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 sixth part, the year is marked by the expansion of both companies, and the end of the road for some stalwarts.
The story of Rover and Triumph: new era well underway
Both Rover and Triumph were in the news on New Year’s Day 1964. Donald Stokes (above), on his first day as Chairman of Standard-Triumph at Canley, announced that the company had built a total of 109,200 cars and light commercial vehicles in 1963, an increase of 30 per cent over 1962. He said it had increased home sales by 40 per cent, while exports had gone up by 10 per cent on 1962. In the USA, the company had sold over 20,000 vehicles in 1963, 12.5 per cent more than in 1962.
Saying the prospects for 1964 were even better, Donald Stokes added: ‘We are currently working on production schedules as high as those of last summer, an unprecedented situation for the motor industry.’ Orders for the Triumph 2000, which was to be released to the public on 8 January, were already high enough to show that the car would be a clear leader in its class – production was already running at over 350 a week and would increase to about 400 a week.
Changes in Rover’s technical lineup
Reading the headlines decades later, one gets the impression that the Rover P6 had a better press launch in comparison with the Triumph 2000 back in October 1963. But with Donald Stokes now in full charge of Standard-Triumph, backed no doubt by the firm’s PR boss Keith Hopkins, this New Year’s Day event seems to have been the real launch of the new model.
On the same day, Peter Wilks was appointed to the Board of the Rover Company as Technical Director, filling the void left by the death of his uncle, Maurice, in September 1963 and the retirement of Robert Boyle.
Born in 1920 and educated at Malvern public school, Peter Wilks had learned the ropes in the motor industry both inside and outside the Rover Company which was effectively managed by his various uncles. He had spent the war years as aircrew in RAF Bomber Command. With his cousin, Spen King, effectively in charge of Rover product planning, a younger generation had taken over.
Rover-Triumph story 1964: That Cuba bus deal
A week into the New Year and Leyland Motor Corporation announced it had sold 400 buses to Cuba, an order worth £4 million, much to the annoyance of the USA. Donald Stokes was on hand to speak to the press, as he would be for the next decade, where he dismissed American outrage at the sale. ‘You would look damn silly going to war in a bus. Anyway, we haven’t any war with Cuba and we buy sugar from them. Cuba is a traditional market as far as we are concerned. We sold them buses worth $10m in 1949 and $6m to $7m in 1959. We also sell buses to Poland and Bulgaria and places like that. These buses are not strategic war material,’ Stokes said.
It was this deal that made Donald Stokes’ reputation as a buccaneering salesman in the eyes of the public. It also appears that PR ace Keith Hopkins was helping raise Stokes’s public profile in his capacity as Deputy Chairman and Managing Director of the Leyland Motor Corporation.
Triumph vs Rover: Battle of the 2000s begins
On 8 January 1964, the Triumph 2000 finally went on sale and went head-to head with the Rover 2000. Of course, both cars weren’t the only executive cars on the market. Much has been made of how both these British cars redefined the market for executive cars, but at the beginning of 1964 both Rover and Triumph were still relative minnows.
The toughest competition appeared to come from Ford of Britain with its Mk3 Zephyr and Zodiac series of 1962-66, perhaps best remembered for their appearance in the groundbreaking BBC TV series Z Cars. Production peaked in 1963 at 61,811. It had engines ranging from 1.7-litre to a straight-six of 2.5-litres, a four-speed gearbox and overdrive. Ford had already begun work on the bigger Mk4 Zephyr which appeared in 1966. The new Ford Cortina, for fleet buyers, had really taken off in 1963 with over 203,000 being manufactured. With its advanced cost control and product planning Ford would be a tough nut to crack.
Ford, Vauxhall and Rootes’ alternative 2000s
The Cresta PB was Vauxhall’s take on the executive car. At the start of 1964 it was available with an inline six-cylinder engine of 2651cc, but in October of that year it was enlarged to 3293cc. In the pipeline was the Cresta PC which appeared at the end of 1965. It appears that both the American-owned manufacturers believed the market wanted cars that looked like downsized versions of the Detroit barges seen in American films and TV series. A big car was perceived as being value for money. The ailing Rootes Group offered the Humber Hawk, which featured a 2267cc four-cylinder engine. However, it was no ball of fire with an 83mph top speed.
