The ostensible initial aim of this small article was to find out how many engines British Leyland had around about the mid-1970s. I didn’t answer that question at all. So, what did I discover?
Before getting very far (as in reading one single page of the internet) I learned that truck and bus maker Leyland Motors Limited owned Triumph (acquired 1960) and Rover (acquired 1967) before LMC got merged with the British Motor Corporation in 1968 (bringing Austin, Morris, MG, Mini, Wolseley et al to the party). That puts a slightly different light on the later fate of Triumph. Conceivably LMC might have been able to manage the two brands better had it not been merged with BMC.
A short look at the Triumph range from 1960 under Leyland shows quite a busy period. In the 1965 they showed the 1300 where much the biggest investment must have gone, this being a whole new car with a whole new drivetrain concept. As well as that there were numerous revisions of other cars in the range.
In 1965 the world received the TR4A, an evolution of the TR4; the Spitfire Mark II appeared in 1965, a facelifty kind of update; the GT6 of 1966 was a Spitfire derivative. The TR5 turned up in 1967, an evolution of the TR4A. The TR6 appeared in 1969 and this is perhaps another more convincing case of a new-ish car. I am not sure about the 2000 Mk1 which appeared in 1963 but was thoroughly revised in 1968.
The way I interpret this is that while Leyland Motors owned Triumph they invested in the existing cars, paid for the completion of the 2000 and fully invested in the front-wheel drive 1300 model. The Stag must have been the last car planned before the effect of the Rover purchase and the merger with BMC began to kick in.
Now I wonder what did Leyland Motors acquire when they bought Rover in 1968? Let’s look at the timeline. In 1968 Rover had the P5 (launched ten years before) and P6 (launched five years before); on the drawing board was the Range Rover and in the show-rooms the Land Rover and, I suppose, all those forward-control utility vehicles that you don’t read so much about. There were also plans for P7 and P8 (as my collegue Eoin Doyle reminded me – thank you), some of which were loose development projects. The P8 got as far as tooling but that was under the BLMC regime (1969).
We can see what Leyland Motors did with Triumph but we will not know what they had planned for Rover because the merger with BMC threw a box of spanners in the works. What could they have done?
One, close Rover cars and keep the Land Rover and commercial vehicles. Two, replace the P5 and let the P6 die unreplaced while keeping Land Rover and the commercial vehicles. Three, let Rover cars and the commercial vehicles die and keep the Land Rover line only. In all three scenarios I see keeping LR as worth the trouble. In most cases, Rover cars seem a marginal bet. With no evidence at all, I bet Leyland did not plan to save Rover cars but wanted the LR and commercial vehicles.
Looking at this case then from the Leyland perspective in it seems Triumph was doomed the moment someone decided to save Rover. With only two cars in the “range” the decision to save Rover strikes me now as even more insane than I previously thought it to be.
To summarise all this: Triumph cars in 1968 had various Spitfires, TRs, the 1300 and 1500 fwd mass-market saloons and the newish 2000 and 2500 range. In 1968 Rover cars line-up consisted of two saloons: the superannuated P5 and P6 which was a car with half a model cycle left in it. From an engine point of view, there was little there either (an in-house four-cylinder and a thirsty mid-Atlantic V8).
If you look at the story of Triumph from after the merger of Leyland-BMC it is not so clear what should have happened to Triumph or Rover; Jaguar’s presence complicates things too. But from the viewpoint of 1968, when Leyland had two car marques, it becomes even clearer that a good car brand with a lot of potential was snuffed out for reasons other than good brand management and that the often-vaunted Rover brand has been an undeserving beneficiary of bad, politically motivated planning.