History : The Rover Triumph Story – Part Ten : 1968

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 tenth part, the Leyland Motor Corporation becomes bedfellows with British Motor Corporation to become the British Leyland Motor Corporation, thus forming the second-largest motor manufacturing group outside the United States and Britain’s fifth-biggest company by sales value.

The story of Rover and Triumph: becoming BLMC

On 18 November 1967, the British Government devalued the pound, and this made British exports cheaper. By November 1967 the Leyland Motor Corporation and British Motor Holdings were deeply embroiled in merger talks at the behest of the same British Government that had devalued Sterling.

The devaluation was important and benefited Leyland more than BMH, because a greater percentage of the truck men’s products went for export.

Four days later, Saab unveiled prototypes of the 99 saloon, nearly a year before it went into full production, along with the engine they had jointly developed with Standard-Triumph. It was a slant four-cylinder, overhead camshaft, alloy cylinder head engine of 1709cc.

The Ford men cometh…

On 13 December it was revealed that AEI Finance Director John Barber was joining the Leyland Motor Corporation in a similar capacity. He would be directly responsible to Sir Donald Stokes, the Chairman and Managing Director, for all the financial aspects of the group’s expanding activities at home and overseas.

Born on 22 April 1919, John Barber was rare among finance men in big industry in that he had no formal financial qualifications. The war interrupted his study of economics. In 1939, he joined an infantry brigade and became a Captain by the end of the war. Then he joined the Ministry of Supply, where he was appointed Principal in the Central Finance Department in 1955. His lack of financial qualification did not stand in his way when he joined Ford after seven years in the Civil Service.

He became Finance Director within six years of joining the company and was responsible for, among other things, founding the highly successful Ford Motor Credit Company. In 1965 he joined AEI as Finance Director. Two years later he led the fight to get the best deal for AEI shareholders in the GEC takeover.

John Barber soon became involved in the merger talks with BMH, but he would be a pivotal figure in the development of the Rover and Triumph brands. Walter Boardman, a Director of Standard-Triumph, would continue as Group Financial Accountant. Leyland soon recruited another ex-Ford man from AEI, Gerry Wright.

The BLMC merger is made public

It was on 17 January 1968 that the merger of the Leyland Motor Corporation and British Motor Holdings was announced. How much the Board’s of both Rover and Standard-Triumph knew of the progress of the merger talks is not known.

While the news was generally welcomed, a note of warning was struck by Hugh Scanlon, President of the AEUW. While he believed that the merger could lead to a strengthening of the British car industry, he hoped it would not result, as other industrial mergers had done, in a contraction of the labour force of the two companies. Hugh Scanlon had fired a verbal warning shot across the bows of the new BLMC vessel.

Both Rover and Triumph had played their part in part in pushing the Leyland share price higher than BMH’s, enabling the truck men to gain de-facto control of the new merged corporation.

In a difficult trading climate Standard-Triumph production had only declined by 0.88 per cent over the previous year, while that of Rover actually increased by 5 per cent. Rover P6 production increased by an incredible per cent. Even the much lauded Ford of Britain saw its total vehicle production slump by 10.9 per cent in 1967.

Rover and Triumph concentrate on sports cars

Rover-Triumph story 1968: The Rover P6 BS might have only been an experimental 'hack', but it pointed to an exciting future.
The Rover P6 BS might have only been an experimental ‘hack’, but it pointed to an exciting future

While Leyland and British Motor Holdings had second thoughts about the merger, before finally coming to a deal, business continued as usual. On 28 March Standard-Triumph completed X776, the first off-tools prototype TR6, styled by the German firm of Karmann.

The 30 March 1968 edition of Motor magazine featured a road test of a sports car that had an estimated top speed of 140mph and a 0-60mph time of 6.6 seconds, yet it was stated in the magazine that the car would not enter production and was experimental only.

This was the Rover P6BS, which the company had decided to reveal to the media. Quite what was to be gained by doing so is not known. Perhaps it was a public relations exercise to reinforce Rover’s high technology image? The demise of the P6BS has often been blamed on Sir William Lyons of Jaguar who allegedly saw it as an E-type rival, but the constituent companies of British Leyland had an excess of larger capacity sports cars such as the MGC, Triumph’s GT6, TR5 and, in the pipeline, the TR6 and Stag.

Getting down to business

The P6BS had been mooted as an Alvis, but there was one Alvis product that did make it into production because of Jaguar. In 1967 Alvis won a new Ministry of Defence contract for the development of a tracked reconnaissance vehicle, later known as the Scorpion and dubbed ‘the sports car tank’, because of its Jaguar XK engine. The CVR (T) family was in production from 1970-1996.

On 1 April, Sir Donald Stokes addressed BMH and Leyland executives. He was quoted as saying: ‘Your first and only loyalty is to British Leyland.’

