BL urban myths: there are lies and there are damned lies…
Okay, so the products of BMC>MGR have not always been built or designed as well as they could have been – that’s why we have BL urban myths.
But let’s not forget that, despite upper management ineptitude and Government meddling, the workers who actually built the cars still actively cared about the product. Here then is a gallery dedicated to these men and women… one to put right all of the misconceptions about the company and its products – those that the press and public at large like to perpetuate.
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There are lots of urban myths flying around about the Allegro – some nice, some not so nice. Where to start?
‘The aerodynamics are back-to-front’
The Allegro is indeed more aerodynamic going backwards than it is going forwards, but so is just about every other car with a radiator grille at the front! Ex-BL Designer Stephen Harper confirms: ‘On the Allegro myth, it was more aerodynamic in reverse. This was proven when I was in the Sales and Marketing Motor Sport Promotion Department and John Howlett turned down sponsorship for a Danish racing driver who was planning to race in Holland.
‘The Dutch were famous for their ‘backward’ racing competitions on the beaches of Scheviningen – they even had backwards caravan racing, with the van hitched to the front of the car – originally invented for the belt-driven DAFs which went as fast forwards as backwards. The sponsorship was refused as the ‘reverse’ publicity was not seen as ideal.’
‘The wheels fall off’
Wheels only fell off the Allegro, in the first instance, because the wheel bearings were assumed by a few careless mechanics to be the same as those used on the ADO16, but they were of a completely different design, and the consequent over-tightening was responsible for a few cases of hub failure!
‘The rear screen pops out when you jack it up’
The Allegro’s lack of structural integrity did, in extreme cases, lead to the rear window popping out when the car was jacked-up. Of course, this made good copy, but it only happened as a result of injudicious use of a trolley jack; in their panic, engineers marked the areas to be avoided underneath the Allegro with high-visibility tape, but the damage had been done – the story went national, and it persists to this day.
The Allegro was not especially rust-prone in relation to the opposition and, despite what its detractors say, Allegros had generally better rust-proofing than most of the opposition. This ‘rusty’ reputation probably relates to an article which featured in a very early issue of What Car? magazine that stated that the Allegro would suffer from rotting around the rear subframe!
The author of the piece had canvassed a BLMC dealer garage mechanic at the time and asked him what problems the Allegro suffered from in service, but it was later revealed that the mechanic thought he was being asked about ADO16, then anything up to 12 years old. The consequent harm that was done to the Allegro’s image is immeasurable, especially considering it was less than a year old at the time of the article.
BMC, BMH and BLMC
‘BMC became BMH after it bought Jaguar’
Not really… The entity which we at the AROnline website affectionately refer to as ‘BMC>Rover’ has, of course, gone through many changes of name over years, most recently becoming the MG Rover Group in May 2000. Formed in 1952 with the merger of the Austin Motor Company and the Nuffield Organisation, it was first called the British Motor Corporation (BMC). When BMC purchased Jaguar (and its subsidiaries) in 1966, a new holding company called British Motor Holdings Limited (BMH) was created, with BMC Limited and Jaguar Cars Limited as subsidiary companies.
|By the way…
In 1964 a Turkish truck-building company (BMC Sanayi ve Ticaret A.S.) was set up at Izmir (the birthplace of Alec Issigonis, incidentally) in partnership with BMC to build Austin and Morris trucks under licence. The company later became independent of British Leyland, but has retained its BMC name; indeed, its recent establishment of a distribution network in the UK has seen the BMC name re-appear here after an absence of around 30 years…The BMH initials reappeared in 1985, when BL Heritage Limited became British Motor Heritage Limited.
According to Graham Robson’s authoritative book, The Cars of BMC, both BMH Limited and its subsidiary BMC Limited† ceased to exist as companies when they were formally wound up on 31 May 1968 in order to pave the way for the formation of the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC), which came about as a result of the merger with the Leyland Motor Corporation.
