History : The Rover Triumph Story – Part Twenty Two : 1980 to1986

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 twenty-second and final part, he recalls the death of Triumph, the triumphant final years of the Rover SD1 and reaching out to Honda.

The Rover and Triumph story: the setting sun

Triumph Broadside
Triumph Broadside

On 1 January 1980, Joe Farnham joined Rover Triumph as Director, Product Engineering, from Chrysler USA – presumably, he had been hired on the pretext that Rover Triumph actually had some products for him to engineer. It was an interesting time to join, because there did appear to be the bones of a Product Plan, going forwards.

Later that month, Rover Triumph came up with a new Product Plan which looked seven years into the future. With the MGB under sentence of death, it was planned to introduce a Triumph TR7/TR8 with a removable hardtop in the Spring of 1981. Alongside this would be a new model codenamed Boxer, which was based on the TR7 Convertible and designed to replace the MGB. Having realised the value of the MG brand, BL was now backpedalling to get a cheap-to-develop MGB replacement on the market.

Cheap-to-develop meant a budget of a mere £1 million. The new MG was to utilise the TR7’s platform and make its debut in October 1980. The rest of the new Product Plan looked like this:

  • In the Autumn of 1981, the TR7 and Boxer would appear with a twin-carburettor O-Series engine.
  • In the Spring of 1983, both the TR7 and Boxer would be replaced by a more fully-developed car codenamed Broadside.
  • In the Autumn of 1984, the Rover SD1 would be replaced by Project Bravo

On paper, the latter appears to have been a parts-bin special, with a Rover SD1 centre section, TR7 front suspension, SD1 back axle, 2.0-litre O-Series and 2.6-litre V6 engines. The V6 was intended as a cut-down Rover V8 engine. In the Autumn of 1985 this initial model would be joined by a V8 variant. Two years after this would see the demise of the Broadside sports car, and the Rover Triumph Product Planners speculated that they could develop a new sports car in collaboration with Honda.

Joe Farnham (below) would have his hands full, or so it seemed at the time.

Joe Farnham

Exciting plans ahead?

The problem with the Boxer was that all the concepts submitted looked like a badge-engineered TR7, which was exactly what it was. The longer-term MGB and TR7 replacement would be Project Broadside, which would use an amalgam of TR7 and Triumph Lynx parts. Two Lynx prototypes were cannibalised to create two Broadside prototypes, a convertible and coupe. The convertible was fitted with an O-Series engine, whilst the coupe was fitted with the Rover V8.

Sadly, on 23 January, Giovanni Michelotti, stylist of many classic Triumph cars died from skin cancer. He was 59 years old. His son Edgardo, now in charge of the family firm, submitted a design for the competition to design the Boxer MG project along with Triumph Engineering, BL Styling Services, Panther Westwinds and Cars and Concepts.

The 93-day saga that was the sacking of Derek Robinson, the Longbridge Convener and Chairman of the British Leyland (Motor Corporation Combined) Trade Union Committee (BLTUC) was played out in the full glare of the media. The sight of BL employees threatening to strike did nothing for BL Cars’ market share, which dropped to a miserable 15 per cent in January 1980.

The effects of the recession begin to bite

In February, the deepening recession resulted in a programme of lay-offs and redundancies throughout BL’s car and component factories. It would involve 21,000 workers, around 18 per cent of BL Cars’ workforce. The action had been forced upon BL by the sharp decline in its market share in January 1980 and a glut of unsold cars in dealers’ showrooms. It was estimated that stocks of BL cars around the country were sufficient to meet 16 weeks’ demand, against a normal stocking level of ten weeks.

BL said there were an estimated 80,000 vehicles lying unsold at its factories and showrooms. A ten-day strike by 70 gearbox assemblers at the Pengam, Cardiff, plant, which stopped production of Rover saloons at Solihull and TR7 sports cars at Coventry, was therefore completely pointless and counter productive.

Moving to Solihull and Cowley

BL Cars took advantage of the widespread lay-offs and shut-downs in its car assembly plants to speed up work to transfer the TR7 from Triumph Canley to Rover Solihull, and to switch production of the Rover SD1 body from Castle Bromwich to Cowley. The TR7 was being transferred from Canley to Rover’s modern assembly plant at Solihull, where it would be produced alongside the SD1. The Triumph Spitfire was in the final stages of its run-out at Canley, but the Dolomite would continue in production.

Work had begun on the TR7 switch, but there would not be a clean break. Production would continue at both plants for several months to ensure that TR7 dealers, particularly those in the United States, did not have to suffer another period without cars. BL had bitter memories of the havoc created in the American market by the nine-month break in TR7 production which followed the closure of the Speke plant in 1978, and the model’s move to Canley.

In February, Michelotti submitted its own proposal for the Broadside sports car (below) in the form of a full-size wooden model, but it went no further.

Michelotti’s take on the Broadside concept can be seen in this picture. The Italian styling house’s version was sleek and stylish on paper… (Picture supplied by Achim Küpper)
Michelotti’s take on the Broadside concept can be seen in this picture. The Italian styling house’s version was sleek and stylish on paper… (Picture supplied by Achim Küpper)

Things then went quiet on the planning for future sports cars as BL were hammered by the recession and Ford in the marketplace. In March 1980 the TR7 Convertible went on sale in the UK.

‘Buy British’ we’re urged as sales nosedive

On 31 March, 4000 employees Rover returned to work after an extensive lay-off to reduce unsold SD1 stocks. In January 1980, in reaction to its dive in car sales, BL Cars had launched its ‘Buy British’ marketing campaign which, after a poor January and February, produced record sales in March. However, the sales surge was achieved by heavy discounting. It was claimed that extensive discounting of the Rover SD1 increased sales to 3500 compared with 2000 in March 1979 – but how long had these cars sat out in the open, exposed to the elements?

Discounting to this extent over the previous three months was a desperation measure to be resorted to only when a company faced a cash flow crisis. Sir Michael Edwardes had admitted that maintaining an adequate cash flow was taking precedence over profit. The sale of cars such as Rover SD1s at £2000 below list price depressed the new and secondhand markets for these models for at least six months.

As well as the resumption of Rover SD1 assembly, production of the TR7 began on the same day at Solihull. It was being switched gradually from Triumph’s Coventry plant about four miles away and which was earmarked for closure as part of the recovery programme involving 13 other plants and 30,000 redundancies.

John Egan joins Jaguar as JRT is dissolved

In April 1980, as BL management battled the TGWU over its imposition of new pay and working conditions, John Egan became the new Chairman of Jaguar. He was soon persuaded by his fellow executives that the number one priority was to tighten up the quality of bought-in components in order to ensure that Jaguar cars were more reliable. It was a process copied from Mercedes-Benz. Sadly, this was not something taken on board by Rover Triumph.

On 13 April, the Triumph TR8 (below) was finally launched in the USA, just over two years after it had been homologated for motor sport use. It was a case of saving the best till last. The TR8 attracted rave reviews from the American media despite the fact that its Rover V8 was detuned for sale Stateside. Unfortunately, the recession and BL’s cash crisis refocused the company’s management on the volume cars division and only around 2634 were manufactured. The TR8 was the last real Triumph, and a fine swansong.

In July 1980, the Jaguar Rover Triumph division was dissolved, with Jaguar regaining its independence. Rover and Triumph were absorbed by the Austin Morris division. Former JRT boss, William Pratt Thompson became head of BL International.

Triumph TR8

In a move that surprised his colleagues, Jeff Herbert, Managing Director of BL’s Rover Triumph subsidiary, resigned, confirmed officially on 30 July. His departure came only ten days after BL’s announcement that 3000 Rover Triumph workers were going on to immediate short-time working.

It also followed soon after the promotion of Harold Musgrove from Managing Director of Austin Morris to Chairman of the company and Rover Triumph. Percy Plant, who had been Chairman at Rover Triumph, was moved to a newly-created position as Executive Director of BL Cars. Musgrove’s promotion over Jeff Herbert was also accompanied by an internal memorandum from Ray Horrocks, head of all BL’s car operations. It talked of the need to ‘increase the present degree of cooperation’ between the volume car side and the specialist car operations.

A BL spokesman said of Jeff Herbert: ‘He has made it known that he wishes to widen his already considerable experience in the engineering industry. We do not know if he has a particular job in mind.’

End of an era

In August 1980. production of the Triumph TR7 ceased at Canley. On 26 August, the last Dolomite and Spitfire models were produced at Triumph Canley. The plant would be used by BL for other purposes, but car production now ceased. The factory was demolished in 1996. One-time rivals MG of Abingdon also gave up the ghost two months later.

On 11 September, BL announced a further cut in Rover SD1 production, with the loss of hundreds more jobs in the West Midlands. BL confirmed that one of the three car assembly lines at Solihull would be closed before the end of the year and that 450 voluntary redundancies would be needed. About 100 would be sought over the next few weeks. British Leyland was entering into the real estate business with its now closed plants.

The former car plant at Speke, Liverpool, was being split into factory units and would be known as the Triumph Trading Park. The 1.2m sq ft factory standing on a 100-acre site had been for sale for £10 million for nearly 18 months without attracting an acceptable offer.

Another former Triumph car factory, the Tile Hill paint and body plant at Coventry, was being advertised for sale at £2.75 million. Coventry City Council wanted to acquire ten of the 40 acres for use as a trading estate, but would not be putting up any cash. Instead, it had offered BL a straight exchange for 13 acres of Council-owned land adjoining Jaguar in Coventry, which could be used to extend production facilities when conditions improved. A former Rover factory in Bordesley Green Road, Birmingham, used for the storage of pallets, had been sold for £400,000. By the end of 1980, Rover Triumph was a shadow of its former self.

