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

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 seven, we look back at 1965 – the year BMC literally had the world at its feet…

New Year’s Day was not a public holiday, but that did not stop mass absenteeism, no doubt due to workers welcoming in 1965. A BMC official in Birmingham said absenteeism on News Year’s Eve had been extremely high, particularly on the night shift, and on New Year’s Day it had been as high as 30 per cent.

At Morris Motors’ factory at Cowley an official said absenteeism was heavier than normal, resulting in production losses. On the night shift on New Year’s Eve production was seriously disrupted and workers who did report for work had to be sent home again.
 It was also revealed that BMC had placed an order for two Burroughs B263 system computers.

The B263 was then the world’s fastest punched card computer. The total value of the order was £170,000. Both computers were to be delivered in April 1965. One was to be installed in the Morris Motors’ Tractors and Transmissions branch in Birmingham and the second at the factory at Bathgate in Scotland, where BMC manufactured heavy-duty lorries and the larger tractors. The Birmingham computer was to be initially applied on an integrated system of budget control.

At Bathgate the new installation would be applied to calculating labour budgets and eventually also to production and budgetary control. 
The computers were reported to be identical in configuration to the 151 systems ordered by the US Air Force in September 1964.

Harriman grilled at work

On 6 January, the Daily Express published an interview with George Harriman, Chairman and Managing Director of BMC in his office at Longbridge. The newspaper asked George Harriman how Britain could sell more and more abroad?

This was his answer: 
’Nobody should sit back and wait for the Government to do their job for them. To put ourselves over we must have salesmen knocking on as many doors as possible all over the world. And we must make all our employees from the shop floor upwards truly export conscious. To succeed abroad a company’s executives must have the courage to expand, full confidence in their products and a brilliant selling organisation.’
He was also asked what help he thought the Government could give exporters.

‘First, it must quickly settle the new export incentives, and these must be large ones. We must have a fixed bank rate for export. We should have Government insurance on overseas investments against the risks of convertibility, misappropriation or war. Other countries, including Germany, the United States and Japan, have this kind of Government support.’

BMC still a huge player overseas

Harriman was asked exactly how his company attacked the problem of selling abroad successfully. 
’We split the world up into zones to get maximum concentration from our top organisation. We sell our cars, trucks and tractors through a world-wide network of nine overseas subsidiary companies, 20 assembly plants, 500 distributors, and 5512 dealers.’

On 27 January, it was reported that BMC was to change some of the production lines at its Longbridge and Cowley assembly factories to enable production of the Austin 1800 to be increased to meet worldwide demand. 
Some of the Minis now made at Cowley would be produced at Longbridge and, in return, Cowley would make Austin A60s then built at Longbridge. 
Some of the A60s at Longbridge were now made on the same production line as the 1800.

To enable production of the 1800 to be increased, this work would move on to a line at Cowley already making other models in the 1.5-litre range. BMC was obviously preparing to manufacture the 1800 at a rate of 4000 a week. Quite when it dawned on them that the car was not going to sell in the expected numbers is not known.

Mini is now officially on top of the world

Mini-Cooper S AJB 44B takes a memorable win in the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally

For BMC, the big news event of 1965 was its second consecutive victory in the Monte Carlo Rally. Mini Cooper 1275S AJB 44B driven by Timo Makinen and Paul Easter destroyed the opposition, in one of the greatest drives in rallying history. However, that was not all – in 1965, the works Minis won rally after rally, culminating in Rauno Aaltonen being crowned as European Rally Champion 1965. The BMC baby was now king of the road.

On 3 February, the millionth Mini was made at Longbridge to great fanfare, with the media in attendance. This actual car, a white saloon registered BOL 888C, is now a resident at Volkswagen’s Autostadt museum in Wolfsburg, Germany. 
Speaking to Basil Cardew of the Daily Express, Alec Issigonis said of the car’s development.
 ‘We didn’t come across major difficulties, but I think we would have done if the engine had been otherwise faced.’

As well as Issigonis, George Harriman, Timo Makinen and Paddy Hopkirk were in attendance.

