History : The BMC Story – Part One : 1959 and the big Mini gamble

Ian Nicholls, AROnline’s historian-in-residence, recounts the history of the British Motor Corporation (BMC). He follows up his excellent run-down of the British Motor Holdings and British Leyland stories with an eight-part study of BMC from 1959 to 1966. 

Here, in the first part, we look back at 1959 – the year of the BMC Mini – and set the scene with the launch of this vital new car, and the uncertainty its maker had in the months coming up to its arrival…

After the effective bankruptcy of British Leyland in December 1974 and its 1980s’ contraction, combined with life-changing mass redundancies, much negative coverage has been directed at the roles of Leonard Lord and George Harriman in the collapse of the former Austin and Morris empires. To their critics they presided over a shambolic organisation that failed to rationalise the merged Austin and Morris operations and was reluctant to respond to changing market conditions.

They have been damned for not focusing on international markets and damned for not focussing on the domestic market. Neither of them was alive to defend themselves. What became the Leyland narrative, propagated by Lord Stokes, that BMC was devoid of competent management and exciting new models, became excepted as fact by many pundits.

We hope to show in this article that what ultimately thwarted the British Motor Corporation was international politics beyond the control of the company’s management, and that they were simply caught out by bad timing. Certainly, BMC was guilty of poor cost control and a failure to introduce modern management techniques, but it gambled on a massive investment in innovation and high technology which, but for the vagaries of international politics, should have seen them conquer Europe. Instead, it led to an industrial catastrophe.

The launch of the first Farina saloon

We begin our story in 1959, a year we tend to associate with the likes of Fidel Castro, Harold Macmillan, Cliff Richard and frothy coffee shops. Britain still controlled a vast number of overseas territories in its now dwindling empire, and many Britons still maintained an imperial outlook, unable to see that the end was nigh and that the country would soon have to find a new role for itself.

This was the year that the British Motor Corporation began to transform itself from a purveyor of bland automotive stodge into the world’s most innovative carmaker. On 16 January, BMC announced the new Austin A55 Mk2 as the Austin Cambridge (above).

The new car retained the 1.5-litre B-Series engine from the out going model, now with an SU carburettor, and producing 55bhp at 4350rpm. Styling was by Pininfarina. The new Austin was the second of the restyled ADO9 models to be announced, the Wolseley 15/60 preceding it in December 1958.

Exact production figures are not available, but it is estimated at around 150,000 were made before the model was superseded by the revised ADO38 in 1961. By employing Pininfarina, BMC was updating the previously bland looks of its cars endowed upon it by its in-house designer, the Argentine-born Dick Burzi.

New cars, new industrial unrest

The same day a strike by 160 men began at the Birmingham body-building company of the British Motor Corporation, Fisher and Ludlow Limited. This dispute soon led to some 14,000 Midlands-based car workers being laid off before it was resolved.

On 3 February, BMC announced another variation on the ADO9 theme, the MG Magnette Mk3. Another Pininfarina styled car, 16,676 were produced at Cowley until 1961. The same month saw industrial disputes at the Nuffield Metal Products plant at Washwood Heath and the Morris Commercial Cars factory at Adderley Park, both in Birmingham. This was, in turn, followed by disputes at Morris Engines in Coventry and another strike at the Nuffield Metal Products plant at Washwood Heath.

Normal working at the Morris Commercial Cars factory at Adderley Park would not resume until 1 April . It was reported at the time that some trade union leaders in the Midlands were known to be disturbed about the series of unofficial strikes at BMC factories in recent months and their effect on the earnings of workers not actively concerned in the disputes.

From Cambridge to Oxford

In March 1959 the ADO9 Morris Oxford was announced. This model was identical to the new Austin Cambridge, albeit costing £14 more. Some 87,432 were built until 1961. It was on 3 April 1959 that the BMC factory at Longbridge built chassis 101 and 102 of its new ADO15 model, the car that was the British Motor Corporation’s major contribution to the history of the automobile.

BMC personnel changes

On 17 April, BMC announced that, on attaining retirement age, Mr Wilfred Hobbs had resigned the post of Joint Secretary of British Motor Corporation. Mr Edward Price was appointed in his stead. 
Mr Hobbs would continue as a Director of BMC and Morris Motors.
Edward Price would retain his position as Deputy Chairman of Fisher and Ludlow, the Birmingham body-building company of the British Motor Corporation.

Bigger BMC news came on 23 April. It was announced that Sir Leonard Lord had decided to relinquish his office as Executive Chairman of Fisher and Ludlow. George Harriman was appointed and now became Chairman and Managing Director.

The announcement added that, as from 1 May 1959, Mr H. T. Wing became Secretary of Morris Motors and BMC Services and the Director and Secretary of the United Kingdom subsidiaries of Morris Motors.

More Farinas

The ADO9 Riley 4/68 was announced on the same day. Described by one writer as a virtual clone of the MG Magnette announced on 3 February 1959, 10,940 cars were produced up to 1961. This was BMC badge-engineering in action. Within a decade BMC would find itself castigated for using such methods.

However, Chief Engineer Charles Griffin, later related, ‘I’m not sure whether it was a good thing or a bad thing. It all depends how much profit you make – and I think we used to do very well out of our different marques.’

Then, on 6 May, BMC issued a statement about the possibility of nightshift working at its Cowley factory. 
’The management of Morris Motors Limited is discussing with senior Shop Stewards the starting of regular nightshifts in order to increase production, and thus help to meet the overwhelming demand from both home and overseas markets for the new Farina-styled Nuffield models (ADO9).

