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 second part, we track the progress of the newly-formed British Leyland Motor Corporation in the weeks and months that followed its formation.
The Austin-Morris story: Leyland takes over Longbridge
Back in early April 1968 the BBC’s Economics Editor, Graham Turner, had put out a television news report suggesting that the new British Leyland Motor Corporation was looking for 30,000 redundancies in two years. The source of this information was the Leyland Finance Director John Barber, who chose manpower per car produced as the yardstick for assessing the efficiency of British Leyland. Barber thought that, in order to compete with its rivals, such rationalisation was imperative.
After the story was broadcast, shop floor management at British Leyland plants had to reassure workers that reports of 30,000 redundancies in the new group during the next two years, were groundless. Sir Donald Stokes, Chief Executive of British Leyland, said in response to the report: ‘It is going to take quite some time to interpret the studies and talking about closing factories and sacking people before we have even done that is stupid.’
Even before the British Leyland Motor Corporation had officially come into being, representatives of the 180,000 workers formed a joint organisation, which promised an early show of teeth.
The unions start jockeying for position
In Birmingham on 1 May, 250 Shop Stewards’ Conveners, representing the 80 factories run by British Motor Holdings and the Leyland group, set up the British Leyland (Motor Corporation Combined) Trade Union Committee (BLTUC). Joint Chairmen were elected: Communist Dick Etheridge, the Convener of Shop Stewards at BMC’s Austin factory in Longbridge, and Eddie McGarry from Leyland’s Standard-Triumph International plant at Coventry.
The plan was that the new body would meet once every six months, but domestic problems would still be left to the existing organisations in the separate factories or groups of factories. The fact there were 80 factories in the group indicated the need for rationalisation. One of its first moves was to call for an early meeting with Sir Donald Stokes, to discuss future plans.
Dick Etheridge said after the meeting: ‘We do not want any change in the arrangement for the meeting with the BMC Shop Stewards. But we want Sir Donald to meet the Executive Committee of the new body to discuss his intentions with regard to reorganisation and rationalisation, which, already seems to have started.’
The meeting unanimously passed a resolution pledging an early show of the organisation’s strength and insisted on some form of action ‘that will have more than a salutary effect on the employers’.
Consultation demanded by the Shop Stewards
At the afternoon session the meeting unanimously passed a resolution calling for full consultation on any plans for the movement of work from one factory to another. Dick Etheridge said: ‘Unless there is consultation and mutual agreement, then there will be no movement of work. If a factory refuses to have work moved away the question will be referred to the official trade union movement upon whom we shall call to put the matter in dispute.
We realise that there must be considerable change. We do not oppose change for the sake of opposing it, but we shall fight redundancies. It seems everybody is scared of Sir Donald Stokes, including the management. We are not.’
The BLTUC would prove to be a thorn in the side of management for many years to come, and something the armchair analysts had not taken into account when they prognosticated on how to manage the British-owned motor industry. The confrontation between Stokes and the powerful BLTUC, which held such sway in BLMC’s 12 main plants, took place on 9 May at Longbridge behind a lightly maintained security curtain. Works police allowed no one to approach the exhibition hall during the two hour meeting between Sir Donald and the 34 Shop Stewards. Reporters were turned away at the works gate.
In a 20-minute speech Sir Donald made no attempt to gloss over the basic truths of merging the two groups. Afterwards, he said: ‘I cannot discuss the contents of the meeting because this was confidential between the Stewards and myself, but I would like to say that I enjoyed the opportunity of having this first meeting at which there was a frank sensible and constructive exchange of news on both sides.’
As expected, Dick Etheridge, the veteran chief Shop Steward at Longbridge, put the union’s case for the earliest possible consultation before redundancies were announced. He stressed that the continuing uncertainty about their future employment was affecting morale throughout the group.
Stokes would have a fight on his hands
A no-punches-pulled question-and- answer session that followed made it abundantly clear to Sir Donald that, small or big, redundancies in BLMC plants would be fought tooth and nail.
In the middle of the Longbridge meeting, news was brought in that 2000 workmen – the whole of the day shift- had staged a one-hour token stoppage at another of the group’s Birmingham plants. They were protesting at the exclusion of their Shop Stewards from the talks. The walkout at Pressed Steel Fisher, Common Lane, involved the whole of the day shift. A spokesman for the plant’s Shop Stewards’ Committee said they had asked to see Sir Donald because of increasingly persistent reports that the Common Lane plant would be one of the first to be closed as a result of the merger.
A Leyland spokesman said: ‘Today’s meeting was arranged some time ago and only related to BLMC Shop Stewards. Sir Donald will be meeting Shop Stewards at other factories in the group such as this one as soon as possible.’ More than 3000 men and women were employed at Common Lane on the production of body parts for Morris Minors, Travellers, vans and outside jobbing contracts.
The merry-go-round powers up
On 13 May 1968 British Leyland appointed Michael Shanks, aged 41, as Director of Marketing Services and Economic Planning. This was an appointment designed to remedy what had been recognised as a serious failing of British car makers, the lack of detailed information and forecasting on consumer demand.