One millionth Mini rolls off the line
Alec Issigonis drives the millionth Mini off the line at Longbridge

The millionth Mini – but which?

A week later a prize draw took place today at the Morris Radiators factory in Oxford for the millionth ADO15 Mini. However it was not the same car driven off the production line on 3 February by Alec Issigonis. This millionth Mini was a red saloon. The prize draw was overseen by the factory manager Mr J.T.A. Hull and made by Malcolm Young, Oxford district secretary of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions. Mr Young picked one ticket out of a revolving drum, which contained 1600 slips of paper from employees at the factory.

The winner was a Mr Parker, a chemist in charge of the factory’s automatic plating plant. This millionth Mini was eventually registered as AWL 300C and, like the white car, also survives. So which was the millionth Mini?

We are left to speculate. It is highly possible the white official millionth Mini was part of a pre-planned media event organised as a BMC public relations exercise and the white car was selected at random to be driven off the line by Alec Issigonis. Such pre-planning made no allowance for hold ups in production that might throw a spanner in the works. And with dual production with Cowley, how could BMC really know which was the millionth Mini off the line?

By early March a strike by 300 maintenance men at the Austin factory at Longbridge had led to a staggering 24,000 lay offs as machinery malfunctioned and nobody was available to repair it.

Success leads to… strikes

The Observer newspaper at the time described how BMC handled industrial disputes: ‘We attempt the general inculcation of a spirit that will handle disputes properly, fairly and temperately and avoid explosive language,’ said a BMC man.
 In 1961 BMC had brought in Richard O’Brien from a Northern steel firm as Director (and repairer) of Industrial Relations.

Mild-mannered and intelligent, O’Brien was considered a skilful background boy in his early 40s, who normally stayed away from the negotiating table, as did George Harriman and an old shop floor hand himself. Production of the Austin 1800 was running at 800 a week before the strike; a build-up to 1750 to 2000 was the gleam in George Harriman’s eye. With total pre-strike output running at 19,000 a week, just a bit below capacity, BMC had an enormous stake in keeping the industrial peace.

The Works Committee was led by Dick Etheridge, a Communist and an expert at dealing with industrial squabbles. However, he did not get involved in the maintenance men’s dispute. The maintenance men’s dispute did not end until 15 March.

Personnel changes at BMC

On 12 March, BMC announced some more appointments. Eric Pedlow, an ex-Royal Marine, was appointed a Director of the Austin Motor Co. It was announced that Sydney Wheeler was retiring from the post of Deputy Managing Director, Finance, of BMC on 13 April.
 He would however, stay on the Board.

Ron Lucas joined the Board and would become a Deputy Managing Director with special responsibilities for financial matters upon the retirement of Sydney Wheeler. Ron Lucas had joined Austin in 1927 and did not leave the scene until his retirement in the 1970s. 
Lester Suffield was appointed a Deputy Managing Director with special responsibilities for home and export sales and publicity.

On 5 April, the last ADO50 Mini Cooper 970S was produced at Longbridge. A total of 963 were manufactured, which was not quite the 1000 required for competition homolgation…

The Birmingham ‘Showcase for Export’

BMC opened what they had named as a ‘Showcase for Export’ at its Longbridge headquarters on 7 April. A massive, multi-faceted, circular, glass and concrete building, 38ft high and standing 30ft above road level, it was crowned by a dome 100ft in diameter, and was sited near the corporation’s multi-storey car park, which had a capacity of 3300 vehicles.

The new hall would give the first permanent display of the full BMC range of Austin and Morris vans and lorries. Designed by Harry W. Weedon and Partners, the corporation’s architects, it embodied a vast, well-lit floor space, with a capacity of between 30 and 40 vehicles – the whole exhibition area having minimum obstruction by columns. 
The opening ceremony of the new commercial vehicle exhibition hall was performed by Sir Richard Powell, Permanent Secretary, Board of Trade.

