With May marking the 53rd anniversary of the creation of British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC) in 1968, we thought it would be fun to look at a few models inherited from the past which found themselves part of the British Leyland product range during those early years.
Obviously, on day one, everything sold by BLMC fell into that category. And most people are aware that many stalwarts of the British Leyland range through the 1970s, like the Mini and Triumph 2000, traced their roots to an earlier era.
However, here’s a selection of what not many people would class as ‘British Leyland’ vehicles. They are cars (and a couple of commercials) that remained on sale in the UK into 1969 and, in some cases, longer. They appeared (if briefly) in British Leyland’s product catalogue, were sold through dealers that displayed the British Leyland sign, generated sales revenues that flowed into BLMC’s coffers and were advertised as British Leyland products.
These are vehicles many people assume had been dropped by then – perhaps some will surprise you.
Austin-Morris Half-ton (A60) van and pick-up
Derived from the Austin Cambridge of the 1950s, these old stagers just kept on going, defying proposals to replace them like the mooted Austin 1800 van. Sharing their 1622 cc B-Series engine with the Morris Oxford VI, they were available with either Austin or Morris badging which kept both sides of the still dual-channel Austin-Morris dealer network happy. In his landmark book ‘The Leyland Papers‘ first published in 1971 author and journalist Graham Turner expresses surprise these dated commercials were still trickling off the production lines. They would finally be replaced by derivatives of the Marina in 1972 (though assembly overseas continued a little longer).
Morris Minor 1000 range
Man may have walked on the moon in 1969, but reassuringly you could still buy the dear old Morris 1000 Tourer (convertible) from British Leyland, though the year saw it dropped. But the saloon models (two and four door) continued until late 1970 while production of the Traveller kept going until early 1971 and commercial versions a little longer (in New Zealand from kits until 1974). Some of the last wood-framed Travellers were painted in colours shared with the new Morris Marina, but like the commercials, they were built at Adderley Park, Birmingham in their final years.
There had been thoughts of developing the Minor design (on Volkswagen Beetle lines) when British Leyland was formed, but it was concluded the time had passed. But at Board level in 1969 Filmer Paradise (Sales and Marketing Director) advised that, as customers still wanted them, production should continue.
And with the Morris 1000 offering tremendous value for money, customers were not hard to find though sales volumes had shrunk massively since the car’s 1950’s heyday. Output of saloons (built at Cowley) was running at just a third of peak volume by 1968. Economies of scale were crucial and Graham Turner records how the Morris Minor was generating a loss (£9 per car) in 1968 while the Mini, then close to its production peak, was earning a profit of £15 per car (contrary to popular mythology). But with market share prioritised over profits, British Leyland kept on building the Morris Minor.
In late 1969 the two-door Morris Minor 1000 (actually 1098cc) was priced at £681 including tax, which was just £7 more than a (998cc) Mini 1000. While at £763 the Traveller (in ‘non Deluxe’ form) was exactly the same price as the new Mini Clubman estate. Choices, choices…
Austin A60 Countryman and Morris Oxford VI Traveller
These roomy estate cars were looking rather dated by the time they came under the British Leyland umbrella in 1968. Just compare them to Vauxhall’s sleek new Victor (FD) wagon. So, after a year in the BLMC portfolio, it was no surprise they were dropped in early 1969, coinciding with the launch of the hatchback Austin Maxi, which acted as something of a substitute. The A60 Cambridge saloon departed at the same time, but the Morris Oxford VI saloon was spared the axe for now.
The departure of the A60 Countryman and Oxford VI Traveller left rather a gap in the British Leyland range, filled only when the Morris Marina estate was launched in 1972.
Austin-Healey Sprite Mk4
Austin-Healey did exist for a short period as a brand within the British Leyland empire, although the writing appears to have been on the wall. In North America advertising was already referring simply to ‘the Sprite’ in 1968 (from your Austin/MG dealer) with no mention of the Healey name. And, in the UK, the Austin-Healey Sprite Mk4 would be officially renamed Austin Sprite for 1971 (and, after six months, be dropped altogether). Nonetheless, at the end of the Sixties, Austin-Healey counted as a British Leyland marque, and the Austin-Healey Sprite Mk4 as a British Leyland product.
