If you survey the car market in the UK today you will find a large number of marques and a bewildering array of different model types, available in an almost unfathomable array of versions, offered by companies whose history, at least, originates from companies around the world. And whilst the biggest sellers claim sales volumes that are impressive, even the market leading models only achieve a relatively small percentage of the total of cars sold in any given month. It was not always like this Wind the clock back 30 or 40 years, and there was not only far less choice, but the market was polarized to the extent that a best-seller would achieve over 10% of the entire market. Not only that, but a combination of import duties and the fact that there was still a lingering doubt in many people’s minds about “buying foreign”, so it was British brands that dominated the market. There were lots of them, of course. A period of acquisition and rationalisation which started as far back as the 1930s, when the Nuffield Group had brought together Morris and MG with Wolseley and Riley had continued in the 1950s with the merger of this entity with dread rivals fro Longbridge, Austin, and went far further in the 1960s, when the Leyland organisation which owned Standard-Triumph, and the Jaguar-Daimler and Rover companies all came together to create British Leyland in 1968, in an attempt to fend off the ever-strengthening competition from American-owned Ford and Vauxhall, as well as the larger continental European brands such as VW, Renault and Fiat. The new British Leyland had a vast range of cars, many of which competed with each other, trading on badge loyalty and was saddled with a cost base which made life increasingly difficult even before factoring in challenges from increasingly militant and disruptive trade unions who called strikes at the drop of a hat and whose members were often not that bothered about the quality of what they were producing. By the early 1970s, it was a Ford which had claimed the number one sales spot in the UK, and as sales declined, so the investment monies for new Leyland products proved harder to find, with the company hitting a crisis in 1974 when it was nationalised. Successive plans for how to turn things around came and went, and when new models did arrive, they were generally well received initially, but the reality of compromises in the detailed engineering, and shortcomings in their build quality meant that buyers started to turn to other marques, and were hard to win back. After several rescue attempts including acquisition by British Aerospace and then by BMW, before a management buyout, the end came in the spring of 2005 when what was now called MG-Rover collapsed financially. Whilst many tears were shed at the end of what had (largely) been a British-owned volume car maker, most people moved on, happy with their latest automotive product from elsewhere in the world. And yet, nostalgia is a wonderful thing, so it is no surprise than when events that were to bring together models from this once great and vast collection of marques started to be organised, attendances were far higher than many had imagined would be the case. The first “Pride of Longbridge” event, held by the old Austin plant, just a year after closure, proved that, and that event has grown in size every year since. There are a couple of other big national events held annually that cover the BL family as well, one in Peterborough in August, and this one, the BL Day which takes place at Gaydon in early July. Gaydon is symbolically an important venue, as when it was built, it was to house the cars solely from BL’s past. Its remit has widened since then, and the revamped museum is now branded the “British Motor Museum”, but at its heart it showcases models from marques that made up British Leyland, and the later Austin-Rover. I’ve attended this event a couple of times in the past, and enjoyed my own journey back to see cars that were once common on our roads, so decided to give it another go in 2018. The start of a proper summer meant a warm and dry day which doubtless encouraged man to bring along their pieces of British motoring history, with an array of all sorts of different models on show. And here they are.
With the exception of an Austin Seven, which somehow eluded my camera, this Austin Ten Lichfield saloon was the oldest car on display, and the only other pre-war car. The Ten was launched in 1932, to plug the gap between the diminutive Seven and the larger Twelve models in the Austin range, which had otherwise been updated in early 1931. The Ten became the marque’s best seller and was produced, in a number of different versions through to 1947. The design of the car was conservative with a pressed steel body built on a ladder chassis. The chassis was designed to give a low overall height to the car by dipping down by 2.75 inches (70 mm) between the axles. The 1125-cc four-cylinder side-valve engine producing 21 bhp drove the rear wheels through a four-speed gearbox and open drive shaft to a live rear axle. Steering was by worm and wheel. Suspension was by half-elliptic springs all round mounted on silent-bloc bushes and damped by frictional shock absorbers. The four-wheel brakes were cable and rod operated by pedal or by hand lever on the offside of the speed lever. The electrical system was 6 volt. For the first year only, a four-door saloon was made in two versions. The basic model cost £155 and was capable of reaching 55 mph with an economy of 34 and the Sunshine or De-Luxe with opening roof and leather upholstery at £168. Bumpers were provided. The chassis was priced at £120. A number of improvements were made to the car in the months following launch. 1933 saw the saloons joined by an open two-seater or Open Road tourer, a Colwyn cabriolet and a van. A sports model, the 65 mph 30 bhp Ripley joined the range in 1934. Mechanical upgrades for 1934 included a stronger chassis, synchromesh on the top two gears and 12-volt electrics. The Ripley was a close-coupled four-door tourer with lowered front doors and no running boards. Improved engine breathing—Zenith down-draught carburettor, revised manifolds and camshaft—all combined to improve engine output to 30 bhp. The first styling change came in August 1934 with a change to the radiator when the plated surround or cowl was replaced by one painted in body colour and it was given a slight slope. Synchromesh was added to second gear and dual screenwipers, flush-fitting self-cancelling trafficators (worked by the steering) and a foot-operated headlamp dip switch were fitted. The engine controls were simplified by the adoption of automatic ignition, compensated voltage control, and the provision of a “choke” (combined strangler and throttle control). The saloon was given the name Lichfield and got a protruding boot which enclosed the spare wheel. During 1935 the friction dampers were replaced with hydraulic dampers. It was for 1937 when the first really big change came about with the launch of the almost streamlined Cambridge saloon and Conway cabriolet. Compared with the preceding cars, the passengers and engine were positioned much further forward, the back seat now being rather forward of the back axle. There were six side windows like the Sherborne and the quarter lights were fixed. Again like the Sherborne the forward doors opened rearwards. At the back there was now a compartment large enough to take a trunk as well as more luggage on the open compartment door when it was let down. A new smoother single plate spring-drive clutch was now fitted, the two friction rings carried by the centre plate were held apart by leaf springs. Other changes included Girling brakes with wedge and roller shoe expansion and balance lever compensation using operating rods in tension with automatic compensation between front and rear brakes all four of which might be applied by hand or foot. Drums were now 9 inches diameter. 16-inch steel disc wheels replaced the 18-inch wires Top speed from the 1141cc engine rose to 60 mph.
AUSTIN A40 DEVON
The first all new product from Austin after the war was the A40, which was launched in 1947, as the Dorset (a two door) and Devon (four door saloon). Taking some of their componentry from the pre-war Austin Eight, there was much that was all new in these cars, and sales of the Devon were strong, mostly in export markets. A range of light commercial versions were offered as well, the GV2 Panel Van, GQU2 Pickup and GK Countryman Estate car. The very early GV2 vans, introduced soon after the Devon and the Dorset were obviously based on the saloon, but in fact shared only some parts with it. The doors were the same pressings, although had different interior and exterior trim. The front end panelwork was derived from the saloon, although the front wings had larger apertures to accommodate the 17″ van wheels. The wheels were also much sturdier in design when compared to the 16″ rims fitted to the saloon. The rear bodywork was formed in aluminium, and there was a fabric centre panel in the roof. Removable rear spats covered the rear wheels, a feature shared with the pickup and van-based Countryman estate car. The grille was the mazak/chrome item found on the saloon, and the chassis and running gear, with its hydra-mechanical braking arrangement, were also shared (albeit with revised gear ratios). Early vans and cars had 5″ headlamps, but this would soon switch to Lucas 7″ units, and separate sidelights. At first glance, the A40 van seemed to change little throughout its production, a run that continued long after the contemporary Devon and Somerset saloons ceased, but in detail barely a year went by without some change being introduced by BMC, to improve the van and maintain its competitiveness. It was early in 1951 when the first batch of obvious changes were made. Most evident was a switch to a new grille assembly, painted instead of chrome. Early vans had smooth bonnets, although due to issues with cooling, extra vents were soon let in to the leading edge of the bonnet. By now the rear bodywork was in steel, including the roof panel, but still featuring separate aluminium rear wheel spats. The switch from the Devon-style dashboard to a simpler painted dash also occurred at around this time. These vans were known as the GV3 series. Late in 1951 the Devon saloon underwent a number of revisions, including a switch to a column gearchange, and hydraulic braking to all four wheels. The 17″ wheels were modified slightly, to accommodate wider brake drums, meaning that wheels for earlier vans are not interchangeable with later examples. The revised GV4 commercials followed many of the changes introduced to the saloon, in preparation for the introduction of the Somerset-type running gear due in 1952. This would be the year that the A40 Devon saloon was replaced, yet the light commercials remained in production, alongside the Somerset saloon, for many years to come. By 1953 the A40’s rear bodywork would see another update, this time integrating the rear arches into the main body of the vehicle, at the same time improving access for wheel changing. The final GV5 series van, introduced in September 1954, continued in production, alongside the new A40/A50 Cambridges, right up to 1957, meaning that the A40 vans stayed in production for ten years. Over 78,000 vans were produced, as well as 61,800 pickups and 26,500 Countryman estates. As with all light commercials, these 1/2 ton vans usually got a real hammering in the hands of the many different tradesmen that bought the 10cwt Austin van. As a result, survivors are distinctly rare on the ground, so it was nice to see this well presented example, one I have seen at a number of events before, here along with a Devon saloon which arrived relatively late in the day.
AUSTIN A40 SOMERSET
Continuing the theme of naming their cars after the counties of England, Austin replaced the Devon and Dorset in 1952 with the A40 Somerset. A rival to the Morris Oxford and Hillman Minx, and only made until 1954, it looked bigger than its predecessor, though that was largely an illusion of the new appearance which was somewhat “Transatlantic” in style with flowing lines, intended to increase the car’s appeal to export markets. The Somerset bore a close resemblance with the larger Austin A70 Hereford, and telling the two apart at glance is no easier than some of today’s cars where people think that the same styling went under the “reduce” or “enlarge” buttons! The Somerset shared a number of components with its earlier sibling which included a similar 1.2 litre straight-4 pushrod B series engine, but updated to produce 42 hp, compared to the Devon’s 40 hp, giving the car a top speed of 69 mph. Stopping it was done with hydraulic brakes. The Austin A40 Somerset’s reputation for being somewhat slow and lumbering to drive is not wholly deserved. The vehicle had to endure poor quality petrol supplies and in consequence had retarded ignition settings to tolerate the low octane rating of this poor fuel grade to avoid the ‘pinking’ condition that was well known in those times. In fact BMC later produced a kit to improve the performance and fuel consumption of these cars once premium fuel supplies resumed under the popular petrol brands. This kit comprised a replacement distributor and an optional head gasket for the cylinder head that was thinner and therefore raised the compression slightly from the standard 7.2:1. An Autocar magazine road test published 18 April 1952 achieved a maximum of 66 mph and a 0-60 mph acceleration of 36.6 seconds whereas the example registered new in February 1954 and given a Used Car Test published in the Autocar series dated 8 April 1960 returned a 0-60 mph time of just 27.9 seconds. The standing quarter mile was down from 24.4 secs to 23.2 secs a marked improvement on the former result taken in 1952 and directly comparable with the Mini 850 launched in 1959, that was considered to be fairly brisk then. There were two close fitting front seats which could be arranged as a bench seat, with space freed up by virtue of the four speed column mounted gear change. The Somerset was initially offered only as a 4-door saloon, with a 3-passenger 2-door convertible, of the same body shape, introduced in late 1952. The body for the convertible was made by Carbodies of Coventry and the model was marketed as the Austin A40 Somerset Coupé. The convertible differed from the saloon in having separate front seats that folded forward to give access to the rear. The Austin Motor Company in 1953 made a “special” version of around 500 Somerset saloons with a more powerful engine, different interior appointments and two-tone paintwork. The Austin Somerset Special had a top speed of 74 mph. Over 173,000 were sold before the Somerset was replaced by the A40 Cambridge in 1954. 7243 of them were convertibles.
No surprise to see the evergreen Morris Minor here as this is a very popular classic. The Minor was conceived in 1941. Although the Nuffield Organization was heavily involved in war work and there was a governmental ban on civilian car production, Morris Motors’ vice chairman, Miles Thomas, wanted to prepare the ground for new products to be launched as soon as the war was over. Vic Oak, the company’s chief engineer, had already brought to Thomas’ attention a promising junior engineer, Alec Issigonis, who had been employed at Morris since 1935 and specialised in suspension design but he had frequently impressed Oak with his advanced ideas about car design in general. Issigonis had come to Oak’s particular attention with his work on the new Morris Ten, which was in development during 1936/7. This was the first Morris to use unitary construction and was conceived with independent front suspension. Issigonis designed a coil-sprung wishbone system which was later dropped on cost grounds. Although the design would later be used on the MG Y-type and many other post-war MGs the Morris Ten entered production with a front beam axle. Despite his brief being to focus on the Ten’s suspension Issigonis had also drawn up a rack and pinion steering system for the car. Like his suspension design this was not adopted but would resurface in the post-war years on the MG Y-type, but these ideas proved that he was the perfect candidate to lead the design work on a new advanced small car. With virtually all resources required for the war effort, Thomas nonetheless approved the development of a new small family car that would replace the Morris Eight. Although Oak (and Morris’ technical director, Sidney Smith) were in overall charge of the project it was Issigonis who was ultimately responsible for the design, working with only two other draughtsmen. Thomas named the project ‘Mosquito’ and ensured that it remained as secret as possible, both from the Ministry of Supply and from company founder William Morris (now Lord Nuffield), who was still chairman of Morris Motors and, it was widely expected, would not look favourably on Issigonis’ radical ideas. Issigonis’ overall concept was to produce a practical, economical and affordable car for the general public that would equal, if not surpass, the convenience and design quality of a more expensive car. In later years he summed up his approach to the Minor; that he wanted to design an economy car that “the average man would take pleasure in owning, rather than feeling of it as something he’d been sentenced to” and “people who drive small cars are the same size as those who drive large cars and they should not be expected to put up with claustrophobic interiors.” Issigonis wanted the car to be as spacious as possible for its size and comfortable to drive for inexperienced motorists. Just as he would with the Mini ten years later, he designed the Mosquito with excellent roadholding and accurate, quick steering not with any pretence of making a sports car, but to make it safe and easy to drive by all. As work proceeded, there were plenty of battle to overcome, to get Issigonis’ ideas approved, and not all of them were. The production car, called the Minor was launched at the British Motor Show at Earls Court in London on October 27, 1948. At the same show Morris also launched the new Morris Oxford and Morris Six models, plus Wolseley variants of both cars, which were scaled-up versions of the new Minor, incorporating all the same features and designed with Issigonis’ input under Vic Oak’s supervision. Thus Issigonis’ ideas and design principles underpinned the complete post-war Morris and Wolseley car ranges. The original Minor MM series was produced from 1948 until 1953. It included a pair of four-seat saloons, two-door and (from 1950) a four-door, and a convertible four-seat Tourer. The front torsion bar suspension was shared with the larger Morris Oxford MO, as was the almost-unibody construction. Although the Minor was originally designed to accept a flat-4 engine, late in the development stage it was replaced by a 918 cc side-valve inline-four engine, little changed from that fitted in the 1935 Morris 8, and producing 27.5 hp and 39 lbf·ft of torque. This little engine pushed the Minor to just 64 mph but delivered 40 mpg. Brakes were four-wheel drums. Early cars had a painted section in the centre of the bumpers to cover the widening of the production car from the prototypes. This widening of 4 inches is also visible in the creases in the bonnet. Exports to the United States began in 1949 with the headlamps removed from within the grille surround to be mounted higher on the wings to meet local safety requirements. In 1950 a four-door version was released, initially available only for export, and featuring from the start the headlamps faired into the wings rather than set lower down on either side of the grille. The raised headlight position became standard on all Minors in time for 1951. From the start, the Minor had semaphore-type turn indicators, and subsequent Minor versions persisted with these until 1961 An Autocar magazine road test in 1950 reported that these were “not of the usual self-cancelling type, but incorporate[d] a time-basis return mechanism in a switch below the facia, in front of the driver”. It was all too easy for a passenger hurriedly emerging from the front passenger seat to collide with and snap off a tardy indicator “flipper” that was still sticking out of the B-pillar, having not yet been safely returned by the time-basis return mechanism to its folded position. Another innovation towards the end of 1950 was a water pump (replacing a gravity dependent system), which permitted the manufacturer to offer an interior heater “as optional equipment”. When production of the first series ended, just over a quarter of a million had been sold, 30 per cent of them the convertible Tourer model. In 1952, the Minor line was updated with an Austin-designed 803 cc overhead valve A-series engine, replacing the original side-valve unit. The engine had been designed for the Minor’s main competition, the Austin A30, but became available as Austin and Morris were merged into the British Motor Corporation. The new engine felt stronger, though all measurements were smaller than the old. The 52 second drive to 60 mph was still calm, with 63 mph as the top speed. Fuel consumption also rose to 36 mpg. An estate version was introduced in 1952, known as the Traveller (a Morris naming tradition for estates, also seen on the Mini). The Traveller featured an external structural ash (wood) frame for the rear bodywork, with two side-hinged rear doors. The frame was varnished rather than painted and a highly visible feature of the body style. Commercial models, marketed as the Morris Quarter Ton Van and Pick-up were added in May 1953. Rear bodies of the van versions were all steel. The 4-seat convertible and saloon variants continued as well. The car was again updated in 1956 when the engine was increased in capacity to 948 cc. The two-piece split windscreen was replaced with a curved one-piece one and the rear window was enlarged. In 1961 the semaphore-style trafficators were replaced by the flashing direction indicators, these were US-style red at the rear (using the same bulb filament as the brake lamp) and white at the front (using a second brighter filament in the parking lamp bulb) which was legal in the UK and many export markets at the time (such as New Zealand). An upmarket car based on the Minor floorpan using the larger BMC B-Series engine was sold as the Riley One-Point-Five/Wolseley 1500 beginning in 1957: versions of this Wolseley/Riley variant were also produced by BMC Australia as the Morris Major and the Austin Lancer. In December 1960 the Morris Minor became the first British car to sell more than 1,000,000 units. To commemorate the achievement, a limited edition of 350 two-door Minor saloons (one for each UK Morris dealership) was produced with distinctive lilac paintwork and a white interior. Also the badge name on the side of the bonnet was modified to read “Minor 1,000,000” instead of the standard “Minor 1000”. The millionth Minor was donated to the National Union of Journalists, who planned to use it as a prize in a competition in aid of the union’s Widow and Orphan Fund. The company, at the same time, presented a celebratory Minor to London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, but this car was constructed of cake.The final major upgrades to the Minor were made in 1962. Although the name Minor 1000 was retained, the changes were sufficient for the new model to be given its own ADO development number. A larger version of the existing A-Series engine had been developed in conjunction with cylinder head specialist Harry Weslake for the then new ADO16 Austin/Morris 1100 range. This new engine used a taller block than did the 948 cc unit, with increased bore and stroke bringing total capacity up to 1,098 cc. Although fuel consumption suffered moderately at 38 mpg, the Minor’s top speed increased to 77 mph with noticeable improvements in low-end torque, giving an altogether more responsive drive. Other changes included a modified dashboard layout with toggle switches, textured steel instrument binnacle, and larger convex glove box covers. A different heater completed the interior upgrade, whilst the larger combined front side/indicator light units, common to many BMC vehicles of the time, were fitted to the front wings. These now included a separate bulb and amber lens for indicators while larger tail lamp units also included amber rear flashers. During the life of the Minor 1000 model, production declined. The last Convertible/Tourer was manufactured on 18 August 1969, and the saloon models were discontinued the following year. Production of the more practical Traveller and commercial versions ceased in 1972, although examples of all models were still theoretically available from dealers with a surplus of unsold cars for a short time afterwards. 1,619,857 Minors of all variants were ultimately sold.
