History : The BMC Story – Part Six : 1964 – The full Monte

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 part six, we look back at 1964 – the year the Mini Cooper took overall honours in the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally…

Donald Stokes made a name for himself in 1964 by selling Leyland buses to Cuba – he said it was not a political move

The date of 7 January 1964 was a key one in the history of the British Motor Corporation. It was announced that the Leyland Motor Corporation had sold 400 buses to Cuba, an order worth £4 million, much to the annoyance of the USA which, in those Cold War days, saw Fidel Castro’s neighbouring Communist regime as Public Enemy Number One.

Referring to reports that the US State Department had expressed ‘regret’ at the deal, Leyland Managing Director Donald Stokes said:
 ‘I am sorry they disapprove, but this is an English company doing a deal with Cuba. We did not have a press conference, when the Americans sold wheat to Russia. I have no knowledge of having to go to America for permission to sell buses. This is just a repeat order from a traditional customer of ours. This is a preliminary. They want 1450 buses altogether.’

Referring to the US ban on strategic material for Cuba, he said:
 ‘You cannot go to war in these buses. They are intended for paved city roads. You would look an awful mug trying to go and fight in them.’

It was this deal that made Donald Stokes’ reputation as a buccaneering salesman in the eyes of the public.

Meanwhile, on the Monte Carlo Rally

The last day of the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally was on 23 January. Despite the efforts of Ford with its huge Falcon saloons, it was the BMC Mini Cooper 1071S, 33 EJB, driven by Paddy Hopkirk and Henry Liddon that emerged triumphant. The giant-killing antics of the Mini were brilliantly exploited by BMC’s PR men and the car never looked back.

The victory would at least make the task of selling the Mini to EEC countries a little easier, and the little car did become fashionable in places like Paris. The Mini’s Designer, Alec Issigonis, BMC’s Technical Director said: ‘The amazing point is that I planned the ADO15 not as a competition car but as family transport. But I think that when exceptional drivers get hold of the car they can exploit its steering, suspension and roadholding – all of which I felt were important for a family car.’

On 11 February, BMC began work on EX234, an MG sports car designed to replace both the MGB and Midget. The plan was to use both A- and B-Series engines in a common body – eventually, though, the project petered out.

On 14 February, the first Mini Cooper 1275S was built at Longbridge. The decision to introduce an enlarged 1275cc version of the A-Series engine is generally credited to George Harriman. Meanwhile, in Australia on 17 February, the Morris 1100 was launched. The BMC PR machine was in overdrive at this time.

The first million FWD cars are built

BMC announced that production of front-wheel-drive cars had now passed the million figure. The company said on 19 February that 1,002,129 had been produced, including 782,838 Austin and Morris Minis and 219,291 Austin, Morris and MG 1100s.

Of the total, 325,441 or 32.5 per cent were exported.
 BMC was building 11,350 Issigonis-designed front-wheel-drive models a week, with demand still exceeding production and being further increased. That was assuming the factories were working normally.

At a press conference on 21 February, BMC South Africa announced it was the first car manufacturer in the country to produce a locally-built engine, in this case an 848cc A-Series engine for the Mini. The castings still came from the UK.

Mini does the business in Europe

The Copenhagen Motor Show opened on 28 February. James Bramley, the BMC Director of Exports, said on the first day that the Minis, known in Denmark as the Morris Mascot and Austin Partner (below), had become the best-selling British cars below 1000cc and in this competitive market nearly 63 per cent of all Austin and Nuffield cars now being sold had front-wheel drive.

Denmark, then an EFTA member, was a country that would eventually see a complete collapse of demand for British cars when it and the UK joined the EEC in 1973. James Bramley, the BMC Director of Exports, was a former journalist who had joined Singer in 1931 in a publicity role before defecting to Austin in 1932.

On 2 March, Lewis G. Whyte, Chairman of the London and Manchester Assurance Company Limited, joined the Board of the Leyland Motor Corporation. He was also a Director of Associated Commercial Vehicles. Lewis Whyte would play a prominent role in the formation of British Leyland in 1968.

MG Midget and Mini Cooper changes…

On 9 March, BMC announced the MG Midget MkII and Austin-Healey Sprite MkIII. The main change was the new 1098cc A-Series engine. The next day BMC announced that they were going to unveil two more Mini Cooper variants at the forthcoming Geneva Motor Show, the 970S and 1275S.