For the previous year Michael Shanks had been dividing his time between his job as Economic Adviser to Leyland and his role as special writer on industrial affairs for The Times newspaper. His new appointment was full-time. Shanks joined The Sunday Times in 1964 as Economics Correspondent and, in January of the following year, he was seconded to the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) as one of their new industrial advisers.
In May 1966, he was promoted to the post of Industrial Policy Co-ordinator, which, in effect, made him head of the DEA’s industrial advisers. During his stint at the Department of Economic Affairs, Shanks had been given the task of surveying the British motor industry. Speaking in the 1980s, Michael Shanks said: ‘We were looking at the structure of British industry, particularly the problem areas. And the biggest crisis area was the British motor industry and particularly BMH.
‘It was the flagship of the British motor industry, enormously important and it was going bankrupt. It was going bankrupt because it had run out of models. It had very few new models in the pipeline. The models that it had were old, and not very effective, with the exception of the Mini – and it had an enormous dealer structure with far to many dealers trying to sell too few products.
‘You could see this huge company headed for the scrapheap – what did you do about it? You could either let it go or you could find somebody to take it over, and really the only candidate was Leyland, which was a much smaller company.’
The trouble with experts…
Shanks was typical of the desk-bound motor industry outsiders with influence who poured scorn on BMC’s prospects because of one admittedly bad financial year and had no experience of running a business. Eric Lord, the Cowley Plant Director, later recalled: ‘When Leyland appeared we all got swept up into different heaps and a disaster unfolded; countless idiots arrived, professional windbags.’
Leyland would end up doing more or less what the pundits had suggested with BMC, and it would end in disaster.
On 14 May 1968 the new British Leyland Motor Corporation officially came into being and a brave new world beckoned. Leyland’s merger with BMH in January was described tactfully at first as a joining of forces, but the new operating structure announced that day was clearly dominated by Leyland management philosophies and Leyland men.
BLMC’s new structure
In the tightly-controlled pattern set by American companies, such as General Motors, there were to be seven operating divisions, under Sir Donald Stokes as Chief Executive, linked by a central staff division to provide special services for the whole organisation.
The divisions were:
- Volume car and light commercial (BMC)
- Specialist car (Jaguar, Rover and Triumph)
- Truck and Bus
- Pressed Steel Fisher
- General engineering and foundries
- Construction equipment
Although not widely publicised at the time, Sir Donald Stokes had already taken over personal control of volume car division, which was still known as the British Motor Corporation.
Two key appointments were announced: Harry Webster, formerly Chief Engineer at Standard-Triumph, officially became Executive Chief Engineer of the volume car division with a place on the BMC Board; and Keith Hopkins became Director of Public Relations for the corporation.
Harry Webster later said: ‘I was instructed by Stokes to try and get some cohesion into the whole group. Austin and Morris might have been joined together but it was still a case of never the twain shall meet. They still had two of everything. It was an impossible remit to try and get them singing from the same piece of music, but it would have been futile to let them go on as they were. I realised that Charles Griffin was the mainspring there. My first move was to give him as much control as I could and sideline Issigonis by putting him into a separate organisation called Forward Research.’
The cell system that BMC had used to develop its front-wheel-drive range was disbanded and its personal were reassigned to other duties. Harry Webster also said he spent his first few months ‘rushing round, turning off all the expenditure taps. Money was rushing out of Longbridge, and we had nothing to show for it – it was quite terrifying.’
It appears that Harry Webster then invited Italian styling house Michelotti, which had a close relationship with Standard-Triumph, to restyle the ADO16 as an alternative to Roy Haynes’ own ADO22 facelift proposal (below) to upgrade the ADO16. The resulting design used many of the styling cues that became so familiar to Triumph buyers in the next decade. Featuring an extended bonnet and boot, Michelotti’s design was a stylish makeover of the original Pininfarina ADO16, but it was perhaps too close in appearance to the smaller Triumph saloons in the pipeline. At least one prototype was produced, bearing the registration OOJ 722G.
Getting the public relations right
For public relations man Keith Hopkins, this was further promotion for garnering the Leyland Motor Corporation with such a positive public image. Hopkins was a former student of the Sorbonne University in Paris, which was at the centre of the student unrest which occurred in the French capital during May 1968. If there was one thing that British Leyland was really good at in the years ahead, that was its upbeat PR statements, courtesy of Keith Hopkins, who always had an optimistic statement to feed the media.
Sir Donald Stokes was interviewed. On the question of redundancies, Sir Donald treaded cautiously. ‘What we are trying to do is to examine all the facilities and plant that we have,’ he said. ‘Obviously, there is going to be some reshuffling and readjustment. But where we decide it will be necessary to do something or streamline anything, we will consult the people concerned in advance. Obviously, we are going to do some streamlining, but it will involve nothing like the exaggerated figures which have been flying around and which have been very irresponsible.’
In the 1980s Lord Stokes said: ‘We realised as soon as we took over that we needed a cutback of about 30,000, but it proved impossible. Just before we took over, GEC had taken over AEI and had a huge redundancy programme, and when we tried a similar programme there was a tremendous resistance from the unions.’
