it was ‘the best diesel-engined car I have ever driven’. Six months further work was required before it was production ready. An automatic option would be possible. (In fact, BL never did launch a 1.8-litre diesel car in the 1970s despite various trials – only the Sherpa van).

Austin 3 Litre (originally launched late 1967)

The BMC Board Files: Austin 3 Litre
The BMC Board Files: Austin 3 Litre
  • December 1968 – Problems with power steering, and a solution, were discussed.
  • In June 1970 Barber commented on the 3 Litre and efforts being made to keep production going and enquired if it was worthwhile keeping this model in production in view of the small numbers produced each week. Mr Davis (Production) said it was the intention to produce 60-70 per week until April 1971 when the new six-cylinder Wolseley would follow in production – probably in June 1971 (It’s unclear if they are referring to the Wolseley version of the 3 Litre once programmed, or the Wolseley Six Landcrab (actually introduced Spring 1972) – probably the latter.

Sports cars


There are quite a few references in this period to a small (apparently mid-engined) ‘common’ sports car intended to replace both Midget and Spitfire. At this time (late 1960s), this was envisaged as slotting below the Triumph Lynx which Webster said (in August 1969) ‘is likely to be produced in 1972 or later’, and the ADO21 MGB replacement (which was referred to in July 1970 as work in progress with a plan to ‘build a full-size model in the autumn’).

All these projects were swept away by subsequent developments, but the references to the planned ‘common’ small sports cars (referred to elsewhere as Calypso) are as follows:

  • November 1969 – Good progress towards common concept. Considered this model would be built at Abingdon and/or Swindon. Specification agreed.
  • December 1969 – Turnbull announced brochure detailing common chassis for Spitfire/Spridget replacement.
  • February 1970 – Costs of mid-engine seen as excessive and perhaps more appropriate to the higher segment sports cars.

Miscellaneous other

  • Swedish management of BMC’s (wholly-owned) Swedish subsidiary resigned en masse in 1968, unhappy with the way the British Leyland merger was implemented in Sweden.
  • Belgian Government loans were sought (and obtained) for the expansion of Seneffe.
  • Issigonis was actively working on hydrostatic transmissions during this period. He had also had contact with the USSR but, in 1969, he reported that the Soviet industry was very backward, and the links BMC had established with it should be allowed to lapse.
  • Stokes and Turnbull visited VW in early 1969 and discussed possible co-operation. VW was interested in using Moulton suspension technology.
  • In 1969 Stokes queried the usefulness of the Vanden Plas operation at Kingsbury. Turnbull said it ‘would be phased out in due course’ (In fact, it stayed open until 1979).
  • In 1969, Stokes asked about sales of the Morris Minor. Paradise said it is still selling (and therefore production should continue for the time being) –  production ceased in 1971.
  • Germany was a problem market. The Frankfurt Motor Show of 1969 had proved to be a disappointment and all they were trying to do in Germany was maintain the basic structure of a distribution network because ‘discounts made it most unattractive (as a market)’ (Paradise).
  • In March 1970 pressings for the ‘Mini Elf’ were still being supplied to South Africa from the UK for South Africa’s booted Mini MK3 model, but this seems to conflict with other information which says the Elf rear-end tooling had been shipped to South Africa.
  • Development of a new Austin taxi (to replace FX4) was still underway in June 1970 (later cancelled).
  • In July 1970 there was concern that Innocenti were thinking of selling its car division to Alfa Romeo. They had agreements with BL which still had five years to run…
    (Innocenti had three divisions, the others being Vespa scooters and heavy steel mills. In the event, British Leyland bought out the car division establishing Leyland Innocenti in 1972).
Chris Cowin


    • I’m glad it’s of some use – It was a bit “needle in a haystack” as most of those minutes are concerned with strikes, pay rates etc. etc. After 1970 the record of meetings of this group continues but (in that source anyway) lacks any detail.

  1. Can’t help thinking the Mini Coupe looks like a seventies Toyota, although no bad thing as Toyotas of this era were always quite good looking. Interesting if the Mini Coupe did make it into production as a Midget replacement as it was a modern design and the lighter body would have been ideal with the 1275 cc engine used in the Midget. Also it would have meant there would be no need for the Mini 1275 GT.

