History : Austin’s Miracle Maestro – all washed up?

Ian Nicholls delves into the events that surrounded the immediate aftermath of the launch of the ‘Miracle Maestro’ in March 1983, and finds it was a turbulent time…

Nicolette Mackenzie
Nicolette Mackenzie

On 1 March 1983 Austin Rover, the volume car side of BL, and the rump of the former British Motor Corporation, announced the ‘Miracle Maestro’, its contender to take on the Ford Escort Mk3, Vauxhall Astra Mk1 and Volkswagen Golf Mk1. On the day it was launched, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government decided to inject a further £100m of taxpayer’s money into BL. The government was known to be hostile to loss-making nationalised industries, so this apparent volte face came as a surprise.

Just four days later, it was revealed that the Metro took 10.3% of the UK car market in February 1983 to make it Britain’s best-selling car. This was the first time since 1978 that a BL car had topped the charts.

In hindsight we can see that the government was allowing itself to be influenced by the apparent success of the Metro, the car that allegedly saved BL. Of course the reality was that most Metros were probably bought by loyal BMC/BL customers that had previously owned the veteran Issigonis Mini. Back in 1977, Leyland Cars had considered producing the ADO88 design, the Metro’s immediate predecessor, at a rate of 350,000 per annum, by turning Longbridge into a one model plant.

In 1983 Longbridge produced 180,763 Metros, it best year – and long way from the Mini’s heyday of the 1960s and ’70s.

The same month Sir Michael Edwardes, the former BL chairman, was plugging his memoirs, ‘Back From The Brink’, detailing his time in charge of the state owned manufacturer, telling the world how he had stamped out the stoppages, improved the quality and got rid of the militants. He claimed that many of the BL workforce had welcomed his reforms. However, it was reported on 25 March that production of the new Maestro at Cowley was threatened by a strike over the proposed withdrawal by plant management of three minutes’ washing-up time.

Since it was launched, 6200 Maestros had been sold, giving it the best first month’s sales of any new car in Britain.

From January, new car registrations had increased by 22%. Some industry experts were already forecasting that 1983 would see record sales, and they were proven right. Faced with this level of buoyancy Austin Rover, Ford and Vauxhall were all attempting to step up production. This was being done mainly by introducing more efficient working practices and cutting out time-wasting such as the three-minute ‘washing up’ period.

By running production lines to the end of each shift, saving a total of 15 minutes on day and night shifts, Austin-Rover management hoped to increase weekly output at the Cowley plant by 100 cars to 4100. During the previous two years ‘washing up’ time had been successfully abolished at all Austin-Rover factories except Cowley. It was never part of any official agreement but had operated for so long that most Cowley workers believed it had become established by ‘custom and practice’.

Although washing-up time was a practice unique to Cowley it was still cherished by the workers. It represented a cut of over 20 hours in annual working time. BL knew from earlier experience that increases in working time were an explosive issue. In late 1981, Longbridge struck for four weeks over a planned cut in tea relief time by 11 minutes a day as part of a plan to finance the reduction of the working week from 40 hours to 39. Eventually BL had to make smaller cut. This was also pushed through at Cowley in 1982, without a dispute.

David Buckle

For more than a year, the Transport and General Workers Union Oxford district official David Buckle (above) had been warning BL management that its insistence on higher productivity at all costs would in the end be counter-productive. A whole series of incidents at the plant had left not only the shop stewards but also the ordinary track worker deeply frustrated.

Mr Buckle had made a series of complaints to Harold Musgrove, the Austin-Rover managing director. Over the previous two years all but the most senior full-time stewards had been sent back their tools. The number of stewards had declined and the TGWU were now unable to fill their quota.

Mr Buckle said: ‘It’s because the company have made their life a misery.’

As a result track workers access to stewards had been restricted and on occasion, it had been alleged that management have prevented stewards being called to incidents. Mr Buckle also said the company has been attacking free speech. Certainly senior stewards had been told stop criticising BL in public although many had ignored this warning.

However, one BL worker at Cowley, Dinis Kilgariff, was sacked for distributing ‘inflammatory literature’. In February 1983 an Industrial Tribunal found that he had been unfairly dismissed. BL had to pay £8340 compensation but refused to reinstate. Doubtless many shop floor workers cared little about the fate of militant stewards. But they did object to being treated by management, as one of them put it, ‘adjuncts of their machinery’. There had been repeated accusations of swearing and harassment by supervisors.

On Monday 28 March 1983, 5000 car workers at the Cowley assembly plant voted to strike over the ‘washing-up’ time issue.

The men voted to walk out on after management tried to do away with ‘clocking off time’, whereby workers were allowed a total of six minutes on the day shift and nine minutes on the night shift to wash.

Support for the strike surprised the worker’s leaders as well as the management. Douglas Hobbs, convenor for the Amalgamated Engineering Workers Union, said: ‘In all my 23 years here I have never before seen such a decisive vote for a strike.’

Union leaders emphasized that the walkout was not only about the loss of washing-up time. Mr Robert Fryer, senior shop steward of the Transport and General Workers Union, said the high vote was a sign that workers were fed up with the way they had been treated in recent months. Union officials accuse BL of using ‘autocratic and heavy handed tactics’ in their efforts to boost production.

Brian Fox, managing director for Austin Rover, defended the company’s position: ‘All we ask is that our workers honour their contracts and stick to agreements. There is no agreement that they stop work early.’

An unnamed colleague of  Harold Musgrove, the Austin Rover managing director said: ‘Those who suggest that the temptation to settle quickly will lead to a compromise forget that Harold was at the sharp end of the battle to restore discipline to the shopfloor. He knows perhaps better than anyone else what a terrible legacy he inherited from weak managements. What is more, he has demonstrated to the ordinary worker that by remaining at his bench instead of walking out on every two-bit issue he can double his pay over the year as a whole, taking into account bonus payments of up to £30 a week.’

Production of the new Maestro and other models was brought to a standstill.

On 29 March Austin Rover laid off 1700 workers in the adjacent Cowley body plant. A spokesman for BL said that other plants had accepted the new conditions and there was no room for compromise on the issue.

On 6 April, a mass meeting of 5,000 car workers at the Cowley assembly plant, voted overwhelmingly to continue the 10-day strike which had stopped production of the new Maestro car and had now made a further 3250 workers idle.
It was at this meeting that David Buckle, the TGWU’s Oxford district secretary, emerged as the unofficial strike leader. His emotional speech condemned ‘industrial slavery’ and ‘worker robots’.