MGC and MGC GT
Introduced by BMC in 1967 the three-litre MGC (roadster and GT) was not a success, something evident by the time BMC found itself part of British Leyland. Only the 15 inch road wheels and bonnet bulge distinguished it externally from the much cheaper MGB which may have discouraged some buyers,
The revised 2912cc C-Series engine (shared with the equally ill-starred Austin 3 Litre) was a heavy unit so the performance and handling of the MGC came in for criticism. After less than two years, the MGC models were dropped during 1969. But, as seen above, they were advertised as British Leyland cars towards the end of their short life.
The prolific range of ‘Farina’ (ADO9) cars first seen in the late Fifties didn’t really have a place in British Leyland’s vision for the 1970s, but they left the scene only slowly. First to go was the MG Magnette IV, production of which ended in April 1968. Its comrade the Riley 4/72 hung on into 1969 as did the Austin A60 as mentioned above. But the Morris Oxford VI saloon and Wolseley 16/60 stuck around, not least because the new Austin Maxi was only retailed through Austin dealers.
With the Morris Oxford VI saloon continuing to bring in business, helped by the loyalty of the provincial taxi trade, there was little obstacle to continuing production of the Wolseley 16/60, essentially a better-trimmed version of the Oxford. They were replaced by the Morris Marina in the spring of 1971, by which time they’d both served three years as British Leyland cars.
The Riley range
British Leyland killed off the Riley marque, as is well known. This was the first of several brand extinctions, but it took a while to do so, with Riley production continuing until July 1969. ‘With less than 1% of the home market they are not viable’ the press were told at that time.
A range of three Riley cars were therefore fielded by British Leyland for the 1969 model year, comprising the Riley Elf Mk III, the Riley 1300 Mk II and the venerable Riley 4/72 saloon. The Elf and its sister car the Wolseley Hornet Mk III (at top of page) would be replaced as ‘posh Minis’ by the Clubman in late 1969, so for the Elf cessation of production appeared logical. Likewise for the 4/72, unchanged since 1961 and harking back to another era. It had reached the end of the road.
But things were a little different for the (four door) Riley 1300 Mk II. This sporting member of the vast ‘ADO16’ family was actually introduced by British Leyland in October 1968, along with the (two door) MG 1300 Mk II which shared its 70bhp engine. Although this was simply an evolution of the preceding Riley Kestrel 1300, it does mean the short-lived Riley 1300 Mk II qualifies slightly more as a ‘British Leyland car’ than others on this list. That didn’t save it from the chop though.
Its place was taken by the Austin/Morris 1300 GT (introduced late 1969) where “ye olde walnut” (as British Leyland’s design staff disparagingly called it) gave way to bold colours and black vinyl.
Triumph Herald 1200
In October 1967 the long-running Triumph Herald range was freshened with the arrival of the Herald 13/60 as saloon, estate or convertible. These models with their restyled bonnet and improved interior continued until 1971 and tend to be perceived as British Leyland cars (not least because for nearly all their lifetime they were). But it’s often forgotten the old Herald 1200, with 1147cc rather than the 1296cc engine of the 13/60, continued alongside until 1970, and retained the original Herald nose.
It was only available in two-door saloon form in that period, and marketed on price. Triumph realised there was always a market for ‘cheap wheels’ and the Herald 1200 was a firm favourite of driving schools as the Sixties turned into the Seventies. Volkswagen published a cheeky advert in 1970 listing all the ‘1200’ cars you could buy for less than a Beetle. There were only two cars on it: the Skoda and the Herald 1200.
Land Rover Forward Control IIB
We need something from Rover on this list for the sake of completeness, but few people would be surprised to learn that either the P6 saloon (2000-3500) or P5B (3.5 litre saloon/coupé) were sold through British Leyland. Even if the body of the P5B dated from 1958, its role as Prime Ministerial conveyance reminded people it was still “current” in the late ’60s/early ’70s. But rather more obscure is the (civilian) Forward Control Land Rover, introduced in IIB form as pictured above in 1966. Though anyone could buy one, these vehicles didn’t sell well.
They offered superior ground clearance and load space compared to a regular Land Rover, utilising esentially the same set of components, just put together another way. With a 110 inch wheelbase the IIB was a development of the earlier IIA model, benefiting from a wider track and powered by either Land Rover’s 2.6-litre six-cylinder engine or 2.25-litre diesel. Less than 3000 found buyers (globally) between 1966 and 1972. But this is a vehicle sold by British Leyland – it was in the company’s catalogues at the time, and it shouldn’t be ignored. In the Seventies a new ‘101FC’ Foward Control Land Rover was introduced, but that was reserved for military customers only.