The 970S was a homolgation special designed to compete in the sub-1.0-litre category. The intention was to manufacture 1000 cars, but it didn’t quite work out like that.

BMC’s trading profits for the first 28 weeks of its financial year, revealed on 16 April, went up from £7 million to £13m. Three days later The Observer newspaper interviewed the Chairman and Managing Director of BMC, George Harriman. The article claimed that, by the end of June 1964, BMC expected to be churning out Minis and 1100s at over 13,000 a week.

More cars, more profits – to a million a year

According to The Observer’s analysis BMC had achieved an 85 per cent rise in half year profits from a 17 per cent gain in production. The article also pointed out that Ford of Britain, in the previous financial year had earned £35 million pre-tax profit, over twice as much as BMC’s 1962-63 figure, while producing 89,000 fewer vehicles.

Ford of Britain had just invested £96 million in three years, which was twice the £49 million BMC had just spent on increasing its capacity to one million units a year. ‘It’s not a hypothetical figure taken out of a skyhook,’ said George Harriman.

The article pointed out that, although the American-owned firms extracted far more profit per car, they had to plough in more money to manage the trick. Taken as a return on capital invested, the profitability gap between BMC and Ford of Britain was much less wide. George Harriman was quoted as saying, ‘our sights are set on selling 200,000 cars in Europe.’

Meanwhile, in Australia…

In Australia, BMC was now producing the 1100 at a rate of 600 a week in Holden’s stamping ground, ‘it’s been a fantastic thing,’ said Harriman. 
George Harriman was planning for a 36-40 per cent production increase over the next three years. He already had the factory space.

‘We’ve established new geographical boundaries. Now we’ll put new equipment inside to raise output with the same labour force.’

In the 28 April edition of The Times newspaper there was an interview with Alec Issigonis, the BMC Technical Director. I do not apologise for reproducing great chunks of it, for it gave an insight into Issigonis’s design philosophy.

Issigonis on the family car

Riley Kestrel and its creator, Alec Issigonis

He was asked about his conception of the family car? 
’This is really muddled, because it has so many different roles to tackle. The husband wants a car for the office in town, so it must be small. He has to take a fast, long-distance journey, but then it has not enough power.

‘When the family go on holiday they need big stowage space. To achieve all these features in one car is impossible. You can compromise on two, or do one properly. So the Mini is your office car, the big saloon for holidays.
 The inter-city car? No – the nearest approach is the Citroën DS19, with good aerodynamic form, no restriction of overall length and, therefore, internal space, and a high axle ratio. Bad for urban use, but ideal for motorways.’

Was not this a challenge to designers, he was asked.
 ‘Yes, but they are bound too much by convention – the Continentals with their rear-engine concept, which I think is dying, and the rest with their boring conventionality. There is no place for conventional motor car design. I cannot justify it on any grounds, except, perhaps, out-and-out racing.’

‘Four-wheel drive is a complete waste of money for the family motorist – unless he wants to go from London to Brighton on unmade roads or across muddy fields.’ – Alec Issigonis

He was also asked about four-wheel drive. 
’No. A complete waste of money for the family motorist – unless he wants to go from London to Brighton on unmade roads or across muddy fields. In countries where ice and snow prevail, in underdeveloped lands, or for farmers, four-wheel-drive may be the answer. But in civilized places, where roads exist, two-wheel drive is more than adequate.’

What Issigonis loved – and hated

Issigonis was also asked how far front-wheel drive could be developed. 
’If the car has a conventional power-to-weight ratio, there are almost no limits except when you reach 30cwt (1525kg) or over, or in the powerful sports car, which a sophisticated driver steers partly through the rear drive.

‘But on an ordinary car, front-wheel drive is a wonderful domestic appliance, like a cooker or washing machine – something your wife can use safely without being an expert. The problem of even braking on the front-drive car will be solved very soon.

‘I am preoccupied with making the whole engine package smaller, for the same power output, to gain more space inside the car. The transverse engine plan is really great fun, because, as it is, the four-cylinder in-line engine is better than any other type in power, economy and efficiency-including a V-4, which takes up too much room. All the poor thing really needs to make it perfect is a five-bearing crankshaft one day.’

