History : The Rover Triumph Story – Part Sixteen : 1974

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 sixteenth part, he tells the story of how the Government bail-out affected Rover Triumph, and how a massive crisis was averted. But for how long?

The Rover and Triumph story: bust!

New Year’s Day 1974 dawned and so did the Three-Day Week. Lord Stokes, the Chairman of British Leyland, appealed to his 170,000 United Kingdom employees to work with the management to pull the company through what was branded in some quarters the worst industrial crisis Britain had faced for nearly half a century.

Despite this, British Leyland would still go ahead with its planned investment programme over the next five years, calling for capital expenditure of between £400 and £500 million.

British Leyland was now facing a new challenge from shop floor representatives in its 56 plants up and down the country. This followed demands by the unofficial, but powerful British Leyland (Motor Corporation Combined) Trade Union Committee for full five-day week earnings in spite of the fact that only three days a week were being worked.

Rover SD1 pre-production delayed

In February, Rover Triumph decided to postpone SD1 pre-production until mid-November 1974 and engineering sign off to the end of September 1974. This was a portent of things to come…

On 4 February, the National Union of Mineworkers decided to escalate their overtime ban to an all out strike beginning six days later. British Leyland was now reported to be losing £3 million a week because of the power crisis. On 7 February, Prime Minister Edward Heath called a snap General Election to be held on 28 February over who ruled Britain, the Government or the Trade Unions.

For British Leyland the result of the snap General Election was an unedifying choice between the Conservative Government and its ruinous Three-Day Week or the opposition Labour Party, which had moved to the left, and promised more nationalisation and employee protection. Lord Stokes was convinced that Labour’s Tony Benn, who co-wrote the party’s interventionist manifesto, had British Leyland in his sights. Meanwhile, Lord Stokes had to admit that his company could not make profits while working at only 60 per cent capacity in three-day-week Britain.

Rover Triumph boss talks quality…

In mid-February 1974 Motor magazine interviewed the Managing Director of Rover Triumph, Bernard Jackman. Bernard Jackman was a stickler for high quality. He said: ‘There was a tendency at one time for production and manufacturing considerations at Rover to override quality and things that we would stop going out now used to get out, but we have really clamped down on that over the past few years and stopped it.

‘We get rogue cars going out of course, everyone does, but we have a good reputation for quality… But we are not home and dry on this quality thing by any means. It is a constant battle, and rightly so for otherwise people get complacent and standards start to slip.

‘Quality and design are a completely integrated thing. If you have a poor design, no matter what you do on the line or how good your facilities are you will still turn out a poor product. It is not possible for fellows on the assembly line to make good the deficiencies of bad design.’

Jackman: ‘quality begins in engineering’

Bernard Jackman
Bernard Jackman

‘In the Rover organisation as a whole quality therefore begins in engineering. They do try very hard to give us the ability to produce a satisfactory job, and the facilities people try to make it almost impossible for an operator to do a job incorrectly. And in all our machining areas we build a lot of monitoring equipment into the plant that switches it off if things aren’t dimensionally correct.”

Rover Triumph had an enormous expansion programme over the next four years. The plan was to spend about £200 million on Rover Triumph, around £50 million a year.

‘By 1978 we are due to be producing about 470,000 vehicles a year, compared with around 230,000 we built in 1973. If the present industrial crisis goes on for some time, obviously we’ll have to stretch our capital spending over six years instead of four to four and-a-half years, because the money won’t be there in the quantity I have been talking about.

‘But expand we shall. I am determined that when another upturn in sales comes in a years or twos time, when Britain should be in a much better position than we are now for energy, we shall not at that time be caught without an outstanding range of models to sell, or without the means to build them in quantity. We are very flattered at Rover Triumph that the British Leyland Corporation have the confidence in us to invest this amount of money. Certainly, they have given us a far bigger share of the total cake than I dared hoped for a couple of years ago.’

New factory in Solihull takes shape

In 1974 Rover Triumph had about 14 plants in different locations, which involved a lot of transport. Solihull was the only plant in Rover Triumph where there was sufficient land to put the new million square feet assembly complex.