Yet, as can be seen from the above detail from a post-BLMC press advertisement, BMC was still going strong as a division of BLMC. Indeed, this was also reflected in the decision that BLMC’s light trucks, which had previously been sold under the separate Austin and Morris brands, would (from Autumn 1968 onwards) be badged ‘BMC’.
The BMC name finally disappeared from the UK in 1970, when an internal reorganisation saw the mass-market division of BLMC renamed ‘Austin Morris’ (although it also encompassed the Mini, MG, Vanden Plas* and Wolseley brands), while the BMC trucks were rebranded with the Leyland badge. But who would have thought back then that BMC trucks would reappear on Britain’s streets some 30 years later… (see ‘By the way…’ panel).
† A company by the name of ‘The British Motor Corporation Limited’ was registered at the address of BMW (GB) Limited. However, a check on the Companies House website in November 2016 revealed that the company was in Liquidation.
* Until 1974, when the Vanden Plas brand was transferred to Jaguar Cars Limited.
‘BLMC disappeared with the formation of British Leyland Limited in 1975’
Oddly enough, no – it didn’t. In 1975, BLMC was nationalised to become British Leyland Limited, with four main divisions: Leyland Cars, Leyland Truck and Bus, Leyland Special Products and Leyland International. However, BLMC Limited survived as a wholly-owned subsidiary of British Leyland Limited and is, in fact, still active today as a holding company registered at the address of BMW (GB) Limited.
There was also a British Leyland subsidiary company called BLMC Engineering Limited, created in May 1987 with the renaming of Leyland Group Limited. In 1994, this was amongst a clutch of former BL subsidiaries which swapped names for administrative reasons, with BLMC Engineering Limited becoming Riley Motors Limited (and vice versa) on 7 November that year.
However, within a couple of years, the ‘new’ BLMC Engineering Limited was then dissolved, on 28 March 1996. Meanwhile, a check on the Companies House website in November 2016 shows that Riley Motors Limited is still an active, albeit non-trading, company and registered at BMW (GB) Limited’s address.
‘It’s a BMW in drag’
The Rover 75 was the first product of the BMW/Rover alliance to hit the market, and was a giant step forward from the Rover 800. However, many people believe that the car’s chassis is based upon the BMW 3 or 5 Series.
This is certainly not the case, and its large transmission tunnel was set-up in order to give the car impressive torsional rigidity. There is no space for a rear differential without significant modification, as MG Rover/Prodrive found during the development of the ZT V8.
The basis of this story lies with the fact that, during the months following the BMW takeover, a concept called ‘Flagship’ was developed, as styled by Richard Woolley. It is Woolley himself who explained the situation: ‘The story originated from the fact, very early on during BMW ownership, we did look at ‘re-cycling’ the then outgoing E34-generation 5 Series platform for Flagship.
‘BMW was about to launch the E39, and all the tooling for the old model’s underpinnings were theoretically available, sourced from the South African BMW plant. It was an idea that BMW suggested we investigate.’ This large car (a kind of latter-day P5) would have sat on a modified BMW 5 Series platform, but was cancelled shortly after the styling proposal was completed.
‘It was styled by Ital Design’
According to folklore, this car was styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro in his Italian studio – in truth, it was styled by Harris Mann in his Longbridge studio. Ital Design were, in fact, somewhat less involved in the design process – simply handling its productionisation. Of course, the story soon got out that the Morris Ital was actually the work of Giugiaro and, as one insider has subsequently said, ‘…why spoil the story with facts!’ It may have been good for the image of Austin-Morris, perhaps it was less so for Ital Design.
Kevan Barnhill, who was an apprentice on the Ital programme added: ‘They made a right mess of it. The ADO28 and ADO73 body drawings were all half-size, fully dimensioned – in decimal inches. That threw the Italians completely. When we got the drawings back to PSF at Cowley, we had to redo the whole lot. The only available people were us apprentices, so we re-did the whole lot. We loved the TV commercial that ran with the tag line ‘Designed in Italy, built in Britain”. It should have had ‘redesigned properly by 19 year olds in Cowley” added.’
