Opinion : Anniversaries to look forward to in 2024

Rover 75

As the clock ticks relentlessly onwards and the New Year begins to take shape in our minds, it’s good to review the previous 12 months. After the raging skip fire that was 2022, this one’s been a little more settled. The final remnants of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic have faded away (even if the virus is still with us), but geo-politics have been playing their usual cruel game.

The war in Ukraine ground on, trouble in the Middle East flared up again, and rages away, but at least we didn’t have to see the Prime Minister changed again, even if the ruling party continued to implode with added toxicity. Bringing it closer to home, we sadly lost Harris Mann and Ray Bates, Jaguar once again failed to launch anything new, but at least car production in the UK was buoyed with the news that MINI and Nissan would continue building cars into the next generation.

All told, it was a pretty rough year for many of us, that’s for sure. But at least it was a little more normal than the last few – and we’re going to have a slew of elections next year to look forward to.

Landmarks in the past

Things are going to remain up in the air as the industry makes its transition from ICE to EV, and we’re no doubt in for a rocky ride with a change in direction in the future – so let’s take a look at what came before, with a look at the anniversaries coming our way in 2024.

10 years ago

New cars revealed included the Land Rover Discovery 5 with its odd styling and the MINI Hatch (F56) with its, er, odd styling. The former remains with us, while the latter is now in the throes of replacement, and continues to remain one of the best-selling cars in the UK.

Jaguar Land Rover appeared to be going from strength to strength, with the opening of its new £355m engine production factory at the i54 South Staffordshire Business Park near Wolverhampton. It had been built specifically to produce the Ingenium modular family of engines available in three-, four and six-cylinder versions. Also, JLR’s SVO division opened with its headquarters based in Ryton.

What could possibly go wrong?

20 years ago

This was the year when MG Rover’s battles began to rage. After doing so well for the first three years under Phoenix, sales started to fall off a cliff. A lack of competitiveness of the model range began to bite, but the increasing controversy around the management’s pensions affairs became tabloid news – and that was another straw for the camel’s back.

Still, if RDX60 could happen, the firm might be saved…

At Gaydon, Aston Martin was going from strength to strength with the launch of the DB9, its first model based on its VH platform. The BMW 1 Series also made an appearance, and the debate about its origins began – was it based based on the Rover R30? That was the question of the year around here.

In the sports car world, the TVR Sagaris made its first appearance, and would end up being the Blackpool firm’s final fling before hitting the rocks in 2006…

Rover 75 launch image

25 years ago

The Rover 75 finally went on sale after a troubled launch. It looked like Rover and BMW’s short-lived marriage had finally entered into divorce negotiations. Bernd Pischetsrieder (BMW CEO) and Wolfgang Reitzle were fired from BMW as the Board appeared to be imploding. In the background, The Alchemy Group (a venture capital company) commenced negotiations with BMW regarding the takeover of Rover.

Joining the Rover 75 were the newly-facelifted 25 and 45, while in Coventry, the Jaguar S-Type went on sale, opening up new markets for its maker. One of Spen King’s favourite modern cars made its debut this year – the Audi A2. It was a highly efficient lightweight small car, built on aluminium underpinnings, with a low drag coefficient – in short, the actual production version of the British Leyland Technology ECV3 concept car.

Range Rover (P38)

30 years ago

Rover’s ultimately short-lived Honda-fuelled renaissance was in full swing in 1994, but it was all about to change. Rover Group’s owner, British Aerospace (BAe), sold the firm to BMW for a cool £800m. BMW poured cash into the company funding the development of Gaydon, and overseeing the launch of the year’s Portfolio models.

New cars included the stylish Rover 400 Tourer as well as the near-simultaneous launch of the Range Rover P38 and Jaguar XJ (X300) They were very different vehicles, but due to the shift in buying habits, they ended up competing for the same buyers. The Aston Martin DB7 went on sale, and began the modernisation of the marque into the powerhouse it is today.

Imports included the revitalised Audi range, dropping the 80/90, 100/200 nomenclature in favour of the more boring A4, A6 and A8s – and the firm’s transformation into the top tier alongside BMW and Mercedes-Benz was near complete. Another transformation underway was Skoda’s with the VW-fied Felicia taking over from the characterful Favorit.

Rover 213: the car Keith Adams learned to drive in

40 years ago

This was a time of change at British Leyland, with recovery looking seemingly possible after the launch of the Metro and Maestro. Jaguar under Sir John Egan was separated off  and floated on the Stock Exchange and proved hugely popular, helped by its serious undervaluing.

The last Morris passenger car, the Ital, rolled off the line at Longbridge, with the marque now on life support, in the shape of the van version of the Metro. The Triumph marque was also killed following the death of the Acclaim. You can read the story of 1984 – lead-up to privatisation for more detail.

New cars to hit the scene included the Austin Montego and Rover 213/216, with a new direction for the firm to follow. The Vauxhall Astra Mk2 brought aerodynamics to the mainstream in the small hatchback class, and the Reliant Scimitar SS1 tried to evoke the spirit of the MG Midget and Triumph Spitfire in a world dominated by hot hatchbacks. New imports to debut in 1984 included the Fiat Croma/Lancia Thema/Saab 9000 Type 4 cars and the hugely influential Renault Espace MPV.