The joys of the self-shifting car

Issigonis then elaborated on one of his favourite themes, automatic transmission. ‘It has been said that a scaled-down automatic gearbox becomes inefficient, costs go up and economy falls. But, looking not too far ahead, we think some of these deficiencies will be reduced.

‘At the same time the customer will accept it because city driving is getting so insufferable that soon he will no longer tolerate working a clutch pedal. We want to move away to automatic transmissions which eliminate the clutch, but which you can control at will. This is vital on a small car. We have great plans here and I think there could be rapid developments along these lines.’

‘Aerodynamic form is most important. It is also essential to keep the driver as far forward as possible for good visibility and driving safety-provided he has an engine in front of him too. We must shorten bonnets.’ – Alec Issigonis

And the subject of styling facelifts: ‘We are getting away from this. We shall concentrate more and more on functional cars and engineering improvements. I am sure car buyers are no longer attracted by styling gimmicks.’

Personnel changes at BMC

On 14 May, James Woodcock, one of BMC’s Deputy Managing Directors, announced his surprise retirement for ‘personal reasons.’

A spokesman for BMC said:
 ‘Nothing was known about it either inside or outside until the announcement was made.’ 
Jim Woodcock had been BMC’s number two since 1956 and Deputy Chairman of Morris Motors since 1955. He joined Wolseley Motors as an apprentice in 1922 and joined Morris Motors as a sales supervisor in 1935.

Lord Nuffield, the founder of the Morris empire, who died in 1963, left Jim Woodcock £5000. ‘In recognition of his loyally to me and to that company.’

A simultaneous announcement said that two more Directors had been appointed: Lester Suffield, aged 53, and Peter Davies, 45. Peter Davies had come to BMC in 1956 via GEC and Urwick and Orr. He had served with the REME in the Second World War, rising to the rank of acting Lieutenant Colonel.

Lester Suffield had started his working life with the London North Eastern Railway before joining Morris Motors. His previous post had been as the executive in charge of North American sales. Jim Woodcock died in 1991.

Cooper production expanded

On 1 June, the first Mini Cooper 970S was produced at Longbridge. A homolgation special, it used the same block and cylinder head as the 1071S and 1275S, but used a shorter stroke. This made it eligible for sub-1.0-litre competition categories. Also during the year production of the 997cc Mini Cooper was discontinued to be replaced by a 998cc unit.

Three weeks later Donald Stokes was in the news again when Leyland managed to sell another 500 buses to Cuba. Said Stokes: ‘We are ordinary commercial people trying to do a commercial job. We are not doing it for any political motive but just carrying out a deal with a traditional customer.’

In July 1964, BMC South Africa began producing the Mini Cooper 1071S. Then, on 12 August, BMC announced that it was to set up a car and tractor plant in Turkey. BMC survives to this day in Turkey, birthplace of Alec Issigonis.

Issigonis: ‘the car of the future will be small’

The Daily Express newspaper printed another interview with Alec Issigonis on 25 August. He was quoted as saying: ‘The car of the future will continue to be small and, I hope, more expensive. Cars must stay small. This is dictated by traffic conditions not only in Britain but all over Europe.

‘Now in the past people priced cars in their own minds according to size. The big car cost a lot, and was therefore good. The small car was cheap, and therefore was less good. This is the attitude that needs to change and, I think, is changing.

‘You know, the motor manufacturers do not like having to cost a car down almost to the last penny. We look forward to the time when people so cherish the small car they will want to pay more in order to have the refinements now available only on big cars.’

Price and size shouldn’t be mutually exclusive

Issigonis added:
 ‘Remember, the cost of a Rolls-Royce is in people’s minds at least partly related to its size. Big car, big price. But suppose they saw it the other way” as they see a lady’s watch. Suppose they thought: the smaller it is the more precious it must be.”
He was asked if he was advocating a baby Rolls-Royce.

‘This is what people ought to want, what many do already want, judging by the numbers who go in for the de luxe small car. And when enough people are ready to pay extra for quality in smallness, then we can give it to them.’

Two days later, the last Mini Cooper 1071S was built at Longbridge, the last of 4031 examples. With the 970S and 1275S on the market, the 1071S was now superfluous.