Rover now occupied the SD1 plant at Solihull, while most traces of Triumph had been shut down, with the sole remaining model, the TR7/8 now being built in the Rover plant. The TR7/8 was also the last volume British sports car being exported to the USA.

A light in the gloom

In October 1980, the Austin Metro had been launched, the engineering had been led by former Triumph man Ray Bates, and Britain soon succumbed to ‘Metro Mania’. BL management spent this period fighting a running battle with the the Combined British Leyland Shop Stewards’ Committee, which had submitted a demand for a 20 per cent pay rise from an insolvent company and had been bludgeoned by Michael Edwardes into accepting much less. When BL tried to ramp up Metro production, matters came to a head and Longbridge was halted for a fortnight. BL was accused of confrontational management techniques, but the BLTUC had fought a long delaying action in retaining outdated working practices.

The whole focus was now on Longbridge and Cowley, the rump of the former British Motor Corporation, which now had spare capacity in its plants.

In early 1981, it seemed like British manufacturing industry was in meltdown. Announcements of factory closures and mass redundancies happened on a daily basis as the unemployment statistics ballooned. While the politicians argued over the underlying cause of all this economic misery, the British people, or those still with a job, reacted with typical stoicism and forsook British-manufactured goods and sucked in more imports, thus exacerbating the economic crisis. This was a period when British consumers, bombarded for years with negative media reports about British industry and their products, deserted domestic manufactured goods in droves. For some nations the recession of the early 1980s was a temporary economic blip which resulted in unemployment as industry reduced production through reduced shifts and short-time working. In Britain, it resulted in wholescale de-industrialisation. The recession would last until 1983, but the lack of confidence in British-manufactured goods would last into the 21st century.

Solihull continues to struggle

British Leyland was at the heart of this crisis of confidence. Short-time working affecting so much of the car industry at this time reached the Land Rover plant at Solihull in January 1981 where 1200 workers had been put on to a three-day week.

A Land Rover spokesman said: ‘While car factories everywhere have been on short time for months past, we have been able to maintain five-day working. But with 80 per cent of our production going overseas, it was inevitable that the recession would begin to bite sooner or later. Not all sections are affected. Production of Range Rovers and kits of parts for the 25 Land-Rover assembly plants overseas is continuing on a five-day basis. Kits account for 40 per cent of our production, so we are still doing a lot better than most car makers’.

Mike Hodgkinson, Managing Director of Land Rover, told Shop Stewards that, while redundancies were not necessary at the time, he could not give a guarantee for the future. Everything would depend on demand. Land Rover was in the middle of a £225 million investment programme designed to increase output by 75 per cent. Despite the slump, it was pressing ahead to be in a position to market aggressively when sales recovered. A new £20 million assembly works would begin producing Range Rovers within the next few weeks. It would double the existing capacity of 300 a week, and would be accompanied by a major advertising programme to inform motorists that, for the first time since the big cross-country vehicle was launched in 1970, it could now be bought ‘off the shelf’.

The death of the BL sports car confirmed

Triumph TR7

Then, on 12 May 1981, BL announced that it was to pull out of sports car production and curtail luxury car output in a fresh rationalisation programme which would shed 5000 more jobs, mainly in the unemployment black spots of Merseyside and the West Midlands. Union leaders were astounded to hear of the production cutbacks that would see the end of the Triumph TR7/TR8 and the shutdown of the custom-built £31 million assembly plant at Solihull, opened only five years earlier.

Workers were told by Plant Managers that they had to face up to the reality of the continuing depression and the high exchange rate of sterling that had badly affected sales in Europe. The latest Edwardes plan involved the ending of TR7 production, which would hit many jobs at the BL parts plant at Speke No.1 and the transfer of Rover car assembly by the spring of 1982 from Solihull to Cowley, Oxford. There would be closures at the foundry plants at Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, further cutbacks at Leeds and shutdown of the Pengam, Cardiff parts plant.

The news of the Solihull closure was greeted with a mixture of disbelief and bitterness by the workforce. The next day a noisy mass meeting of Rover car workers voted overwhelmingly for an all-out campaign to stop BL from closing its plant at Solihull, the home of the Rover marque for the previous 35 years, and moving production of the SD1 to Cowley.

Shop Stewards said they would try to save all 2000 jobs by enlisting the help of MPs, local Councillors and Trade Unions. They said, however, that if an orderly campaign failed, they would blockade the plant to stop the movement of tools and machinery, without which Rovers could not be built at Cowley. But they would only resort to strike action ‘as a desperate, last-ditch measure.’

Refreshing the Rover SD1 amid chaos

Rover SD1 Series 2
Rover SD1 Series 2

BL was also planning to launch Series 2 version of the Rover SD1 (above) from Solihull before it closed in April 1982. Production was due to start in October 1981, with the intention of launching the new car in January 1982. Mick Clarke, the Shop Stewards’ Convener, said workers were angry and shocked at the decision to close one of Europe’s most modern car plants. Recently, BL had spent £1.5 million on the Paint Shop and many thousands more on reorganisation to prepare for the new car. This, in itself, was a tacit acknowledgement that the paint work on the SD1 had been less than satisfactory.

‘We do not accept that losses are so bad that Solihull has to close. The lunatics at the top are wrecking Leyland, not the workers,’ he said.

Although the plant was only producing a quarter of its planned weekly capacity of 3000 cars, workers were doing everything required of them. They regularly achieved 99.9 per cent of output targets, which resulted in a £16 a week bonus payment, among the highest in the group. Mick Clarke said he would lead a march of Rover workers to join the national People’s March for Jobs. He said he was aware that similar campaigns had failed to stop the closure of Triumph Speke and MG Abingdon, but added: ‘This time they are taking on West Midland car workers who can call on their colleagues for support.’

Alvis sold off

On 2 July BL announced the sale of its profitable Alvis military vehicle company in Coventry to United Scientific Holdings plc. The sale would pump another £27 million into BL’s depleted coffers. Alvis was at first absorbed into United Scientific Holdings plc, but in 1982 the whole group was rebranded Alvis plc. Alvis is now part of BAE Systems Land and Armaments group. Alvis had been purchased by the Rover company back in 1965.

On 8 July 1981 the last Austin Maxi was produced at Cowley. Cowley had produced 486,273 Maxis since it had gone into production in 1969. The Maxi was the last Austin Morris car designed without Ford-style cost control methods and, for all its missed sales targets and lack of profitability, it did demonstrate how to manufacture a technologically complex vehicle reliably, thus earning repeat sales. The reason for pulling the Maxi from production two years before its replacement, the LM10 Austin Maestro came on stream, would soon become apparent.

The fate of the Rover plant in Solihull was effectively sealed the same day when a meeting of workers refused to take industrial action to avert closure. By a majority of about three to two the 2000 strong labour force rejected a recommendation from their Shop Stewards for a disruptive campaign to frustrate BL’s plans to switch production of the Rover to its Cowley site. Senior Shop Stewards, who had been predicting that their advice would be followed, said later that they were disillusioned and dismayed by the vote, which left the way open for the company to complete its rationalisation scheme by the spring of 1982.

Car production at Solihull grinds to an end

Despite a sustained anti-closure campaign, which was supported by local MPs and the West Midlands County Council, and despite threats to occupy the plant, BL refused to give ground. It appeared that the balance of shop floor opinion might have been tipped in favour of capitulation when the Rover management told workers earlier in the week that disruptive action would jeopardise redundancy payments.

The company had offered discretionary payments of one week’s pay for every year of service, and an additional 12 weeks pay, on top of the legal minimum, on the condition that the transfer of production was completed smoothly. The next day the annual summer break began and BL took the opportunity to begin moving machinery from the Solihull Rover SD1 plant to Cowley.

‘Work of this sort is normally done when it will cause the least disruption and that is during holiday closedowns,’ a company spokesman said.

Resolution still a way off

On 27 July, it was revealed that the Series 2 version of the Rover SD1 was going to be produced simultaneously at Solihull and Cowley for at least five months to avoid a repetition of the costly interruption that followed the TR7’s move from Speke to Canley, Coventry. However, Rover Shop Stewards were still smarting from the company’s ‘no move, no money’ threat. A senior Shop Steward said: ‘They have not taken a great deal yet, but the gaps they have left are already causing some angry comments.’

A project team headed by a Manufacturing Director had been set up at Cowley to oversee the move and to start training operatives. No new labour would be recruited because the Rover would be assembled alongside the Princess on the track that was used for the Maxi. The Maxi workers, who had been retained on short time, would be retrained to assemble the more complex Rover. BL wanted to send groups of them to work alongside their opposite numbers at Solihull, but managers acknowledged that this could cause friction.

Doubts about Cowley’s ability to build a prestige car such as the Rover to acceptable standards were dismissed by management. They pointed out that the Honda-designed Triumph Acclaim was produced on an adjoining line and was attaining, and in some respects exceeding, the highest Japanese quality standards. A Cowley executive said: ‘The Japanese had the same initial worries about quality but they are now delighted with our product; in fact they agree we have shown them a thing or two. Rover traditionalists should have no fears. Quality throughout BL has improved enormously. Now with our new paint plant and the fact that Rover bodies will only have to move from one part of the factory to another instead of making the long road journey from here to Solihull with the possibility of damage, they will get a better Rover than ever before.’

