Chris Cowin, the author of British Leyland: Chronicle of a car crash and Export Drive: BMC and British Leyland Cars in Europe and the world, has added a third title to his portfolio. The snappily-titled British Leyland: Betting on a Miracle has just been released, and is available exclusively from Amazon. This book is a follow-on to the ‘Chronicle of a car crash’ (covering the firm’s history from 1968-1975), which I blogged about after reading a copy back in 2012 and, given how highly I rated that book, I had high hopes that this follow-up would be equally impressive.
Rather like the Chronicle neatly covers the period between the formation of BLMC and the installation of Michael Edwardes, Betting on a Miracle takes in the era where the company was known as BL Limited, and seemingly looked set to turn the corner with the arrival of the Austin Metro, Maestro and Montego, as well as the Joint Venture products, the Rover 200 and 800. It follows the fortunes of the firm as each part of Michael Edwardes’ product-led recovery over- or under-performed its way into the history books. I don’t need to worry about spoilers, as you know how the story progresses and ends, but it’s good to see this time period painstakingly pored over and presented in a way that’s both easy to read for newbies to the story and informative for the more well-informed.
The good news is that this one is just as impressive as the original, which is reassuring for all those people (like me) who yearn to read historically-accurate books about the British motor industry. The format of this book is changed over the original, and runs chronologically, referring back to the politics, the product and the overseas fortunes of British Leyland. Each year has these sub-sections – National, Industrial Relations, the Marketplace and International – and the contents of each should be pretty self-explanatory. There’s lots to digest along the way, and you won’t be finishing this in one sitting.
We’ve covered this period in some detail on AROnline (and there’s a great deal to come from our own Ian Nicholls on the matter) and there’s probably little in here that’ll be new to the more committed fans of this website, but that’s not to take anything away from Chris’s book. It’s a well-written account, which you’ll keep dipping into to glean yet another vignette of information. Moreover, its logical layout makes it both easy to follow, and puts the ongoing events into perspective beautifully.
As with Chris’s other books, this one is light on first-hand accounts from the important players at the time and, dare I say it, the design work is lacking somewhat, with an uninspiring cover and oh-so-simple page treatments. As an A4-format book, not being a hardback also doesn’t do it any favours at all, as it feels flimsy and lacking in structural integrity – rather like the car that stars on its cover. Would it work better in A5? Probably…
However, despite that, I reckon it’s £15 well spent if you’re not into style over substance, you enjoy a good read and fancy a pretty complete history of one of the most fascinating periods in the firm’s development. No doubt, we can expect Volume 3 (1986-2005) in a couple of years’ time.