Earliest model here bearing Rover badging was a P4, sometimes known as the “Auntie” Rover. The P4 had a long production run, and thanks to its sturdy construction, survival rates are quite good, making them a popular classic these days. Like many manufacturers, when production resumed after the Second World War, Rover continued making the same cars as they had been producing before hostilities had broken out. The first new car that they announced was the P4 model, known as the 75. It was launched at the Earls Court Motor Show in September 1949, to replace all previous models and then continued in production until 1964, though the car underwent lots of change under the skin in those 15 years. Designed by Gordon Bashford, the car went into production in 1949 as the 6-cylinder 2.1-litre Rover 75. It featured unusual modern styling in stark contrast with the outdated Rover P3 model 75 which it replaced. Gone were the traditional radiator, separate headlamps and external running boards. In their place were a chromium grille, recessed headlamps and a streamlined body the whole width of the chassis. The car’s styling was derived from the then controversial 1947 Studebakers. The Rover executives purchased two such vehicles and fitted the body from one of them to a prototype P4 chassis to create a development mule. In James Taylor’s highly regarded book ‘Rover P4 – The Complete Story’ he advised that this vehicle was affectionately known as the ‘Roverbaker’ hybrid. Another, at the time minor, distinctive feature but this one did not catch-on was the centrally mounted light in the grille where most other manufacturers of good quality cars provided a pair, one fog and one driving light often separately mounted behind the bumper. Known, unkindly, as the “Cyclops eye” it was discontinued in the new grille announced 23 October 1952. The earliest cars used a more powerful version of the Rover engine from the 1948 Rover P3 75, a 2103 cc straight-6 engine now with chromium plated cylinder bores, an aluminium cylinder head with built-in induction manifold and a pair of horizontal instead of downdraught carburettors. A four-speed manual transmission was used with a column-mounted gear lever which was replaced by a floor-mounted mechanism in September 1953. At first the gearbox only had synchromesh on third and top but it was added to second gear as well in 1953. A freewheel clutch, a traditional Rover feature, was fitted to cars without overdrive until mid-1959, when it was removed from the specifications, shortly before the London Motor Show in October that year. The cars had a separate chassis with independent suspension by coil springs at the front and a live axle with half-elliptical leaf springs at the rear. The brakes on early cars were operated by a hybrid hydro-mechanical system but became fully hydraulic in 1950. Girling disc brakes replaced drums at the front from October 1959. The complete body shells were made by the Pressed Steel company and featured aluminium/magnesium alloy (Birmabright) doors, boot lid and bonnets until the final 95/110 models, which were all steel to reduce costs. The P4 series was one of the last UK cars to incorporate rear-hinged “suicide” doors. After four years of the one model policy Rover returned to a range of the one car but three different sized engines when in September 1953 they announced a four-cylinder Rover 60 and a 2.6-litre Rover 90. A year later, an enlarged 2230cc engine was installed in the 75, and an updated body was shown with a larger boot and a bigger rear window and the end of the flapping trafficators, with redesigned light clusters. Further detailed changes would follow. Announced 16 October 1956, the 105R and 105S used a high-output, 8.5:1 compression version of the 2.6 litres engine used in the 90. The higher compression was to take advantage of the higher octane fuel that had become widely available. This twin-SU carburettor engine produced 108 hp. Both 105 models also featured the exterior changes of the rest of the range announced a month earlier. The 105S featured separate front seats, a cigar lighter, chromed wheel trim rings and twin Lucas SFT 576 spotlamps. To minimise the cost of the 105R, these additional items were not standard, however they were provided on the (higher priced) 105R De Luxe. The 105R featured a “Roverdrive” automatic transmission. This unit was designed and built by Rover and at the time was the only British-built automatic transmission. Others had bought in units from American manufacturers such as Borg-Warner. This unit was actually a two-speed automatic (Emergency Low which can be selected manually and Drive) with an overdrive unit for a total of three forward gears. The 105S made do with a manual transmission and Laycock de Normanville overdrive incorporating a kick-down control. The 105S could reach a top speed of 101 mph. Production of the 105 line ended in 1958 for the 105R and 1959 for the manual transmission 105S, 10,781 had been produced, two-thirds with the manual transmission option. For 1959 the manual model was described simply as a 105 and the trim and accessory level was reduced to match the other models.In 1959, the engines were upgraded again, with the 80 replacing the 60 and the 100 replacing the 90 and the 105. The four cylinder cars were not particularly popular, though and in September they were replaced by the six cylinder 95. Final model was the 110, which took its place at the top of the range until production ceased, a few months after the very different P6 model 2000 had come along.
The first of the T Series MG cars had been introduced just before the War, replacing the PB model. The series continued after the war with the TC, which was different only in detail from earlier TA and TB cars. Greater change came with the 1950 TD, which combined the TC’s drivetrain, a modified hypoid-geared rear axle, the MG Y-type chassis, a familiar T-type style body and independent suspension using coil springs from the MG Y-type saloon. A 1950 road-test report described as “most striking” the resulting “transformation … in the comfort of riding”. Also lifted from the company’s successful 1¼-litre YA saloon for the TD was the (still highly geared) rack and pinion steering. In addition the TD featured smaller 15-inch disc type road wheels, a left-hand drive option and standard equipment bumpers and over-riders. The car was also 5 inches wider with a track of 50 inches. For the driver the “all-weather protection” was good by the standards of the time. For night driving, instrument illumination was “effective but not dazzling, by a pale green lighting effect”. There was still no fuel gauge, but the 12 gallon tank capacity gave a range between refuelling stops of about 300 miles and a green light on the fascia flashed a “warning” when the fuel level was down to about 2½ gallons. In 1950 the TD MkII Competition Model was introduced, produced alongside the standard car, with a more highly tuned engine using an 8.1:1 compression ratio giving 57 bhp at 5,500 rpm. The higher compression ratio engine was offered with export markets in mind, and would not have been suitable for the UK, where thanks to the continued operation of wartime fuel restrictions, buyers were still limited to 72 octane “Pool petrol”. The TD MkII also featured twin fuel pumps, additional Andrex dampers, and a higher ratio rear-axle. Nearly 30,000 TDs had been produced, including about 1700 Mk II models, when the series ended in 1953 with all but 1656 exported, 23,488 of them to the US alone.
The Morris Minor was already well established when rival Austin launched their competitor, the A30 Saloon of 1952. That was also the year that Austin and Morris merged to become the British Motor Corporation, so suddenly the two cars that had been conceived to compete against each other were stablemates. Except BMC did not work like that. Separate dealer chains remained in place, as they would do for a further 30 years, and whilst this may sound inefficient now, it has to be noted that brand loyalty was such that there were plenty of people would only consider an Austin say, and not a Morris, or vice versa. The A30 was smaller than the Minor and at £507, at launch, it was also £60 cheaper. The body structure was designed by T.K. Garrett, who had been an aeronautical engineer before joining Austin. It was of fully stressed monocoque chassis-less construction, which made it lighter and stiffer than most contemporary vehicles, the first Austin to be made in this way. Inside there were individual seats at the front and a bench at the rear covered in PVC with an option of leather facings on the seats. Evidence of economy was seen in only having a single windscreen wiper, central combined stop/tail/numberplate lamp and a sun visor in front of the driver only. A passenger-side wiper and sun visor, and a heater were available as optional extras. Even so, it sold well, and 223,264 examples were built. The A30 was replaced by the Austin A35 in 1956 with the new name reflecting the larger and more powerful 34 hp A-Series engine, which gave the car a slightly higher top speed and better acceleration, though much of this came as a result of different gearbox ratios. The A30 had the first three ratios close together then a big gap to top, whereas in the A35, the ratios were better spaced and gave a higher speed in third gear. That top speed was 72 mph and 0 – 60 acceleration times are just over 30 seconds, so this remains a very slow car by modern standards. The A35 was very similar in appearance to the A30, and is best recognised by its larger rear window aperture and a painted front grille, with chrome horse-shoe surround, instead of the chrome grille featured on the A30. The semaphore trafficators were replaced with present-day front- and rear-mounted flashing light indicators. A slightly easier to operate remote-control gear-change was provided. Like the A30, the A35 was offered as a two- or four-door saloon or two-door “Countryman” estate and also as a van. The latter model continued in production through to 1968. A rare coupe utility (pickup) version was also produced in 1956, with just 477 sold. Drawings were made for a sports tourer, but no prototype was actually built. The A35 passenger cars were replaced by the new body shape A40 Farina models in 1959 but the estate car version continued until 1962 and van until 1968. These days they are popular as an affordable classic. Their simple mechanicals, good availability of some parts (not bodywork, though) and pert looks give them widespread appeal. There was a neat example of a 4 door A35 here.
Final version of the popular T Series sports car was the TF, launched on the 15 October 1953. Although it looked quite a bit different, this was really just a facelifted TD, fitted with the TD Mark II engine, headlights faired into the wings, a sloping radiator grille concealing a separate radiator, and a new pressurised cooling system along with a simulated external radiator cap. This XPAG engine’s compression ratio had been increased to 8.1:1 and extra-large valves with stronger valve springs and larger carburettors increased output to 57.5 bhp at 5,500 rpm. In mid-1954 the engine capacity was increased by 17 per cent to 1466 cc and designated XPEG. The bore was increased to 72 mm and compression raised to 8.3:1 giving 63 bhp t 5,000 rpm and a 17 per cent increase in torque. The car was now designated TF1500, and externally distinguished by a cream background enamel nameplate on both sides of the bonnet, placed just to the rear of the forward bonnet-release buttons. Production ended at chassis number TF10100 on 4 April 1955 after 9,602 TFs had been manufactured, including two prototypes and 3,400 TF1500s. The TF was superceded by the MGA. A number of replica models have been built in more recent years, with the Naylor of the mid 1980s being perhaps the best known.
There was a little slice of 50s Americana here with a number of brightly coloured Metropolitans. Designed in the U.S. and patterned from a concept car, the NXI (Nash Experimental International), that was built by Detroit-based independent designer William J. Flajole for Nash-Kelvinator, this was designed as the second car in a two car family, for “Mom taking the kids to school or shopping or for Dad to drive to the railroad station to ride to work”, this “commuter/shopping car” bore a resemblance to the big Nash models of the era, but the scale was tiny as the Met’s wheelbase was shorter than a Volkswagen Beetle’s. The NXI design study had incorporated many innovative features, and attempted to make use of interchangeable front and rear components (the symmetrical door skins were the only interchangeable items that made it into production). Although more complex, the new vehicle also incorporated Nash’s advanced single-unit monocoque construction. It had been displayed at a number of “surviews” (survey/previews), commencing on 4 January 1950 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York, to gauge the reaction of the American motoring public to a car of this size, the results of which convinced Nash that there was indeed a market for such a car, if it could be built at a competitive price. A series of prototypes followed that incorporated many of the improvements requested, including roll-up glass side windows, a more powerful engine, and a column-mounted gearlever with bench seat (rather than bucket-type seats with floor change of the concept car). The model was named NKI (for Nash-Kelvinator International), and it featured revised styling incorporating a hood blister and rear wheel cutouts. Nash was positioning this new product for the emerging postwar market for “personal use” autos, and also saw it as a means of Nash to overseas markets. However, Mason and Nash management calculated that it would not be viable to build such a car from scratch in the U.S. because the tooling costs would have been prohibitive. The only cost-effective option was to build overseas using existing mechanical components (engine, transmission, rear end, suspension, brakes, electrical), leaving only the tooling cost for body panels and other unique components. Nash Motors negotiated with several European companies, and on October 5, 1952, announced that they had selected the Austin Motor Company (by then part of BMC) and Fisher & Ludlow (which also became part of BMC in September 1953, later operating under the name Pressed Steel Fisher), both based in Birmingham and vicinity. Fisher & Ludlow would produce the bodywork, while the mechanicals would be provided, as well as final assembly undertaken, by the Austin Motor Company. This was the first time an American-designed car, to be exclusively marketed in North America, had been entirely built in Europe. It became a captive import – a foreign-built vehicle sold and serviced by Nash (and later by American Motors) through its dealer distribution system. It is believed that the first pre-production prototype was completed by Austin on December 2, 1952. In all, five pre-production prototypes were built by Austin Motors and tested prior to the start of production. The total tooling cost amounted to US$1,018,475.94, which was a fraction of the tooling cost for a totally U.S.-built vehicle. The styling for all Nash vehicles at that time was an amalgam of designs from Pininfarina of Italy and the in-house Nash design team. The different models from Ambassador down to the Metropolitan utilised very similar design features (fully enclosed front wheels, notched “pillow” style door pressing, bar style grille etc.). Whilst Nash used the fact that styling was by Pininfarina in their advertising for their larger models, Pininfarina refused to allow his name to be associated with the Metropolitan as he felt it would damage his reputation with other Italian car companies to be linked to such a small car. The new Metropolitan was made in two body designs: convertible and hardtop. All came with several standard features that were optional on most cars of the era. Among these factory-installed benefits for customers were a map light, electric wipers, a cigar lighter, and even a “continental-type” rear-mounted spare tyre with cover. To give a “luxury” image to the interior, “Bedford cord” upholstery trimmed with leather was used (similar to larger Nash vehicles). An AM radio, “Weather Eye” heater, and whitewall tyres were offered as optional extras for the U.S. market. (It is unlikely that a Metropolitan could have been purchased without a heater and radio, as all vehicles left the factory with both items fitted.) The cars were small, with an 85 in wheelbase, an overall length of just 149.5 in and a gross weight of only 1,785 lb for the Convertible and 1,825 lb for the Hardtop, thus making the Metropolitan smaller than the Volkswagen Beetle. Power came from an OHV 1,200 cc straight-4 Austin ‘A40′ series engine as used in the Austin A40 Devon/Dorset) driving the rear wheels through a three-speed manual transmission. The new model was initially to be called the “NKI Custom”, but the name was changed to “Metropolitan” just two months before its public release. New chrome nameplates with the “Metropolitan” name were made to fit into the same holes as the “NKI Custom” script on the passenger side front fender. Nash dealers had to rebadge the early cars that came with the “NKI Custom” name, but some factory manuals had already been prepared and distributed to service departments with the NKI name. Initial reviews of the Metropolitan were mixed. However, owners of the cars reported that the “Metropolitan is a good thing in a small package”. Automotive industry veteran and the largest publisher of automotive books at the time, Floyd Clymer, took several Metropolitans through his tests. He “abused” a 1954 Metropolitan convertible and “got the surprise of my life” with its “performance was far better than I expected”, that he “felt very safe in the car”, and that “it may well be that Nash has started a new trend in American motoring. Perhaps the public is now getting ready to accept a small car”. Clymer also took a 1957 Metropolitan hardtop through a gruelling 2,912 mi road test that even took him 14,100 ft up Pikes Peak. He summed up his experience that “I can not praise the Metropolitan too highly. It is a fascinating little car to drive, its performance is far better than one would expect, and the ride is likewise more than expected”. It was not all good, of course, with Motor Trend magazine describing the backseat as “a joke”. Performance, whilst pedestrian by today’s standards, with a 0 to 60 mph time over 19.3 seconds and a top speed in excess of 70 mph was far better that of the rival VW, but at 60 mph, a common American cruising speed at the time, the Metropolitan was revving at 4300 rpm, which shortened engine life, whereas the Volkswagen could travel at the same speed at only 3000 rpm. Road & Track ’s testers also said that the car had “more than its share of roll and wallow on corners” and there was “little seat-of-the-pants security when the rear end takes its time getting back in line.” The lack of any form of opening for the boot also attracted plenty of complaints. Production at Austin’s Longbridge factory started in October 1953. The initial order was for 10,000 units, with an option to increase the order if sales were sufficient. The first examples badged as Nash went on sale on March 19, 1954 in the U.S. and Canada. Autocar said that “at a production rate of less than 400 cars a week … it was hardly going to be a runaway best seller.” In surveys, Americans had affirmed a desire for economy cars, but in practice they bought the Metropolitan in relatively small numbers. Although Nash merged with Hudson in 1954, and marketed the car as a Hudson Metropolitan in 1955, “demand never took off from the original level”, primarily because the Metropolitan was slow by North American standards. In the first month of sales, 862 Metropolitans were sold in U.S. and Canada, while in the first six months a total of 7,042 were sold. A further order was placed with Austin. After the first 10,000 cars were built, the engine was changed to a B-Series, but still of 1,200 cc, as used in the Austin A40 Cambridge. Other modifications that were incorporated at this time were a new gearbox, and hydraulic actuation for the clutch. The change to a new engine and gearbox added 50 lb to the weight. November 1955 saw the start of Metropolitan Series III (NK3) production. A redesign at this time saw the Metropolitan’s B-Series engine increased in capacity to 1,498 cc, as used in the Austin A50 Cambridge. Polished stainless steel sweep-spears on the body sides allowed a new two-tone finish to be incorporated, which had the cosmetic effect of lowering, slimming and lengthening the car. The grille was also redesigned, and the bonnet had its non-functional hood scoop removed. American Motors changed the designation to “Metropolitan 1500” to differentiate it from the earlier 1,200 cc models. The interior was also changed to incorporate a “houndstooth” check material for the seats trimmed with white vinyl. The dashboard was also now painted black, rather than the body colour as was the case for Series I and II Metropolitans. In September 1957, AMC announced that it was dropping the Nash and Hudson brand names. The Metropolitan was subsequently marketed under the “Metropolitan” name only, and sold through Rambler dealers. January 1959 saw the start of Metropolitan Series IV (NK4) production. This major redesign saw the addition of an external bootlid, at last. By this time, the engine had been upgraded by increasing the compression ratio from 7.2:1 to 8.3:1 giving an output of 55 bhp, as used in the Austin A55 Cambridge). The additional features added 15 lb (6.8 kg) to the weight. Sales rose to 22,209 units in 1959, the Metropolitan’s best-selling year, promoting it to second place behind Volkswagen in sales of cars imported to the U.S. American Motors’ advertising made much of this ranking, while omitting mention that the Volkswagen outsold the Metropolitan by 5½ to 1. Production ceased in April 1961, though sales of the existing inventory continued until March 1962. Approximately 95,000 Metropolitans were sold in the United States and Canada, making it one of the top-selling cars to be imported into those countries at the time, and its sales in 1959 helped to spur the introduction of the Big Three’s (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) new compact models. In October 1956, Austin obtained permission from American Motors to sell the Metropolitans in overseas countries where AMC did not have a presence. The early brochures for the Austin Metropolitans used a reversed photograph to show an apparently right hand drive (RHD) car parked in an English country town because only left hand drive vehicles were available at the time the photos were taken. From December 1956, production of Austin Metropolitans began, and from April 2, 1957, approximately 9,400 additional units were sold in overseas markets that included the United Kingdom. List prices for the UK Series III models were £713 17s 0d for the Hardtop and £725 2s 0d for the Convertible. An estimated 1,200 Metropolitans were sold in the UK in four years, though some have claimed far more than this were sold here. Markedly American, the styling was considered outlandish compared with the more sober British-styled models in the British Motor Corporation lineup. Only Series III and Series IV Metropolitans were produced for sale in the UK. UK Series III sales ran from April 1957 to February 1959. Series IV models, were sold from September 1960 to February 1961. The Metropolitan was not available for UK sales between February 1959 and September 1960, since all production during that time was for US & Canadian dealers. When sales in the UK resumed they were sold through Austin dealers at listed prices of £707 6s 8d for the Hardtop and £732 2s 6d for the Convertible. Austin was dropped from the name, which now became simply “Metropolitan”, and the cars carried no Austin badges although they had Austin Company chassis plates. Despite this the car remained known, by trade and public alike, as the Austin Metropolitan. In May 1960, Car Mart Ltd. (a large Austin dealership in London) presented Princess Margaret with a specially prepared Metropolitan finished in black with gold trim and gold leather interior as a wedding present. It was stolen in London in February 1961.
