Ian Nicholls, AROnline‘s historian-in-residence, tells the story of Austin-Morris, and their part in the downfall of the British motor industry.
Here, in the third part, we track the creation of the Austin-Morris division – effectively taking over where the main part of BMC left off.
The Austin-Morris story: The star is born
On 1 November 1968 the new management structure came into operation and Sir George Harriman became President of the British Leyland Motor Corporation. Sir Donald Stokes succeeded him as Chairman. The rump of BMC became the Austin-Morris division of British Leyland under George Turnbull and the British Motor Corporation disappeared into the dustbin of history.
On 14 November, Austin-Morris began road testing of the new ADO14 BLMC 1500, lasting until 28 February 1969. Considering the ADO14 had been scheduled for an October 1968 launch, its delay obviously owed a lot to engineering issues as well as concerns about its styling. Bench-testing of the first 1485cc engine had begun bench in March 1966, followed by the first six-cylinder unit in July. By September 1966, ADO16 and ADO17 mules were road testing the new engines. Very early on it was decided the E-Series engine needed more torque and, by October 1967, a 1748cc and a 1797cc unit were being tested. The extra capacity was created by lengthening the stroke.
- Read more: BMC and BL development codes
BMC intended to produce the engine in its new engine plant at Cofton Hackett, adjacent to Longbridge, and was investing the sum of £14 million in machinery alone. Back in August 1967 BMC had boasted of manufacturing 1.5 million vehicles a year by 1970, though quite who was going to buy all these cars in the relatively restricted market the company was operating in is difficult to ascertain. Despite their innovation, the Issigonis front-wheel-drive models had failed to punch through the Common Market trade barrier in enough volume to make BMC sustainable in the long term. And then there was the embryonic threat from Japan which posed a problem for British cars in its traditional Commonwealth markets.
A badly thought-out engine
The E-Series was an extraordinarily badly thought out engine. Intended as both a four-cylinder and six-cylinder unit, the bore size was restricted by the need to fit the 2227cc six-cylinder variant transversely into the upcoming BMC 2200 complete with side-mounted radiator. As related above, BMC did manage to enlarge the four-cylinder E-Series and create 1750 and 1800cc variants in addition to the 1500. One can see that the creation of the six-cylinder E-Series engine was due in part to Alec Issigonis’s belief, often stated in interviews, that smooth six-cylinder engines would find their way into ordinary family cars.
One need for the E-Series engine was for BMC sports cars exported to the USA. In 1968, strong anti-pollution laws were introduced in the United States. Motor manufacturers now had to fit cars sold in the USA with anti-emission equipment which sapped power. The solution was to switch to the more emissions-friendly overhead camshaft layout to alleviate this power loss, hence the development of the E-Series engine. Bizarrely, the ADO14 hatchback was signed off as fit for production the day after testing began by Stanley Dews.
The ADO14 was discussed by the BMC Board which still officially ran the Austin-Morris division in December 1968. Managing Director George Turnbull said a lot of work had been done since September 1968 on improvements. Sales Director Filmer Paradise said that, apart from the disadvantage of low power, the car was fully acceptable. George Turnbull said the four-door saloon version (above) was being delayed until the end of 1969 by which time it was hoped a more powerful 1750cc engine would be available. Despite all the doubts, the ADO14 1500 was signed off for production. Also on the agenda were the ADO16 Austin America, which was running into problems over emissions issues, and power steering problems with the Austin 3 Litre.
First views of the Austin Allegro (ADO67)
During the month, Harry Webster and George Turnbull went to the Pressed Steel Fisher Styling Studio at Cowley to see a clay model of Harris Mann’s proposal for the ADO67, the name of the project that was intended to replace the BMC 1100/1300 (ADO16). They were impressed and authorised continued work on the design.
Overseas, that December BLMC’s South African division announced the Mark 2 version of its Blackheath-produced Mini, called the Mini Mk2. Also announced was the Mini 1000S featuring a 52bhp 998cc A-Series engine and a top speed of 83mph.
Step one: modernising the factories
At the end of his first month as Managing Director of Austin-Morris, George Turnbull said that British Leyland would have to install costly new plant to modernise the production facilities of the former BMC car works. In a message to his 90,000 employees, George Turnbull said: ‘Some of our production facilities are really first class but there are some which need to be brought up to date. My objective is to install new plan and equipment, which is second to none in the industry. This will cost a lot of money but we must do it because it is essential that we aim for and achieve the highest possible efficiency otherwise we shall not be able to sell all the cars we are planning to make.’
George Turnbull had set as his target the manufacturing and selling of one million cars a year. However, he warned that this could be done only if the assembly lines got the supplies they needed and could be kept working. Of the widespread redundancies forecast after the Leyland-BMH merger, he said: ‘There has been a lot of nonsense talked about redundancies by the press. No company can categorically say that there will never be redundancy, therefore I cannot promise that there will never be any redundancy. What we must do is to work towards achieving maximum efficiency combining in production the new and better equipment and we must take advantage of new techniques as and when they become available. Above all, we must eliminate any waste.’
Unlike John Barber, George Turnbull was not enthusiastic about a ruthless rationalisation programme at British Leyland. He did embrace reducing the range of paint colours and the standardisation of components, but his main concern was getting the numbers out of the plants. He later said in the 1980s: ‘There was no point in firing everyone in a plant when all of a sudden you have deprived yourself of 250 vans or whatever it was that you were selling. My problem with Donald (Stokes) was to convince him that we couldn’t reduce the numbers until the new product was in. All we could do was trim down, keep the labour working, try and get some discipline, try and improve communications.’
The first managerial appointments
On 12 December 1968, the Austin-Morris division of British Leyland Motor Corporation announced the following appointments:
- Anthony R. Ham – Sales Operations Manager
- Clifford W. Baker – Distributor Relations Manager
- Albert E. Lawrence – Market Planning Manager
- Michael L. Heelas – Vehicle Marketing Manager (Home and Export)
This seemed very much like the calm before the storm…
- Back to History : The Austin-Morris story – Part Two : May to October 1968
- Forward to History : The Austin-Morris story – Part Four : January to April 1969
- History : The Austin-Morris story – Part Nine : 1972 - 6 February 2021
- History : The Austin-Morris story – Part Eight : 1971 - 14 December 2020
- The cars : Jaguar XJ (X350) development story - 29 November 2020