On 24 May, BMC announced the following appointments: 
Mr Geoffrey N. Iley, formerly Deputy to the Director of Supply, was appointed a Deputy Director of Production and also joined the board of Morris Motors; 
Mr Neville S. G. Jeffery, formerly Chief Buyer of Fisher and Ludlow, succeeded him as Deputy to the Director of Supply. Neville Jeffrey had joined Fisher and Ludlow in 1929. Geoffrey Iley eventually left BMC in 1968 to join the glass industry. In 2012 he published his first novel called ‘Navegator’.

Around this time George Harriman was quoted as saying: ‘It is imperative for the British motor industry to have a good, sound home market. All this poppycock about restricting the home market to get better exports is just not on.’

And the numbers are in…

On 14 April BMC revealed its interim financial results.
 The group’s apparent success in home and export markets had raised hopes of a fresh increase in profits, which was not realised.
 Profits had slipped back badly on a modestly higher output. Estimated group profit for the first 28 weeks of the current financial year was given at £11,600,000, against £13,300,000 for the corresponding period the previous year.

Production in the period totalled 462,217 vehicles compared with 456,367 the previous time, and during the period in which BMC’s expanded facilities were available to meet increasing demand, some 35,200 vehicles were not produced as a result of industrial disputes within the Corporation and in some of its suppliers factories.

By May 1965, the Mini was being produced at a rate of 5000 a week.

More industrial unrest looks likely

Unions at Morris Motors, Cowley, on 3 June distributed 10,000 leaflets after a seven-union summit meeting. The joint statement condemned violation of management-union agreements following a spate of recent unofficial strikes. And it stressed:
 ‘Before any stoppage, there must be full consultation with senior Shop Stewards’

These unofficial strikes came less than six months after a ‘fresh start’ in industrial relations was made at the factory. The ‘let’s begin again’ phase had followed the probe by a commission of employers and union leaders in the motor industry.

George Harriman
George Harriman: ‘We have not been able to supply enough cars to customers because we have not been able to make enough.’

On 8 June, The Times interviewed George Harriman (above). He was confident about the company’s prospects for 1965. ‘I certainly cannot see it being worse than last year, which was itself a record in spite of what the City pundits say.’

Not building cars fast enough…

The Times was told that BMC had outstanding orders for all vehicles totalling more than 256,000, compared with just over 180,000 at the same time the previous year. 
Orders for the Austin 1800 stood at 33,000, and for the BMC 1100s 52,000.
 ‘Sales over the past year have gone exactly according to our forecasts. But we have not been able to supply enough cars to customers because we have not been able to make enough, because of a spate of small industrial disputes. These are still the bugbear, as you can see from our production charts,’ said George Harriman.

These, he showed The Times, had dropped from 19,000 vehicles a week, to a level of 16,000, or 5,000 below the full capacity of 21,000 a week, which was reached a few weeks before the latest wave of labour troubles hit the corporation. ‘We shall continue expanding, putting up new plant, replacing outdated plant,’ George Harriman said.

He added, 
’It is encouraging as well as flattering to see our concept of front-wheel drive, transverse engines, being taken up not only on the continent but by other manufacturers here. It is also significant that the Japanese are seeking to take up some of our other ideas.’

But in a good place for the future

By now, the vast new Cofton Hackett engine works, which it was hoped would provide power units for future medium-range BMC models, was under construction, while at Oxford one of the biggest and most up to date spare parts warehouses in the world, costing £6 million, would be completed by the end of 1965.

‘We are extremely conscious of the importance of spares supply and we are still giving priority to this in overseas markets. We now have 96 per cent availability of spares for new, old and even obsolete models, and that includes a total of 113,000 different parts,’
said the BMC Chairman.

He was also asked about the prospects of further price increases, following those announced earlier in the year? The BMC Chairman spoke frankly:
 ‘Obviously this depends on sales, Government policy, Hire Purchase and the general economic position. I think if we can keep increasing our volume, we can hold prices down. But it is no good merely consolidating on the present position. One cannot afford to stand still for a second.’