Out with the old, in with the new

Triumph Acclaim
Triumph Acclaim

Without doubt, 5 October 1981 was a sad day for Triumph enthusiasts, as the last Triumph TR7 was produced at Solihull. This was also the end of the long-running TR series. Only two days after the last TR7 had emerged from Solihull, the new Anglo-Japanese Triumph Acclaim (above) went on sale. The Acclaim was being marketed as a sporting and well-equipped small saloon in the tradition of the extinct Triumph Dolomite.

Apart from the 1335cc engine, gearbox, suspension units and fascia, most of the Acclaim’s components were made in Britain. The value of the car’s British content was around 70 per cent. By buying a ready-made design from another manufacturer, BL had been able to get a new model into production more quickly, and at a lower cost.

To recap, in late August 1971 Bill Davis, the Triumph Managing Director, wrote in the division’s newspaper about two unnamed Japanese cars he had examined. He said: ‘The retail prices throughout the world and the dramatic increases in production quantities which have recently been published leave no room for complacency.’

The Triumph story had come full circle in a decade. The Acclaim was the last Triumph-badged car of all. Production would end in 1984 after 133,625 examples. The future was Anglo-Japanese and built by Austin Morris.

More job losses as Project XX is confirmed

On 12 October, amid another pay dispute, BL Cars announced further job losses. Among 3000 jobs going were 900 at the company’s body plant in Speke, Merseyside, and another 430 at the Alford and Alder truck axle manufacturers in Hemel Hempstead. Speke No.1 was going along with Alford and Alder, the acquisition of both had been announced by Standard-Triumph in December 1959. The Speke No 1 factory, which mainly manufactured body assemblies for the Mini, was to shut and its work would be transferred to Longbridge, where final assembly already took place. Alford and Alder was closing, so as to move its production to other factories from late 1982.

On 12 November 1981 in Tokyo, BL and Honda announced that they had reached an initial agreement to design and develop a car, codenamed Project XX. We now know that Project XX became the Rover 800 of 1986 to 1998. This meant the end of the Bravo project, BL’s own attempt to replace the SD1.

Meanwhile, development of the existing Rover SD1 continued. David Bache’s Styling Department was looking at introducing a high-performance version, provisionally called the Rover Rapide. On the same day as the Tokyo announcement, a Rover Rapide proposal was photographed in the styling studio. The rights to the Rapide name were held by Aston Martin Lagonda, and they refused to release the name, so the car became the Rover Vitesse (below).

Rover SD1 Vitesse
Rover SD1 Vitesse

Rover Triumph death throes

In January 1982, BL Cars announced the facelifted Rover SD1, initially produced at both Solihull and Cowley. A lot of the problems of the SD1 were solved with this revised model, but it was five years too late. The recession had tightened the grip of the Ford Granada on the executive car market as the production problems of the SD1 had severely damaged the whole Rover brand. In response, Austin Morris had created a new SD1 variant with a familiar name, the Rover 2000.

This was an SD1 fitted with a twin-carburettor O-Series engine originally slated to prolong the life of the since axed MGB. The new Rover 2000 may well have helped boost SD1 production to 32,855 in 1982 and 33,455 in 1983, since the fleet buyers probably avoided the troublesome six-cylinder models, and the more expensive V8 was only for the most senior executives.

The same month as the final incarnation of his finest design was revealed, David Bache was fired as Austin Morris Design Director after disagreements with Harold Musgrove. Not only would the next Rover not be built by Solihull, it would not be styled by David Bache or engineered by Gordon Bashford, who retired in 1981. David Bache died in 1994.

Austin Rover replaces Austin Morris and Rover Triumph

In March 1982, Austin Morris was rebranded as Austin Rover, although still headed by Harold Musgrove. By now, Rover Triumph engineering led by Joe Farnham had been merged with Austin Morris engineering led by Ray Bates. Joe Farnham emerged as the new Austin Rover engineering supremo.

Meanwhile, Land Rover sales to the Middle East, one of the biggest markets in the world for four-wheel-drive vehicles, had increased by 64 per cent. To meet demand, particularly for deluxe Range Rovers, Land Rover was recruiting a further 200 workers at the Solihull assembly plant and introducing a Saturday morning shift and considerable overtime in key areas.

Production at Solihull was running at about 250 Range Rovers and 900 Land Rovers each week. Mike Hodgkinson, Managing Director of Land Rover, claimed that, after too many wasted years when one overseas market after another was conceded to the Japanese, the tide was now turning. He said Land Rover customers had grown so accustomed to its domination of the market that, when Japanese rivals appeared, they were bought experimentally. Once the Japanese had their ‘feet under the table’ they were hard to move. Instead of fighting back, BL had taken the view in the past that its Land Rovers were in such short supply they could always find another market.

Mike Hodgkinson said that, since 1978 when he took over the newly-created Land Rover company, he had adopted aggressive pricing tactics. ‘We have stopped conceding ground on price alone. We have fought back so well that Japanese sales of four-by-fours are faltering overseas and there are signs that a similar trend is developing in the United Kingdom. People are beginning to realize that ours is the quality product with much slower depreciation,’ he said.

Investment in Land Rover – about time, too!

Land Rover 110
Land Rover 110

Now at the halfway stage of a £200 million investment programme, he conceded that the recession could hardly have come at a worse time for Land Rover. But by cutting back on capital investment in new plant and switching to new products such as a new range of Land Rover to be launched on 31 March 1982 (Land Rover 90 and 110), the company had stayed in the black although with smaller profits. Production of the basic Land Rover in 1982 was 28,384 plus another 13,255 Range Rovers, but they were now being made by 10,800 employees instead of 14,000. New plant and reorganised working methods meant that, with minimal additional manning, Land Rover could increase output by as much as 70 per cent to more than 90,000 per year.

Mike Hodgkinson was being optimistic. While the Range Rover had gone from strength to strength, the basic Land Rover had been on the slide since 1971 when 56,663 left Solihull. Since then production had crashed by nearly 50 per cent as Japanese off-roaders drove Land Rover out of many markets. Things would get worse before they got better, production diving below 20,000 for the first time in 1986.

It was the end of an era at Solihull on 22 April, when the Rover SD1 car plant, opened to such fanfare in 1976, closed and 800 workers were made redundant. From now on Solihull became home to the Land Rover brand, while Rover cars would be manufactured at former BMC plants. However, it was not the end of the Solihull SD1 plant. We now fast forward to 1983.

Solihull’s rebirth begins

On 11 November 1983 Land Rover announced it was to close nine plants, with the loss of 1560 jobs, and concentrate all its manufacturing at Solihull, where the former Rover SD1 assembly plant, closed in 1982, would be reopened. The regrouping would save about £14 million a year and make Land Rover much more attractive to private investors who regarded its ramshackle collection of frequently duplicated plants as a major obstacle to privatisation. Inter-plant deliveries of components totalled nearly one million miles a year. It also relieved the state-owned group of the problem of disposing of the redundant Solihull plant.

Tony Gilroy, the new Managing Director of Land Rover, said: ‘Austin Rover’s recently announced decision to manufacture XX at Cowley gives Land Rover a once in-a lifetime opportunity to make fundamental improvements in cost and efficiency. We will be replacing a series of mainly very old, small, uneconomic plants with a single, integrated modern facility. It will rid Land Rover of a very heavy financial burden and create a fully cost-effective, advanced manufacturing operation.’

The doomed plants were all in the Birmingham area, except Pengam, Cardiff, where 600 workers produced gearboxes. The other plants with number of employees in brackets were: Perry Barr, axles (300); Tyburn Road, gear cases (200); Tyseley, engine components (1000); Acocks Green, engines and transmissions (650); Garrison Street, chassis (450); Bordesley Green, pressings (725); Saltley, stores (20) and Draycon Road, engineering research (250). Land Rover said that three quarters of the workers would be offered jobs at Solihull. Closures would be phased in from the late summer 1985, and be completed by the end of 1986.

More closures, more job losses

Grenville Hawley, National Automotive Officer of the Transport and General Workers’ Union and Chairman of the BL Cars Joint Negotiating Committee, said: ‘This centralising plan maybe very attractive to the company, but 1500 more redundancies is a real setback.’

James Callaghan, the former Prime Minister, who was Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, said that the closures were a device to enable major sections of BL to be privatised. The doomed Pengam transmission plant was in his constituency. Back in 1961, the plant had been located there in response to ‘the amiable arm twisting’ of the Board of Trade, as William Martin-Hurst, then the Deputy Managing Director of the old Rover company, put it. ‘This left us no alternative but to expand our industries, in places which we certainly would not have chosen and which at the time not infrequently appeared unattractive to us.’

Tony Gilroy had seized the initiative and relocated distant outlying facilities into the former SD1 plant, which gradually became known as East Works at the Solihull complex. The £31 million invested in the plant was not wasted after all. It also dawned on Tony Gilroy that Land Rover had no real hope of clawing back the markets lost to the Japanese 4×4 makes with its base model, now called 90 and 110, and that the way forward was to expand the Range Rover theme.

The legacy passes on to Land Rover

This led to the Range Rover being moved upmarket to become a luxury car, a later day P5, and the gap below being filled by two new models which became the Discovery and Freelander. Although Tony Gilroy left Land Rover in 1988, his basic plan led to Solihull once again becoming a major player in the passenger vehicle market.

In June 1986, the last Rover SD1 was produced at Cowley, finally bringing to an end the ill-fated Rover Triumph expansion plan. It was replaced in the showrooms by the Anglo-Japanese Rover 800, again built at Cowley. It could be argued that the 800 was a success because of the Honda connection. Buyers rightly or wrongly believed that the car was a quality product because of the Japanese involvement not because it wore a Rover badge. This was a consequence of the SD1 debacle. The new 800 took the fight to the Ford Granada, but was not seen as a BMW rival in the same way as the P6 had been.