For those who needed more than 2 seats, MG had the answer with their sports saloon of the day, called the Magnette. Successor to the Y Series was the Magnette ZA, announced on 15 October 1953 and debuted at the 1953 London Motor Show. Deliveries started in March 1954. Production continued until 1956, when 18,076 had been built. It was the first monocoque car to bear the MG badge. The Magnette was designed by Gerald Palmer, designer of the Jowett Javelin. It was the first appearance of the new four cylinder 1489 cc B-Series engine with twin 1¼ inch SU carburettors delivering 60 bhp driving the rear wheels through BMC’s new four speed manual gearbox with synchromesh on the top three ratios. Suspension was independent at the front using coil springs and had a live axle with half elliptic leaf springs at the rear. The steering was by rack and pinion. Hydraulically operated Lockheed 10 in (254 mm) drum brakes were fitted to front and rear wheels. When leaving the factory the Magnette ZA originally fitted the recently developed belted textile-braced, radial-ply Pirelli Cinturato 165HR14 tyres (CA67). The car had leather trimmed individual front seats and rear bench seat. The dashboard and door cappings were in polished wood. Although the heater was standard, the radio was still an optional extra. Standard body colours were black, maroon, green, and grey. The ZA was replaced by the Magnette ZB that was on announced 12 October 1956. Power was increased to 64 hp by fitting 1½ inch carburettors, increasing the compression ratio from 7.5 to 8.3, and modifying the manifold. The extra power increased the top speed to 86 mph and reduced the 0-60 mph time to 18.5 seconds. A semi-automatic transmission, marketed as Manumatic was fitted as an option on 496 1957 Magnettes. A Varitone model featured larger rear window and optional two tone paintwork, using a standard Pressed Steel body shell, the rear window opening enlarged in the Morris Motors body shop, Cowley, before painting 18,524 ZBs were built. The car seen here is one of the later ZB models.
In September 1954, Austin dusted off the Cambridge name that they had used on some of their Ten models in the late 1930s, and applied it to a new pairing of A40 and A50 models which replaced the Somerset. The A40 and A50 Cambridge models were entirely new, with modern unibody construction and new styling with integrated wings and a full width grille which was initially quite rounded, though a facelift in 1957, creating the first A55 changed that somewhat, before the more significant new look came in 1959 with the Farina styled cars. Initially the Austin Cambridge was only offered with a 4-passenger, 4-door saloon body, although a few pre-production 2-door models were also made. A van derivative introduced in November 1956 and a pick up that followed in May 1957 remained available until 1974. The A40 had a 1.2 litre straight-4 pushrod engine B-Series engine based on the one used in the previous Austin Somerset, although sharing no parts. A maximum power output of 42 bhp was claimed, transmitted to the wheels by means of a four-speed gear box controlled with a column-mounted lever. Only 30,666 A40 Cambridge models were produced, as it was the A50 version of the Cambridge, introduced at the same time, but with a new 1489 cc B-Series four-cylinder engine with single Zenith carburettor which was good for 50 hp which would prove far more popular . It sold better and remained in production through to 1957 with 114,867 A50s being produced The de luxe version had a heater, leather seat facings, carpets replacing the standard rubber matting, armrests on the doors, twin-tone horns, a passenger sun visor, and some extra chrome including overriders. Technical advances in the A50 Cambridge included an optional Borg-Warner overdrive unit for the top three (of four) gears. A semi-automatic transmission (branded “manumatic” and providing pedal-free clutch operation) was also offered, but it was unpopular with buyers. A number of modifications were introduced in October 1956 including smaller 13 in wheels and increased compression ratio (8.3:1). A de luxe version tested by The Motor magazine in 1955 had a top speed of 73.6 mph and could accelerate from 0–60 mph in 28.8 seconds. A fuel consumption of 28.0 mpg was recorded. The test car cost £720 including taxes. Austin updated the model in 1957 with new styling front and rear and a more powerful engine, creating the A55 Cambridge.
The Wolseley 1500 is one of a pair of medium sized saloon cars, the Riley One Point Five being the other, which was launched in 1957. Conceived as a potential replacement for the Morris Minor, because that car was still selling well, the model ended up only ever being offered with the more costly marques’ badges attached (though Australians did get variants called the Austin Lancer and Morris Major). The Riley and similar Wolseley were based on the Morris Minor floorpan, suspension and steering but fitted with the larger 1489 cc B-Series engine and MG Magnette gearbox. As well as trim and badging, the twins were differentiated by nearly 20 hp, the more sporting Riley having twin SU carburettors giving it the most power at 68 hp. The Wolseley was released first, in April, while the Riley appeared in November, directly after the 1957 London Motor Show. A Series II model came out in May 1960. The most notable external difference was the hidden boot and bonnet hinges. Interior storage was improved with the fitting of a full width parcel shelf directly beneath the fascia. The Series III launched in October 1961, featuring revisions to the grille and rear lights. In October 1962 the car received the more robust crank, bearing and other details of the larger 1,622 cc unit now being fitted in the Austin Cambridge and its “Farina” styled clones. Unlike the Farina models, however, the Wolseley 1500 and Riley One-Point-Five retained the 1,489 cc engine size with which they had been launched back in 1957. Production ended in 1965 with 39,568 Rileys and 103,394 Wolseleys made.
By the mid 1950s, the BMC organisation was well established, and it dominated the UK market with a 39% share. Plans were made for a complete new range of cars that would encompass all the marques: Austin, Morris, MG, Riley and Wolseley. Italian stylist Pininfarina was commissioned to design them. The first model to appear was the A40, launched early in 1958. There were no examples of that model here, but there were several of the range that followed. which are often referred to as the Farina Saloons. BMC took the decision to produce a very similar looking model with each of the 5 marque’s badges attached. They were released over a period of months, starting in late 1958 with the Wolseley 15/60. This was followed by the A55 Cambridge Mark II, the Morris Oxford Series V, the MG Magnette Series III and the Riley 4/68. The same basic body style was applied to all, with just trim differences, and in the case of the MG and Riley, more powerful engines thanks to a twin carburettor set up under the bonnet, introducing the world to the concept of “badge engineering”. Whilst the styling was something of an amalgam of Italian glamour and a touch of Americana, with prominent tail fins, under the skin the cars were very conventional. Whilst some may have been disappointed that BMC had not been more adventurous, this was an era when home car maintenance was an established part of the suburban landscape, so simplicity was not completely unwelcome. The familiar 1.5-litre B-Series engine, four-speed manual and straightforward rear-wheel drive gave it solid appeal to many middle-class buyers, especially those horrified by the black magic of the newly launched front-drive Mini. All 5 cars were four-door saloons, with estate versions offered of the Austin and Morris. A facelift was applied to them all in late 1961, when the tail fins were toned down and an enlarged 1622cc B Series engine found its way under the bonnet, with more power, new names came in for the Wolseley which became the 16/60 and the Austin which adopted the A60 Cambridge name. As well as examples of the A60 Cambridge and Oxford Series VI, there was a Wolseley 16/60 and the rather rarer MG Magnette on show here.
There’s a separate event dedicated to Mini models of all ages that takes place at Gaydon during the year, when I understand the site is packed out with a mix of both the modern BMW-owned MINI models and vast numbers of the classic Issigonis models. Whilst it was not packed out with them at this event, there were plenty of really nice examples on show. Surprisingly absent were the early cars, which are the ones that are really piquing collectors’ interest (and their wallets, with some very high prices being paid) right now. The first cars were badged as the Morris Mini Minor and Austin Se7en, and it was some time before the formal name was just shortened to Mini. Differences between the two marques were confined to the grille and badges. The early cars were extremely basic, even in the slightly less stripped out de Luxe version, with their sliding windows, cable-pull door releases, no heater, floor mounted starter button and a long wand of a gear lever that came straight from the gearbox with no remote linkage. A better equipped Super model was available for 1963, but even that would seem to lack many of the things which we have long since taken for granted. Even so, sales did soon take off, and BMC were selling all the cars they could make, even if, as Ford figured out when the acquired a car and stripped down, it was reckoned that they were losing money on every one they made. Whilst it is the 1959 models that command the really high prices now, there are not that many of these cars left and so those made in the next few years of production are also proving very collectible. There weren’t many of these here, either, with the majority of the cars being later ones – not something which usually applies at events like this.
It is often the case that the more utilitarian versions of a model, such as Estate Cars, Vans and Pickups have a lower survival rate than the Saloon or Sporting models, as these cars tend to have a far harder life right from initial registration, and that’s certainly the case with the Mini, where these versions are really quite rare compared to the regular Saloon. Whilst there were no Estate models here, either, there were some nice examples of the Van and the Pickup.
BMC launched their own posher versions, the Wolseley Hornet and Riley Elf in 1961. Revised styling included a small bustle-back boot, as well as new grilles that resembled those of large models in their respective ranges. The interior trims were rather more luxurious. Sales were not particularly strong, as the market for cars of this type was some decades away from emerging.
In 1969, now under the ownership of British Leyland, the Mini was given a facelift by stylist Roy Haynes, who had previously worked for Ford. The restyled version was called the Mini Clubman, and had a squarer frontal look, using the same indicator/sidelight assembly as the Austin Maxi. The Mini Clubman was intended to replace the upmarket Riley and Wolseley versions, and a new model, dubbed the 1275 GT, was slated as the replacement for the 998 cc Mini Cooper, the 1,275 cc Mini Cooper S continuing alongside the 1275 GT years until 1971. The Clubman Estate replaced the Countryman and Traveller. The original “round-front” design remained in production alongside the Clubman and 1275 GT. Production of the Clubman and 1275 GT got off to a slow start because the cars incorporated “lots of production changes” including the relocation of tooling from the manufacturer’s Cowley plant to the Longbridge plant: very few cars were handed over to customers before the early months of 1970. The 1275 GT is often incorrectly described as the “Mini Clubman 1275 GT”. The official name was always just the “Mini 1275 GT”, and it was a separate, distinct model from the Clubman (although it shared the same frontal treatment as the Mini Clubman, and was launched at the same time). It had the 1275cc A Series unit and a 4 speed gearbox, as well as larger wheels. It was also deleted in the autumn of 1980. Although moderately popular when new, it is now seen as something of a poor substitute for the Cooper models, and the survival rate is pretty low, so you don’t see them that often. There was a late example here, which looked absolutely fabulous. It was attracting lots of interest.
The Mini was the model that refused to die, with sales continuing after the launch of the Metro in 1980, and gathering momentum again in the 1990s, thanks in no small part to interest from Japan and because Rover Group decided to produce some more Cooper models. The first series of Cooper cars had been discontinued in 1971, replaced by the cheaper to build 1275GT, but when a limited edition model was produced in 1990, complete with full endorsement from John Cooper, the model was a sell out almost overnight, which prompted the decision to make it a permanent addition to the range. A number of refinements were made during the 90s, with fuel injection adding more power, a front mounted radiator and more sound deadening making the car quieter and new seats adding more comfort and a new dash making the car look less spartan inside. It formed part of the range until production of all Issigonis Minis ended in 2000. There were several of them here.
BL offered their first limited edition model in 1979, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Mini. It combined the 1100cc engine of the Clubman with the original bodyshell and was offered in a choice of two unique paint finishes. Called the Special, it sold out quite quickly, so it was no surprise that every 5 years thereafter, another special edition car was produced to mark the latest anniversary of the model, with the 25 being finished in Silver metallic, and the 40 coming, among other colours, in a rich maroon finish. There were also a number of other limited production models offered in the latter part of the Mini’s life and of these, it was an Italian Job car that stood out. This was produced in October 1992 and was inspired by the 1969 film “The Italian Job”. The cars were made to look like Coopers but as they were based on the Mayfair, they produced only 50 hp. They were available in four colours: Flame Red; Metallic British Racing Green; Diamond White; and Electric Blue. Outside, there were body-coloured wing mirrors, white grilles, black bumpers, bonnet stripes, and an “Italian Job” badge, as well as crossed Italian and British flag decals. Inside, there was black tweed, a three-spoke steering wheel with Italian flag on steering wheel and front seats and the car featured tinted glass, twin driving lamps and opening rear quarter windows. There were 1,000 for UK and 750 for Italy.
Final Mini present was one of the Cabriolet models. Although there had been conversions done before – notably by Crayford in the early 1960s – this was the first one that was sold new through Austin-Rover dealers. It dates from 1991. Initially, 100 cars were produced by LAMM Autohaus, with their own body kit on the car, and they were all painted in Cherry red. A further 25 were ordered, before Rover committed to a greater volume, and in a wider variety of colours. They were based on the Cooper, and had upgraded trim, with a leather steering wheel, and wood-grained dash, door cappings and gear knob as well as bespoke badging, to help to justify the rather steep price tag of £12,250.
Towards the end of the 1950s Standard-Triumph offered a range of two-seater Triumph sports cars alongside its Standard saloons, the Standard 8 and 10, powered by a small (803 cc or 948 cc) 4-cylinder engine, which by the late 1950s were due for an update. Standard-Triumph therefore started work on the Herald. The choice of the Herald name suggests that the car was originally intended to be marketed as a Standard, as it fitted the model-naming scheme of the time (Ensign, Pennant and Standard itself). But by 1959 it was felt that the Triumph name had more brand equity, and the Standard name was phased out in Britain after 1963. Giovanni Michelotti was commissioned to style the car by the Standard-Triumph board, encouraged by chief engineer Harry Webster, and quickly produced designs for a two-door saloon with a large glass area that gave 93 per cent all-round visibility in the saloon variant and the “razor-edge” looks to which many makers were turning. As Fisher & Ludlow, Standard-Triumph’s body suppliers became part of an uncooperative BMC, it was decided that the car should have a separate chassis rather than adopting the newer monocoque construction. The main body tub was bolted to the chassis and the whole front end hinged forward to allow access to the engine. Every panel – including the sills and roof – could be unbolted from the car so that different body styles could be easily built on the same chassis. As an addition to the original coupé and saloon models, a convertible was introduced in 1960. The Standard Pennant’s 4-cylinder 948 cc OHV engine and 4 speed manual gearbox was used with synchromesh on the top three gears and remote gear shift and driving the rear wheels. Most of the engine parts were previously used in the Standard 8/10. The rack and pinion steering afforded the Herald a tight 25-foot (7.6 m) turning circle. Coil and double-wishbone front suspension was fitted, while the rear suspension, a new departure for Triumph, offered “limited” independent springing via a single transverse leaf-spring bolted to the top of the final drive unit and swing axles. Instruments were confined to a single large speedometer with fuel gauge in the saloon (a temperature gauge was available as an option) on a dashboard of grey pressed fibreboard. The coupé dashboard was equipped with speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges, together with a lockable glovebox. The car had loop-pile carpeting and heater as standard. A number of extras were available including twin SU carburettors, leather seats, a wood-veneered dashboard, Telaflo shock absorbers and paint options. In late 1958, prototype cars embarked on a test run from Cape Town to Tangiers. An account of the journey was embellished by PR at the time. However only minor changes were deemed necessary between the prototype and production cars. The new car was launched at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 22 April 1959 but was not an immediate sales success, partly owing to its relatively high cost, approaching £700 (including 45 per cent Purchase Tax). In standard single-carburettor form the 34.5 bhp car was no better than average in terms of performance. A saloon tested by The Motor magazine in 1959 was found to have a top speed of 70.9 mph and could accelerate from 0–60 mph in 31.1 seconds. A fuel consumption of 34.5 mpg was recorded. The rear suspension was criticised as yielding poor handling at the extremes of performance though the model was considered easy to drive with its good vision, light steering (smallest turning circle of any production car) and controls, and ease of repair. A Herald S variant was introduced in 1961 with a lower equipment level and less chromium than the Herald, offered in saloon form only. The 948cc Herald Coupe and Convertible models were discontinued in 1961, the 948cc Herald Saloon in 1962 and the Herald S in 1964. Standard-Triumph experienced financial difficulties at the beginning of the 1960s and was taken over by Leyland Motors Ltd in 1961. This released new resources to develop the Herald and the car was re-launched in April 1961 with an 1147 cc engine as the Herald 1200. The new model featured rubber-covered bumpers, a wooden laminate dashboard and improved seating. Quality control was also tightened up. Twin carburettors were no longer fitted to any of the range as standard although they remained an option, the standard being a single down-draught Solex carburettor. Claimed maximum power of the Herald 1200 was 39 bhp, as against the 34.5 bhp claimed for the 948 cc model. One month after the release of the Herald 1200, a 2-door estate was added to the range. Disc brakes became an option from 1962. Sales picked up despite growing competition from the BMC Mini and the Ford Anglia, with the car proving particularly popular to women drivers. The coupé was dropped from the range in late 1964 as it was by then in direct competition with the Triumph Spitfire. The Triumph Courier van, a Herald estate with side panels in place of rear side windows, was produced from 1962 until 1966, but was dropped following poor sales. Production in England ceased in mid-1964. CKD assembly by MCA in Malta continued till late 1965, at least. The Courier was powered by the 1147 cc engine. An upmarket version, the Herald 12/50, was offered from 1963 to 1967. It featured a tuned engine with a claimed output of 51 bhp in place of the previous 39, along with a sliding (Webasto) vinyl-fabric sunroof and front disc brakes as standard. The 12/50, which was offered only as a 2-door saloon, was fitted with a fine-barred aluminium grille. The power output of the 1200, which remained in production alongside the 12/50, was subsequently boosted to 48 bhp. In October 1967 the range was updated with the introduction at the London Motor Show of the Herald 13/60, which was offered in saloon, convertible and estate-bodied versions. The sun-roof remained available for the saloon as an optional extra rather than a standard feature. The front end was restyled using a bonnet similar to the Triumph Vitesse and the interior substantially revised though still featuring the wooden dashboard. Interior space was improved by recessing a rear armrest in each side panel. The engine was enlarged to 1296 cc, essentially the unit employed since 1965 in the Triumph 1300, fitted with a Stromberg CD150 carburettor, offering 61 bhp and much improved performance. In this form (though the 1200 saloon was sold alongside it until the end of 1970) the Herald Saloon lasted until December 1970 and the Convertible and Estate until May 1971, by which time, severely outdated in style if not performance, it had already outlived the introduction of the Triumph 1300 Saloon, the car designed to replace it and was still selling reasonably well but, because of its labour-intensive method of construction, selling at a loss. The car seen here is a 13/60 Convertible.
