Ian Nicholls, AROnline‘s historian-in-residence, tells the Rover-Triumph story, and their part in the downfall of the British motor industry.
Here, in the fifth part, the year is dominated by the arrival of a pair of two-litre executives – the Rover and Triumph 2000s.
The story of Rover and Triumph: Leyland gets tougher
On 23 January 1963 Rover produced the first P6 2000 as an off-tools prototype, badged ‘Talago’ to confuse the public. It marked the beginning of what would be a huge year for the Rover Car Company.
Five days later Rover announced that exploratory talks had taken place between the Rover Company and Rubery Owen and Company about the possibility of installing a Rover gas turbine engine in prototype sports cars to be built by the Owen Organisation subsidiary, the BRM motor racing team. Entry in sports car races would depend upon satisfactory development and trials.
This was the start of the Rover-BRM project which resulted in a gas turbine car competing in the Le Mans 24 hour race. BRM and Graham Hill had just won the Formula 1 World Championship.
The same day Standard-Triumph announced the retirement of 60-year-old Leonard Woodall from his executive responsibilities with the supplies division of the company. He retained his position on the Board of Directors.
Staff movements galore
Another Standard-Triumph executive who had impressed the truck men was Walter Boardman, its Chief Accountant since 1959. In January 1963, he was appointed as Chief Accountant of the parent Leyland Motors group. Born in 1913, after wartime service with the Royal Artillery he had joined the Standard Motor Company in 1948.
In early January 1963 Sir Henry Spurrier asked Stanley Markland to give up the Deputy Chairmanship of Leyland Motors ‘for extraneous reasons.’
The next month Spurrier decided to appoint Sir William Black of Associated Commercial Vehicles (ACV) as Deputy Chairman and again asked Markland to stand down to make the situation easier. Markland refused and then offered his resignation, officially a retirement, so that he could get full pension rights.
The end of Stanley Markland?
It has been argued that Sir Henry Spurrier never had any real intention of appointing Stanley Markland as his real successor. As a long-term successor his age counted against him, he was 11 years older than Donald Stokes, the other star performer on the Leyland Board.
Then, on 21 February, it was revealed that Leyland Motors Limited was changing its name to the Leyland Motor Corporation. Six days later some more appointments were made at Leyland. Jim Slater, Commercial Director of AEC Limited, was appointed deputy to Donald Stokes, and Sales Director of the Leyland Motor Corporation. The appointment of an ACV man to a senior position in the merged corporation revealed that this was not a takeover but a marriage of equals.
On 5 March the Triumph Herald 12/50 was announced. This was a Herald with a more powerful engine and a fold-back sun roof.
On 10 March Mr J.N.M. Entwistle, the Chairman of the Merseyside Development Committee, made an appeal to the Standard-Triumph company for an early decision on their proposed new car factory at Liverpool. The company had a site of 104 acres at Speke, which had been cleared more than a year, and upon which an £11 million car plant, which would provide 4500 jobs. was to be built.
Mr Entwistle said he was rather concerned about this valuable site lying idle in an area with 47,000 unemployed.
The rise of the truck men continues
Ten days later, it was announced that Sir William Black, the new Deputy Chairman of the Leyland Motor Corporation, and Managing Director of ACV, had joined the board of Standard-Triumph International.
Then it was announced that CE Andrews was appointed President of Standard-Triumph Motor Co.. New York, with effect from 1 June 1963. He replaced Martin Tustin, whose resignation as President of the company would take effect on 31 May 1963. Martin Tustin had been fired from the Standard-Triumph Board back in August 1961 and this completed his exit from the company. Shortly afterwards, the Dowty Group announced that Martin Tustin had been appointed as a director of the company.
Rover announced on 14 May that Leslie Payne would become Personnel Officer at the Pengam, Cardiff factory, which although in production had not yet been officially opened. Leslie Payne was a Shop Steward for ten years before he became a full-time union official four years previously, with special responsibilities for union members at car factories in the Birmingham area, including the Rover factories.