‘The representatives of the trade unions will be told that the first night shift is expected to total about 1000 employees. Night shift working is already part of the regular production programme in many British Motor Corporation factories, and the Cowley plant will be one of the last major installations to fall into line.’

Mini moves towards production

Then, on 8 May, ADO15 Morris Mini Minor production started at Cowley with 10 cars built on this day. Chassis 101 was registered as 621 AOK and now resides at the British Motor Museum at Gaydon. All but 26 of the first 300 cars were allocated for export.

On 11 May, BMC announced that the Austin A40 and A55 models were to be built at Amersfoort, Holland, under a recently signed agreement. On 13 June, BMC announced more executive moves. Alec Layborn and Sydney J. Wheeler joined the board of the British Motor Corporation.
Alec Layborn, Deputy Chairman of C.T. Bowring and Layborn, an insurance company, has been appointed a Director of Austin Motors in 1957. During the First World War he had served with the RFC and RAF.

Sydney Wheeler was appointed a Director of Austin in 1955 and a Joint Secretary of BMC on its formation in 1952. Robin Stormonth-Darling and Edward Price joined the Austin board.
Mr Bill Davis was appointed local director.
Robin Stormonth-Darling was a partner in Laing and Cruickshank, the London firm of stockbrokers.

Edward Price was, as related earlier, Deputy Chairman of Fisher and Ludlow and a Joint Secretary of BMC.
 Bill Davis, General Works Manager, had served his apprenticeship with the company and would prove to be one of the great survivors of the constant management upheavals in the years to come.

Mini hints to the press

It was on 17 June that Sir Leonard Lord, Chairman of the British Motor Corporation, stated that, ‘both Morris and Austin new small cars will be announced at the end of August.’

He added that both models would have 850cc engines and, ‘they will be considered to be among the most advanced small cars in the world. The models have been through extensive trials and have taken three years to develop. New buildings have been erected and new plant installed, for their production at a total cost of well over £10,000,000.’

Lord continued: ‘The new cars will be full four-seater cars that will keep up with the rest of the traffic anywhere and will give tremendous economies at a price that will appeal to the family man.’ He was clearly talking about the ADO15.

On the subject of the Morris Minor, Lord said: ‘In fact, the Morris Minor production line has recently been reorganised and separated from other lines to increase output for its worldwide demand.’

BMC C-Series engine deployed more extensively

On 1 July BMC announced the Austin Healey 3000 Mk1. This was the top of the range BMC sports car, with its C-Series engine now enlarged from 2639cc to 2912cc to produce 124bhp.

If that was not enough, only a week later BMC, announced the ADO10 Wolseley 6/99. Based on the similar Austin A99, this marked the end of Wolseley cars being based on Nuffield organisation designs. The model also used the new 2912cc C-Series engine, albeit in a less powerful 103bhp version than seen in the new Austin Healey 3000. Like the ADO9, the ADO10 series was styled by Pininfarina.

On 15 July BMC announced that Major Alfred Charles Herring VC, who was reducing his business commitments, had retired from the Board of the British Motor Corporation. Herring won his Victoria Cross in March 1918 for heroically leading his men in a rearguard action during the German Spring offensive. Herring died in August 1966.

The industrial relations question

BMC had been plagued by niggling industrial disputes in the summer of 1959, but they had only lasted a day or two at most. However, on 15 July, the most damaging began. The Chief Shop Steward of the Transport and General Workers’ Union at Morris Motors Limited in Cowley, Frank Horsman, was dismissed by Richard Couch, Branch Manager, and escorted from the factory without being allowed to return to his section.

It was alleged that Frank Horsman was accused of telling two men to stop work the previous day during an overtime dispute. A member of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, he had worked at the factory for 13 years and had been a Shop Steward for 10 years.

The following day, about 350 paint shop workers walked out, shortly after clocking in, when told of the dismissal. After lunch, the number not working increased to 454. A spokesman for the management said: ‘Mr Horsman was dismissed yesterday for a breach of discipline in that he assumed the prerogative of management and instructed employees to stop work.’

Shop Stewards in the paint shop issued a statement saying that the 350 workers had decided to withdraw labour pending his reinstatement,
 ‘thereby giving him the human right to defend himself against the accusations made against him. This can only be done by full inquiry by the management and trade union officials with the man present. A democratic hearing is all that is asked.’

Talks stall…

Both sides had drawn lines in the sand and the dispute only escalated from this point on as talks got nowhere. The TGWU declared the strike official and soon widespread disruption was occurring to BMC production, with 3000 men out at Cowley alone.

The unions saw the dismissal of Frank Horsman as an attack on the role of Shop Stewards and soon moves were made to persuade all 12 unions with members employed by BMC to join in the dispute. Yes, BMC had 12 unions in its ranks, a ludicrous number by 21st century terms.

On 22 July, an ITN film crew at Cowley covering the unfolding dispute got an exclusive, but nobody realised it at the time. A strange-looking small car was filmed leaving the Cowley plant. They were filming a revolution, but it was a motoring one, not a workers’ uprising. At the same time the paint shop men at Longbridge were also in dispute over plans to increase production.

BMC’s successes overseas

Overseas, BMC had some better news. The next day G. A. Lloyd, Joint Managing Director of BMC Australia stated in Melbourne that it was investing £19m in Australia to produce a new Morris car, the Major II. It would retail at £997 10s. including sales tax and would be built at the British Motor Corporation’s Sydney plant.