BMC moves in on Pressed Steel

On 12 June, in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, knighthoods were awarded to George Harriman and Donald Stokes of the Leyland Motor Corporation. In July 1965 the Mini Cooper 1275S was belatedly launched in South Africa.

The big news of the month came on 22 July, when it was announced that BMC had made a £34 million takeover bid for Pressed Steel, the Oxford-based car body group.
The boards of both companies announced that agreement had been reached in principle for the merger. The bid was being made 
’to keep the British motor industry British’, 
so BMC told The Times.

Pressed Steel made car bodies for most of Britain’s leading manufacturers but BMC was its largest single customer.
 Pressed Steel’s works were geographically well placed for supplying BMC by conveyor belt. Assurances were given by BMC that it intended to maintain the goodwill and business relationships that Pressed Steel enjoyed with their other customers.

Not a good start

The Pressed Steel factory next to the Morris Motors works at Cowley was not the most pleasant place to work. David Buckle, then Oxford District Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union had himself worked at the Cowley Pressed Steel Plant. In 2011 he recalled his first impression of the factory.

‘My first shock was the condition of the factory. It was filthy, very dark and extremely noisy, with lead dust in the atmosphere, which glittered when the sun shone through the very high, filthy windows.’

‘Due to smoke from gas and arc-welding guns it was very difficult to see much beyond 50 yards. All the men looked very pale. To me it was Dante’s Inferno. Everyone living in Cowley knew who the car workers were because of their pale complexions.’

‘The management and most media blamed the working people for the bad industrial relations. But a more modern and caring management could and should have prevented many of the bad conditions of work.’

The Managing Director of Pressed Steel was Joe Edwards. During the 1956 credit squeeze Edwards had been BMC’s Director of Manufacturing. He had impressed Leonard Lord with his management skills, but had fallen out with the BMC Chairman over how to handle what was a difficult situation. He had walked out of BMC straight into the top job at Pressed Steel.

Exporting expertise to Europe

The need for BMC to sell its wares in EEC markets to remain a volume player was highlighted by its 7 August announcement that it was forming a new subsidiary which would run one of the most up-to-date assembly plants in Belgium.

The new company was British Motor Corporation (Belge) S.A. The plant, developed and operated up to now by the Societe Belge d’Assemblage Automobile S.A. (SBAA) of Seneffe, southern Belgium, had the capacity to assemble 10,000 vehicles a year and was capable of further expansion.

Seneffe was near Charleroi, capital of the Belgian black country and less than half an hour from Brussels. Henceforth, it would be assembling for the Belgian market a range of BMC products which would continue to be distributed in Belgium by SA Bruxelloise d’Auto Transports, Societe General d’lmportation et de Distribution Automobile and Ets. P. Decrose, S.A.

Announcing this, Sir George Harriman said the development offered new scope for British car and commercial vehicle exports to Belgium. It had been achieved with the active cooperation of Tozer, Kemsley and Millbourn (Holdings) Ltd., the London export and confirming house, which had previously provided distribution finance for developing this market, the Beherman-Demoen group, proprietors of the plant, the BAT distributor organisation, and with the goodwill and encouragement of the Belgian Government. BMC vehicles were now selling in Belgium at the rate of 7000 a year.

The organisation came into being two days later. Seneffe began by assembling 60 cars a day from CKD kits supplied from Britain and employing 200 workers. It gave BMC another back-door entrance into the EEC car market, but because the components were manufactured in Britain, they were still subject to trade tariffs.

The Seneffe plant would provide well-built British designed cars for continental Europe for the next 16 years and generate a lot of goodwill, particularly towards the Mini.

Another strike ends painfully

At the end of August 1965 BMC, suffered a damaging 12-day strike by 400 maintenance men at the Llanelli car components factory of Fisher and Ludlow. It resulted in 20,000 lay offs and reputedly cost BMC £8 million.

It was only resolved when two top executives were ordered to go there to investigate by BMC’s Deputy Managing Director, Production, Bill Davis. On 6 September, Samuel Haynes, formerly Publicity Manager (Home) was appointed Deputy Director of Publicity for BMC.

