Theme : Special – An Early Bath

As a fiftieth sporting anniversary fast approaches, we combine this month’s theme with our Print The Legend series and look at what could have been one of the first-ever Special Editions.

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Following England’s victory in the 1966 World Cup, jingoistic feelings were high. BMC wanted to commemorate the event and hastily planned a tribute in time for the Earls Court Motor Show. An intimate committee to consider the alternatives was formed, consisting of BMC’s head of marketing and an outside consultant, the journalist Archie Vicar.

Their first idea, to have a series of 11 limited editions, all Morrises, named after each player in the final was deemed impractical, so a single iconic image was chosen, that of the number 4 shirt, Nobby Stiles, dancing a jig after the match and grinning through his missing front teeth.

Nobby Stiles

The project encountered difficulties from the start. The Morris and Austin grilles had horizontal bars, the Riley and Wolseley grilles were too narrow and the MG had a prominent central bar. This left only the Vanden Plas as suitable which, due to BMC’s rigid internal accounting procedures, would add significantly to the cost of the final car.

Apart from the gap-toothed grille feature, the special was to feature football design foglamp covers, red seats with white piping, green carpets to represent the Wembley turf, a Union Flag hubcap adornment (note to our younger readers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that, in those days, England considered it had free use of the United Kingdom flag) and an enamel ‘three lions’ badge on both grille and bootlid. Mechanically the car remained the same.

By pulling out all the stops, the Morris 1100 Nobby was ready for internal auditing on Friday 2nd September 1966. Development had been kept highly secret, not in fear of external espionage, but so that it would not come to the attention of Technical Director, Alec Issigonis. This ended up being impractical and an almighty row arose over what Sir Alec (as he would become three years later) called a ‘trivial and inappropriate’ proposal.

It was then realised that Pressed Steel-Fisher were only able to provide the unique Vanden Plas bonnet pressing for use on Vanden Plas vehicles, the paperwork in the supply chain could not be modified to supply them for use on a Morris. For a short time it was considered that the Nobby should be released as a Vanden Plas, but it was pointed out that the traditional VP owner preferred watching cricket or playing bowls.

With Earls Court now imminent, there was no choice but for the project to be abandoned. Another own goal for BMC, and yet another golden opportunity for a British motor industry first was lost. The prototype was broken up, but a Dutch enthusiast has painstakingly recreated it on the vehicle shown above.

5 thoughts on “Theme : Special – An Early Bath”

  1. What a missed opportunity!

    Wasn’t Rover in the process of developing a ‘Gazza Edition’ 800 by the time BMW took over? Rumour has it that its nitro-injected V7 engine and two tone paintwork (bordeaux for the lower body, ivory for the glasshouse) would have crushed the Five series. Was BMW so terrified of this competition that they bought Rover in order to crush it before it hit the market? Discuss.

    1. Ah, the Paul Lagerfield Special Edition. Indeed you are correct Kris, although the rumour about BMW sidelining it is untrue. It was actually scuppered prior to the takeover by massive consumption figures and a minor fault that was inexplicably insoluble. Once they were activated, they were unable to stop the headlamp washers.

  2. Do you have documentation to support this contention that Vicar collaborated with BMC? It would be a bit of a bombshell given the number of Wolseley test cars he wrote off.

    1. I believe it was very much what would today be termed a ‘skunkworks’ project. It was always intended for the dynamic and youthful Morris brand and I doubt that Wolseley were aware.

      I believe a lot of Archie’s problems with Wolseleys were caused from him driving too close to the car in front in an effort to check from the reflection on their rear bumper whether the illuminated Wolseley radiator badge was working. This became something of an obsession with him.

  3. Simon: that´s very funny but far from the truth. I think Archie Vicar had immense faith in Wolseley which lead to him over-estimating the cars´competence. You might recall the time he attempted to race a Wolseley 23/89 against a Tatra 603 at Thruxton, so convinced was of the Wolseley´s dynamic ability.

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