Successor to the TR3a was the TR4. Code named “Zest” during development, the car was based on the chassis and drivetrain of the previous TR sports cars, but with a modern Michelotti styled body. The TR 4 engine was carried over from the earlier TR2/3 models, but the displacement was increased from 1991cc to 2138 cc by increasing the bore size. Gradual improvements in the manifolds and cylinder head allowed for some improvements culminating in the TR4A model. The 1991 cc engine became a no-cost option for those cars destined to race in the under-two-litre classes of the day. Some cars were fitted with vane-type superchargers, as the three main bearing engine was liable to crankshaft failure if revved beyond 6,500 rpm; superchargers allowed a TR4 to produce much more horse-power and torque at relatively modest revolutions. The standard engine produced 105 bhp but, supercharged and otherwise performance-tuned, a 2.2-litre I4 version could produce in excess of 200 bhp at the flywheel. The TR4, in common with its predecessors, was fitted with a wet-sleeve engine, so that for competition use the engine’s cubic capacity could be changed by swapping the cylinder liners and pistons, allowing a competitor to race under different capacity rules (i.e. below or above 2 litres for example). Other key improvements over the TR3 included a wider track front and rear, slightly larger standard engine displacement, full synchromesh on all forward gears, and rack and pinion steering. In addition, the optional Laycock de Normanville electrically operated overdrive Laycock Overdrive could now be selected for 2nd and 3rd gear as well as 4th, effectively providing the TR4 with a seven-speed manual close ratio gearbox. The TR4 was originally fitted with 15×4.5″ disc wheels. Optional 48-lace wire wheels could be ordered painted the same colour as the car’s bodywork (rare), stove-enamelled (matte silver with chrome spinners, most common) or in matte or polished chrome finishes (originally rare, but now more commonly fitted). The most typical tyre originally fitted was 590-15 bias ply or optional radial tires. In the US at one point, American Racing alloy (magnesium and aluminium) wheels were offered as an option, in 15×5.5″ or 15×6″ size. Tyres were a problem for original owners who opted for 60-spoke wire wheels, as the correct size radial-ply tyre for the factory rims was 155-15, an odd-sized tyre at the time only available from Michelin at considerable expense. Some original TR4 sales literature says the original radial size was 165-15. The much more common 185-15 radials were too wide to be fitted safely. As a result, many owners had new and wider rims fitted and their wheels re-laced. The new TR4 body style did away with the classical cutaway door design of the previous TRs to allow for wind-down windows (in place of less convenient side-curtains), and the angular rear allowed a boot with considerable capacity for a sports car. Advanced features included the use of adjustable fascia ventilation, and the option of a unique hard top that consisted of a fixed glass rear window (called a backlight) with an integral rollbar and a detachable, steel centre panel (aluminium for the first 500 units). This was the first such roof system on a production car and preceded by 5 years the Porsche 911/912 Targa, which has since become a generic name for this style of top. On the TR4 the rigid roof panel was replaceable with an easily folded and stowed vinyl insert and supporting frame called a Surrey Top. The entire hard top assembly is often mistakenly referred to as a Surrey Top. In original factory parts catalogues the rigid top and backlight assembly is listed as the Hard Top kit. The vinyl insert and frame are offered separately as a Surrey Top. Features such as wind-down windows were seen as a necessary step forward to meet competition and achieve good sales in the important US market, where the vast majority of TR4s were eventually sold. Dealers had concerns that buyers might not fully appreciate the new amenities, therefore a special short run of TR3As (commonly called TR3Bs) was produced in 1961 and ’62. The TR4 proved very successful and continued the rugged, “hairy-chested” image that the previous TRs had enjoyed. 40,253 cars were built during production years. Most were sold new to the US, but plenty have returned, and it is estimated that there are not far short of 900 examples of the model in the UK at present.
MORRIS FG 550
One of the more distinctive commercial vehicles ever to grace Britain’s roads, this started out life as the Morris FG Series, and was launched in 1960. Later it was also sold as the Austin S200 and 404, and it was renamed the BMC FG in 1968. The name changed again in 1970 when it became the Leyland FG, which was the final branding until production ceased in the early 1980s. The new FG truck burst onto the scene in early 1960, with payload ratings ranging from 1½ tons to 5 tons, it would replace both the LC-series and the lower end of the forward-control FE range. At its launch, the FG’s cab was hailed as a leap forward in commercial vehicle design. Uniquely, the cabin doors were mounted across the angled rear corners of the cab; being rear-hinged and rather narrow, this meant that when opened, they barely protruded beyond the width of the cab itself, thus delivering the main benefit of sliding doors in a context where these clearly could not be used. While BMC coined the term “angle-planned” to describe this arrangement, the FG’s unusual shape soon led users to refer to it as the “three-penny bit”, after the pre-decimal, twelve-sided British coin of that name. Another innovative feature of the FG was its curved kerbside-view windows, mounted at the front corners of the cab, below the windscreen. These helped the driver to “place” the truck when parking, and were also an important aid to safety in busy high streets, as they eliminated a traditional blind-spot. However, all was not sweetness and light for the FG’s driver: the “angle-planned” design had a detrimental impact on the internal width of the cab, and consequently, the seats were rather narrow – as were the doors themselves – making life tough for the more portly driver. And assuming that he could get himself seated comfortably, he then had to contend with the heat generated by the engine which shared his cab-space, and get to grips with a gear lever that was thoughtfully mounted right at the rear of the cab. Despite these shortcomings, the FG had a loyal following in the commercial market; the British Gas company was particularly fond of it, but to anyone who grew up in Britain during the 1970s the FG will be immediately identifiable as the archetypal Sunblest baker’s van. Another popular application for the FG was as a laundry van, in which configuration a capacious walk-through body was fitted to the basic chassis/front-end – with sliding doors.
Resurrecting the name that was used by MG for their smallest car, the M Type, in the late 20s, was the MG Midget, announced in 1961. The new car was essentially a slightly more expensive badge-engineered version of the MkII Austin-Healey Sprite. The original ‘Frogeye’ Sprite had been introduced specifically to fill the gap in the market left by the end of production of the MG T-type Midget as its replacement, the MGA had been a significantly larger and more expensive car with greater performance. Many existing MG enthusiast and buyers turned to the Sprite to provide a modern low-cost sports car and so a badge-engineered MG version reusing the Midget name made sense. The new Midget differed from the Sprite only in its grille design, badging, colour options and having both leather seats and more external chrome trim as standard to justify its higher purchase price. Mechanically the car was identical to its Austin-Healey counterpart, retaining the rear suspension using quarter-elliptic leaf springs and trailing arms from the ‘Frogeye’. The engine was initially a 948 cc A-Series with twin SU carburettors producing 46 hp at 5500 rpm and 53 lb/ft at 3000 rpm. Brakes were 7″ drums all round. A hard top, heater, radio and luggage rack were available as factory-fitted extras. In October 1962 the engine was increased to 1098 cc, raising the output to 56 hp at 5500 rpm and 62 lb/ft at 3250 rpm, and disc brakes replaced the drums at the front. Wire spoked wheels became available. The doors had no external handles or locks and the windows were sliding Perspex side-screens. A heater was still an optional extra. The car sold well, with 16,080 of the small-engined version and 9601 of the 1098 being made before the arrival in 1964 of the Mark II. Externally the main changes were to the doors, which gained wind-up windows, swivelling quarter lights, external handles and separate locks. The windscreen also gained a slight curvature and was retained in a more substantial frame. The hood, though modified, continued to have a removable frame that had to be erected before the cover was put on. The rear springs were replaced by more conventional semi-elliptic types which gave a better ride. The engine block was strengthened and larger main bearings were fitted, increasing the power to 59 hp at 5750 rpm and torque to 65 lb/ft at 3500 rpm. A total of 26,601 were made. 1967 saw the arrival of the Mark III. The engine now grew to 1275 cc using the development seen on the Mini-Cooper ‘S’. Enthusiasts were disappointed that this was a detuned version of the 76-bhp Cooper ‘S’ engine, giving only 65 hp at 6000 rpm and 72 lbf·ft at 3000 rpm. A reduced compression ratio of 8.8:1 was used instead of the 9.75:1 employed on the Cooper S engine. The Midget used the 12G940 cylinder head casting that was common to other BMC 1300 cars, whereas the Cooper ‘S’ had a special head with not only larger inlet, but also larger exhaust valves; however, these exhaust valves caused many ‘S’ heads to fail through cracking between the valve seats. The detuned engine was used for reasons of model range placement – with the Cooper ‘S’ spec engine, the Midget would have been faster than the more expensive MGB. The hydraulic system gained a separate master cylinder for the clutch. The hood was now permanently attached to the car, with an improved mechanism making it much easier to use. Minor facelift changes were made to the body trim in late 1969 with the sills painted black, a revised recessed black grille, and squared off taillights as on the MGB. The 13″ “Rostyle” wheels were standardised, but wire-spoked ones remained an option. The square-shaped rear wheel arches became rounded in January 1972 and later that year a Triumph steering rack was fitted, giving a gearing that was somewhat lower than earlier Midgets. A second exhaust silencer was also added in 1972. Alternators were fitted instead of dynamos from 1973 onwards. Many consider the round-arch Midgets with chrome bumpers produced for model years 1972 and 1974 to be the most desirable. These round-arch cars started leaving the Abingdon factory in late 1971. Between 1966 and the 1969 face lift, 22,415 were made, and a further 77,831 up to 1974. In late 1974, to meet US federal regulations, large black plastic bumpers (usually called rubber bumpers, despite not actually being rubber) were added to the front and rear and the ride height was increased. The increased ride height affected handling, and an anti-roll bar was added to help with higher centre of gravity. The A-Series engine was replaced by the 1493 cc unit from the Triumph Spitfire with a modified Morris Marina gearbox with synchromesh on all four gears. The increased displacement of the new engine was better able to cope with the increasing emission regulations. Although the horsepower ratings were similar, at 65 bhp, the 1493 cc engine produced more torque. The increased output combined with taller gear ratios resulted in faster acceleration and a top speed of just over 100 mph. In the US market British Leyland struggled to keep engine power at acceptable levels, as the engines were loaded with air pumps, EGR valves and catalytic converters to keep up with new US and California exhaust emission control regulations. The home market’s dual SU HS4 carbs were swapped for a single Zenith-Stromberg 150 CD4 unit, and the power fell to 50 bhp at 5000 rpm and 67 lb-ft of torque at 2500 rpm. The round rear-wheel arches were now square again, to increase the body strength. The last car was made on 7 December 1979, after 73,899 of the 1500 model had been made, with the last 500 home-market cars painted black.
Joining those Midgets was the car’s alter ego, too, the second generation Austin Healey Sprite. The Mark II to Mark IV cars were all very similar and represented the evolution of the model throughout the 1960s, The Mark II was announced at the end of May 1961. It used the same 948 cc engine with larger twin 1 1⁄4 inch SU carburettors, increasing power to 46.5 bhp. A close-ratio gearbox was fitted. The bodywork was completely revamped, with the headlights migrating to a more conventional position in the wings, either side of a full-width grille. At the rear, styling borrowed from the soon-to-be-announced MGB gave a similarly more modern look, with the added advantages of an opening boot lid and conventional rear bumper bar. The result was a much less eccentric-looking sports car, though at the expense of some 100 lbs extra weight. It followed the MG version of the car which was introduced a couple of weeks earlier as ‘the new Midget,’ reviving a model name which had been a great success for the MG Car Company in the 1930s. The Midget was to prove more popular with the public than the Sprite and by 1972 had completely supplanted it within the BMC range. In October 1962, both Sprites and Midgets were given a long-stroke 1098 cc engine. A strengthened gearbox with Porsche (baulk-ring) synchromesh was introduced to cope with the extra power – 56 bhp. Front disc brakes were also introduced at the same time and wire wheels became an option. 31,665 Mark II Sprites were made. The Mark III Sprite was also marketed as the Mark II MG Midget – differences between the two were again restricted to minor trim detailing. Although still 1098 cc, the engine had a stronger block casting, and the size of the crankshaft main bearings was increased to two inches. A new (slightly) curved-glass windscreen was introduced with hinged quarterlights and wind-up side windows. Exterior door handles were provided for the first time, with separate door locks. Though the car could now be secured, with a soft-top roof the added protection was limited. The rear suspension was modified from quarter-elliptic to semi-elliptic leaf springs, which gave a more comfortable ride for a near-negligible weight penalty as well as providing additional axle location, the upper links fitted to the quarter-elliptic models being deleted. Though scarcely sybaritic, these changes helped the Sprite and Midget compete with the recently released Triumph Spitfire. 25,905 Mark III Sprites were made. The next upgrade was presented at the London Motor Show in October 1966. Besides receiving the larger 1275 cc engine (which disappointed enthusiasts by being in a lower state of tune than that of the Mini-Cooper ‘S’), the Mark IV and its cousin the Mark III MG Midget had several changes which were more than cosmetic. Most notable is the change from a removable convertible top, which had to be stowed in the boot, to a permanently affixed, folding top of greatly improved design, which was much easier to use. Separate brake and clutch master cylinders were fitted, as car manufacturers’ thoughts began to turn to making their products safer. For the 1970 model year cast-alloy wheels were fitted and the grille was changed to resemble that fitted to the MG Midget. 22,790 Mark IV Sprites were made. The Healey connection was discontinued in 1971, so the final 1,022 Sprites built were simply Austin Sprites.
INNOCENTI C COUPE
At the 1960 Turin Auto Show, BMC’s Italian partner Innocenti showed a small Spider built upon Sprite underpinnings. The car was the first design of Tom Tjaarda’s, drawn for Carrozzeria Ghia. Ghia’s partner firm OSI built the bodyshells, when the car entered production in early 1961. The original Innocenti 950 Spider had the Frogeye’s 948 cc engine with 43 hp, 624 of these were built. Later in 1961 an uprated 46.5 hp was installed. In February 1963 the 1098 cc “S” model was introduced, this also had front disc brakes to cope with the extra power. The 1100 has 58 hp and could also be fitted with a removable hardtop. The Spider wasn’t a mere reshelling, as the entire bulkhead was moved forward to provide longer doors and a more modern look. Unlike the spartan Frogeye, the Spider also had wind-up windows and a permanent windscreen. 4,790 of the 950 Spiders were built, and 2,074 of the 1100 cc Spiders. The Innocenti Spider originally sold well in Italy, with production running at 13 cars per day in 1962, but it had a hard time competing against the cheaper Sprite in export markets. As more modern competitors arrived and as the British-built Sprite was modernised, sales dropped precipitously, with only 63 cars built in 1965. Thus, Innocenti presented the reworked Innocenti Coupé in September 1966, still with the same 1100 engine as seen in late Spiders. The badging on the car simply read “Innocenti C”. The Coupé’s all-new bodywork was wider and longer than the Spider’s, and the wheelbase was extended by 150 mm to 2,180 mm (85.8 in). The floorpan was reworked to allow for the seats to be mounted lower than in a Sprite, making the cabin less cramped. It was competitively priced in the Italian market, slotting nicely between the smaller Fiat 850 Coupé and the bigger Fiat 124 Sport Spider. Only 794 were built when production ended in 1968.