Three days later BMC gained control of Pressed Steel, the car body group. At the final acceptance date for the one-for-one share bid, 89 per cent of Pressed Steel holders had assented. The Board of Trade had referred the merger to the Monopolies Commission. The Commission had six months to produce its answer.

New metal unveiled

Wolseley 1100

On 27 September, the Wolseley 1100 (above) and Riley Kestrel (below) were launched. These upmarket ADO16s were fitted with the same running gear as the MG 1100. To critics this was badge engineering gone mad, but visually the new models stood out from the ordinary Austin and Morris 1100s and the basic car was arguably the most advanced family car in the world.

Riley Kestrel

Also during September 1965 Innocenti in Milan began producing its version of the Mini-Minor. During the next month the Mini Moke was introduced in South Africa. On 14 October BMC announced the automatic versions of the ADO16.

At the time of the announcement Mini and 1100 production was running at 11,000 to 12,000 a week, and the initial output target for the automatic versions had been set at about 1200 a week, comprising 60 per cent 1100s and 40 per cent Minis. The new automatic gearbox, a four-speed AP unit, was originally offered as an optional extra on the Austin and Morris Mini and ADO16 1100 saloons.

Alec Issigonis, the man behind the project, was asked about the reliability of the system once it was subjected to everyday use and abuse. 
’Our experience of automatics with a torque converter is that they are far more reliable than a manual gearbox because you cannot abuse them so much and you cannot over-rev them.’

‘All the time I lived in the country, I hated automatics, but having lived in Birmingham for two years and driven one of these prototypes for the past 18 months I have changed my mind. There was also the added challenge from our competitors, who said this gearbox could “never be done”.’ – Alec Issigonis

Sir George Harriman said:
 ‘Drivers need have no qualms about the safety of this automatic, even in snow, ice, or mud. We have aimed to take the work out of driving, and I see this as a great feat of British engineering and collaboration between our two companies.’ The AP gearbox would stay in production until the 1990s.

MG stuns with new MGB GT

The GT added a new dimension to MG’s sports car range

There were further product announcements on 20 October. The MGB GT was announced – this neat looking coupe remained in production until 1980.

The Times quoted BMC Chairman Sir George Harriman as saying,
 ‘The next step must be increased volume from our factories by means of expansion and the introduction of more intensive capital equipment. Then we must see the full utilisation of plant throughout the year: nothing must stop it – credit squeezes, industrial disputes, Chancellors of the Exchequer, or disruption of any kind.’

At the Motor Show, Alec Issigonis said: ‘Frankly, I think we are in for a spell of consolidation – a streamlining of the advances made in the last six years. I don’t see the manual gearbox disappearing, because, after all, it will always be cheaper. Hydrostatic transmission, driving the wheels by oil under pressure, has many problems to be solved. But I think it’s still a long way off for any application to family cars.’

More overseas movement

On 3 November, BMC South Africa announced the Austin and Morris Mini 1000 using the 998cc engine only found on the Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet in the UK.

The following day, Louis Beare, the BMC Director of European Sales and Service, spoke at the Turin Motor Show. He said that the introduction of the Mini Minor into the BMC-Innocenti range marked a further and significant stage in the development of their marketing policies in Europe, and, in particular, in the Common Market. ‘In the past four years alone our volume of business in Europe has doubled, to reach a level of 160,000 units a year, and we have our sights set on even higher volumes,’ he said.

While Britain remained out of EEC, and exporters had to face a high common external tariff, the corporation expected more and more that their agreement with Innocenti and their assembly operation in Belgium would be among the chief channels through which they would meet the heavy and rising demand for products in these markets.

Innocenti Mini Minor
1965 Innocenti Mini Minor was a sales success

In the previous two years, in spite of a 31 per cent import tariff, nearly 4000 Minis were sold in Italy. Louis Beare also emphasized that careful attention had been paid to providing adequate stocks and service parts to support the Mini-Minor marketing campaign being launched by Innocenti, with sales and service facilities at nearly 600 points throughout Italy. 
In the five years of BMC’s association with Innocenti, nearly 114,000 of their cars had been assembled or manufactured and sold in Italy.

