History : British Leyland, The Grand Illusion – Part Five

Ian Nicholls, AROnline’s historian-in-residence, follows up his excellent rundown of the British Motor Holdings story with a five-part account of the British Leyland years from 1974 to 1977.

Here, in the fifth and final part, we see how the British Leyland story finally plays out.


wschap5_01On the day Michael Edwardes became British Leyland Chairman, 1 November 1977, some 1500 workers at Triumph, Speke Number Two, walked out only a few hours after they had resumed work. They had been laid-off for over three weeks by a strike since settled at Triumph, Coventry.

The trouble centred on management plans based on studies by industrial engineers to introduce new manning scales and work levels to improve productivity. Shop stewards claimed that the company had broken a local agreement by taking a unilateral decision to implement these new arrangements. However, the company maintained that the decision to go ahead with the plans was taken only after national negotiating procedures had been followed when it became clear that no progress towards agreement could be made at plant level.

The plant, which produced the Triumph TR7, had not experienced a strike before, but the trade off for this appears to have been an atmosphere of poor discipline, low productivity and dire build quality. How Michael Edwardes dealt with this strike was crucial for the future.

The revival of British Leyland was also crucial for the prospects of the Labour Government. How could it sell the concept of further nationalisation if workers behaved as if state ownership meant commercial considerations went out of the window and the taxpayer was regarded as the source of further inflation busting pay rises, regardless of whether the company could afford it or not.

Edwardes inherits a poisoned chalice

Despite countless threats by the National Enterprise Board (NEB) to withhold funds, the British Leyland workers knew fully well that the Government had no intention of closing the company down, or breaking it up and selling off the parts with potential. And although at times the injections of taxpayers money had been frozen, the strikes had always abated long enough for the NEB and the Government to relent and the funds had been given to British Leyland.

It appears the price Michael Edwardes had extracted from the Government and the NEB was carte blanche to do whatever he saw fit in order to salvage something from the wreckage. There had been plans to rationalise the loss-making nationalised British Steel Corporation since 1975, but ministers had continually vetoed them in order to preserve employment. Michael Edwardes made sure that he was not bound by such strictures and he had the Government over a barrel – his resignation over his right to manage British Leyland the way he wanted to would be a political embarrassment.

Both Alex Park and Derek Whittaker saw the time was right to head for the exit and they resigned. They had, in effect, been pawns of Lord Ryder – they had no authority to withhold investment from strike hit factories and had to operate within the confines of Ryder’s increasingly flawed business plan. They were soon employed elsewhere, but in jobs that had lower profiles and responsibility. Other executives joined them in the rush to the exit, though it is not clear whether they disagreed with the new management or they had, in fact, failed the various management tests Michael Edwardes had instigated.

‘British Leyland is going to be managed by the management, not the Government. We will be kept informed. We haven’t the resources in the Department of Industry to manage Leyland and there is no desire on my part to do so.’ – Eric Varley

The Trade Unions were hostile to Michael Edwardes plans to axe 12,000 jobs through natural wastage and his re-organisation of Leyland Cars into smaller units. They met Eric Varley who was non-committal. Varley said on television: ‘We have to have a strategy for British Leyland which will arrest the decline and put it on a sound footing. I support Michael Edwardes in his approach. There’s no way you can force people to buy Leyland cars. They will only do so if the products are equal to or better than the competition.

‘I am amazed that the Labour and Trade Union movement has not yet really understood this. We aren’t talking about water boards or electricity supply, but manufacturing industry in the most fiercely competitive market. I am sure that this is not fully grasped on the shop floor. British Leyland is going to be managed by the management, not the Government. We will be kept informed. We haven’t the resources in the Department of Industry to manage Leyland and there is no desire on my part to do so.’

Clearly, while Eric Varley may have shared his predecessors ‘cradle to the grave’ ideology, he also felt it had to be earned, and not everything could be financed by punitive taxation on the wealthy, who if they could, left the country. The problem was that Tony Benn was the darling of the Labour movement, and he had convinced many in the public sector that they had a job for life.

Callaghan backs British Leyland

The Prime Minister, James Callaghan, told the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce; ‘The country has shown faith in Leyland’s. Now it is up to Leyland’s to justify that faith from top to bottom, management and workers. I say to them all: Give yourselves a chance and give Michael Edwardes a break. Do not look to the Government for any more solutions. We have done our part. Now it’s up to you. I add only one other thing. There’s not a single one of us who will not feel proud if Leyland’s can succeed in becoming a symbol of all that is best in Midlands craftsmanship.

‘Now the company must solve its problems. Putting public money into Leyland’s is an act of faith. Are we going to be let down? I make no threats about withholding funds if targets are not met. That kind of language can lead to bloody mindedness. But I say to everyone in Leyland’s that the way Nemesis will come is when you have no customers left to sell to.’

This, then, was the state of play with British Leyland when Michael Edwardes took over the reins. He inherited a political football that many saw as an exercise in socialist planning, in which billions of taxpayers’ money was to be invested, with no redundancies or changes in working practices – an ideological experiment in which everybody would work together in harmony to create a better tomorrow.

This may have been the original objective of Tony Benn and his supporters, but it was clear from recent statements from both James Callaghan and Eric Varley, that those in the Government with responsibility for British Leyland did not share this viewpoint.

The immediate root cause of British Leyland’s problems was the continued toleration of the unofficial or wildcat strike, that surefire way of getting a grievance promptly addressed. And yet the issue of outlawing unofficial strikes had continually been fudged, whether through ideology, or fear of Trade Union power. The turning point came in the ‘Winter of Discontent’ of 1978-1979, when the Trade Unions rebelled against the Labour Government’s 5 per cent pay restraint policy.

Strikes paralysed the nation, as the Labour movement committed an act of electoral suicide. In fact, 22 January 1979 was the biggest individual day of strike action since the general strike of 1926. The ‘Winter of Discontent’ was a pyrrhic victory for the unions, as it created an inflationary spiral for non-union members to founder in and discredited the movement as defenders of ordinary people. In the ‘winter of discontent’ the Trade Unions had put their interests above that of the country and they would never again be invited to the top table by Government.

Margaret Thatcher breezes in

Margaret Thatcher

In May 1979 the Conservatives won the General Election under Margaret Thatcher. Her Government now had the will and public support to reform industrial relations laws, which they did, and these were not repealed by the Labour Government of 1997-2010. It has been argued that, had Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle got their white paper, ‘In place of strife’, on the statute books in 1969, much of the industrial relations trauma that destroyed the credibility of British manufacturing industry in the 1970s could have been avoided. It is a nice thought that today – British-owned companies could be major world players.

However, I’d argue that, as Edward Heath found out, there was insufficient public support in a divided country to enforce such laws. Britain had to go through the industrial chaos of the sordid 1970s to make up its mind.

The other problem confronting Michael Edwardes was the lack of market penetration by the newly-renamed BL Limited’s products. The problems with the Rover SD1 were never really solved, despite the mothballing of the Solihull assembly plant and the transfer of production to Cowley. Even today it is difficult to comprehend how Rover got it so wrong with the detail and production of the SD1, when the earlier P6 had been such an outstanding success. The disappointing sales performance of the Rover SD1 dealt the brand a blow to its quality image that it never really recovered from and the SD1 was the last real Rover developed by Solihull.