This was the sole example of a Daimler in the event. Launched late in 1962, the Daimler V8 Saloon was essentially a rebadged Jaguar Mark 2 fitted with Daimler’s 2.5-litre 142 bhp V8 engine and drive-train, a Daimler fluted grille and rear number plate surround, distinctive wheel trims, badges, and interior details including a split-bench front seat from the Jaguar Mark 1 and a black enamel steering wheel. Special interior and exterior colours were specified. Most cars were fitted with power-assisted steering but it was optional. Automatic transmission was standard; manual, with or without overdrive, became an option in 1967. The 2.5 V8 was the first Jaguar designed car to have the Daimler badge. A casual observer, though not its driver, might mistake it for a Jaguar Mark 2. The Daimler’s stance on the road was noticeably different from a Mark 2. In April 1964 the Borg-Warner Type 35 automatic transmission was replaced by a D1/D2 type, also by Borg-Warner. A manual transmission, with or without an overdrive unit usable with the top gear, became available on British 2.5 V8 saloon in February 1967 and on export versions the following month. Cars optioned with the overdrive had the original 4.55:1 final drive ratio. In October 1967, there was a minor face-lift and re-labelling of the car to V8-250. It differed only in relatively small details: “slimline” bumpers and over-riders (shared with the Jaguar 240/340 relabelled at the same time), negative-earth electrical system, an alternator instead of a dynamo and twin air cleaners, one for each carburettor. Other new features included padding over the instrument panel, padded door cappings and ventilated leather upholstery, reclinable split-bench front seats and a heated rear window. Power steering and overdrive were optional extras. Jaguar replaced its range of saloons—the 240, the 340, the 420, and the 420G—with the XJ6 at the end of 1968. The company launched the XJ6-based Daimler Sovereign the following year to replace the Daimler saloons—the 240-based V8-250 and the 420-based Sovereign. Henceforth all new Daimlers would be re-badged Jaguars with no engineering links to the pre-1960 Daimlers.
ADO16 – 1100/1300
Second of the Issigonis trio of space efficient front wheel drives was the ADO16 family of cars, which was first seen in August 1962 as the Morris 1100. A four door saloon, with styling that had been influenced by Pininfarina, this car applied the same principles as had been seen in the Mini of three years earlier, but in a larger package, creating plenty of space for 4 or even 5 adults and with more luggage room. Power came from a 1098cc version of the proven A Series engine, which gave it a lively (for the time!) performance and the combination of a long wheelbase and innovative hydrolastic suspension gave it a particularly comfortable ride. A sporting MG model, with twin carburettors was added to the range before the year was out. In 1963 an Austin model appeared, identical to the Morris in all but grille and tail end treatment, and then Wolseley, Riley and even Vanden Plas models were added to the range in 1965 and 1966, as well as Countryman and Traveller estate versions of the Austin and Morris. The Vanden Plas Princess model came out in the autumn of 1965, applying the sort of levels of equipment and luxury finish that were usually found on large cars to something much smaller. Despite the lofty price tag, there was a definite market for these cars, many of which had relatively gentle use when new, so there are a few survivors, including this later 1300 model.
Mark 2 models were launched in 1967 with the option of a 1300 engine, and a slightly less spartan interior. The car became Britain’s best seller, a position it held until 1972, We had a mark 2 Morris 1100 when I was little, It was my mother’s first car, finished in Connaught Green, and I remember it for being very comfortable, and far more spacious than the Mini we bought to replace it.
There were also an example of the Riley Kestrel here. Along with the Wolseley and MG versions, the Riley received the 1275cc engine in 1967 and with twin carburettors was quite brisk for their day. Combine that with good handling (this was an era when front wheel drive was good and rear wheel drive was not!), and the cars were popular with enthusiasts, though you do not see many these days. The Riley was the first version to be deleted, as BMC phased the brand out. This is one of the last cars produced.
The MG and Riley versions were replaced by the 1300GT. Sold in Austin and Morris versions, these cars had a vinyl roof and rostyle wheels to give them the looks to match the performance delivered by the twin carburettor A Series 1275cc engine, and they were popular for a little while, with few direct rivals in the market. There were a couple of them on show at this event.
In the autumn of 1971, a Mark 3 model was launched. There were few significant differences here apart from some trim details. The model ranges were gradually reduced, but the car stayed in production until well into 1974, many months after its replacement, the Allegro had been launched. The car is notorious for rust problems, which is one reason why relatively few of the model have survived, and you always see far fewer of these than the admittedly longer running Mini, or even the Morris Minor which the car was intended to replace, but but there were none of these present on this occasion.
Needing little in the way of an introduction is the MGB, one of the most enduring classics, and there were several to be seen here. Launched in October 1962, the MGB was produced for the next 18 years and it went on to become Britain’s best selling sports car and these days it has to be one of the most popular classics there is. When first announced, the MGB was an innovative, modern design, with a monocoque structure instead of the traditional body-on-frame construction used on both the MGA and MG T-types and the MGB’s rival, the Triumph TR series, though components such as the brakes and suspension were developments of the earlier 1955 MGA and the B-Series engine had its origins back in 1947. The lightweight design reduced manufacturing costs while adding to overall vehicle strength, and with a 95hp 3-bearing 1798cc engine under the bonnet, performance was quite respectable with a 0–60 mph time of just over 11 seconds. The car was rather more civilised than its predecessor, with wind-up windows now fitted as standard, and a comfortable driver’s compartment offered plenty of legroom. The roadster was the first of the MGB range to be produced. The body was a pure two-seater but a small rear seat was a rare option at one point. By making better use of space the MGB was able to offer more passenger and luggage accommodation than the earlier MGA while being 3 inches shorter overall. The suspension was also softer, giving a smoother ride, and the larger engine gave a slightly higher top speed. The four-speed gearbox was an uprated version of the one used in the MGA with an optional (electrically activated) overdrive transmission. A five-bearing engine was introduced in 1964 and a number of other modifications crept into the specification. In late 1967, sufficient changes were introduced for the factory to define a Mark II model. Alterations included synchromesh on all 4 gears with revised ratios, an optional Borg-Warner automatic gearbox, a new rear axle, and an alternator in place of the dynamo with a change to a negative earth system. To accommodate the new gearboxes there were significant changes to the sheet metal in the floorpan, and a new flat-topped transmission tunnel. US market cars got a new safety padded dashboard, but the steel item continued for the rest of the world. Rostyle wheels were introduced to replace the previous pressed steel versions in 1969 and reclining seats were standardised. 1970 also saw a new front grille, recessed, in black aluminium. The more traditional-looking polished grille returned in 1973 with a black “honeycomb” insert. Further changes in 1972 were to the interior with a new fascia. To meet impact regulations, in late 1974, the chrome bumpers were replaced with new, steel-reinforced black rubber bumpers, the one at the front incorporating the grille area as well, giving a major restyling to the B’s nose, and a matching rear bumper completed the change. New US headlight height regulations also meant that the headlamps were now too low. Rather than redesign the front of the car, British Leyland raised the car’s suspension by 1-inch. This, in combination with the new, far heavier bumpers resulted in significantly poorer handling. For the 1975 model year only, the front anti-roll bar was deleted as a cost-saving measure (though still available as an option). The damage done by the British Leyland response to US legislation was partially alleviated by revisions to the suspension geometry in 1977, when a rear anti-roll bar was made standard equipment on all models. US emissions regulations also reduced horsepower. In March 1979 British Leyland started the production of black painted limited edition MGB roadsters for the US market, meant for a total of 500 examples. Due to a high demand of the limited edition model, production ended with 6682 examples. The United Kingdom received bronze painted roadsters and a silver GT model limited editions. The production run of home-market limited edition MGBs was split between 421 roadsters and 579 GTs. Meanwhile, the fixed-roof MGB GT had been introduced in October 1965, and production continued until 1980, although export to the US ceased in 1974. The MGB GT sported a ground-breaking greenhouse designed by Pininfarina and launched the sporty “hatchback” style. By combining the sloping rear window with the rear deck lid, the B GT offered the utility of a station wagon while retaining the style and shape of a coupe. This new configuration was a 2+2 design with a right-angled rear bench seat and far more luggage space than in the roadster. Relatively few components differed, although the MGB GT did receive different suspension springs and anti-roll bars and a different windscreen which was more easily and inexpensively serviceable. Although acceleration of the GT was slightly slower than that of the roadster, owing to its increased weight, top speed improved by 5 mph to 105 mph because of better aerodynamics. 523,826 examples of the MGB of all model types were built, and although many of these were initially sold new in North America, a lot have been repatriated here.
Representing Triumph’ small sports car, the Spitfire, was this 1500 modelbbbbbbb. Based on the chassis and mechanicals of the Triumph Herald, the Spitfire was conceived as a rival to the Austin-Healey Sprite and MG Midget, which were launched a year earlier. The Triumph soon found a strong following, with many preferring it to the BMC cars which in time would become in-house stablemates. Mark II models arrived in 1965 and a more comprehensive facelift in 1967 with the distinctive “bone in mouth” front grille necessitated by US bumper height regulations also brought changes, but it was with the Mark IV that the greatest number of alterations would come about. The Mark IV featured a completely re-designed cut-off rear end, giving a strong family resemblance to the Triumph Stag and Triumph 2000 models, both of which were also Michelotti-designed. The front end was also cleaned up, with a new bonnet pressing losing the weld lines on top of the wings from the older models, and the doors were given recessed handles and squared-off glass in the top rear corner. The interior was much improved: a proper full-width dashboard was provided, putting the instruments ahead of the driver rather than over the centre console. This was initially black plastic however was replaced with wood in 1973. An all-new hardtop was also available, with rear quarter-lights and a flatter rear screen. By far the most significant change, however, was to the rear suspension, which was de-cambered and redesigned to eliminate the unfortunate tendencies of the original swing-axle design. The Triumph GT6 and Triumph Vitesse had already been modified, and the result on all these cars was safe and progressive handling even at the limit. The 75 hp engine was now rated at 63 hp (for UK market employing the 9:1 compression ratio and twin SU HS2 carburettors; the less powerful North American version still used a single Zenith Stromberg carburettor and an 8.5:1 compression ratio) due to the German DIN system; the actual output was the same for the early Mark IV. However, it was slightly slower than the previous Mark III due to carrying more weight, and employing a taller 3.89:1 final drive as opposed to the earlier 4.11:1. The engine continued at 1296 cc, but in 1973 was modified with larger big-end bearings to rationalise production with the TR6 2.5 litre engines, which somewhat decreased its “revvy” nature; there was some detuning, to meet new emissions laws, which resulted in the new car being a little tamer. With the overall weight also increasing to 1,717 lb (779 kg) the performance dropped as a consequence, 0 to 60 mph now being achieved in 15.8 seconds and the top speed reducing to 90 mph. The overall fuel economy also dipped to 32mpg. The gearbox gained synchromesh on its bottom gear. The Mark IV went on sale in the UK at the end of 1970 with a base price of £735. In 1973 in the United States and Canada, and 1975 in the rest of the world, the 1500 engine was used to make the Spitfire 1500. Although in this final incarnation the engine was rather rougher and more prone to failure than the earlier units, torque was greatly increased by increasing the cylinder stroke to 87.5 mm (3.44 in), which made it much more drivable in traffic. While the rest of the world saw 1500s with the compression ratio reduced to 8.0:1, the American market model was fitted with a single Zenith-Stromberg carburettor and a compression ratio reduced to 7.5:1 to allow it to run on lower octane unleaded fuel, and after adding a catalytic converter and exhaust gas recirculating system, the engine only delivered 53 bhp with a slower 0–60 time of 16.3 seconds. The notable exception to this was the 1976 model year, where the compression ratio was raised to 9.1:1. This improvement was short-lived, however, as the ratio was again reduced to 7.5:1 for the remaining years of production. In the UK the 9:1 compression ratio, less restrictive emissions control equipment, and the Type HS2 SU carburettors now being replaced with larger Type HS4 models, led to the most powerful variant to date. The 1500 Spitfire now produced 71hp (DIN) at 5500 rpm, and produced 82 lb/ft of torque at 3000 rpm. Top speed was now at the magical 100 mph mark, and 0 to 60 mph was reached in 13.2 seconds. Fuel economy was reduced to 29mpg. Further improvements to the suspension followed with the 1500 included longer swing axles and a lowered spring mounting point for more negative camber and a wider rear track. The wider, lower stance gave an impressive skid pad result of 0.87g average. This put the Spitfire head and shoulders over its competition in handling. The American market Spitfire 1500 is easily identified by the big plastic over-riders and wing mounted reflectors on the front and back wings. The US specification models up to 1978 still had chrome bumpers, but on the 1979 and 1980 models these were replaced by black rubber bumpers with built-in over-riders. Chassis extensions were also fitted under the boot to support the bumpers. Detail improvements continued to be made throughout the life of the Mark IV, and included reclining seats with “chequered brushed nylon centre panels” and head restraints, introduced for domestic market cars early in 1977 along with a new set of column stalk operated minor controls (as fitted already in the TR7) replacing the old dashboard mounted knobs and switches. Also added for the model’s final years were a wood dash, hazard flashers and an electric screen washer, in place of the previous manual pump operated ones. Options such as the hard top, tonneau cover, map light and overdrive continued to be popular, but wire wheels ceased to be available. The 1980 model was the last and the heaviest of the entire run, weighing 1,875 lb (850.5 kg). Base prices for the 1980 model year was £3,631 in the UK. The last Spitfire, an Inca Yellow UK-market model with hardtop and overdrive, rolled off the assembly line at Canley in August 1980, shortly before the factory closed. It was never sold and is now displayed at the museum at Gaydon.
There were a number of P6 Rovers here. This was the true successor to the long running P4 Rovers. First seen in October 1963, this was a very different sort of Rover. Some will claim that it took its inspiration from the Citroen DS. For sure it applied lessons learned from Rover’s own Jet Turbine program of the 1950s and early 60s. It was a “clean sheet” design, carrying nothing over, and was advanced for the time with a de Dion tube suspension at the rear, four-wheel disc brakes (inboard on the rear), and a fully synchromesh transmission. The unibody design featured non-stressed panels bolted to a unit frame. The de Dion set-up was unique in that the “tube” was in two parts that could telescope, thereby avoiding the need for sliding splines in the drive shafts, with consequent stiction under drive or braking torque, while still keeping the wheels vertical and parallel in relation to the body. The Rover 2000 won industry awards for safety when it was introduced and included a carefully designed “safety” interior. One innovative feature was the prism of glass on the top of the front side lights. This allowed the driver to see the front corner of the car in low light conditions, and also confirmed that they were operative. One unique feature of the Rover 2000 was the design of the front suspension system, in which a bell crank (an L-shaped rotating bracket trailing the upper hub carrier joint) conveyed the vertical motion of the wheel to a fore-and-aft-horizontally mounted spring fastened to the rear wall of the engine compartment. A single hydraulically damped arm was mounted on the firewall for the steering. The front suspension was designed to allow as much width for the engine compartment as possible so that Rover’s Gas Turbine engine could be fitted. In the event, the engine was never used for the production vehicle, but the engine compartment width helped the accommodation of the V8 engine adopted years after the car’s initial launch for the 2000. The luggage compartment was limited in terms of usable space, because of the “base unit” construction, complex rear suspension and, in series II vehicles, the battery location. Lack of luggage space (and hence the need to re-locate the spare tyre) led to innovative options for spare tyre provision including boot lid mountings and optional Dunlop Denovo run-flat technology. The car’s primary competitor on the domestic UK market was the Triumph 2000, also released in October 1963, just one week after the Rover, and in continental Europe, it contended in the same sector as the Citroen DS which, like the initial Rover offering, was offered only with a four-cylinder engine – a deficiency which in the Rover was resolved, four years after its launch, when Rover’s compact V8 was engineered to fit into the engine bay. The Rover 2000 interior was not as spacious as those of its Triumph and Citroen rivals, especially in the back, where its sculpted two-person rear seat implied that Rover customers wishing to accommodate three in the back of a Rover should opt for the larger and older Rover 3 Litre. The first P6 used a 1,978 cc engine designed specifically for the car, which put out around 104 bhp. That was not enough to live up to the sports saloon ambitions, so Rover later developed a twin SU carburettor version with a re-designed top end and marketed the revised specification vehicles as the 2000 TC. The 2000 TC was launched in March 1966 for export markets, Rover finally relenting and making it available to UK buyers later that year. This engine generated around 124 bhp. The standard specification engines continued in production in vehicles designated as 2000 SC models. These featured the original single SU. More performance was to come. Rover saw Buick’s compact 3528 cc V8 unit that they had been looking at developing as the means of differentiating the P6 from its chief rival, the Triumph 2000. They purchased the rights to the innovative aluminium engine, and, once improved for production by Rover’s own engineers, it became an instant hit. The Rover V8 engine, as it became known, outlived its original host, the P5B, by more than thirty years. The 3500 was introduced in April 1968, one year after the Rover company was purchased by Triumph’s owner, Leyland and continued to be offered until 1977. The light metal V8 engine weighed the same as the four-cylinder unit of the Rover 2000, and the more powerful car’s maximum speed of 114 mph as well as its 10.5-second acceleration time from 0–60 mph were considered impressive, and usefully faster than most of the cars with which, on the UK market, the car competed on price and specifications. It was necessary to modify the under-bonnet space to squeeze the V8 engine into the P6 engine bay: the front suspension cross-member had to be relocated forward, while a more visible change was an extra air intake beneath the front bumper to accommodate the larger radiator. There was no longer space under the bonnet for the car’s battery, which in the 3500 retreated to a position on the right side of the boot. Nevertheless, the overall length and width of the body were unchanged when compared with the smaller-engined original P6. Having invested heavily in the car’s engine and running gear, the manufacturer left most other aspects of the car unchanged. However, the new Rover 3500 could be readily distinguished from the 2000 thanks to various prominent V8 badges on the outside and beneath the radio. The 3500 was also delivered with a black vinyl covering on the C-pillar, although this decoration later appeared also on four-cylinder cars. A 3-speed Borg Warner 35 automatic was the only transmission until the 1971 addition of a four-speed manual 3500S model, fitted with a modified version of the gearbox used in the 2000/2200. The letter “S” did not denote “Sport”, it was chosen because it stood for something specific on those cars: “Synchromesh”. However it is important to note that the 3500S was noticeably quicker than the automatic version of this car with a 0-60mph time of 9 seconds, compared with 10.1 for the standard car. Moreover, due to the fuel-guzzling nature of automatic gearboxes of this era, the manual car’s official cycle was 24mpg compared to the automatic’s 22mpg. The Series II, or Mark II as it was actually named by Rover, was launched in 1970. All variants carried the battery in the boot and had new exterior fixtures such as a plastic front air intake (to replace the alloy version), new bonnet pressings (with V8 blips even for the 4-cylinder-engined cars) and new rear lights. The interior of the 3500 and 2000TC versions was updated with new instrumentation with circular gauges and rotary switches. The old-style instrumentation with a linear speedometer and toggle switches continued on the 2000SC versions. The final changes to the P6 came in the autumn of 1973 when the 2200 SC and 2200 TC replaced the 2000 SC and TC. These cars used an enlarged 2,205 cc version of the 2000 engine, which increased power outputs to 98 and 115 bhp respectively as well as offering improved torque. The P6 was replaced by the SD1 Rover, a completely different sort of car indeed, after 322,302 cars had been built.