Mini Moke finally hits the market

Mini Moke
The MIni Moke might have been cool, but it wasn’t a commercial success…

BMC at last got around to announcing the Mini Moke, with production not really getting underway until the Autumn. Only 14,518 Mokes were manufactured up to October 1968 before all production was concentrated in Australia.

Understandably, the Moke flopped in the hasher climate of Northern Europe, but the switch to production down under did not please BMC’s French dealers who could sell all the Mokes they could get, and no doubt the same applied to other BMC agents in southern Europe.

Also in August 1964 BMC announced the 4-litre Vanden Plas Princess R (below), the company’s new range-topping model, the culmination of their deal with Rolls Royce that was announced on New Years Eve 1961. Based on the existing Vanden Plas Princess 3-Litre, which had appeared in 1961, the car was extensively reworked to justify its higher price. The power plant for the new car was a six-cylinder Rolls-Royce engine of 3909cc called the FB60. It produced 175bhp at 4800rpm and was mated to an automatic transmission.

Collaboration with Rolls-Royce

Speaking at the Press conference at which the Princess R was announced, George Harriman said:
‘The history in developing this car has been one of close collaboration between Rolls-Royce and BMC, and I would like to take this opportunity of paying tribute to both sides who have co-operated so very well in producing this fine motorcar.

‘Both Companies, although working jointly on this project, have been able to maintain their own separate identity and our arrangement in the strict legal sense is one of supplier and manufacturer, Rolls-Royce making the engines and BMC the rest. There has, however, developed between us a mutual understanding and appreciation of each other’s capabilities, and I am sure we shall continue to enjoy this association for many, many years to come.’

The car they had just seen was the result of the talks. George Harriman continued, ‘I am sure that when you have had an opportunity of driving one you will be as thrilled with its luxury and performance as we are.’ Dr Frederick Llewellyn Smith, Managing Director of the Car Division of Rolls-Royce, said the occasion was one of great importance in the British motor industry. ‘It is a comparatively rare occurrence for BMC to buy a car engine from another manufacturer. It is a completely unique occurrence for Rolls-Royce to sell one to another car manufacturer, although, of course, we have sold plenty for other purposes.’

A mixed success for Kingsbury

Production of the running gear was at the Cowley plant before the car was shipped to the Vanden Plas factory at Kingsbury in London for the fitting of interior trim. Sales of the 4-litre Vanden Plas Princess R were good at first, production was scheduled at 100 cars a week. but soon slumped.

It was still cheaper than the Jaguar MkX, but lacked the qualities that the skilled design team at Browns Lane were able to instil into their car. By 1967 production was down to 200 cars a year and the 4-litre Vanden Plas Princess R was axed in early 1968 in the dying days of BMC after 6555 cars were built.

One prominent user of the 4-litre Vanden Plas Princess R was Lord Lambury, formerly Leonard Lord, the President of BMC. His chauffeured car was originally registered as BMC 1, but he had it changed after being harangued by disgruntled BMC customers who were displeased with their cars.

BMC’s overseas expansion continues

On 14 September, BMC announced it was expanding their overseas manufacturing plants, the latest move being the establishment of an assembly works in northern Spain. 
The corporation disclosed that, under a forthcoming agreement with Nueva Montana Quijano, Minis would be assembled at its plant at Santander, on the north coast of Spain. Some locally-manufactured components would be used in the early stages, and this percentage would be progressively increased.

BMC said that the negotiations with the Spanish concern were still going on. This was the beginning of the Authi Mini.

On 29 September, BMC revealed details of the Hydrolastic suspension equipped Minis to be unveiled at the Paris Motor Show. By all accounts, Hydrolastic had originally been intended for the Mini, but had not been perfected in time for the cars launch in August 1959. The system made its debut on the ADO16 1100 in 1962.

Now it was being retrofitted to the Mini to give it what BMC was apt to call a big car ride. To its critics, the pitching ride induced feelings of nausea, impaired handling and added cost to a car of alleged dubious profitability.

Yet from the comments of Alec Issigonis above, it could be argued that Hydrolastic made the Mini a more desirable car in comparison with other small cars on the market, especially in EEC markets. And BMC did charge around £20 extra for the revised model.