Bernard Jackman was proud of what was coming: ‘It is wonderful to begin in a greenfield site with a new assembly plant and a new paint shop, and we are determined it is going to be the best for our size of output. When the new plant comes into operation, we shall stop making cars in the north factory and move to these Range Rover assembly and some Land Rover operations which will give us the elbow room to put up Land Rover and Range Rover production very considerably.’

Other future plans included a new Rover Triumph Engineering Centre. In 1974, the Engineers were split between the Rover plant at Solihull and the Triumph plant at Coventry but, some time within the next three years, it was hoped to build a common engineering centre away from the manufacturing plants so that the people concentrating on future models were not continually interrupted by production problems on current models. Ideally, the new centre would have its own test track.

Centrally located in Coventry and Solihull

The Rover Triumph sales organisation was concentrated at Coventry under Sales Director John Carpenter and most of the planning departments were at Solihull. ‘But, in the long term, I want to get the top admin, the functional Directors and people of this sort all here at Solihull, either in this block or in one we may have to build,’ said Jackman.

Bernard Jackman spent three days a week at Solihull and two at Coventry, ‘which isn’t a very tidy arrangement.’

He arrived at his office at about 7.50 am and left at about 6.30 pm. He lived at Wellesbourne, near Stratford-upon-Avon. He said Rover Triumph looked like having a difficult 1974. He did not see how anyone could make money out of a three-day week, but even without the Heath/miners stand-off, the immense sums being spent on expansion would have an effect on profit figures.

Hopes resting on the SD1 and SD2

Jackman added: ‘If we can get our new models out despite the Energy Crisis and the fuel economy drive we are really sitting on a pot of gold. We have got the right range of models in Rover Triumph, the best range in any sector of the corporation. Austin Morris have much bigger outputs, but they cannot command the profit margins on their low-priced cars that we can on a more specialist grade of car.

‘The opportunities are there if only I can persuade everybody, particularly those on the shop floor, that it is right and proper to stay at work. I see it as my job to make sure that there is no failure in communications. Product policy for the future, the vehicles you design and the associated problems are relatively easy to control for you are dealing with inanimate things, but people are a totally different subject.

‘They are unpredictable. But I think the important thing is confidence. Everybody has got to feel that they are being told the truth, that they are not being conned and there is no ulterior motive. If I can’t succeed with that sort of philosophy then I don’t think anybody else can.’

Political turmoil in Britain

The General Election resulted in a hung Parliament. The incumbent Conservative Government of Edward Heath polled the most votes by a small margin, but the Tories were overtaken in terms of Commons seats by Harold Wilson’s Labour Party due to the decision by Ulster Unionist MPs not to take the Conservative whip.

While the politicians scrambled to try and form a working Government, the Three-Day Week continued its financially destructive path. Although British Leyland had liquid assets of some £50 million at the end of 1972-73, John Barber, the corporation’s Managing Director, had admitted that liquidity had deteriorated since the year-end under the impact of the Three-Day Week.

British Leyland’s plants in Britain were now working at more than 60 per cent capacity. BLMC could not make profits at this level of production. Some analysts believed the group had been losing £10 million a month since the Three-Day Week had begun.

A new month and a new Prime Minister

On 4 March, Edward Heath resigned as Prime Minister to be replaced by Harold Wilson as leader of a minority Labour Government. The defeat of the Heath Government was later seen as a victory for the Trade Union movement, which had brought about political change through industrial action. Many voters probably simply wanted an end to the inconvenience of the Three-Day Week.

Whatever, the General Election exposed Britain as a deeply-divided nation. More often than not, the owner of a new Rover or Triumph was likely to have a completely different political outlook to the kind of person involved in its manufacture.

On 8 March, the new Labour Government settled with the miners and they returned to work bringing to an end the ruinous Three-Day Week. The man who resolved the dispute was the new Energy Secretary, Eric Varley. He became Harold Wilson’s new protege, replacing Tony Benn, who had re-invented himself as a radical left-winger after 1970.

British Leyland runs at a loss

On 1 May, British Leyland revealed its half-year financial results. This turned out to be £16.6 million loss, against a £22.8 million profit for the same period in 1973.