Launched at the same time as the Rover 2000 was Triumph’s large saloon car, also called 2000. A replacement for the long running Standard Vanguard, this was the more sporting of the duo, with a subtly different appeal from the Rover. Between them, the cars defined a new market sector in the UK, promising levels of comfort and luxury hitherto associated with larger Rover and Jaguar models, but with usefully lower running costs and purchase prices, all in a modern package. Both added more powerful models to their range, with Rover going down the twin carburettor route, whilst in 1967, Triumph installed a larger 2.5 litre engine and the then relatively new fuel injection system, creating the 2.5PI. This Lucas system was not renowned for its reliability in the early days, but it did make the car rapid and refined. A facelift in 1969 brought new styling front and rear, which turned out to be a taster for a new grand tourer model which would emerge a few months later, and in this Mark 2 guise, the car was sold until 1977, in both saloon and estate guises. A mid range model, with twin carburettors but the larger engine, the 2500TC was introduced in 1974 and the 2500S arrived in 1975 with more power but also carb fed, to replace the troublesome and thirsty PI. These are the most sought after models now. As well as one of the first generation cars, there were a couple of the post 1969 facelifted cars here as well.
ADO17 “LAND CRAB”
The ADO17, launched initially as the Austin 1800, in October 1964, was the third of a trio of cars masterminded by Issigonis which espoused his basic beliefs of space efficiency no undue fripperies. He often said that it was the car of which he was most proud. The market took a different view. One problem was that it was half a class larger than the most obvious rivals, such as the Ford Cortina and Vauxhall Victor, which meant that instead of replacing the Austin Cambridge, as originally intended, it ended up supplementing it in the range. Undeniably spacious, within a very compact footprint, the car was also rather basic looking inside, with a thin ribbon speedo set in a very narrow strip of dashboard, with a full width parcel shelf underneath (with an awkward umbrella handbrake sprouting somewhere to the left of the column. A Morris version, identical bar the badging arrived two years later. In 1968, a Mark 2 model was launched with revised styling front and back, a new dash panel and the option of a twin carb 1798 cc engine from the MGB in an S version. This was a few months after a more luxurious Wolseley 18/85 had been added to the range. The Mark 3 came out in Spring 1972, and as well as further set of cosmetic changes, the newly created 6 cylinder version of the E series engine was offered in the 2200 model. There were a good number of these cars displayed, including one of the top of the range Wolseley Six.
As well as the Spitfire, there was also an example of its close relative, the GT6, seen in Mark 3 guise. In early 1963 Giovanni Michelotti was commissioned by Standard-Triumph to design a GT version of their recently introduced Spitfire 4. An unmodified Spitfire 4 was delivered to Michelotti’s design studios in Italy and late in 1963 the prototype Spitfire GT4 was returned to England for evaluation. The styling of the vehicle was a success but the extra weight of the GT bodyshell resulted in extremely poor performance from the Spitfire’s 1,147 cc power unit, and plans for producing the Spitfire GT4 were shelved. Michelotti’s fastback design for the Spitfire GT4 prototype was adopted by the Triumph racing programme for the 1964 season, as it was deemed to provide an aerodynamic benefit over the standard Spitfire body shape. Fibreglass copies of the Spitfire GT4’s fastback were grafted on to the race-modified Spitfires destined for competition. The Spitfire racing programme was successful, and in 1965 resulted in 13th overall and a 1st in class at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans (beating their main rivals, the MG Midgets). The Spitfire’s competitive success and the continuing commercial success of the production vehicle led Triumph to re-evaluate its shelved plans for a GT version of the Spitfire. To overcome the lack of performance inherent in the heavier body style the Spitfire’s 4-cylinder engine was replaced with the more powerful 1998 cc 6-cylinder engine from the Triumph Vitesse (which shared a similar chassis with the Spitfire and Triumph Herald). The car was further developed and refined and eventually launched as the Triumph GT6 (dropping the “Spitfire” prefix) to emphasise its GT styling and its 6-cylinder engine. Contemporary Triumph marketing advertised the GT6 as being developed from the “race winning Le Mans Spitfires” to capitalise on their aesthetic similarities, whereas the Le Mans Spitfires and the GT6 were actually two entirely separate development programmes (the GT programme pre-dating the racing programme). However, the marketing spin was so successful that many people erroneously believed the Le Mans Spitfires to actually be GT6s. The production car was introduced in 1966 and called the Triumph GT6. The new body was a sleek fastback design with an opening rear hatch which gave the GT6 the nickname “Poor man’s E-Type”. It was really a 2-seater, but a small extra rear seat could be ordered if required and was large enough for small children. The family resemblance to the Spitfire Mk II was strong, the longer 6-cylinder engine necessitated a new bonnet top with a power bulge and the doors were provided with opening quarter light windows and squared-off glass in the top rear corner. The 6-cylinder engine was tuned to develop 95 bhp at 5000 rpm, and produced 117 lb·ft of torque at 3000 rpm. The increased power necessitated certain changes to the Spitfire mechanics; the radiator was new and mounted further forward in the car and the gearbox was the stronger unit from the Vitesse, with optional overdrive. Front springs were uprated to cope with the extra weight of the new engine. The overall vehicle weight unladed was 1,904 lb (864 kg). The interior of the GT6 was well equipped; a wooden dashboard housed a full complement of instruments, with carpets and heater included as standard. The new car had some very strong selling points. The new engine provided a 106 mph top speed and 0–60 mph in 12 seconds, a little better than the MGB GT. Moreover, the unit was comparatively smooth and tractable, in marked contrast to the MG’s rather harsh 4-cylinder engine. Fuel economy was very reasonable for the period at 20mpg, and the interior well up to the competition. The only major criticism was of its rear suspension; the GT6 inherited the swing-axle system from the Spitfire, which in turn was copied from the Herald small saloon. In the saloon it was tolerated, in the little Spitfire it was not liked and in the powerful GT6 it was heavily criticised. Triumph had done nothing to improve the system for the GT6 and the tendency to break away if the driver lifted off the power mid-corner was not helped at all by the increased weight at the front of the car. The handling was most bitterly criticised in the USA, an important export market for Triumph, where they were traditionally very strong. Similar criticism was being levelled at the Vitesse saloon, which shared the GT6’s engine and its handling problems. Triumph realised that they needed to find an answer to the handling problem, if only to maintain their reputation in the USA. Their response came with the 1969 model year, with the introduction of the GT6 Mk II, known in the States as the GT6+. The rear suspension was significantly re-engineered using reversed lower wishbones and Rotoflex driveshaft couplings, taming the handling and turning the Triumph into an MGB beater. The Vitesse was also modified, but the Spitfire had to wait until 1970 for any improvements to be made. There were other changes for the Mk II; the front bumper was raised (in common with the Spitfire Mk.3) to conform to new crash regulations, necessitating a revised front end, and side vents were added to the front wings and rear pillars. Under the bonnet, the engine was uprated to develop 104 bhp with a new cylinder head, camshaft, and manifolds. Performance improved to 107 mph but perhaps more noteworthy the 0–60 mph time dropped to 10 seconds. The fuel economy was also improved to 25 mpg. The interior was updated with a new dashboard and better ventilation, a two-speed heater fan and a black headlining. Overdrive remained a popular option for the manual transmission. A further update to the Series 3 came in the autumn of 1970, at the same time as the Spitfire Mark IV was launched, but sales remained low and the car was deleted in the autumn of 1973 with production having reached 40,926 examples.
AUSTIN 3 LITRE
The Austin 3 litre sat at the top of the non-premium part of the British Leyland range, acting as a replacement not just for the Austin Westminster, but also the Wolseley 6/110 and even the Vanden Plas Princess 3 litre. It was premiered at the 1967 Earls Court Motor Show, but production did not start until well into 1968, by which the model had been slightly restyled with twin circular headlights replacing the oblong units of the launch car. Sharing the centre body section with the established ADO17 Austin/Morris 1800 range, the car was elongated at both ends, providing a much larger boot at the back, and space for the 3 litre inline 6 cylinder C Series engine to be installed in the front. Unlike the 1800cc cars, this one was rear wheel drive. Initial reviews were luke warm, at best, and sales were sluggish. They did not get any better as the months went by, and production ceased in 1971 after just 8600 cars had been made. Few have survived, as many met their fate on the banger racing circuit where the immense strength of the body was a real asset, but those which have – and an impressive total of seven of them were on show here – are thought of more fondly now than they were when new. Martin Buckley, well known for his love of slightly off-beat classics, is a particular fan.
There was one example of the TR6, my favourite of all the TRs here. By the mid 1960s, money was tight, so when it came to replacing the TR4 and TR5 models, Triumph were forced into trying to minimise the costs of the redesign, which meant that they kept the central section of the old car, but came up with new bodywork with the front and back ends were squared off, reportedly based on a consultancy contract involving Karmann. The resulting design, which did look modern when it was unveiled in January 1969 has what is referred to as a Kamm tail, which was very common during 1970s era of cars and a feature on most Triumphs of the era. All TR6 models featured inline six-cylinder engines. For the US market the engine was carburetted, as had been the case for the US-only TR250 engine. Like the TR5, the TR6 was fuel-injected for other world markets including the United Kingdom, hence the TR6PI (petrol-injection) designation. The Lucas mechanical fuel injection system helped the home-market TR6 produce 150 bhp at model introduction. Later, the non-US TR6 variant was detuned to 125 bhp for it to be easier to drive, while the US variant continued to be carburetted with a mere 104 hp. Sadly, the Lucas injection system proved somewhat troublesome, somewhat denting the appeal of the car. The TR6 featured a four-speed manual transmission. An optional overdrive unit was a desirable feature because it gave drivers close gearing for aggressive driving with an electrically switched overdrive which could operate on second, third, and fourth gears on early models and third and fourth on later models because of constant gearbox failures in second at high revs. Both provided “long legs” for open motorways. TR6 also featured semi-trailing arm independent rear suspension, rack and pinion steering, 15-inch (380 mm) wheels and tires, pile carpet on floors and trunk/boot, bucket seats, and a full complement of instrumentation. Braking was accomplished by disc brakes at the front and drum brakes at the rear. A factory steel hardtop was optional, requiring two people to fit it. TR6 construction was fundamentally old-fashioned: the body was bolted onto a frame instead of the two being integrated into a unibody structure; the TR6 dashboard was wooden (plywood with veneer). Other factory options included a rear anti-roll bar and a limited-slip differential. Some say that the car is one of Leyland’s best achievements, but a number of issues were present and remain because of poor design. As well as the fuel injection problems, other issues include a low level radiator top-up bottle and a poor hand-brake. As is the case with other cars of the era, the TR6 can suffer from rust issues, although surviving examples tend to be well-cared for. The TR6 can be prone to overheating. Many owners fit an aftermarket electric radiator fan to supplement or replace the original engine-driven fan. Also the Leyland factory option of an oil cooler existed. Despite the reliability woes, the car proved popular, selling in greater quantity than any previous TR, with 94,619 of them produced before production ended in mid 1976. Of these, 86,249 were exported and only 8,370 were sold in the UK. A significant number have since been re-imported, as there are nearly 3000 of these much loved classics on the road and a further 1300 on SORN, helped by the fact that parts and services to support ownership of a TR6 are readily available and a number of classic car owners’ clubs cater for the model.
With the ADO17 Austin/Morris 1800 cars having ended up two classes above the volume selling 1100/1300 cars, BL needed a true mid-sized car, and that is where ADO15 came in. Developed during the mid 1960s, the car eventually made its debut as the Maxi on 1st May 1969. Promoted as the “5 of everything” car, it had 5 doors, 5 gears (both unusual in the market in those days) as well as 5 seats. It also featured a brand new engine, the 1500cc E Series, which was not really up to the task. It was also saddled with what by common consent was one of the most recalcitrant gearchanges ever inflicted on a production car, with a lever operated by rods which had to be carefully lined up to persuade the next gear to engage. That aside, the car had huge potential and a vast amount of space in a footprint that measures less than 14 feet in length. A revised version was launched in the autumn of 1970, with a cable operated gearchange and the option of a more powerful and torquey 1750cc engine. Sadly, apart from adding the twin carburettor HLS version to the range in 1972, that was about all that BL did to the design in the next 10 years. Talk about starving a model of its full potential. The last few cars were branded Series 2 and had new bumpers and interior trim, but that was about it. What a wasted opportunity!
Envisioned as a luxury sports car, the Triumph Stag was designed to compete directly with the Mercedes-Benz SL. The car started as a styling experiment, cut and shaped from a 1963–4 Triumph 2000 pre-production saloon, which had also been styled by Michelotti, and loaned to him by Harry Webster, Director of Engineering at Triumph. Their agreement was that if Webster liked the design, Triumph could use the prototype as the basis of a new Triumph model. Harry Webster, who was a long time friend of Giovanni Michelotti, whom he called “Micho”, loved the design and took the prototype back to England. The end result, a two-door drop head (convertible), had little in common with the styling of its progenitor 2000, but retained the suspension and drive line. Triumph liked the Michelotti design so much that they propagated the styling lines of the Stag into the new Mark 2 2000/2500 saloon and estate model lines already outlined in this report. The initial Stag design was based around the saloon’s 2.5-litre six cylinder engine, but Harry Webster intended the Stag, large saloons and estate cars to use a new Triumph-designed overhead cam 2.5-litre fuel injected V8. Under the direction of Harry Webster’s successor, Spen King in 1968, the new Triumph OHC 2.5 PI V8 was enlarged to 2997 cc to increase torque. To meet emission standards in the USA, a key target market, the troublesome mechanical fuel injection was dropped in favour of dual Zenith-Stromberg 175 CDSE carburettors. A key aim of Triumph’s engineering strategy at the time was to create a family of engines of different size around a common crankshaft. This would enable the production of power plants of capacity between 1.5 and 4 litres, sharing many parts, and hence offering economies of manufacturing scale and of mechanic training. A number of iterations of this design went into production, notably a slant four-cylinder engine used in the later Triumph Dolomite and Triumph TR7, and a variant manufactured by StanPart that was initially used in the Saab 99. The Stag’s V8 was the first of these engines into production. Sometimes described as two four-cylinder engines Siamesed together, it is more correct to say that the later four-cylinder versions were half a Stag engine. It has sometimes been alleged that Triumph were instructed to use the proven all-aluminium Rover V8, originally designed by Buick, but claimed that it would not fit. Although there was a factory attempt by Triumph to fit a Rover engine, which was pronounced unsuccessful, the decision to go with the Triumph V8 was probably driven more by the wider engineering strategy and by the fact that the Buick’s different weight and torque characteristics would have entailed substantial re-engineering of the Stag when it was almost ready to go on sale. Furthermore Rover, also owned by British Leyland, could not necessarily have supplied the numbers of V8 engines to match the anticipated production of the Stag anyway. As in the Triumph 2000 model line, unitary construction was employed, as was fully independent suspension – MacPherson struts in front, semi-trailing arms at the rear. Braking was by front disc and rear drum brakes, while steering was power-assisted rack and pinion. Although other bodystyles were envisaged, these never made production, so all Stags were four-seater convertible coupés. For structural rigidity – and to meet new American rollover standards of the time – the Stag required a B-pillar “roll bar” hoop connected to the windscreen frame by a T-bar. A removable hardtop was a popular factory option for the early Stags, and was later supplied as a standard fitment. The car was launched one year late in 1970, to a warm welcome at the various international auto shows. Sadly, it rapidly acquired a reputation for mechanical unreliability, usually in the form of overheating. These problems arose from a variety of causes, all of which are now well understood, and for which solutions have been identified, but at the time, they really hurt the reputation and hence sales of the car. They ranged from late changes to the engine which gave rise to design features that were questionable from an engineering perspective, the choice of materials which necessitated the use of antifreeze all year round, the engine’s use of long, simplex roller link chains, which would first stretch and then often fail inside fewer than 25,000 miles; the arrangement of the cylinder head fixing studs, half of which were vertical and the other half at an angle causing sideways forces which caused premature failure of the cylinder head gaskets. and poor quality production from a plant troubled with industrial unrest and poor quality control. At the time, British Leyland never provided a budget sufficient to correct the few design shortcomings of the Triumph 3.0 litre OHC V8, and the dealers did not help matters. The Stag was always a relatively rare car. British Leyland had around 2,500 UK dealers when the Stag was on sale and a total of around 19,000 were sold in the UK. Thus the average dealer sold only seven or eight Stags during the car’s whole production run, or roughly one car per year. This meant that few dealers saw defective Stags often enough to recognise and diagnose the cause of the various problems. Many owners simply replaced the engine altogether, often with the Rover V8, Ford Essex V6, or even the Triumph 6-cylinder engine around which the car was originally designed. Perhaps thanks to such a reputation for its unreliable engine, only 25,877 cars were produced between 1970 and 1977. Of this number, 6780 were export models, of which 2871 went to the United States. The majority of cars were fitted with a Borg-Warner 3-speed automatic transmission. The other choice was a derivative of the ancient Triumph TR2 gearbox which had been modified and improved over the years for use in the TR series of sports cars. Other than the choice of transmissions there were very few factory-installed options. On early cars buyers could choose to have the car fitted with just the soft-top, just the hard-top (with the hood storage compartment empty) or with both. Later cars were supplied with both roofs. Three wheel styles were offered. The standard fitments were steel wheels with Rostyle “tin-plate” trims. Five-spoke alloy wheels were an option, as were a set of traditional steel spoke wheels with “knock-off”‘ hubcaps. The latter were more commonly found on Stags sold in North America on Federal Specification vehicles. Electric windows, power steering and power-assisted brakes were standard. Options included air conditioning, a luggage rack, uprated Koni shock absorbers, floor mats and Lucas Square Eight fog lamps, and a range of aftermarket products, most of which were dealer installed as optional accessories could also be fitted. Rather unusually for a 4-seat touring car, the accessory list included a sump protector plate that was never produced. This was probably included as a slightly “gimmicky” tribute to Triumph’s rallying successes. Nowadays, the Stag is seen in a very different light, with lots of very enthusiastic and knowledgeable owners who enjoy the good points of this attractive looking car and who revel in the fact that the market has not yet boosted prices into the unaffordable category, as one day will surely happen. There were a quartet of examples here.