On 5 August, while the Frank Horsman dispute rumbled on, BMC had some more positive news. Sir Leonard Lord, Chairman of the British Motor Corporation, announced that some of the company’s models would be built in Italy. A joint announcement by BMC and Innocenti of Milan, manufacturers of heavy steel plant and the Lambretta motor scooter, said that these two leading manufacturers had signed an agreement under which Innocenti could assemble and partially manufacture BMC cars for the Italian market.

The first models to be produced by Innocenti would be the recently introduced Austin A40, Austin A55 and the Morris Oxford, all of British design with Pininfarina styling, so the announcement said.

Strikes called off…

It was not until 12 August that the damaging disputes affecting Cowley production were called off, a fortnight before the public announcement of BMC’s new small car range. After six hours of management-union talks it was agreed to transfer Frank Horsman to the neighbouring Pressed Steel Company which supplied car bodies to the British Motor Corporation.

With the Frank Horsman dispute over, BMC could now get on with the business of making motor vehicles. On 18-19 August , BMC let the media test the new ADO15 car at Chobham in Surrey. The wraps were now coming off the car and the media was being given the chance to test it.

On 25 August, BMC announced that a regular night shift was to be started for the first time since the war at Morris Motors Limited in Cowley on Monday 31 August to help to meet the demand for the new range of ADO9 Farina-styled cars. The company said that 1650 men would be involved.

The number of Morris Minors to be produced would not be increased, but the plant capacity made available would enable production of other models to be stepped up during the day shift. The decision followed talks between the management and senior shop stewards.

The Mini is launched to the public

1959 – the year of the BMC Mini

Then, the next day, 26 August 1959, BMC announced the new ADO15 range, then available as the Austin Seven and the Morris Mini-Minor. The world came to know it simply as the Mini, although initially the media dubbed them as the BMC ‘baby’ cars.

BMC told the media that the initial production target was 3000 vehicles a week, divided equally between the Longbridge and Cowley plants, but that this figure could well be exceeded. The Fisher and Ludlow plant was already geared to produce 4000 bodies a week.

The company also stated that preliminary plans had been made for the cars to be constructed by the Innocenti firm in Milan. Some 2000 of the new cars had already been sent abroad and they would be displayed today in motor showrooms in nearly 100 countries.

The press and public love the Mini

The first public reaction to the new cars appeared to prove the manufacturer’s optimistic forecasts. Dealers, who had queues of prospective customers outside their premises before they opened their doors for business on launch day, said that they were unable to quote delivery dates.

The British Motor Corporation’s Head Office at Birmingham received orders and inquiries from all over Europe and Britain for the new Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minor cars.
A company executive said there had been phenomenal response to the ‘twins’.

‘I have never known anything like it,’ he said. 
’Despite the success of our other models, this is the biggest thing we have ever known. The telephone has not stopped ringing all day with orders, inquiries and congratulations from distributors, agents and members of the public all over Europe and the British Isles.’

A British Motor Corporation spokesman also said:
 ‘Our distributors are flabbergasted at the reception these cars have had from the public. The demand has gone beyond even our expectations. Orders are flooding in — both at home and abroad.’

Goodbye, Austin A35

Bizarrely, the car the Mini was meant to replace, the Austin A35 saloon, ceased production on this day, despite the Mini having been in production for several weeks and a good stock of the new model having been built up.

The following day Sir Leonard Lord said in a statement issued before he sailed for New York, that he was delighted with the reception of the new Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minors at home and abroad. More than 3000 had already been delivered to export markets.

Sir Leonard added that, in addition to the development, tooling and production of the new cars, the outstanding achievement of the last financial year had been the smooth change-over and introduction of the completely new range of Austin and Morris models.

‘Industrial disputes during the period lost us some of the advantage of our extra manufacturing capacity. Nevertheless the output of vehicles for the year was 484,426, which was 20,286 less than the previous record,’ he said. It was claimed that there was already a nine month waiting list for the two new cars, both priced at £495.

The shape of things to come

In fact, the same day as the Mini launch, an unofficial dispute began at the BMC Tractor and Transmission plant at Ward End, Birmingham, which bought Mini production to a halt at Longbridge at noon on 1 September. However, official union pressure soon brought the dispute to a rapid conclusion.

In October Harold Macmillan’s Conservative Government was re-elected with a much-increased majority of 100 seats. Consumer spending was booming and the post war dreams of a New Jerusalem seemed to be coming true. How could it go wrong?

On 31 October, The Guardian newspaper reported that more nightshifts were to be worked at BMC’s factories at Cowley and Longbridge to help to meet the heavy demand for the Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minor.
According to the newspaper, details of the extra shift were still being worked out, and it would not be introduced at Cowley before the end of November.

Since the new models were announced two months before, the article said, they had brought in about 100,000 orders from this country and abroad. The original aim of BMC was to produce the cars at the rate of 3000 a week, but this target was raised to 4000 because of their popularity. The aim was now to step up production to 8000 a week in the next two years. Sample models of the cars would soon be introduced to markets in the Far East and Africa.

Debunking the myths

The traditional Mini story is that demand for the car was slow to pick up because consumers did not understand the new concept in motoring offered by the ADO15 design. Total Mini production for 1959 was 19,749 cars, 7800 were sold in the UK, but the majority went for export. So what is the truth?