This image had been squandered by the quality issues of the SD1. The one-time Chairman of BL Cars, Ray Horrocks, later observed: ‘When the SD1 was designed back in the early 1970s there were not enough Production Engineers alongside the Design Engineers. It was built by Engineers for Engineers, so the car was productionised as it went down the line. There wasn’t enough development done of the car which reflected the lack of testing facilities then available to the company. When you launch a new model, there are a number of things you aim to avoid. They are putting it into production at a new plant, with a new Paint Shop and with a new engine and transmission. The SD1, particularly in its six-cylinder form, suffered from all these shortcomings.’

The main legacy of all this was the East Works at Solihull, which remains in use and the LT77 transmission, which evolved into the R380.

So, why did Rover Triumph fail?

Was it dire industrial relations, poor design, bad management, or a combination of all of these things? In such a complex story, there is no such thing as a simple answer. If one word sums up what is wrong then that word is ‘quality’, or rather the lack of it. No motor manufacturer deliberately sets out to instill poor quality into their products, but somehow British Leyland/Rover Triumph managed it. At one stage it was possible to buy a new Rover or Triumph with worse build quality than a bottom of the range Mini 850. How had this come about?

The concept of a Rover Triumph range for the late 1970s was perfectly feasible, but the execution was flawed. How could the Rover and Triumph Designers suddenly go from inspiration to desperation? The biggest mistake was to import Ford-style cost control methods into the design and development of premium priced Rover and Triumph cars, no doubt at the prodding of John Barber and Gerry Wright, who were both ex-Blue Oval. Their recruitment came out of the mindset in late 1960s Britain, adopted by the Government’s and industry analysts, that the only way to manufacture vehicles was the Ford of Britain way. Any other way was bound to lead to financial ruin. The whole raison d’etre of the creation of BLMC in 1968 was the widespread belief amongst the clever people that the British Motor Corporation was heading for the rocks because its cost management was poor.

That’s a viewpoint which has been pedalled ever since…

Cost-engineering paid a heavy toll

The solution was to merge it with Leyland, recruit Ford finance experts and inject it with effective cost control measures. Problem solved… According to the BLMC Central Finance staff, both the Mini and Rover P6 were too expensive to manufacture and therefore only marginally profitable at best, and probably the same criteria applied to many other of the company’s models, if not all. One suspects that, by Ford’s costing criteria, many of Europe’s most successful cars probably failed to make the grade as well.

George Farmer, the Chairman of Rover, was himself an accountant and, in conjunction with his fellow Directors and Engineers led by Peter Wilks, had managed to reach an effective compromise between cost and quality on the P6 model, without the penny-pinching extremes that afflicted development of the Rover SD1. The Rover P6 really was the 1960s equivalent of a 21st century BMW saloon. Customers willingly paid over the odds, when they could get something cheaper elsewhere, because they knew they would get quality engineering. Having established a reputation for advanced engineering, British Leyland cynically exploited the quality image of the Rover P6 by designing and manufacturing the technically cruder SD1 to a price with a plan to manufacture it at twice the rate.

It was a supermarket mindset adapted for motor manufacturing. Triumph, with its own 2000/2500 saloons, had shown how to manufacture a technically simpler car than the Rover P6 with quality built in, something that was missing from the SD1. Harry Webster and his team, with Walter Boardman in charge of the finances at Standard-Triumph, had the ability to instill engineering quality into their cars without resorting to costly technical sophistication that could lead to warranty issues. Both Rover and Triumph had been allowed to design cars with relative freedom, but retained enough self-discipline to deliver quality cars at reasonable prices.

The product: chasing unattainable goals

From 1972, British Leyland’s ex-Ford Product Planners were obsessed by the threat from the Ford Granada, which was sold at a ridiculously low price that Rover and Triumph had no hope of matching despite the penny pinching. The SD1 replaced the Rover and Triumph executive saloons in the showroom, but inherited neither of those cars’ positive virtues.

The Triumph TR7 took until 1978 for the car to come good, with its faults measured in the hundreds, and then it ran into a recession and this, combined with the strength of sterling, led to BL pulling the plug. The bitter truth must be faced that, from a quality point of view, both the early Rover SD1 and Triumph TR7 were truly awful cars, with BL Engineers frantically trying to retrofit the quality components and materials that had been excised at the design stage due to the intervention of the Central Finance staff.

The paranoia about manufacturing costs led to the engineering integrity of Rover Triumph designs being deliberately degraded in order to boost profit margins. Engines also played a factor in the demise of Rover Triumph. The Triumph V8, slant-four Sprint and six-cylinder PE146/166 engines all suffered from reliability issues resulting in warranty claims and disillusioned customers. British Leyland blamed its own workforce, but perhaps the production tolerances were insufficient and that is a design issue.

As Bernard Jackman said back in February 1974: ‘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.’

The management: not focused enough

The role of management in the failure of Rover Triumph begs the question of which management? Rover and Triumph were merged in March 1972, only to be dismantled in August 1975 and absorbed into Leyland Cars. The Ryder Report criticised the Stokes-era management for having decentralised. The constituents of British Leyland, apart from Austin Morris, retained their Boards, but were answerable to the main BLMC Board for decisions over funding and new model development.

In the case of Rover and Triumph, this enabled the localised management to keep a grip on quality. The formation of Leyland Cars removed this layer of management. Plant Managers in fear of their jobs soon found themselves answerable to remote Leyland Cars diktats for quantity and never mind the quality. No wonder corners were cut. During the ‘Barber Boom’ of 1972/3 Rover Triumph had been unable or unwilling to respond to the greatly expanded car market, and perhaps this helps to explain the emphasis on quantity over quality as sales went begging and the Ford Granada benefited.

When he arrived at British Leyland, Michael Edwardes restored the localised management, but by this time the old Rover and Triumph hands had departed the scene and the senior posts were occupied by outsiders who were just as remote as Leyland Cars had been. The managerial merry-go-round that was part of life at British Leyland meant that it took a full five years to rectify many of the faults of the Rover SD1 with the Series 2 model. No doubt it was deemed cheaper to alienate customers rather than rectify the problems.

Industrial relations: lamentable and destructive

The role of poor industrial relations in the collapse of Rover Triumph was considerable, although it was the company-wide problem rather than local disputes that was to hurt Rover Triumph most, forcing a corporate rethink.

Another factor was that British Leyland’s gradual programme of rationalisation resulted in a much reduced Rover Triumph range by the end of 1977, with the SD1 as the company’s only executive car on the market. This, in theory, should have been good for British Leyland, but the reduced customer choice offered by BL in the UK market was alleviated by Britain now being a full member of the European Economic Community. UK buyers put off by stories of dreadful Rover SD1 quality and who did not want to be seen dead in a Ford Granada now had a wider choice of continental cars at competitive prices.

Marques such as Alfa Romeo, Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Saab and Volvo were no longer expensive oddities favoured by a snobbish minority which were available from a small exclusive dealer network. They became mainstream and had been allowed to gain a foothold because of British Leyland’s inability to manufacture the SD1 to the expected quality. The cancellation of the Triumph SD2 also allowed these manufacturers to gain traction in the market for small sporting saloons.

Failing to learn from its rivals

Rover SD1 vs rivals

During the 1960s, not only Rover and Triumph but other manufacturers such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Saab and Volvo faced a dilemma. To survive against the American-owned giants with their marketing and product planning know-how, combined with huge engineering resources, did they try to compete on price or sell their products at a higher price that reflected the true cost of manufacture and hopefully stay in business?

Alfa Romeo, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Saab and Volvo decided to design their products without strict input from committees of accountants. They designed their cars with durable components and charged the appropriate price, relying on creating an image of robustness in order to earn repeat sales.

Instead of going out of business as perhaps some industry insiders expected, these firms thrived by creating quality products that earned what became known as brand values. One can contrast the Ford Cortina with the Peugeot 504. The Cortina 2000 GL four-door cost £3452 in October 1977, while the 1.8-litre Peugeot 504 L cost £3730. The French car was a full 8 per cent more expensive than the Anglo-German Ford, but it did not stop Peugeot from selling copious quantities of the 504 all over the world and nor did the company go out of business because its products were over-engineered and expensive by Ford standards. The Ford way was not the only business model in town.

Unfortunately, Rover  Triumph decided to compete on price with fatal results.

As we now know, the premium German manufacturers did not go bust because they overcharged their customers. Eventually, they drove the mighty Ford Motor Company out of the executive car market and BMW even took over the remains of British Leyland, by then known as the Rover Group. BMW funded the last Rover-badged model, the ill-fated 75. In development BMW had to persuade the Rover Design Team to use quality engineering solutions rather than the cheapest option, a legacy of the imported Ford costing methods.

The one bright spot of the Rover Triumph story is the Range Rover, now the core product of Jaguar Land Rover, the spiritual successor to Rover Triumph. The original Range Rover was the last real product of the old Rover company. Conceived by Spen King, and seen through to production by his cousin Peter Wilks, the design was far too advanced for the BLMC Cost Controllers to degrade it. Perhaps this is why, along with the original Land Rover and BMC Mini, it survived the British Leyland debacle relatively untarnished?

Sadly, for the later Rover Triumph designs, this was not the case – with Rover Triumph, British Leyland really did manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory…

Back to History : The Rover-Triumph Story – Part Twenty One : 1979

Ian Nicholls
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  1. You can see the lunacy of the British Leyland, that they had Speke building body assemblies for the Mini. You could justify pressings, but bulky body assemblies being shipped 100 miles on a high volume low value product, was lunacy.