The legacy

Rover SD1: so much right – and so much wrong…

By 1983, it was the iconic Land Rover that was coming under pressure from the Japanese, as annual production dipped below 20,000 per year. Land Rover was effectively driven out of many markets by more reliable Japanese rivals. Watch a TV documentary filmed in the Third World and see if you can spot the Land Rover.

Fortunately, sales of the more upmarket Land Rovers more than compensated for this loss of market and Solihull engineering continued to be innovative in the best traditions of the Wilks family who bequeathed to the company an ethos that continues to breed success.

The period from 1974-1977 effectively destroyed Triumph as a viable quality brand. A damaging strike crippled production in late 1974 as the parent company ran out of money, led by Eddie McGarry, one of the joint leaders of British Leyland (Motor Corporation Combined) Trade Union Committee (BLTUC), and a key figure in Lord Ryder’s plans for worker participation.

Triumph dies; Jaguar rescued

Triumph Lynx: Snuffed out by industrial action.
Triumph Lynx: snuffed out by industrial action

The replacement for the Dolomite, the SD2 was axed, and in 1978 the TR7 assembly plant in Speke was closed after the long, much publicised strike that broke out on the day Michael Edwardes became Chairman of British Leyland. Along with Speke went the Triumph Lynx (above), a V8-powered four-seater coupe version of the TR7, which was intended to replace the Stag. By closing Speke No.2, Michael Edwardes dealt a blow to the jobs for life culture that permeated British Leyland. The decision to close Speke No.2 marked the end of the Rover Triumph expansion programme announced by Lord Stokes back in May 1973.

The plan was that, by 1978, Rover Triumph would produce 470,000 vehicles a year, compared with around 230,000 they built in 1973. By 1981, it was all over for Triumph, bar the badge-engineered, Honda-based Acclaim.

Jaguar’s fortunes were not helped by being shackled to the parent British Leyland combine whose reputation for strikes and poor quality was reported by the media in the lucrative American market.

Chronic under-investment certainly occurred over at Jaguar but, ironically, it was Sir William Lyons’ parsimony that enabled it to survive and stay afloat in the 1970s. There was no bank-funded dash for growth by Lyons. The basic problem confronting Jaguar was its image in some quarters for poor quality and reliability, which actually restricted its expansion, and production remained relatively low for such a highly-rated product. Simply put, there was no market for Jaguar to expand into.

This was not helped by being shackled to the parent BL combine whose reputation for strikes and poor quality was reported by the media in the lucrative American market. The Jaguar was a superb, refined car, if it was well put together and reliable – if not so, then it was a nightmare and a good reason to switch to a rival German brand. When the luxury car market recovered in the late 1970s from the oil crisis, Jaguar was unable to exploit this and resume expansion.

Eventually, John Egan pinpointed the main problem at Jaguar as being poor quality bought in components. Once sorted, Jaguar sales rose, but this was a remedy for existing models. Once the new XJ40 came on sale in 1986, the old concerns about Jaguar quality re-emerged. The car had been developed by a relatively small team in comparison with rival firms and the XJ40 was exposed as underdeveloped. Ford took control in 1990 and was horrified by what they found in Jaguar’s plants.

Ford poured billions into Jaguar, but an insistence on retro styling and a gradual drift towards SUV-type vehicles in the luxury sector prevented progress. The problem for the now Tata-owned Jaguar is that the switch to SUV-type luxury vehicles suggests that annual sales of 30,000 XJ saloons are but distant memories. Not a problem if you own Land Rover, but a threat to the traditional Jaguar saloon.

The finest hour? Metro revitalises Austin Morris

In the volume cars division the ADO88 Mini replacement mutated into the LC8 supermini, later known as the Metro. Although superficially the Metro sold well from its launch in October 1980, statistics suggest most buyers were former Mini owners and not conquests from rival brands. This alone suggested that BL had been terminally damaged by years of industrial strife all carried out in the public gaze. The subsequent failure of the LM10 Maestro and LM11 Montego, exposed the volume car division, now known as Austin Rover, as still being incapable of assembling vehicles properly and reliably, despite all the public relations window dressing thrown at the media.

Ford and General Motors had now joined the front-wheel-drive market and, as the European car market boomed in the mid-1980s, Austin Rover had become bit -part players.

Perhaps the reality was that BMC/Austin Morris/Austin Rover’s moment in the sun had passed. When Sir Alec Issigonis had been sidelined in 1968 by British Leyland, the company had reverted to producing uninspiring mechanical porridge that were exposed as being badly built in the strike ridden factories of a company with a failing management culture, itself in a divided society. It was simply asking too much in a society that tolerated wildcat strikes and thought that throwing money at the problem was the solution.

Sir Alec Issigonis’ genius, aided and abetted by Charles Griffin, had created a situation where British cars seemed poised to conquer the world. The Mini and ADO16 1100/1300 were British-designed world cars loved and bought all over the globe. Their innovation enabled buyers to overlook their detail design flaws, faults that would not be tolerated in their successors. The Mini and ADO16 had brand values that later volume British Leyland cars did not, but nobody seemed to realise that at the time.

End of an era

Alec Issigonis at the opening of the 'Elephant House'
Alec Issigonis at the opening of the ‘Elephant House’

When Sir Alec Issigonis died on 2 October 1988, BL was now know as the Rover Group in an attempt to give Austin Morris a quality image. This image was, in part, boosted by cooperation with Honda. Let’s be under no illusion, Rover’s success, particularly in the European market in the 1988-95 period, was in the main down to Honda’s reputation. But Ken Cure of the AUEW union once remarked that Honda was a Trojan horse and he was correct.

Having established its reputation in Europe, Honda began manufacturing at Swindon and the need for a link with Rover became superfluous. The subsequent Rover 600 and HHR 400 were Honda designs adapted on conditions imposed by Honda on the cash-strapped British manufacturer. Rover had served its purpose and Honda was moving on.

BMW identified Land Rover and Mini as the brands for exploitation while rivals soon caught and passed Rover’s 16 valve technology and the cars seemed less appealing now that the Honda connection was severed. And some would say the Honda Civic was a better car than its Rover HHR 400/45 clone. Many owners of the post-1995 Rovers, in effect badge-engineered Austin Morris motors with some Honda DNA, had the fast but fragile K-Series engine.

K4 and early KV6-Series engines earned Rover a terrible reputation for unreliability… effectively helping bury the last remnants of BL

This engine was prone to head gasket failure, a design flaw that Rover was at first in denial of, then reluctant to rectify. Having clawed itself out of the mire from the depths of the traumas of the 1970s and rebuilt its credibility somewhat, the issue of the fragility of the K-Series engine was seen by many as further evidence that unreliability came as standard with cars built at Longbridge and Cowley. It simply reinforced old views that British cars were unreliable. Have you ever tried telling anybody faced with a repair bill for their K-Series engine that a 1995-2005 Rover is a good car?

Eventually, BMW offloaded Rover to the Phoenix Four and Land Rover to Ford, thereafter concentrating on the new MINI. That has proved to be a great success, suggesting that, in terms of volume production, BMC>Rover had produced nothing of real significance in global terms since the original Issigonis-designed Mini and ADO16.