David Buckle was an articulate former Royal Marine Sergeant. He had joined the Pressed Steel Company in 1950, where revulsion at the dirty and noisy working conditions had fuelled his trade unionism. Since 1964 he had been a full time union official. David Buckle reviled both Margaret Thatcher and Michael Edwardes and his remaining henchmen in Austin Rover, but had also faced his own internecine battles among the left inside the Cowley complex. Most notably with Alan Thornett, a hard left shop steward that BL management had refused to recognise. By April 1983 Thornett had been fired for having a four year out of date HGV licence.

David Buckle’s version of the dispute is as follows.

‘A senior director, visiting the plant one morning saw men leaving the production lines three minutes early at lunchtime. He gave an immediate order that the practice should be stopped at once. We tried through all the usual procedures to claim the right, as custom and practice’ but the management were adamant it must stop. We were also told that when workers reported for work on the following Monday (28 March) they would be ‘deemed to have accepted’ that the six minutes washing up time had ceased and it was no longer a right. Both unions officials (TGWU and AUEW) warned senior members of management that if they insisted there would be a mass walk out of the employees. Our warning came true when 5,000 workers left the plant within thirty minutes.’

David Buckle elaborated on his remarks at the mass meeting to the media. ‘If the price of economic success is a system of industrial slavery, that is too high a price for working people to pay.’ He later said: ‘I used the word ‘slavery’ because I knew the media would ridicule the strike over workers wanting to wash their hands. The use of the word ‘slavery’ struck the right chord with the press, TV and radio because it gave me an opportunity in interviews to spell out what a harsh management employees were being confronted by… The other issue members felt very strongly about was the company’s obvious contempt for a ‘custom and practice’, which had been in existence since the 1940s.’

The management was equally adamant that it would not back down in the dispute over its plan to end the three-minute ‘washing up’ period for workers.

Hard liners were also using the emotion aroused by the dispute to attack the radical work procedures introduced in 1980, which were at the heart of BL’s much improved productivity. Set out in a document known internally as the ‘Blue Newspaper’, they ended restrictive practices and removed the shop stewards’ power base: the right to negotiate manning levels and track speeds.

BL said its tough line had been necessary. It said the real task was to get rid of the stewards veto over job mobility and flexibility. Once that was accepted it became possible to increase productivity massively. The number of hours lost due to strikes had also fallen to a tiny percentage.

Stewards and local union officials said they expected BL to offer a lump sum to workers to buy out the long established practices of leaving three minutes early at the end of each shift. But a senior Austin Rover group executive said: ‘If we gave way on that it would drive a coach and horses through the Blue Newspaper.’

The management said 6 April’s decision changed nothing and prolonged a pointless dispute which was costing the strikers £25 a day. The unions wanted the collective agreements on working practices contained in the Blue Newspaper to be re-negotiated: That would not happen it said.

By 7 April the two main unions involved in the strike were under pressure from local union officers and shop stewards to declare the dispute over the company’s plan to end the ‘washing-up time’ at the end of each shift official before the loss of pay forced the 5000 strikers to give in.

It was revealed that there had already been a secret meeting at BL’s London headquarters between Geoffrey Armstrong, Austin Rover industrial relations chief and four union leaders. They were Terry Duffy, president of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers (AUEW),  Ken Cure, his executive council member representing the Midland region, Moss Evans, General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), and Grenville Hawley, also of the TGWU who was chairman of the Austin Rover joint trade union negotiating committee.

It was understood that all four were assured in the strongest terms that management would not concede an inch on the withdrawal of the so-called five minute washing up time which had long been used as an excuse for quitting work early. Mr Armstrong, who had been at the heart of the company’s tough stand on shop floor discipline, said management regarded the strike as an attempt to breach the 1980 agreement on working practices and procedures, to which all unions had been party. To give way now would be the signal to militants to push even harder.

An Austin Rover official said: ‘We cannot bargain on something that is already part of the contract of employment. They are paid to work from bell to bell.’

Harold Musgrove

On 14 April, the Cowley strikers held another mass meeting. More than 5000 workers voted overwhelmingly to stay on strike amid warnings from management that prolonged action would jeopardize investment. Harold Musgrove (above), the Austin Rover managing director, had warned that a project to build a new executive car, codenamed XX (Rover 800), scheduled to be built by BL and Honda, was under threat because of the stoppage.

The media had begun to realise that there was more to the strike than BL’s decision to withdraw washing up time during shifts. The dispute was merely one symptom of a breakdown in the relationship between the company and its Cowley employees and a sign of increasing militancy.

Workers at the plant were angry at what they regarded as the autocratic attitude adopted by a management attempting to raise productivity. David Buckle, rejecting the company’s overtures, told the strikers: ‘Some people believe this is an olive branch from the company. It is a stinging nettle and if you grasp it you will be stung.’

The same day the strike was made official. The very next day the Austin Rover management accepted the challenge thrown down by the unions and threatened to dismiss all 5000 employees at its Cowley assembly plant unless they ended their three-week ‘washing-up’ strike almost immediately. This information was conveyed to its employees in the form of a letter.
The letter, signed by Douglas Dickson, the Cowley plant director, said that the factory would be open for production on Tuesday April 19th, and work would be available for those reporting.

David Buckle described the management move as intimidation and said: ‘I would remind all our members that they are on official strike and should remain resolute and not report for work on Tuesday.’

The move was anticipated by local union officials early in the dispute. Harold Musgrove then accused the Cowley shop stewards of using the dispute to try to restore the power base they lost two years earlier when national union leaders accepted a radical programme of new working practices. He said in a statement, ‘Many of the people behind these wild claims about ‘brutality’, and ‘slavery’ want a return to the days of the early 1970s when every decision could effectively be vetoed by a shop steward so inclined, when dogmatic insistence on the right to veto even the most minor shop floor change throttled our ability to compete with the rapidly improving industries of Japan, and western Europe. Unfortunately, there are some people who once wielded the power of veto, who resent the changes which have taken place despite the fact that employees have benefited. Some of these people are now cynically portraying their loss of influence as some sort of general movement by management to oppress the entire workforce.’

Moss Evans of the TGWU said: ‘There is no question of us conceding to the company under threat.’

Harold Musgrove was now taking on the hard man role previously played by Sir Michael Edwardes. He said on 17 April: ‘If employees do not come back to work, they will have repudiated their contract of employment and their employment will therefore be terminated. The letter is no idle threat. Neither is it a bluff.’