The whole of the interim loss was due to the Three-Day Week, with BLMC losing sales worth about £100 million or 100,000 units. Unit sales fell from 561,000 to 496,000 in the six months to March. Without this loss of production due to the Three-Day Week, BLMC had expected pre-tax profits in the opening six months to improve on the same period of the previous year, Lord Stokes said.

As for BLMC’s financial position, there had obviously been an outflow of cash during the Three-Day Week, but the group was well within its borrowing limits, Lord Stokes said. He said that BLMC would not be asking for any money from the new Government.

Massive investment cuts – but expansion continues

Despite the problems, BLMC was publicly bullish. The company was giving priority to the expansion of the profitable Rover Triumph executive and sports car division. In a major reassessment of their £500 million investment plans, a number of projects had been put back, but no less than £180 million had been earmarked for Rover Triumph over the next three years.

At Solihull work was well advanced on the first new car factory to be built by the group since its formation in 1968. It was hoped it would be in production by the autumn of 1975 and that similar expansion at Triumph Liverpool and Triumph Coventry would double Rover Triumph production from 5000 to 10,000 cars a week by 1977.

Bernard Jackman, Managing Director of Rover Triumph, said on 8 May: ‘On the Triumph scene some £30 million worth of expenditure is planned at Liverpool and supporting factories in Coventry. The whole of this sum has been committed and about half has already been spent. At Rover some £50 million worth of expansion is envisaged at Solihull and supply factories in Birmingham and Cardiff. The bulk of this money has already been committed, but only a relatively small amount has actually been spent at this point in time.’

Model plans curtailed to SD1, SD2, TR7 and Lynx

Triumph Lynx
Triumph Lynx

The media was told that the existing model line up was to be drastically reduced. By 1978, the intention was to have four basic models, two sports cars and two executive saloons with the usual variants. Although not revealed at the time, these were the Rover SD1, Triumph SD2, Triumph TR7/8 and Lynx coupe (above).

The labour force of 32,000 produced some 200,000 cars a year, although there was a nominal capacity for 280,000. The intention was to double production with a minimal addition to the payroll. It was expected that only 2000 more workers would be required for the new Rover factory at Solihull, which would have three assembly lines and a capacity of 3000 cars a week. Now the production capacity of the SD1 plant had been publicly increased from 2000 cars a week.

Although there was no official confirmation, the plan for Triumph seemed to call for the Coventry factories to concentrate on engines, gearboxes and saloons while complete sports cars would be assembled at Liverpool.

Rover Triumph becomes the primary money earner

Fears that demand for cars over 1.5-litres would fall sharply due to soaring petrol prices had not materialised. There was growing evidence to suggest that the Rover Triumph range of executive cars had benefited from a movement down the market from larger, high-powered prestige cars. Rover Triumph was already the biggest profit earners in British Leyland – some sources suggested that the company accounted for one third of group profits.

In May 1974, the Rover Triumph Advisory Board met. They were told that the Triumph slant-four engine was to be fitted to the SD2 hatchback project.

On 12 June, Harry Webster resigned from Austin Morris and British Leyland to join Automotive Products. The Austin Morris designs he had steered to production had spectacularly missed their sales targets, even during the ‘Barber Boom.’ In the first three months of 1974, the ADO67 Austin Allegro was Britain’s seventh best-selling car and not the expected chart topper.

Belgian plant closes

Then, on 28 June, British Leyland announced it was to close its small assembly plant employing 200 people at Malines, in Belgium, in December 1974. Malines had been producing a small number of Triumph Spitfires, and dated from independent Triumph days. But it was considered too small to be economic, the company stated.

In an interview published in June 1974 Rover Triumph’s Engineering Director, Spen King discussed the next Rover: ‘The next Rover model is very much a Rover car. It has been engineered by a Rover team and all the facilities to build it have been put in with a Rover background. It will be better than previous Rovers. A lot better, actually.’

He was referring to the SD1. He was asked if the role of Rover was to slot in between Triumph and Jaguar.