  2. Very sad, as Rover and Triumph in the early seventies were the Mercedes and BMW of their day and known for producing high quality, very desirable cars. It was a shame living near the former Canley plant in Coventry, which employed 9000 workers at its height, and seeing part of it turned into an MFI and the rest a huge field. Also the Dolomite seemed to escape most of the reliability woes of other Rover and Triumph cars in the late seventies, but since there was no replacement and the car was becoming old, it had to go, along with the factory that produced it,

    • Well, a big thank you to you Ian for this series of articles. Long winded – no; thorough, detailed and well researched – yes!

  3. Driving Land Rovers (mainly Series IIA) in Africa and Australia in the early and late 1970s, and seeing the take-over of the light 4×4 market by Toyota etc, I still think there was utter complacency shown by whoever was in charge of Solihull at the time. Lack of synchromesh on all gears, no windscreen washers, halfshafts liable to break – just three items that come to mind.

    Yes, the Range Rover was a success, and it filled the gap between the Land Rover and the Volvo estate for the well-off as a towing vehicle for horseboxes, etc, but the Land Rover itself needed updating and making more reliable.

    Now, thanks to the EU classing it as a car – with all the safety extras cars now must have – the death of a practical light 4×4 has been brought about with the end of the Defender. Even our own Armed Forces are struggling to find a substitute suitable for military use. Australia – after long use of the home-built Perentie variant – is in the same position, having to buy various replacements because there is no British option. Is there no shame? All one sees is Land Rovers becoming flashier and flashier, more a toy than a workhorse. And that is the future?

    • I’m a Land Rover owner and fan, but appreciate that the army has wanted to move away from the LR product for a long time, because it simply doesn’t offer enough protection. They have been being replaced by specialist modern lightweight armoured vehicles for years now. For instance:


      By the end of production it had lost relevance to most of its old military markets.

  4. A long and fascinating series of articles, thanks

    One question, why was production of the Rover SD1 body moved from from Castle Bromwich to Cowley, which was much further away? Obviously this made the later decision to shift final assembly to Cowley as well easier, but surely this wasn’t the intention at the time?

    Or was this done purely to make Castle Bromwich a Jaguar plant, with a view to the selling off of Jaguar?

  5. Plant rationalisation might have been painful, but it was essential to raise productivity and reduce costs. Nine plants involved in the production of Land Rovers was ridiculous, and it made more sense to base production at the assembly plant in Solihull. Also for all the end of Canley meant huge job losses in Coventry, whose other car factories were making several thousand workers redundant at the same time, but as Triumph was being phased out as a brand, there was no future for the factory except for the Unipart components factory and the Austin Rover offices. An Austin Rover based around three factories made more sense.

  6. I think it was not just John Barber and Co that destroyed Rover and Triumph, it was a mixture. When Triumph and Rover were brought together it was more of a marriage of convenience than one that was loved. Leyland brought together two competitors and had to intervene to decide who did what, instead of the teams working together and building the best solutions for the company. Also a certain Mr Lyons wanted Rover Triumph products downgraded, so his precious Jaguar sat at the top of the pile. Donald Stokes has a lot to answer to – instead of managing he tried to placate to many parties – a salesman in a managers position.
    It was a shame that back in the first throws of BLMC being created that a proper full plan of how the company would run was not formulated instead of fire fighting. Jag and Triumph should have been the Luxury car arms, Rover should have been the 4×4 brand, and Austin Morris it’s volume brand, and al the engineering teams pooled to develop it’s new cars.

    • I see your point, but given that Rover had a good reputation with the P5 and P6 in the premium market, it was going to be hard to risk dropping Rover brand from cars.

      I believe BMH and Leyland would have been better served had the move not been made, leaving the opportunity for Rover to move back up market from the P6, with a car that took its forward looking design to the P5 market segment. Whilst Triumph consolidated the position it had established with a simple but well engineered range of rear drive saloons and sports cars, essentially built on what we came to know as the SD1 platform.

      BMH could have raised the cash it needed to launch the XJ6/8?/12 and refresh the Mini, ADO16 and get the Italians in to repackage the Maxi and ADO17, by selling its HGV and Tractor business to Leyland.

      • I was basing my idea on the fact BLMC happened – Triumph had a good reputation in US – Rover didn’t. If BLMC had not happened I think Leyland would have made Rover the luxury brand to take on Mercedes and Triumph a slightly downmarket version based vying with the likes of Saab and Volvo, but better than BMC and Ford. Problem would be is that this may not have worked either as Stokes would have still been in charge, and costs would not have been cut by bringing design and development together and using common components, which would be needed to keep the costs down when producing small volumes.
        BMH was doomed unless Joe Edwards plan had worked – the bones were right just execution.

  7. They might be direct rivals now but back in the 70s BMW and Mercedes appealed to different buyers, with BMW being more downmarket and sporting whereas Mercedes were more sober and higher quality. W123 for example typifies their products at the time, conservative looking, incredible build quality and no sporting pretensions

    Without the BLMC merger you can imagine Triumph being like BMW (Dolomite – 3 series, 2000/2500 – 5 series etc) whereas Rover would be the Mercedes rival, the Range Rover fitting in with this classy image.

    With this split, SD1 would make a better Triumph, maybe Rover would have just had the P8 saloon.

  8. The late seventies/early eighties rationalisation was probably worth it for the long term survival of British Leyland, even if meant the end of such well known names as Triumph and Morris. Gone were overlapping car ranges, models where parts could not be interchanged( like Austin and Triumph), dealers more or less next door to each other( a legacy of the pre merger era), and unproductive factories being closed. By 1984 there was a coherent range of cars similar to what Ford and Vauxhall were offering and most models used parts that were interchangeable.

  9. Despite the MG Boxer exteriorly resembling a warmed over TR7, one wonders what body it could have received had the money been there.

    Read Aston Martin’s proposal for the MGB would eventually receive a new body yet remain mechanically the same underneath had it gone through (via sketches in David Knowles’s book on MG), would it have in turn been possible for a retro-looking MG RV8-like body to be crafted onto TR7/Broadside underpinnings as a cheap solution to the MG Boxer’s issues in the absence of money available for an all-new body? That way such an earlier MG RV8 could be more of a proper sportscar via Triumph underpinnings (featuring O-Series and Rover V6/V8 engines) instead of a cruiser (via slightly updated MGB underpinnings).

    What makes it even funnier is that while the wider public’s perception of the TR7s styling was considered to have originated from Triumph, the Harris Mann styling theme itself was originally MG via ADO21 and in retrospect should have stayed with MG.

  10. Perhaps had the pound not become so overvalued in 1980 and America enter a recession that lasted two years, the TR7 could have lived on. The car had beaten most of its reliability demons by 1980, there was a V8 for the American market( that possibly could have been introduced over here after a while), a convertible, and two litre models at last benefited from a five speed transmission. Compared with the antiquated MG models, which to be honest neither looked good nor performed well by the time they were axed, the TR7 was a car that could have had a future. Yet British Leyland’s dire financial state and a market killing recession in America and Britain saw the TR7 phased out in the summer of 1981.

  11. One person’s long-winded is another’s definitive history. This has been a great series, and important. Thank you!

  12. Is there any point when the various component parts of BL could have been demerged in the 70s? Jaguar escaped in the 80s but after what point would it have been impossible for Rover/Triumph to have made a run for it (perhaps bundled in with Leyland Trucks)? Just as Ford picked up Jaguar, perhaps GM could’ve eventually bid for Rover/Triumph/Leyland and merged it with Vauxhall/Bedford, negating their need to buy Saab – and hopefully avoiding that company’s eventual fate. Let’s face it, could that fate be any worse than what eventually happened to Rover/Triumph in the real world?! (And we might still have Saab if GM never got its mucky paws on it) As for the remaining rump of BL, could MG have been made the main brand for what was left? Maybe having a single ‘Austin Morris’ brand reserved for Mini/Metro? Maybe also picking up the remains of Chrysler UK (the Horizon, Roy Axe’s team at Whitley) before PSA snapped them up, in order to plug holes in the BL range before better styled versions of the M cars came online in the early 80s (with Axe getting involved earlier). Yes, I know – maybe a bit naïve about a whole range of things…but one can dream. Of course, as many have said on here, a better counterfactual would have been for the 1968 mega merger never to have happened in the first place…

    • Why would GM controlling Triumph/Rover/Leyland be a success any more than being part of BLMC?

      GM had enough trouble with Vauxhall and was “King” of badge engineering, inevitably we would have ended up with Rover Badged Buicks at the top and Triumph badged Vauxhall/Opels at the bottom, not good.

  13. As opposed to SAIC’s Roewes and no Triumphs at all, you mean? No, I think GM has the touch of death for other car companies but there might be a glimmer of hope that GM would eventually get rid of Rover/Triumph and someone else would take them on as more responsible owners.

  14. I could only see Land Rover and Range Rover being sellable 40 years ago, as their cars still sold well and they had a near monopoly on 4 wheel drives in Europe then. GM could have been interested in that part of the company and there was a tenuous link with the ex Buick V8.
    Yet would British Leyland really want to lose one of the few successful parts of their business, unless GM made a really good offer that could be used to support the rest of the car business.

    • Popular myth……Land Rover warranty and falling sales were a millstone around the necks of Cowley and Longbridge……Truck and Bus were a huge drain as well, with Jaguar not far behind.

  15. In the mid 1980s GM wanted to buy Leyland commercial vehicles as long as Land Rover were bundled in, but the government said no.

    Also Ford were considering buying Austin Rover mostly for the K series engines.