He said the strike had nothing to do with the issue of leaving early. It was a blatant attempt by some local union spokesman to, ‘turn the clock back to the days of the early 1970s, when their influence and dogmatic resistence to change brought this company and the British motor industry to its knees. That is something we, in Austin Rover, cannot allow to happen. When these spokesmen talk about the need for a return to consensus that is not what they mean at all. They mean a return to them of the power of veto.’

He dismissed the notion that Cowley was some kind of slave camp.

‘This is absolute nonsense, and the people mouthing these wild fantasies know, it is nonsense. It is this type of nonsense projected in the highly charged emotional atmosphere of mass meetings through the use of lurid and misleading rhetoric which has prolonged this futile and pointless dispute.’

Musgrove said early leaving at Cowley was costing £1m a week in lost production or £50m a year. Cowley was the only BL plant where workers, and not management, switched off the track at the end of the shift.

Austin Rover’s threat to dismiss the strikers was subsequently suspended while new peace talks went on. On 19 April the Cowley shop stewards rejected Austin Rovers latest offer to end the strike. After the 86 stewards had met for three hours, TGWU national automotive officer Grenville Hawley said: ‘There will need to be a good deal of hard bargaining before the dispute is resolved.’

David Buckle was again to the fore. He urged the strikers to ‘stand firm”. He said: ‘We are once again in the situation where the company has refused to compromise in negotiations, has refused to be reasonable and has clearly worked on a policy where they want to get this dispute to national officers as soon as possible.’

Harold Musgrove, on 21 April, reiterated the warning to the strikers that they could be dismissed if they did not return to work. ‘They are in breach of their contracts and I believe that if we do not get a speedy return to work we will have no alternative but to take the sort of action we have said we would. We are not bluffing.’

Sir Terence Beckett, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, and the architect of Ford’s sales supremacy, accused the Cowley workers of committing “industrial suicide”. He told businessmen in Cambridge: ‘We still have lemmings on the shop floor in the motor industry who are prepared to follow their union leadership over the nearest cliff in their persistence that having a job is a birthright whatever it costs the rest of us.’

Motorists had started to cancel orders for the Maestro because the dealers had run out of stocks or could not supply their choice of model and colour. At the same time there was mounting criticism, by dealers of the BL management’s timing for such an obviously controversial issue as the abolition of ‘washing up’ time at Cowley.

There was another mass meeting of the Cowley strikers on 22 April. About 3000 workers attended and voted to continue the strike. Fresh talks between union leaders and BL management were hastily arranged as the crisis at the strike-bound Cowley plant deepened.

There was a smaller majority to continue the strike at today’s mass meeting at Cowley than at previous meetings. The meeting agreed that a mass picket should be mounted at the factory gate on Monday 25 April to prepare for that contingency that some strikers might drift back to work. Managers were planning to open the plant on that Monday in the hope of encouraging strikers to return and weaken the union’s bargaining position.

At last on Tuesday 26 April, the washing up strike ended. There was a five to one vote, at a mass meeting of the strikers, for a return to work. About 3000 of the 5000 strikers met in a works sports ground and took only 35 minutes to decide to end the washing time dispute which had cost about 19,000 cars in lost production, many of them new Maestros, worth more than £100m at showroom prices.

The mass meeting heard that the Transport and General Workers Union had taken the unprecedented step of giving its local officers plenary powers to declare any future strike official immediately. A month of negotiations now lay ahead as unions and management tried to mend industrial relations at the plant and sought agreement on the introduction of productivity measures, including an end to the six minutes a day washing time, which sparked the strike.

Shop stewards decided not to break the fragile agreement reached at weekend talks between union officials and senior BL managers, and pulled back from recommending the mass meeting to reject the peace formula.

But Robert Fryer, the senior TGWU steward, told the meeting that the unanimous view of the stewards was that the formula should be rejected. ‘The management, even at the talks on Saturday, were still trying to bully us into submission and surrender’, he said.

David Buckle said after the meeting: ‘I have absolutely no doubt that the strike has been worthwhile because this company is now under the public microscope… First, it is indeed possible that the days of imposition at the plant are now over. Secondly, the company, so far as human and industrial relations are concerned, is now very much under the public microscope, thanks to the solidarity of our members. The company will now have to be very careful how they treat their employees in the future.’

Mr Buckle then went on to describe Austin Rover chairman Harold Musgrove as: ‘one of the greatest dangers to industrial relations and the security of the company. He does not seem to have the slightest idea what motivates human beings on the production line.’

BL said that the company was pleased by its employees’ overwhelming decision to return to work. ‘It will not be forgotten that it has been a long and damaging dispute and now we need to work together to re-establish Cowley’s image and reputation’, Harold Musgrove said.

After the strike the Montreal Gazette newspaper interviewed some of the Cowley strikers. No one was willing to be quoted by name. ‘There are repercussions for speaking out. The foremen treat us like dirt. They curse at us. The washing up time was the last straw. Enough was enough,’ said one man who had worked at Cowley for 15 years.

Another man, said, as did virtually all the others, that in the end, they were certain to lose their protest. ‘I need a job. I’ve got a family. BL threatened to fire us. The tactics of the management were terrible. Look, we’re all human beings together.’

‘I was unemployed 18 months before this job’, said a 29 year old.

The next day, 27 April, Cowley resumed production. The same day Ray Horrocks, BL Cars chief executive and Harold Musgrove’s immediate boss, appeared before the Commons Select Committee for Trade and Industry. Horrocks said that BL management was ‘surprised at the solidness’ of the strike over the ending of washing-up time at the Cowley plant. He added that management did not expect a strike when they tried to introduce an end to washing-up time at the end of a shift. He said they had not introduced the new system to trigger a strike. He said there had been discussions about the introduction of the new system, aimed at increasing productivity, from November 1982 to March 1983, when the Maestro model was introduced.

‘We were talking to the Stewards, and we thought we had made them understand. Manning levels were on the line, the men were learning the product, and were not working at peak. We didn’t want to make people we might need later redundant, so we had to up productivity in this way,’  said Horrocks.

BL appointed two of its most senior managers to represent the company at a four man inquiry into industrial relations at Cowley. They were Norman Haslan, employee relations director for Austin Rover and Jim Donaghy, director of the body and assembly plant at Longbridge.