’We expect our volume of business here will rise quickly to at least 50,000 units, confirming Italy as our largest market in Europe and one of our biggest customers in the world.’ – Louis Beare, BMC Director of European Sales and Service

The news from BMC’s overseas plants continued to flow in. BMC’s assembly plant established nine months before at Setubal, Portugal, planned to increase its capacity by 25 per cent to 10,000 vehicles a year, a company spokesman said on 9 November.
BMC had almost doubled its penetration of the Portuguese market and shipments for assembly in Portugal represented 50 per cent of the British market there. The models assembled were the Mini and ADO16 1100 range, the ADO38 Austin Cambridge and Morris Oxford saloons and J4 vans.

Gas problems cause production issues

On 16 November BMC began to suffer from cuts in its gas supply as it was trying to maximise production. As a result it had to lay off thousands of workers. A BMC spokesman explained that furnaces for heat treatment of the gearboxes needed 54 hours to reach operating temperature.

On 22 November, BMC published its annual report for 1964-1965. In it Sir George Harriman stated that BMC lost production of more than 95,000 vehicles in a year because of strikes. This killed all hope of the Corporation reaching its production target of 1 million vehicles a year.
 Sir George said that two-thirds of the lost 95,000 vehicles resulted from unofficial strikes and stoppages outside the BMC factories.

BMC had made a profit of £33 million before tax, its best figure yet, clearly indicating that it was doing something right. Exact production figures for all vehicles are not available, but the Corporation produced 727,592 cars. Longbridge produced 376,781 vehicles of all types, its best ever year.

For the record, Ford of Britain manufactured 700,976 vehicles of all types and made a pre-tax profit of £8.9 million, a catastrophic drop from the impressive £24 million of a year before. This was only £12.69 profit per vehicle, hardly inspirational figures. In truth, until the arrival of the Escort in 1968, Ford of Britain was dependent on the Cortina for the profits from its passenger car division. Profits from 1965 to 1967 were disappointing despite the success of the Cortina.

Once the Escort was on stream in 1968, Ford became very profitable, posting a pre-tax profit of £43 million that year alone.

A tractor miracle… of sorts

BMC Mini Tractor
BMC Mini Tractor powered by what its maker claimed was the world’s smallest diesel engine

On 1 December, BMC announced plans to increase its share of world markets with a new Mini Tractor.
 Powered by what was claimed to be the smallest diesel engine (948cc) in volume production in Britain, it was the result of six years’ research and development, much of it done by Harry Ferguson Research at Coventry.

The Mini Tractor was very small, weighing only 1950lb fully equipped. It was 8ft 2in long and 3ft 8in high. Initial production was at the Adderley Park factory in Birmingham, but was transferred to the new £11.5million factory at Bathgate in Scotland.

Its new four-cylinder 948cc ohv diesel was derived immediately from the BMC A-Series engine of the same capacity.

The new tractor was not a great success, and was upgraded to a 1.5-litre B-Series diesel before being re-branded the Leyland 154 in 1969. Manufacture eventually ceased in 1984.

BMC and Pressed Steel merger completed

By 16 December, the merger of BMC and Pressed Steel was virtually completed, Sir George Harriman told the annual meeting in Birmingham. The Monopolies’ Commission had found nothing against the national interest in the merger, and Sir George added:
 ‘We can now arrange our affairs so that the maximum benefit may be obtained, not only for the corporation but for the entire motor industry.’

On 30 December, it was announced that Rootes Motors were to buy the Pressed Steel factory at Linwood, Scotland, from BMC. The consideration was £14,250,000, a sum which took account of Pressed Steel’s borrowings from the Board of Trade. Announcing this, Sir Reginald Rootes, Chairman of Rootes, said the acquisition ‘will greatly facilitate increased production and employment in Scotland.’

Approval of the merger of BMC and Pressed Steel resulted in Joe Edwards being invited back into the BMC fold with open arms, particularly by BMC President Lord Lambury, who saw his departure back in 1956 as regrettable.

