Put Forth The Fifth

In a post-script to today’s reprint of Archie Vicar’s review of the 1981 Triumph Acclaim, I present a few notes on Car magazine’s impressions of the 1980 Honda Ballade.

(c) wheelsage.com

Were it not for the Honda-BL deal, the introduction of the Honda Ballade would have passed almost unnoticed in Japan,” wrote Hattori Yoshi. “The Ballade is an unexceptional car: it offers nothing new to jaded Japanese motornoters who are used to new models being introduced just about as often as someone, somewhere is complaining about unfair Japanese imports”. 

Hattori explained that the Ballade differed from previous Hondas in that it was a product they felt customers wanted rather than needed; it also joined the lone vehicle in their then-new Verno dealer network – set up to sell the Prelude. Apparently cars in the Verno network were supposed to be a bit more upmarket than those in the Honda chain.

In Hattori’s view the Ballade had “the sort of shape that someone who is not too interested in cars might well buy”. There was more to the Ballade than a conventional shape: it had a pass-through rear-seat back to carry skis or fishing rods. “On the road, the Ballade is quite endearing. The engines [it had a 1.3 or 1.5 litre mill] are lively and responsive, the gearshift good, and the transmission is not harsh. Also, the steering is precise, if dead and the Ballade handles and brakes reasonably well”. Why did the Acclaim only have one engine?

[Source: Car, November 1980. 75 pence.] 

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

9 thoughts on “Put Forth The Fifth”

  1. I always wondered why BL didn’t utilise the larger of Honda’s power units for the top range Acclaims? Having only one engine size to offer customers must have hampered sales to some extent. I can only assume it was a (rather desperate) measure to protect cannibalisation of Morris Ital sales, given that the LM 11 saloon was still at least three years away.

    I recall a good deal of hand wringing at the time over the vexed issue of ‘local content’. I think what the Acclaim demonstrated was that when given a thoroughly developed product, with proven running gear and with quality designed in from the outset, the Cowley assembly workers could do a thoroughly decent job of screwing them together. The quality issues that bedevilled the subsequent LM models (Maestro / Montego) suggests BL production engineers had much to learn in that area.

    Learn it they did of course, but by then it was far too late.

    1. It clearly says in the Vicar review that the lower spec models benefitted from the same engine as the top spec models.
      You could say that the car showed the problems in BL lay without the assembly line: as soon as the design reverted in-house quality collapsed *even after the engineers had seen how it was done*.

  2. On the buildability matter, I found myself returning to my copy of “When Rover met Honda” to check a memorable phrase:

    “The importance placed on foolproof assembly was amply demonstrated early in the relationship when the Rover manufacturing people reported on the first Triumph Acclaim from Honda, which had been sent over KD (knocked-down) for us to confirm the manufacturing process:

    We could have shaken the box and driven the car out!”

  3. Honda’s range was not particularly diverse at the beginning of the ’80s, but the Ballade was possibly the least attractive car – at least to European markets – they made. The demand for supermini-based four door saloons was not great, and it looked dated and peculiarly Oriental from the start.

    I remember thinking that Honda might have wanted the project to fail – it’s the Japanese thing of never saying ‘no’ but acting in a way which made the party who asked the question wish they hadn’t been told ‘yes’.

    Despite giving BL exclusive rights to the Ballade/Acclaim throughout the European Community, Honda disloyally sold the dimensionally and mechanically similar three-box Civic four door in a number of EC countries.

    Yet the Acclaim was a huge success, with waiting lists and very little discounting throughout its short life. I put it down loyal BL customers of the WW2 generation who secretly aspired to a Japanese car, and at last had the opportunity to own one guilt-free.

    The Acclaim’s replacement, the SD3 Rover 213/216 did well too, consistently outselling the “Miracle” Maestro throughout its production life.

    1. Huge success. Thinks.
      How did it compare to the 1300/Doledo in its prime? So, really it was a success and an indictment at the same time because really it was a very anodyne commodity car while, faults and all, the Toledo was a sports saloon to a clear degree. You can see the Toledo begetting a line of sporting saloons while the Ballade would turn into an Accord.

  4. Usual disclaimers, but the numbers look like this:

    Acclaim 81-84: 133,626 in 33 months.

    Dolomite-badged cars 72-80: c.195,000.
    Toledo 1970-76: c.120,000.
    1500TC 1973-76: 24,549.

    1. So, healthy numbers for the “Triumph”, roughly. Imagine if it had looked like a Triumph instead. Those Triumph numbers show the trouble they were in. They probably lacked money to develop new product.

    2. Some memory refreshment:
      1959 – Triumph opened a new factory near Liverpool.
      1960 – the dead hand of Leyland Motors/Stokes grasped Triumph. I’d mistakenly thought Triumph was taken over later (1968).
      Wikipedia points its finger at reliability as a notable Triumph problem. That didn’t stop
      other companies soldiering on.

    3. All I’ve ever heard about Triumph build quality was pure vitriol. Even from people sympathetic to British cars in general.

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