The next day Standard-Triumph held a Board meeting. The Standard-Triumph Board were told that their ‘separate identities would be preserved.’

Standard-Triumph’s bearing on Austin Morris’s future vehicles

Harry Webster
Harry Webster was instructed to draw up a new Austin Morris model plan

In April, Harry Webster, the Technical Director of Standard-Triumph, was instructed to draw up a plan for BMC volume cars as rapidly as possible. This was a sign that Leyland saw Webster as the man to formulate Austin Morris policy and not the incumbent BMC Technical Director, Alec Issigonis.

At the Rover Triumph Home Sales Policy meeting, it was decided – sensibly – that Triumph would build quality cars up to 2000cc; the Rover P6 would remain as it was; and Jaguar would replace the Rover P5 and upwards. It appears that this information did not filter into the Boardrooms.

That conclusion is lent weight by the fact that, over in Solihull and at around the same time, the decision was made to continue with the design of the Rover P8 as a large, flagship car with a minimum engine size of 3.5-litres to directly replace the P5 – a contradiction of the results of the Home Sales Policy meeting.

Rover’s flagship gets Board’s seal of approval

How the Rover P8 looked just before production was cancelled in 1971.
How the Rover P8 looked just before production was cancelled in 1971

The encouragement to do so was said to have come from Sir Donald Stokes and John Barber. This seems an astonishing move in the light of future events. Jaguar was working on a new top-of-the-range saloon car, the XJ4, the prototype of which had first run in May 1966.

Jaguar had agreed to the BMC takeover in July 1966 in order to obtain the resources to put the XJ4 into production as the XJ6. However, from Leyland’s point of view, the decision to push ahead with the Rover P8 as a Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz rival, featuring the V8 engine, de Dion suspension and a projected top speed of 130mph, did have some logic.

The forthcoming Jaguar XJ4 was the Coventry firm’s second bite of the cherry in trying to create the world’s best saloon car.

Following up from an unsuccessful Jaguar

The first one had been the bulbous Jaguar MkX of 1961, which had morphed into the 420G. Production peaked at 6572 in 1963, but collapsed dramatically to 2458 in 1964. The introduction of the 4.2-litre XK engine boosted production to 3296 in 1965, but declined again to 2023 in 1966.

The MkX was Jaguar’s most up-to-date model but, after a promising start, it had flopped, selling less than the models it replaced. The company responded by producing the XJ16 420 as a stopgap, modernising the ageing S-type to produce the 420. Jaguar seemed to have reached a plateau in its fortunes, unable to progress further to take on the likes of Mercedes-Benz in the luxury car sector at a time of escalating development costs.

The new XJ4 would be considered a success if it sold 10,000 examples a year. The Le Mans-winning Jaguar brand might have been looked on with pride by most Britons but, in the all-important American market, it had a mixed reputation. A Jaguar might be able to attain 150mph, but could it travel 150 miles? On this basis there was plenty of room in the marketplace for the Rover P8.

Sir Donald Stokes was no fan of Jaguar’s quality control. In 2001 he said: ‘Bill Lyons was a marvellous chap, but the quality of Jaguars was so awful it was unbelievable.’

Stormy waters ahead for British Leyland

In early April 1968 the BBC’s Economics Editor, Graham Turner, had put out a television news report suggesting that BLMC was looking for 30,000 redundancies in two years. The source of this information was Leyland Finance Director John Barber, who chose manpower per car produced as the yardstick for assessing the efficiency of British Leyland.

Barber thought that in order to compete with its rivals, such rationalisation was imperative. He was not alone in this line of thought. Leyland Director Lewis Whyte and ex-Director Jim Slater thought that rationalisation was needed in the event of a merger.

After the story was broadcast, shop floor management at British Leyland plants had to reassure workers that reports of 30,000 redundancies in the new group during the next two years, were groundless.

Rowing back on what was said by Barber

Sir Donald Stokes said in response to the report: ‘It is going to take quite some time to interpret the studies and talking about closing factories and sacking people before we have even done that is stupid.’

In the 1980s Lord Stokes added: ‘We realised as soon as we took over that we needed a cutback of about 30,000, but it proved impossible. Just before we took over, GEC had taken over AEI and had a huge redundancy programme and, when we tried a similar programme, there was a tremendous resistance from the unions.’

Also he said that the GEC takeover of AEI and the resulting redundancy programme had, ‘created an absolute core of resistance among the trade unions to any job losses whatsoever and we just couldn’t face a strike because it would have resulted in an all out one. We had shareholders and we couldn’t take that strong a stand. You couldn’t go on with a public company resisting unions that were hell bent on confrontation in those days.’

The issue of redundancies would prove to be crucial in the weeks ahead.