The opposition from BMC and Jaguar
The British Motor Corporation offered the 3.0-litre ADO53 in both Austin and Wolseley versions. Fitted with a C-Series inline six-cylinder engine, BMC, like its rivals, also believed the market wanted big, large-engined cars. The disastrous ADO61 Austin 3-Litre would perpetuate this theme.
Then there was the Jaguar Mk2 saloon which had been on sale since 1959. The compact Jaguar had first appeared in 1955 with a 2.4-litre XK engine, with 3.4-and 3.8-litre versions being added to the range later. Revised in 1959 as the MK2, the 2.4-litre version remained in the range, although it could not reach 100 mph. Of all the executive cars on sale in 1964 the Jaguar Mk2 had the most prestigious image, and was also the most expensive. The 2.4-litre Mk2 was around 6 per cent more expensive than the Rover P6.
Why Triumph and Rover hit the sweet spot
Whether by accident or design, the new 2.0-litre saloons from Rover and Triumph conveniently slotted into the market sector above the sales reps’ Ford Cortinas. They were quality-engineered cars which suited executives who expected something better than a Dagenham dustbin, without the bloated extremes offered by the opposition from BMC, Ford, Rootes, and Vauxhall, while being cheaper than the Jaguar Mk2.
One thing that must be taken into account is that, a year before the Rover and Triumph went on sale, President Charles De Gaulle of France had vetoed Britain’s application to join the Common Market. This meant that both the Rover and Triumph 2000s could not be sold in the larger Common Market nations without incurring prohibitive trade tariffs.
However, the corollary was that rival models from upmarket brands such as Alfa Romeo, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz could not be sold in the UK without incurring a 30 per cent trade tariff. For the time being, the UK manufacturers effectively had the field to themselves, something that tends to be forgotten.
But which was the best of the 2000s?
Of the two 2000 saloons, which one was the best, the Rover or the Triumph? The media raved about both cars, with the Rover 2000 winning the inaugural European Car of the Year Award for 1963. Rover Technical Director Peter Wilks later explained the design philosophy behind the P6. ‘We had great arguments in those days with Maurice Wilks about all sorts of things,’ he said. ‘He was against the overhead cam because he said it would be noisy, and another thing he was dead against was the de Dion back-end, which he thought was unjustifiably costly.
‘We took the view, though, that for the sake of an extra £35 – which is about what it costs – it was well worth it just to be able to write de Dion in the specification of the car, even if it hadn’t turned out to be any better. We did in fact succeed in creating an image of engineering innovation which had an impact which the car might otherwise not have had.’
What Spen King thought…
In early 1964 Peter Wilks’ cousin Spen King was in charge of Rover New Vehicle Projects. He would later become involved with the Triumph 2000. Speaking to author Graham Robson he commented: ‘I think both of them had their failings. I think the 2.0-litre six-cylinder Triumph engine was beautifully smooth, more refined than the Rover four-cylinder engine. I do think that the Triumph engine was very superior.
‘I think the rear suspension of the Triumph wasn’t all that good… On the other hand, I think the front suspension of the Triumph, the McPherson strut, was actually better. The road noise of the Triumph was better than the Rover – the Rover noise was a complete disaster at one stage, there’s no other way of describing it.’
‘I think the 2.0-litre six-cylinder Triumph engine was beautifully smooth, more refined than the Rover four-cylinder engine.’ – Spen King
To the private buyer, the choice between the Rover and Triumph was a matter of personal taste. For the fleet buyers it was a question of value for money and availability. The Rover P6 had a launch price of £1265, some 13 per cent more expensive than the Triumph 2000, which retailed at £1094.
However, the Triumph had the option of overdrive for an extra £54, which brought the price up to £1148. The Rover P6 relied on high gearing to reach a higher top speed at the expense of inferior acceleration, and was never offered with the option of overdrive. So, on paper the Triumph 2000 looked a better deal, especially as it was 10 per cent cheaper than the P6 even with the option of overdrive.
Rover and Triumph-Saab engines in development
Later in January 1964 the Leyland Motor Corporation announced that its Chief Accountant, Walter Boardman, had joined the Board of Standard-Triumph, the firm he had first joined in 1948. On 30 January, Rover held a Board meeting. The Minutes recorded: ‘It was reported that engineering was investigating the merits of a five-cylinder 2.5-litre engine, to possibly use in the P6.’ Rover had still not given up on the idea of a larger-engined P6 now using a five-cylinder version of the car’s overhead cam engine but, as you can read in the Rover P7 story, this five-cylinder engine was never fitted to the P7 due to balance and carburetion issues.