‘I don’t think it’s fair comment to say that Rover will be walking a narrow tight rope. Rover has got a function in its own right, to do things not merely to look impressive, but to provide refinement, reliability and satisfaction for the customer. Not to mention longevity. This in my opinion will succeed in satisfying a very real need. If Rover can meet it, they won’t be walking a tight rope, they’ll be on a ruddy super highway!’

Spen King: ‘there won’t be a big market for diesel cars’

Spen King (second from left) outlines the future Rover
Spen King (second from left) outlines the future Rover

Spen King was asked whether, with fuel being more expensive, he thought the turbo-supercharged diesel might possibly be the engine of the future? ‘I do not believe that there will be a big market for diesel cars. Our best petrol engines give results nearly as good as an ante-chamber diesel, and of course the petrol engine is so much lighter and cheaper for the power it gives.

‘Because it is that much heavier, it will have to be bigger to drag itself around, and then it will have to be bigger still to drag around the heavier suspension its weight will make necessary. Diesel engines are very suitable for low power-weight ratio vehicles where the engine weight isn’t a terribly significant part of the whole, but they are not suitable for car type power-weight ratios and for the sort of performance we have become used to. However, I think there is a place in the world for diesel-powered motor cars, but it’s a bit limited.

‘So far as fuel economy is concerned the transmission as well as the engine is vital. It is very desirable to run a petrol engine at its most effective condition, which means at relatively high bmep and low speed, and the secret of so doing is of course a suitable transmission. I think there is room for new sorts of superior and more economical automatic transmissions. You will eventually be able to have an automatic transmission which is not only automatic but is also more economical and gives you a better performance than any manual transmission. It will happen one day, I think.’

Future cars will be more aerodynamic

Had the drive for fuel economy made them more interested in the shape of a car from the aerodynamic point of view? ‘We always were very interested in the aerodynamics of a car, though I don’t think that external shape makes that much difference to wind noise. The real deciding factor on whether or not you have a quiet car is whether it is sealed properly. What produces bad wind noise is bad sealing. I’m not saying the shape doesn’t have something to do with it, but the shape has much less influence than whether or not you have any holes.

‘Good sealing is very dependent on body tolerances, the key to the whole thing being to make the bodies right relative to the doors, for unless the body is made accurately the seals won’t work. We specify the body tolerances and the door seal rates and all that sort of thing so that if the body is made correctly the seals will work.’

Spen King was also asked if Rover would be able to maintain their quality image as well as double their production in the near future. ‘I am quite sure that we can. For after all, the new plant has been built with that very end in view. Moreover, the cars will be made by the same people who are making them now.’

British Leyland discusses its finances

Cash-strapped British Leyland met its bankers in July to discuss a £150 million loan. Lord Stokes was summoned to see Tony Benn, the Secretary of State for Industry. Tony Benn said that he would not interfere with British Leyland provided its financial position was viable. However, he had wanted to be told if its investment position was threatened.

The Labour Party manifesto, co-written by Tony Benn, had stated: ‘Wherever we give direct aid to a company out of public funds we shall in return reserve the right to take a share of the ownership of the company.’

If British Leyland needed help it would give Tony Benn the excuse he needed to take over the company. At that month’s meeting of the Rover Triumph Advisory Board, the members were told that the Triumph slant-four engine had now been dropped for the SD2 project. It would be replaced by the Austin Morris O-Series engine, which was still under development.

The Advisory Board was told that the Triumph SD2 would be launched in October 1977.

Strikes paralyse British Leyland

The summer of 1974 saw British Leyland fighting for its survival against a wave of paralysing strikes. Some of the most damaging were in its Truck and Bus division, the one-time industrial powerhouse which had pushed Leyland to the forefront of the British motor industry. At the same time, desperate cost-cutting measures were instigated.

On 29 August, following the recent death of Bill Sanders, Director of Manufacturing for Rover Triumph, British Leyland announced some managerial moves. Richard Perry, Managing Director of the Austin Morris division was now appointed Deputy Managing Director of Rover Triumph.

