Blog : Iberian Triumph Acclaims

Iberian Triumph Acclaim

It’s often thought that the (1981-84) Triumph Acclaim was marketed by British Leyland (BL) only in EEC markets (including the UK) as part of the deal struck with Honda. Non-EEC markets would be left to Honda to supply direct from Japan with the ‘original’ Japan-built Honda Ballade. Press reports from the time (and the communication to employees posted here) can give that impression.

However, it wasn’t quite that simple. Spain and Portugal didn’t join the EEC until 1986, but the Triumph Acclaim was also marketed in those countries – probably because in both, at the time, imports from Japan faced tighter restrictions than imports from the UK. That was not the case in non-EEC Switzerland and the Swiss were offered the ‘pure’ Honda Ballade, built in Japan.

Swiss Honda Ballade

Meanwhile, other non-EEC European markets such as Norway received a Honda Civic four-door saloon which was essentially a ‘de-contented’ Honda Ballade. The Ballade had originally been conceived by Honda as a premium version of the Civic saloon to be sold through the separate, upmarket ‘Verno’ dealer channel that existed in Japan – so BL had contracted to build one of the posher Hondas.

BL did not have the rights to market the UK-built Acclaim beyond Europe, so in other countries globally (if this design appeared at all) it was as a Honda and not as a Triumph. An example was South Africa (where both Honda and BL had a presence) and where it was the Honda Ballade that appeared on price lists (in that case sold through Mercedes-Benz dealers as a sort of ‘mini-Mercedes’, apparently).

As always if you know more, please do get in touch!

Iberian Triumph Acclaim

Chris Cowin


  1. It is very much a Honda. In North America, the upmarket version of the Civic–the same car but with a different rear– was called a Honda Accord. To call this car a “Triumph” is badge engineering taken to the extreme. It is as British as saki.

    • It’s certainly true that, given the timescales involved, BL had very limited scope to alter the Ballade which they had contracted to build in the UK, and in that sense the Triumph Acclaim was very much a “Japanese car”.
      It’s worth remembering however, that for commercial purposes it was able to qualify as a “British car” meaning a car “manufactured” in the UK rather than merely “assembled”. The body for example was pressed from British steel in Britain, rather than being imported in kit form which is what typically occurred in “assembly” operations.
      Without that, the project would have made little sense, as if the UK built Acclaim had been classed as a “Japanese car” it would have faced the same restrictions on access to European markets as a car imported directly from Japan.
      With enough UK sourced content to qualify as a “British car” it could be sold free of restriction in countries such as France, Italy (and Spain as discussed above) which restricted imports of Japanese cars, in some cases such as Italy essentially barring them.
      The Italian car industry in fact attempted to block the import of Acclaim on grounds of origin, but failed, and it went on (together with the new Austin Metro) to underpin a revival of BL fortunes on the Italian market.
      In many other European markets (often denied such cars of Japanese conception previously) BL found they were “pushing on an open door” and orders flooded in.
      It paved the way for the successful export performance of the successor model launched in 1984 (marketed as the Rover 200) which was again a UK built version of the (next) Honda Ballade but one in which British engineers had scope to introduce more changes.
      When that in turn was replaced in 1989 by the new Rover 200/400 series the partnership had evolved into a proper joint venture and that car is best described as “Anglo-Japanese”. From 1986 BL were building the Honda badged versions of these cars alongside the Rover badged version in their British plants, a useful boost to production volumes and utilisation of capacity.
      The Triumph Acclaim, as the first in this sequence of Honda influenced cars from BL/Rover was, one could argue, a “toe in the water” exercise which worked very well.
      The popularity of the Honda influenced models in European export markets saw sales by BL to the European continent grow, to the point where they were selling as many cars for export (mostly to Europe) as on the British domestic market.
      In the early 1980s BL were exporting only 20% of the cars they built. 15 years later the figure was close to 50%. In France for example BL/Rover sales expanded from 28,900 in 1984 to 46,900 in 1994 of which 60% were cars developed jointly with Honda (200/400/600/800).
      This export success helped reduce dependence on the fiercely competitive UK market (which saw a “turf war” between Ford and GM in that period squeezing BL sales) and helped keep the factories humming.
      So although the Triumph Acclaim has its detractors, from a business perspective it’s hard not to see it as a success.
      Exports are one area where it aided revival, but there were also many others, such as the impact the injection of Honda expertise had on the modernization of production methods across BL – but this is just a comment and I’ve rambled on for too long as usual : )