There was an interesting display of Range Rover models, showing the progression of this icon over 4 generations and nearly 50 years. The Rover Company had been experimenting with a larger model than the Land Rover Series as far back as 1951, when the Rover P4-based two-wheel-drive “Road Rover” project was developed by Gordon Bashford. This was shelved in 1958, and the idea lay dormant until 1966, when engineers Spen King and Bashford set to work on a new model. In 1967, the first Range Rover prototype was built (number plate SYE 157F), with the classic Range Rover shape clearly discernible, but with a different front grille and headlight configuration. The design of the Range Rover was finalised in 1969. Twenty-six Velar engineering development vehicles were built between 1969 and 1970 and were road registered with the number plates YVB151H through to YVB177H. Though being chassis no. 3, the vehicle YVB 153H is believed to have been the first off the production line as a vehicle in that colour was urgently required for marketing. The Velar name was derived from the Italian “velare” meaning to veil or to cover. Range Rover development engineer Geoff Miller used the name as a decoy for registering pre-production Range Rovers. The Velar company was registered in London and produced 40 pre-production vehicles that were built between 1967 and 1970. Most of these Velar pre-production vehicles are accounted for and have survived into preservation, and one of them was presented here. These models fetch very strong money when sold, between £60 -80,000 for the handful that have appeared for sale in the last couple of years. The production Range Rover was launched in 1970, and it was produced until 1994, undergoing quite a transition into a luxury product en route. Early models are currently the most prized ones, and there were a number of those here, as well as some of the later ones with the longer wheelbase, and luxury trim.
The second generation model was launched on 28 September 1994, 24 years after the introduction of the first-generation Range Rover. It included an updated version of the Rover V8 engine, with the option of a 2.5-litre BMW six-cylinder turbo-diesel. The new model offered more equipment and premium trims, positioning the vehicle above the Land Rover Discovery to face the increased competition in the SUV marketplace. It is usually known as the Range Rover P38 or P38A outside of Land Rover, after the office building in which the vehicle development team was based. During the early development stages the Engineering team was based in the Engineering Block at Solihull and the vehicle was known by the project designations of ‘Pegasus’ and ‘Discovery’ changing to P38A when the team moved to Block 38A at Solihull. The name ‘Discovery’ was used temporarily to as a cover to confuse journalists while the original Discovery vehicle was being developed. During production Land Rover referred to it as either the ‘New Range Rover’ or by its model designation of ‘LP’. In 1999 the Range Rover V8 received a new Bosch engine management system from the BMW 7 Series (E38). This replaced the Lucas GEMS system. This engine is also known as the Bosch or Thor engine. It can easily be identified by its inlet manifold. The diesel edition received an EGR system, which came with a plastic inlet manifold. A modulator sends back part of the exhaust gas into the manifold, thus mixing hot exhaust gas via a vacuum pump into the cold air from the intercooler. The second generation incorporated new engine management and improved electronic air suspension (called EAS) that allowed automatic, speed determined height adjustment. The five suspension heights offered by EAS are (from lowest to highest in terms of height) “Access”, “Motorway”, “Standard”, “Off-Road”, and “Off-Road Extended”. Height was also adjustable manually between the first four settings. The “Off-Road Extended” setting was only accessible automatically by the EAS ECU. The 4.0 L V8 petrol and the 2.5 L I6 diesel engine were mated to either the R380 manual gearbox or the ZF 4HP22 transmission, as used in the late classic Range Rover, 300 TDi, TD5 or V8 Discoverys. The 4.6 L V8 petrol engine was only mated to the ZF 4HP24 transmission. The R380 gearbox is basically the same as in the previous Range Rover, or Discovery 300tdi. The primary shaft for the diesel is different with a small input diameter for the spigot bearing inside the BMW flywheel and the output shaft has been changed to allow for the different Borg Warner Box. The Borg Warner transfer box no longer had direct control of High/Low range gears meaning that the vehicle has to nearly stop before shifting from high to low range and the lever from the classic model has been replaced by an electric control on the dashboard for the manual and an H-pattern gate on the automatic gear lever. The transfer case’s chain and sprockets have been reinforced. The rear differential on the 4.6 L V8 petrol model were a 4-pin version and four-wheel traction control was included with the vehicle, whereas initially the 4.0 L V8 and the 2.5 L I6 only had 2-pin versions and two-wheel traction control on the rear wheels only. Later versions had the four-wheel traction control and the later 4.6 L V8 petrol model had a 4-pin front differential. The chassis was also made stronger and new welding techniques were used. This was the last Range Rover available with a manual gearbox and a classic transfer box. Other features included anti-lock braking system and in some automatic gearbox models two-wheel traction control — although later models saw this feature applied to all four wheels. This one had a much shorted production life, being replaced in 2002 by the third generation model. The P38A suffered from quite a few technology and reliability issues and was not rated that highly by enthusiasts, but there are signs that this is changing. Seen here was an example made famous as it was used in the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997.
More recent models were here as well.
Without question, the rarest car of the day, and the one that fewest people could identify, was this rather splendid Austin Apache, one of just two such cars in the UK. The Apache is a small family car that was produced by Leykor – the South African subsidiary of BL – between November 1971 and 1978. The Spanish manufacturer Authi also built a version of the car, called the Austin Victoria, at its Pamplona plant between 1972 and 1975. The car was styled by Michelotti, and based on the chassis and various other components of the Austin/Morris 1100. Leykor executives saw Michelotti’s prototype in England and chose it for production in South Africa, where ADO16 sales had been dropping. While the car’s centre structure was that of the Austin/Morris 1100, its front and rear styling was all-new, styled (particularly at the rear, where the boot was a notchback) to resemble a scaled-down Triumph 2000/2500. The tail lights, and outer sections of the rear bumper were the same as those used by the Triumph 2000/2500. In 1973 the Apache received a minor facelift, introducing proper CV joints, round Smiths gauges and a rod linkage for the gear shift. Originally, the ADO16 used rubber drive joints, a strip speedometer, and a remote extension gear lever. Also in 1973, the sporty TC model was added to the lineup. Power was up to 75 PS at 5,800 rpm, compared to 63 PS at 5,250 rpm for the ‘cooking’ versions. The TC also received Rostyle rims, vinyl roof, a rev counter, and a sporty steering wheel. All versions of the Apache and Victoria used the 1,275 cc version of BMC’s venerable A-series four-cylinder, with a variety of outputs. Just under 22,00 units were built. This car has been in the UK for some time, though it is only recently that it has started to appear at events.
The success of Ford’s Cortina did not pass unnoticed, and by 1968, when British Leyland was formed as a merger of BMC and British Motor Holdings and the new management realised that apart from the soon to be launched Maxi, there were no new models under development, it was decided to give priority to a mid-sized car that would replace the elderly Minor and Farina saloons and take the Ford head on in the quest for sales. Conceived,. designed and put into production in record quick time, of just 18 months, the Marina was launched in the spring of 1971. An utterly conventional car, with rear wheel drive, and simple proven mechanicals using the familiar A and B Series engines, the model was launched as a 2 door Coupe and 4 door Saloon. Unusually, the Coupe was cheaper than the Saloon, which should have given the Morris something of an advantage over the Dagenham rival, who charged quite a premium for a Capri over a Cortina. However, the Marina had one attribute which completely eluded the Ford, certainly in its more powerful guises: terminal understeer. It is understood that when the British press got the chance to drive the car some while before launch, they all complained bitterly about this and the dire consequences that could follow, but BL management assured them that this would be fixed for the production cars. It was not, and a usually loyal press struggled to contain their disappointment in what they wrote in early Road Tests. About 30,000 cars were built like this before a revised suspension design was deployed and gradually the early cars were tamed somewhat. This weakness not withstanding, the Marina quickly picked up sales, and although it hardly ever outsold the Cortina in any given month, it became a strong performer in the UK Sales Charts, all the more so when an Estate model was added to the range in the autumn of 1972. The Marina was only intended to have a short life, very much like contemporary Ford products which were replaced every 4 or so years, but by the mid 1970s, BL had run out of money and had to be rescued by the British Government. That meant that there were no funds for an all new car, so the proposed ADO77 replacement model was cancelled, and the Marina was simply facelifted in the autumn of 1975 to create the Series 2, with revised suspension, new seats, a new dash to create more room for the front passenger, and upgraded equipment levels and then updated again in the autumn of 1978 when the new 1700cc O Series engines were ready to replace the venerable B series unit. As the 70s went on, the Marina’s limitations in the face of more modern competition not just from Ford, but Vauxhall’s Cavalier, the Car of the Year winning hatchback Chrysler’s Alpine, a whole slew of Japanese rivals such as the Datsun Bluebird and Toyota Carina as well as the Renault R12 and VW Passat made life ever more difficult for the car, and it was only significant fleet sales from a sector which still largely held a “Buy British” policy and something of a fear of the costs of front wheel drive cars which kept the car earning money for its maker, and meant that when the model was replaced by the Ital in mid 1980, over 800,000 had been made. Since then, of course, the Marina has become the butt of many a joke, and famously has been destroyed several times by Top Gear. However, there are fans of the car, and a few hundred have still survived. There were two cars here, both of them Mark 1 models, a Saloon and a Coupe.
There was one example of the Dolomite here. a car which in many ways was the 3 Series of its day: a family sized saloon that offered a combination of luxury and sportiness that made it a cut above the average Cortina and Marina. Designed as the successor for the upmarket variants of Triumph’s front-wheel drive designs, and also to replace a sporting relative of the Herald, the 6-cylinder Triumph Vitesse, the Triumph Dolomite was unveiled at the London Motor Show in October 1971. However, due to a number of strikes and other industrial upsets, the car was not reported to be in full production until October 1972. The Dolomite used the longer bodyshell of the front wheel drive Triumph 1500, but with the majority of the running gear carried over from the rear-wheel drive Triumph Toledo. Initially, the only version available used the new slant-four 1854 cc engine, which mated an alloy OHC head to an iron block, providing 91 bhp which offered sprightly performance. This was a version of the engine that the company was already providing to Saab for use in their 99 model. The car was aimed at the then-new compact performance-luxury sector, vying for sales against cars such as the BMW 2002 and Ford Cortina GXL, and was offered with a high level of standard equipment, including twin headlamps, a clock, full instrumentation, luxury seats and carpets, a heated rear window, and a cigar lighter. Styling was similar to the Triumph 1500, with some updates such as a black painted rear panel, vinyl D-posts, and new wheel trims. The car was capable of 100 mph with 60 mph coming up in just over 11 seconds. An overdrive gearbox was soon made available as an option, offering relaxed motorway cruising and improved fuel economy, and there was also an optional automatic transmission. Although the Dolomite proved to be refined and rapid, competitors such as the BMW 2002 had a performance advantage which was costing Triumph dearly, both in terms of sales and prestige. To remedy this, Triumph unveiled the Dolomite Sprint in June 1973, although the launch had been delayed by a year; it had been due to go on sale in 1972. A team of engineers led by Spen King developed a 16-valve cylinder head with all of the valves being actuated using a single camshaft rather than the more conventional DOHC arrangement. The capacity was also increased to 1,998 cc and combined with bigger carburettors the output was upped to 127 bhp. This represented a significant power increase over the smaller 1850cc variant, however it fell short of the original target of 135 bhp Despite BL engineers being able to extract a reliable 150 bhp from test engines, the production line was unable to build the engines to the same level of quality, with production outputs being in the region of 125 bhp to 130 bhp. This led to the original model designation, the Dolomite 135, being replaced at short notice with the Sprint name. As a result of the use of this engine, the Dolomite Sprint has been claimed to be “the world’s first mass-produced multi-valve car”. While other multi-valve engines (notably the Lotus 907) were produced in volume, they were not used in mass production vehicles until after the introduction of the Dolomite Sprint. The design of the cylinder head won a British Design Council award in 1974. Performance was excellent, with 0–60 mph taking around 8.4 seconds, with a maximum speed of 119 mph. Trim was similar to the 1850, with the addition of standard alloy wheels (another first for a British production car), a vinyl roof, front spoiler, twin exhausts and lowered suspension. By now seats were cloth on the 1850, and these were also fitted to the Sprint. Due to the increase in power brought by the new engine, the rest of the driveline was upgraded to be able to withstand the extra torque. The gearbox and differential were replaced by a version of those fitted to the TR and 2000 series cars, albeit with a close ratio gearset in the gearbox. The brakes were upgraded with new pad materials at the front, and the fitment of larger drums and a load sensing valve at the rear. Other changes over the standard Dolomite included the option of a limited slip differential. The optional overdrive and automatic transmission from the 1850 model were also offered as options on the Sprint. Initial models were only offered in Mimosa Yellow, although further colours were available from 1974 on. At launch the Sprint was priced at £1740, which compared extremely well to similar cars from other manufacturers. Prospective buyers would have been hard pressed to justify the extra £1000 cost of the BMW 2002 Tii, which offered similar performance. The four-door practicality of the Sprint also made it a very attractive proposition for the young executive choosing his first company car. The press gave the Dolomite Sprint an enthusiastic reception. Motor summarised its road test (subtitled “Britain leads the way”) with glowing praise: ” …the Sprint must be the answer to many people’s prayer. It is well appointed, compact, yet deceptively roomy. Performance is there in plenty, yet economy is good and the model’s manners quite impeccable … Most important of all, it is a tremendously satisfying car to drive”. Sadly, it proved not quite so satisfying to own, as the legendary BL lack of reliability was a feature on some, but by no means all Sprints. In 1976, Triumph rationalised their range, calling all their small models, Dolomite, and using the same body shell, so the Toledo (which had maintained its stubby tail until this point) and 1500TC became the Dolomite 1300, 1500 and 1500HL respectively. With minor changes to trim and equipment, the cars continued in production until 1980.
What can be said about the Allegro that has not already been aired? Codenamed ADO67, the car was launched on 15th May 1973, as a replacement for the ADO16 range, which had for many years been Britain’s best seller. A BL management who managed to combine arrogance with naivete and a certain lack of vision confidently asserted that the Allegro would continue in this position at the top of the sales charts. It did not. Build quality of the early cars was random, and frequently plain unacceptable, and despite being bigger than the car that it replaced, there was no more space in it. But the Series 2 models, which arrived in the Autumn of 1975 fixed that offering up to 6″ more legroom, and with better quality trim, and a conventional round steering wheel rather than the unusual Quartic one of the launch cars, the reality is that the Allegro was rather better than its reputation then (and now) would suggest. For sure, it was somewhat outclassed by the VW Golf, but that was considerably more costly model for model, but there were several aspects where it could match or beat an Escort or a Viva. The E series engined 1500 and 1750 cars, with standard 5 speed gearboxes were never as popular as imagined, the market not really being ready for the idea of a large engined small car, but anyone who did buy a 1750SS or the later HL had a very brisk car indeed on their hands. By the late 70s, with a whole slew of much newer models on offer from every single competitor, the car, although better built and with a nicer interior finish, was simply too old fashioned for most people. It is testament to marketing and the skills of the dealers that the car continued to sell into the Eighties in the volumes that it did. One of those dealers was a young and enthusiastic chap called Colin Corke. These days he is the Vicar of Longbridge, and still a great enthusiast for this model (and other BL cars, which we will come to later in this report). His beautifully presented early 1750SS was not on show on this occasion, though. Indeed, there was just one of the first series models here.
There was also an example of the Vanden Plas version here. Although we think of these cars as an Allegro, that badge was not used, and the car was officially called the Vanden Plas 1500, and later the Vanden Plas 1750. Introduced in September 1974, this car followed on from the popular Vanden Plas 1100 and 1300 models as a very upmarket version of a volume selling car. It featured a prominent grille at the front and an interior enhanced by a range of modifications designed to attract traditionally inclined customers, including: special seats upholstered in real leather, with reclining backrests; deep-pile carpets; extra sound insulation; a new instrument panel in walnut; walnut folding tables for the rear passengers; nylon headlining; and for the luggage, a fully trimmed boot. In 1974, a time when the UK starting price for the Austin Allegro was given as £1159, BLMC were quoting, at launch, a list price of £1951 for the Vanden Plas 1500. The larger 1750 cc engine was added to the range a few years later. The model changed little during its production run.
Completing the Allegro presence were a couple of the Mark 3 cars, one saloon and the less commonly encountered Estate. The Mark 3 facelift arrived at the end of 1979, and whilst there were few mechanical changes that came with it, the fashionable plastic bumpers were added, with new grilles and lights, a range of new colours and the trim was upgraded. The car continued in prroduction until the end of 1982.
ADO71 – PRINCESS
By the time of the launch of the ADO71 cars on 29th March 1975, British Leyland was in public ownership and there jad been yet another study as to how the Group was going to go forward, ratioanlising most of the product overlaps in what was still a large and sprawling range. The ADO71 cars had been eagerly awaited, as a replacement for the venerable “Land Crab”. This was an era when there were very few spy photos of prototypes published (or leaked) unlike today, so it was quite a shock to discover the bold new wedge styling that Harris Mann had proposed on the new car. I do recall – and now I can confess – getting hold of a couple of brochures for the car some weeks before launch, as my parents were in the process of buying a new Mini, and I spotted them on the shelf in the dealer’s office. At launch, the car was called the 18-22 Series, and came in Austin, Morris and Wolseley versions, with the 1798cc B Series and 2226cc E Series engines carried over. In this guise, the model last only until September before the range was revised and a new name was adopted, Princess. Not surprisingly, there are very few of the pre-Princess cars still left. As well as an Austin 1800HL, there was also one of the top of the range Wolseley models here. Produced for just 6 months, there never were many of these cars made. In September 1975, the model was rechristened the Princess, and was sold with the same choice of 1800 or 2200cc engines, in HL and HLS trim. Princess 2 arrived in the summer of 1978 when the venerable B Series engines were replaced by the all new O Series unit, offered in 1700 and 2000cc guises. Minor changes to the trim and decor were made at this time. There were a number of both Series 1 and Series 2 cars here.