One of the most exciting events during British Leyland’s first year was the introduction of the new Jaguar XJ6 (in 2.8 and 4.2-litre form) in September of 1968. It’s often assumed the XJ6 replaced all the many Jaguar saloons available previously, and eventually it would. It’s true the rakish Jaguar S-type saloons, plus the (Mk2 body) Jaguar 340 and the (vertical grille) Jaguar 420 were all dropped from production before the XJ6 arrived, though a few were undoubtedly sold during mid-1968 after the British Leyland era had dawned.
But Jaguar had been building a plethora of models and that cull still left the 240 in production at the bottom end, as well as the much bigger 420G at the top. The 240 which, together with the deleted 340, was an evolution of the Jaguar Mk2, continued in production until April 1969. It gave Jaguar an entry-level model below the XJ6 2.8, but with XJ6 demand booming and concerns over internal competition with Rover and Triumph, it’s not surprising its stay of execution was short.
However, the 420G (not to be confused with the smaller 420) was another matter. Before the long wheelbase XJ6 (and XJ12) arrived in 1972 the original XJ6 was rather cramped for rear seat passengers, more sports saloon than limousine. The longer wheelbase would eventually be standardised. But during 1968-1970 the 420G was retained to cater for Jaguar owners who favoured the ‘Space’ component of Grace, Space and Pace, including Sir William Lyons who made use of a 420G equipped with the glass division that could be specified.
Only small numbers were being produced, with this huge car (formerly known as the Mark X) withdrawn from North America – once intended as its principal market – after 1967.
But had it not been for the new Daimler DS420 limousine (which was based on the 420G platform), this big old Jag could have claimed to be British Leyland’s flagship right through to 1970.
Daimler V8 250
Not only did the arrival of the Jaguar XJ6 leave two of the preceding Jaguar saloon models still in production, but it was also effectively staggered. The new Daimler Sovereigns (2.8 and 4.2-litre) which mirrored the XJ6 in all but grille and details of trim were not introduced until late 1969, a year after the Jags.
As a consequence Daimler, a member of the British Leyland family, fielded a line-up of cars for 1969 which included both the V8-250 and the ‘old model’ Daimler Sovereign, first seen in 1966 as a companion to the now-deleted Jaguar 420. While the Sovereign was a Jaguar ‘clone’, the V8-250 featured the hemispherical-head 2548cc V8 Daimler engine designed by Edward Turner. Like the 2.5 V8 which had preceded it, the V8-250 employed the Jaguar Mk2 body, offering a final chance to buy a car with those classic lines.
We’ve tried here to mention all the British Leyland car marques, but have nominated just one vehicle per marque (more or less) which means there are other models which, though sold by British Leyland, are not generally perceived as ‘British Leyland cars’. The very ‘BMC’ Austin 3 Litre could be one, although the vast majority of the 10,000 cars sold were built after British Leyland was formed. No doubt there will be other nominations.
Vanden Plas doesn’t get a mention although it was borderline. Both the Vanden Plas Princess 4 Litre R and the huge Vanden Plas Princess 4 Litre limousine were still in production at the start of 1968 and one can assume a handful of the last ones were sold through sales outlets where the British Leyland badge had already been nailed above the door. But that’s stretching things a bit. Unlike them, the Vanden Plas Princess 1300 is recognised by most people as a car built during the British Leyland era.
We’ve focused here on the British market. Things differed abroad though in general the overseas product line-up was more streamlined than in the UK. However, British Leyland was still very much a multinational in its early years meaning vehicles were sold under the British Leyland banner in foreign parts that we never saw in the UK, like the Wolseley 1000 or the Daihatsu pick-ups that formed part of Leyland South Africa’s range around 1970. But trying to cover such cases could get very confusing, as could consideration of the sprawling truck and bus range.
So this piece has simply tried to pinpoint a number of cars and light commercials which, though generally associated with the period before British Leyland was formed, could nonetheless be bought new in Britain and registered on a ‘G’ plate (valid for the year commencing 1 August 1968) and, in several cases, also during the subsequent ‘H’ and ‘J’ registration years. These models were therefore very much members of the British Leyland family, even if that wasn’t how they began life.