    • Land Rover and Range Rover were undergoing a huge expansion at the time and the Range Rover, with new luxury models, was doing really well in America, so maybe the government were right not to sell to GM, as the four wheel drive side of the business was keeping Austin Rover alive, and the government could have been left with a hard to sell company. Also the revival of the volume cars business under Graham Day was due to start, so it made sense for the government to sell the business as a whole in 1988 when Rover’s fortunes were improving.
      Mind you, Ford wanting the K series engine, not surprising as the CVH was a nasty, thirsty and none too reliable engine, and the engines fitted to Sierras after 1987 developed a reputation for serious faults.

      • Can understand Ford wanting the K-Series in place of the CVH and to finally replace the Kent, though have to wonder whether Ford would have kept the engine as a 1-litre 3-cylinder / 1.1-1.4 4-cylinder or decided to develop a larger 1.6-2.0 half-relation in place of the Zetec.

        Also hypothetically speaking had BL been in a much better position, could they have struck a deal with Ford for the latter to use the K-Series? The same question also applies to GM’s attempt to buy back the Rover V8 or Wartburg seeking to replace their 2-stroke engines with 1275cc A-Series engines for Finnish and other markets.

        • @ Nate, Ford’s smaller fours were rough dogs in the mid and late eighties and seemed to fall behind their rivals in terms of refinement and economy, and reliability seemed to be faling when the 1990 Escort was launched. The K could have made the 1990 Escort a so much better car and earned Rover some much needed extra money. Also the 1.1 in the Fiesta could have given it an improvement in refinement and economy.

          • I see, the K-Series engine would have been a stopgap for Ford while they develop the Sigma engine. Wonder if they would carry over the 1.3 Kent for the mk5 Ford Escort or opt for either a 1.1 or some other capacity K-Series between 1.1-1.4 to replace the former.

            Things get more interesting with the mk3 Ford Fiesta and mk1 Ford Ka during the K-Series, would Ford have used the 973cc 3-cylinder for both as a base engine or stuck with the 1.1 4-cylinder in place of the 1.0-1.3 Kent?

            There is also the fact via the Rover Metro SP project that the 1.4 K-Series was capable of being turbocharged to put out around 120-130 hp, matching the 105-130 hp 1.8 Zeta with the 1.4 K-Series in 96-102 hp form eclipsing the 90 hp 1.6 Zeta and almost matching the 105 hp 1.8 Zeta.

            The Ka would have definitely benefited given that one proposed engine under consideration in place of the aging Kent was the 80 hp 1.2 Orbital 2-stroke used in the mk3 Fiesta 2-stroke prototype (compared to 74 hp 1.1-1.4 K-Series).

      • Going back to the CVH, it is actually hard to believe the Zeta is apparently a direct evolution of the former though the 135 hp 1.6 16-valve CVH conversion by Schrick (abandoned because Ford were developing the Zeta) as well as the ZVH hybrid engines would suggest otherwise. Leading to the inevitable question of why Ford could not get it right the first time.

  16. The Kent and Valencia engines had become rough and old fashioned by the late eighties. Also they lacked the economy of their rivals. The K was known in the industry for being refined, powerful and economical, even if head gasket problems occured on some of the bigger engines. However, Ford steadily phased out their ageing engines in the nineties and the Zetec engines that came in during the mid nineties were a huge improvement.

    • The HCS range of engines was an update of the Kent / Valencia range, designed to run on unleaded & be fitted with catalytic converters to keep emissions down.

      • Still poor engines, though, my dad had a 1992 Escort 1.4 as a company car and it was lucky to do more than 35 mpg, even on a long journey, was noisy, and hated starting in the wet. He was relieved when his next car was a Rover 214 SI, which was light years ahead of the Escort. I do consider the Mark v Escort to be a low point for Ford.

        • The engine in my Mum’s 1995 Fiesta was normally a first time started unless you stalled it while cold, which made it very hard to get going as the ignition flooded.

          Also it developed an oil leak at 60000 miles & even after a patch-up eventually died from a failed little end.

        • I agree the awful 1990 Escort was a real low for Ford, but one which shook them out of their complacent “we can sell any old rubbish with our expertise in marketing etc” attitude.

          It was a massive bonus to Rover as comparing R8 to the Escort, R8 was clearly the premium product, which could be sold at a premium price.

          • I remember Jeremy Clarkson calling the Mk5 Escort a car designed by accountants.

            Supposedly they were worried about repeating the mistakes of the early Sierras, but managed to go too far the other way.

            At least they learnt to make it better over the years, rather than be resigned to have painted themselves into a corner.

          • Ford’s complacency was showing them up at the time, as there was a problem with premature rust on Sierras caused by using reclaimed steel, the 1990 Escort was a dog, the smaller 4 cylinder engines were noisy and not very reliable, and the 1989 Fiesta offered little over its predecessor. It wasn’t really until the Mondeo arrived and the Mark 4 Fiesta appeared with totally new engines that I would go near Ford.

          • I know late 1980s Fords had a reputation for rust, not helped by the paint shop workers going on strike in Valencia, & a few weeks production missing out on rust proofing.

            At least the Mk3 Fiesta had a 5 door option, & the Mk4 facelift always looked too much like a Renault 14 for my liking.

            Ford did the homework mostly right for the Mondeo, though again had to tweak things early into production.

          • Back in the 1980s Ford were penny pinching – the Mk3 Fiesta was originally planned to be based on the previous floorplan and wheelbase size as this was stipulated by the accountants. It was the design and development team in Cologne that pushed for it to be on a longer wheelbase – the accountants were still seeing the Metro as it’s competitor and forgetting the 205 which had taken Europe by storm. The designers won on this case but many of the other ideas never made it – I know my Uncle’s claim to fame is he designed the door catches on it!

          • daveh

            Am surprised Ford’s accountants sought to have the mk3 Fiesta carry over the mk2’s platform and wheelbase as it would have likely precluded a 5-door variant (going against the trend of supermini’s growing larger), that stands in contrast to even the mk1 Fiesta that was actually considered a 2/4-door three-box saloon variant (with potential scope for a 5-door version).

            In terms of dimensions such a car almost sounds like a Ford Ka precursor than an actual mk2 Fiesta replacement.

            What other ideas never made it on the mk3 Fiesta?

        • Nate – A16v engine based on the CVH block – Yamaha and Cosworth I believe were spoken to about how to improve the engine (Yamaha went onto develop the 1.7 zetec lump found in the Puma), plus a new multilink rear suspension to try and give the car the same handling as the 205. I believe a 2 seater was also looked at.

          Ford’s engineers are quite innovative when designing stuff – it’s the costing brigade that holds them back. The 1.8 diesel found in Mk and Mk 2 Focus, part designed with PSA, was played with by Ford’s engineers and they developed a 200+ bhp model with more torque than a Sierra Cosworth but it stripped the gearbox and Ford were never willing to develop a box for it to give with.

          The Escort debacle kicked Ford into life with the Mondeo, but the Escort did turn into a very good car and later models were just as well built as the Focus.

          • IIRC one of Ford’s ideas for a new generation of engines in the 1980s would have had high MPG figures, but was scrapped due to the emissions being too high.

            Supposedly the Ford UK marketing team wanted another RWD Escort for the Mk3 even though cars that size were increasingly going over to FWD, especially the manufacturers who wanted a “Golf beater”.

            Fortunately they were over-ruled by head management wanting to make a “world car”.

          • daveh

            So Ford looked to Yamaha and Cosworth at the possibility of updating the CVH block to feature 16-valves for the 1990s, after dismissing the 1980s 135 hp 1.6 16-valve CVH conversion by Schrick? If the 1.6-2.0 Zeta (that apparently included an unbuilt 1.4 version) was a direct development of the CVH then why did Ford opt to develop the Sigma, given it should have been theoretically possible for the Zeta to also spawn 1.1-1.3 versions like on the CVH?

            If the new multilink rear suspension was able to give the mk3/mk4 Fiesta the same handling as the 205, it would have certainly benefited the Puma and Ka even more.

            The only 2-seater mk3/mk4s that come to mind are the Ford Fiesta Roadster Aperto and the 1998 Ford Libre concept, the soundness of the platform would appear to be have been a missed opportunity,

            Speaking of the LT/Lynx/Endura-D-derived 1.8 Ford DLD engine, could it have been further enlarged to 2-litres / 1975cc+ (putting out roughly 140-150+ hp)? Despite originally being designed from the beginning to be exclusively a diesel engine, have heard its roots can be traced back to the Kent family (including Cosworth BDA) possibly via the marine engines.


            Was it be accurate to say the mk3 Escort-based Gartrac G3/G4 (that reputedly featured a lot of carry over from the mk2 Escort) was a separate development of the RWD mk3 Escort idea or is there a connection between the projects?

          • Nate, the 16v idea was an exercise only on paper. Several organisations were spoken to about developing the cvh engine but this was to look at how cheap it could be done.

            My father worked at Dagenham for 27 yrs and the lynx engine was a Peugeot designed block to his knowledge, which Ford worked with psa to develop.

            The Barchetta from Ghia I think was the idea behind the two seater, as Ford had knowledge of what Mazda were about to offer with the MX5 as being a shareholder and business partner. I think again this was just a paper exercise.

            The suspension would have been very helpful for when the Puma was developed. My uncle told me that due to the limitations of the suspension it was hard to make the car sit right and it looked to high up for a sports car.

            The gatrac rally version of the mk3 Escort was a special vehicles project and to my knowledge was never related to the actual car.