Back to History : British Leyland, The Grand Illusion – Part Four : Meltdown

Forward to History : The Edwardes Era – Part One : No future

Ian Nicholls
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  1. Interesting article – the history of BL and its predecessors and successors is fascinating – it raises a number of questions to me:
    – Should BMC and Leyland have ever been merged?
    – How would Issigonis cars with Harris Mann styling have sold?
    – Should Triumph have been retained rather than Rover (it had heritage in small cars, large cars and sports cars so marketing could have been directed at one brand with the MGF being more of a halo car
    – Why did the unions, especially at a local level, and so supportive of the car industry now, not see what they were doing (or did they and there was nothing they could do at a local level)?
    – Why was management so optimistic about sales targets?
    – Was Tony Benn the real villain of the piece rather than Donald Stokes, Michael Edwardes, Red Robbo or Margaret Thatcher with his misguided if well intentioned meddling?

    Despite this has BL ever been in better condition than it is now?:
    – Cowley at full capacity
    – Solihull being extended to produce the XE (the new P6?)
    – Longbridge having a product with potential at last in the MG3
    – Great range of cars from JLR which is being expanded
    – The Jaguars being beautifully built in my experience – better than Mercedes – (and Land Rover products also seeming good at last)
    – New and newish engine plants for BMW / Mini and JLR
    – The BL roundel is back at Optare buses (itself a former BL subsidiary) who have a new factory
    – Leyland trucks alive and kicking

    Yes there are less factories and jobs than before – which is a shame – but as a whole the picture is pretty good.

  2. A sad story, but as Andrew says, what managed to escape from what finally became MG Rover, survives and prospers now and, at last, Jaguar is a match for its German rivals and Cowley, which was once threatened with closure, is booming. However, the Austin Rover part of the former British Leyland, based on Longbridge had a slow, agonising death and brands like Morris, Austin and Triumph, once huge successes, died with little comment in the eighties.

  3. I watched the collapse from the side-lines as I lived in Birmingham from 1971 to 1884. Essentially the unions and the workforce committed suicide. Michael Edwards finally called their bluff, but by then it was too late, the customers had moved on. In fact the whole country seemed set on collective suicide in the 70s. It was indeed, a decade of complete an utter madness. Just look at the photos and see how we all dressed; like a lot of curcus clowns, me included !!

  4. In defence of the 95-05 cars….A very rough & ready look on ‘How Many Left’ reveals 5-10% of the Metro/Maestro/Montego range was still on the road 10 years after production had finished. The equivalent figure for the 25/45/75 is more like 60-70%. Build quality had vastly improved but not enough people were prepared to take the risk and find out thanks to the problems of the 70’s and 80’s. I’ve suffered from HGF on a 10 year old 25, not great but also not an incredibly expensive fix compared to bills many people have for their cars & one that should get it through to the end of its life.

  5. Rover should really have ditched their smaller models in 2000 and specialised on the 75, which was a good car from the start. Also they sadly never promoted their best product, the MG ZT V8 with an American engine capable of 155 mph, which was a real Jaguar beater for less money.
    To me the failure of Rover in later years wasn’t so much down to reliability, once replaced with a brass head gasket the head gasket never failed again, but ageing and overpriced smaller models that were too big for one sector and too small for the other. I think concentrating on making the 75 a successor to models like the P6 would have probably seen Rover survive.

  6. ” Having established their reputation in Europe, Honda began manufacturing at Swindon and the need for a link with Rover became superfluous. The subsequent Rover 600 and HHR 400 were Honda designs adapted on conditions imposed by Honda on the cash strapped British manufacturer. Rover had served its purpose and Honda was moving on. ”

    Yes indeed – The seeming recovery led by R8 ended towards the end of the Honda years before BMW came on the scene.

  7. The slow death of Triumph during the seventies was a disgrace as surely Triumph had a better image than Morris had with the Marina. In 1971 Triumph was like a British BMW, producing widely liked and well made sporting saloons and sports cars, ten years later it was assembling a Honda.
    I’d much rather the Austin Morris part of the business was left to wither away and the money spent on new Triumphs. After all, what would you sooner have on your drive in the seventies, a Triumph 2000 or a Morris Marina?

  8. Many accurate assessments here of the 70’s – and a great article.
    The period coincided with in my case getting married, struggling to buy our first house, starting a family and trying to keep something on the road. With a three day week, reduced power delivery, horrendous inflation (we bought a house for £3,000 and sold it 6 months later for £6,000), millions of unemployed and almost any worker likely to strike for the most stupid reason – it was a rough old time.
    Somehow, Vauxhall and Ford (in my opinion) managed to produce some good cars – Victor FD (coke bottle) and Mk 3 Cortina to name but two.
    Apart from that, the decade can be remembered for good Rock Music and the best men’s clothes styling ever – better than the boring stuff we have today! (Again, in my opinion)

  9. Glenn
    The money was spent on new Triumphs, the TR7. But the quality of Speke built cars was so diabolical, that it helped put a nail in the coffin of the entire brand.

  10. I would suggest you all read the 5 articles in one go to get the full idea of what I’m getting at.
    Basically I blame everybody and say we all mutually deceived ourselves into believing Britain could have a world class motor industry while allowing wildcat strikes to eat away at production and consumer confidence.
    There was no hope after 1977, and brief product led revivals with the likes of the Rover 800 and R8 were simply not sustainable. To suggest that the government and later BAE should have continued to prop up Rover is naive. The numbers simply did not add up with a greatly reduced customer base.
    The only realistic option was that Honda would take a controlling share and eventually transform Rover into Honda UK. Unfortunately Honda decided to start with a clean sheet, or should that be a green field, and decided to begin manufacturing at Swindon. In 1994 Honda passed up the chance of buying Rover and the rest is history.

  11. @11

    The collateral damage to all British exports cannot be underestimated.

    I moved to the USA in 82 as a field rep for a high tech electronics company.

    Our equipment was really very good (still some out there running today), extremely productive and reliable. The competing German and Japanese equipment was a decade behind the times but they still managed to sell them.

    It was an uphill battle selling to customers who had experience owning British cars and motorcycles.

    It took 10 years to gain any trust.

    • Ex-Pat Brit, If you’re referring to British cars, whatever remained of BMC/BL, had long been gone before 1982. The Japanese had long left anything British in their wake. There was no British car market to speak of in the US except for high priced Jaguar and Land Rover and if I recall Jaguar had been sold to Ford who struggled to make it into a reliable brand. Land Rover also was purchased by Ford if I remember but that was later on. British cars couldn’t hold a candle to a Honda. The quality of durability or lack thereof just wasn’t cutting it. Some American BL car dealers started selling Datsun by 1972 because the owner went to England to see first hand what the problem was and he saw massive walkouts because the assembly line would shut down due to one bloke not getting his tea break. Labor relations in BMC/BL were horrible.

      • Not just British cars in Amercia, though, the Italians spotted an opportunity to sell their low priced, economical cars following the 1974 energy crisis and some Americans were tempted over. However, the poor rust protection and build quality, which saw cars like Fiats dissolve in the winter, saw the market rapidly vanish for Italian cars. Also the French had little success in America and a tie up with American Motors to produce an American version of the Renault 9 flopped.

  12. ExPatBrit
    A brilliant point. The recession continued longer in the 1980’s in Britain because consumers simply did not trust British manufactured goods, not that any politician at the time would admit it. They were all to busy blaming each other.
    The world economy recovered in 1983, British industry was still shedding jobs long after that. There was plenty of money in the economy, but no one wanted to spend it on British manufactured goods.

  13. @Ian

    We were washing our dirty linen in public, not our finest hour.