A new Rover is born

On 17 April, the Rover P6B 3500 was announced. It was powered by the 3528cc V8 engine first seen in the P5B saloon announced the year before. At first the P6B was only available with automatic transmission. Even when mated to a three-speed automatic, the new 3500 model was good for 117mph and a 0-60mph time of 9.5 seconds, something it did with a degree of refinement. It enabled Rover to sell the P6B at a higher price than its four-cylinder cousin.

Rover Production Director Bernard Jackman was responsible for putting the V8 engine into production. Speaking in 1974 he said: ‘It was one of the smoothest jobs we ever had, for it was a brilliantly designed engine from a manufacturing point of view.’

He added: ‘Its assembly costs are much less than for the four-cylinder engine, and its material costs are not very much more. It was a bit of a squeeze to get the V8 into the 2000 frame, but because it was wide and short we could just do it, with a few modifications to the panels and a few bulges here and there in the underskin.’

For the time being the P6B would have to make do with automatic transmission until Rover could design a manual box capable of withstanding the V8’s torque. Curiously, despite the introduction of the V8 variant, P6 production dipped after the heights of 1967, not exceeding that years record until 1971.

The BLMC Combined Trade Union Committee is formed

On 1 May 1968 the British Leyland (Motor Corporation Combined) Trade Union Committee (BLTUC) was formed by 250 Shop Stewards’ Conveners representing the 80 factories run by British Motor Holdings and the Leyland Motor Corporation.

Joint Chairmen were elected: Dick Etheridge, the Convener of Shop Stewards at BMC’s Austin factory Longbridge, and Eddie McGarry from Leyland’s Standard-Triumph International plant at Coventry. Both men were Communists in an era of Cold War tension.

The plan was that the new body would meet once every six months, but domestic problems would still be left to the existing organisations in the separate factories or groups of factories. One of the intentions of the body was to swap details of piecework rates, wage drift and possible moves to change the use of factories.

A warning shot for Donald Stokes

This had been going on for several years within BMC and Jaguar, but now they were joined by Shop Stewards from the Leyland group. One of its first moves was to call for an early meeting with BLMC’s Chief Executive, Sir Donald Stokes, to discuss future plans.

Dick Etheridge said after the first meeting: ‘We do not want any change in the arrangement for the meeting with the BMC Shop Stewards. But we want Sir Donald to meet the Executive Committee of the new body to discuss his intentions with regard to reorganisation and rationalisation, which, already seems to have started.’

The meeting unanimously passed a resolution pledging an early show of the organization’s strength and insisted on some form of action, ‘that will have more than a salutary effect on the employers’.

Consultation needed

At the afternoon session, the meeting unanimously passed a resolution calling for full consultation on any plans for the movement of work from one factory to another. Dick Etheridge said: ‘Unless there is consultation and mutual agreement, then there will be no movement of work. If a factory refuses to have work moved away the question will be referred to the official trade union movement upon whom we shall call to put the matter in dispute.

‘We realise that there must be considerable change. We do not oppose change for the sake of opposing it, but we shall fight redundancies. It seems everybody is scared of Sir Donald Stokes, including the management. We are not.’

The BLTUC would prove to be a thorn in the side of management for many years to come, and something the armchair analysts had not taken into account when they prognosticated on how to manage the British-owned motor industry.

Stokes and his first meeting with the new Committee

Eight days later the Shop Stewards got their meeting with Sir Donald Stokes at Longbridge. In a 20-minute speech Sir Donald made no attempt to gloss over the basic truths of merging the two groups.

Afterwards he said: ‘I cannot discuss the contents of the meeting because this was confidential between the stewards and myself but I would like to say that I enjoyed the opportunity of having this first meeting at which there was a frank, sensible and constructive exchange of views on both sides.’

As expected, Dick Etheridge, the veteran Chief Shop Steward at Longbridge, put the union’s case for the earliest possible consultation before redundancies were announced. He stressed that the continuing uncertainty about their future employment was affecting morale throughout the group.

A no-punches-pulled question-and-answer session that followed made it abundantly clear to Sir Donald that, small or big, redundancies in BLMC plants would be fought tooth and nail.

The Specialist Car division is formed

Rover-Triumph story 1968: Donald Stokes at the helm

On 14 May 1968 the British Leyland Motor Corporation officially came into being. In the tightly controlled pattern set by American companies, such as General Motors, there were to be seven operating divisions, under Sir Donald Stokes (above) as Chief Executive, linked by a central staff division to provide special services for the whole organisation.

The divisions were:

  1. Volume Car and Light Commercial (BMC)
  2. Specialist Car (Jaguar, Rover and Triumph)
  3. Truck and Bus
  4. Pressed Steel Fisher
  5. Overseas
  6. General engineering and foundries
  7. Construction equipment

The Chairman was Sir George Harriman of BMC, but he had privately agreed to resign in the autumn in order to make way for Sir Donald Stokes.