The big one arrives…

Then, on 13 October 1964, the Austin 1800 was announced. In the view of many historians this was Alec Issigonis’ first big mistake, an attempt to foist onto the public an ungainly looking, starkly-equipped car that lacked the Mini’s cheeky looks and 1100’s smart but functional ergonomics when the market wanted the Ford Cortina.

The Times newspaper, clearly cribbing from a BMC press release wrote, ‘a working life of 150,000 miles, low depreciation rates, and a 10-year model run can be expected for BMC’s latest 90mph family saloon – the Austin 1800 – introduced today.’

‘Major features of this new medium sized Austin are its exceptional roominess – it will carry five large passengers and luggage comfortably, within an overall length of under 13ft 9in (9in shorter than the A60): 1798cc B-Series four-cylinder inline engine, with five-bearing crankshaft and 8.2 to one compression ratio.

‘A 10-year model run can be expected for BMC’s latest 90mph family saloon, the Austin 1800.’ – The Times

‘Developing a smooth 84bhp at 5300rpm; four-speed, all-synchromesh gearbox which is linked to the change lever by cables instead of rods: day-to-day fuel consumption of 26-30 mpg, and a maintenance- free chassis.’

‘The Austin 1800 is an addition to the BMC range, coming in above the A60 Cambridge, and will not replace any existing models. Initially the production target is 2500 a week, building up eventually to 4000. 
As on other current BMC models, styling has been the exercise of Sergio Pininfarina, the Italian coachbuilder of Turin.’

The Austin 1800: missing the marque

As it turned out the 1800/2200 never got anywhere near the production target of 4000 cars a week. Moreover, as with the introduction of the 1100, BMC had taken the decision to keep the model the new car was to supplant in production, in this case the Oxford/Cambridge range.

The Times also wrote: ‘Since the body is structurally twice as stiff as any other production model the whole car felt and behaved like one unit, with no shake, squeaks, or rattle.’

Another negative point against the ADO17 was that it was grossly over-engineered. Ford in Detroit had developed a new design of unitary body construction which took cost and weight out of the hull. These ideas had been passed to their European subsidiaries, and used on Dagenham’s Cortina. But these new construction methods had not reached BMC and, as a consequence, the extra weight the ADO17 had to carry affected its performance.

Positive reviews – niggling issues

In its review The Times concluded: ‘I would sum up the Austin 1800 as a ruggedly built car, adequately powered, comfortable, offering exceptional passenger space, and thoroughly well-designed for modern traffic and touring. It should earn the highest placings in export markets.’

At the time of launch reviews for the ADO17 were virtually all positive, but 70,000 first-batch samples sent BMC dealers frantic with customer complaints over various faults that should have been ironed out before the car went on sale. These problems delayed the launch of the Morris version until 1966.

What was early 1800 ownership actually like? One early production car, probably AOB 987B, was driven by Philip Turner of the now defunct The Motor magazine. In July 2016, his son Tony Turner wrote in Classic Car Weekly: ‘It spent its early life pottering around London testing accessories but became a motorway express once my dad got his hands on it. This is when the first of three engine blow-ups occurred. Eventually the truth dawned that the B-Series engine had the same dipstick markings it wore in the Austin Cambridge- even though the sump was now full of gearbox. Correcting that cured the blow-ups.’

On one long run for the magazine he recalled; ‘We had to juggle the heater and blower controls to keep the engine temperature gauge out of the red during the last hour of the return journey and emerged kippered at the finish.’

Target Cortina, but should it have been the DS?

The 1800/2200 has been damned by UK-centric writers for being too big and too expensive to compete with the Ford Cortina, but was that the sector of the market that the car was conceived for?

A sub-2.0-litre engine, front-wheel drive and an exotic suspension could be used as adjectives for the new Austin 1800, but could also be applied to the Citroën DS19, a car Issigonis admired for its engineering, if not for its space efficiency. It could be argued that the 1800 was intended as a DS rival by the Europe-focussed Alec Issigonis and George Harriman.

Citroen DS
The Citroën DS was a closer rival to the BMC 1800 than the Cortina which British journalists fixated upon

Either way the 1800 failed on both counts. Any hopes that the innovation of the 1800 would bludgeon the UK fleet buyers into buying the car in large numbers, regardless of the price differential over the Cortina, were destroyed by the reliability issues related by Tony Turner. And with Britain locked outside the EEC, the 1800 was also considerably more expensive than the Citroën DS in Europe’s largest trade bloc, once the tariffs were added.