    This was a time when news was also becoming more 24hour and international.The business I was involved in at the time was part of that.

    British matches – every one a striker.

    Great series of articles.

  14. I will put forward a Dominic Sandbrook type slant on events.
    Everybody assumes that self interest and looking after number one came along with the Thatcher era.
    Surely the Thatcher goverment was only exploiting human foibles that already existed ?
    What were the strikes in British Leyland about? Answer;the attempt by individuals to better their situation. What was the 1977 toolmakers strike about? It was an attempt by skilled workers to gain greater recognition for their efforts.
    The sense of community that was expected to pull British Leyland together simply did not exist, and had probably not existed since the Atlee government left office in 1951.
    Harold Wilson’s planned economy approach foundered on the short termist actions of those that were meant to benefit from it. British Leyland from its inception in 1968 relied on the goodwill of its workforce to pull together and create a motor industry which would benefit future generations. Instead it exposed a culture where the only thing that seemed to matter was the contents of the next weeks wage packet.

  15. A nice rose tinted look at the Mini and ADO16 at the end, if only they had been costed properly and made more a profit for the company, instead of it having to develop ‘porridge’ vehicles which sold in fewer numbers granted but made much more money per vehicle.
    And why did Triumph die? Because most top BLMC management and engineering from 1968-1974 were mainly Standard Triumph men and they cocked it all up, if only they had been nicer to Joe Edwards…

  16. “Even today it is difficult to comprehend how Rover got it so wrong with the detail and production of the SD1, when the earlier P6 had been such an outstanding success.”

    @ Ian: I was just about to suggest that perhaps you should substitute the words ‘Leyland Cars’ for ‘Rover’ in the sentence above because of the Austin-Morris invasion of SD1 production and the stack-’em-high-build-’em-cheap approach of the accountant-led Leyland Cars management…but then I stopped myself for, although the Rover company was a class-act compared to its counterparts at Longbridge and Cowley, there is one hugely disappointing aspect of the detailing of the SD1 that surely can only have been the responsibility of the Rover design team.

    To what am I referring? The yawning size of the panel gaps where the front and rear doors joined at the B-pillar. These were cavernous compared to those of any Rover car that had been produced hitherto and, to be honest, were cavernous compared to those of any other car I have seen before or since; also the gap running horizontally between the sills and the bottom edge of the doors was wide and let in a lot of dirt that had been kicked up by the front wheels; and the slovenly detailing of the doors at the B-pillar, above the waist-seal, where the gaps were not just large but not even parallel.

    Had assembly workers from Rolls-Royce ever been employed on the SD1 tracks at Solihull to assemble these doors, even they would have been unable to compensate for the poor design that somehow was signed off and never rectified.

    Publicity shots rarely displayed the SD1 in profile but usually from an acute angle and from a safe distance so as not to draw too much attention to the gaps.

    Owners of Series-Two cars, which featured courtesy-light delay, were still less fortunate: They were treated to the embarrassing sight of the red safety lights that were built into the back of the front doors also remaining illuminated for several seconds after the doors had been closed which served to make the B-pillar gap look more like a chasm. In such instances, diversionary tactics by the owner were often called for so that those passengers unacquainted with the SD1, who were watching at the kerbside, didn’t fall about laughing at this chronic meeting of poor design detail and slipshod quality.

    Who was responsible at Rover – they designed the car, not Leyland – for the signing-off of such wide panel gaps? It beggars belief.

  17. Craig
    The style was by David Bache. The engineering was led by Peter Wilks until he was forced to retire through ill health in July 1971 and was succeeded by Spen King.
    Were these panel gaps a result of trying to make the SD1 easier to manufacture?

    Christopher Storey
    ‘@15 . Atlee ( sic ) Government ? Sense of Community ? Go on, Ian , pull the other one’

    Christopher. I may well be wrong, but I got the impression that post 1945 people just accepted Britain was battered and broke and pulled together. The concept of teamwork engendered by military service during the war carried on. But I may be wrong.

  18. As a Triumph fan, I’ve often though what the best way to bring them back to the market would be. Ideally, I’d like JLR to buy the rights to the name from BMW and use them to fill out the lower end of their product range. Think hot hatches and small saloons, maybe an MX-5 competitor if the market for them opens up a bit.

    The other option would be for the Triumph motorcycle company (or anyone else in fact) to buy the rights and develop a new low-volume sports car.

    Think Caterham 7 competitor with smooth Italian styling.

  19. Triumphs always looked great in the brochures, but were often less imprseeive in service. My dad got a 1976 1500TC as a company car – the company secretary was very reluctant to buy a Triumph, but after three years, it was the second most economical car the company owned, beaten only by a Chevette. Nonetheless, the sills had to be resprayed prior to disposal, as the paint had peeled off the lowest 2 inches on each side at 3 years old! The suspension was too soft, so my mum was always travel sick, and the 3.89 diff’ was too low for Scotland – my dad found it far too easy to spin the wheels on icy T-junctions. We replaced it with a Dolomite 1500HL, which was what the 1500TC should have been to start with; then a Carlton, which was light years ahead of the Triumphs. The Carlton always stopped in a straight line, which the Triumphs wouldn’t – pretty woeful in the 1970’s.

  20. @21 Ken – That was the trouble with Triumph. For the late 60s, early 70s their cars were competitive. Along with the Rover 2000, the Triumph 2000 helped to define an entire market.

    In the mid-to late 70s the world started moving on though, and Triumph had run out of money. Pretty much no new cars reached fruition from that point, and the existing ones weren’t developed to keep up with the rest of the field.

  21. I think the failure of the TR7 and the decision to replace the 2000/2500 with six cylinder Rover meant the end for Triumph. The Dolomite was dated by the late seventies and losing sales and the Spitfire was becoming ancient by then. In 1980 Canley closed and this effectively meant the end for Triumph, as the TR7 lingered on for another year at Solihull and Honda based Acclaim was made in Cowley.
    I do think, though, once the TR7 moved from Speke to Canley the quality improved and American sales increased. Maybe the Lynx project should have gone ahead, with the option of V8 power, and as a replacement for the TR7 and Dolomite at the end of the seventies.

  22. @19 Ian: ‘Were these panel gaps a result of trying to make the SD1 easier to manufacture?’

    I am not really convinced by the premise that wide panel gaps made the SD1 easier to assemble! If the B-pillar panel gaps had been designed to be wide with a view to making the car easier and quicker to assemble, surely all of the other panel gaps on the car would have been of the same width as those at the B-pillar. They weren’t.

    The panel gaps of the bonnet, boot and edge of the rear doors at the C-pillar were of consistently ‘average’ width (judged by the tolerances used on other cars of the time) but, at the B-pillar, the width was at least twice as great.

    I don’t mean to be so anal about panel gaps, which are a pretty dull topic of conversation at the best of times, but they are significant insofar as they might offer a clue as to when standards started to slip at Rover in the years after its merger with Leyland.

    The point about the yawning B-pillar panel gaps of the design is that they are so overtly uncharacteristic of the obsessive attention to detail and quality that were hallmarks of the Rover approach.

    This begs the question, how did this ‘mistake’ end up in the design and why did Rover not correct it before the car was signed off to the production engineers?

    It is tempting to assume that if Leyland Cars had not insisted that the SD1 should be built down to a cost, if there had been no Austin-Morris ‘invasion’ of production at Solihull, if Triumph had produced more reliable straight-six engines, that the SD1 would have been a pure, unsullied, Rover.