Perhaps it was the British motorist who did not understand the Mini, for the car took off in overseas markets and in 1960 production exceeded that of the defunct Austin A35 by a handsome margin. But another factor may have been the industrial dispute at Cowley restricting supplies to dealerships. Inadequate supplies at dealers at launch would be a recurring problem for BMC and later British Leyland.

The other factor which contributed to the low Mini production total in 1959 was, of course, BMC’s chronic strike record. Cowley alone was strikebound for three weeks because of the Frank Horsman dispute.

The scores on the doors

On 5 November BMC announced its financial results. The effect on BMC’s profits of the introduction of new models and of recurrent labour troubles had been even more marked than had been suspected. Although output fell only from 504,713 in 1957-58 to 486,048 in the year to 31 July 1959, group earnings dropped from £24,500,000 to £20,315,000.

Other sources claim BMC made a profit of £21,488,823 before tax in the 1958-1959 period. Which ever figure was correct, BMC was making between £41.79 and £44.21 profit on each vehicle it sold.
The company claimed that demand for its cars was now probably greater than ever before and the management had already stated that production would increase during the current year by about 40-45 per cent.

Output for the first 13 weeks of the financial year had already risen by 24 per cent, from 118,000 to 147,000 vehicles.

Great results lead to ambitious plans

The extent of the ambitions of Sir Leonard Lord (above) and George Harriman for BMC was revealed on 23 November. A three-year plan for the expenditure of £49 million which would raise the British Motor Corporation’s production potential to one million vehicles a year was announced on this day by the company’s Chairman, Sir Leonard Lord.

In his statement circulated to shareholders with the annual report, Sir Leonard Lord said that the planned output of 4000 of the BMC Minis cars a week had already become insufficient. They were taking steps to double this output to 8000 a week, including an additional range of light commercial vehicles, which it was expected to announce in January 1960.

He was referring to the Mini Van and Pickup derivatives.
 ‘Currently we are producing at the rate of 750,000 vehicles per annum. When extra facilities become progressively available in 18 months to two years, the magical figure of one million units a year will be within our reach. This cannot be done in the existing factories and it will mean new sites, new buildings, and a fresh approach to the problems of production and automation,’ wrote Sir Leonard Lord.

Boom times

In the three months August-October 1959 BMC had turned out 147,000 vehicles – against 486,000 in 1958-59 – and output was now running at an annual rate of 750,000 units, while the planned expansion programme would raise the capacity to make one million vehicles a year.

Sir Leonard – as the expansion programme implied – was optimistic about demand, both at home and overseas, and said that home demand had never been stronger and at the year-end the group’s home order book was three times as large as a year earlier.

Sir Leonard Lord’s claim that BMC would make 8000 Minis a week was a bit of a red herring. Within a few years BMC would indeed be manufacturing 12,000 Issigonis’ front-wheel-drive cars a year, but over half of them would be the ADO16 1100/1300 saloon, which in November 1959 was still on the secret list.

Such was their confidence in Alec Issigonis’ and Charles Griffin’s ability (above), the management duo of Lord and Harriman had already given him the green light to go ahead with larger designs based on the ADO15 formula before the Mini had even been launched. Not only that, they believed they could sell them in large numbers, hence the expansion programme. It was a great leap of faith.

International shuffles and developments

A week later the British Motor Corporation (Australia) announced the appointment of Harold J. Graves as Managing Director. Graves, a Director of the Austin Motor Company in England, and associated with that company since June 1919, became Joint Managing Director of BMC (Australia) together with Mr G. Lloyd in January 1959.

Lloyd would relinquish his position as Joint Managing Director in the New Year of 1960, but would remain a Director and also act in a consultative capacity. 
Mr N. W. Lawrance was appointed Commercial Director and Mr R. L. Abbott Director of Manufacturing. Mr H. Sainsbury and Mr L. Shimmin were appointed as Associate Directors.

Mini production in South Africa began on 21 December at the Blackheath plant near Cape Town. The first car off the line was an Austin 850. Blackheath built 36 Minis before the year was out – of these, 24 were Austin Se7ens and 12 were Morris Mini Minors. The cars were assembled from CKD (Completely Knocked Down) components manufactured in the UK.

Back at home, on Christmas Eve 1959, it was announced that a second night shift employing about 700 men would start at Morris Motors at Cowley on 18 January 1960. It was aimed at increasing production of the Morris Mini-Minor.

Why the Mini was such a big gamble for BMC

BMC had gambled everything on innovation and expansion. It would have been easy for it to coast along with Pininfarina restyles of existing rear-wheel-drive cars, but instead it opted for innovation.

The politicians and pundits had demanded that the British motor industry needed a simple car for export, but every time the UK industry tried to design such a vehicle, it failed. The idea that Britain could replicate the success of the Volkswagen Beetle in the USA was all-pervading. The Beetle succeeded because of its popularity with the vast contingent of American servicemen based in Cold War West Germany.

If Britain did have a simple car that could be exported to the USA, then that vehicle was the Morris Minor and for various reasons it did not sell Stateside. However, Britain did export large numbers of cars to North America, sports cars and luxury vehicles like Jaguar and Rolls-Royce.

If Britain was to produce a car popular with overseas buyers, it had to be something different from the pack, something unique, and that car was the Mini – it is hard to see any other company other than BMC putting it into production.