In 20 years Citroën built 1.455 million DSs, an average of 72,000 cars a year, so BMC’s prediction of 4000 ADO17 cars a week production was wildly optimistic. The best year for ADO17 production was 1964-65, right at the start, when 56,876 left the factories – thereafter, production levels drastically slipped back.

The 1800 on export markets

Swiss distributor Emil Frey said of the 1800. ‘It was very good, thrilling even, but not enough thought had been given to reliability and finish. In those respects it was not comparable with its rivals. Over half the cars had 10-15 per cent of their retail cost taken up in pre-delivery inspection. I told Issigonis the 1800 was fine so long as we had his mechanics on hand fixing them for us.’

‘The 1800 was very good, thrilling even, but not enough thought had been given to reliability and finish.’ – Emil Frey, Swiss BMC distributor

Perhaps the real problem with the 1800 was that, apart from the transverse front-wheel-drive layout, there was little carry over from the tried and tested Mini and 1100. The design requirement meant that a larger engine was required, and that meant a completely new powertrain in the form of the B-Series engine. This combined with inadequate testing and the dipstick mix up resulted in underwhelming sales.

The Austin 1800 was voted European Car of the Year 1964, something that tends to be forgotten amid the brickbats. But its downfall was that the UK fleet buyers did not want it and the Europeans who acclaimed it were not willing to pay BMC’s asking price.

Australian expansion materialises

The day after the ‘Landcrab’, as it was later christened, was launched, there was another announcement, this time from BMC Australia. It announced a $A7 million Australian expansion programme. About $A3,500,000 of the money would be spent on capital buildings, plants and equipment in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane over the next four years.

The Australian Sales Director of BMC said that plant would be built to increase local content in vehicles in accord with the Federal Government’s objective. The eventual aim of BMC was a 95 per cent Australian content in vehicles.

On 15 October 1964 the UK held a General Election. The election was a straight fight between Sir Alec Douglas-Home’s Conservative Party and Harold Wilson’s Labour Party. The Conservative Government was seen as tired and riven by scandal. As well as the Profumo affair, there seemed to be endless espionage scandals where it seemed like most of the security services were working for the other side.

A change in the political landscape

On top of this the rapid post-war economic growth seemed to be dissipating. The General Election resulted in a very slim majority for the Labour Party of four seats, and led to their first government since 1951.

Harold Wilson had begun to try to tie the Labour Party to the growing confidence of Britain in the 1960s, arguing that the technological revolution would sweep away restrictive practices on either side of industry.

The Labour Party hoped to employ a planned economy in order to boost economic growth and government intervention to persuade British industry to merge into larger combines to combat foreign competition.

The outgoing Conservative Government had already coerced the aircraft industry to merge into large groupings, the British Aircraft Corporation and Hawker Siddeley, now Labour would try and do it on a larger scale with other industries.

On inspecting the books, the new Government found that after ’13 years of Tory misrule,’ as they dubbed it, Britain was bankrupt. Suddenly, the new Labour Government found it had to adopt pragmatism rather than socialism and began to rein in public spending as a matter of course.

Defence spending was cut, the withdrawal from the Empire was accelerated and the railway closure programme instigated by Dr Richard Beeching was continued. Although nobody realised it at the time, October 1964 marked the end of the fantasy of a New Jerusalem for post-war Britain. It was masked in our collective memory by the cultural explosion of music, fashion and art that was occurring simultaneously. The Wilson Government was forced to put the brakes on the economy, a sort of mini-credit crunch confined to the UK only. The economy did not go into recession, but neither did living standards improve as rapidly as they had done prior to this.

Economic changes affect the car industry quickly

For the British motor industry it meant that the domestic market stagnated for the rest of the decade, instead of the hoped for expansion that would utilise all the extra production capacity installed at great expense. The withdrawal from the Empire also caused problems. The new independent nations had no obligation to buy manufactured goods from their erstwhile colonial masters. This was a marketing opportunity for Britain’s competitors, not least Japan.

Reduced to the opposition benches, Quintin Hogg MP, later Lord Hailsham, became an early customer of the acclaimed Austin 1800. One speculates on what his customer journey was like?