    I am wondering now if the old Rover company does bear more responsibility than is commonly thought for the quality-shortcomings of the SD1.

  23. Re 24: The yawning chasm that was the SD1 door-to-door gap, was solely a consequence of very poor body design and assembly control. Solihull engineers had a poor understanding of pressings and welded assembly control. Another example is the ‘smiling’ bonnet of the so-called classic Range Rover – the concept of notching the corners of the skins hemming flange was completely beyond them. We actually fixed this as a ‘freebie’ on the P38 program.

  24. @ 25 Kev: The wide door-to-door panel gaps on the SD1 were indeed reminiscent of the Range Rovers of the time. (Thank you for fixing them on the P38!)

    However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the apparent lack of expertise in pressings and in the welded-assembly control methods of Range Rover production were the reason for the cavernous B-pillar panel gaps on the SD1.

    Those same Rover engineers also designed and produced the P5 and P6 which had perfect, narrow, parallel, consistent, panel gaps so, whatever might have been going on in the Range Rover side of the building, there was certainly no lack expertise on the saloon-car side of the company.

    It’s all very puzzling…

  25. I am tempted to write the Rover Triumph story from the Leyland takover of Rover in 1967 to the demise of the SD1 in July 1986. They were intertwined in that period.

  26. @6

    I think the 75 was a big mistake by the Rover Management, they spent so much money building a car which was pitched straight into the market which BMW dominated by the 3 Series. It was never going to be allowed to attack the core market segment as that was the 3 series and also if you park the 75 and the same generation 3 series you next to each other you realize that while it was never anything as simple or cheap to engineer as a fwd version of a 3 Series, the need to call on BMW technology in body engineering and assembly techniques it might just have well as been.

    I owned a ZT260 and I have to say that whilst good drive it was too short on power (needed another 50hp – why they never used the quad cam Ford V8 engine), too thirsty and worst of all too unreliable, most unreliable car I have ever owned by a long way, needed over 12 visits for warranty work in less 8k miles in its first year. I did such low mileage as it spent so long waiting for parts in the dealership and would always come back with more issues than it left. I will accept most of those were caused by a useless Main dealer.

    Instead given the money spent on the RV8, the up and coming MGF, they should have instead have gone for sporty Polo and Golf sized FWD hatchbacks under the MG brand to sell through BMW network with the MGF.

    Rover should have been taken back to Land Rover dealer network selling a premium big capacity estate car based on the then available outgoing 5 Series platform. It would have been best Rover ever by a long way with that chassis and with Rang Rover styling influences to give it market presence. Pitched into market to compete against Volvo V70 and Mercedes E Series estate.

    Could also have spun off the FWD MG platform a baby MPV sold under the Rover brand to compete with the A Series. A Four wheel drive evolution of the same platform would have been basis of MG rally Car and 2nd Generation Freelander.

  27. @26 Was not the P6 body engineered by Pressed Steel Fisher along with the Triumph 2000, I understand their was some issues with the Rover P8 which was done in house regarding both the number of pressings required and also difficulties with the crash testing.

    I am thinking also that a couple of things happened in the decade between the P6 and SD1 engineering.

    Many of the wartime engineers with experience in aircraft, jet and tank engines etc would have retired. They also offered generous early retirement scheme in the mid 70’s, so a lot of skill would have left the company in critical days of the SD1 development.

    Chrysler expanded at the end of 60’s the design facility at Roots opening the old AWD sight at Whitley as a design centre. Many of those engineers came from Canley, Longbridge , Solihull and Pressed Steel Fisher choosing to jump ship during all the turmoil that followed the formation of British Leyland, ironically many jumped back to join Roy Axe at Canley when he moved back from the US and Peugeot closed Whitley.

  28. @15 Wartime and Post War Unity was in many ways a myth of the war time propaganda films.

    During the war years industrial action was actually very common, usually in the form of unofficial walkouts. The strike by the Kent Miners 1942 prompted the use on conscript labour in the mines.

    After the war almost the first thing that happened when Coal, Steel, Rail and Road haulage industries were nationalised at great cost to the Tax Payer was that they had nationwide strikes to demand increase in pay and reduced working hours. This along with the fact that rationing continued in UK longer than most of Europe was one of the reason that by just 1951 the Labour Government was swept out of office.

  29. So yes the HGF was a problem on the K series but put it into perspective and look at a VW bill for a set of injectors or turbo failure nobody gives much thought to this when buying but believe me you will have a nervous sweat when paying a 2k garage bill for replacing a set of injectors on a Chinese VW. So 500 quid Head repair seems reasonable and if you look after your K series there good for 50k on a original mgr gasket.

  30. @31, Yes there appears to be a “Halo” over anything “German Made”, As a current owner of 2 Golf’s (13 yr old mk4 has been ok but it is getting on, were just waiting for something to go Bang) whilst our 4 yr old Mk6 has been and still is a nightmare, its all a case of pot luck !

    I remember working on countless mk2 Golfs with Drive shaft problems and a few Gearbox issues (which I gather VW passed on the same faults to Maestro owners?) But did we hear about “The Golf ” has issues?) But we all heard about “The Maestro” faults.

    Also we had a couple of Mercedes Engines expiring and a BMW 316 which popped a rod through the Block (it was under 3 years old with low miles and despite full dealer service BMW refused to cover the engine) One of the guys remarked “soft engines on BMs, there was a big Cylinder Head fault with the straight 6s in the early 90s if I remember) and a few 5 pot Audis with Dead Engines and Gearboxs, But did the Media expose these?

    I still think the press were out to destroy Leyland/A,R/Rover Group, as even the slightest faults are blown out for the world to hear, whether this all started by a disgruntled journalist getting their claws in (remember the press destroyed Lancia ? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lancia_Beta ) or someone started Leyland Bashing and then the world followed as a favourite pass time?

  31. Re 32: There is a good element of truth in what you say. In the 70’s at Cowley, we used to have non-BL cars in for audit. Consistently, the worst build quality was found on VWs, especially the Golf. The best were Daihatsu. Our cars came in around average – behind Fords, but ahead of Vauxhalls. But you try telling anybody that BL cars had better quality build than a VW!

  32. I think the Leyland bashing occurred because the rescue of British Leyland was a pet project of the Labour government and most of the press was pro-Tory, plus the media like bad news.

  33. Another good read. I’d never heard of the Triumph Lynx. looked promising with or without a V8 engine. i owned 3 MG Rover K engined cars and luckily never had any HGF problems.

    Still a great shame that the BL-Honda link never continued after the BMW purchase / then Phoenix Four ownership. Perhaps Longbridge would have continued building Concerto’s and their successors… alonside MG & Rovers

  34. @ 32, I really hate it when What Car seems to think everything Volkswagen makes is wonderful and even a very competent and reliable car like a Honda Jazz, ” isn’t quite up to Polo standards”.
    Actually Polo standards aren’t very good, according to the Which survey which places it just above the Fiat Punto. I have a friend at work who bought a new Polo three years ago and since then has had to have the engine replaced and £ 400 worth of work on the suspension to get it through its first MOT. This clearly isn’t good enough and if the car was made by Rover, if they were still around, we’d hear about it all the time, but seemingly German cars are supposed to be so wonderful that any criticism isn’t allowed.
    TBH, apart from Mercedes and Porsche, I think the rest of the German car industry produces vastly overpriced, overrated and not very reliable cars. Also BMW seem to be stuck in the seventies by using rwd, which makes their cars dangerous in the wet.