Then on 17 May, it was revealed that Tom Gray, who had been appointed 16 months earlier to improve productivity at Cowley, had left Austin Rover for personal reasons. Mr Gray had avoided the public eye as Cowley’s director in charge of the body and assembly plants, but was quickly identified by the workers as the man behind the new style of management.
The joint report of a management and union inquiry into industrial relations at the Austin Rover assembly plant at Cowley upheld many of the complaints made by workers against the management during the washing-up time strike.

Senior shop stewards gave their own three-hour presentation on 27 May at the end of the five-day inquiry at Cowley. There were 147 complaints, mostly by workers against the management. The report upheld the allegations of swearing and abuse of workers by managers.

By June a secret ballot of the Cowley workforce had accepted the end of washing up time. On the vote to end washing up time at Cowley, David Buckle, area secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, said that he was ‘not surprised, but disappointed’ with his members’ decision to ignore a shop stewards’ recommendation to strike. Mr Buckle said that they had succumbed to ‘blackmail and intimidation’.

An Austin Rover spokesman replied: ‘Events at Cowley have totally discredited Mr Buckle.’

The same month a special edition of Motor magazine devoted to Austin Rover had Harold Musgrove emphasising his humble origins as an Austin apprentice and how he could relate to the ordinary car worker. Motor also interviewed Austin Rover’s Director of Quality, David Caswell, and described how the firm’s in-depth quality control worked.

So that was the ‘washing up’ dispute that marred the launch of the ‘Miracle Maestro’.

Who were the heroes and villains?

At the time as the Thatcher era reached its zenith, her greatest election triumph was only weeks away, it seemed that Harold Musgrove was the hero of the piece in standing up to the unions and bludgeoning through the reforms to working practices so necessary to supply the required volume of sought after Maestro’s to feed the rapidly expanding car market. Musgrove would brook no opposition in his zeal to re-establish BMC/Austin Rover as a major player in the volume car market, and the only way to achieve this and take on its American owned rivals was through more production.

David Buckle of the TGWU was seen as a relic of the past, when everything had to be agreed with the shop stewards, what were known as mutuality agreements.

Sir Michael Edwardes was perceived to have gone to war on the shop stewards movement, although the man himself denied that he was anti-trade union.

The shop steward movement had provided the formative background for many a Labour politician. Edwardes had gone over the heads of the British Leyland shop stewards with mail shots to employees, sacked Derek Robinson, the head of the BL shop stewards committee and sent the stewards back to full time work.

Back in 1975 the Ryder Report had envisaged the British Leyland shop stewards as having an important input into the future of the company, now they had been marginalized. This was seen by many as an attack on ordinary working people.
How has the passing 30 years altered our perception of this dispute and what do we know now that we didn’t know then?
Some time in 1982, possibly the summer, Harold Musgrove showed his new design director, Roy Axe, who he had recruited from Chrysler, the new Austin Maestro.

Roy Axe was appalled with both the Maestro design and its bigger brother, the Montego, due to be launched in 1984. Axe considered both designs to be 20 years out of date, but it was too late to change much before they went into production.
Despite these warnings about the car, Austin Rover went ahead with the Maestro, going hell for leather for maximum production from Cowley.

When the ‘washing up’ strike occurred it seemed that Roy Axe’s prophesies of doom were wrong and that demand for the Maestro would comfortably exceed that of the ill fated Austin Allegro, and at last Austin Rover would have a car that would be as appealing as the much missed ADO16 1100/1300 series.

But by the time the Montego was finally launched in April 1984 enthusiasm for the Austin Rover twins was waning and there was no rush to the showrooms for the bigger car. The Mk2 version of the rival Vauxhall Astra was launched in October 1984 and this was a bang up to date design compared to the Maestro whose design had been frozen in 1978. At the same time a bitter price war between Ford and Vauxhall squeezed the Cowley twins market share.

However in the dash for volume at Cowley, quality was sacrificed, whatever Austin Rovers PR machine might have said on the matter. As the AROnline Maestro and Montego development story says: ‘The Maestro, unfortunately, was also saddled with the image of unreliability that had come part and parcel of being a car built by BL. The early Maestros lived up to this reputation magnificently, suffering from slack build quality, which led to repeated carburettor maladies, build niggles and high-profile electronic problems. The net result of this was that these teething problems managed to alienate fleet buyers, who had been stung in the past buying products of BL. If the fleet managers were jumpy, they would not buy the product and that would be a disastrous result in a market that two thirds of the cars sold were company cars.’

And: ‘Both the Montego and Maestro suffered from the familiar story of build quality niggles that one would have assumed by this point in time, Austin Rover would have succeeded in beating. Unfortunately, the first few long-term tests published by the UK car magazines reported tales of woe and the Montego, especially suffered from electronic maladies. No big deal in the grand scheme of things, but when you are trying to rebuild an image, the last thing that you want to hear.’

And these were the cars that got through the dealers pre-delivery inspection! It was quite clear that Austin Rover, just as Leyland Cars had done with the Rover SD1, had placed the emphasis on quantity over quality.

By December 1984 BL was asking the government for more money to fight off the threat from Vauxhall. Then, in August 1985, came the bombshell – Austin Rover announced that 200 assembly workers were to lose their jobs, and a further 740 transferred to enable production at the company’s Cowley and Longbridge factories to be reduced by 10%. At Cowley, weekly output of Maestro and Montego models was reduced from 2200 to 2025 and from 2500 to 2200 respectively.
Overall this was a reduction of 475 cars a week and the ‘washing up’ strike had been about increasing production by 100 cars a week!

The government finally lost patience with BL in 1986 and after an abortive attempt to sell off both Land Rover and Austin Rover, they brought in Graham Day as chairman. It was claimed that Day clashed with senior BL executives because their ‘pseudo-macho culture’ inhibited discussion on the future direction of the company.

Graham Day’s own patience with Austin Rover finally snapped when early production Rover 800’s also showed signs of less than sparkling build quality. By the autumn of 1986 Harold Musgrove and many of his colleagues found themselves looking for new employment. Graham Day, like Lord Stokes in 1968, took personal control of the volume car division and set about tightening up the build quality.

The Cowley South Works and its workforce paid the price for the failure of the Maestro and Montego in 1992 when it was closed down and production moved to the smaller Pressed Steel facility next door.

David Buckle retired from the TGWU in 1989 and wrote his memoirs, ‘Turbulent Times in the Car Industry’, in 2011. The book received a negative review on the Amazon website from his old adversary Alan Thornett.

