History : The Rover Triumph Story – Part Three : 1961

Ian Nicholls, AROnline’s historian-in-residence, tells the story of Rover and Triumph, and their part in the downfall of the British motor industry. 

Here, in the third part, we herald the arrival of Leyland Motors and chart the effect the Lancashire company had on Coventry-based Standard-Triumph.

The story of Rover and Triumph: enter the truck men

As 1961 dawned, Standard-Triumph entered its last weeks as an independent concern. Despite the problems, Standard-Triumph had manufactured 85,926 cars in 1958/59 followed by 138,762 in 1959/1960, but these figures preceded the devastating credit squeeze instigated in Spring 1960.

Standard-Triumph reacted to its falling sales with a plan to introduce a cheaper version of the Herald, the stripped out ‘S’ model. Unfortunately, as well as making the Herald cheaper to manufacture, it also expected its 6000 workforce to take a pay cut in order to pay for the price reduction.

Difficulties and strikes for Standard-Triumph

On 12 January 1961 the Shop Stewards at Standard-Triumph International unanimously rejected proposals by the firm to cut wages of the 6000 workers to reduce car prices. The decision was taken at a 90-minute meeting between stewards from all the firm’s Coventry factories and full-time union officials.

A union spokesman said afterwards: ‘The rejection was unanimous. The stewards will now report back to the management.’ At the time, some men worked a three-day week and others four days. The new piecework rates would be brought in when a five-day week was resumed.

The company, in a statement confirming that proposals for piecework rate adjustments had been made, declared: ‘They are consistent with the company’s efforts to reduce costs in order to meet increasing competition in export markets.’ A management spokesman commented: ‘Production and administrative costs must be cut to the utmost. The time has come when pay increases cannot be passed on to the customer.’

One of the nine union officials who attended the meeting said: ‘It is not sufficient to say there will be such and such a reduction in wages. We want to know how much the new car is going to cost to make and what effect on the ultimate price of the car the pay reductions will have. The firm have just talked in general terms about competition, economic production and what have you.’

Agreement reached on Triumph cost-cutting

Five days later over 150 Shop Stewards of Standard-Triumph agreed to consider some reductions to help the company in an attempt to cut production costs. After the meeting, a leading union official said: ‘The feeling was that if there are anomalies in some piecework rates then procedure exists for ironing them out. But there must be some indication that the firm is also making an effort to reduce managerial costs.’

At long last, on 19 January, the British Government relaxed the credit squeeze, but it had been too late to save Standard-Triumph International’s independence, as Leyland Motors waited in the wings to officially take control of the company.

On 31 January, Sir Henry Spurrier, the Chairman of Leyland Motors, wrote to the company’s stockholders. He told them bluntly that substantial losses were being incurred by Standard-Triumph International which would not be made good by the end of the financial year to August 1961, although later in the year the company expected to be operating at a profit. Bank facilities had been made available to meet the current trading position. Having completed the purchase of Standard-Triumph, the men at Leyland were now looking at the books.

A line in credit extended

On 15 February, Standard-Triumph, now officially part of Leyland Motors, announced the Triumph Herald S model. It was not fitted with either a heater or screen-washer and would sell for £664 2s 6d, which was £38 5s less than the standard model. This equated to a 5.4 per cent price reduction.

The Herald S was the first car to be made in the new £2,500,000 assembly hall, able to produce 4500 cars a week, at the Standard-Triumph factory at Canley. Two days later, Standard-Triumph announced that, as a result of the company’s improved trading position, the majority of its 7000 workers would return to a five-day week by the end of February 1961. Standard-Triumph stated that some sections had already reverted to full time.

On 8 March, Standard-Triumph held another Board meeting. The Board was told that the costings for the ‘Zest’ (TR4) programme had increased by £259,000 to £933,000. The 15 March 1961 has gone down in history as the day the Jaguar E-type was announced – it was also the day Standard-Triumph announced a further price reduction for the Triumph Herald S, down £15 to £648. It was now 7.69 per cent cheaper than its launch price. As it turned out the company was trying to clear out its stock in preparation for an upgraded Herald model.

Quality improvements for Triumph

On 29 March, Standard-Triumph announced that from that date it had started a stringent before sale check up of the cars in the factory. Alick Dick, the Chairman of Standard-Triumph said: ‘I believe that this should be the responsibility of the manufacturer. It is up to us to produce motorcars at the factory, which are right in quality and right in every way before handing them over to the distributors and customers. From now on we will take the onus of responsibility of seeing that small but annoying defects are not passed on to the customer.’