‘It was the last-ever Morris’
When the Ital was finally laid to rest in 1984, the motoring press mourned the demise of the once-proud Morris marque, now consigned to history just as Riley and Wolseley had been. However, this was a little premature: while the Ital was indeed the last car to carry the Morris badge, the brand lived on for another year or so on the Metro van.
‘They designed it so the Rover V8 wouldn’t fit’
Soon after the XJ40 was launched, a rather curious story started doing the rounds: during the dark years, it has been said that the XJ40’s engine bay was deliberately designed in such a way, that it would be impossible for the Rover V8 to fit under the bonnet.
The idea behind this was to ensure that Jaguar remained purely Jaguar and that no BL ‘parts-bin’ thinking infected its immaculate bloodline. It was a good story, and one never denied by the management… However, during 2003 Jim Randle admitted that he did tell BL management that the V8 wouldn’t fit, but as far as he knew, it probably did! The truth is that he only told this to BL for the reasons stated above, but no-one at BL bothered to check this for themselves…
Thanks to Richard Porter for this particular insight.
Vanden Plas Princess 4-Litre R
‘It shares its engine with a Rolls-Royce’
‘The engine was from a military truck, not a car’
These two statements are about as common as each other, yet neither is entirely true. First off, the 4-Litre R’s engine – designated FB60 – was never actually used in any other production vehicle, Rolls-Royce or otherwise.
The FB60 was developed by Rolls-Royce in the late 1950s, as an all-alloy version of their cast-iron 6-cylinder, 4½-litre B60 engine, with a variety of other refinements such as hydraulic tappets and a reduction in the cylinder stroke measurement; despite its reduced capacity, in production form the FB60 produced 175bhp – around a third more than the B60 could manage.
The FB60 unit became available to BMC as a result of their abortive collaboration with Rolls-Royce, which could have seen it used in proposed models such as the Rolls-Royce Rangoon and Bentley Bengal. Later on, there was also a plan to use the engine in the ADO24 roadster (the so-called Austin-Healey 4000), but this project was also shelved.
The original B60 unit, dating back to just before WWII, had indeed been developed primarily for military use; it was part of Rolls-Royce’s B-Series range of modular engines, along with its 4- and 8-cylinder counterparts (designated B40 and B80 respectively).
However, following the war, the B60 and B80 engines were also pressed into service, between them powering all Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars right up until the end of the 1950s (when the B-Series gave way to the new V8 unit which went on to serve them into the new Millennium). Incidentally, the B40 unit was also used in the Austin Champ off-roader, while the B80 and related B81 engines found their way into Alvis’s range of armoured cars.
So, in short, the FB60 was not strictly-speaking a military engine, but it was a development of a Rolls-Royce engine which had been used both in military vehicles and civilian cars.
‘The ‘R’ stands for royal’
Er, nope. It actually stands for ‘Rolls-Royce’, of course. The ‘royal’ rumour started soon after the car emerged in the 1960s, and has never fully gone away – it may have originated due to the ‘Princess’ connection.
‘There must be room for a bale of hay in the boot’
There are those who will claim that the Public Carriage Office’s Conditons of Fitness – the rules which govern the design and condition of licensed taxicabs – still specify to this day that all such cabs must be capable of carrying ‘a bale of hay for the horses’, an apparent throwback to the days of horse-drawn cabs. (There are even those who insist that the rules state that a bale must actually be carried).
How curious it is that this particular requirement wasn’t dropped when motor-driven taxis emerged… The truth is that there is no such requirement, nor has there ever been. It was merely incumbent upon drivers of horse-drawn Hackney carriages to ensure that their animals were adequately fed and watered.
With thanks to ‘an insider’, Stephen Harper and Richard Woolley for their help.
We’re always looking for suggestions for new entries, too…