      • The British car industry learning from the Japanese…. Ironically, during the early 1950s the Japanese had sent executives over to England to learn about mass-producing cars… Talk about the students teaching the teachers… Good article Chris!

  2. I must admit I thought the Acclaim was only sold by BL in the UK, with the Honda Ballade covering the other territories. I still think the Acclaim (albeit mainly a rebadged British built Honda) was a useful car at the time to inject some new life into their fading product line before the M car’s arrival.

    My friends Dad had an HLS model, that my friend inherited before he got a company car.

  3. My dad bought a new Acclaim in 1982. I was 20 years old and I used to drive it regularly.
    Fantastic car compared to anything else in the BL line up.
    Honda engine was a peach. 1300 auto with OD. I once got a ton out of it on the M11!!
    Rust sent it to the scrap yard in the end with well over 100k on the clock.
    BL should have stayed with Honda, I reckon they would still be around today if they had.
    I have always driven BL cars. Have a Rover 75 Tourer cdti. Had it 15yrs, great car.

  4. My uncle had one as a second hand motor. Other than the engine being rather gutless it was a good motor which he traded in after a couple of years for a Renault 21. If I remember the front seats were actually different from honda, which meant it had more room. They were based on cortina seat frames.

  5. I was in Spain in 1983 and the assortment of cars were quite interesting, with many never being seen outside of Spain. SEAT were predominant and producing Fiat clones, and there were still a few Dodge 3700s running, which was a Plymouth Valiant based luxury car. Also the Chrysler 180 seemed popular as a taxi.

    • The Dodge Dart was in production by Barreiros (later Chrysler España) between 1965 and 1971 as Dart and from 1971 to 1977 as Dodge 3700, so in 1983 despite a low production number, you should have been able to see them regularly. It was the largest, most expensive and luxurious Spanish made car at the time. The Chrysler 180 was quite popular indeed and quite a few made it into the 1990s, as was the Chrysler 150, the Spanish built Simca 1307.

      In the early 1980s Japanese cars were available only in such places as he Canary Islands. My dad worked here in 1982-84 and you could find cars never or rarely seen in mainland Spain at the time like Datsuns, Hondas, Saabs, Audis, Volvos or even Zastavas. Probably the Civic/Ballade was available there at the time but Í´m not sure.

      Don’t remember having ever seen a Triumph Acclaim in Spain either. The license plates of car in the picture opening this piece was issued in 1982. At the time you could buy the Rover SD-1 (never seem a Spanish one either) and was even occasionally seem on the specialized press as a luxury vehicle lacking quality compared with Mercs and other aspirational cars. At the time import duties were high so most people could only affort locally built cars like SEATs, Renaults or Citroens

      • I never saw one British car when I was in Spain in 1983, probably due to the high import duties, and it was mostly SEATs and cars assembled in Spain by by Peugeot/ Chrysler, Ford and Renault. Probably was in Spain too early to see any Opel Corsas/ Vauxhall Novas on the roads, a car which became a huge export success for Spain.

  6. I don’t remember too that much difference in levels of cars when I visited Minorca in 1986 apart from a lot more Seats.

    I’m not sure if this was before or after Spain joined the EEC, which reduced the import tariffs in exchange for Seats to be sold easily in the other member states.

    I heard that some Spanish built Dodge Darts were brought to the UK in 1988 for use in the filming of Batman at Pinewood studios.

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