Still Stands Stanley’s Hat Stand In The Spruce Stand?

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.

The very last Triumph Spitfire comes down the Number One track at Canley in August 1980, as production ceases. (c) Coventry Telegraph

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:

What came before – a nice example of a Dolomite Sprint

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.

Almost too many details to fit on one image.

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 It only seemed inevitable then because that was the narrative presented: union troubles, quality problems, an outdated range all pointing to Triumph’s necessary extirpation.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.

What came after. (c) cosasdeautos

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.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

15 thoughts on “Still Stands Stanley’s Hat Stand In The Spruce Stand?”

  1. The closure of Canley meant they had to move TR7 production again a mere two years after bringing it there from Speke. No wonder they didn’t make money…

  2. Triumph made a film about their operations, called ‘This is Triumph’.

    It must have been made in 1973, as it ends with the launch of the Dolomite Sprint (launched a year late).

    It’s an odd, downbeat film, as apart from some music and the narration, there’s no sound track. The effect is slightly sinister, and reminds me of the covert footage that you see in spy dramas.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Charles. Yes, it is oddly restrained, more like something from the 1950’s or 60’s. Incidentally, at exactly 3.00 minutes in, there’s a design sketch on the wall behind the designer’s head that looks uncannily like the Rover SD1. Were the designers at Triumph thinking along similar lines to those at Rover for a replacement for the 2000?

    2. Coventry looked rather splendid in some of those images. Other images showed the horror of all that land devoted to car parking. In the 60s Coventry might have been quite a fine town – the loss of manufacturing industry really gutted the place, stucturally and morally. Imagine if Coventry was still a site of major car production. It´d be like Munich with more curry.

  3. Thank you Charles for the film. As you correctly say, what a dour film. The washed out colours, the kipper ties, the shitanna brown overcoats…
    Well spotted with the SD1there, Daniel.
    Was that Lord Stokes halting the cricket match with his helicopter arrival?
    Was Archie Vicar one of those heralded journalists, eagerly awaiting his turn whilst waiting at Geneva airport? Empty those ash trays!
    As the the car right at the end of the film, an 1854 cc version, FRW 818L was last taxed in 1984, a mere eleven years after its Coventry birth. Perhaps that rust proofing didn’t work too well after all?

    1. Hello Andrew,

      Yes – I think it was Lord Stokes; I see someone else had arrived in a maroon Austin 3-Litre.

      Kipper tie? Yes, please – 3 sugars. I’ll get my (brown) overcoat / rally jacket.

    1. The film was made over a period of time and was released in 1973. It is preceded by a publicity brochure which was published in November 1971 and which features pictures and prose from parts of the film. They obviously had excess stocks of this brochure as in 1973 the front of the remaining brochures was overprinted with a ’50 Years of Triumph Car Manufacturing’ roundel. Presumably, the film was a thought about over the years and was finally published in 1973 to support the 50 Years anniversary when it was finally cut together with the latest footage from the Sprint press release in June 1973.
      The 1300 FWD shots were done in either 1969 or 1970 (or possibly even earlier), the ‘Stag in Monaco’ bits were definitely done in March 1970 and the Sprint release shots were from June 1973. Who can tell when the filming was done in the factory areas but most of the scenes feature in the 1971 brochure.

      In respect of the SD1 involvment, don’t forget that Triumph designed and part developed the overhead cam sixes and the LT77 gearboxes that were put in the 2300 and 2600 versions. These projects would have been on the boards in the very early 70s so preliminary drawings of the SD1 could well have been around at this time because of this Triumph – Rover involvment.

      Peter Robinson
      Registrar, Stag Owners Club

  4. Rather an odd film. The “Coolness” they try to inject doesn’t match the real thing, as I perceive surviving Triumph’s- Acclaim excepted, for that was a pensioners special if ever I saw one- as being genuine funky cars, even making allowance for that fact that all old cars have some residual attraction simply because they aren’t silver painted blobules.
    I don’t think the wierd orange brown hue was intentional or even due to film degradation. It looks like an “Inter-pos” print. These are intermediate prints that have a chemical composition that allows for easier colour matching later, a consequence of this is that they have an orange hue. That being said I’m not sure such a reel would always have the sound print combined with it.

  5. At 22:25 a Pony appears, a 4×4 utility based on the FWD 1300 powertrain for Israeli manufacturers Autocars Co. As far as I can work out, the Haifa-based company never put the vehicle on sale, but Standard-Triumph used the prototypes as factory hacks.

  6. I’m sure I’m missing something obvious here, but can anyone enlighten me as to the relevance or meaning of the title of the article?

  7. Hi Andy:
    I agonised about whether to answer that question. On the one hand, I like Francis Bacon´s answer to Melvynn Bragg ´s question about the meaning of his paintings. He said if he could explain them he would not have painted them. On the other, I am glad you noticed the title. And also, I am not Francis Bacon so I will explain. First, the lyrics of this song prompted me to be more creative in my writing:

    and the a capella version:

    Second, I also started to treat the titles as small micropoems in themselves. We are driven to write here, after all. And some of them obliquely tell a story (my article titles). And some are plays on words that are free-standing. This one is is a play on the different meanings of “stand” and also some sound-play.

    I hope you can enjoy them!

    1. Ah, thank you Richard! I assumed they would be somewhat tangential, but maybe not quite so much as that. As my family will testify (with much sighing) I do enjoy wordplay, so, please, carry on. And it’s good to know that you’re not Francis Bacon.

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