We will conclude this small inspection of a modestly sized portion of a fraction of Europe’s motoring history by reviewing what the Daily Express said about Triumph and Rover cars in the late 60s.
Every year the Daily Express published a guide to coincide with the annual London car show (which took place in London, England). Basil Cardew edited the guide. The book I am quoting shows an image of a fellow in a studio photograph who is actually wearing a hat. But let us delve into the text.
About the Rover 2000 in 1965: “Young, pace-making car that changed the Rover image, with an interior that set new standards for passenger protection, functional controls and instrument legibility. Four individual seats with reclining front back-rests; flexible bins in front to protect the knees. Unique bell-crank front suspension and de Dion rear combine outstanding comfort with fine road holding. All body panels are detachable for easy repair.” Did casual readers know what bell-crank front suspension was or what that meant?
Each small item of text was followed by a dense set of spects, abbreviated. It’s simply too tedious to transcribe a lot of imperial statistics and figures cited in fractions. However, for this one time, I will list what categories that the Express thought readers needed to know: engine cylinder count and whether the cam was ohc or dohc; stroke and bore; engine capacity and power output; compression ratio; ignition type; type of carburetor; number of gears and their ratios; front and rear suspension type; number of seats; brake type; top speed; cruising speed; fuel economy; wheel base; track; height, length and width; turning circle, kerb weight and fuel tank capacity; voltage.
About the Rover 3-litre: “Headrests for all four occupants with reading lamps for rear passengers recessed in the backs of front ones are an option in the re-styled interior of this solidly-built Rover. Interior trim is now closer in style to that of the 2000 with revised facia, new more comfortable front seats with adjustable backrests and separate heater controls for rear passengers“.
It had a 14 gallon tank. I expect that in 1965 the 3-Litre, as it was known, was well-established in the market so readers didn’t need to be told so much about it. I notice both cars were identified by their engine sizes. We have discussed the panoply of engines available for mid-size cars in Europe in the 80s and 90s. In 1965 that phenomenon was obviously not established, hence all the cars called “3-litre” at this time.
About the Rover 3-Litre Coupé: “Strictly for four, with contoured seats, generous armrests and lowered roofline, the coupé adds a sporting touch to 3-Litre comfort and performance. Interior improvements to facia and trim are line with those on the saloon. Reclining front seats….et cetera“. The two cars had exaclty the same performance. It’s a bit like the Ford Galaxy and S-Max, isn’t it, the same lower body with a different hat on top…
On the same page is a description of an Israeli-made sportscar with a Ford Consul engine. The rear axle is a Watts linkage with coil springs. I suppose this could be a small challenge embedded in this otherwise matter-of-fact article. Has anyone any ideas of what marque Mr Cardew was describing?
To get to Triumph we pass over a selection of cars including the Sunbeam Tiger – Driven to Write has said so little about this brand. The Tiger had 4.2 litre V8. Surely some mistake? No, not a mistake.
Triumph 2000 (another car identified by its engine, note): “After two years of success with the saloon the range is extended by a station wagon. Six-cylinder smoothness, the ride and road-grip advantages of independent suspension all round, and the clean cut Michelotti styling have won converts for the biggest of the Triumphs at home and abroad. It is becoming familiar in international rallies. Transmission options include overdrive or Borg-Warner automatic“. (The overdrive is the Laycock de Normanville which is something of a DTW fetish). The 2000 cost £1,119 whilst the Rover 2000 cost £1,298, somewhat more pricey.
Triumph Herald 1200 (another car neglected by these pages): “Convertible and coupé, two bodystyles rare in Britain attract many buyers to the Herald range. There are also saloons and station wagons of course. All have separate chassis, body panels detachable for repair and all-independent suspension. With 8 to 1 compression, the 1,147 cc engine develops 39 h.p. with higher compression it delivers 51 h.p. for the 12/50 saloon which also has disc front brakes and folding top.“ It cost about the same as a Ford Anglia (more or less the Focus of the day).
Triumph 1300 (now we are getting to the heart of the matter: “Front wheel drive gains another important convert with this clean-cut four-five seater. Four cylinder engine mounted fore and aft with the four-speed synchromesh gearbox below it. Sub-frames at the front and rear carry all-independent suspension. Front seats slide, tilt, rise and fall. Steering is adjustable for rake and height. Ventilation is highly developed“.
Poor old Vauxhall were still not providing adjustable steering 25 years later. I notice that independent suspension is something of a talking point. Many cars in 1965 must have been making do with dependent suspension. And doesn’t the 1300 sound like quite a well-considered sort of car?
Triumph TR4: “A sturdy sports car with detachable roof panel, a steel body, detachable windscreen, winding windows and laminated safety glass. With this goes completely redesigned chassis, immensely strong and splendid basis for a sports car. Nylon bushes and sealed joints on the front suspension reduces maintenance work. Redesigned seats, thick pile carpets and door waist rails make fast driving comfortable.” Top speed: 110 mph. Gosh.
Finally, Triumph Spitfire Mark 2: “New points about this nippy little sports car: re-designed seats, a new camshaft and exhausts manifold adding zip performance and a diaphragm-type clutch requiring less pedal work. Laycock de Normanville overdrive is an optional extra as well as wire-wheels and competition equipment. An ideal car for the sporting type watching the pennies. Available in soft top and hard top version.“
Summarising that, I see Triumph has three lines of saloons and two sports cars. That’s a full range of cars and there’s little in this that points to a wholesale massacre in the following decade. My colleague Christopher B. carries something of a torch for the Bremen marque Borgward (as does Robertas P.) and now I suppose I find myself becoming more and more incensed that a decent-sounding marque was driven off a cliff to save Rover, of all firms.