Also he said that the GEC takeover of AEI and the resulting redundancy programme had ‘created an absolute core of resistance among the trade unions to any job losses whatsoever and we just couldn’t face a strike because it would have resulted in an all out one. We had shareholders and we couldn’t take that strong a stand. You couldn’t go on with a public company resisting unions that were hellbent on confrontation in those days.’
The Shop Stewards quietly take control
Stokes only had to look back to the autumn of 1966 to see the consequences of trying to shed labour, when BMC had tried to make 10,000 workers redundant in response to the July credit squeeze. Protest strikes restricted supplies to the dealers and reduced market share to 27 per cent, BMC lost £3.2 million and fell into Leyland’s grasp.
By the end of the summer of 1968 the issue of redundancies was quietly forgotten and put on the back burner. Sir Donald Stokes had failed his first major test. He had baulked when challenged by the BLTUC. It was a fatal error. John Barber, Jack Plane and Lewis Whyte had all played their part in handing BMC on a plate to Sir Donald Stokes, who now dithered over what to do with it.
BLMC’s Finance Director, John Barber, later said: ‘Looking back, Donald Stokes was in many ways too kind a man to have taken over BMH. What it needed was a really ruthless rationalisation – models, people, the lot. He tackled it the kind way, setting up working parties covering every aspect of the company. He tried to do it in a consensus way and, if you start off that way, you don’t get things achieved as rapidly as they are needed.’
Leyland starts to see the issues
Stokes and his team had discovered why BMC had only been part-rationalised after the merger of Austin and Morris in 1952. Sir George Harriman, judging by his recent public comments, seemed to accept that in order to avoid a damaging industrial dispute, expansion was the only practical way to absorb British Leyland’s surplus workforce, something that would eventually be accepted by the corporation’s Board. It was easy for industry observers to lay into BMC over its widely scattered plants, but doing something about it was another matter entirely.
The spectre that the British Leyland Shop Stewards would bring the entire organisation grinding to halt if any attempt at rationalisation was attempted, haunted the company’s future planning for a decade.
Sir Donald Stokes had now publicly committed himself to a policy of expansion in order to utilise British Leyland’s surplus labour force, but with the British car market having remained stagnant since 1965, such extra sales would have to come from exports, exports that were inhibited by trade tariffs. BMC had developed the most advanced family cars in the world and could not sell them in the Common Market in large numbers because of trade barriers. And then there was the emerging threat from Japan, which in 1968 produced over 2,000,000 cars for the first time, and was chewing away at Britain’s Commonwealth markets.
A lack of ruthlessness when needed
In the 1980s Stokes reiterated his philosophy: ‘I don’t like firing people. I hate it. I didn’t agree to the merger of the British motor industry to get rid of people. I thought that we were going to create jobs.’
It is difficult not to conclude that, in the summer of 1968, the newly-merged British national motor manufacturer found itself by default managed by a man elevated above his natural level of competence due to his own PR machine. That natural level of competence was as a truck and bus salesman, a task which he was extremely good at. His path to the top at Leyland had been facilitated by the resignation of Stanley Markland at the end of 1963. It was Markland and the late Sir Henry Spurrier who had knocked Standard-Triumph into shape, ruthlessly firing those whom they deemed surplus to requirements.
But Spurrier had now been in his grave for three years and Stanley Markland had retired to his farm with full pension rights. Their hard graft soon produced positive results on the Leyland balance sheets, but it was Sir Donald Stokes who took the credit for the sales success of models conceived before he arrived at Standard-Triumph.
The carefully nurtured image of a buccaneering salesman who could sell British goods abroad took in many, including politicians, industry analysts and his fellow British Leyland Directors, yet by his own later admission Stokes lacked the ruthless streak necessary for the job of running British Leyland. His fellow Leyland Directors, John Barber, Jack Plane and Lewis Whyte, certainly had the ruthless streak as they had demonstrated in the removal of Sir George Harriman from the senior management.
Was Stokes out of his depth?
In the removal of Harriman, Stokes had acted as a conduit for his more hawkish Directors, but once in overall charge, he vacillated over the issue of redundancies. The only man who saw through the Stokes PR facade was Joe Edwards and his resistance soon cost him his job. In the summer of 1968 Sir Donald Stokes was a man punching above his weight without a vision of his own for BMC and susceptible to suggestions from his fellow Directors as to what was to be done.
As related earlier, the new British Leyland management simply adopted for its volume car division policies advocated by armchair pundits with no real motor industry experience.
Their mission statement was as follows:
- Develop a simple rear-wheel-drive fleet car to take on the Ford Cortina
- Eliminate badge engineering
- Reduce the rambling dealer network
- Phase out piecework and replace it with measured day work
- Introduce Ford-style cost control methods in project development.
It would be so easy…
The view from abroad
On 21 May, The Guardian newspaper reported on the fastest growing car market in Europe which was Spain, and in spite of a ban on car imports into Spain the newly-merged British Leyland Motor Corporation was making a determined attempt to capture a bigger slice of this market.