From this point on the news emanating from Canley began to have a more positive note. On 10 April, following hot on the heels of an announcement for orders worth £12,500,000 had been placed for the company’s TR sports car and Triumph Herald saloon at the New York International Motor Show, came the announcement of the new Triumph Herald 1200.

By enlarging the 948cc SC engine to 1147cc Standard-Triumph was able to make the Herald a much more saleable car, lifting it out of its slot as a Mini rival. It retailed at £708 for the Saloon, £736 for the Coupe and £772 for the Convertible. These were soon joined by an Estate version which sold for £799.

Triumph Herald adjustments

However, the Herald 1200 was still a Ford Anglia rival. At the time, the basic Anglia 105E retailed for £606 and the better equipped De Luxe sold for £628. BMC has received much flak for poor cost control in relation to Ford of Britain, but clearly Standard-Triumph was no better.

On 16 May 1961 Standard-Triumph held a Board meeting. Among those attending were the Chairman of Leyland Motors, Sir Henry Spurrier and Donald Stokes, (right) another Director of the company. Born in 1914 in Plymouth, Donald Stokes had joined Leyland in 1930 as an apprentice. War service resulted in Stokes attaining the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. In the summer of 1945, from his posting in Italy, he wrote to Sir Henry Spurrier on his ideas for the future.

The crux of his paper was that Leyland should target export markets and outlined how it should be done. In 1946 Stokes was put in charge of Leyland’s Export Department and in 1953 he was elevated to the Board.

Stokes on Standard-Triumph

In 1968 Stokes gave his opinion of the Standard-Triumph he encountered in 1961. ‘To be honest it was ghastly. The place was badly run and top management was not good.’  At the Board meeting Sir Henry Spurrier said: ‘The company, at the moment, relies entirely on the Herald, and there is nothing to supplement this in the near future.’

Having adopted a hands off approach since its acquisition of Standard-Triumph for several weeks, Leyland Motors now started to assert more control. Two days after the Board meeting it was announced that, in order to integrate the operation of the two companies, Sir Henry Spurrier had become Chairman of Standard-Triumph International, with Alick Dick, the former Chairman, continuing as Managing Director.

‘To be honest it was ghastly. The place was badly run and top management was not good.’ – Donald Stokes on Standard-Triumph

Stanley Markland
Stanley Markland

Stanley Markland (right), Sidney Baybutt and Donald Stokes had also joined the board. In addition, Alick Dick and Frank Dixon had been invited to join the Board of Leyland Motors. Stanley Markland was the Deputy Managing Director of Leyland Motors and the firm’s production expert.

Born in 1903, he had joined Leyland in 1920, becoming Assistant Chief Engineer in 1942 and Chief Engineer in 1945. In 1946 he joined the Leyland Board and in 1953 became Works Director. He was also Managing Director of Albion Motors Limited, a subsidiary of Leyland. He became Deputy Managing Director of Leyland Motors in March 1961. By 1961 he was heir apparent to Sir Henry Spurrier.

The Leyland men move in

Leyland had now installed its Chief Accountant, sales maestro and production expert on the Standard-Triumph Board to knock the company back into shape and not before time. Standard-Triumph had expected to move into profit in May 1961, but instead it lost £215,000.

With Sir Henry Spurrier, Donald Stokes and Sidney Baybutt having responsibilities elsewhere in the parent company, it fell to Stanley Markland to assess Standard-Triumph’s capabilities and sort the wheat from the chaff. It is difficult to ascertain who was actually in charge of Standard-Triumph at this stage.

With new Chairman Sir Henry Spurrier absent for most of the time, officially it was Managing Director Alick Dick and General Manager Martin Tustin running the show. But with Director Stanley Markland having a hotline to the Leyland Chairman, who was actually dictating forward strategy? According to author Graham Robson, Harry Webster was told that he could develop a new Standard Vanguard replacement.

Project Barb continues apace

Webster’s car was codenamed ‘Barb’ and Giovanni Michelotti was commissioned to style it in April 1961, but this pre-dates the 16 May Board meeting that saw the official hands-on takeover of Standard-Triumph by Messrs Spurrier, Stokes and Markland.