1959 – the year of the BMC Mini

Suspension guru Alex Moulton told author Barney Sharratt: ‘It couldn’t have come from the existing team at Longbridge. Not in a hundred years. Lord was conscious of that and knew that Issigonis was the only man capable of doing such things.’

BMC Engineer Ron Nicholls commented: ‘Could Ford or General Motors have produced the Mini? Of course not. Under the Ford system the Mini could not have been designed, developed and put into production. There was too much new in it.’

In the pipeline was the ADO16 which became the best-selling BMC 1100 of 1962. Prototypes began running in 1958, overseen by Charles Griffin, BMC’s Chief Engineer, Passenger Cars, operating out of Cowley. During 1959 BMC and Pininfarina gradually evolved the look of the car.

In late 1959 work began on the ADO17 project, a larger car than the ADO16. Sketches by Alec Issigonis from the previous year were passed to Chris Kingham at Longbridge for him to begin to translate them into reality (below).

Forward to History : The BMC Story – Part Two : 1960 – Mini takes off

Ian Nicholls
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  1. There wasn’t a lot going wrong with the way BMC was being run over this time. It’s a shame that the impetus for change was lost later. BMC were making the most advanced small cars on the planet. They just weren’t making them very well. The quirky and flawed VW was a success because of it’s build quality. Was part of the reason for that, the way that most German tooling was new after the Marshsll Plan rebuild after the war? Whereas in the UK people muddled through with old pre-war tooling bodged to fit.One example, the B series tooling was partially shimmed with pieces of cardboard to get the correct tolerances. This would have made knowledgable motivated workers, doing their best with the under-resourcing in effect, quite resentful of their work and worth being under-appreciated and even deprecated. So much of the unions clash perhaps stemming from this, as well as the overhanging ‘know your place’ culture of the British class system? The very thing that makes British culture great, a hyper awareness of trends, fashions and knowing one’s position in a hierarchy, providing the impetus for change, coming up against the other side of the same coin, the hierarchy not allowing movement between classes based on talent or ability. Worse, promoting some people on their assumed status based on accent and family background.It is hard to believe that companies the size of BMC could effectively disappear by today and that it’s just the result of stroppy unionists and not poor management of the problems the unionists represented. The ‘blame the unions’ argument falls apart when we look at companies outside the motor industry. ICI used to be bigger than DuPont or Bayer, now it’s gone, it’s brands scattered to other (non-UK)conglomerates. That wasn’t the unions that was inept management there as well. Why is the British aviation industry now smaller than the Spanish or Swiss or Brazilian ones. Poor, management hidebound by class distinctions taking precedent over ability. Look how people with the’right accents’ who went to the ‘right schools’ have led Britain to the economic disaster of the Great Financial Crisis, and now the coming economic collapse of Brexit. Have you checked what Sterling is worth lately? The same people responsible for all of it.

    • You make a very good point. While unions were not blameless in the fall of BMC/BL/whatever it’s called this week, the biggest issue was hopelessly inept management.

      I’m very fortunate. Since leaving PSF, I’ve been able to work all over the world….US, Germany, Sweden, Japan, and South Korea, to name some of the places I’ve worked – always in the motor industry. The equipment is the same, the software is the same, the engineering is the same. The only real difference that I’ve ever discerned in 40 years, is the (and let’s be frank) piss-poor management in the UK. It’s never changed.

  2. Lord caused a mess by stating the Mini had to cost less than the Anglia, while Harriman had those doors! People say that not entering the EEC affected Harriman’s expansion plans, but as many could see at the time the UK would not gain access while De Gaulle was President of France. Both did not help to contribute against putting together a combined and engineered company and this lead to the mess that was finished off by Stokes and co.

  3. The launch of the Farina saloons in 1959 is really the point where Austin and Morris should have begun the integration process. With the Mini in the wings and ADO16 and ADO 17 on the drawing board BMC had a clear vision of the modern range of cars they would have in the next five years and should have began work on a fully integrated model range and dealer network. The Farina cars should have been given a new name and badged ‘Austin-Morris’ with a logical hierarchy of Wolseley, Riley and MG versions. There is a lot of merit in badge engineering when it is used logically- Fords twist on badge engineering was very successful with GT, RS, Executive and Ghia ranges and in Britain’s class obsessed society it helps everyone to know their place.

    I have read that the use of badge engineering was in a way forced on BMC due to the differing franchise agreements with their respective dealers however they should have been brave enough to have forced the change upon them. Whilst a few may have refused and changed marque or retired most would have stayed due to customers brand loyalty and the promise of the advanced model range to come. From a manufacturers perspective managing two competing model ranges with near identical cars must have real headache with their differing product launches, marketing, promotions etc.

  4. Aside from increasing the price, what would have been the best way to make sure the Mini and ADO16 were well costed?

    My main criticisms regarding the Farina saloons are with how they drove and the lack of proper performance variants (reliable 1.6 Twin-Cam or regular 1.8 B-Series with ADO17 uprated to 2-litres), along with the styling (particularly the rear tailfins and non-Ponton looks) compared to say the MG Magnette ZA/ZB.

    • In the days when the Farina cars were designed , performance family saloons had not been thought of. Amongst the very first were the Coopers, followed by the VX4/90 ( the first full sized performance family car) then the Cortina GT and Lotus. The demand for the VX and the performance versions of the Cortina was small compared with that for the normal cars, and one can guarantee that the conservative buyers who were the intended and actual market for the Farinas just would not have been interested, and this slot in BMC was fulfilled by , first , the MG1100 and later the other hotter versions of ADO16

      • Consideration was given to using the 1.6 Twin-Cam and 6-cylinder C-Series engines in the Magnette, though neither for their own reasons panned out (reliability in the case of the former and the ZB being replaced by the stolid Farinas in the case of the latter).