Only 17 months previously BMC had gone into partnership with Nueva Montana Quijano to form Authi (Automoviles de Turismo Hispano Ingleses SA) and had already captured five per cent of the market. By 1969 it hoped to have ten per cent. Moreover, the overall market was growing at a terrific pace, in spite of the squeeze that followed devaluation in November 1967. Official Government estimates put the likely growth at ten per cent a year.
Under licence from BMC, Authi assembled ADO16 Morris and MG 1100s (above) in a brand new factory at Pamplona, modelled on BMC’s Longbridge plant. Spanish law required a 70 per cent Spanish content initially on cars, rising to 90 per cent within three years, so BMC relied mainly on royalty payments for its profits.
Price-wise the ADO16 1100 was not competitive with the other models on the Spanish market, but the man behind Authi, a Spanish aristocrat named El Marquis de Haidobra, had cleverly been selling the ADO16 1100 as a prestige car. The interior trim and general finish of the models was far superior to the British version, and power-assisted brakes were fitted as standard equipment. Despite the higher prices, sales had been booming, with the ADO16 MG being the most popular model. Later in the year, Authi hoped to start manufacturing its version of the BMC Mini.
Haynes spells out his product vision
The following day Roy Haynes of PSF Cowley wrote a memo to John Barber, the new BLMC Finance Director, setting out his proposals for the ADO28 family of cars, which in his BMC product plan was the C-class model. The ADO28 was Roy Haynes’ proposal for a BMC fleet car and one assumes he wrote to John Barber because he was also ex-Ford and had been involved in the development of the original Ford Cortina.
The idea of BMC developing its own Cortina rival clearly made sense in May 1968. With Britain seemingly locked outside the Common Market permanently, the notion of BMC selling copious quantities of front-wheel-drive cars larger than the ADO16 seemed an illusion. If BMC wanted to remain in business that meant a rear-wheel-drive car that appealed to the fleet buyers and, with Alec Issigonis now sidelined and Harriman on his way out, the window of opportunity had opened.
As one unnamed British Leyland Executive said: ‘If only BMC had had a ‘straight’ motor car coming along that would have given us an entree to fleet sales on the one hand and the ability to make a decent profit margin per unit on the other, we should have given the American-owned firms a real run for their money.’
At this stage Harry Webster and his team believed that the ADO28 could be developed by the simple expedient of re-bodying the existing Morris Minor.
The cupboard that wasn’t really bare
BMC was also working on restyling the Mini. On 30 May somewhere in the bowels of BMC, possibly at Roy Haynes PSF Cowley studio, a photograph was taken of hatchback Mini Clubman (above), part of the ADO20 programme. The incoming Leyland executives created the myth that BMC executives had no new models in the pipeline apart from the Austin 3 Litre and ADO14 BMC 1500.
This was not strictly true. Alec Issigonis was now working on his 9X Mini replacement, which also had a brand new engine design. What worked against the 9X was the sheer cost of bringing such a new concept to fruition and there have been claims that the production tolerances required for the new overhead camshaft engine were simply not attainable at the time. However, there were substantially revised versions of established favourites, the Mini and ADO16 1100/1300 series, in the product pipeline.
The ADO20 project matured into the Mk3 Mini and Clubman range of October 1969, but the car photographed on 30 May also had a revised rear and a hatchback resembling the later Morris Marina Coupe. Another car on the stocks was the ADO22, a revised ADO16 1100/1300 with new subframes designed by Charles Griffin which reduced noise and vibration and the car’s propensity to rust.
Haynes’ way was the best way?
Both these cars featured updated styling by Roy Haynes and his team and clearly showed that they had been reading the car market. They took proven basic designs, retained the existing good points, improved them in other areas and clothed them in more modern metalwork – in other words, exactly what Ford had just done with the Cortina. He had also overseen an interesting platform strategy which you can read about here.
Sadly, the new British Leyland management and the financial analysts did not appreciate that the Mini and ADO16 had strong brand loyalty from their customers and that new did not necessarily mean better. The notion that both the Mini and ADO16 were a spent force, reeling under the Ford onslaught, took a knock in 1968. Mini production rose to 246,066 while that of the ADO16 was 229,803, the best since 1965.
Indeed, the ADO16 regained its place at the top of the UK sales charts with 13.7 per cent of the market, a firm riposte to the doomsayers. The new Mini 1000 and ADO16 1300 models had boosted sales and suggested that offering improvements of existing cars was a way forward. In 1968, 56 per cent of all ADO16 production was of the new upgraded 1300 models. The ADO20 hatchback and ADO22 were further extensions of this theme – in short, there was still a lot of life in the old dogs yet. The ADO22 and hatchback Mini Clubman were stopgaps to buy time for Roy Haynes masterplan.
Stokes faces a hostile crowd
On 12 June 1968, 500 British Motor Corporation distributors representing the whole Austin, Morris, MG, Wolseley and Riley distribution network crowded into the exhibition hall at Longbridge for a question and answer session on their future with Sir Donald Stokes, the Chief Executive of the British Leyland Motor Corporation. Many of them went in to the meeting expecting to hear the worst from a man who, in the past, had been critical of BMC’s retention of such a wide range of marques.