Leslie Payne, then the TGWU’s Birmingham District organiser, said: ‘I shall now be on the management side of the fence and, although it was a difficult decision for a person, like myself with deep roots in the trade union movement. I am happy about the appointment.’
Rover: ‘Difficult trading conditions’
On 19 June the Leyland Motor Corporation reported that trading conditions in the early months of the 1962-63 financial year remained difficult – in particular, the car side of the business was adversely affected, in the home market by the exceptionally hard winter, and in the export market by an American dock strike.
Sir Henry Spurrier, who was nearly 65, resigned his chairmanship of the corporation. This was for health reasons. Doctors had now given him six months to live. He became President of the Leyland Motor Corporation.
He was succeeded by Sir William Black, the former Deputy Chairman and head of the now absorbed ACV. The new Chairman was even older at 70 years of age.
The end of Standard – a triumph for Triumph
This was a bitter blow to Stanley Markland, who had been led to believe that the job was his for the taking. It is said that Spurrier and Markland did not always get on, but perhaps Sir Henry thought it was more important for Leyland that Markland remained at Standard-Triumph to get a return on its investment.
On 12 August 1963 Standard-Triumph built the first off-tools example of Project Barb, now know as the Triumph 2000. The last Standard-badged car had rolled off the Canley production line back in May. Stanley Markland had authorised Triumph 2000 production at a rate of 400 cars a week or 20,000 a year.
Developing new engines for Triumph
During the 1962-63 period, Stanley Markland allowed Harry Webster and STI’s Engine Designer, Lewis Dawtrey, to investigate the firm’s future engine policy. At the time the company had three basic engines.
The first of these was a wet-liner inline four-cylinder that had started life in 1947 as an 1850cc tractor engine! This was gradually enlarged to 2088 cc and then 2138cc. By 1963, it was found in the TR4 sports car.
The SC (small car) engine started life in 1953 as an 803cc unit in the Standard 8 saloon. Gradually, it was enlarged to 948cc, 1147cc and then 1296cc. It was thought that it was at its limit until STI managed one more enlargement to 1493cc later in the decade. This was the engine fitted to the Herald and its Spitfire offshoot.
However, the engine earmarked for the Barb 2000 was the 20S. This six-cylinder engine first appeared in 1960 as a 1596cc unit, then enlarged to 1998cc. All these engines were overhead valve.
Looking ahead to the end of the 1970s…
Lewis Dawtrey was given carte blanche to investigate any engine configuration he wanted. With instructions that any new engine designs had to last STI to the end of the 1970s, Dawtrey had to future proof the new power plants by making them as advanced as possible. This meant overhead-camshaft engines.
The clever part about Lewis Dawtrey’s resulting plan was that he conceived a modular engine that could use the same production tooling. For efficiency reasons he settled on an overhead cam four-cylinder unit canted at a 45-degree angle. Joining two of these engines together using a common crankshaft would create a larger capacity 90 degree V8.
Leyland commercials overhaul Standard
On 5 September, the Leyland Motor Corporation announced the formation of the Leyland Light Commercial Vehicle Division, which was to be established at the Standard-Triumph factories in Coventry. The new organisation would be responsible for the marketing in the United Kingdom of all commercial vehicles manufactured by Standard-Triumph under the Leyland trademark.
Stanley Markland said: ‘The formation of this new division is a mark of our determination to gain a much larger share of the ever-growing light commercial vehicle market.’
A separate distribution network in the United Kingdom of selected Standard-Triumph and Leyland distributors had been set up to hold the new franchise for Leyland light commercial vehicles.
On 8 September Maurice Wilks, the Chairman of Rover, died at the age of 59 years. He and his brother Spencer were the driving force behind the creation of the original Land Rover. Rover acted quickly to fill the void. George Farmer was announced as the new Chairman on 19 September.
The Rover-Triumph story of 1963: a tale of two litres
It was on 8 October 1963 that the P6 was announced as the Rover 2000. The launch itself took place at Rover’s Lode Lane, Solihull plant and was fronted by William Martin-Hurst, the firm’s Managing Director.