The Maxi begins to take shape

It was during 1965 that design work began on the ADO14. It would become the Austin Maxi of 1969. George Harriman is said to have demanded a smaller car derived from the then-new Austin 1800 using the same doors as an economy measure. Whether it had dawned on the Chairman that the ADO17 was not going to sell in the numbers expected or that BMC needed a smaller car anyway to fill the gap between the ADO16 1100 and the new 1800 is not known.

Only 10 per cent of parts were common to both the Mini and ADO16, so the notion of sharing doors between the ADO14 and ADO17 was not as crazy as it later seemed. Dick Burzi’s Longbridge-based Styling Department, working with the specified width and wheelbase, had come up with a prototype by June 1965, basically an 1800 body reduced in length and width.

Requiring an engine larger than the 1098cc unit used in the ADO16, the designers looked at what BMC’s engine men had in the pipeline. Whether the existing B-Series engine was considered is not known. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the designers looked at an overhead camshaft engine then under development, but the dates do not tie up. BMC was developing the E-Series overhead camshaft engine, although the first 1485cc unit was not tested until March 1966, a full nine months after the first cut and shut ADO14 prototype was created. This was also long after the decision to build the Cofton Hackett plant that ultimately built the E-Series had been taken.

New car an industry open secret

A new D-cell, led by Eric Bareham, Assistant Chief Engineer – Engines and Transmissions, was given the task of bringing what was dubbed by the media as the BMC 1500, to fruition. The ADO14 BMC 1500 became an open secret because George Harriman and Alec Issigonis showed selected journalists what they were up to.

Geoffrey Charles of The Times wrote in 1969, ‘George Harriman, and his Technical Director, Alec Issigonis, first showed me ADO14, hidden in the secret projects department at Longbridge. It was almost indistinguishable from the then new 1800; sporting a roof-hinged tailgate and five gears, but decidedly ugly around its snub nose and chopped-off hindquarters. The concept was pure Issigonis: two-box body, maximum passenger space, minimum engine room and to hell with styling, Pininfarina must not run riot here…’

More ominously the British economy was stagnating. Between 1960 and 1965 UK car registrations rose by only 37 per cent. This compared with 66 per cent in France, 56 per cent in West Germany and 132 per cent in Italy. This was an average of 84 per cent for the car-producing EEC members – no wonder Britain wanted to join the club.

Although times were good, BMC was hardly making hay…

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

Forward to History : The BMC Story – Part Eight : 1966 – A spanner in the works

Ian Nicholls
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  1. Interesting the comments about Ford in the mid sixties. The Mark 1 and 2 Cortinas were highly competent and good cars, the Mark 2 becoming Britain’s best selling car in 1967, but the Anglia was an ageing design, the Corsair was good but the market preferred 2 litre Rovers and Triumphs, and the Mark 4 Zephyr was abysmal and deserved to sell badly. It wasn’t really until the Escort and Capri arrived that Ford had anything decent to sell in those market sectors.

  2. Though the 16 hp 948cc Diesel engine used the BMC Mini Tractor was at one point considered for commercial versions of the Mini, how much more power would the engine likely be putting out for the Mini commercial variants?

    Since there appears to be differences in figures depending on whether an engine is used for both tractors and cars, like with the Standard Wet Liner unit for example.

  3. The mid sixties probably were the zenith for BMC, and taking over Jaguar in 1966 gained them a respected luxury brand with huge export potential, but by 1967 the cracks were showing in the corporation as sales of the ADO17 were well below expectations and the Farina cars were seen as old fashioned against the Ford Cortina, Hillman Hunter and Vauxhall Victor FD( a very advanced car for the time). Also the ADO16, despite gaining a bigger engine option in 1967, was facing strong competition from smaller engined Cortinas, the Triumph 1300 and the Vauxhall Viva.

  4. I believe the Plough Inn pictured with the MG is at Clifton Hampden.
    Full marks to Keith for his picture selection.

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