  35. This statement that rear wheel drive cars are ” dangerous in the wet” which Glenn Aylett trots out at every opportunity is ( and I am putting it diplomatically ) debatable at best. In truth, it is a nonsensical statement. I have had 73 cars of which more than 90% have been rear wheel drive, ( some of them really quite powerful ) and I have covered just about 1.5 million miles in them collectively . In that time I can recall only a single instance where rear wheel drive led to a loss of control, and that was in a Spitfire on a very greasy road covered in Algae. Of course, injudicious use of throttle can lead to a loos of control, but this applies equally to FWD cars as it does to RWD cars – it is just the mechanism of loss of control which differs . Oh… and I don’t have a BMW

    • It is the fact that it is far easier (and almost instinctive) to recover from a loss of control in a FWD car, you simply take your foot of the throttle, none of the counter steering you need with RWD, a technique which needs to be mastered on a skid pan. As for BMW, they aim for 50:50 weight distribution, which is poor for stabilty, most cars are front biased for weight, good for stability and self correcting in cross winds, think of a bow and arrow, the arrow fired from the bow is stable as the weight leads the trajectory, fire the arrow in reverse and it will tumble or reverse. The BMW at its worst, not in rain, in snow, a minimal gradient to climb? Game over for the BMW,

      • How much nonsense can one person write in a text?

        “It is the fact that it is far easier (and almost instinctive) to recover from a loss of control in a FWD car, you simply take your foot of the throttle.”

        Really? I would have said it is the other way around, you defintely don’t need skid pan training, a couple of laps in a cart should do it.

        “As for BMW, they aim for 50:50 weight distribution, which is poor for stabilty, most cars are front biased for weight, good for stability”

        What tosh, manufacturers aim to get the car to handle neutrally, the best way to do this is perfectly even weight distribution, or why do you think a lot of sports cars (not developed from ordinary saloons) are mid-engined?
        In practice most cars have most weight 60%-ish over the front wheels due to the engine/transmission unit being in the front.

        People oddly suggest that modern RWD cars are as likely to break the ass end out as their 60s and 70s counterparts.
        WHY? I take it you peole have heard of ESP, ABS, electronic stability control etc etc etc…

        Ferrari are not considered to tapping around in the dark ages, but you will have to look a long while to find FWD Ferraris…

  36. @36 Yes Whatcar, Autocar (Haymarket publishing) are practically owned by VW judging by their write-ups, (look at the coverage they feature on new models, it is practically what VW pay them to write !, same with BMW) whilst Auto Express is almost in bed with them. Then again if you were a struggling Magazine owner and someone through thousands of pounds at you, would you say anything Bad about them? They will never Bite the Hand that Feeds them.

    I remember the early 1.9 Tdi 130 Bhp were snapping conrods which briefly made news, but the stories quickly went away, (was this due to the ability of quickly replacing the engines? instead of the problems lingering on?) The 2 litre TDi’s had a similar problem (why we went for the then new Horrid 1.6Tdi) again this was news to only people in the know, almost confined to the “Gentlemans Agreement” of why spread rumours.

    The Polo isn’t anything special (But somehow always held in high regard) VW have always deliberately down played The Polo so as not to steal sales from Golf Buyers… It has been lumbered with some dreadful engines. Incidentally VW have lowered the prices after MG revealed the 3, just shows how over priced the Polo was. (Ford have also lowered the Fiesta prices).

    Rwd, I remember the early morning commute seeing a few BMs in a hedge backwards near roundabouts with the Driver shaking their head waiting for Recovery.. has been a long time since driven rear wheel drive but remember having fun drifting slightly, as a young Boy Racer then frightening myself and other drivers, But tyres are much wider nowadays. whilst the street I live in (modern-ish Lego Land type) packed together with not much sunlight means Snow can stay for months after it has cleared nearly everywhere else! but the pandemonium trying to get out the estate with anything rwd and surprisingly Big fwd Audis getting stuck.

    • Wide tyres are a nuisance in snow, Saab had special 2 inch wide tyres for their snow rally cars, the narrow tyre cut through the layer of snow to find grip, their cars were invincible so equipped.

  37. I am surprised no one has come forward with any Land Rover stories after what I wrote about the Japanese conquest of their traditional markets.

  38. @32 This may be a false recollection but IIRC the Two Ronnies often made jokes at British Leyland expense.

    In 1973 my dad bought a 1.8 Morris Marina 4 door in Teal Blue. He had it ziebarted to protect against rust. Apart from a somewhat awkward gear change he thought it was an excellent car and it lasted until 1982 when sad to relate he bought a Datsun Sunny because it represented excellent value compared to what AR then had on offer.

  39. The 1970’s was the decade from hell for Britain. We are still living with the consenquences 35 years later.
    We now have a long hours culture, as if we are trying to over-compensate for the poor productivity in the seventies.
    Our state owned utilities were broken up and privatised to break the power of the unions and stop them from holding the country to ransom. When the state did own the utilities, it simply could not guarantee that they would supply the service they were supposed to. Every year there seemed to be a regular strike of public service workers.
    New labour appreciated the strategic necessity of the Thatcher reforms, even if like most of us they didn’t like it. Which is why the utilities were not re-nationalised after 1997.
    The notion that Britain has to pay its way in the world and that the needs of the customer are paramount seem to have finally sunk in.

    • The 1970s were hell, the austerity of the 40s and 50s was replaced by the optimism of the 60s, but we were still a low wage economy being left behind by EU economies hence all the frustration. Yes we are still living with the consequences, The great turmoil of the 1930s gave power to Fascism, and we ended up with Thatcher and her economics, a so-called miracle which was just a series of short term-bubbles caused by loose vote-winning money, tragically interspersed with corrective recessions.

  40. good articles and so in touch what is happening in this UK.Having served my time in Clydeside I agree that there are massive gaps in engineering quality which killed of these brands. As a seventeen year old at the time I felt it was a shame and still is the way this UK is going. we have the ability to to turn a lot of this around and require a bit of old school approaches and invest what is best for the UK.By the way I am a yes voter for an independent Scotland because of past and recent arrogance by UK parties pandering to the media and wanting to be seen as in touch,absolute bollocks we need to be radical and look at what we can achieve as we have the ability.

  41. Margaret Thatcher was created by the seventies economic crisis. I think if the economy had done well like West Germany in the seventies, then people like Edward Heath and Jim Callaghan would have taken credit for it, and Thatcherism would never have happened as the social democratic system was a success. She probably would have become an obscurity best known as Thatcher the Milk Snatcher.
    However, while the governments of the seventies were no great shakes and the unions became overmighty, this isn’t to say Maggie was fantastic. Some of what she did was right, but unfortunately she allowed a large part of the country’s industrial base to disappear, let the miners strike drag on with all the bitterness it created, and parts of the country now are still suffering the effects of deindustrialisation with large numbers of benefit claimants, high crime and falling population. However, it could be argued Labour’s drift to the left was an even bigger mistake and kept them in opposition for 18 years.

    • I feel the same, I’m no fan of Margaret Thatcher, & it’s often overlooked how she came to power, a classic case of seeing the effect but ignoring the case.