        The point being that BMC should have carried over and suitably updated much of the MG Magnette ZA/ZB mechanical componentry for the Farinas, along with mechanicals from other BMC cars that would have allowed the Farinas to be sporty to drive in MG (or Riley) guise where even a 1.8 B-Series is at minimum adequate enough.

      • BMC’s Australian arm developed a six cylinder version of the Cambridge called the Freeway. It used an ‘extra two cylinders’ version of the 1622cc ‘B’ series, to make a 2433cc six called the ‘Bluestreak Six’. About 27000 were made in Mk1 & Mk2 versions of the Austin Freeway and related Wolseley 24/80 between 1962 and 1965. There was a wagon version of the Austin as well.
        Of course, being BMC, this six cylinder version of the ‘B’ series wasn’t further developed. Imagine a 2.7 litre six cylinder MGB without the excess weight of the MGC’s ex Austin Healey ‘C’ series six. It could have had between 130 to 200 hp given the tuning using B series parts at the time. More info here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austin_Freeway
        I wonder if any made it to the UK?

        • The Blue Streak engine was looked at for the MGB along with Austin-Healey’s shelved version of the MGC, which featured an output of 115 hp though BMC being BMC with their NIH syndrome did not adopt it.

          It would have been interesting seeing 2.4-3.0-litre version of the 6-cylinder B-Series (later O/M/T-Series) derived from the 1.6-2.0 4-cylinder B-Series, a 2-litre version was developed with an output of 106 hp (plus a 112-115 hp B-OHC precursor to the O-Series) yet unfortunately was never given the production green light when it could have benefited the MGB and ADO17.

          To be fair to the 6-cylinder C-Series, it was potentially capable of a lot more in terms of development such as having the weight reduced by 175 lbs / 80kg and featuring Twin-Cams, amongst many other proposed updates.

          • I did wonder why BMC had such a big gap in engine size between the 1.8 B series & 2.9 C Series, & if they had any plans to fill it.

          • Perhaps there were indeed plans by BMC to remedy the large gap in the engine range between the 1.8 B-Series and 2.9 C-Series, a 2.0 B-Series was developed after all while the 2.4 B-Series “Blue Streak” was successfully tested in the MGB in uprated form for potential use in the car.

            Maybe it was because around that time BMC were looking to replace the A/B/C-Series engines with a one related engine family via the narrow-angle V4/V6 and what later became the E-Series.

            The 2.0 B-Series would have been very useful to BMC, along the 2.4 6-cylinder B-Series “Blue Streak” though the latter and any updated 3.0 versions would have likely been limited to RWD models unlike the former.

  5. “On 22 July 1959, an ITN film crew at Cowley covering the unfolding dispute got an exclusive, but nobody realised it at the time. A strange-looking small car was filmed leaving the Cowley plant. They were filming a revolution, but it was a motoring one, not a workers uprising. At the same time the paint shop men at Longbridge were also in dispute over plans to increase production.”

    The ‘car’ caught in this ITN news footage going past striking workers & out of the Cowley works in late July 1959 is a soon to be launched 1959 Morris Mini-Minor running on trade plates (377 FC).

    Shots of Morris Works At Cowley, Oxford: And. Austin Works at Longbride;e, Birmingham:
    Morris Works — men outside. MS Strikers standing about. LS Ditto. GTV Strikers breaking away after meeting. LS Car & lorry past strikers & out of Works
    T/X 22.7.59 /6.15.p.m. Cowley, Oxordshire: Longbridge, Birmingham:

    Video Clip here:-

  6. Clearly the giant mini version of the ADO17 is much prettier and would have had better sales than the version we ended up with.

  7. The first car in this article sums lots up… Why BMC scrapped the lovely handling Wolseley 15/50 – MG Magnette ZB platform and sent the rather nice Morris Oxford platform to India, to hence base all the Farinas on the doughy Cambridge one… Utter madness. It could have been a drive to match the looks if based on either of the Nuffield cars with their nice rack-and-pinion steering. Ex-Austin management pride or was it just the cheapest of the three to build?

  8. I think you make good points, although cost probably entered into the equation . In part, I think much of the decision resulted from Leonard Lord’s hatred ( and it was hatred, almost to the point of mental illness ) of anything to do with William Morris, together with his irrevocable falling out with Gerald Palmer . The failings of Lord are not made much of on this forum, with far more people ascribing the difficulties to bad management in general ( one contributor with an obvious axe to grind is forever banging on about this ) , but it seems to me , admittedly as an outsider, that much of the rot resulted from Lord’s quarrelsome nature which alienated the talented who were driven away, but left the group with a caucus of the less talented who could not move away . Lord’s inability to tame the talented but unworldly Issigonis also played its part in the disaster

    • Interestingly Leonard Lord had come up the ranks of the car industy from near the bottom, & was proud to boast he grew up with “swarf in his shoes”.

    • I freely admit to having ‘an axe to grind’. I seem to be one of the few people who want to look past ‘blame the unions’ for everything. My family left the UK 50 years ago, because they could see how the class system distorted everything in British life. My grandfather who was on the board of I.C.I.after having moved up through management said he was constantly being over-ruled by people had gone to the right schools in the south. I.C.I.didn’t have union troubles, just ‘the right people’ running it down.