It was during this period that Stanley Markland was shown the discarded ‘Bomb’ prototype by Harry Webster and promptly gave instructions to develop it to production reality as the Triumph Spitfire. On 8 June, Standard-Triumph announced that night shift working had started again at its factories in Coventry – the first time since the slump hit the motor industry in the autumn of 1960.

A Standard-Triumph spokesman also said that production of the firm’s Triumph Herald was being stepped up. At a Standard-Triumph Board meeting on 13 July, Harry Webster reported on the progress of Project ‘Barb’ and approval for the tooling expenditure for Project ‘Bomb’ (Spitfire) was given. This indicated that Stanley Markland was indeed calling the shots.

The cracks start to appear

Markland and Dick got on well enough for the Leyland man to take on board the latter’s masterplan for Standard-Triumph. Alick Dick realised that Standard-Triumph could not compete with the likes of BMC, Ford and Vauxhall for mass market cars. The future was for Standard-Triumph to make upmarket cars.

On 17 August 1961 Leyland’s dissatisfaction with the way things were going at Standard-Triumph came to a head. On this day at Standard-Triumph, Sir Henry Spurrier and Stanley Markland used Technical Director Harry Webster’s office to fire most of the Standard-Triumph Board. Spurrier was said to have told Alick Dick that as head man, he had to carry the can.

Harry Webster
Harry Webster, and the office where much of Standard-Triumph’s senior management were fired

The media was told of the mass dismissals on 21 August. Sir Henry Spurrier, Chairman and Managing Director of Leyland and Chairman of Standard-Triumph, said in an official statement: ‘Leyland Motors have decided that they must streamline and integrate the Standard-Triumph organization into the parent company at an early date. Mr A.S. Dick is to resign from the company, and S. Markland is appointed Managing Director of Standard-Triumph International from today.

‘Further, Leyland Motors have asked Messrs K. Aspland, E. Brimelow, M.J. Tustin, H.S. Weale, M. Whitfield, and L.A. Woodall to retire from the Board of Standard-Triumph International, some of whom will be retained with the company in an executive capacity.’

The reorganisation nears completion

Two of the three Directors who remained on the Board of Standard-Triumph were Sidney Baybutt and Donald Stokes, who were of course also Directors of Leyland Motors. The following day Standard-Triumph in Liverpool announced that the reorganisation of the company’s Board would not affect building of the new Standard-Triumph car body works at Speke.

Work of extending the existing Hall Engineering factory was going on and the £11,000,000 scheme to provide a million square feet of factory space had reached the stage where the contract for clearing the site had been settled. Meanwhile, the media looked for the ousted Directors. Martin Tustin and Mike Whitfield were allegedly away. Only Alick Dick could be found at home at Leamington Spa.

Dick had been offered the job of head of the Australian division of the business, although it is not clear whether this meant Standard-Triumph or Leyland Motors. It was an offer he declined. Martin Tustin eventually accepted the job of President of Standard-Triumph Motor Co., New York.

Economy measures for Standard-Triumph

On 29 August, Sir Henry Spurrier said that Stanley Markland, the newly-appointed Managing Director of Standard-Triumph, was to introduce immediate economy measures. These were designed greatly to reduce all overhead expenditure and generally to run the organization on lines similar to those of the parent company.

‘The practical putting into effect of these necessary economies must result in a severe cutting down of numbers of executives and other staff employed, in addition to drastic reductions in day-to-day non-productive expenditure,’ Sir Henry’s statement said.

‘Concurrently, active work is proceeding on the development of new products, and we think it desirable to state categorically that it is the intention of the company to stay prominently in the motor car business. New models will be announced in due course and will become available as speedily as they can be. Finally, I would remind our friends of Leyland’s world-wide reputation for giving the highest quality and greatest value in all its products. It is our intention to maintain this standard throughout the entire group.’

Expected improvements never materialise

The statement said it had been expected that conditions in the motor industry would improve rapidly in the spring of 1961. ‘Unfortunately, losses continued to be made during these months and it became clear … that it was essential to bring in drastic economies without delay in order to meet effectively the intense competition now prevalent in the motor industry throughout the world.

‘The Leyland Board, recognising its responsibility to Leyland shareholders, felt that this far-reaching exercise at Standard-Triumph International should be borne entirely by the top Leyland executives and that they should have a clear field in which to put their plans into practical effect.

‘This requirement was discussed with, and made clear to, all members of the original Standard-Triumph International Board, who readily appreciated Leyland’s point of view and subsequently tendered their resignations.’