To their amazement, Sir Donald told them that reports that he was dropping Wolseley and Riley were way off the mark and both would continue to be produced and sold alongside the main Austin and Morris ranges. Stokes left the distributors at the meeting in no doubt that, unless they themselves were prepared to reorganise their own operations and put pressure on their dealers to do the same, they could expect short shrift.
At the same time he reassured them: ‘I have no intention of presiding over the liquidation of any of our real assets. Obviously, there will be pruning and re-adjustment but together with my colleagues, and I could not wish for a more competent and enthusiastic bunch, I am determined that with your help we are going to recapture far more than our present share of the domestic market.’
Out with the old, in with the new
He promised them a completely new model policy for the next five years under the direction of Harry Webster. Stokes seemed to have been of the view that what the volume car side needed were completely new models from the wheels up and not radical improvements and revisions of existing models such as the ADO22.
He then detailed the changes being made to the long-awaited ADO14 1500 saloon (above) whose delayed appearance had left such a gap in the middle of the BMC range.
This appears to be the point when the ADO22 died to be replaced by the ADO67 project. It was deemed by the cost accountants, now being recruited mainly from Ford, that although the ADO22 was very good, it was far too expensive to manufacture and it would be better to design an altogether cheaper car by dispensing with the subframes which mounted the suspension to the body. This was the genesis of the ADO67.
The money men move in
Cost accountants, financial controllers and other money men soon invaded BMC courtesy of Leyland. Howard Dancox of the Longbridge East Works Research and Development department commented: ‘Under Harriman there had been far too little in the way of financial controls but under Leyland the pendulum swung too far in the opposite direction. It wasn’t long before you needed a sanction committee to blow your nose. Most of those in financial control were young graduates. You had to justify everything to snotty-nosed little kids who hadn’t a clue.’
The demise of the ADO22 perfectly illustrated what was going on under the new regime. Instead of proceeding with the ADO22 for minimal outlay, because the money men deemed it too expensive to produce, British Leyland would spend or borrow £9m to develop the ADO67, complete with financially degraded engineering, plus another £16m on the factory to build it. If BMC really was running out of money why was it spending capital it did not have?
Many times in the years ahead the costings experts would veto economical and logical ideas because actual manufacturing costs would exceed their theoretical manufacturing costs of starting anew. Did the money men really know what they were doing?
The end of the consultants
On 28 June, British Leyland announced that it had concluded on a deal with the Cooper Car Co. for a further three years’ collaboration on production and sale of BMC Minis. Stokes said that the development of the Mini Cooper saloons and their numerous successes in international racing and rallying had played a major part in promoting world-wide sales of BMC cars.
The reality behind this announcement was that the new British Leyland management felt it had no need of paid consultants and began dispensing with their services. Daniel Richmond of Downton Engineering was one of the first to go. For the time being the Mini Cooper had a three-year stay of execution, but John Cooper (below right) himself no longer had any influence at Longbridge. It is fair to say that Stokes and Cooper never bonded. Within a year Stokes would be looking at ways to get out of the deal.
John Cooper later recalled Sir Donald Stokes saying: ‘We employ 150,000 people here, what do we want consultants for?’ On another occasion, Stokes asked Cooper: ‘What do you do’? Cooper replied: ‘I come here once a fortnight and wind Issigonis up…’! According to Cooper, ‘I don’t think he liked that very much.’
British Leyland stayed good to their word. Exactly three years after this announcement, the last Mini Cooper 1275S came off the line at Longbridge. Also on their way out was the Healey family, whose name adorned the Sprite sports car built at Abingdon.
Marina plans take shape
The next month Roy Haynes continued with his thesis for the ADO28 fleet car. He argued that its styling had to anticipate the future trends of the American owned company’s. He wrote: ‘Any attempt to create an image radically different from the competition will destroy the opportunities which can be created to effect an immediate transfer of loyalty from the competitive brands.’
Joe Edwardes goes
Joe Edwards’s period as consultant to the Board of British Leyland Motor Corporation proved short-lived. On 3 July, he announced that he was resigning from this position ‘in order to take up other industrial interests.’
Joe Edwards was encouraged by the response from other firms. He said: ‘In the short time since I gave up my directorships in the British Leyland group, I have been overwhelmed with offers and suggestions. Even if I had wanted to remain inactive, outside my consultancy relationship with British Leyland, it seems that my friends in industry would not have let me!’
At the same time, came the first announcement of a new appointment for Joe Edwards. He joined the Board of Associated Engineering as a non-executive Director. AE, which was headed by Mr H.R. Moore, was itself closely associated with the motor industry as a components supplier. At the end of August he joined the Board of Joseph Lucas Industries, which manufactured electrical equipment for motor vehicles.
As he departed the scene, Joe Edwards is alleged to have said to Sir Donald Stokes: ‘It’s all yours now, Donald, the bloody lot.’
Austin-Morris strategy takes place
The last day of July was normally the end of the BMC financial year, but because of the merger with Leyland, it would be extended by two months to the end of September 1968, thus creating a 14-month financial year.