Rover is a bit like Chrysler in the US, an albatross brand that kills or damages all that come in contact with it but never itself dies. Rover isn’t quite totally dead, since MG is still chuntering along, carrying its wizzened animus.
Take a look at the Pathé film in the link above. I only had a look out of curiosity but found startling images of Coventry in the 1960s when the post-War architecture was still fresh and as designed. Between then and 1998 it was ruined by modification after modification.
And the footage of the Triumph factory is accompanied by the information that 13,000 people were employed there at one point. It might sound sentimental but that left me a bit misty-eyed, to think that bad management and the destructive dogmas of Keith Joseph** together robbed Coventry of this manufacturing prowess and pride, leaving in its place a Safeway and a shopping mall while the city had its charm ripped out by poverty and poverty of imagination.
** Sir Keith Joseph can’t be painted in black and white terms. His inital political stance was in-line with continental Christian Democracy. And as a minister he made useful improvements to the NHS whilst he made some notable contributions to social work via charity. Later in his career he seems to have become fixated on monetarism and developed a view that “private industry =good and public sector =bad”.
As I understand it the idea was to liquidate the state-owned industrial sector and to dramatically reduce the role of the state so that the private sector could flourish. On the face of it, that hasn’t really happened in the UK. I think Joseph and his ilk paid insufficient attention to the huge human cost of their manipulations of the economy.
In case you’re curious, I take the view that a healthy economy needs a mix of private and state activities. The public sector is rubbish at consumer goods and the private sector can’t deal with monopolies and utilities. Actually, the private economy is a kind of special case of social exchange and a bad metaphor for other types of social exchange …. but this is a car site and not a site about politics, philosophy and economics.
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As a car obsessed teenager in the 1970’s I eagerly consumed the Motor Show Guide every year, without ever getting to attend the show itself. I recall the first car listed every year was the A.C. 3000ME. It must surely hold some sort of record in that it was exhibited for six years before eventually making production, and then lasting for only five years.
Regarding Triumph, I am increasingly coming around to Richard’s viewpoint: the company, with two saloon car ranges, a small convertible and a large GT, was already a sort of proto-BMW and could have developed nicely along the same lines if funded properly. Triumphs were perceived as “premium” in today’s jargon. The Dolomite Sprint was a very credible sports saloon. Meanwhile, Rover had only the P6. The p5, while graceful, was quite antiquated by the 1970’s.
A Rover P6 with bootlid mounted spare wheel was more like a British equivalent to Saab or Citroen while a Dolomite Sprint could have given BMW’s 02 or early Three a good run for their money if it had been available and less badly made.
The Rover I4 engine’s block was odd with pressed steel side covers like on a Vintage Bentley and too many areas of the Triumph engines were quite frankly badly engineered like head bolts sitting at an angle to the gasket surface (and at fresh air, making them corrode solid in the head) and the weird water pump with horizontal impeller (Saab abandoned both of them out as soon as they could).
The car from Irael most probably is the Sabra:
Made in Haifa *iirc*
I may be a lone voice in disagreeing with the line that Triumph should have survived instead of Rover, as to me the argument seems to disregard the unfortunate sequence of history and offers a false dichotomy.
In 1967 (when Rover and Triumph came together under Leyland) the only model overlap was the 2000 range. The two marques covered different parts of the market (one smaller and more sporting, the other larger and more comfort-focused). A cohesive model strategy could have been defined (and was starting to emerge, as Leyland wanted the upcoming P8 to move further upmarket instead of covering the mid-and-upper market as Rover had planned).
The problems really began with the merger between Leyland and BMC in 1968. There was then significant overlap in the smaller-car ranges between Austin, Morris, MG and Triumph, and between Rover and Jaguar with the larger cars.
I would certainly agree history has shown that Triumph should have survived instead of Austin and Morris, but at the time market-share and politics meant there was no way this was possible. It wasn’t completely unthinkable though, as John Barber was a proponent of abandoning the mass-market and concentrating on the ‘premium’ segment, and it seems history has proven him right.
Richard: John Barber wasn’t the only voice in favour of such a move – several senior executives within BLMC had the foresight to grasp the degree to which volume car division had become such a drag upon the business. Politically, it would have been very difficult to achieve, but could have perhaps have been achieved gradually, with the core investment being redirected into the profitable and exportable upmarket marques, instead of the likes of the Maxi, Allegro and Marina et al – which as we know, were neither of those things.
I have probably mentioned this before, but in his (relatively) recent biography, Sir John Egan, then heading BLMC’s Unipart division, suggested in 1974 that Lord Stokes do exactly that – hand the UK government the decayed rump of the volume car business while retaining the profitable divisions. Stokes, he said, appeared to be anguished by the position he had found himself and was (Egan stated) unwilling to break up ‘his’ creation.
Regarding Rover, I think there remains a strong argument in its favour. It’s tempting to conflate Rover (as was) to what it was evolved into. My abiding memory of Rover was that of a quality motor car, with an admirable image. The SD1 killed that entirely. Had its management and engineering team not been hollowed out and spread across the BLMC organisation, post-1968 – a situation which also hastened Triumph’s demise by the way, and had the bulk of their early ’70s product plans not been culled, our view of them might have been somewhat different.
I refer people back to Jaguar’s Jim Randle. When it was suggested to him that BL management had something against Jaguar, he laughed wryly and simply replied, “they behaved badly to everyone.”
My facsimile edition of the Daily Express guide – “Cars of the Late 60s” – does indeed, as Dave suggests, show the Sabra Sport. One of the few cars in the guide where the price isn’t shown.
And yes: the answer is Sabra. Well done. A Blankety Blank Cheque & Pen will be sent along in the post.
(Actually no, they cost around four hundred quid now).