According to Rover, £10,600,000 had been invested in the new car, a new factory block built at Solihull and a 456,000 sq ft depot for spare parts at Pengam (below), near Cardiff. Potential capacity of the new factory, known as North Block, was 550 cars a week – or one car in just over four minutes.
The plant had already been in limited operation for 12 months. Introducing the Rover 2000, William Martin-Hurst, the Managing Director, thanked the press, ‘for keeping so securely under your hats much information which I know has been available to you for some time.’
He went on: ‘Into this car we have put all our engineering know-how and skills. We have built 15 prototypes, which have been driven in the aggregate more than 445,000 miles in this country and abroad. Pre-production cars have been driven over 200,000 miles and 268,000 miles have been covered at high-speed on motorways.’ Around 327,842 Rover P6s were built up to 1977.
First Rover, then Triumph
Then, a week later the Triumph 2000 was announced, although it did not actually go on sale until 8 January 1964. Stanley Markland had already announced that all future Standard-Triumph International cars would be badged as Triumphs.
On 19 October, Rover announced their financial results. The firm reported that profits had been reduced by, ‘expenditure, including interest charges, incurred in connection with the introduction of the new 2000 model.’
Pre-tax earnings showed a fall of £319,000 to £1,406,000: but with tax requirements cut sharply from £603,000 to £118,000 net group profits were up from £1,118,000 to £1,285,000 of which £1,207,000 (against £1,071,000) was net attributable to the parent. During 1963 Rover produced 45,557 vehicles of which over 75 per cent were Land Rovers demonstrating how the stop gap utility vehicle had become the company’s core product. The new P6 was an attempt to re-establish the Rover saloon car brand as a major player.
William Lyons: ‘Leyland is in good hands’
In early November 1963, Jaguar Chairman Sir William Lyons wrote to Sir Henry Spurrier, the President of the Leyland Motor Corporation. ‘I was so pleased to see that Donald Stokes has been put into the position I know you always planned for him. I am sure he will make a great success of it, and it must be a comfort to you to know that Leyland is still in good hands,’ he said.
‘I think the new Triumph 2000 is going to be a winner. I had a good look at it at the Show and was very impressed. At its price I think it has the edge on its competitors. It looks as though your worries about Standard are over.’
Lyons was already doing business with the truck men, the cylinder heads for the Jaguar XK engine were cast in Leyland. Lyons seemed oblivious to the fact that one of the competitors for the Triumph 2000 was his own ageing Jaguar Mk2 compact saloon, which in 2.4-litre form was no ball of fire.
Rover’s upward push
Rover already had ambitions of expanding the P6 range further into Jaguar territory. The company needed a more modern engine to replace the six-cylinder inlet-over-exhaust 2.6- to 3.0-litre unit used in the P4 and P5 saloons.
The solution was to utilise the new four-cylinder overhead-camshaft engine used in the P6 2000, then add two cylinders to create a six-cylinder unit. The P6 was adapted to take the new six cylinder engine and the resulting car was renamed the P7. Rover visualised the production car being marketed as the Rover 3000.
However, things did not work out. On 13 November, Rover Managing Director William Martin-Hurst wrote to Bruce McWilliams at Rover North America on the subject of the P7.
Martin-Hurst: ‘I’m convinced it would be a deathtrap on wheels’
William Martin-Hurst wrote ‘…with regret the decision to drop it in favour of a new car to take both four and six-cylinder engines without major alterations. The reason for the decision is two-fold – firstly the weight of the six-cylinder engine upsets the weight distribution and spoils safe cornering to a marked degree.
‘If you fling the car round corners it feels very front heavy, like a weight on a string, and with the power of the six it would, I am convinced, be a death trap on wet roads. Being free, for the moment, of the six, we can get on with the drop head and 2+2 versions of the four (P6) as well as, perhaps, an open and shut with detachable hard top.’