In August 1968 Harry Webster, the BMC Chief Engineer announced a plan for future Austin and Morris cars: advanced engineering and conservative styling for Austin, with an emphasis on style, but conservative engineering for Morris. It had been officially decided to discard Roy Haynes masterplan and go for a direct all-new ADO16/B-class car replacement, in the form of the ADO67, and the ADO28/C-class fleet car. It was decided not to proceed with the ADO22 or the Michelotti ADO16 and the Mini Clubman proposal was watered down.
The priority was to get the ADO28 into production in order to compete in the market for fleet sales, then develop an all-new ADO16 replacement. The Mini would be retained in production as it was still selling well and had not peaked. Not for the first time was its replacement put on the back burner.
Developing the Marina at speed
Events were moving fast with the ADO28. On 5 August the British Leyland Executive Policy Committee viewed three ADO28 full scale models: one by Pininfarina (above) in two- and four-door versions: a two door car by Michelotti (above), and Roy Haynes two- and four-door proposals, the former being a fastback coupe intended to appeal to younger customers. Haynes’ basic style was chosen.
By now relations between Roy Haynes and Harry Webster were going downhill. Although Pininfarina was regularly consulted on styling matters, Roy Haynes resented Michelotti being brought in to the design process. Harry Webster personally believed that Michelotti’s submission for the ADO28 programme was the best, even though it lost out to the in-house design. In addition to this Roy Haynes had failed to convince Harry Webster of the merits of his forward planning, which completely undermined the reason why he was poached from Ford in the first place.
During September 1968, the BLMC Finance Director John Barber, complained to Sir Donald Stokes that the projected profitability of the ADO28 had not been fully spelt out in planning documents. Stokes replied that the detailed financial implications would be worked out later. Although highly critical of what he found at BMC, John Barber later claimed he was in agreement with Sir George Harriman that it was unwise of the volume car division to build a Ford Cortina-beating repmobile.
Barber prefers an upmarket approach
Speaking in the 1980s Barber (above) said: ‘That was stupid in the first place, because it challenged Ford, a very strong company. My advice at the time, and all the way through, was that we ought to go a bit upmarket of Ford, and if we had deliberately pitched it a bit beyond the Cortina in quality, image and so on, we might have done something.’
Whether he actually believed that at the time is open to debate. John Barber had come to Leyland from AEI. Born in 1919, he had studied economics at university, interrupted by wartime army service, followed by a stint at the Ministry of Supply. In 1955 he joined Ford of Britain’s Finance Department as Assistant Controller, recruiting graduates who became experts in cost control.
Along with Terry Beckett, he was heavily involved in the costing of the Ford Cortina. By 1962, he was heading Ford’s credit division and in 1965 he joined AEI as Finance Director. When GEC took over AEI in 1967, Barber joined Leyland as its new Finance Director. He soon persuaded another ex-Ford and AEI finance man Gerry Wright to join him. A consequence of this was that those within BMC who thought the company needed a Cortina beater were knocking on an open door.
The ADO28 was a product of the British Leyland marketing men, a project built around the fantasy that there were substantial conquest sales to be gained at Ford’s expense. That BMC could maintain its existing dominance of the private car market and then invade and conquer the 40 per cent of the UK car market for which front-wheel drive had no appeal. It would absorb both time and money and enable Continental manufacturers to catch up and surpass Longbridge in front-wheel-drive technology.
British Leyland’s marketing men also told Sir Donald Stokes that the forthcoming ADO14 BMC 1500 would be lucky to capture four per cent of the UK market, equating to around 1000 sales per week. Perhaps the real problem with the BMC 1500 was that, no matter how much British Leyland tinkered with its styling, it was front-wheel drive and intended for a market sector dominated by the conservative requirements of the fleet buyers.
Failure, with the luxury of hindsight, was inevitable. It had been conceived in the heady days of 1965, when BMC had won the European Rally Championship with the Mini and the Austin 1800 had won the coveted European Car of the Year 1965 award. BMC had seemed omnipotent and the ADO14 was a product of the confidence permeating the company. Since then the Ford Cortina Mk2 had tightened its grip on the company car market and the prospects for the BMC 1500 were now altogether bleaker.
The Austin 1800 had already demonstrated that critical acclaim did not always translate into sales success.
Raymond Baxter and George Harriman go
It was also announced that Raymond Baxter, the BMC Director of Motoring Publicity was to leave the company. He would receive an undisclosed amount of compensation. He intended to maintain ‘an active association’ with the company at the request of British Leyland’s Chief Executive, Sir Donald Stokes. Raymond Baxter would later front sales training films for British Leyland. With Keith Hopkins on board, the former Spitfire pilot was surplus to requirements.
Sir George Harriman announced on 17 September that he would retire as Chairman and a Director of the British Leyland Motor Corporation on 1 November 1968 and would simultaneously retire from his directorships of other companies in the group. He would become President and Sir Donald Stokes became the new Chairman and Managing Director. This was, of course, pre-arranged and Harriman’s departure from the scene was a condition of Leyland agreeing to the merger.