However, it was the subject of engines that brought Trygve Holm, the CEO of Swedish car makers Saab to the Standard-Triumph International plant at Canley in January 1964. Saab was developing Project Gudmund, a new car using a four-stroke engine. The Swedish company had hired consultants Ricardo Engineering to design such an engine, but was concerned about whether it had the ability to produce it.
Ricardo recommends Triumph
Ricardo told Saab that Standard-Triumph was working on something similar that might be suitable. Trygve Holm was impressed with what he saw at Canley, but was only interested in the slant-four engine, not the V8. Saab wanted between 30,000 and 40,000 engines a year by 1968 for Project Gudmund (above), which became the Saab 99. With no new Standard-Triumph International cars on the immediate horizon earmarked for the new engine design, it made sense to grant Saab the exclusive first use of the unit and a deal would help amortise the development costs.
On 2 March, Leyland Motor Corporation announced that Lewis Whyte of ACV had joined its Board. Born in 1906, Lewis Whyte was Chairman of London and Manchester Assurance. He would play a pivotal role in the future of the company. The next month, Leyland announced that Dr Albert Fogg was being appointed its Director of Research and Development. He would take up his new duties, which were full-time, in August 1964, when he relinquished his position as Director of the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA) at Lindley.
Staff comings and goings
Later in April 1964 Jim Slater resigned as Deputy Sales Director of Leyland Motor Corporation and Commercial Director of AEC and its subsidiary companies overseas. Jim Slater then went into a career in high finance, but this was not the end of his involvement in this story. On 1 May, it was announced that Bernard Jackman, then Executive Director and General Manager of the Lockheed Hydraulic Brake Company, Leamington, would join the Rover Company in July 1964 as Executive Director Production).
Bernard Jackman, who was born in 1914, was in fact returning to Rover, having worked there from 1939 to 1944 and his father had worked for the company from its earliest involvement in carmaking. When he left school in 1931 there was no money to pay for him to go to university to train as a dentist. So he went as an apprentice to GEC in Coventry on telephones and radio, staying for another year in the power drawing office after completing his apprenticeship.
Bernard Jackman’s stellar career lands Rover job
He joined Wilmot Breedon in 1937 as a Technical Sales Engineer and, at the end of two years, he was running the Technical Sales Department. Early in 1939 Rover’s Chief Planning Engineer at that time, Olaf Poppe, invited him to join the company as Assistant Planning Engineer. Bernard Jackman’s father was Works Manager at the time. The job gave him his first insight into time study and manufacturing processes, subjects that were to fascinate him for many years to come. He was involved in the big change over to the wartime production of aero engines, airframes and other war material. When Olaf Poppe was moved on to help develop the Whittle gas turbine, Jackman took over took over as Chief Planning Engineer in charge of all the Coventry works activities.
In 1943 Jackman volunteered for REME, but was promptly stopped from so doing by the Ministry of Aircraft Production, who instead sent him to the Perfecta company to sort out of the mess they were making of producing cockpit canopies and bullet proof windscreens for 14 different types of aircraft. He spent four years there and, when the war ended, he helped to get the company back to its pre-War business of making car windscreens, body mouldings and other hardware.
In 1947 he was invited to join the British Heat Resisting Glass Co. at Bilston as Works Director. During the eight years he spent there he expanded the company range from Phoenix ovenware to industrial glassware. In 1956 he was offered the post of Executive Director and General Manager of the Lockheed Hydraulic Brake Company at Automotive Products in Leamington Spa. In late 1963, Rover’s Director and General Manager, A.B. Smith, offered Bernard Jackman the job of Rover Production Director. Jackman accepted.
Rover P6 falters while Triumph 2000 rallies
It appears that, despite its long gestation period and critical acclaim, the Rover P6 was still not production ready. Although Rover was plagued by industrial disputes during this period, far more than any afflicting its rivals at Standard-Triumph, during 1964 it only managed to produce 7235 P6 saloons. In contrast, Standard-Triumph churned out a more impressive 18,490 Barb 2000s in addition to the 1685 they had built in the last four months of 1963.
