The Acclaim did not live that long a life, but, in a quiet and unnoticed way typical of the car itself, its legacy can be considered to be enduring.
“NO OFFENCE. Reliability, something not always associated with BL products, was the most memorable characteristic of our LTT Triumph Acclaim, though the spritely Honda drivetrain also won it approval”. Title of Car’s Long Term Test article regarding an Acclaim HL which it ran over 28,000 miles in 18 months.
So, the Acclaim did achieve a reputation for reliability.
Ian Forster would have been delighted to read that “the men at Cowley … can be pleased with the paint and the rustproofing, which has remained impervious to nature’s most determined efforts during almost 18 shelter-free months.” Car reported that “the only persistent problem has been with the non-standard BL-badged cassette radio, which lunched on Vivaldi rather too often.” The article concludes with the following sum-up:
“The Acclaim is the first vehicle to be attached to its usual user’s household for a while that has not been given a name; a measure of its lack of charisma, really. The overriding feature of the car is that is represents efficient, comfortable and in concerned hands, frugal transport; a task it has performed with excellence. It hasn’t missed the tender loving care, and it doesn’t encourage it either.”
Such an assessment, although delivered with a somewhat “glass-half-empty” undercurrent, counts as being somewhat astonishing for a BL built car of the time. The much more hyped miniMetro and the Maestro/ Montego that respectively preceded and followed the Acclaim, developed poor reputations for build quality and reliability.
Ironically, in the Autocar edition of w/e 10th of October 1981, which featured the Acclaim’s launch, there was a progress report on its Long Term Test Austin Metro HLE which was subtitled “Many Faults”. Contrast the following statement from that report with that from Car’s long term test of the Acclaim:
“Despite BL Car’s claims for attention to detail and rigorous inspection, the Austin Metro HLE has proved one of our more troublesome cars.”
It is reported that the Acclaim achieved the lowest warranty claims of any prior BL (or any of its antecedents) car. One BL insider is reported as saying, “The most critical thing it achieved was to prove to BL engineers that BL assembly workers could achieve good quality if the product was DESIGNED FOR ASSEMBLY, which previous cars manifestly had not been.”
The Acclaim proved to be the last Triumph car (the brand name is now owned by BMW). BL Cars was rationalising its brand portfolio and had decided that the Rover name held greater potential than Triumph in terms of prestige and cachet. The fact that BL had, from the mid to late 1970s, allowed Triumph models to cease in production without replacement meant this this had become a foregone conclusion.
With hindsight, this could have been a mistake. As mentioned earlier, Triumph had a visually cohesive range of neatly stylish saloons, estates and sports cars that, in spite of reliability issues, held the affection of middle England as being affordable cars to which one could aspire. Styling-wise, there was more than a little resemblance to BMWs of the time, even if the design and engineering of the Triumphs originated from a decade earlier.
If one ignores the Land and Range Rovers, Rover was a single car brand (SD1) and taking its name down the segments risked (as it was arguably proved) devaluing it unnecessarily. Overall, it remains a point of debate as to whether Triumph would have given BL a greater chance of developing a quality and sporting brand image with which it could develop and position its cars to take on the likes of BMW or Audi.
Production of the Acclaim ceased in June 1984 after less than three years on sale. 133,625 examples were built. At its peak, it achieved a market share of 2.71% – not far off the 3% for which BL, ever optimistic, had hoped. About a quarter of sales went to the fleet market.
The last Triumph’s replacement was the next generation Ballade, branded as the Rover 200 Series (initially only available as the 213, but later in its life appearing also as the 216, using BL’s own S-Series engine). The 200 received much greater levels of “Rover-isation” (as the press then liked to describe it) than the Acclaim, inside, out and underneath.
It proved very successful over its 5 year product life to the extent that in its final two years on the market, it outsold both the home-grown Maestro and Montego. Honda even allowed the Ballade to be built in Cowley for European consumption.
The fact that the 200 replaced a decent car (Acclaim) with a ground-up new model after less than three years was remarkable. It demonstrated another of the major benefits of the tie-up with Honda, i.e. access to 4-5 year product replacement cycles which turned out technically interesting and up-to-date cars that were thoroughly engineered to high quality standards. Here, suddenly, was BL’s new long-term business model and route to privatisation (effectively achieved by the sale of Austin Rover Group to British Aerospace in 1988).
The Acclaim, modest in looks and overall desirability, had done enough in terms of sales performance and warranty claims to draw BL closer to Honda and also mark the beginning of the end for BL’s solo efforts at new car development. The Montego, launched in July 1984, proved to be the last completely new, BL developed car to go to market.
The 200, Maestro and Montego were all replaced by Rovers that had been developed in the main by Honda, albeit with more significant input from the British company’s stylists and engineers than had been the case with the Acclaim and first generation Rover 200.
Sir Michael Edwardes’s management team had hoped from the start that the collaboration with Honda would quickly develop beyond the construction-under-license deal for the Acclaim. As early as February 1982, only four months after the launch of the Acclaim (hence, too early for either side to have much insight as to the Acclaim’s commercial success), the two parties signed an agreement to develop Project XX (or HX, as Honda knew it).
XX/ HX was to be a new large car to compete in the Executive market, replacing the Rover SD1 and giving Honda a model with which it could enter that sector. As Edwardes described the project ,“XX is a partnership of equals, with both companies deeply involved in the concept, its style and its design, and with both companies combining to engineer, manufacture and sell the vehicle virtually worldwide.”
He added, “It will be one of the most integrated collaborative projects ever undertaken in the industry, thus saving both companies millions of pounds, and much expert resource. Scale will be fully exploited by two-way sourcing of components: it will in truth be a world car, made in both Britain and Japan.”
Each marque’s version had its own distinct styling, with almost nothing shared in that department, and BL intended to deploy its own engines in lower powered versions. BL would build both its (the Rover 800 Series) and Honda’s (the Legend) version of the car at Cowley.
Although somewhat overblown by what reads like a self-valedictory, Edwardes was basically right to hail the ambition of two companies, coming from different places in so many respects (especially in terms of technical and engineering capability), working together to design and develop a product from the ground up.
In the next – and final chapter – we’ll look at how effective the XX/ HX collaboration was to prove and the wider perspective of the post-Acclaim landscape of the British motor industry.