Send in the Paratroopers

Customer service? Who cares!

The former Art Deco style Mann Egerton Austin Rover dealership in Morden, South London. theminiforum via Merton Council.

Perennial kicking-post, Austin Rover. Years after their slow-motion demise – still fresh in many motorists minds, an incorrigibly persistent bad taste joke. And the material just keeps on rolling; we all know how the story ends but remain enthralled as there’s often a fresh nail awaiting the coffin’s hammer.

But it’s not all bad. Austin Rover attempted a turnaround, a stoic final stand against the enemy by dropping in the parachute regiment. A cynic might have called this project Operation Market Garden, as in the rather doomed Allied attempt at hastening the end of the Second World War by capturing bridges at Arnhem and Nijmegen. Praise the wag who chose to keep the parachuting theme but with a modern twist – that of the (at the time) clandestine 22nd Special Air Service. Who Cares Wins, the fight to keep the customer happy. Step up to the green light and Continue reading “Send in the Paratroopers”

Another One Bites The Dust

DTW recalls BL’s last stand: the 1980 Austin Metro.

1980 Austin Metro. (c) voiture.motorlegend

Friday, 8th October 1980 was the day. The car: most commonly referred to as Metro, others ADO88 (Amalgamated Drawing Office – from when Austin and Morris tied the knot in ‘52) with only those in the know as LC8. Forty years have now passed since the car hailed as Blighty’s answer to the inflow of foreign imports was launched. We deal here with the Metro’s tentative first twelve months (amidst some background) of being.

Any story concerning British Leyland inevitably must invoke the company’s changes of name and ownership, not to mention the impossibility of not mentioning crippling strikes, poor workmanship and the demise of the domestic car industry. Peeling back (most) of the bad apple nevertheless reveals a passion for this new project to succeed.

With experienced hands Spen King and Charlie Griffin at the helm, the Metro plan got off to a better start than most. Perennially cash strapped yet astute at finding talent, Griffin stipulated strict guidelines: larger than the original Mini, smaller than the competition, do not Continue reading “Another One Bites The Dust”

Definitely Not The Italian Job

To many observers, the Morris Ital marks the absolute nadir of the BL era. Today we celebrate the Ital’s fortieth birthday and reappraise this much maligned car.

(c) carandclassic

The story behind the Morris Ital is one of pure desperation on the part of its makers. Throughout the 1970’s BL wrestled with an outdated, incoherent, poorly built and often unreliable range of cars, terrible labour relations and an owner, the British Government, that was fast running out of patience with having to Continue reading “Definitely Not The Italian Job”

Two Word Epitaph

The Triumph TR7 Convertible embodied the BL charter in microcosm. 

(c) Car Magazine

If only this could have been the TR7 that was launched five years ago instead of the poorly-assembled and inadequately developed Speke-built versions that so quickly acquired a tarnished reputation.” [Howard Walker, Motor – August 30 1980.]

If only. Those two simple words perhaps most poignantly encapsulate the British Leyland charter. Because amid the egos, the politics, the industrial strife and lost hopes chiselled onto BL’s cenotaph, there were also well-conceived, rational motor cars which deserved a better fate. Continue reading “Two Word Epitaph”

Waiting For the Miracle

Today we posit something of a counterfactual. What if Maestro had preceded Metro?

Madge and Maestro – Downing Street 1983. Image credit: (c) BBC

Picking over the bones of long dead car companies is one of the more futile pastimes one can engage in, but in the case of British Leyland, it’s irresistible. So many factors contributed to the British car giant’s demise however, that to single out one area is to grossly over-simplify the larger, more nuanced, and far more depressing picture.

A former Jaguar engineering director once told me that BL’s senior management were in his words, ‘not of the first order’ and given their respective track records, both during the latter stages of the BMH period, in the years leading up to BLMC’s collapse in 1974, and during the post-Ryder era, it’s difficult to Continue reading “Waiting For the Miracle”

Impossible Princess – Vanden Plas 1800

Robertas Parazitas reports on one of the stars of this year’s NEC Classic Motor show.

Source: C&SC

Grim commerce and ‘investment car’ mania now dominate the annual NEC Classic Motor show, but search hard, seek the wisdom of the crowds, and strangeness and delight is there to be found. In Hall 4, a Restoration Theatre had been setup. I sat for a while, hoping for a performance of one of Congreve or Wycherley’s lighter works, but all that was on offer was a video of two elderly men in a dingy workshop explaining the intricacies of panel beating in what I imagined to be a satire on Puritanism. Continue reading “Impossible Princess – Vanden Plas 1800”

Fastback Flashback

We attempt to remain aloof to the Rover SD1’s visual appeal, but like the car itself, we fall at the final hurdle.

Image: stubs-auto.fr

When it comes to legacies and reputations, has sufficient time elapsed to talk about the Rover SD1 without falling into the usual narrative tramlines? It’s a tricky one isn’t it? After all, the big Rover remains a deeply likeable car with much to commend it. Yet at the same time, although it never quite attained Lancia Gamma levels of toxicity, it became the living embodiment of British Leyland’s genius for snatching defeat from the cusp of victory.

It’s easy to Continue reading “Fastback Flashback”

Opening Up the TR7 Envelope

Spot a Triumph TR7 in a car park and you may well experience something rather strange. 

triumphtr7-01

Unenlightened passers-by won’t give it a second look, whereas examples of most of its boxy contemporaries would attract their immediate attention. The last of the TRs shares with its Rover SD1 stablemate an ability to blend into the 21st century carscape, despite originating over forty years ago. Continue reading “Opening Up the TR7 Envelope”