‘I hope that some of the expertise of Lord Stokes and other senior members of British Leyland has rubbed off on me.’ – Keith Hopkins

Richard Perry was an ex-BMC apprentice. His successor at Austin Morris would be 44-year old Keith Hopkins, who had been the Head of British Leyland’s Public Relations Department since 1968.

Keith Hopkins said: ‘Public relations is as wide and all embracing as top management allow it to be. I have been fortunate in that I have been close to Lord Stokes for the past 12 years, and have been involved in every aspect of the motor business. So, the sort of work I shall now be undertaking will not be such a big break as it would seem on the surface. I hope that some of the expertise of Lord Stokes and other senior members of British Leyland has rubbed off on me.’

This appointment was perhaps the zenith of Keith Hopkins career in the motor industry. It also took him out of his comfort zone as Lord Stokes’ spin doctor.

Triumph SD2 takes shape

On 16 September, BLMC had a Product Planning Meeting. One of the matters discussed was the Triumph SD2. Continuing evaluation of the programme and its implications came to a head when the Director of Product Planning, John Bacchus, held a meeting of the management team behind the SD2 in order to address the fact that it looked like the car would not return a favourable profit.

The idea was to continue with the SD2 but, wherever possible, make as many savings as possible, the engine choice was fixed with twin-carburettor versions of the O-Series engine and, after much deliberation on the matter of the gearbox, the plan was to use the 77mm gearbox (LT77) as used in the SD1. Production targets were also dropped in order to give Rover Triumph the option of selling the car for more, thus raising its profitability.

The Rover Triumph Advisory Board appears to have met soon after this. Staff Finance Director Christopher J. Peyton, who joined Rover in 1960, stated that ‘SD2 was meeting some opposition in finance areas as the return was not considered adequate. A reappraisal was being carried out.’ The scheme was expected to ‘probably cost in the order of £20 million.’

Out of this figure, some £1.5 million was to be earmarked for the development of the O-Series engine.

Stokes maintains BLMC is not in trouble

Meanwhile, Lord Stokes publicly denied that British Leyland was to seek Government aid. Behind the scenes, Finance Director Alex Park told the Board that British Leyland needed to find another £70 million in working capital.

On 10 October, the second of the year’s two General Elections took place. Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, having taken power in a hung parliament after the February election, returned to the polls and won a tiny majority of three. This was more than enough to convince many in the labour movement that Harold Wilson had a convincing mandate to turn Britain into a full-blown socialist state. This aspiration would soon clash head on with economic reality.

At the Motor Show, Lord Stokes tried to remain upbeat. ‘We are still a bloody good country with some bloody good Engineers… I do not understand what has become an almost hypnotic death wish in this country. Speculation, not only about our company but many others equally important to the national economy, causes unrest and demoralisation at work as well as doing untold damage by eroding confidence in British products overseas.

‘It must make our overseas competitors jump with joy… There has been too much talk of conflict between Government, industry and Trade Unions. I believe that we are all on the same side and the sooner everybody realises this the better.’

Triumph SD2 begins to hit the skids

Triumph SD2

Unfortunately, in the class-war ridden Britain of 1974 many people saw Lord Stokes and his ilk as the enemy and not the now cheaper imported vehicles coming in from EEC countries.

At the October meeting of the Rover Triumph Advisory Board the indecision about what engine the Triumph SD2 would use continued. The Triumph slant-four was now back in the frame with Rover Triumph Chairman Bernard Jackman stating: ‘Slant-four is a very economical engine and we need as many as possible in our products in the future.’

The conundrum confronting British Leyland was that the Triumph slant-four engine was not really suitable for transverse front-wheel drive applications, so its use to the Austin Morris division was minimal, hence the need for the new O-Series. But the slant-four was already in production with both Triumph and Saab and therefore available, which could not be said of the O-Series, which did not finally appear until 1978 and was less than perfect.

Triumph comes to a standstill

Then, on 11 November at the Triumph plant in Coventry, all production was halted by a strike of 42 control room operators who were demanding an interim pay increase. Another 3000 production workers were laid off. Ten days later paint shop men at Speke were out on strike. There was a return to work at both Coventry and Speke on 25 November, but a second dispute soon erupted as a consequence of the first.