Two key appointments were announced: Harry Webster, formerly Chief Engineer at Standard-Triumph, became Executive Chief Engineer of the volume car division; and Keith Hopkins became Director of Public Relations for the whole corporation. Also going to Longbridge was Standard-Triumph Engineer Ray Bates, who later led the team that developed the Austin Metro.

A new broom for Longbridge

In hindsight, Harry Webster’s stint at Longbridge was to prove unsatisfactory. While critics blamed Alec Issigonis for BMC’s problems, it was his innovative engineering that had made BMC’s family cars best sellers. In contrast, Harry Webster lacked the flair to build on this success. Yet Webster’s simple reliable engineering, aided by Michelotti’s styling, had enabled Standard-Triumph to punch above its weight.

With Harry Webster’s departure to Longbridge, Standard-Triumph seemed to lose the ability to design reliable cars. For public relations man Keith Hopkins, this was further promotion for garnering the Leyland Motor Corporation with such a positive public image, particularly during 1967.

On the question of redundancies, Sir Donald treaded cautiously: ‘What we are trying to do is to examine all the facilities and plant that we have. Obviously there is going to be some reshuffling and readjustment. But where we decide it will be necessary to do something or streamline anything, we will consult the people concerned in advance.’

BLMC’s policy of expansion takes shape

Donald Stokes said: ‘Obviously, we are going to do some streamlining, but it will involve nothing like the exaggerated figures which have been flying around and which have been very irresponsible.’

Stokes had now publicly committed himself to a policy of expansion in order to utilise British Leyland’s surplus labour force, but with the British car market having remained stagnant since 1965, such extra sales would have to come from exports.

‘Donald Stokes was in many ways too kind a man to have taken over BMH. What it needed was a really ruthless rationalisation.’ – John Barber

In the 1980s Stokes reiterated his philosophy: ‘I don’t like firing people. I hate it. I didn’t agree to the merger of the British motor industry to get rid of people. I thought that we were going to create jobs.’ Sir Donald Stokes then took a holiday, sailing in his yacht off the Spanish coast.

The shadow of redundancies continues to hover

However, the subject of mass redundancies refused to go away. Two days later the BLTUC met again. Afterwards, its two leaders, Eddie McGarry, Chief Convenor at Standard-Triumph and Dick Etheridge, Chief Convenor at Longbridge, issued an ultimatum to Sir Donald Stokes.

He said: ‘Meet us before our next committee meeting in three weeks’ time or take the consequences.’

And the consequences, according to Eddie McGarry, were, ‘as strong as possible’.

He also said: ‘You can place your own interpretation on our meaning. The men are in an ugly, apprehensive mood after all this talk about redundancies and if necessary we shall use whatever weapons are available to us. But, like Sir Donald, we are not going to tip our hand before the time comes to play it.’

Stokes caves in and keeps workforce numbers high

By 17 June, the BLTUC had decided not to persist in its challenge to Sir Donald Stokes to meet it to discuss his redundancy plans or face industrial action. Instead, the committee meeting decided to press Sir Donald and its own national officials to include local union officers and Shop Stewards in the redundancy and rationalisation talks scheduled to take place on 4 July.

This was effectively the end of the redundancy issue for a decade. Sir Donald Stokes had now baulked at the chance when challenged by the BLTUC. It was a fatal error…

BLMC Finance Director John Barber later said: ‘Looking back, Donald Stokes was in many ways too kind a man to have taken over BMH. What it needed was a really ruthless rationalisation – models, people, the lot. He tackled it the kind way, setting up working parties covering every aspect of the company. He tried to do it in a consensus way and, if you start off that way, you don’t get things achieved as rapidly as they are needed.’

It was at this point that British Leyland really needed someone of the calibre of Stanley Markland whom they had carelessly let go.

Too many cars, too many engines, too many factories

Although many thought a brutal rationalisation plan would fall on the BMC side of BLMC, there was plenty of scope for it in the newly-formed Specialist Car division. This was a division that comprised three marques that produced around 246,000 vehicles a year, including 44,900 Land Rovers, and manufactured engines in at least four different places.

Excluding diesels, it had a myriad number of engines available to it. In 1968 they were:

  • Triumph SC 1296cc OHV four-cylinder
  • Triumph/Saab 1709cc OHC slant-four-cylinder
  • Triumph 20S 1998cc OHV six-cylinder
  • Rover P6 1978cc OHC four-cylinder
  • Rover/Land Rover 2286cc OHV four-cylinder
  • Jaguar XK 2483cc DOHC six-cylinder
  • Triumph 20S 2498cc OHV six-cylinder
  • Daimler 2548cc OHV V8
  • Jaguar XK 2790cc DOHC six-cylinder
  • BMC C-series 2912cc OHV four-cylinder
  • Jaguar XK 3442cc DOHC six-cylinder
  • Rover 3528cc OHV V8
  • Jaguar XK 4235cc DOHC six-cylinder
  • Daimler 4561cc OHV V8

In addition to this already complex list, Jaguar was working on a 5343cc V12, and dithering over whether to go for a twin-cam or quad-cam layout. Also Jaguar was trying to develop a vibrationally-challenged 3.3-litre 60-degree V8 out of the V12 in order to utilise the same production tooling.