    • Thought the Mini Coupe along with ADO34 prior were considered too heavy given both were said to be too slow even in 1275 Cooper S spec? In the case of ADO34 it was apparently slower then the Mini 1275 Cooper S at 0-60 by about 3 seconds.

  2. Wonder if Calypso aka Common Sportscar replacement for the Midget and Spitfire is related to the mid-engined Healey WAEC (Wheel At Each Corner) prototype?

    If so, then like with the front-engined Mini Coupe weight would have been an issue and could have only been remedied by a lighter more powerful engine such as the Mini 9X’s 4/6-cylinder DX unit or another engine entirely.

  3. Interesting that it WAS intended to launch the Australian Tasman (etc) in the UK. I wonder why this didn’t happen?

    Trying to imagine a Capri competitor using the underpinnings of the Maxi…I’m struggling!

    • I imagine that proposal was a victim of cost-cutting. Australia tooled up to manufacture the panels for the X6 locally (as they had to for local content reasons) -and that expense would have had to be duplicated in the UK if the Mk3 1800/2200 also received the updated bodywork (I suspect if the new styling had been introduced in the UK they would have stuck with the original wheelbase of ADO17 – which is what the one-off Vanden Plas 1800 prototype that used this design at the rear did – rather than extend the wheelbase by 3 inches (which was done for X6 in Australia) ). In cash-strapped times it was probably calculated that the extra sales volume to be gained from restyling the ADO17 body for UK production would not justify the investment … with the car’s eventual replacement already under development for a 1975 launch.

      • (Because of the much lower planned production volumes – it was probably possible for Leyland Australia to tool up for the X6 body (using cheaper “Kirksite” press dies ?? ) for a lower investment than would have been the case for UK production – where press dies for a re-bodied Mk3 1800 & 2200 would have had to be more durable).

    • There’s a picture of what the Maxi based Condor coupé (ADO68/14) could have look liked right here on AROnline (in the section ADO68 Condor). A bit like a Princess 2 door basically …. Also some of the other proposals.

      • As stated elsewhere: isn’t that picture witness of the BLMC’s greatest product planning failure? If the BLMC Board of directors would have had the guts to acknowledge the Maxi just was not good enough, they could have built a five door version of that ADO68/14 concept on a properly developed Maxi platform and brought it to the market in (say) 1970. That would have been far more competitive with Cortina, R16 and Passat, thereby eliminating the need to develop the Princess and freeing funds to properly develop the Marina (preferably on a Triumph Toledo platform). Such a Maxi (if properly built, which is a big if indeed…) could have set the tone for the new BL era of quality motoring for the masses!

  4. Why?

    The lash up of Consul, Escort and Cortina bits that was the Capri was in the 1.3 to 2.0 Litre versions that made up almost all the Capri sales were a lot less rapid than a 1500 to 1750 spread of Maxi that were eventually delivered to the markets. Noting that the Chrysler Alpine in 1298cc blew the 1.6 Cortina away and the 1442cc blew the 2.0 Litre away.

    • Really, I could imagine the Kent & V4 Essex struggling against an E series, but a Pinto would be a more even match, & the tappet laden Simcas struggling against either, unless the Alpine was a lot lighter than a Cortina.

  5. It would depend on what styling the Maxi-based Capri-rival has as well as amongst other things if the Maxi itself was both shorter (by 5 or so inches at wheelbase via without ADO17 doors) and lighter, potentially allowing for a smaller engine below the 1500cc.

    However am more convinced by the Marina-based Capri-rival, even if the Marina itself also needed significant improvements and had the potential to range from a 1.3 to 2-litre or even 2.4-litre Six and 2.8-3.5 V8 engines at the upper end of the range.

  6. This article just demonstrates how out of touch Leyland management were. It appears BMC were hoping to launch three new brand new coupes/sports models (along with 2 Triumph, 1 Rover and 2 Jaguar sports cars). It appears that, now awash with Leyland money the believed they could build whatever took their whim. They appear to have quickly forgotten that their two most recent models- (3-Litre, Maxi) and the one in the planning (Marina) were cobbled together with – sometimes ancient bits of other models. What should we build next- a credible competitor for the Cortina- No lets build 3 niche sports cars that appear to share very little with the models on which they are based.