  9. 1959-63 probably saw BMC at its most bullish and confident, as it had over a quarter of the domestic market, its nearest rival( Ford) had about a fifth, and everything the company produced sold in huge numbers. Also a boom in car ownership at the time saw BMC ideally placed with cars like the Mini and ADO 16 appealing to first time buyers. What could go wrong, as by 1963 BMC was seen as one of the most innovative and successful vehicle manufacturers in the world?

  10. BMC seemed to get everything right in this period. The Mini was a revolutionary product, only Fiat were making this size of car, and they tended to be tiny, weird beard cars with rear engines that barely sold in Britain in the early sixties, and the only serious competition arrived in 1963 when Hillman launched the Imp. Also for all it was getting on, the Morris Minor had proven itself as a very reliable, cheap to own small car, although it started to be overshadowed by the ADO 16 after 1962, like the Mini, a front wheel drive car with excellent handling and styling.
    Finally the Farina bodied cars( Austin Cambridge and the like), I don’t get the criticism of the styling. To me, they tended to date less quickly than the Americanised designs of Ford and Vauxhall and had a stately appearance on the road. Also they proved themselves as reliable, spacious family cars and remained in production until 1970 due to problems with the ADO 17.

    • Glen… I saw a Farina Wolseley in a car park in Yorkshire a few months ago and it looked in show condition (think it was H reg). When the engine started and he drove away, the sound of the engine & gearbox took me back to what I remembered in those days… was like music!

  11. Personally the criticism regarding the Farina’s styling comes from the view that BMC could have kept and further developed the largely Ponton styling of the cars the Farinas replaced, along with taking some inspiration from the Volvo Amazon for the mainstream (Austin / Morris) and the Jaguar Mk1/Mk2 for the sporting / upmarket (MG, Riley, Wolseley, Vanden Plas) Farina variants respectively or even a combination of the two.

  12. Not mentioned on here and overshadowed by the ADO16 and the Mini, but the Austin A40 was quite an innovative design, having a hatchback when such designs were rare. It might have been overshadowed by the Mini and ADO16 after 1962, but the A40 was a consistent seller and was on the price lists until 1968.

  13. Given there was still healthy demand for both the Morris Minor and Austin A40 Farina after ADO16 appeared until the previous two ceased production.

    Could BMC in theory have updated both cars using them to further eat into the sales of their RWD competitors or produced a short-lived RWD bitsa replacement for both using mechanicals from both the A35 / A40 Farina and Minor (such as the latter’s Rack & Pinion steering) to achieve the same purpose?

    • You often wonder, as BMC could have cancelled both the ageing Morris Minor and the Austin A40 when the ADO 16 was launched, but maybe the company was wary of upsetting buyers who still liked this pair of cars and weren’t keen on fwd and Hydrolastic suspension. Also the Minor’s sales were very healthy until the late sixties, and the car was known for being very reliable and less rust prone than the ADO 16.

      • Agreed

        Obviously BMC would have been foolish to drop both the A40 Farina and Minor though at the same time, perhaps BMC were hasty in fully committing to FWD and Hydrolastic suspension instead of at minimum cannily updating their RWD models to steal sales from their more conventional RWD rivals.

    • I did wonder how the Australian Morris Major / Austin Lancer would have done on the UK market as a Minor replacement with the 948 & 1089cc engines.

      Talking of updated bodwork, were any mid-life facelifts considered for the bigger Farins, smoothing down the style to make them look more mid 1960s?

      • Not sure regarding the Morris Major / Austin Lancer, however it would have been interesting seeing the related Wolseley 1500 / Riley 1.5 spawn Morris and MG variants equipped with the 1.6 B-Series engines found in the Farinas (and MGA).

        The 1275cc A-Series unit would also have been very useful alongside the 1.6 B-Series in the Minor-derived models though the full production version of the engine would not appear until the mid-60s when the Morris Major and Wolseley 1500 models finished production, pity BMC could not bring the 1275cc A-Series into full production much earlier in the early 60s.

        As it was the Morris Minor could have probably received ADO16 spec 1275cc A-Series engines from the mid-60s until production finally ceased a few years later, while the Austin A40 Farina could possibly receive at best a limited-run Spridget spec 1275cc A-Series variant during its final year in production.

    • In the end they did come up with a RWD Cortina/Hillman Hunter-Avenger/Vauxhall Viva-Magnum competitor with the Marina, but by then the Cortina had reached it’s large size Mk3 version. It still used Morris Minor bits and peices

      • Indeed, one could argue that the Marina belonged in the early/mid-60s though it was initially conceived as more of a mk1 Ford Escort sized car.

        Yet at the same the time BMC already had the Minor-derived Wolseley 1500 and Morris Major, both of which could have formed the basis for an early Marina and one that perhaps even utilizes more sophisticated suspension such as the IRS tested on MGB prototypes.

        There was also the option of BMC’s early RWD Cortina challenger being instead derived from an alternate Farina B based on the Morris Oxford and MG Magnette ZA/ZB mechanicals, while BMC’s Minor-derived RWD competitor remains just a mk1 Escort or Viva HA/HB sized car.