Trouble at Triumph

Rover-Triumph story 1968: Triumph Stag V8 engine
Triumph Stag V8 engine

Triumph was also testing a 2.5-litre V8 derived from the slant-four it was building for Saab. Harry Webster later said of the V8: ‘When I left we’d hardly even run one, and we certainly hadn’t put in the plant to make it.’

BMC also had the overhead camshaft E-Series engine in the pipeline, available as a four-cylinder 1485cc and 1748cc unit and, of more relevance to the Specialist Car division, a 2227cc six cylinder. The six-cylinder E-Series engine had first run in July 1966.

For most of the 1970s, Austin Morris would develop an overhead camshaft version of its venerable B-Series engine that evolved into the O-Series of 1978. Yet British Leyland already had two similar engines of around 2.0-litres on its formation.

The mess that wasn’t sorted

Thanks to new anti-pollution laws in the USA, car manufacturers were migrating to the more emissions-friendly overhead camshaft layout. This suggested that of these engines, only the Triumph/Saab slant-four, the Rover P6 2.0-litre, Triumph V8, Jaguar XK, BMC E-Series and Jaguar V12 had any real future, although it didn’t quite work out that way.

BMC had just completed the large Cofton Hackett plant adjacent to Longbridge to produce the E-Series engine in great volume – it had aspirations to produce 1.5 million vehicles by 1970, but that never materialised. With spare capacity there, British Leyland could have transferred some if not all of its Specialist Car division engine production there.

With Harry Webster dispatched to usurp Alec Issigonis’s role at BMC, Standard-Triumph needed a new Technical Director. Instead of promoting Webster’s deputy, John Lloyd, British Leyland selected Spen King, the head of Rover’s New Vehicles Project team. Spen King was summoned to the office of Rover Chairman George Farmer to find Sir Donald Stokes present – they offered him Webster’s old job with the instructions to start straight away.

Spen King moves to Canley

When Spen King got to Canley he discovered that Standard-Triumph had its own 2.5-litre V8 engine for the Stag project. He later told author Graham Robson: ‘I think they didn’t want it to fit, they wanted their own V8 engine. I don’t think they wanted the Rover to go in. Once I arrived, I didn’t even have the option to try.’

He also told AROnline’s Keith Adams: ‘I was told that they tried to put it in and you could not put it in and I believed them. I probably shouldn’t have believed it but, in any case, there were big investments, which had been recently made in both companies for making V8 engines. There wasn’t the capacity for stuffing them in Stags as well.

‘If you are organised to make something, you have got to have a go at the balance between capacity for making things and what they plan (probably dead wrongly because that’s what they normally get wrong more than anything else) is [intended to be the] amount of sales of any given future motor car. As planned, as I remember it, there wouldn’t have been the spare capacity for V8 engines from the Rover company to put into Stags. That was an extra thing that people forget about.’

The annual sales estimate for the Stag had been 12,000 units in July 1966.

The V8 production conundrum

Back in October 1967, The Times had been told that the Rover Acocks Green engine plant had a capacity of 700 cylinder blocks a week and this could be rapidly stepped up to over 1000. This was about 35,000-50,000 a year.

It is a moot point whether Acocks Green could have supplied both Rover and Triumph. Hindsight says it could, but the cancellation of projects designed to use the Rover V8 created that spare capacity. Spen King soon decided that the low speed torque from the 2.5-litre Triumph V8 was inadequate and ordered it to be increased to 3.0-litres.

One of the paradoxes about British Leyland was that, while its increasingly disaffected workforce only cared about what was in their pay packet, the senior Managers and Engineers behaved like its constituent companies were their own personal fiefdom, often effectively refusing to co-operate and share components in order to reduce costs. Capital was squandered on duplication, particularly in the engine field, and the worst offender was the Specialist Car division.

Management inadequacy at Specialist Car division

It was not helped by the fact that, although it was a division like Austin Morris, it had no overall boss. Instead, decisions were taken by the Specialist Car Division Advisory Board, which contained senior management from Jaguar, Rover and Triumph, including Sir Donald Stokes, who was on the Boards of all three companies. This committee met on a monthly basis.

While Jaguar, Rover and Triumph looked on in utter contempt at BMC, which they all thought was a basket case, Joe Edwards, the Managing Director of BMC since June 1966, had gone a long way to rationalising the corporation, but further progress had been stalled by the merger with Leyland.