    “In May 1970 the Maxi base was confirmed. Turnbull believed Condor could be ‘the next major launch from British Leyland” How? At that point they hadn’t even decided what model to base it on. It surely would have taken around four years to get into production. Had he forgotten about the Marina, Allegro as well as Range Rover, Stag and Dolomite (and P8) that were about to be launched.

    “In 1969, Stokes asked about sales of the Morris Minor. Paradise said it is still selling (and therefore production should continue for the time being)” – Surely the man who has just taken over the role of running the worlds fifth largest vehicle manufacturer would be demanding production figures, sales figures and profit levels of every range in production on a weekly- if not daily basis. No- a year after taking on the role he realises the Minor is still being produced in large numbers- and possibly no-one is buying them. Why has he taken his eye so far off the ball? – Because he is more concerned that John Cooper (the man who turned the Mini from small town car to rally legend) is making £20 on the sale on the relatively small number of Mini Cooper that he helped to develop.

    • I agree with Spyder that the whole thing was a disaster waiting to happen and that Stokes bore a good deal of the responsibility for that. He was a splendid bus salesman, but really seemed to have no management capability at all, and worse still was prone to make public pronouncements which had disastrous consequences. The most damaging of these was a statement ( I cannot now remember exactly when it was made ) that the public were ignorant fools if they did not buy “his” products, or words to that effect. Stokes was the classic example of the man promoted one level above his level of competence . I suspect, although we shall never know, that the seeds of this disaster lay in Henry Spurrier’s illness and subsequent death : without that, Stokes would have remained what he was , a very successful , albeit ageing , salesman

    • In their defence (!) my understanding of the “next major launch” comment by Turnbull was that he meant “the next major launch after Marina”. At the time that he was speaking, they were all very focused on the upcoming Marina launch, so he was “looking beyond”.
      Stokes would have had a pretty good understanding of the UK car market and its players. He had been intimately involved with the running (very successfully) of Triumph since 1961 which of course built a fairly direct competitor for the Minor in the Triumph Herald.
      In reviewing the future of the Minor in a formal board meeting it would be procedurally correct for Stokes to ask his sales and marketing staff to give the board (not just him) a presentation on market performance, retail vs fleet, bodystyle split etc. and I would imagine this is what happened here.

  7. Would Stanley Markland or Joe Edwards have fared better in running BL,both come across as very competent compared to Donald Stokes?

  8. By 1968 Stokes had been MD of the Leyland group for a few years, and he had been successful. Sales were up, the Triumph brand had been taken upmarket, and the failing Standard-Triumph company had been brought into the fold quite coherently (albeit the S-T takeover happened before he was MD). And of course, Leyland was taking over BMC, not the other way round. So I think he was the obvious choice to run BL. That doesn’t excuse poor management of the new company, but I think it explains why he got the job.

  9. Imagine if- in 1968 some cynical magazine such as CAR had predicted the future timeline of British Leyland- and the British motor industry how we would have laughed- Some highlights in an article titled- BL- The Next 50 Years- may have included-

    Within 10 years – Riley and Wolsely will be gone forever. Leyland bankrupt – kept afloat only by huge piles of government funding.
    Chrysler- having spectacularly failed to do anything worthwhile with the former Rootes Group – also taking huge quantities of bailout money from the UK government- gives whole lot away to French manufacturer Peugeot. Humber, Hillman, Singer and Sunbeam all defunct.

    15 Years time- Every MG and Triumph sports cars have gone- Triumph kept alive by building a rebadged Japanese saloon. Mini still in production.

    20 Years- Japanese manufacturer builds huge production plant in UK- It soon becomes one of the most productive in Europe.
    Triumph disappeared forever- MG returns but only on saloon cars- 2 new Rovers- but both based on Japanese designs. Morris gone. Mini still in production.

    25 Years- Austin dead- Jaguar now part of Ford. Rover still only build Japanese designed cars- but ironically these are the best built since BL was formed. Mini still in production. Most major Japanese manufacturers now build cars in UK

    30 Years- Rover now under German control. Mini still in production.

    35 Years – Mini is dead- Long live MINI- yes that’s right the Mini has finally been replace but in the process has doubled in weight and requires an engine twice the size of the original to propel it. Germans abandon Rover and give it away. Land Rover (yes it is still in production- practically unchanged!!) is now part of Ford. Ford’s Halewood plant now builds Jaguars.