Sackings as well as redundancies

It was also reported that around two hundred executives and staff of Standard-Triumph were to be sacked. The men who would go were in the £40 to £60 a week pay bracket .

One of the executives whose job was in danger said: ‘If one man on the shop floor was fired there would be a strike because they are organized. About 200 of us will go and nothing will happen.’

On 31 August, Stanley Markland met with officials of the Coventry District of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions. Markland was able to assure them of a bright future for Standard-Triumph.

Triumph TR4 launched

Rover-Triumph story 1961 – Triumph TR4

Then the next day ‘Zest’ was announced as the TR4 sports car. The new Michelotti-styled body featured an enlarged tractor engine of 2138cc. The new more civilised TR4 could now reach 110mph. Some 40,253 would be manufactured up to 1965.

With the authority of the parent company behind him Stanley Markland began to cut costs. On 4 September, 700 workers at the Hemel Hempstead New Town factory of Alford and Aldred, a Standard-Triumph subsidiary, began a four-day week. At Standard-Triumph International Limited, 2500 production workers employed on the Triumph Herald car dropped from a five-day week to three days.

The bulk of the men would be idle on Mondays and Fridays, the short time working being arranged to enable them to claim Unemployment Benefit. The reduced hours were necessary because of the effect on the industry of an increase in Purchase Tax and a general credit squeeze, which were expected to reduce sales in the coming months. One hundred employees of Beans Industries Limited – another Standard-Triumph subsidiary at Coseley, Staffordshire – had been given a week’s notice, it was announced.

Details emerge of Coseley closure

The company stated that it intended to close the works within the next few months and to transfer the equipment and machinery to its second factory at Tipton. It also hoped to transfer ‘most of the employees’ from Coseley, but the possibility of redundancy could not be ruled out.

Rover-Triumph story - Keith Hopkins
Keith Hopkins, pictured in 1969

Leyland had started to comb through the Standard-Triumph executives, seeing who it could keep, reassign at a lower grade, or fire. This led to the discovery of perhaps Standard-Triumph’s most outstanding employee, Keith Hopkins.

Born in 1930, this son of a Coventry car worker went to Oxford University and the Sorbonne in Paris where he learned to speak French fluently.

Keith Hopkins groomed for greatness

He was taken on by the Publicity Department of the Standard Motor Company partly because Alick Dick wanted a French speaker to aid continental sales. After the 17 August dismissal of the Standard-Triumph International Board, Hopkins wasted no time in getting another job as Press Officer for Coventry City Council before the axe inevitably fell on his own position.

Keith Hopkins found himself summoned to justify his position at Standard-Triumph International before Donald Stokes. With the security of his new job offer, Hopkins spoke his mind, impressed Stokes and was promoted to run Standard-Triumph publicity from the Leyland headquarters in Berkeley Square House in London.

It was the start of a professional relationship between Stokes and Hopkins that lasted until 1995 and would prove crucial in the years to come.

The Leyland annexation of Standard-Triumph continues

On 11 September, more Leyland men were drafted into Standard-Triumph. Walter West and Mr C. Robertson were appointed Executive Chairman and Managing Director respectively of Beans Industries. Walter West was Deputy Chairman of Leyland Motors, Chairman of Scammell Lorries, and Managing Director of West Yorkshire Foundries.

Robertson was Director and General Manager of West Yorkshire Foundries.

Land Rover Series IIa is launched

Rover-Triumph story 1961 - Land Rover Series IIa is launched

Also that September the Land Rover Series IIa was announced. This revised model featured a 2286cc diesel engine which shared some of the production facilities with the similarly-sized petrol engine. Then, on 2 October, Standard-Triumph announced price cuts ranging from £18 to £29 on the Herald range.

Parent company Leyland Motors said the cuts were ‘the first benefits of the amalgamation.’ The next month Standard-Triumph approved the styling of Project Barb and Pressed Steel was asked to make drawings and tool the body. Leyland had originally wanted a 1.6 litre version, and a solitary prototype was built in 1962, but it was underpowered and fell by the wayside.

