Around about now-ish (it was actually in September), forty years ago, an important chunk of the British motor industry was rationalised away: in 1980 Triumph’s Canley plant ceased making cars.
Motor magazine, which itself eventually disappeared into Autocropley’s shadow reported (Sept. 6th, 1980) on how “Triumph production ends at Canley”. On the opposite page there stood an article entitled “Honda launches its Bounty”.
So, the factory closure article begins as follows: “Production of Triumph cars at BL-s ill-fated Canley factory on the outskirts of Coventry has ended. With it go the Triumph Spitfire and Dolomite which will be gradually phased out of the BL model range”. Meanwhile, on page 3, we read: “Announced in Japan last week was Honda’s new medium-sized four-door saloon, a version which will be built in Britain to replace the Dolomite.”
We’ve written a few things about Triumph down the years so this is a good time to gently take you by the elbow and lead you to a nice chair and force you to read these again:
Eóin Doyle wrote this article about the 1300/Dolomite. I wrote this about whether it would have been better to kill Rover and keep Triumph. This one is about the 2500. And SV Robinson has this socio-economic look at the Triumph Acclaim, a car that did not ever deserve to wear the Triumph badge. And this one is about the Triumph Stag V8.
There is an article by Archie Vicar about the Stag which once appeared at another website and which seems not to have made the transition to this one. I must see if I can track it down and make it available here.
The Motor articles are rather blithe about the demise of Canley and the rise of Honda. It takes some 20/20 rearview vision to see the implications of the Honda Bounty; the lack of sentiment over the changes at Canley are harder to understand. Are we to read this as a sign that the motoring press had lost patience with Triumph? That its demise was inevitable? It only seemed inevitable then because that was the narrative presented: union troubles, quality problems, an outdated range all pointing to Triumph’s necessary extirpation.
The history of BMC and then Leyland seem to me to more like the story of how a selected set of Brylcreemed managers used the companies as means to some other end. Politics internal to the companies and also the external relations to the governments of the day mattered more than brands, engineering or product viability.
Triumph withered because it lacked the friends in high places that Rover and Jaguar had and not because the cars themselves were inherently bad. If you look at Triumph’s saloons and sportscars you see pretty compelling vehicles that were as much the precursors to BMW’s sporting luxury as BMW’s saloons of the same period. The 40th anniversary of Canley´s cessation of car manufacture offers a chance to reflect on the subsequent events and on the staggering mismatch between all that was called Triumph and the last car to bear the name.