Speaking in 1974 Bernard Jackman said of the Rover P6: ‘I think it really went into production a year to soon. Certainly a lot of the body tooling wasn’t right and we were having to compromise. I think we were rather provoked into putting it into production in 1963 because the Triumph 2000 was appearing at the same time and there was this competitive pressure.
‘I think it really went into production a year to soon. Certainly a lot of the body tooling wasn’t right and we were having to compromise.’ – Bernard Jackman on the Rover P6
‘Most people felt that we were a bit premature and we rushed it. Production was running at about 200 to 250 a week when I came here and had to be held at that level to get the vehicle right.’
Considering that the P6 had begun development in 1956 and ‘Barb’ had started life in the Spring of 1961, it was a remarkable achievement by Harry Webster’s team to get their car on sale by January 1964 and available in quantity. On 17 May, Rover produced the last P4 saloon to make way for expanded P6 production in the face of a constant series of labour disputes.
Rover and Triumph power games
Sir Henry Spurrier, the former Leyland Chairman died of a brain tumour on 17 June, the day after his 66th birthday. Six days later his protege Donald Stokes announced that Cuba was to buy another 500 Leyland buses. The Leyland Managing Director again defended the sale. ‘We are ordinary commercial people trying to do a commercial job. We are not doing it for any political motive but just carrying out a deal with a traditional customer,’ he said.
An interesting day in British automotive history was 30 July 1964. Not only did the first Jaguar V12 engine run, but the Rover Board discussed a solution to its pressing need for a new large capacity engine. The Minutes stated: ‘The Managing Director reported that we had been in negotiation with General Motors Overseas Operations to obtain a licence for the manufacture and sale of the Buick 215cu in V8 aluminium engine, which was highly suitable for incorporating in the company’s products.’
William Martin-Hurst and the Rover V8 engine
The Managing Director referred to was William Martin-Hurst. He had been in the USA to discuss gas turbine engines for outboard motors with the Mercury Marine Company at its base in Wisconsin. In an experimental shop the Rover Managing Director stumbled across a compact V8 engine (above). The head of the Mercury concern, Carl Kiekhaefer, told Martin-Hurst that the V8 lying on the shop floor was a Buick, an aluminium engine out of a Skylark that they had played around with for powerboat racing purposes. Martin-Hurst asked if the engine was available and was told that it had just gone out of production.
The engine was measured and weighed against a Rover 2000 engine which Mercury had already received from Rover, and was just 12lb heavier and within an inch of the overall length. Whilst Martin-Hurst embarked on negotiations with General Motors, the Buick V8 was crated-up and shipped over to Solihull.
After failing to convince Technical Director Peter Wilks to install the V8 in a P6 – Wilks did not believe General Motors would agree to sell the engine to Rover – Martin-Hurst persuaded Competitions Manager Ralph Nash to do the job. The Rover Managing Director then showed the converted P6 off to his brother-in-law Spencer Wilks, the former Rover Chairman. This seemed to do the trick and galvanised the company’s management into embracing the V8. The Rover V8 engine transformed the P6, but getting GM to negotiate proved to be a long-winded process as the American giant did not believe Rover was serious in its intentions.
Triumph’s Grand Touring ambitions
On 10 September, the Standard-Triumph Board met. On the menu was the Triumph 2000GT, a fastback estate. The Minutes stated: ‘The Chairman reported that the Triumph 2000 GT car with a sloping back was not a feasible proposition, but he asked the Board to approve the Triumph 2000 Estate Car project. ‘A brochure giving details of the model together with estimated costs and selling prices and profitability had been calculated to the Board.’
The Chairman Sir William Black got what he wanted as the Minutes record: ‘The Board approved the brochure for the Estate Car and authorised its introduction at the coming Motor Show.’ The idea of a more sporting derivative of the Barb 2000 saloon would resurface in 1966.
Four days later a pledge that the Triumph Herald would stay in production for five years was made by Donald Stokes. He said: ‘I believe there is a desire by the motoring public for the continuity of this design, which has been proved by ever-increasing sales. It will be a comfort to prospective buyers of Heralds to know that their car will hold its price for at least five years.’