Announcing his retirement, Sir George said: ‘The formation of a really effective British motor manufacturer has always been one of my ambitions and now that I am satisfied it is off to a really good start, I feel the time has come for me to make way for younger men.’
The new team takes shape
At the same time details were released of the men chosen by Sir Donald Stokes to hold key positions in his new team. It was obvious to observers that the new company was dominated by Leyland men. Dr Albert Fogg, Leyland’s highly-regarded technical expert, Jack Plane, a Leyland overseas specialist and George Turnbull, the 42-year-old Director and General Manager of Standard-Triumph, were appointed Deputy Managing Directors.
George Turnbull (above, left), who was in France at the time, said: ‘Everyone will now have clear targets, and it will be a matter of going flat out to expand each division as fast as we can.’
John Barber continued as Director of Finance and Planning with Ron Lucas, formerly a Deputy Managing Director of BMC, with responsibility for finance, now as Treasurer. Sir William Lyons, Chairman of Jaguar, and Lewis Whyte, a Leyland Director, were appointed Deputy Chairmen of the group. The corporation also announced the appointments of the management structure of the new operating divisions which would take effect from 1 November 1968.
- Austin-Morris division: Managing Director, George Turnbull
- Specialist Car division: Chairman (Jaguar) Sir William Lyons, Chairman (Rover) Sir George Farmer, Director and General Manager (Triumph) Cliff Swindle
Stokes denies it’s a Leyland takeover
Stokes was asked if it was a Leyland takeover. ‘Not quite, we have put the right men in the right jobs. The fact we have taken a little time to do it ensures that it is seen to be fair.’
Nevertheless, the three key men under Sir Donald, all Deputy Managing Directors, were Leyland men, Dr Albert Fogg, Jack Plane, the man who ran the South African operation, and George Turnbull, who would also be the boss of the Austin-Morris volume car division. Another Stokes protégé was 43-year-old Ron Ellis, who took over the Truck and Bus Division. His star had rocketed after he became Assistant to the Sales Director, then a Mr Donald Stokes, in 1960. Now included in Ron Ellis’ domain was the BMC Bathgate plant in East Lothian, Scotland.
The most prominent of the former BMC men were John Lutyens, who continued to run the Pressed Steel Fisher division and Bill Davis who became the sole Deputy Managing Director of Austin-Morris.
However, the man singled out as a high flyer was Filmer Paradise, the salesman whom BMC had headhunted from Ford in June 1967. He moved up to Director of Sales (Home and Overseas) for volume cars. The man who had originally secured his services, Lester Suffield, another former BMC Deputy Managing Director, was relegated to the role of London Sales Director.
Turnbull’s appointment welcomed
Stokes’s appointment George Turnbull to one of the key British Leyland Motor Corporation posts was welcomed both by his new colleagues at Longbridge and by top union officials. One senior Longbridge man said: ‘Most of us know George very well. He has done a good job at Standard and succeeded in making a lot of friends in the industry at the same time. And remember, he will be leaning heavily on Bill Davis as his deputy, and Davis is a through and through production type. He knows the problems here backwards. Between them they should make a damn good team.’
Top of the list of problems facing George Turnbull was the replacement of the frighteningly complex pay structure, which had bedevilled labour relations at Longbridge for years. Harry Urwin, the top Transport and General Workers’ Union official in the Midlands revealed what he expected from George Turnbull.
‘We are not looking for a Father Christmas with a sack of gifts. What we want more than anything else is a man we can respect for his ability. There is a great deal of scope for improvement in labour relations at BMC. Most of the troubles date back to the original Morris/Austin merger in 1951/52. Then, Sir Leonard Lord called all the trade union officials together to explain the need for rationalisation.
‘He assured us labour relations would be dealt with plant by plant, each affiliated to its local employers’ association. To me that seemed doomed from the start. You cannot have a coordinated policy excluding labour relations. On the two occasions when BMC faced major breakdowns, in 1956 and 1966, the Board had to step in to carry through wholesale slaughter of the labour force. Stokes and Turnbull have a reputation for competence and integrity. I hope they will use it to introduce a more co-ordinated labour relations policy.’
Andy Boyle, Coventry District Secretary of the AEF and a former Convener at Standard-Triumph, said: ‘George Turnbull is an extremely efficient administrator who has earned the respect of trade unionists by his actions. He is always correct in his dealings. Not only does he know the book, but he gets on well with the shop floor. He is a firm believer in involving his Shop Stewards in the company’s long-term planning. I think his new appointment is a good one from our standpoint.’
Eddie McGarry, Chairman of the Shop Stewards’ Committee at Standard-Triumph and Joint Chairman of the unofficial but extremely powerful BLTUC, said: ‘Turnbull is a shrewd operator who has earned his promotion. I suppose it could be called payment by results. When he took over Standard we were in a pretty poor way. Much of the subsequent success of the company is a direct result of Turnbull’s dealings with the unions. Make no mistake, he can be a hard man to deal with, but one you can respect.’