Unable to work with Stokes, Edwards left the embryonic British Leyland leaving the task unfinished. Sir Donald Stokes was not only the Managing Director of British Leyland, he was on the Boards of both Rover and Triumph and, since June 1968, was also on the Board of Jaguar. Stokes was well aware of the duplication in projects yet failed to act, perhaps fearful of a response from the BLTUC.

Jaguar wielding too much influence?

Lofty England and William Lyons
Lofty England and William Lyons

In addition to this, Jaguar Chairman and founder Sir William Lyons, also BLMC Deputy Chairman, was guaranteed effective independence from the rest of the corporation, and would not countenance any interference with the running of Jaguar Cars.

Jaguar’s Managers and Engineers looked on in contempt at the other constituent companies of British Leyland, effectively refusing to cooperate with Rover and Triumph, which they viewed as producers of technically inferior cars. Jaguar were completely oblivious to the fact that their cars were from a production quality point of view, if not engineering, as bad as anything being produced by the British motor industry at the time.

Jaguar’s attempt to replace the XK engine with a 60-degree V8 derived from the V12 was allowed to last until August 1971. The idea that a rough-running V8 would be more suitable for a Jaguar because it was developed at Browns Lane rather than something from the British Leyland parts bin was ludicrous.

While the overhead valve Rover V8 might have been too agricultural for a car of Jaguar’s standing, the Triumph overhead cam V8 might have fitted the bill. Based on the Triumph slant-four’s capacities of 1709cc, 1854cc, and 1998cc, it could have been possible to create V8s of 3418cc, 3708cc and 3996cc and, with the later Dolomite Sprint 16-valve cylinder head, it was theoretically possible to create a potent engine.

However, Jaguar’s arrogant attitude to anything not conceived in Browns Lane thwarted any such thoughts.

Management changes at the top

On 4 July 1968, American Independence Day, Standard-Triumph completed the first pre-production TR6. In September, British Leyland announced a management re-shuffle that would be effective from 1 November. Chairman Sir George Harriman would retire to be replaced by Sir Donald Stokes, who became the new Chairman and Managing Director. At the same time, details were released of the men chosen by Sir Donald Stokes to hold key positions in his new team. It was obvious to observers that the new company was dominated by Leyland men.

Dr Albert Fogg, Leyland’s highly regarded technical expert, Jack Plane, a Leyland overseas specialist and George Turnbull, the 42-year-old Director and General Manager of Standard-Triumph, were appointed Deputy Managing Directors. John Barber continued as Director of Finance and Planning with Ron Lucas, formerly BMC Deputy Managing Director, with responsibility for financial matters, as Treasurer.

Sir William Lyons, Chairman of Jaguar, and Lewis Whyte, a Leyland Director, were appointed Deputy Chairmen of the group.

Further appointments

The corporation also announced the appointments of the management structure of the new operating divisions which would take effect from 1 November 1968. They were: Austin Morris division: Managing Director, George Turnbull and Specialist Car division: Chairman (Jaguar) Sir William Lyons, Chairman (Rover) Sir George Farmer, Director and General Manager (Triumph) Cliff Swindle.

Another Stokes protege was 43-year-old Ron Ellis, who took over the Truck and Bus division. His star had rocketed after he became assistant to the Sales Director, Stokes, in 1960. The most prominent of the former BMC men were John Lutyens, who continued to run the Pressed Steel Fisher division and Bill Davis, who became the sole Deputy Managing Director of Austin Morris.

With George Turnbull given the crucial job of running the Austin Morris division, his replacement was Cliff Swindle. Born in 1914 and educated in Coventry, Swindle had served an apprenticeship on Tyneside before joining Daimler in Coventry in 1936 then defecting to Standard in 1938. In 1964 he became Standard-Triumph General Works Manager and then Works Director a year later. His predecessor, George Turnbull, found himself working alongside former BMC Deputy Managing Director with responsibility for production, Bill Davis, at Austin Morris. It was a relationship that was to prove crucial for the future of Rover and Triumph.

The Trade Unions’ view of George Turnbull

Andy Boyle, Coventry District Secretary of the AEF and a former Convener at Standard-Triumph, said of their departing General Manager: ‘George Turnbull is an extremely efficient administrator who has earned the respect of trade unionists by his actions. He is always correct in his dealings. Not only does he know the book, but he gets on well with the shop floor. He is a firm believer in involving his Shop Stewards in the company’s long-term planning. I think his new appointment is a good one from our standpoint.’

Eddie McGarry, Chairman of the Shop Stewards’ Committee at Standard-Triumph and Joint Chairman of the unofficial British Leyland (Motor Corporation Combined) Trade Union Committee (BLTUC), said: ‘Turnbull is a shrewd operator who has earned his promotion. I suppose it could be called payment by results. When he took over Standard we were in a pretty poor way. Much of the subsequent success of the company is a direct result of Turnbull’s dealings with the unions. Make no mistake, he can be a hard man to deal with, but one you can respect.’