          • daveh

            First have heard of the LT/Lynx/Endura-D being a Peugeot design, others claim they were actually made on Kent tooling (due to the similar max 1753cc displacements reached by tuners/motorsport along with the Kent-based 1800cc outboard motor) and were originally developed in the early ’80s in collaboration with Klöckner-Humboldt-Deutz.

            Perhaps both accounts are partially right with Ford in essence likely producing a Dagenham built variation of the Indenor designed Peugeot XD diesel on Kent tooling in collaboration with Klöckner-Humboldt-Deutz. If true then that means the LT/Lynx/Endura-D diesel did indeed have some potential for further enlargement from 1753cc to around 1948-1975cc. It is also curious the same Peugeot XD engine in 1948cc form was later used in the Tata Safari featuring a turbocharger, prior to being converted to petrol and de-stroked to 1.4-litres for the Tata Indica / CityRover.

            Always thought PSA missed a trick in not producing a 1.6 TUD let alone even turbodiesel versions, before being replaced by the 1.4-1.6 DLD/HDi unless the latter are themselves an evolution of the TUD.

            Was under the impression the Ghia styled Ford Barchetta was based on the mk2 Fiesta short of consideration being given to carrying it over in production form to the mk3 Fiesta.

            Would the multi-link rear suspension have had any impact on the development of the Ford Ka, on the one hand the latter was built to a cost on the other its shared mechanicals with the Fiesta and Puma should spread out the costs to make it worthwhile in carrying over had the other two received multi-link rear suspension.

          • Nate – I am not sure about the Lynx being built on Kent tooling – the Dagenham engine plant was a new facility and the only Kent based engine still in production at this time was the old 1.1 petrol in the Fiesta to my knowledge. Unfortunately my father passed away earlier this year so I cant ask him but from what he told me the 1.8 was part of the continued partnership with Peugeot which had seen the 2.3D that appeared in both the Sierra and Granada previously, and that Dunton and Cologne had small inputs into it’s design. The same partnership developed the Lion V6 which again Peugeot led on and Ford tinkered with to get right for Jag and LR.

            The Barchetta design was originally based on the Mk1/Mk2 Fiesta underpinnings, and it did go on I theory to become the Ford of Australia Capri (though increased in size from the original one off). Ford of Europe liked the idea and it was several years after the Barchetta, so I think it was juts inspiration behind it.

            The multi link suspension probably would not have helped the KA – the original concept car was built on a new floorpan, but it was eventually based upon the Mk1/2 underpinnings with bits of Mk3 thrown in if it was cost effective. This is why it ran on the Kent 1.1 instead of the 1.25 Zetec engine – cheaper to produce.

          • daveh

            Did have my suspicions on the Ka owing more to the mk1/mk2 Fiesta despite being based on the mk3/mk4 Fiesta. It brings to mind the idea of a better capitalized BL / Austin Rover Group putting both RX6 and AR6 into production as equivalents to the Ka and mk3/mk4 Fiesta.

  17. The problem with Triumph in the mid 1970s onwards were the two people that could have continued its successful reputation with new models left the company ie Harry Webster to Automotive Products and George Turnbull to Hyundai, both were enthusiastic drivers who had developed a great range of Triumph cars in the 1960s and early 1970s!

  18. Very interesting article. The only quibble I have about it is Ian’s comparison of the Cortina with a Peugeot 504L. A truer comparison would have been with the Rover 2000 ( P6) range because the Peugeot was in a different league from any Ford in terms of quality – indeed the rather less basic 504s than the L ( which did not have IRS ) would stand comparison with the W123 Mercedes

    • It is a fair point, however to me the 504 represented a good example of where BMH should have been at the end of the 60s, selling a product into what was a conservative (both small and big C) sector of the market, that was thus not receptive to the “two many good ideas” Ado17, and wanting something more affordable and modest than a Rover, but still retaining values of good quality.

      I believe the issues for BMC/H actually go back to the decision to base the Farina range on a re-skinned A55 rather than evolve from the much better Oxford underpinnings into something more like the 404. The limitations of the A55 underpinnings meant that they would not be able to offset their higher production costs compared with Ford, with a higher price point justified by offering a measurably better product than the Ford. This opened the door to the Ford no longer being seen as the option you had to take if you could not afford an Austin or Morris, but the wiser better value choice than those old fuddy duddy Austin’s and Morris’.

  19. Is it known to what degree the MG Magnette ZA/ZB was related to the Morris Oxford Series II/III as well as whether the former was superior in a number of respects over the latter to be considered an alternate base for the Farina B or at least had some superior mechanicals that could have been carried over to an Oxford III-based Farina B? Same goes for what the mechanical base was for the Farina C.

    It is my limited understanding (that engines aside) the post-war Minor (including related Major and 1500/1.5), Oxford and Six/Isis all shared similar mechanicals to each other, with the likes of the Marina/Ital later making use of Minor mechanicals for the 70s. If so perhaps they would have been a more suitable updated mechanical base for the Farina trio in place of the Austin-derived Farinas (albeit with different Pininfarina styling sans tailfins) from the late-50s, quickly followed by a lost-cost early/mid-60s Marina-type three-box saloon RWD trio to challenge the Viva HA (1000-1300cc), mk1/mk2 Ford Cortina (1100-1600cc+) and Ford Corsair / Peugeot 404 (1600-2000cc+) respectively as well as help pay off the costs of the Issigonis FWD trio (that ideally should have been hatchbacks from outset) and retain conservative BMC buyers after conventional RWD cars?

    • My understanding is that the MG and Riley had different suspension, coil spring v Oxford’s torsion bar.

      The Oxford had an excellent reputation in its day for handling and ride, via torsion bars and telexscopic shock absorbers and sharp rack and pinion steering. It could have evolved rather nicely with ball joints and coil sprung rear end into the 70s.

      • So it is theoretically possible the Oxford (plus the Minor and Isis) mechanicals could have formed the basis for an early-1960s Marina/Ital to challenge the Cortina as part of a conventional RWD trio to compliment the Issigonis FWD trio?

        • Potentially, but I would argue that in 59, the Farina should have received the Oxford front end and a coil spring rear with a panard rod, would have put it on a par with the similar 404 and Volvo Amazon of that era and maintained the Nuffield reputation for robust well engineered cars, that justified a healthy price premium over a Ford.

          In the mid 60s the front end should have been switched to McPherson struts, (just as Roots did with the Arrow) as a more compact cheaper solution enabled by better body shell design knowledge in a 504 like car.

          If we assume ADO16 did not happen, then the logic would also dictate a Farina reskin of the Minor in the late 50s, a scale up as it should be lighter, maybe a little bigger and more robust A40 like car evolving into a 204 / looking but rear drive (strut front coil rear – Fiat124 like) in the mid 60s as the BMC offer against the Cortina.

          However my view is that the ADO16 was so right, that BMC should have done it, but with an Oxford based Farina as the higher start point, followed on with a 504 like evolution of the Oxford instead of the ADO17. Instead investing the money to improve the quality, rot and servicing issues of the ADO16 to broaden its appeal to the wider UK market and leverage better its global success.

          • Could the Oxford III have benefited from a more Volvo Amazon like ponton body? Certainly prefer it along with the styling of the Magnette ZA/ZB and vaguely similar Jaguar mk1/mk2 as well as Pininfarina’s work at Peugeot over the original Farina B styling.

            Am envisioning a scenario of Austin producing the Issigonis FWD cars as hatchbacks (except for exclusive Vanden Plas three-box saloons), while Morris produces conventional RWD cars albeit with some influences from Gerald Palmer and later Roy Haynes.

            Gerald Palmer’s work on the Victor FB and Viva HA does give some insight as to how BMC equivalents derived from the Minor/Oxford/Isis could be developed, with the Minor-based Farina A replacing the Hornet/Elf as a 2/4-door (or 2-door only like the Viva HA) 1000-1300cc saloon between the Mini and ADO16, while the Oxford-based Farina B slots between ADO16 and ADO17 as a direct Cortina / Victor challenger with the Isis-based Farina C slotting above ADO17.

            The RWD Morris models would eventually switch to FWD in this scenario from the 1970s onwards though only once the latter layout has become more accepted by the wider public (and brand loyalty becomes less of a thing despite Morris retaining its own identity), without creating a situation where BMC risk losing conservative RWD customers to other rivals taking their time adopting FWD.

          • Nate, I see your thinking.

            Certainly to me the Volvo Amazon is everything a Nuffield car should have been, robust, well engineered and unpretentious the sort of brand values VW have traded on for decades.

            My concern though is that if the volumes existed to justify developing two product lines, given the reputation BMC and BL had for limited investment and under development.

            However that does not mean an all fwd or all rwd strategy, i think like Peugeot they could have gone fwd for the <96, and rwd 96< in the 60s. Mini was always too small and that should have been picked up in the development, but a bit bigger would have given it a more healthy price point and better sharing of components with the ADO16.

            So we have in 1965

            Mini 88" (fwd swb platform) – a series 1000,1100
            Ado 16 94" (fwd lwb platform) – a series 1100, 1275
            Large family car sector (rwd strut front coil rear swb platform) 102" b series 1600, 1800
            Luxury car (rwd strut front coil rear lwb platform) 112" b series 1800, c series 2,6

          • Graham

            It should be possible to develop an Austin FWD and Morris RWD line given BMC were still producing aging RWD cars upon the formation of BL, it is just the latter would compliment and outset the costs of the former without costing too much to develop thanks to its low-cost conventional mechanicals being hidden beneath their Peugeot Pininfarina or Volvo Amazon inspired exterior.