The main Triumph car plant in Coventry was brought to a standstill within 24 hours of reopening, after the two-week shutdown because of a strike by 1000 assembly line workers over a demand for lay off pay. Production was also badly hit at the company’s car assembly plant in Liverpool and, in all, nearly 9000 workers were once more idle, either because they were directly involved in strike action or had been laid off.

The complete shutdown halted production of the entire Triumph range, apart from the Toledo cars, which were still being made at Liverpool.

Wage cuts hit home

Assembly line men, who were picketing the Canley plant, were demanding payment for the time they lost through lay-off. Eddie McGarry, Chairman of the Joint Shop Stewards’ Committee at Rover Triumph, said that the stand being taken by the assembly men had the full support of other workers.

He said: ‘Workers who should have been earning about £55 a week have had their average earnings reduced to between £34 and £38 a week for the whole of last year, because of continuous lay-offs. It is always the track workers who are hit most, because they are right at the end of the assembly line.’

On 27 November the Rover Triumph Advisory Board met. While Eddie McGarry and his cronies were trying to sabotage Triumph, others were trying to plan for the future. Project Bullet, also known as the Triumph TR7, was about to be launched in the USA in January 1975 with the first customer deliveries planned for April. The Triumph strike had thrown a spanner in the works.

Triumph TR7 suffers shoddy pre-prod build

Deputy Managing Director Richard Perry told the Advisory Board that, ‘…the first four Bullets destined for the USA were ready but trapped at Canley by the dispute.’ He was endeavouring to get them released. Build had been stopped for three weeks to allow production problems to be overcome. People were being sent to Liverpool to assist and organise a rectification area.

‘Production was due to re-start today but have to end on Friday due to the dispute at Canley. Mr Bacon said that emissions testing could be done at Solihull if necessary. Mr (Bernard) Jackman said that although it appeared the US launch vehicles would be ready on time, the back up programme may need revision if the strike continued.’

Rover Triumph was in a race against time. Pilot Build and Pre-Production had resulted in there being around 120 TR7s in existence, but Quality Control had identified around 300 technical faults with the car. It took on average 20 hours to rectify each car. Triumph Technical Director John Lloyd stated that forty crucial design modifications were needed. In the end, there were 1300 design changes in three weeks!

Easy come, easy go…

The car would be initially launched with the four-speed Triumph-derived gearbox used in the Morris Marina, not the under development LT77 five speeder.

On 29 November the Triumph Spitfire 1500 (above) was announced, even if it was not actually in production. On 3 December the Rover Triumph Advisory Board met again. The Advisory Board met to hear of BLMC’s ‘critical cash flow position.’

All corporate expenditure was frozen while ‘drastic economies’ were necessary to ‘improve liquidity.’

6 December 1974: BLMC needs bailing out

On 6 December 1974 Tony Benn, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, announced that British Leyland had come to the Government for aid and that a committee headed by Sir Don Ryder would investigate the company’s prospects. Tony Benn now had his opportunity to bring British Leyland into the public sector.

Eddie McGarry of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, the Convener at Rover-Triumph and Joint Chairman of the British Leyland (Motor Corporation Combined) Trade Union Committee (BLTUC), said that, if the public was going to have a financial stake in British Leyland, there must not only be public accountability, but ‘practical Trade Union representation on the Board’.

‘We will insist on direct representation. Otherwise, you are not changing anything. British Leyland’s difficulties over strikes pale into insignificance besides the business arrangements for running the concern.’

He said that with such union representation many disputes, like the one on lay-off pay which had made Triumph workers idle, would not happen. He was delighted with the move towards state participation. ‘It is in line with our policy and with Labour Party policies for saving and creating jobs’, he said.

And still they strike…

Triumph at Canley had now been strikebound for two weeks over lay off pay with 11,000 workers laid off. On the picket line Finisher Bill Holder said: ‘I would sooner see the firm go under and the Government take over than the men give in. It’s a fight to the finish.’

Even union leaders condemned the dispute, which had caused £17 million production losses. ‘It is totally unnecessary and counter-productive,’ said Bob Wright of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers.