On 20 October, BMC announced that the million selling Morris Minor (above) was still being produced at a rate of 1100 a week, while the Austin A40 was running at about 820 a week. 
BMC emphasized that there were no plans for dropping either model, and announced further refinements for both, and technical improvements to the MGB. On the MGB the main change was the fitting of a five-bearing crankshaft, as fitted to the new Austin 1800, providing greater quietness and smoothness in running and longer engine life.

Unsatisfactory working conditions lead to unrest

On the last day of the month an inquiry comprising Ford Labour Relations Manager Leslie Blakeman, AUEW President Sir William Carron, and backed by four other union chiefs and four car industry management men revealed its verdict on the industrial relations record of the Morris Motors’ factory in Cowley, Oxford. In the 12 months up to September 1964 the plant suffered from 254 unofficial strikes which caused 750,000 lost man-hours.

Workers told the inquiry team that unsatisfactory conditions, chiefly in the plant’s paint shop, caused many of the strikes. The unions alleged that the management displayed paternalism and said they were tolerated rather than accepted. Company officials claimed the plant’s Shop Stewards dominated the workers, who too often walked out before complaints could be handled. The inquiry found that discomfort in the conditions did not justify the frequent defiance of constitutional procedure.

However, it recommended that priority should be given to improving paint shop facilities. They suggested that high priority should be given to new facilities, including roof fans and the prevention of roof leaks. Planned renewal of respect for the official procedure for settling disputes which should be 
’fairly, firmly and flexibly interpreted’ 
was also recommended.

The appointment of a Labour Relations Officer, or Department, was recommended to the management. This would give added and specific attention to the present situation and would promote the maintenance of sound relationships in the future. The department should give special attention to creating better understanding of the role of Morris Motors within BMC.

The commission said that, if the unions and their members behaved constitutionally, this should be rewarded by quick, satisfactory resolution of problems. Its recommendations would come before a joint meeting of the Cowley management and Shop Stewards held on 14 December 1964.

At that meeting it was agreed that action by workpeople in defiance of procedure had to stop. On 15 December an Industrial Relations Officer was appointed by the Morris Motors management at Cowley, following a recommendation by the commission which inquired into labour relations and stoppages at the factory.

The financial results are in

On 19 November, BMC announced its financial results. BMC manufactured 858,000 vehicles in the 1963-1964 financial year and made a pre-tax profit of £31,405,496 according to the yearly report which George Harriman, the Chairman and Managing Director sent to shareholders. This equated as a profit of £36.60 per vehicle.

This compared with Ford of Britain who made a pre tax profit of £24 million from sales of 618,211 vehicles, a profit of £38.82 per vehicle, which actually revealed that BMC were not as bad at costings as has been made out by so many writers.

Back to History : The BMC Story – Part Five : 1963 – Rejection!

Forward to History : The BMC Story – Part Seven : 1965 – Zenith

Ian Nicholls
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  1. I think the problems with the ADO16 went beyond its early reliabilty issues, its mean equipment levels for the price, and the ponderous steering, it was too big for a market that was buying the smaller Cortina and Vauxhall Victor in large numbers. For less money, you could buy a sporting version of the Vauxhall Victor that had the same performance, but was smaller and lighter to drive.

    • The 1800 was in fact considerably shorter ( by nearly 10 inches ) than the Victor 101, although it was marginally ( 2 inches ) wider . The visual illusion that the 1800 was a large car outside was just that : an illusion

  2. Would a suitable alternative to ADO17 have been an earlier ADO16-based Austin Apache 3-box saloon powered by a uprated 1.6 B-Series / B-OHC engine?

    Since the Austin Apache is the same length as the later Austin Maxi, while its transverse-engine FWD should offer roughly similar space or more compared to the Ford Cortina and Vauxhall Victor despite its slightly smaller dimensions until the mk3 Ford Cortina and Vauxhall Victor FD.

  3. BMC had an excellent run in the first half of the sixties, with market share up to 44 per cent at times, but by the mid sixties, it was starting to face serious competition from Ford, Rootes and Vauxhall, Millions of carowners preferred the simpler rwd layout to fwd prevalent on BMC cars and conventional suspension as they believed it to be more reliable and easier to maintain. The ADO17 had been the company’s first major setback, it was too expensive and basic to compete with its main rivals, and reliability issues affected sales.

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