Triumph production well and truly booming
The peak years of production for the Herald and Vitesse were 1963 and 1964, but with the BMC Mini and 1100 now firing on all cylinders, the Canley car went into gradual decline. Around the same time Stokes also said: ‘More than 20 per cent of our new Triumph 2000 models are now sold with an automatic gearbox. Two-pedal control is going to come to all cars irrespective of their size.’ It would be two years before a Rover P6 automatic appeared.
Standard-Triumph was in the news again on 5 October, when at its vehicle assembly plant at Malines, Belgium, new extensions which would double the plant’s output were opened by Sir Roderick Barclay, the British Ambassador to Belgium. When the factory was opened in 1960 production was running at only eight cars a day, the new extensions would boost this to rate of 50 vehicles a day, or 12,000 a year.
‘More than 20 per cent of our new Triumph 2000 models are now sold with an automatic gearbox. Two-pedal control is going to come to all cars irrespective of their size.’ – Donald Stokes
Up to now the company had supplied the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium with vehicles. The new extensions would allow exports to be made also to France and, eventually, to Italy. At the opening ceremony, Donald Stokes, Deputy Chairman and Managing Director of the Leyland Motor Corporation, the parent company, said that during 1964 Triumph sales in Europe had grown tremendously, the Continent now rivalling the United States as their best market for cars.
Triumph’s European expansion
Donald Stokes said: ‘By the end of this year we shall have sold 21,000 cars in Europe, compared with 23,500 in the United States, and this achievement has been aided greatly by the increased production at Malines, which enables us to export freely and economically to other countries in the European Common Market.’ He added that the parent company was to spend £8 million on expansion at Coventry during 1965, hoping to reach a record output of 140,000 units a year, and would introduce at least three new models to supplement its range of saloons and sports cars in the next year.
Ten days later, on election day 1964, the Standard-Triumph Board met. The Minutes of the meeting recorded that, ‘the Chief Engineer [Harry Webster] reported that he had visited Sr Michelotti, who had shown him the wooden model of the TR5. He felt this was a very good model and, after examining photographs, the Board agreed.’
Triumph Fury enters the equation
The TR5 mentioned was possibly the abortive Triumph Fury project. The Fury was a 2.0-litre six-cylinder sports car. Although attractive, Standard-Triumph would find more cost-effective ways of delivering six-cylinder power to the showroom. The Board met again on 12 November. The Minutes recorded that, ‘a Project Engineer had now left for Italy to discuss the making of a prototype TR5 with Signor Michelotti.’ Another possible reference to Project ‘Fury’.
Four days later it was announced that Saab, the Swedish aircraft and automobile manufacturer, had begun to co-operate with Standard-Triumph to produce a new type of larger car. Triumph was to manufacture the mechanical parts, and Saab would be responsible for the coachwork assembly in Sweden. This was the first public acknowledgement of the deal between Saab and Standard-Triumph.
Rover management urges calm and patience
In December, after a dire 1964 in which Rover had been unable to manufacture the acclaimed P6 in both quality and quantity, William Martin-Hurst, Managing Director of the Rover Company, sent a Christmas message to employees urging them to show patience, and not to withdraw their labour unconstitutionally. He pointed out that the firm’s financial year, which ended on 1 August 1964, showed a record for sales and turnover. William Martin-Hurst announced that a new assembly line, increasing Land- Rover output by nearly a quarter, had recently come into operation and was the first stage of a long-term Land Rover expansion programme.
‘The Rover Company is only capable of developing one basic car at a time… ‘ – Spen King
With the early production problems of the P6 being resolved, Rover could now look seriously at new models. Spen King, in charge of new vehicle projects, circulated a five-page brochure, with mention of P6, P7 and Rover P8 models.
Spen King on Rover’s future
In the brochure King stated: ‘The Rover Company is only capable of developing one basic car at a time… A cycle time of approximately five years is required for a vehicle of new conception… It would be possible to engineer a P6 size as well as a P5 size.
‘But it follows that each size of vehicle could only be renewed at 10-year intervals… The company could be placed in the position of having a first-class prestige car, if P5 was replaced first, accompanied by an outmoded and dated smaller model.
‘If the company adopted the policy of concentrating on one single basic model of car, the disadvantage of the 10-year replacement cycle would then disappear.’ The basic philosophy was that the next Rover model, the P8, would replace both the P5 and P6.