Although David Buckle was hostile towards BL management, he is full of praise for BMW, the present owners of the Pressed Steel site that he began working at in 1950.

‘BMW is the present owner of the old Pressed Steel Factory where they have substantially increased investment to make it the plant we should all have had from the 1950s to the 1980s. Employees now enjoy much safer working conditions in a factory, which is far cleaner, safer and much quieter than in the old days. No longer is there lead in the atmosphere causing lead poisoning, nor extremely high levels of noise causing many employees to suffer from tinnitus. Power assisted tools are banned and the factory is very clean, quiet, and much brighter compared to the appalling conditions of the past.’

Harold Musgrove would later go on to join the National Health Service in 1991 as chairman of West Midlands Ambulance Service, before moving to Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham to manage the controversial merger with Solihull Hospital.

He was linked with the new hospital in Worcester and the controversial semi-closure of Kidderminster General Hospital. This led to the formation of the ‘Save Kidderminster Hospital’ campaign – and the election of many members of that committee being elected as Wyre Forest Councillors – and Dr Richard Taylor, a leading member of that campaign. He was previously a consultant at Kidderminster General, being elected to Parliament with the intention to fight the Musgrove plan, the semi closure of Kidderminster General and the building of the PFI Hospital at Worcester.

He became chairman of the Hospital in 1998. The running of that hospital under his chairmanship was heavily criticised by the new Worcester MP Michael Foster and Musgrove left shortly afterwards.

His decision was greeted with joy from his most prominent political opponent, Dr. Richard Taylor, Independent MP, who attacked the down-grading of services at Kidderminster Hospital. Mr Musgrove dismissed Dr Taylor, saying, ‘Richard Taylor is a nice old chap but a minor irritant. Kidderminster is only a small part of services in Worcestershire.’

Dr Taylor welcomed the news; ‘I have not made any secret of the fact that I have found it difficult, if not impossible, to work with Mr Musgrove and I am pleased that he has decided to leave. He was brought in to force through changes and the fact that he is going shows that the plan was flawed and unenforceable from the start.  I can only hope against hope that the sort of personality who takes over will be someone we can work with, who has a different leadership style, not just for Kidderminster but for the whole of Worcestershire.’

Ian Nicholls
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  1. Another unhappy tale where everyone comes out of it looking bad. In particular, everything I read about Musgrove makes him sound like a belligerent and ineffective knob. I’d love to hear if anyone has personal experience of the man.

    • From everything I’ve read he was an unqualified, uneducated, bombastic, narcissistic idiot who bullied and bullshitted his way off the tools into a top job. British industry was full of these in the good old days 70s/80s

  2. Idiotic management coupled with bolshie unions and shop stewards resulting in the end of the last purely British mass producer. And then Buckle praises BMW! Hopefully something unpleasant will happen to him.

  3. Proof that British directors really weren’t that effective then, and even to this day, I’d prefer a Canadian or a German to run a large scale company. Never trust an American and the French are too arrogant…

    But always be very wary of a Brit…..

    I mean look at BP and RBS………

      • An interesting viewpoint . Perhaps you would like to share with us the evidence which leads you to this conclusion , and disclose your own nationality

  4. BL were mad to think that replacing two cars (Ital and Allegro) which boasted two estates (two door and four door), two door and four door versions of the Allegro and a four door version of the Ital with a single four door Maestro and a four door saloon ( Montego) along with an estate later on could possibly make up lost Allegro and Ital sales.
    Reliability and build issues certainly damaged the cars reputation, but the lack of a two door and estate Maestro and a hatch back version of the Montego only pushed punters to look at Ford and Vauxhall products.

  5. Interesting – I wasn’t aware until now that Maestro sales had been so good in its first month. Nor do I recall this strike the following month. I thought by this point such severe industrial action was over.

  6. Marinast @5
    “BL were mad to think that replacing two cars (Ital and Allegro) which boasted two estates (two door and four door), two door and four door versions of the Allegro and a four door version of the Ital with a single four door Maestro and a four door saloon ( Montego) along with an estate later on could possibly make up lost Allegro and Ital sales.”

    Exactly. As I’ve said before, how on earth was BL going to recover without full market coverage. Maestro and Montego needed to be separate cars each with various derivatives, body styles.

  7. Thanks Ian – another great article full of new stuff to add to my growing library of BL material.

  8. Hard to think it’s 30 years since the Maestro was launched, it still seems fresh in my memory. I never knew Harold Musgrove but did see him at close quarters at the press launch of the Rover 200 in Northumberland in 1984.

    As usual with BL/Austin Rover, there was the opportunity to challenge Ford, Vauxhall and VW with a good product, but never quite happened…

  9. Another nail in BL’s coffin, their most important car launch for years ruined by a strike and poor quality.

  10. Funny thing though isn’t it? 30 years ago people would blow up over a 3 minute break, now its fine for companies and govts to stick their snouts in our very homes. Sometimes I wonder if Red Robbo and the test of them didn’t have a point. Give em an inch, and before you know it they’ll be kicking blind people out on the street, wait they already are…
    George Orwell, to paraphrase blackadder, had it right, he just got the date wrong; 2014.

  11. Jemma @12
    Yes, striking over the loss of 3minute washing up breaks is today hard to believe. Now people would not dare – such militant over reaction will surely result in me being fired!

    Also, I too have before now thought that George Orwell’s thinking was not too far wrong apart from the date!

  12. A very interesting article. Maybe one day the popular misconception, peddled by the likes of Jeremy Clarkson, that the unions and workers were soley to blame for the demise of BL/AR will be laid to rest.

    As for 3 minutes washing up time. How much washing up time did senior managers enjoy on their expenses paid “working” lunches and similar junkets?

  13. However, this strike was the last major dispute at Cowley and look at how productive the factory is now, producing a car that is desirable in the way the British Leyland cars never were.

  14. Interesting quote from the article above:
    David Buckle retired from the TGWU in 1989 and wrote his memoirs, ‘Turbulent Times in the Car Industry’, in 2011. The book received a negative review on the Amazon website from his old adversary Alan Thornett.
    Although David Buckle was hostile towards BL management, he is full of praise for BMW, the present owners of the Pressed Steel site that he began working at in 1950.
    ‘BMW is the present owner of the old Pressed Steel Factory where they have substantially increased investment to make it the plant we should all have had from the 1950s to the 1980s. Employees now enjoy much safer working conditions in a factory, which is far cleaner, safer and much quieter than in the old days. No longer is there lead in the atmosphere causing lead poisoning, nor extremely high levels of noise causing many employees to suffer from tinnitus. Power assisted tools are banned and the factory is very clean, quiet, and much brighter compared to the appalling conditions of the past.’