    40 Years time – Indian firm buys Land Rover and Jaguar. Daimler no more. Rover dead. Chinese now own MG-

    45 Years- Ford production in UK ended

    50 Years Time GM give up Vauxhall and sell to French.

    • I don’t think many would be in 68 would be so shocked to be told of the impending demise of the UK Car Industry, more surprising that it would rise again. By 68 Britain had been falling behind the rest of Western Europe for over a decade (it was why we were so desperate in 63 to join the common market) in its economic performance, we even looked tardy compared with much of Eastern Europe and the US had long since disappeared over the Horizon whilst with hindsight the seeds of its own automotive destruction were already sown, we were at the time in awe of its Gemini and Apollo space programs. Britain had at that time a sense of terminal decline as it seem unable to square the circle of what its people expected to be paid v what they were capable of earning.

      Looking at the UK motor industry it was along with the rest of the UK failing.

      BMH was now needing to be rescued by a cash poor Leyland that whilst it dominated UK Truck and Bus market it was in retreat in the Commonwealth markets and UK weight and size limits made its products unsuitable for a wider European market. Few could or should have been under any illusions about the ability to turn around the effectively bankrupt BMH.

      Roots had only itself survived bankruptcy by selling out to Chrysler, it was now still eating cash and whilst in 68 Chrysler were still pouring money in, with the clean sheet Avenger (World Car), Whitely design centre, ambitious plans for new premium saloon, V6 engine and whole range of derivative life backs, estates and coupe’s from them. However they were being bled to death by poor productivity and sheer larceny of the Unions so in 1970 Chrysler effectively pulled the plug on developing a UK volume operation to rival Ford / GM, when the total cost of moving the Arrow to Linwood and putting the Avenger into Ryton had become so great it meant that they could never build enough cars to turn a profit in the UK operation.

      Ford / Vauxhall UK operations were also at best barely breakeven increasingly coming under the direction of their more profitable German operations. The Cortina itself had been created to fend off the UK being made to adopt the German Taurus and with the Cortina Mk3 Ford were to finally do that.

      However nobody could have imagined the Japanese coming to the UK to build cars, that Jaguar and Rover (Land) produced world class products would also not be hard to imagine, but that they would be building them in such volumes and to such a high standard would be much harder in the “it will do” attitude that dominated the industry of the time.

      • In the Life of Sir Roy Fedden book, it is mentioned during the post-war era Fedden suggested Leyland should have invested in building a larger commercial diesel engine for a wide range of applications as well as a new Leyland development laboratory beside the London Transport Depot at Borehamwood, only to be undermined by Stanley Markland prompting Fedden to quit though remaining on good terms with Spurrier.

        How would Leyland have fared had they embraced Fedden’s proposal?

        • Yes, I often wonder if Leyland had looked to build on its links with Saab, who were at the time acquiring Scania. I think a missed opportunity for two truck manufactuers, then both outside the Common Market, both knowing (should have been knowing in the case of Leyland)that to survive they needed to become significant players in its truck and bus markets.

          • Had closer ties between them been maintained aside from the Slant-Four motor and Triumph 1300-based gearbox used in the Saab 99, felt there was also additional room for both Leyland and Saab to develop a jointly-developed sub-99 model to directly replace both the FWD Triumph 1300/1500 and Saab 96 as well as further develop the 4WD system used in the Pony/Dragoon and by Triumph in rallying.

            An early EEC entry in 1963 by the UK would have also potentially allowed Leyland to acquire either or even both the automotive and commercial divisions of DAF, who themselves would achieve much success with a Leyland derived engine (where that leaves Volvo in this scenario without DAF is another matter – possible closer ties with Renault or another company?).

            There are other possible ways they could have expanded or made better decisions to thrive further without being forced to swallow a bigger ailing fish in BMC by the government, although that depends on different earlier points of divergence.

          • Hi Nate

            Problem is that SAAB had an approach about the way things should be done, which is “but for us it must be different”, so that as Fiat and later GM discovered, you could not effectively platform share with them, the best you could do was sell them stuff, which is basically how Scania functioned with them for decades.

            I think their way was a result of both the SAAB aviation side of business where there was a strong history of “thinking outside the box” in their designs and solutions and the desire to not be in the shadow of the much bigger Volvo, just 100km to their south on the west coast.