Filmer Paradise faces a tough task
Filmer Paradise, British Leyland’s new Sales Director for Austin-Morris, was tasked with raising the home sales base. British Leyland planned to raise its domestic sales base to 40 per cent from the existing 31 per cent and to base an aggressive worldwide marketing strategy on this, he said.
‘By rationalising the volume car business into one division, simplifying the existing product range and introducing sales-orientated new models, our share of the home market will be aggressively expanded.’
Industrial unrest raises its head
However, all was not well with the British motor industry despite the big talk. The Times reported on 1 October that British Leyland had had a ‘showdown’ with its component supply companies. A recent series of strikes had cost the group about 4000 cars a week in lost production, equal to a fifth of its potential sales. Executives of 1000 component manufacturers had been called together to be told in no uncertain terms that, if the strikes could not be halted and orders could not be delivered on schedule, the company would go elsewhere for its car components.
In recent days there had been a series of four meetings in London at which the Directors of BLMC had held discussions with their component suppliers in groups of 250. Each meeting had been held in strict secrecy. At the time British Leyland’s orders were outpacing its production, which had been hit by the strikes.
The British motor manufacturers had begun 1968 with high expectations. Devaluation of sterling had given them the edge on export prices they had sought for so long, particularly on the Continent to become sufficiently competitive to mount a real drive in the world’s fastest-growing car market. However, right from the beginning of the year, they had been hit by a disastrous series of strikes at the plants of key component suppliers. The first to bring the industry to its knees was Automotive Products of Leamington Spa, which supplied 90 per cent of the clutches and 50 per cent of the brakes. This dispute seriously affected production at a time when every effort was being made to meet booming export orders.
Pressed Steel-Fisher – British Leyland’s huge body building subsidiary, which supplied firms outside the group – had been in continual trouble throughout the year, mainly because of attempts to simplify its very complicated wages structure. BMC was thought to have lost 100,000 orders for its best-selling ADO16 1300 model because of serious hold ups in production, some of which were due to strikes at foundries and other suppliers of parts for the new engine.
A recent strike at Girling plants left half the industry short of brakes and caused wholesale shutdowns. Before that was settled trouble broke out at the Birmingham plants of Joseph Lucas, which supplied 90 per cent of the industry’s electrical components. It was only settled the day before the article in The Times was published.
The workforce gets a warning
The 195,000 people who worked for British Leyland were warned on 9 October by Stokes that strikes would strangle the car industry and open up the market to a flood of foreign competition. In a personal message in the house newspaper of the Pressed Steel Fisher division of British Leyland, Sir Donald wrote that, if they maintained the quality of their products and the continuity of their output, they would build up a prosperous British industry; but if they failed through poor quality or through dislocation of supplies, then they were going to do themselves irretrievable harm.
The strangulation of the British car industry would be similar to, but worse than, the way in which the Lancashire cotton industry was destroyed by a flood of foreign imports. Sir Donald also stated: ‘Since the official formation of British Leyland there has not been one single day when we have not been affected by a strike or labour dispute of some kind or another.
‘Not all these troubles have been in our factories, in fact, our own record is rather better, because out of some 116 disputes only 17 were within our own organisation; the others were due to outside suppliers or services, but nevertheless they have affected our ability to supply cars or trucks to our customers. I am sure everybody will agree that this is an intolerable situation, and it is impossible to run any business on this basis, and certainly impossible to go out and sell in world markets if you do not know whether you are going to be able to deliver the goods you offer at the price you quote for them at the time of negotiating the deal.’
He ended: ‘You may think British Leyland is a big company, but may I remind you it is only one tenth the size of General Motors. We are David fighting Goliath, and, unless we accept this fact and all fight together against the competition, and not for it, then the outlook for all of us will be pretty cloudy.’
Industrial outlook: not great
The American Time magazine reported that British Ford General Manager William Batty had claimed Britain was committing ‘industrial suicide.’ A rash of strikes had wiped out the competitive advantages of the devaluation of sterling, holding vehicle exports to a meagre 20 per cent increase over 1967, far from the hoped-for 35 per cent.
- Back to History : The Austin-Morris story – Part One : January to April 1968
- Forward to History : The Austin-Morris story – Part Three : October to December 1968
Late 1968: Model changes, launches and deaths
On 16 October, the ADO16 MG 1300 Mk2 was launched. The car featured a 1275cc A-Series engine, twin SU carburettors and a big-valve cylinder head.
By September 1968 BMC had three prototypes of the mini-Mini intended for the Italian market.
On 26 September, the same day as the new Jaguar XJ6 was unveiled, BMC announced that the Mini Moke had gone out of production at Longbridge. Manufacturing equipment was being shipped to Australia where production would resume.
On 30 September, Authi announced the Morris Mini 1275C at Jarama. Also announced at the same time were the ADO16 Morris 1300 and MG 1300, both using the same single carburettor engine as the Morris Mini 1275C.
- History : The Austin-Morris story – Part Eleven : 1974 - 23 August 2021
- History : The Austin-Morris story – Part Ten : 1973 - 19 July 2021
- Essay : Morris Marina – How well did it sell? - 20 April 2021