  42. Glen Aylett makes some very good points.
    Thatherism could not have happened without Tony Benn. He convinced far too many people for too long that we could stick two fingers up at economic reality. Everything would be paid for by taxing the rich into submission, and as they would have no money left, private finance would be replaced by state finance for the national good. The trade unions, as representatives of ordinary working people, would have a say in how the country was governed.In his imaginary world we would all pull together to create a better tommorrow. The reality was public service strikes, that in theory should never have happened in a socialist utopia, and double digit inflation.
    The belief by millions of workers in state owned organisations that they had a job for life, and there was an inexhaustible supply of public money for their wages, created a climate of lethargy and complacency.
    The paradox was that it was the most vulnerable who lost out in these inflationary times, as they had no way of keeping pace with the cost of living.
    It could be argued that nowadays those who have no inclination to pull their weight in society are on benefits, while those who are motivated to succeed are driving the economy forward. I know a lot of benefit claimants, and many of them are frankly unemployable and not an assett to any company, hence the need for motivated migrant workers.

    • Please, can you explain for us all what exactly is the difference between “an inexhaustible supply of public money” to pay for state and nationalised employees, and “an inexhaustible supply of public money” being poured in to the banking industry and the EU. It seems to many of us that there is absolutely no difference whatsoever!

      I also object to your comment “the need for motivated migrant workers.” This is deeply offensive in your implied criticism of non-immigrant workers. So much so that I feel your words are racist. I’ve worked in the auto industry all over the World, and the British worker has nothing to learn from anybody. What differences exist are solely due to incompetent management processes and methods at all levels.

  43. Kev, he was meaning the sort of people who would rather live on benefits rather than work even at higher than minimum wages.

    Every now & again you hear of employers saying they have to advertise abroad because they can’t get the staff here even at a decent rate of pay,

    • “they have to advertise abroad because they can’t get the staff here even at a decent rate of pay”

      Sorry, this is code for ‘we can’t get anybody to work for the pittance that allows us to keep our profits up’.

      And then you and me prop up these pay rates with the so-called Working Tax Credit.

      • I’ve often thought today’s Banking crisis is a modern equivalent of the BL crisis and as for that damn line you hear from employers, ”..can’t get the people..”

        Well now its this simple. Assuming some businessman wants to become a millionaire or big shot company director then one of the things you need to do to get there IS TRAIN PEOPLE. Ohhh but the buddies in the Bank who are central to wide-o’s plans about getting rich quick will only loan the made-out-of-thin-air cash to the businessman who goes the cheap way and bullies the Government into allowing work visas for cheap labour.

        So you wanna get rich but don’t want to invest in people. F*** *** you chancing spongers.

        That is what the Banking industry is, chancing spongers.

        Unions got too powerful in the 1970’s while today Bankers are way too powerful and like the cure for the unions, they should have their power taken from them. Banks do not loan you other peoples money, Banks have the power to CREATE money.

        Until people come to understand just what Banksters exactly are and how they control the whole of the direction of society then nothing will change.

        Government should create all money without interest – as most people think how money is created.

        All of the guff the Lefties came out with too, Tony Benn couldn’t see the wood for the trees, its not rich people controlling everything as such, its who controls the creation of money.

  44. Great article. Thanks. Interestingly, Alec Issogonis and Soichiro Honda were born a day apart, on 17th and 18th November 1906.. odd that their lecagies would combine so long after they were both out of the picture.
    Two more single-minded genius designers would be hard to think of.

  45. It’s so sad how things unfolded at British Leyland after the first few optimistic years when the corporation was created, most of their products were good and they had 40 per cent of the market. No other country in Europe saw its national carmaker collapse in such as way during the seventies, with British Leyland losing over half its market share, and by 1979 imported cars taking half the market.
    It’s hard to place the blame totally on the unions, as management were often aloof and arrogant and the company brought out some terrible designs that can’t be blamed on the likes of Red Robbo, but a culture of militancy, union reps who were more interested in destroying capitalism than improving British Leyland’s fortunes and a them and us culture fostered by the unions caused serious problems. Particularly sad is the story of Speke, which could have produced a world beating sports cars, but had an apathetic and strike prone workforce who showed little interest in quality or took much pride in their work and after a 12 week strike British Leyland pulled the plug on the factory. Sadly the area had an unemployment rate twice the national average and it’s likely some of the workers never worked again.

  46. Ian,

    Thanks you for a fascinating article. I know you wrote this nearly five years ago, but I’ve only just read it. Reading it took me back to my teenage years in the Midlands in the 1970s, with its use of phrases I’ve not heard in nearly forty years, like “demarcation dispute”, “wildcat strike”, “go slow” and that all-time favourite, “free collective bargaining”.

    I find it interesting that you think British Leyland was effectively finished as early as 1977. After all, it struggled on, under albeit under several different names, until 2005.

    Ultimately, the demise of BL shows much of what was – and, I suspect, still is – wrong with the British economy and, more specifically, with British management. I’m not willing to blame the truly abysmal industrial relations at BL solely on union intransigence. I’m quoting from memory now, but I remember during the 1970s, when the Japanese car companies were becoming serious competition, someone senior from BL saying that the company couldn’t match Japanese levels of productivity, quality and reliability with British workers. But when the Japanese car companies set up their transplant factories in the UK, they did indeed achieve Japanese standards in those areas, with the British-built Honda Accord at one time being the world’s most reliable car.

  47. @ Robert Sealey, might it be that Nissan set up its car factory well away from the traditional heartlands of the car industry, employed people who were desperate to get well paid work in an area where unemployment was over 20%, and where they only recognised one union, instead of several, and had no union demarcation rules. Hence Nissan has prospered from day one, has never lost a day to industrial action, produced cars like the Primera which were known for rock solid reliability, and seen their workforce grow to over 7000.

  48. Also regular updates to tooling & components guaranteed to fit first time.

    Certainly no shimming with cigarette papers to get patterns aligned!

    • Not to mention stringent quality control that was applied just as thoroughly in Sunderland as it was in Japan. It is a testament to the workforce at Sunderland that there are still thousands of nineties Mircras and Primeras running today, and both models were known for being able to take huge mileages with few problems. In 1999, how many 1979 British Leyland cars would you have seen, as most would have been scrapped due to rust and mechanical failure years earlier.

      • I know from personal experience that many of the original management at NISSAN came from the likes of BL & Ford. E.G. the Personnel Director & Production Director in 1986 onwards. Though the first MD was Japanese. True to say most of the workforce were locally based and new to the car industry.

        I always had confidence that a workforce previously used to building huge ships and in heavy engineering could easily transfer their skills to automotive manufacture. To a large degree this has happened.

  49. @ Hilton D, Nissan proved one thing, British car workers could make a car as good as anywhere else in the world in the right conditions and with decent management. The men at Nissan were often redundant shipyard workers who took a pride in their work and since many had been laid off and wondered where the next job was coming from, were delighted to be working in engineering again. Nowadays Sunderland is far better known for Nissan than shipbuilding and the city has re invented itself.
    Also the late eighties saw a general revival in the British car industry, with Austin Rover becoming Rover and making vastly better cars that people wanted to buy, Peugeot revitalising the former Rootes factories in Coventry with the 309 and 405, and Vauxhall’s Mark 3 Cavalier being a big success.

    • Very true Glenn… of course the original ex shipyard employees will mostly have retired now and Management has changed from time to time. Ongoing recruitment and training should ensure continuity of skills and product quality for years to come – we hope!