50 years ago

For the British motor industry, 1974 was a year of consolidation. British Leyland was reeling in the wake of the launch of the Austin Allegro, with the company falling into financial difficulties as a result of the after effects of the Oil Crisis and continued strikes and union unrest. British Leyland: The Grand Illusion (1974) tells the whole story in agonising detail.

New products were thin on the ground, with the Vanden Plas 1500 taking a bow – and becoming the butt of too many jokes. It was less over the top than the year’s other British debutante, the incredible Panther De Ville. Meanwhile, right at the tail end of the year, some US dealers were given a sneak preview of an exciting new sports car – the Triumph TR7.

Action from abroad was where it was happening. The Citroën CX was a magnificent style leader from France, but the year’s most influential cars harked from Germany – the Audi 50 was pretty much the definitive supermini, while the Golf Mk1 (below) was the car the Austin Allegro should have been. Front-wheel drive, Italian styling, and brilliant industrial design. Wonder what happened to that one?

Giorgetto Giugiaro alongside his design masterpiece, the Volkswagen Golf Mk1.

60 years ago

BMC’s front-wheel-drive revolution continued with the launch of the BMC 1800. It was an upscaling of the Mini and 1100, and set new dynamic standards for British saloon cars of the era. The handling was incisive, performance more than adequate, and styling truly timeless.

However, its relative lack of success compared with the Ford Cortina Mk1 marked the beginning of the end for the Corporation as Sir Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis‘s magic touch appeared to fade in style. Was it too big, too plain, an ergonomic disaster, or just plain rubbish? History hasn’t exactly been kind, but we know better…

Other new Brits to arrive this year included the Vanden Plas 4 Litre R, Alvis TE21, the stylish Ford Corsair, Marcos GT, Reliant’s Scimitar and Rebel and the amazing TVR Griffith 400. An import we never received also made its appearance, and proved to be the calm before the storm – the excellent front-wheel-drive Autobianchi Primula.

1959 Mini

65 years ago

In the old days, 65 was when someone became pensionable. The good news is that’s not the case anymore, and the best car launched in 1959 is far from past it. On 26 August 1959, the first Mini was launched to the public while Issigonis stood proudly alongside to show the world his – and the British Motor Corporation’s – answer to the bubble cars.

The front-wheel-drive Mini could seat four passengers and their luggage and was capable of driving up what would become Britain’s motorway network (the Preston by-pass had been opened late in 1958, but most people will tell you that the motorway age really began with the opening of the M1 in November 1959) at its future speed limit of 70mph. It was clever, it was cheap and, in short, it was a revolution.

However, 1959 was a turning point in so many other ways. Other big news this year were the launches of the Triumph Herald, Jaguar Mk2 and Ford Anglia 105E, which did much to shape the following decade. Other new cars included the AC Greyhound, Austin A55 Cambridge MkII, Morris Oxford Series V, MG Magnette MkIII, Riley 4/68, Austin A99 Westminster, Wolseley 6/99, Princess 3-Litre and the iconic Austin-Healey 3000.

Austin-Nash Metropolitan

70 years ago

Now this will make you feel old. The 1950s were in full swing, and BMC had been in existence for a couple of years. The Austin and Morris ranges were undergoing a transformation, with badge engineering as a policy continuing to gain momentum. New models from the Corporation included the Austin A40 and A50 Cambridge and range-topping A90 Westminster. They joined their Morris Oxford Series II, Cowley and Wolseley 6/90 counterparts in showrooms across the country.

For taxi passengers, the updated Austin FX3D/FL1D introduced some useful updates, while the Austin and Nash Metropolitan (above) added some much needed colour to the UK’s export drive. Other Brits launched this year included the AC Aceca, Hillman Husky, Jensen 541 and the flamboyant-looking Vauxhall Cresta E.

Jaguar had a great year – the D-type made its debut, and the XK140 replaced the iconic XK120. The former was designed to win Le Mans, and would arguably go on to inspire the E-type, while the latter civilised what was once the world’s fastest production car. It was quite a time – but the drama would really come in 1955.

Jaguar D-type

Keith Adams

7 Comments

  1. I think there is an error in relation to 2024 marking 20 years ago when MG Rover Group “threw in the towel”. It was actually in April 2005. Sorry…

    2024 also marks 20 years when the last examples of the Rover V8 engine were built at Solihull for use in the runout versions of the Land Rover Discovery Series II.

  2. Not the most remembered of anniversaries, but 1974 is when Ford launched its first hatchback with the Mark 2 Capri. This made the Capri a lot more practical and was one of the first coupes with a hatchback.

  3. Hi Keith
    Thanks for uploading the Edwardes era story.
    To be honest 1974 is better covered in my resume of the Stokes era.
    The Grand Illusion only covers the end of 1974.
    If it is possible I will write the period of 1983 to 1986 up.

  4. 25 years since the last properly new Rover went on sale with the 75 is sad (I’m not counting the Tata Indica with Cityrover badges). I sincerely hope the reveal of the first new era Jaguar in 2024 proves to be the necessary fresh start that brand needs to prosper again.

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