    Perhaps if BMW had come along earlier then Cowley North and South may have survived with their investment and recent expansion of production, instead of BAe asset stripping most of the Cowley site from mid-1990, via their property development arm Arlington Securities.
    (A 5 year min. ownership term was required by the government to allow the £150m sell off of BL to BAe…..BAe then sold Austin-Rover on to BMW for £800m as soon as the 5 years required was up).

  15. Its hard to pinpoint who to blame for this sorry story , I remember being a young car mad teenager at this time and the 3 M cars launches were really exciting , I thought that Austin Rover were bound for greatness……

  16. I think BL could best be summed up in a quote from Yogi Berra:

    “what we have here is an insurmountable opportunity”

  17. Llyod George once said, apropos the General Strike in 1926 he had never met anybody so stubborn and stupid as the coal unions, until he met the coal mine owners !

    It seems history does repeat itself !

  18. I’m feeling guilty I was getting an incredible 15 minutes washing up time as late as the mid 90’s in a nationalism industry!

    Devils advocate though: how dirty do you get assembling new car parts?

  19. @12 & 13 – yet today, we workers enjoy massive employment rights in our favour, such as guaranteed breaks for working 4 hours, health & safety beyond all reason and the ability to pretty muh determin when we work and for how long by taking advantage of flexible working rules. People too easily forget that they sign a contract with an employer to offer their skills and work in return for being paid. Sadly it all to often means that all the onus is on the eomployer and the benefits on the employee. I’m an employee, an enlightened one who knows that there are ridiculous amounts of legislation and protection for me as an employee in place that I know costs employers dearly – all of this affects how much I can get paid and how well my employer does. There are plenty of idiots out there who inexplicably take the view that employers are the devil and employees must militantly resist them at all costs, my view is those people should be sacked without pay and made an example of because we cannot have a strong economy with well paid and comfortable people with people like that unwilling to pull their weight or accept the fact that employers have a right to demand that you work to the best of your abilities and to the hours you are paid for. It’s also too easy for people to forget that most business are in fact just a collection of people, be it, owners or shareholders and the poeple we harm when we behave like militants are probably ourselves – through our pensions, through our investments and shares or just through the general decline in UK Plc as a worthy place to employee decent workers.

  20. @10 Peter.
    You are probably right. Unless they are Spanish. I should know I worked for one one unfortunately. And you thought the French were arrogant. Throw in racist, rude, no manners, and lots of other not very nice things and you’ll see one of the reasons why Spain’s so had it.

  21. Proof again of incompetent management losing the confidence of its workforce. Unions obtain power when workers think they are not getting a fair deal and management fails to convince them otherwise or listen and act upon their views and ideas.

    So much different with the Japanese, etc, as Rover found with Honda – just a shame they didn’t do it two decades sooner.

  22. Maetin @16
    “(A 5 year min. ownership term was required by the government to allow the £150m sell off of BL to BAe…..BAe then sold Austin-Rover on to BMW for £800m as soon as the 5 years required was up).”
    Is it any wonder the company never survived! BAe’s lack of long term interest, investment was more severe than I thought. Given the low investment it was one hell of an achievement to get to a position where BMW regarded the company as a good buy. Alas, the bad management continued. Not BMW, but the government for failing to see just what a fortunate situation BMW at the helm was and for failing to keep them there.

  23. James @ 22

    I did not mean to sound anti employer or fail to appreciate the rights an employee now has. I was just being amazed at how times have changed – I can’t really imagine anyone during my twenty years of work daring to strike.

    Reference George Orwell – the increasing level of rules and regulations in life can be described as ‘Big Brother Watching’ but I’m not being entirely serious.

    Oh, I do love a good AROnline debate!!!!!

  24. This is all a bit chicken and egg isn’t it? If the management had been smarter and more ‘open’ – talking ideas through with the workforce as we do today (in some enlightened organisations) the men may have reacted better. If the men had not been quite so argumentative about everything – the management might have reacted better to the general consensus.
    My dear father (final inspector on the Barb in Swindon PS when he retired) used to say, “sometimes son, I don’t who is daftest – the management or the men”. This is a man who defied a 6 week strike, and along with a handful of others got himself in the paper for defying the picket lines – only three weeks after he started work. (Years before on the Mk 1 Sprite)
    I fear that no answer will ever be simple. It is difficult for us today to understand why mass walkouts and strikes gained momentum – what were the people thinking? I guess you had to be there – just like asking the German people why they followed Hitler in his quest to rule half the world. From my reading of the subject – you had to be there. You had to be as poor and have no future whatever as they did. Blooming ‘eck – it’s all getting a bit deep now.
    Somebody say something funny for goodness sake!

  25. “health & safety beyond all reason” – sounds like a mindlessly repeated daily mail catchphrase, do you think workplaces should be more dangerous?

    “determine when we work and for how long by taking advantage of flexible working rules.” – does this mean part time jobs?

    “I’m an employee, an enlightened one who knows that there are ridiculous amounts of legislation and protection for me as an employee in place that I know costs employers dearly – all of this affects how much I can get paid and how well my employer does.” – If you really are an employee and you believe that, you are thoroughly deluded and have no understanding of commerce.

    “There are plenty of idiots out there who inexplicably take the view that employers are the devil and employees must militantly resist them at all costs, my view is those people should be sacked ” – why not beheaded – ” without pay and made an example of because we cannot have a strong economy with well paid and comfortable people.” – You have no understanding of economics whatsoever, as of right now in the UK under paid and low paid workers have low purchasing power, coupled with less borrowing capability and are unable to create consumer demand.

    “general decline in UK Plc as a worthy place to employee decent workers.” – James you traitor, why do BMW,Toyota,Nissan,Honda etc have car factories here then, because UK workers are useless?

    Very efficient workers usually produce low quality products.

    Harold Musgrove was one of the worst managers the world has ever seen, his time at Austin Rover in retrospect should be seen as a period of sabotage.

    Management should have not cancelled “washing up time”, they should not have been rude to and mistreated their workers. In an effort to produce more cars, they actually produced less and of poorer quality.

    Fortunately, Honda and Graham Day were good influences on the Rover group, with much better worker and union relations came much better quality cars.