            However Scania, which being based on the east coast of Sweden was a much more accommodating and frequently collaborated with Volvo despite being direct competitors in many market sectors. This is why I think there was little scope beyond selling to SAAB engines and components (although British Leyland could not even do that properly), however there would have been big scope with Scania, all the more so because Scania were expanding into manufacturing in the Common Market at this time, which is exactly what Leyland desired and needed to do.

  10. 1969, Issigonis reported links with USSR should be abandoned, what sort of links is Issigonis referring to? Productin facilities, materials? I hope it is not more of that Russian steel used by Fiat

    • In a 1968 interview with George Harriman (post BLMC merger when he was still Chairman of British Leyland) the journalist writes “Looking eastwards the merger must inject additional strength into both BMH and Leyland to help them in their projects to (develop) car and bus building plants in Russia and other east European countries. Sir George Harriman is heading a working party for Britain’s motor industry to negotiate with the Russians. “I am waiting to go there very shortly” he explained. “The stage we have reached is that there is to be an exchange of engineers to study automatic transmissions, suspensions and future engines. Those three points have been agreed. But in the end will come a study of cars”.

      • Did wonder how the Soviets/Eastern Bloc would have adapted BMC/BL’s cars had a deal been struck. Cannot help but envision a something along the lines of a South African Mini MK3 (possibly Clubman fronted) with more simplified suspension.

        The only tidbit of information relating to BL with the Eastern Bloc was a proposed deal between it and Wartburg during the early-1970s to supply the latter with A-Series engines to replace the old 3-cylinder two-stroke units, which came to nothing as a result of BL’s financial collapse.

    • I suspect it might be that in the early 60s the Soviet Union was looking at developing its automotive sector which led to them approaching European manufacturers including Volkswagen, Ford, Peugeot, Opel, Renault, Fiat and no doubt BMC however by late 60s it was clear that Fiat was the only one that would crystalize as plans were scaled back in the post Khrushchev era.

  11. I suspect it might be that in the early 60s the Soviet Union was looking at developing its automotive sector which led to them approaching European manufacturers including Volkswagen, Ford, Peugeot, Opel, Renault, Fiat and no doubt BMC however by late 60s it was clear that Fiat was the only one that would crystalize as plans were scaled back in the post Khrushchev era.

  12. I had almost forgotten about East European cars sold in Britain about 1969 /70.
    Then we had Moskvich which weighed as much as a Tank, the lightweight Wartburg Knight 3 cylinder 2-stroke with the burbling exhaust note and a surprising turn of speed and acceleration, it had a freewheel for clutchless changing of gears and to protect the 2-stroke engine from seizure on the over -run

  13. In 1968 imports took less than 10% of the market and the newly formed British Leyland had 40% of the market. People still sneered at foreign cars as being backward and weird and many people considered buying a foreign car as very unpatriotic. To a point this was true, you had the advanced and well liked ADO 16 against something as primitive as a Volkswagen Beetle that only sold on price, but companies like Renault and Fiat were starting to offer cars the equal to the ADO 16.

  14. Regarding Saab, did the Saab 99 actually use a variant of the Triumph 1300’s transmission, Nate? I saw it mentioned in a magazine article some years ago and tried to find out for certain, to no avail. Doesn’t strike me as having the ring of truth somehow.

    Isn’t there a brief mention of BMC’ Soviet adventure in the Bardsley Issigonis biography? IIRC there’s an anecdote about the Soviets taking the BMC delegation to an evening’s entertainment at the Bolshoi. When the Russians came to the UK, BMC returned the favour and took them to see The Black and White Minstrel Show at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

    Also, something about Issigonis asked to give his opinion on a Soviet V4 powered small car “it’s very much on the right lines, but completely terrible.”

    • Managed to find the following concerning the matter of the Saab 99’s transmission.


      IIRC have seen others either claiming it was Inline-Issigonis with Saab separating the sump oil from the transmission oil via a baffle plate or that the 99.carried over the freewheel transmission from the Saab 96, yet with the freewheel removed upon the introduction of the 1.85 engine.

      You are correct on the brief BMC’ Soviet adventure in the Bardsley Issigonis biography, fwiw the reference to the BL deal to supply Wartburg with A-Series engines prior to its bankruptcy (beyond the Ryman conversion kit and following German wayback link below) can be found in Andy Thompson’s Cars of Eastern Europe.