The Triumph strike threatened to derail the launch of the TR7 in the United States in the New Year. Minutes from the Rover Triumph Advisory Board meeting held on 10 December stated: ‘Bullets that had been prepared for the American technical press, these cars are confined to the Canley factory due to the strike.’

Rover Triumph Chairman Bernard Jackman added that the Leonia team should, ‘be approached to ascertain the deadline by which the cars could be flown out. It may be possible to bring one or two others up to the required standard using Solihull labour.’

The Triumph strike was not resolved until 17 December. In total Triumph had been strikebound for five weeks since 11 November.

Quality image? What quality image?

Triumph would find it hard to maintain a quality image against the prevailing wind when clearly many of its own employees couldn’t care less about the company. And with inflation on the up, it averaged 16.0 per cent in 1974, up from 9.2 per cent in 1973, trying to motivate employees who were struggling to make ends meet was proving difficult.

On 23 December, the Rover Triumph Advisory Board met again. The Minutes recorded: ’34 Cars will be provided for press launch thanks to a splendid performance on the part of Quality Control.’

Much has been written about why British Leyland went to the Government for aid in December 1974, but the main reason was the Three-Day Week earlier in the year. Operating at only 60 per cent capacity, British Leyland simply ran out of money and this enabled the Government and its armchair experts to obtain de-facto control of the company.

Back to History : The Rover Triumph Story – Part Fifteen : 1973

Forward to History : The Rover Triumph Story – Part Seventeen : 1975

Ian Nicholls
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  1. Interesting the Triumph slant-four engine was not really suitable for transverse front wheel drive drive applications, heard Saab had to modify their version of the slant-four engine to fit into the Saab 9000 and Saab 900 NG.

    Also if Spen King said there would not be a big market for diesels, one has to wonder why the PE166 was developed with scope for dieselization from the very beginning.

    • @ Julian: My thoughts exactly. And that’s only regarding what was supposed to be the better part of BL…

      @ Nate: Find it hard to believe though that those modifications to the Slant Four would have cost more than developing a nearly new O-series engine.
      Would you know about the Slant Four’s production costs? I imagine recouping the fixed costs was expensive because of relatively low production numbers, but any ideas on the costs of actually producing Slant Fours?

      • Cannot really say though David Knowles book on the TR7 notes the O-Series cost £85 at the end of the engine production line, whereas the Slant-Four cost £170 in 8-valve form and over £240+ in 16-valve form.

        However the costs of the O-Series were based on a production level of 22.000 units a week, though there are doubts the production levels reached more then 6000 a week in reality. That said by the time the Dolomite was discontinued (leaving only the TR7 to continue using the Slant-Four), production levels of the Slant-Four was down to an uneconomic 300 units per week.

        Additionally the O-Series would go on to spawn diesel variants from Perkins, L-Series and the stillborn G-Series, not to mention the related Td5 (along with the unrealised 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder Td5 / Project Storm variants). Whereas the Slant-Four has not displayed any similar scope for dieselization, nor is it known whether Saab itself ever investigated a diesel Slant-Four.

        Worth considering though that while Saab was a small carmaker, it did at least have some cash available to make the modifications to fit their Slant-Four transversely into the Saab 900 yet the latter was still a wide car. Apparently it was only they were acquired by GM that Saab further modified the Slant-Four to fit into the smaller Cavalier-based Saab 900 NG.

        Found a decade plus old Saab thread that mentions Saab modifying their Slant-Four, though seem to recall other links bringing up this subject as well. – https://www.saabscene.com/forum/threads/79212-SAAB-curious

        • Tnx; I knew about David Knowles’ numbers, but indeed doubtful that those give a realistic comparison for reasons you mention. Good points about diesel versions and Saab using Slant Fours transverseley. Would be nice to know more about numbers on Slant Four, O- and E-series; probably very hard to get hold of by now, IF they have ever been available within BL then…

          • Indeed.