  26. A well written article and a balanced one in my view. The debate sparked on the forum was fascinating to read.

    I beleive Maestro failed due to a combination of dated design, lack of quality components/materials used in its construction and an indifferent dealer network. It’s a shame cos the car was reasonable to drive in 1.6 and 2 litre form later in life and had loads of space making it a decent load lugger. If only Austin Rover had been able to invest in and develop the Maestro. As a result of management’s incompetence, it was a classic case of hello maestro, goodbye market share. Graham Day sacked Musgrove and Horrocks because they weren’t up to the job.

    With regard to the workforce, it was clear that the washing up time was just the straw that broke the camels back. Most of us have never worked in a car plant, least of all one that had very poor working conditions, poor industrial relations and management with scant regard for the well-being of its employees. Thankfully conditions today at Plant Oxford are safer than ever. In Britian, we are capable of producing world beaters, but it now takes foreign ownership/investment to make it happen.

    In Britain we lack the vision and skill to manage large industry which is sad……….

  27. Joe @ 29
    “Fortunately, Honda and Graham Day were good influences on the Rover group, with much better worker and union relations came much better quality cars”

    Yes indeed! Followed by the BMW acquisition we SHOULD have had a successful company. This is the sad, ‘so near and yet so far’ bit!

  28. It appears Ray Horrocks thought he would succeed Sir Austin Bide as BL chairman and the arrival of Graham Day came as a rude shock to him.
    Ray Horrocks, Harold Musgrove and Michael Edwardes were the architects of BL’s hard line industrial relations strategy at a time when the public image of trade unions was at an all time low following the 1978/79 winter of discontent.
    But as the people responsible for the product plan, they also carried the can for Austin Rover’s stagnation in the mid 1980’s.
    When the Thatcher government tried to sell Austin Rover off to Ford, Ray Horrocks publicly complained, much to the delight of Labour politicians. Yet Horrocks, as head of BL Cars, was detested by the Trade Unions, and the man himself did not seem to accept that he was in part to blame for the situation Austin Rover found itself in, which was selling less cars in an economic boom.
    Interestingly by the 1990’s Ray Horrocks was the chairman of Chloride, the firm once run by Sir Michael Edwardes.

  29. Couldn’t agree with you more Eezee. I used to work for RBS. The Britsh are no good at running large scale companies – too much wastage, red tape, greed, corruption, sloppyness, lazyness, under-production. I could go on……

  30. I do understand many of the points made in this fascinating debate.
    @22 and 29 – just about as far apart as one can get (Joe – you do sound very angry).
    There is lots of criticism for the various managers and regimes and I am quite sure many were inept and lacked the necessary skills required to run major functions within the company – and to manage the welfare, safety and industrial relations aspects.
    Despite all that, I do wonder how any company could have succeeded in remaining a significant player in the field when after millions of pounds of investment to launch a new car – with the launch itself costing a fortune – the workforce immediately go on strike for several weeks. They then return to work for a couple of weeks and then go on strike again for another very valid or completely ludicrous reason – delete which not applicable.
    If we put ourselves in the position of M.D. – what would we do? How frustrating would that be? How was the company ever going to drive itself out of the red?
    Do we believe that a change of either lower, middle or higher management (and with the skills available at that time – not with the benefit of enormous amounts of hindsight now ) would have reduced the number of industrial action disputes sufficiently to make a significant difference to the future of the organisation?
    It would be great to have an ex-employee and even better for that person to have ‘hands on’ knowledge, to answer this.

  31. I was completely unaware that there was a strike this late, a write up on the union leaders post ’83 would be appreciated, they’ve done an excellent job staying out of the papers, (but I suspect they read this site). All the mistakes of Red-Robbo and co have finally counted for something, pity more of the industry didn’t survive.

  32. #33.Ah , do go on Adam. With your obvious depth of expertise you will be able to tell us who ARE the best managers of large scale companies

  33. Cristopher Storey, I never gave any indication of who I thought was the best, merely that it isn’t the British, in my opinion. May be you can provide something more constructive to the table instead of just flippant remarks?

  34. Wherever our Level of British loyalty is and whoever we think runs the most successful companies has to be considered in the light of history. I’m as pro British as can be (the clue is in the web name!) but the facts are inescapable.
    Britain as we all know was hugely successful in developing and manufacturing the motor car. Just pre and post war we were unstoppable – exporting cars to the four corners etc….. We lost it all.
    The Japanese took our Austin A40 and developed the industry we see today. The Germans took our Austin 7 and later an Italian bubble car and re-vitalised BMW to the point we see it at today and VW sold millions and millions of a car which Ford said had no future at all. Both Citroen and Renault have been on the brink of disaster in their time and both produced idiosyncratic cars with little appeal outside of France – yet they both survive.
    Small comfort that whatever mistakes the UK made the USA followed suite but just managed by the skin of their teeth to keep GM going.
    It appears we were good at development and management in the early days but we are not so good at a raising fire from the ashes. Of course we need not have had the fire extinguished if it had not been the Pheonix Four – o’ dear, did I just say that out loud?

  35. Might the management of British Leyland been influenced by the fact the government of the day would always bail them out, as their factories were in marginal seats, and so could go on making substandard products and antagonising the unions and vice versa as they knew the government would come to the rescue. However, by the mid eighties the writing was on the wall, Austin Rover was starting to fall into third place in the sales charts, quality was still poor and sales were falling even though the new car market was at record levels. The government could no longer go on supporting a company whose products people didn’t want to buy and people like Ray Horrocks, who seemed to think subsidies and bail outs would go on forever, had to go.

    Privatisation and Graham Day came to the rescue ( well for a time anyway). Rechristened Rover, the company now had to earn its place and the only way to do this was to make cars people wanted to buy and improve quality, even the unions came round to the new way of thinking. By 1990 Rover had attractive products like the new Metro, 200 and 400 and there waiting lists for the 200. What a shame this couldn’t have happened in 1983.

  36. #37.Adam : I am interested to know how you thought your post running down British management without suggesting how , or by reference to what standards , the situation might be remedied , was constructive

  37. Merely observations from my time working for companies such as RBS. If you are attempting to stick up for them, you’re on your own. Running large companies is not one of our strong points. Look at the “Pheonix four” if you want a more relevant example. There is the odd exception like JCB, perhaps. I’m just curious as to why you seem to be offended by this? May be you could give us the benefit of your wisdom on the subject, Christopher?