    • The exchange of culture makes sense, Ballet is the Russian National Dance, Our National Dance being the Hokey-Cokey

  15. The Soviets were to find their niche when they teamed up with Fiat to make a version of the Fiat 125, which was still in production in the early seventies, and badge it as a Lada and sell it back to the West at rock bottom prices. Also Lada proved a vital hard currency earner for the failing Soviet economy in the seventies and eighties, and at one stage they were selling 30,000 cars a year in the UK. Crude, poor to drive and increasingly old fashioned, even with the Riva update in 1982, Lada nevertheless provided cheap transport for families and taxi companies and were probably no less reliable than some Western cars.
    On a different note, anyone remember the Vega radios that were sold in ports where Russian ships docked? Again chunky and old fashioned looking, but cheap and a short wave version I bought for £ 18 in 1982 could receive stations from Japan and New Zealand. Also the hefty cabinet gave it a much better tone than radios from the Far East.

    • Rigonda was another Soviet brand of home electronics sold in the UK, looking at pictures some might have been the same designs as Vegas badge engineered.

      For years my parents had a Soviet made FED-4 camera, which was a simplified clone of a pre-war Leica. Rock solid construction, & probably still in working order when I last saw it around a few years ago, I’m not sure if it’s still around as it might have gone in a clean out.

      • @ Richardpd, Rigonda made radiograms and primitive looking music centres, while Vega concentrated on radios, usually ones with six shortwave bands. Then there was Zenit, who made cameras that tried to imitate brands like Canon and were OK for the money. Also in Derbyshire a haulier imported GAZ trucks, crude, brutal machines that made some of the Leyland trucks feel luxurious, but were OK for hauling gravel from quarries.

        • I also remember Praktica cameras in the 70s and 80s. I believe they were East German. The first SLR I owned; they were ok if a bit crude.

  16. Turning into a camera website! Indeed Russia made a large range of cameras copying German & Far East designs. e.g the Zorki 4, FED 3L, Zenit, Lubitel & Kiev 80, Cosmic 35… I have a Zenit B in storage, that still works. Solid but basic.

    Praktica’s & Pentacon’s were made in Dresden, East Germany… slightly more modern than the Russians and keenly priced in the 1970s Simpler times.

  17. Looking at the board of BMC, they look like members of an East European Politburo from the seventies meeting to discuss exports of steel to the USSR. They don’t exactly inspire confidence, like many of their products of this era.

  18. On the Leyland/Russian co-operation front, Scammell supplied two lorries to the Soviets and there was absolutely no follow up – I suspect a certain amount of reverse engineering went on…

  19. Curious the break-even point for the Austin 3-litre was 50 cars a week, which they then planned to increase to 60-70 cars. In that case exactly what production numbers were they anticipating above it before reality set in on how out of step the car was on the market compared to its rivals when first launched?

    While the Humber Hawk / Super Snipe preceded the 3-litre and was ceasing production without replacement, it is worth noting how Rootes despite their limitations were able to see the need to cover both the 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder sectors with basically the same car. Also Ford with the Mark IV models and Vauxhall with the FD were achieving vastly greater sales by taking the same approach. Only the Vauxhall Cresta / Viscount PC and Rover P5 were achieving significant sales without the need for a smaller 4-cylinder engine.

  20. @ Nate, I could imagine a 2 litre Cresta being a very slow car with terrible handling. Unlike Ford with the Zephyr, Vauxhall had the good sense to fit all Cresta models with six cylinder engines and have the Ventora with the 3.3 slant six, which made this a very rapid and refined car.
    Perhaps the Zephyr Mark 4 started a trend at Ford to fit their larger cars with small engines, for fleet buyers who wanted a larger car on the cheap, or in the case of the Capri, for buyers who could say they had a new Capri, even if it was only a 1300L.

    • Was using the Cresta / Viscount PC and Rover P5 as counter-examples that still sold more than the 3-litre even without the need for a 4-cylinder.

  21. I agree the MKIV Zephyr 4 was underpowered and probably most buyers opted for the Zephyr 6 & Zodiac. The V4 Ford engine came in for criticism as well.