Stokes pushes for price reductions

Leyland in the form of sales expert Donald Stokes also pushed for cost reduction, at one stage harbouring the hope that Project Barb could be sold for as little as £900, although in reality everybody thought a sub-£1000 price tag was unobtainable. Even so Pressed Steel was persuaded to reduce its prices by 8.5 per cent

Apart from the seemingly obligatory strikes, Rover had been absent from the headlines in 1961. On 22 November, the company announced its financial results. In a difficult year for the motor industry, at the time 1000 of their car assembly workers in the Midlands were on a four-day week, the Rover company’s sales were marginally higher than for the previous 12 months.

These sales, said Spencer Wilks, the Chairman, in his annual report, would have been appreciably better had it not been for the labour troubles experienced by some of their suppliers during the year. Loss of output due to stoppages also contributed to the higher costs which resulted in a 19 per cent drop in earnings before tax. In common with the rest of the motor industry Rover was engaged on a long-term expansion programme. This would require £10,500,000 of which £3,800,000 was committed for the current year. Of net current assets totalling about £9m, over £6m was liquid.

Work starts on new Rover factory

The following day officials of the Rover Car Company saw the foundation stone laid of a £2,500,000 factory at Pengam Moor, Cardiff. The hope was that by 1963 about 2,000 people would be employed there. The spare parts side of the firm would be transferred to Pengam in its entirety.

Pengam was also earmarked to produce transmissions for the Rover range. Rover thought they had grounds for optimism. The Vice-Chairman, George Farmer, said at the luncheon after the ceremony: ‘We achieved an all-time record output in the last financial year up to the end of July and we look forward to the future with every confidence.’

The factory was more than welcome to Wales, which had long cried out for greater diversification of industry. It had arrived there in response to ‘the amiable arm twisting’ of the Board of Trade, as William Martin-Hurst, Deputy Managing Director of Rover, put it ‘This left us no alternative but to expand our industries, in places which we certainly would not have chosen and which at the time not infrequently appeared unattractive to us.’

Export staff relieved of duties

Meanwhile, back at Standard-Triumph, it was revealed in the press that Standard-Triumph International had fired 26 export staff including 47-year-old James Dick, brother of the deposed Alick.

The sacked staff said they had been told that because of ‘financial difficulties’ the company could not consider paying general compensation for the loss of their jobs.

Now the group decided to kill off Standard-Triumph Export Sales Limited, the subsidiary which handled export sales to customers who collected their cars in Britain. The work, involving £500,000 worth of cars each year, would be done by another Standard-Triumph depot .

Another week, another cull

James Dick, Manager of the subsidiary in Headfort Place, Westminster, was given two weeks notice. So had seven office staff and 18 fitters and mechanics. One of Mr Dick’s staff said: ‘We feel the firm should at least pay compensation. Some of the sacked men have been with the company thirty years.’ On 28 December Leyland Motors Group announced a reallocation of duties at Board level.

Sir Henry Spurrier, Chairman and Managing Director, would take over all those sections of the organization – including direction of the Leyland headquarters factories, production, purchasing, material control and quality control – previously undertaken by Stanley Markland, in his capacity of Works Director.

Stanley Markland, recently appointed Managing Director of Standard-Triumph International Limited, would be enabled to give practically his whole-time attention to problems involved in the reorganization of the Standard-Triumph group. He would continue as Managing Director of Albion Motors Limited.

The Managing Director is out…

The Board of Standard-Triumph International Limited announced that Frank Dixon, Deputy Managing Director, was expanding his business activities by mutual agreement, so the Board had agreed to release him from his position as Deputy Managing Director to enable him to devote more time to activities outside the Standard-Triumph group.

Frank Dixon would, however, spend the greater part of his time within the group supervising and coordinating the expansion of the group’s body building activities at Speke, Liverpool, and would take up the appointment of Executive Chairman of Standard-Triumph (Liverpool) Limited, from which office Sir Henry Spurrier would retire. Frank Dixon would continue as Chairman of the two other companies in the body division of the group, Auto Body Dies Limited and Technical Woodwork Company Limited. He would retain his seat on the board of Standard-Triumph International Limited.

Stanley Markland had reduced capital spending, shut down the Competitions Department and sold off a lot of company owned and run cars. The Cessna light aircraft was sold to parent company Leyland while the new car plant at Speke had been put on hold. In the meantime, build quality on the Triumph Herald had been improved. So ended a dramatic year for Standard-Triumph. Alick Dick and his Board had looked long and hard for a partner, but paid for success with their jobs.

Back to History : The Rover Triumph Story – Part Two : 1960

Forward to History : The Rover Triumph Story – Part Four : 1962

Ian Nicholls
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