  38. @Adam, hardly fair to take aim at ‘British’ Management when it’s just as easy to find examples from just about every other nation… Freddie Mac, Fanny Mae, General Motors, Chrysler to name a few US examples of poor or dowright negligent management in recent years. Commonly, what seems to happen is that it’s actually very hard to run a corporation that has thousands, ten’s of thousand’s or even hundred’s of thousands of employees – why? because that is life – you cannot blame just management without blaming the employees, the markets, the customers or whatever other factor can contribute to the success of a company – that’s just too simplistic a view to take and is the sort of view that today’s knee-jerk succeed or die culture likes to take because it’s an easy cop out and requires less eloquent argument from people who are unable to.

    Even today’s corporate leviathans such as Apple have episodes in their history that aren’t great. Apple nearly went bust remember?

    That’s not trying to stick up for ‘British Management’ merely pointing out that this is not a ‘British’ phenomenon and trying to imply as such is pretty unfair.

  39. #42 – I quite agree with regard to the complexity of why a company can fail. You covered it with “whatever other factor” but for me, our Goverment’s wonderful ideas of BMC/BL/BLMH ( whoever at the time ) installing plants all over the country such as Bathgate to name but one couldn’t possibly of helped.
    I accept though, that even a decision like that has many facets – and clearly bringing employment to areas that needed it was a key factor. The fact remains that it probably never helped the company with its finances – even if the individual plants were productive and successful.
    As you hint, it is far too easy to adopt the ‘pub expert’ role and make sweeping statements. I very often get on my soapbox about a particular industrial character but reign myself in when I think what it would really be like – waking up as head of British Leyland one morning – think about it guys – what would we really have done to put everything right. What would be our first strategic monumental decision that would start the road to recovery that morning? (Remembering that whatever we came up with would historically have caused an immediate walkout of key staff and immediate loss of production).

  40. @ Adam

    I was 29 years in RBS, and the biggest plonkers near the top of the tree in recent years certainly weren’t exclusively British. The problems at RBS were down to one bad transaction, and the negligence on the part of FG for not doing the appropriate due diligence. RBS, as with other companies, is a multinational company doing business all over the world with people of various nationalities at executive level. Comparing to to BL/MGR is nonsense to put it mildly. Even ignoring the fact they are totally different types of business, the way they were structured is not remotely similar. Maybe who you worked for in RBS were crap, but there were a lot of talented people in that company before it nearly went down and they paid an unfair price. It is probably because the people brought in to run it since the collapse have either come from over the Atlantic or from the southern hemisphere that it is struggling because they don’t understand the nature of the beast. You cannot apply a uniform set of rules to every big business on the planet.

  41. #41 . It seems that I am not on my own in supporting ( some) British Managers . Others have correctly pointed the sheer problems of controlling giant and disparate organisations . For each of the failures I can point to successes – let us take Rolls Royce , Rio Tinto , Unilever ( alright , an Anglo-Dutch hybrid ) , BAE , and a myriad of very successful smaller companies . If you want examples of catastrophic management failures elsewhere , GM , Ford, Chrysler have all had to come back from the brink , Boeing is on the brink, not assisted by a management which has divorced itself geographically from the principal producing plants , and in Europe as this board regularly points out, Fiat, Renault, Peugeot are all in difficulties. The real problem in managing large organisations in what are really post-industrial economies is that the market into which one tries to sell is saturated, and at the same time the labour costs are far higher than for emergent economies . This is a problem which is well nigh insoluble, and viewed realistically it is only those who make unique niche products e.g. aeroplane engines , or weapons , who can expect to succeed rather than being in a position of managing decline

  42. Not commonly known,but Volkswagen nearly went under 40 years ago as their main product was an air cooled car designed in the thirties whose sales were in freefall in Germany and in other countries only appealed to hippies. Had the Golf and the Polo not come along in the mid seventies, then Volkswagen could have gone.

  43. @46 Glen, I think you do the VW history a little injustice on just one point.
    Your are right in everything you say about the product 40 years ago except that it was not hippies that bought the beetle – it was the discerning buyer who thought that the thing exuded such high quality compared with the home grown product. I well remember a family friend who bought one of the last of the Wolseley 1500’s and in his terminology it fell apart after a year. He was referring to fairly minor things – the horn button, a chrome strip, some door piping etc. He, and many like him were still impressed with the beetles ‘solid feel’ – the fact you needed to open a window before you closed the door because of the air pressure. Whilst sales were clearly falling off in the 70’s it was still respected and the first really negative motor article came from our good friends at Car Magazine who if I remember correctly photographed it with one rear wheel in the air whilst cornering alongside a more conventional car.

  44. @47
    I think by 1973 Datsun were snapping at the Beetle’s heels by offering the same level of reliability for a similar price, but with a more modern driving experience and more equipment. I do remember Motoring Which saying at the time that the only reason to buy a Beetle was its low cost and reliability, but was recommending Japanese cars for similar money.
    Also Germans, whose economy was top dog in Europe by this point, could mostly afford far more desirable cars from Ford, Opel and Audi and sales of the Beetle were tumbling. To a lot of Germans Volkswagen products smacked of the fifties, when this was the only car most Germans could afford, and just as a lot of British Leyland cars had become undesirable and dated by the end of the seventies, so had Volkswagen in Germany by 1972-73.
    However, the Beetle still lives on as a cult item and the excellent camper has a massive following today.

  45. I suppose it says something about Harold Musgrove that Dr Richard Taylor, who opposed Musgrove’s NHS plans, was elected MP for Wyre Forest in the 2001 general election with an 18,000 majority!
    While the rest of the country was voting for Tony Blair, in Wyre Forest they were voting against Harold Musgrove!

  46. As a postscript, Doug Dickson, the Cowley plant director stayed with ARG/Rover until January 1999 when he joined Rolls Royce at Crewe as Manufacturing director. He stayed with Bentley until his retirement in 2011 as board member for manufacturing. He was also active in the CBI.

  47. I thought the Maestro was quite a good looking car when it was launched and better looking than the Escort. Most press reaction at the time was positive, the car now had a more commonplace 1.3 and 1.6 litre engine line up instead of the eccentric line up of the Allegro, it was good to drive, economical, very spacious and seemed destined to beat the Escort. Had the Maestro been better built, it should have been outselling the Escort.
    Yet irony of ironies, Ford launched a terrible new Escort in 1990 that was no match for the new Rover 200, which was vastly better built and better to drive, and Ford were humbled for once.

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