    Similarly, the Ventora FD would attract buyers who wanted a smaller car but with more performance than the Cresta PC. I have to say, as a young lad, the Cresta & Viscount looked imposing

  22. Ford were clever in marketing during the 60s 70s and 80s. They got burnt with the classic and learnt from that mistake. Although John Barber has a bad rep because of BL woes, he actually was part of the Ford revival, starting the graduate programme that brought in the new ideas to what had been a staid company during the 50s. It was probably this young influx who saw things differently, bringing about the choice that you could have from engines to equipment. A 1300 Capri may sound naff to us now, but the car was a looker and it gave the impression that you had name it. Same as the depressing 1.6 Granada!

    • @ daveh, Ford always trailed BMC in the sales charts in the sixties and it wasn’t until Ford nabbed the growing market for company cars in the early seventies, that they began to challenge for top place. They had a brilliant philosophy: use conservative and trusted engineering, wrap it in an attractive and contemporary body, and offer a large list of trim options and engine sizes to suit each pocket. No one could say the Mark 3 Cortina was a landmark in engineering innovation or a great car to drive, but it looked good, was easy to own and maintain, and came in four different trim levels and three engine sizes. By contrast you had the innovative Austin Maxi, but this only came with two engines and two rather spartan trim levels and buyers were extremely wary of buying a hatchback with five gears in an era when such cars were rare.

      • Ford started to catch BMC during the 60s because of the choice it offered, infact the Mk2 Cortina knocked the ADO16 off the sales chart, which was one of the reasons that Leyland used to show they should be the major partner in the merger. It was in the 79s that Ford really got a grip of the UK market, not only because of its style and options, but its product placement, cheap to maintain and most importantly, able to ship them in from the continent when supply was stopped by strikes here, something BL just couldn’t do. In fact the big strike of 77 was because Ford of Britain was doing so well, and the pay increase was restricted by the government’s attempt to control inflation. Sound familiar?

        • @ daveh, Ford, of course, kept quiet when they moved production of the Granada and Capri to West Germany and buyers still believed they were buying a British car well into the production run for the Mark 2 Granada. Also they could top up production of their other cars from factories in Belgium, Spain and Eire, a few Cortinas made it over here from the factory in Cork( they were exported in kit form from Dagenham, then exported back to the UK). Probably explains why Ford workers became less keen on going on strike after the big strike of 1978 and why Dagenham and Halewood were marginalised.

    • Was the Granada made with at small an engine, I think the smallest German made ones had a 1.7 V4.

      The Mk3 had a 1.8 engine available, which seemed to be for sales reps with the lowest amount of sales!

  23. In essence Alec Issigonis’s idea of cars not having to be as big as they were could have also been better reflected on what would become ADO61 (not to mention the Landcrab), had he been inclined as such like he previously was at Alvis with the stillborn TA350/175 project.

    The Alvis prototype for all its other underdeveloped and unviable features was actually a smaller car, whose elements would initially be used on the even smaller rear-wheel drive XC9000 prototype at BMC prior to being switched to FWD, drifting away from its original specifications to becoming a bigger car as the Landcrab than needed and resultantly having a negative impact on ADO61’s development.

    There was room for BMC to draw similar conclusions as both Rover and Triumph did when they first conceived the P6 and 2000/2500 respectively (as did the Australians indirectly with the X6), since the Alvis prototype was of similar size as the 2-litre compact executives and something ADO61 could have benefited from (allowing it to offer a wider choice of engines).

    A smaller Landcrab could have allowed for a more Volvo 140 Series & 164 type solution at BMC, where ADO61 would be joined by a smaller related FD/MkIV-inspired rear-wheel drive companion model positioned below it and help compensate .

  24. I suppose the only people who bought base model Fiestas or Escorts, or the horrid Vauxhall Chevette ES( so basic it lacked even a demister), were people desperate to have a new car. Surely it would be better to spend a couple of hundred pounds more on the next model up that had a few more comforts like a rear demister and fabric seats and would be a lot easier to trade in. By the mid eighties, few buyers would want a car with vinyl seats that were too cold in winter and too hot in summer and which made driving more difficult in bad weather by lacking a rear demister.

    • Supposedly Ford used to advertise their base models at a low price, only for potential owners to usually upgrade to an L when they realised what they would get for their money.

      Even Ford were ashamed to show the early Mk3 Escort came with vinyl seats as standard in the brochures!

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