This was the death knell of the six-cylinder Rover P7.
Rover issues a cash-call shareholder issue
A week later, impelled largely by the pressing demand for its new P6 2000 model, the Rover Company decided to make a cash call on shareholders with a rights issue – to raise about £2 million. According to George Farmer in his annual review, the fresh funds were required in the light of the need to expand production facilities.
George Farmer also said that the new Rover 2000 was selling so briskly, ‘that our problem will be to build up production sufficiently quickly during the coming months to meet the demand. And since the demand for Land-Rovers is increasing with existing production capacity already working full out, the board is considering expanding production facilities for these vehicles.
‘I have every hope that, subject to no unforeseen difficulties or serious disruption in production, sales for the present year will reach a new record level.’
Stanley Markland announces retirement
On 4 December the Daily Mirror revealed that 60-year-old Stanley Markland (right) was to retire at the end of 1963. This was the direct result of Sir Henry Spurrier appointing Sir William Black of the newly-absorbed ACV as his successor instead of Stanley Markland.
Both Sir William Black and Donald Stokes had tried hard to persuade Markland to stay, but his mind was made up and he retired to his farm. Harry Webster later described Stanley Markland as, ‘the finest boss I ever knew.’
The next day the Standard-Triumph Board held a meeting. On the agenda was a new derivative of the TR4 sports car with independent rear suspension that became the TR4A and a 2.5-litre sports car engine under development – and which would eventually emerge as the Triumph TR5. Standard-Triumph Internatioanl had decided to enlarge the 1998cc six-cylinder to 2498cc. Also under discussion were convertible and estate car versions of the new 2000 saloon before it had even gone on sale.
Rover: dull not desirable?
The 8 December 1963 edition of The Observer newspaper profiled the Rover company. Rover was described as making cars that were solid, dependable, but dull. Chairman George Farmer said, ‘We want to prove that we don’t just make old men’s motorcars.’
This remark contrasted with the image of the Longbridge and Cowley Rovers in the 1990s and 2000s. George Farmer said the new 2000 had been aimed at, ‘getting in under the lower-priced Jaguar, a niche in the market.’ He also said that the 2000 was conceived as, ‘a car that’s good for Europe.’
Farmer was described as a down-to-earth accountant of 55, with an unexpected, quick grin. As President of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, Farmer had the most baronial Pied-à-terre in London, a vast, ornate office in Forbes House, and a Belgravia mansion. When asked about the Triumph 2000, a cheaper rival to the Rover P6, George Farmer said: ‘They’re different animals.’ Of the Rover 2000 he said: ‘For the next 18 months, our problem is making, not selling,’
Donald Stokes takes overall command of Leyland
On 19 December Donald Stokes was appointed Chairman of Standard-Triumph International in succession to Sir Henry Spurrier. As mentioned earlier, Stanley Markland was retiring at the end of 1963, and Sir William Black, Chairman of Leyland, said: ‘As Mr Stokes is assuming full executive control of Standard-Triumph, it is not proposed to appoint a Managing Director. The present Director and General Manager, George Turnbull, however, will assume broader responsibilities under Mr Stokes.’
And so Stanley Markland exited Leyland. An outstanding Production Engineer, he had knocked Standard-Triumph into shape, cutting out waste and backing the pipe dreams of its engineers into commercial reality. With Sir William Black effectively a stopgap Chairman because of his age, Donald Stokes was both now the boss of Standard-Triumph and the heir apparent to the Leyland Motor Corporation.
In times of economic prosperity Stokes’s ability as a salesman would make him seem omnipotent but, by his own admission, he lacked the ruthless streak to make hard decisions. When Leyland needed a hatchet man to make brutal decisions, he had retired to his farm. Stanley Markland died in June 1986, three months after Alick Dick.
- History : The Austin-Morris story – Part Two : May to October 1968 - 13 February 2020
- Essay : Austin Maestro styling – the real killer - 6 January 2020
- Opinion : How British Leyland shaped modern Britain - 17 December 2019