      • @ Hilton D, Nissan is known as a very good employer on Wearside and has never lost a day to industrial action. It does seem the car factories run by the Japanese have never suffered from the them and us culture that blighted British Leyland and the workers are made to feel valued. Also car workers now are more like engineers than assembly line workers and skill levels are higher.

        • I assume Nissan (along with Honda & Toyota) made sure the “them & us” relationship between workers & management that blighted BL, Ford Rootes etc. didn’t develop at their British plants.

  50. The big tragedy of the second half of the seventies was the Rover SD1, which had huge waiting lists and was lauded by the press for its design, driving abilities and value for money. Then a year after the SD1 was launched, stories appeared in the press about the awful quality, poor paintwork and electrical faults, and the six cylinder cars developed a reputation for breakdowns along with poor build quality. Also cost cutting meant the entry level Rover 2300 came with sparse equipment levels and a cheap and nasty plastic dashboard. No wonder people who had bought Rovers for years due to the brand being seen as reliable and durable switching to German and Swedish cars.

  51. And the story moves on.
    In 2016 we had the Brexit vote – supported by many in the car-making areas of the UK. Three years later it is still not resolved and uncertainty is causing, well, uncertainty.
    GM has sold its European operations including Ellesmere Port and Luton to Peugeot-Citroen.
    JLR has been suffering slowdown in China market.
    Honda is closing its Swindon factory in 2020. Might or might not be related to the EU shortly ending import tariffs on Japanese made cars – which ironically led Nissan, Toyota and Honda to the UK in the first place.
    The electric car revolution is gathering pace which will mean that the need for traditional internal combustion engines and mechanical gearboxes will disappear.
    Meanwhile Ford is closing its engine plant in South Wales, Nissan has decided against building the new X-Trail in UK, and has been talking about cutting back Qashqai and Leaf production in UK.
    Anybody want to guess what will happen next?

    • Youve listed half a dozen completely unrelated developments and tried to somehow link them to Brexit by use of the word “meanwhile”

      Honda have been failing in the European marketplace for years
      Ditto GMs European operations – and the new owner has pledged investment in Luton and EP
      China is pausing after a decade of breakneck growth
      The industry is electrifying – no kidding

      These are global macro trends. Nothing to do with lodging a customs declaration

  52. Just finished the fabulous articles of the British Automotive Industry of the 70’s.
    Being a avid auto buff I always envied the people of the Europe and the USA for leading their lives with the ever enthralling automobiles. That too the UK which i consider the cradle of the automobile evolution which failed to catapult itself to the zenith of the Auto Industry due to the agonizing and ugly unexpected walkouts which eventually killed the golden goose.
    In India thankfully we were lucky enough to see the engineering marvels like the Montego, Kitten , SD1 in the form of Standard 2000 and need not to mention about the Morris oxford which had its destiny rerouted to be a integral part of the sub-continent for more than six decades along with the Standard Herald which had its modest brief era which in turn illustrates the reliability of the British marque’s.
    As a die hard admirer of the SD1 and the Land Rover Defender I am in dire hope that someday these marvels will take a re-birth in India because we have missed that golden era nothing like anything.Times have changed Auto Culture which was of paramount importance and privileged part of a few countries now is a now a prestigious matter for every nation.I feel sad for the millions talents who lived and breathed about cars passed of their lives without having a single window to exhibit their talents and their passion .
    Million thanks to technology innovation and globalization which has made the world smaller day by day and hopping to better pastures is a norm and the result once the things even barred in the dreams are a reality .
    And i have a reason to smile at last , in my forty eighth year I have been able to see the world famous marques at every nook and corner of my beloved city . German marques,Italian master pieces ,American muscle cars ,British grandeur’s from the Aston Martin ,Bentley’s,Jaguars,Range Rovers with Discoveries , Rolls Royce and the tanks from the Sweden are cementing like never before for a birth of new czars of the Automobiles.Not to be mentioned about the cars from Japan and Korea which are a household name .
    But above all indeed it is the glorious years of 70’s &, 80’s which accounts the most and that too cars manufactured in the UK and Germany which have ever lasting pastures in the bottom of every auto enthusiast .The gleam,wonder struck eyesight’s for the sheer demonstration of the precision and heavenly designs associated with engineering capabilities, that too without any CAD,and a very limited resources ,
    rolling out a CAR a fortune turning element was not a ordinary feat compared to the modern day.But the unanswered questions is why the Brits and other Europeans failed to knock the vast sub-continent to unleash their cars which could have gobbled the market and thereby tapping a market of never ending demand which could have made the order books full not for consecutive years but for decades.

  53. I’m old enough to remember the optimism when the Austin Metro was launched 40 years ago. At last dealers had a car they didn’t need to apologise for, the press were very enthusiastic, and everyone wanted the car to succeed. It was quite an achievement for a company that had been used to a decade of bad news and being the butt of jokes to have something people wanted to buy. Also Princess Diana owning a Metro was probably brilliant product placement in the build up to the Royal Wedding.

    • The Metro’s launch seemed to be like a planetary alignment, with for once enough things going right for Austin Rover for it to succeed.

      The timing was good in terms of superminis as most FWD designs already on the market had been a few years so it seemed a bit fresher than most of the rival models.

      • @richardpd, the Metro’s newness also played in its favour as the Renault 5 and Fiat 127 dated back to the early seventies and its newest rival, the Talbot Sunbeam, was launched in 1977 and was hindered by being rwd. Also the Sunbeam being cancelled in 1981 meant the Metro was the only purely British supermini on the market, as some Fiestas came from Spain, and in those days, this mattered to many buyers.
        However, come 1983, and the Metro started to face some really stiff competition as Ford launched a new version of the Fiesta, and Fiat, Peugeot, Nissan and Vauxhall launched new superminis that were the equal to and sometimes better than the Metro.

        • The Samba replaced the Sunbeam, but was based on the Peugeot 104 dating back to 1972 and French built.

          The Japanese manufacturers were slow into sell superminis in the UK, the early Toyota Starlet was the right size but RWD. This all changed when Nissan brought out the Micra.

          • @ Richardpd, the Samba was quite a competent car, using Peugeot rather than Simca/ Chrysler technology and had a huge range of models. It sold OK, but the name Talbot to many buyers meant cars with rattly engines and poor rustproofing, so was never a threat to the Metro. OTOH the Peugeot 104 just didn’t seem to sell.

  54. I hired a MK1 Micra in the 1980’s and it seemed a capable little car in the few days I had it. Perhaps I might have liked a Metro but the local AR dealer didn’t hire out cars / and the Nissan dealer did.

    • The original Micra has been overshadowed by the excellent Mark 2 model built in Sunderland, but the original model was a fairly competent car that offered rock solid reliability, excellent economy and was easy to drive with a very light clutch. Only the very conservative styling and drab, cheap interior counted against it.

      • @ Glenn. Yes the hire Micra I had was red and probably basic inside but had a radio! I remember later Micra’s MK1 were available in a black / silver two tone colour scheme… not sure if they had a higher spec

    • They also had better rustproofing than the old Datsuns and were capable of huge mileages, allthough many were owned by pensioners. The Micra was the first Japanese supermini to sell in large numbers, as the Toyota Starlet never seemed to take off and cars from Daihatsu and Suzuki were acquired tastes.

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