            One thing about the O-Series would be in spite of its initial flaws whether the production levels of 22.000 (or more) would have been achievable had it available in the likes of SD2 (as proposed in this article) and ADO77 (or TM1) as well as in the MGB and TR7, plus earlier versions of the Maestro and Montego.

            Sure the idea of using the O-Series would have been considered a somewhat of a humiliation for Triumph fans with a potential dent in prestige via a flawed mainstream engine (albeit arguably to a significantly lesser degree compared to the Triumph Acclaim), though to be fair they did at least have the satisfaction of seeing a Triumph engine power an MG Midget beforehand.

      • It just gets worse and worse, doesn’t it! think I’ll be hiding behind the sofa for the 1975 instalment at this rate.

      • Remember at the time all BL transverse engined cars used a gearbox in the sump arrangement. I suspect it was this that made the slant 4 unsuitable for FWD applications. In that respect given the slant 4 was considered a good engine and BL’s gear in sumps were poor, perhaps the money spent on O series would have been better spent on a proper FWD transaxle – surely better than spending money on an engine that isn’t needed to fit a gearbox that is rubbish!

  2. @ Nate, Spen King was probably right until the early eighties, when the few diesel cars on the road( mostly London taxis) were slow, very noisy and unpleasant to drive. Then, due to efforts by Peugeot with their excellent XUD and Ford and Vauxhall tapping into the market in the early eighties, diesel cars steadily improved in terms of refinement, performance and economy.

    • The question was insightful though – anticipating the Turbo Diesel as a mainstream engine around 15 years in advance. Sadly the response from BL’s Chief Leather patch man was predictable.

    • Spen King took a UK market view and applied it to the world, irony being that BL were to get good traction in the Italian market with the VM engined SD1. Sadly BL were to keep this attitude (partly under Honda influence) and so when they developed the K Series they did not consider the need for a diesel derivative.

      Always struck me as a rather bizarre decision, that when you had access to Honda power trains you as a European manufacturer decide to emulate their Honda own philosophy of what a super mini engine should be, rather than contrast it with a European philosophy and then buy in diesel engines from PSA.

      • Seem to recall the K-Series also being planned with a diesel variant (using a thin wall cast iron block designed to be machined on the same line as the petrol version) though along with the earlier 973cc 3-cylinder (with mention made of 660/800-1250cc 3-cylinders) and KV8, it seems doubts over costs and questions over whether sufficient demand for such variants existed (compared to buying the PSA TUD diesels) meant they never reached production.

        Then again Honda and other Japanese carmaker’s general bias against diesel may have also been a factor.

  3. Rover and Triumoh were probably the only parts of British Leyland that still maintained a repuation for making quality products, as Jaguar’s quality was tailing off with the Mark 2 XJ. The P6 and big Triumphs might have been getting on in years, but they were still well made and desirable cars for the time, and the Triumph Dolomite was a far nicer car to drive and better made than its stablemates from Austin Morris.

    • While that was the perception, I’m not sure it’s correct. Maxis for example were probably the best built cars from BL at the time and the old 1800/2200 were also well made. While the top end Dolomites were quick, and certainly better than a mariana,they were not prefect. They were really sporting salons and were a little cramped for most families, and not that economical to run. Lower down, while the dolomite still had a nicer cabin, I’m not sure that 1300, 1500 is actually a better car or nicer to drive than an Allegro. Or dare I suggest that much better made. I think I would rather have had an Allegro. I think you need to pitch a Dolomite 1500, an Allegro 1500 and Maxi 1500 against each other to find out.

      Actually you can see now how all these ranges actually made things more difficult. The Marina and Allegro should be worse than Dolomite because they were cheaper.

  4. What a fascinating but depressing series of articles these are. Especially when you you look at the rise of Audi and BMW in this era with the 80/100 and 3/5 series.

  5. Things could only get worse, as the quality of early TR7s and early SD1s was abysmal and the Dolomite began to look old fashioned and sales started to fall. By the late seventies, executive car buyers were just as likely to consider a Ford Granada, Volvo 240, Audi 100 or BMW 5 series over a Rover SD1. A shame, as in the early seventies, Rover and Triumph dominated this part of the market with cars that were, for the time, reliable and durable.

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