The final Triumph TR5/250 was built on 19 September. The first production TR6, a carburettor model, was built on the same day.

Jaguar’s world-beater unveiled

On 26 September, Jaguar announced the XJ4 project as the XJ6 saloon. The acclaim was overwhelming in its praise for the new car and a waiting list soon built up. This did not stop Rover from continuing its P8 project, with approval for full-size clay styling models being given in the autumn of 1968 as the XJ6 was being launched.

That October Standard-Triumph announced a new top of the range derivative of the 2000 saloon. This was the 2.5PI which used a de-tuned 132bhp version of the fuel-injected engine first seen in the TR5 sports car. The 2.5 PI was not as fast as the rival P6B Rover 3500, but it was available with manual transmission and optional overdrive. Then, on 28 November, the first petrol injection Triumph TR6 was built.

On 18 December senior Rover executives met to discuss the ‘100 inch Station Wagon’. The meeting was chaired by the Sales Director, John Carpenter.

Range Rover moves forward

By now the options of automatic transmission and optional two-wheel drive had been abandoned as had the proposal to use the P6 saloon 1978cc engine. Now the smaller-engined model would use the 2286cc Land Rover engine.

It had been decided that the ‘100 inch Station Wagon’ would only be launched as a two-door model, much to the Sales Department’s regret. The reasoning behind this appears to have been a fear of escalating costs inflating the showroom price.

There were clearly some concerns within Rover that this new concept in motoring might not take off. It was hoped to announce the new model at the Geneva Motor Show in April 1970 and that it would have a production of eight years. It was at this meeting that the name for the ‘100 inch Station Wagon’ was decided on.

The minutes recorded: ‘Mr Carpenter said there were two schools of thought. The first was that the twenty years of goodwill surrounding the name “Land Rover” should not be discarded, while the second regarded the vehicle as a completely new concept which should be promoted as such. Both Sales and Engineering supported the second school and generally agreed that “Range Rover” would be a suitable name.’

It is said that the name Range Rover was conceived by Tony Poole, who worked in the Rover Styling Department headed by David Bache.

Poor communications

Interestingly enough, neither the Rover Chairman Sir George Farmer, Managing Director William Martin-Hurst, General Manager A.B. Smith and Production Director Bernard Jackman attended. They were informed of the decision via copies of the Minutes.

By now there were two prototype 100 inch Station Wagons on the road, the second, registered as ULH696F, had been built in May 1968. Both these prototypes had used the existing 76 mm Land Rover gearbox which had first appeared in 1932 for saloon car use. Rover knew that these transmissions were not strong enough for sustained use with the V8 engine, so asked the Transmissions Department led by Frank Shaw if they could help.

The department was already working on a new transmission for the V8 engine anyway. Rover were developing a Forward Control Land Rover, complete with V8 engine, as a gun tractor for military use. Production of this vehicle, not intended for sale to the general public, did not start until 1972. The new transmission, known as the LT95 (Leyland Transmission) would make its debut on the Range Rover in 1970 and survive in use until 1983.

Industrial relations problems on the horizon

However, industrial relations were going downhill in the British motor industry. The British motor manufacturers had begun 1968 with high expectations. Devaluation of Sterling had given them the edge on export prices they had sought for so long, particularly on the Continent to become sufficiently competitive to mount a real drive in the world’s fastest-growing car market.

But right from the beginning of the year they had been hit by a disastrous series of strikes at the plants of key component suppliers. The first to bring the industry to its knees was Automotive Products of Leamington Spa, which supplied 90 per cent of the clutches and 50 per cent of the brakes. This dispute seriously affected production at a time when every effort was being made to meet booming export orders.

A strike at Girling plants left half the industry short of brakes and caused wholesale shutdowns. Before that was settled trouble broke out at the Birmingham plants of Joseph Lucas, which supplied 90 per cent of the industries electrical components.

The American Time magazine reported that British Ford’s General Manager, William Batty, had claimed Britain was committing ‘industrial suicide.’ A rash of strikes had wiped out the competitive advantages of the devaluation of sterling, holding vehicle exports to a meagre 20 per cent increase over 1967, far from the hoped-for 35 per cent.

Back to History : The Rover Triumph Story – Part Nine : 1967

Forward to History : The Rover Triumph Story – Part Eleven : 1969

Ian Nicholls
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  1. How different for Rover would it have been if the P8 had gone ahead to replace the P5,alongside the P6?

  2. Read the P8 was planned to be a much more sophisticated offering with the Rover V8 or a new design on the same tooling featuring fuel-injection, quad-cams and 32-valves as on the 2.2 4-cylinder planned for the P10 project.