  14. Congratulations on a throughly researched article – and with such good posts following. My thought would be that whenever I have been involved in sorting out problems within an organisation, there is absolutely never a single cause. Many of the posts here are knowledgable due to direct connection with the company – and I fully respect that. I do believe though that if management decides to stop drilling a hole that is no longer needed – and the unions strike because of it (as happened at PS in Swindon) – then any management is seriously challenged. What appears ( from my study of these things over many years) is the degree of ‘reasonableness’ – that is key to relationships working. Just by reading the ‘Leyland Papers” one is acutely aware that management at times behaved in the most rediculous fashion bordering on the criminal. To put it into context, even if the management had been ‘world class’ – with the unions behaving the way they were – it was never going to work long term – and indeed vice versa!

  15. Management behaviour described in many articles of this amazing and wonderful website often is astonishing or downright frightening.
    There are striking similarities between the automotive industry described here and what can be found in books like Bert Hopwood’s “Whatever happened to the British motorcycle industry” or Abe Aamidor’s “Shooting Star: Rise and Fall of the British Motorcycle Industry”. The description that Honda invested more in the tooling for one single part of their 250cc twin than Triumph had as a yearly budget for all machine tools in their factory sounds similar to Jaguar proudly showing in the Eighties operative machinery they had bought used from Standard in the Thirties. The way Edward Turner is described sounds very similar to the “universal door” story on the car side.
    These are things you clearly can’t blame on the unions. Only that the unions didn’t do any better when left on their own, like with the Meriden Motorcycle CoOp.

    • I’ve heard about someone from Ford’s HQ looking around Brown’s Lane in the 1980s & thinking it was the worst factory he had seen west of the Iron Curtain.

    • At the start of the sixties, the Japanese were considered only capable of making transistor radios, often of dubious quality, and no one imagined how much of a power they’d become in later decades. I’m not really an expert on motorbikes, but I do know the Japanese started making lighter bikes with electronic ignition and cheaper prices than British companies, and they started to dominate the market by the late sixties.
      Similarly Japanese cars, with their strange styling and less than thrilling driving abilities, weren’t considered a threat when they appeared 50 years ago( a car like the Honda N600 was considered abysmal by Which when it was first imported in 1967). Yet the first few who bought cars from Datsun, Toyota and Honda found the cars to be very reliable, well equipped for the time including radios on many cars, and cheap to buy from friendly dealers. The trickle of buyers in the late sixties became a flood in the seventies, as Japanese cars upped their game with better looking and better to drive cars that were far better value and more reliable than European cars.

      • The big advantage the Japanese had was that they understood volume production- probably even more so than the Americans and Germans. It was not just volume production of complete cars- but the volume production of components. Toyota and Nissan created largest possible ranges of cars (many of which never came to the UK) based on the minimum number of different components. In 1970 the entire Nissan range was based around six basic petrol engines- all of which had large production runs. Compare this to BL at the time which were producing as many different six cylinder engines alone. Also due to the production volumes Japanese manufacturers could afford to do regular- and relatively inexpensive facelifts to keep their models fresh.

        • My reference was more to the short sightedness or downright blindness of management and the resulting decisions.
          Like forcing designers to use identical doors on half a dozen completely different cars. Or forcing engineers to design engines in a way that deliberately prevented enlargement of their capacity.
          Or the lack of reinvestment into production facilities, let alone R&D which led to British manufacturers of two and four wheeled vehicles offering hardware deeply rooted in the Forties against the competition of the Seventies. The Norton Commando was Bike of The Year five years in a row and the Triumph Bonneville was the best selling bike for several years in the late Seventies in Britain, but that was more a patriotic act than justified by the products and could not be repeated with cars, which are much less emotional products than motorcycles.

          • Not forgetting the Austin Allegro and Triumph Dolomite, which were in the same market sector, having totally different engines and one being fwd and the other being rwd. Obviously this must have massively increased costs and meant parts could not be interchangeable. Meanwhile, Datsun had a 1.4 litre engine that could fit into its three biggest sellers, the Cherry, Sunny and Violet, and this probably kept the prices of their cars down.

          • While the BMC range shared a fair amount of parts, the problem came with having the Triumph, Rover & Jaguar models to integrate into the parts supply chain.

            Datsun didn’t really have this worry, but had absorbed Prince motors without too much fuss in the mid 1960s.

        • I cannot agree that the Dolomite and the Allegro were in the same market sector. The Dolomite at its appearance in 1854cc for in 1972 was widely regarded ( and indeed was ) a credible competitor for the BMW 1602/2002 series, at a much more competitive price. When the Sprint was added to the range , it was in a class of its own as the first production 4 valve per cylinder engine since WO Bentley’s efforts in the 1920s . I don’t quite recall the Allegro falling into this competitive class!

          • The Dolomite and Allegro were in the same class as the Ford Escort, although the Dolomite was promoted more as an upmarket, sporting saloon and rather more desirable than the Allegro( well most cars were lol). Yet keeping these two ranges in production must have cost a lot of money, particularly when the Triumph was changed from rwd to fwd, as they had no interchangeable parts.
            However, back in 1959, when BMC was completely seperate from Triumph, the only differences were badge engineering and interiors on cars, as engines and transmissions were completely interchangeable between a Morris Oxford and an Austin Cambridge. I’m still convinced the whole British Leyland exercise was a disaster as it lumped unrelated companies like Leyland in with BMC and ruined both.

  16. Given the Farina B was said to be based on the Austin Cambridge A50/A55, how could the Farina B have been improved in terms of mechanicals as have always been of the view it should have instead been derived from the MG Magnette ZB (and Wolseley 15/50) as well as possibly the Morris Oxford III.

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