            The main Austin and Morris ranges (not including estates, vans and pick-ups, etc) in the 1960s would be as follows (in the assumption BL is never formed and better decisions were made after the formation of BMC in the 1950s including Joe Edwards succeeding Leonard Lord):

            – Austin Mini: 3/5-door hatchback with 721-1275cc engines

            – Morris Farina: 2/4-door saloon with 998-1275cc engines (ideally needs a 1600cc unit)

            – Austin ADO16: 3/5-door hatchback with 1098-1275cc engines (also ideally needs a 1600cc unit)

            – Morris Marina: 2/4-door saloon with 1275cc-1998cc engines

            – Austin ADO17: 3/5-door hatchback with 1998-2398cc 4/6-cylinder engines

            – Morris “Sarina” (insert better name): 2/4-door saloon with 2398-2912cc+ 6-cylinder engines*

            *- While the “Sarina” could be derived from an enlarged Isis-sized Marina platform, it is also possible for it to be featured from a RWD X6 (aka Rover P6-sized) version of ADO17 (think smaller lighter ADO61 with more contemporary styling). Either approach should theoretically be cost effective.

            The Mini would eventually evolve to become the 84-88-inch wheelbase Mini II akin to a fully de-seamed Project Ant with 12-inch wheels and other improvements (either denied to the Mini or belated given decades later), along with spawning a Morris Clubman variant akin to a Project Ant-derived version of the ADO20 Clubman hatchback prototype (possibly even named Morris Minor). It is also possible it evolves into the Metro and spawns Innocenti Mini bodied versions.

            ADO16 would eventually be replaced in the mid/late-1960s with ADO22 prior to eventually being replaced by an early Maestro/Montego in the mid/late-1970s, the Austin and Morris versions being differentiated with different exterior styling and featuring different suspension (Hydragas for Austin, Maestro/Montego type conventional suspension for Morris). Given the Maestro used the Allegro as a base perhaps a SWB 1000-1600cc version could form the basis of a class competitive Supermini?

            The replacements for ADO17 and “Sarina” would prove to be more challenging either ranging from both adopting a version of ADO71 (now with 5-door hatchback, 4.door saloon and 5-door estate bodystyles) or the “Sarina” utilizing what is best described as a slightly enlarged ADO77-like RWD platform prior to both potentially being replaced by the Princess/SD1-sized Maestro-derived platforms.

            Vanden Plas would be BMC’s Radford and Wood & Pickett, featuring either pre-set versions that succeed Riley / Wolseley or bespoke versions including unique bodystyles (e.g. three-box versions of FWD cars, etc).

            MG outside of the Midget and MGB/MGC would be more challenging, since it has the potential to capitalize on its brand recognition in the US, etc by moving upmarket like Triumph or even Audi. However the question is does it require MG to mostly feature a unique engine family in the 18-degree V4/V6 (possibly even spawn a related W8) or even OHC (plus Twin-Cam) A/B/C-Series in order to differentiate it from other BMC models?

            Perhaps the entry-level MG could be the Mini-based ADO34, with the RWD Midget being succeeded by EX234 (that would also replace the 4-cylinder MGBs) and a more conventional 6/8-cylinder TR7-like replacement for the MGC.

            The MG version of ADO16/ADO22 would be based on a 97.5-98+ inch wheelbase platform derived from the proposed ADO16 van, available in 4-door three-box Pininfarina-styled Apache/Victoria-like saloon and 2-door (or 3-door) 4-seater coupe bodystyles possibly with 1100-2000cc 18-degree V4s. – Essentially being a cheaper more accessible Pininfarina bodied Lancia Fulvia with Hydrolastic/Hydragas suspension prior to being replaced by an ADO77-like platform,

            The MG version of ADO17 would be an upscaling of the former in terms of styling derived from X6 platform, either FWD or more likely RWD and featuring 18-degree 2000cc V4 and 2500-3000cc V6 engines prior to being replaced by an enlarged ADO77-like platform.

            If BMC acquires Rover instead of Jaguar than that would not only allow for the larger FWD and other BMC cars to utilize a V8-based V6 (or V8 in the case of MG), but also allow for MG to be twinned with Rover as a junior sporting marque as well as the larger RWD Morris models to use less sophisticated SD1-like RWD platforms (whilst Rover maintains their over-engineered image).

          • I still think Riley had the potential to be the Jaguar analogue in a world where British Motor Holdings, let alone British Leyland, never happened. Or perhaps it would be more of a Maserati equivalent – somewhere between the real world Jaguar and Bentley and above Nate’s upmarket counterfactual MG. I’ve then always imagined Vanden Plas taking up the role of a Rolls Royce/Maybach rival.

          • It is possible BMC in the above scenario (including Rover) would perhaps irrationally attempt to develop a flagship Vanden Plas model or few akin to the real-life Daimlerized SD1 proposal, however it would need its own USP to stand out from Rover or MG and would find it difficult to avoid being a white elephant.

            Something like a P10, P8 or Range Rover-derived 4WD limit-run flagship saloon featuring a W8/W12 development of the 18-degree V4/V6 as well as a body inspired by the Pininfarina styled Ferrari Pinin concept or featuring more understated non-Retro styling, being a more down to earth analogue of the William Town’s styled Aston Martin Lagonda.

            Riley needs a pre-war point of divergence or few that includes the development of a Big Four-based V8 to be in a better position in the post-war era (for US market) at least until the mid/late-1950s, however it got lost in the shuffle within the Nuffield Group so perhaps Riley would have fared better either under a successful Singer that retains its position as the UK’s 3rd largest carmaker (pre-BMC) or like Jaguar manages to find a way of holding out as an independent a bit longer (whilst if necessary potentially raiding the cupboards of defeated German and Italian carmakers to appropriate anything of value as war reparations – e.g. akin to Bristol with BMW, etc).

            To remain independent however would require the Riley brothers to avoid falling out with each other, not developing too many models and finding a way to increase parts commonality before Riley begins to struggle in the mid-1930s as a result of being overextended.

  20. Ford’s success in the seventies and eighties was based on using simple, conservative engineering with occasionally radical looking designs( the Sierra comes to mind) and having a huge range of trim options and engines to suit every pocket. Yet by the late eighties, Ford were falling behind, the Sierra was rwd in a market that was mostly fwd, engines like the Kent were rough and mediocre in terms of econo,my and performance, and penny pinching saw reliability and quality fall off. By the early nineties, rivals were moving in on Ford with far superior products, market share was starting to fall, and Ford had to do something major to stay at number one in Britain. Fortunately new models introduced from the Mondeo onwards were vastly better

    • The big life-saver for Ford around that time must’ve been the Mk1 Focus. Where would Ford have been by the early 2000s if the Mk1 Focus hadn’t been such a success ?

      • I’d think if the Focus failed, Ford could have been in big trouble as people no longer saw their cars as default choices by the late nineties. However, even better was the Mark 3 Mondeo, a classy looking car which even in 1.8 form could reach nearly 130 mph and was a near silent cars on long journeys. I should know, we had one at work as a hire car, and I had it taken off me by my passenger as it was so powerful and quiet I didn’t realise I was doing 100 mph.

  21. In Spain, this beginning of the 80s were a stand bu yeras before the start of Austin Rover newly established showroom network. These years were ones of very few sales, with a few tr7 and some more Acclaim, very few Range Rover V8 and the renewed SD1. In 1976 the Autho factory closed meaning the end of sales from ADO and Mini models. Also, the Land Rover was still produced by Santana and then not sold by BL dealers and networks.

    • Also before joining the EEC, Spain imposed large tariffs on imported cars. This worked in a fashion as companies like Ford, Peugeot Citroen and General Motors built factories in Spain to get round the tariffs, and also cheaper Spanish labour made it attractive to the multinationals, who started to export large numbers of cars from Spain in the late seventies and early eighties. However, it meant SEAT wasn’t exposed to foreign competitions and continued to make undesirable Fiat clones( the Marbella and Malaga were terrible when they were exported over here) into the nineties.

    • It’s all in the context of the times. By 1986 Triumph was dead and Rover’s reputation had been damaged by problems on seventies SD1s, and the more affluent buyer these buyers attracted had gone elsewhere. Remember in the mid eighties, a boom was underway in the economy that the middle classes in particular benefitted from, and there was a much bigger range of upmarket cars for buyers to choose from. In early 1986, during the last days of the SD1, well off buyers would have found the Audi 100, BMW 5 series, Ford Granada, Mercedes 190/ W124, SAAB 9000, Vauxhall Senator and the Volvo 700 more desirable than an SD1, and some could have been tempted by a nearly new BMW 7 series or Jaguar XJ 6 4.2 over a Rover V8.

  22. Fascinating story! Apart from the quality problems, I also get the impression that BL developed many cars that did not make it to production. I have not much to compare with, nevertheless It seems to me that a lot of money has been spent on development of prototypes that were cancelled 5 minutes to 12. Any thoughts on this, anyone?
    Robert, Sweden
    BTW, I grew up with a Morris 1100, an Austin Allegro and a Rover SD1

  23. While the quality of the SD1 (and TR7) was garbage, it’s slightly unfair to blame it just on Ford cost controls, as the rival Granada WASN’T rubbish. Indeed it was the Grandad which was the main beneficiary of the SD1’s problems.

  24. Triumph was badly damaged by a long strike in 1974, continuous unrest and low productivity at its Speke factory, and the terrible quality of the early TR7. The marque was allowed to slowly die there was no replacement for the Stag and 2000/2500, and the Dolomite and Spitfire lingered on until the closure of Canley in 1980. While the later TR7 and the TR8 for the American market showed some promise, a recession in 1980/81 and the high exchange rate killed the car and Triumph was reduced to assembling a Honda for its last three years.

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