    Further involvement with Saab on the Triumph Slant-Four via the H engine would have allowed for 2119cc and 2290cc Slant-Four variants, which would translate to V8 engines displacing 4238cc and 4580cc with potential for further stretch to 5-litres via a 2500cc Slant-Four as well as a 3200cc V8 via a 1600cc Slant-Four.

    Alvis Scorpion would have been a nice name for a production Rover P6BS / P9.

    Jaguar missed a trick in not developing the 4-cylinder XK engine early on to later develop a V8 out of a pair of XK 4-cylinder blocks. Interested to know more about the Coventry Climax CFF/CFA V8 engines as well as the Jaguar XJ Junior project.

    Cannot help but think Rover should have made the Range Rover a 5-door from the outset, while developing a smaller SWB 3-door model with optional 2WD powered by P6-based 4/5-cylinder engines akin to the early SWB Mercedes-Benz G-Class.

    Is it known whether Land Rover looked at developing dieselized versions of the P6 OHC engines as the diesel engines of that period were said to have been based on an older design?

    • If Stokes had a back bone maybe a lot of the issues at BL would have been sorted. Not standing up to the unions, and then hitting heads with the specialist division was probably the biggest errors. The PB6S could have been a ready made replacement for the E Type, while the engine geniuses as Jaguar could have taken Triumphs slant 4 and V8 and made them even better.

  3. On a purely visual level, it’s a good thing the P8 was never put on the market. Even allowing for the passing of time, and different ideas of what looked good, I still think it looks hideous.

  4. The Jaguar XJ6 moved the luxury car forwards. Rover might have introduced the V8 version of the P6 in 1968, which was an extremely good car, but it couldn’t match a 4.2 XJ6 in terms of refinement, ride quality and image. Also Rover wasn’t that successful internationally, being seen mostly as a British brand, whereas Jaguar had a huge following in America.

    • Well put Glenn. Rover was virtually unknown outside of the UK, especially in the huge US market. When Rover was pushed into the US with SD1, the hopeless product caused so much damage to the brand that the name had to be abandoned. A new marque – Sterling – had to be created to market the 800 there.

      • Rover tried the American market with the P6, but sales never really caught on.

        Some of the over-produced US spec bodyshells were used for special editions elsewhere.

        • Actually Rover had been slowly increasing their presence in the USA, slowly ramping up the number of dealers. After the merger, many of these dealers were dropped, as was typically the Rover branding in the new merged dealers. The new signage tended to say British Leyland, MG, Triumph, Austin LandRover with Jaguar dealers often remaining separate. If you stop ‘selling’ the car, you’re hardly going to sell any. As it was, at about 2500 sales per year, more than 20,000 P6s were sold in the US, more than Jaguar sold of their slightly larger Mk2 over the same time.

      • Rover mostly did well in Commonwealth countries, but had limited presence in Europe and was almost unknown in America. The SD1 was supposed to remedy this, as it was an exciting European inspired design, and for a time sales were healthy in continental Europe until reliability issues put buyers off.

  5. “BMC also had the overhead camshaft E-Series engine in the pipeline, available as a four cylinder 1485cc and 1748cc unit and of more relevance to the Specialist Car Division”

    As I have understood it the E was at this time limited to 1500, it was stretched to 1750 as an afterthought due to the Maxi’s poor performance. The resulting engine with its compromised architecture was thus of mediocre performance, which was why the B series was favored for the Princess and the B was further developed into the O Series and beyond.

  6. “Harry Webster later said of the V8: ‘When I left we’d hardly even run one, and we certainly hadn’t put in the plant to make it.”

    Harry Webster frequently gets blamed (as he does in Part Nine of this series) for pushing through the Triumph V8 and dictating its flawed architecture. However I do not believe that this fair treatment towards him, the time windows do not align.

    1: The V8 was first conceived as a 2.5 litre before the Rover / Leyland merger.

    2: By the time of the merger, Rover V8 manufacturing plant had been signed off with a capacity for Rover demand from P5, P6 and Range Rover etc.

    3: After Harry Websters departure to Longbridge, the decision to drop to planned Lucas Fuel Injection after it had proved troublesome led to Spen King increasing the bore as a quick and dirty way to increase its capacity to 3 Litre. This significantly reduced the coolant capacity of the engine, which proved to be a major contributing factor to its reliability.

    4: Because demand for the Range Rover was well ahead of expectations, Rover V8 production capacity was fully utilized in the early 70s. It could only have been considered for the Stag once the additional capacity became available from the investment made to increase Range Rover production and in preparation for the SD1.

    I believe if the question was asked by Donald Stokes if the Rover V8 could be used in the Stag, it was in the early 70s once the reliability issues with the Triumph engine had crystallized and it was now of a similar capacity. That question would then have been directed to Spen King and if it is true (and I very much doubt it) that it was said that it would not fit, it would have been said by Spen King.

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