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.