Whilst the TR6 had been a careful update of the Michelotti designed TR4 and 5 models, with a new front and rear end disguising the model’s origins, when the next and what turned out to be final TR model was launched in January 1975, it really was all new. A dramatic Harris Mann wedge shaped was shock enough for the purists, but the fact that at launch it only came as a Fixed Head Coupe was almost too much for some to bear. In the end, though. more TR7s were sold than any other TR model, so it really cannot have been all that bad even if the car had a somewhat bumpy existence, moving production plant from Speke, Liverpool where the early cars were made, to Canley, Coventry in 1978 and then finally to the Rover Solihull plant in 1980. An open topped model did join the range in 1980 and small numbers of factory built TR8s with the 135 bhp Rover V8 engine under the bonnet were made, but the proposed 2+2 Lynx model, and a version with the 16 valve Dolomite Sprint engine and the 2 litre O Series unit never made production. The car was launched in the United States in January 1975, with its UK home market debut in May 1976. The UK launch was delayed at least twice because of high demand for the vehicle in the US, with final sales of new TR7s continuing into 1982. The TR7 was characterised by its “wedge” shape, which was commonly advertised as: “The Shape of Things to Come”, and by a swage line sweeping down from the rear wing to just behind the front wheel. It had an overall length of 160 inches, width of 66 inches, wheelbase of 85 inches and height of 49.5 inches, and a kerbside weight of 2205 pounds, exactly 1000 kg. During development, the TR7 was referred to by the code name “Bullet”.The original full size model wore MG logos because it was styled at Longbridge, which was not a Triumph factory. Power was provided by a 105 bhp 1,998 cc eight-valve four-cylinder engine that shared the same basic design as the Triumph Dolomite Sprint engine, mounted in-line at the front of the car. Drive was to the rear wheels via a four-speed gearbox initially with optional five-speed manual gearbox, or three-speed automatic from 1976. The front independent suspension used coil spring and damper struts and lower single link at the front, and at the rear was a four-link system, again with coil springs. There were front and rear anti roll bars, with disc brakes at the front and drums at the rear. The interior trim was revised in March 1977, with the broadcord seat covers being replaced with red or green “tartan” check inserts with black leather effect vinyl edging, which looks so very period. now The tartan trim was also reflected in the door cards in padded matching red or green tartan cloth inserts in the black leather effect vinyl. A number of other detailed changes were made, partly to ensure commonality of parts in future models, such as the Convertible and the TR8, and also based on what else was available from the corporate parts bin. Badging changed a number of times, but there were no other significant alterations before the end of production in 1981. In total approximately 115,000 TR7 models were built which includes 28,864 soft top/convertibles, and approximately 2,800 TR8 models. There was an incredible turnout of TR7 and TR8 cars, with in excess of 30 examples of the model on display.
It is over 40 years now since the launch of the Rover SD1, and for those not old to remember the occasion, it is hard to imagine now just how excited people were when this dramatically different looking Rover burst onto the scene in July 1976. These days it takes a very extreme supercar for most car enthusiasts to get truly animated, but back then, a 3.5 litre V8 engined 5 seater British hatchback was all it took, and it was no surprise that the model collected the “Car of the Year” award later in 1976, fending off the second placed Ford Fiesta and the new Audi 100. Replacing both the Rover P6 and the big Triumphs which had been launched at the 1963 Motor Show and updated only in detail since then, this new David Bache styled car, with more than a hint of Ferrari Daytona in its profile really was something very different indeed to look at, even if underneath it was more of a clever update of proven mechanicals, with the 3.5 litre V8 engine carried over from its predecessor. Early press reports suggested that the car was as good to drive as it was to behold, and quickly there were long waiting lists as Rover struggled to produce the car fast enough in an all-new manufacturing facility in Solihull. Sadly, it did not take too long before it became apparent that although the car had been a long time in gestation, there were a number of design and manufacturing quality issues, quite apart form the extra ones that were inflicted by a still very truculent and strike-prone workforce. These frustrations did little to quell demand, though, which increased when the promised 6 cylinder models arrived in the autumn of 1977. 2300 and 2600 models sported a new 6 cylinder engine and were the more obvious replacement for the big Triumph and the Rover 2200 than the V8 car had been. BL’s next move was to take the car up market with the launch of the V8S in 1979 which was available in a rather bright Triton Green metalllic paint and a choice of gold or silver alloy wheels, as well having a far higher standard level of equipment. It was replaced by the even more luxurious Vanden Plas model in late 1980.
More significant was a facelift which came in early 1982. A revised rear window line was aimed at improving the rather limited rear visibility and finally a rear wiper was fitted, this having been excluded from the earlier cars as it had been deemed unnecessary by a BL management who still thought that they knew better than the customers who clamoured for one) and the bumpers and lights were altered, along with significant interior trim and equipment changes. A few weeks later, a cheaper 4 cylinder 2000 model appeared, with the O Series engine under the bonnet, aimed at the all important fleet market and later that year it was joined by a diesel version, using the VM Motor engine, creating the 90 bhp 2400SD. The real joy though was the car revealed at the 1982 British Motor Show, the Vitesse, which boasted fuel injection and 190 bhp to give the car better performance, and with a new front and rear spoiler, the looks to suggest that this was an Autobahn-stormer to rival BMW and Mercedes. Of course, the other reason for the Vitesse was so as to homologate some of the changes for what turned out to be a less than successful career on the race track. It was this which led to the final handful of Vitesse models having a further power upgrade with the TwinPlenum versions, and these are the most highly prized cars of the lot these days. That said, values of SD1 remain very low, with the result that the majority of the cars have been scrapped as they are economic to restore. You see more Vitesse models than anything else so it was nice to see here that there are other models still around.
AUSTIN and ROVER METRO
“A British car to beat the world”. So read the billboards when the Austin Metro was revealed in October 1980. We had waited a long time for this car. There were many false starts, with thoughts first turning to how to replace the Mini going back to the late 1960s, but for various reasons, every effort had been cancelled. Fortunately, that extended to the ADO88 prototype which got to quite an advanced state of development in 1978, but which received less than favourable feedback at customer clinics. A hasty redesign was conducted. Despite carrying over the A Series engines, albeit in modified A+ guise, as BL had nothing else suitable an no money to develop an alternative, and that meant the 4 speed in-sump gearbox came with it, the little Metro has an immediate hit. It looked good, with pert, modern looks, and with a large hatchback, and some innovative ideas on how to maximise the use of space, this was a roomy car that Britain could indeed be proud of. That a young lady who came to prominence in the months following launch, the future Princess Diana, could be seen driving around in one probably helped still further. Five models were available at launch: 1.0, 1.0L, the economy-oriented 1.0 HLE, 1.3S and 1.3 HLS, and the cars were available in a wide range of bright and attractive colours, including a greater percentage of metallic paints than were typically offered to buyers of cars in this class. My parents bought a 1.0L in the summer of 1983, as a replacement for our Mini, and the car was a massive improvement in just about every respect. Unlike previous BL cars, this model was not dogged with build quality and reliability issues, though, sadly it did have the same propensity to rust as they did, but it took several years before that would become obvious. Before that happened, the range was expanded with the introduction of cheaper City and City X models, a top spec Vanden Plans and then the sporting MG version. There was a lot of angst about this last one, as the purists all bemoaned the fact that it was not a “real” MG, as it was a family hatchback not a sports car (conveniently ignoring the MG 1100/1300 saloons of the 1960s), but ti soon became apparent that this little car was a blast to drive, and something quite special with its red trim, including red seat belts and a liberal splashing of octagon logos around the car. A wilder Turbo model followed at the end of 1982, reflecting the craze for every manufacturer to bolt one on to every car that they could find to create a series of often rather unruly and lag-prone but fast machines. Although a lot of work was done in the mid 80s on developing what should have been another world class replacement (the AR6, the prototype for which is also hidden away at Gaydon), a lack of funds meant that for the next 7 years, all that happened was a lot of tweaking of the the trim, and specification and the incorporation of a pair of rear doors to create a 5 door model. This was at a time when the competition stood far from still, with the Fiat Uno and Peugeot 205 upping the ante in early 1983, Vauxhall joining the fray with the Nova mid year, a facelifted Fiesta with a five speed gearbox arriving later that year, a new Renault R5 the following year, along with several Japanese rivals coming out every 4 years. It all made the Metro look increasingly elderly, and also small, compared to all its rivals. There were several Metro models here, including the pristine MG Metro owned by Rev Colin Corke as well as a reminder of just how basic the entry level City was, with its one door mirror and lack of rear parcel shelf.
It was not long before a van version was added to the range. This had the same silhouette as the regular hatch, but with the rear side windows filled in and the rear seats removed. Known sometimes as Metrovan, this version bore Morris badges for a while, as all remaining commercials in the range did in the early 80s. There was one here, a 310 Van which had been used by one of the Utility companies on the south coast early in its life, and which has been restored to pristine condition.
In May 1990, a heavily revised car was revealed. The looks had been modernised, but it was what had been done under the bonnet that was far more significant, with the relatively new K-Series engine finding a home in both 1100 and 1400cc guises. Combined with a five speed gearbox in more costly models, and a new trim that looked decidedly up-market for a small car, suddenly the Metro was back in contention, and that year, the model won high praise and just about every comparison test there was. The MGs were no more, but there was a 1.4 GTi car at the top of the range, and there was even a (very low volume) Cabrio for a while. Sadly, though, with development funds still next to non-existent, the car stayed in production for too long. By 1997, the basic design was 17 years old, and it was the fact that it had the safety standards more akin to cars of 1980 than 1997 that finally finished it off, with a disastrous NCAP safety test which deterred all but the very faithful form buying it. The only examples of the K-Series cars here were a Police version of the hatch and a rare Cabrio.
There was just one examples of the short-lived Ambassador here. Many will tell you that this is the car that the Princess should always have been from launch, that is a hatchback. It is still not clear why Harris Mann’s boldly styled ADO71 car went into production with a small boot opening instead of the more useful large rear tailgate. By the time the Ambassador was launched in March 1982, the Princess had been on sale for 7 years, and so even a comprehensive facelift, which is what this change was – despite the fact that all the body panels apart from the front door skins were apparently new – could not really hope to compete against the recently launched all-new Vauxhall Cavalier or even Ford’ Sierra which would arrive later in the year. The Ambassador did have roominess on its side, with a lot of space for rear passengers, but it also had BL Build Quality, and some of the cars proved to be not particularly reliable. The 2.2 litre 6 cylinder E series engine was not offered, meaning that Ambassadors only came with the O Series engine, in 1700 and 2000cc guise. Top spec models, the HLS and Vanden Plas had a twin carburettor engine, but even these did not have a 5 speed gearbox, which was fast becoming a necessity for cars in this class. That coupled with the fact that the cars were not very inspiring to drive meant that despite the fact that the top spec cars were quite well equipped and nicely trimmed inside, the model’s appeal was limited. The Ambassador was only ever going to have a short life, as it was deleted once the Austin Montego hit the market in April 1984. Although engineered for left and right hand drive, only right hand drive models went into production, so the car was only sold in the UK. 43,427 were built in the two years which it was available, of which only a handful are still on the road, with a few more in SORN status. This car is the very last one produced. It was acquired by the British Motor Heritage trust, but was then sold on when they decided to thin out their collection somewhat. Its new owner did not use it much and then it was left to languish – and deteriorate – in a front garden, before being saved, and restored. This was the first outing for the car in its newly restored state.
It was March 1983 when LM10, the new mid-sized Austin-Rover Group car was finally revealed. Design work on this one had started back in the mid 70s, even before the Metro, but the decision had been taken to prioritise the smaller car, with the result that by the time the Maestro appeared, it already looked a bit old-fashioned. There was no doubting its roominess, though, which was achieved partly because this was an attribute that BL always focused on, and also because it was a physically larger car than many of its rivals, straddling the C-segment cars like the Golf and Escort and the larger D-Segment machines such as the Sierra and Cavalier. Delayed it may have been, but the new engine for the more potent models was still not ready, so the first 1600cc cars came with the R Series unit, a hasty update on the E Series, which lasted only a year or so. 1300cc models still had the A+ unit, and still had the four speed gearbox, or the 3+E in the case of the 1.3 HLE economy model, which was disappointing as five speed units were at least an option on all the car’s rivals. The British press gave it a cautious welcome, but you could tell that they were a little disappointed. No amount of promoting the talking dashboard, a new technology gimmick was going to get over that, sadly. Nor was the fact that there was a lively MG version which hit the streets a few months later. Installation of the new S series engines in 1984, the announcement of the 2 litre MG version (which was widely praised as being a very good car) and upgraded trim over the years did little to change the car’s image and reputation, and although sales were steady, they never got close to the volumes an over-optimistic maker had forecast at launch. Slightly surprisingly, there were none of the MG Maestro models here. The cars that did feature ranged from some of the early ones, in low spec trim to some later cars and a Vanden Plas model which had featured in a Classic and Sports Car article earlier this year.
By 1989, Rover had a much “better” C-Segment hatch in their range, the R8 model 200, but the decision was taken to keep the Maestro in production for a while longer, until the end of 1994, to offer a cheaper alternative, for those who found the Rover’s asking prices too much. That meant a concentration of the bottom of the range, and lots of clever tweaking of the specifications.
In the late 70s, it was the D-Segment that mattered more than anything else in the UK. Britain’s best seller, the Ford Cortina had in excess of 10% of the entire UK car market. BL had no serious rival, offering the Marina, and subsequent Ital, that were conceived as hasty stop-gaps in the early 70s and forced to live on long beyond their reasonable model life. After the cancellation of ADO77, a conventional four door saloon that was more like a revamped Marina than a truly modern family car, the next set of plans called for a 3 box version of the Maestro. As that car was half a class smaller than the Cortina and Cavalier, that would have been a difficult strategy, and fortunately, a change of management in the early 80s saw it as such and the LM11 car that was then being developed both grew in size, and also underwent some very late styling changes as new designer Roy Axe was somewhat aghast at what had been planned. The result was the Montego, launched in late April 1984. Aimed directly at the Sierra and Cavalier, this 3 box saloon came with the new S Series 1600cc and familiar O Series 2 litre engine in 5 trim levels, priced to take on its rivals head on. Sales projections once again were somewhat optimistic, but the Montego quickly reached the Top 10 list, and many would tell you that the car was actually “better” than its Ford or GM rivals in many respects. A capacious Estate model was added to the range in the autumn of 1984. My father bought one the following summer. He did nearly 100,000 miles in it, before it was sold and then I used to see it driving around Cheltenham, as a taxi, for several years, so I am guessing that it probably did around a quarter of a million miles. Some people had problems with their cars, but it seemed to be down to luck whether you got a bad one or not. My first company car was a 1.6L model, in Targa Red, chosen not just because of the good experience from my father’s car., but because by this time it had a standard five speed gearbox when the Ford and Vauxhall did not. I was so impressed with mine and the improvements made in 1988 when a new and very plush interior was put in the car, along with the substitution of the VW gearbox for a Honda one on the 1600cc models, that I ordered another one in early 1990. By this stage, of course, it was not fashionable to like the car at all, but the reality is that whilst not exciting, except in the MG and MG Turbo guises which I coveted but could not afford, this was a practical and roomy car.
This is thought to be the oldest surviving Montego Estate, a 1.6HL model in Arum White. It dates from August 1985, some months after production had started, with the model having been launched at the NEC Motor Show the preceding October. This car had the 7 seat option fitted.
Among company car drivers, the Cavalier SRi was particularly aspirational, with its sporting appearance even though it had no more power (until the SRi 130 models of 1987 came out) than the other 1800cc models in the range. MG decided to try to capture a share of this market with the MG Montego. It was launched in August 1984, and offered not just a liberal dose of the famous MG octagon badge on the car and some of the other red trim tricks of the smaller Metro and Maestro, but a fuel injected 2 litre engine which gave it a peppy performance. The real excitement came the following summer, though, when a turbo was bolted on. The Montego Turbo was a fast car. A bit too fast and unruly for the chassis, if truth be told, but this was the version I would have really liked to own when I had to content myself with a “humble” 1.6L. In that regard, MG achieved exactly what Vauxhall had done, in luring customers to the top of the range model, even though they had to content themselves with the cooking version for now. There are not that many MG models left, so it was nice to see one here, and it was particularly well presented.
After 1992, the Montego continued to be available to fleet customers for another couple of years in Saloon guise and retail purchasers could still get hold of the very practical Estate model. A Perkins developed diesel, with direct fuel injection had been introduced in 1990, and although this unit was a bit noisy, it was one of the best diesel engines available on the market at the time, second only perhaps to the Peugoet-Citroen XUD unit, which meant that there was still decent demand for the Montego even though it was now quite an old design. These cars tended to cover huge mileages, but there are still a few of them around, such as this late model Countryman D Estate.
A matter of weeks after launching the Montego, Rover came up with another family saloon, this one slightly smaller, but positioned to be a more premium entry, complete with Rover badging. The second result of the joint venture with Honda, this time the UK company had a little more input into the car than the first one, the Triumph Acclaim of 1981 (an example of which was sadly not present at this event), which had emerged as little more than a Honda Ballade with Triumph badges on it. The new car here, whilst maintaining the same basic silhouette as the new Ballade looked different from the Honda, and the more powerful models had the Group’s new S Series 1600cc engine under the bonnet. Less powerful models still had the Honda 1342cc unit, but that was no bad thing as this was a smooth and refined engine. The trim was made more deliberately premium looking, in accordance with the Rover badging. I drove a number of 213 and 216 models as rental cars when I was waiting for my first company car to arrive, and they were very agreeable indeed, with the only demerit being that they were tight on space in the rear seats and the boot. The car sold well over a 5 year life, but with no out and out sporting model, there was little to attract the enthusiast, which is probably one reason why the survival rate of these SD3 Rovers is lower even than the Montego. There were two of them here, one in the very period colour of Rattan Beige.
ROVER 800 – XX
Next new car from the Group was the fruits of the XX project, which emerged as the Rover 800 in July 1986. Replacing the much loved, but now 10 year old Rover SD1 design, this was a joint development effort with Honda. Not that you would know it by looking at the cars, as the Honda Legend looked completely different from the Rover. The 2.5 litre engines were shared, but Rover also installed their new M Series 2 litre unit under the bonnet, which in multi-point fuel injected guise in the Si and SLi models had a good 20 bhp more power than all its rivals, making this a rapid and refined executive car. Shame is that the early production concentrated on the V6 models, which were seen as a retrograde step compared to the sonorous V8 of their predecessor, and also somewhat lacking in torque (an upgrade to 2.7 litres in February 1988 addressed the latter issue to some extent). A conventional four door saloon on launch, a five door hatchback was added to the range a couple of years later, as well as a cheaper version with the O Series engine under the bonnet aimed at the fleet market.
ROVER 200/400 – R8
When news of Project YY, a new mid-sized car started to filter out, another joint Honda-Rover development, it was assumed that once again each would adopt their own body style. Honda was first to market, by some months, with their Concerto, and when the Rover 200 Series as the new 5 door hatch models were called, were then revealed in the autumn of 1989, there was much disappointment expressed that it seemed that Rover had merely changed the details of lights, bumpers and grille, as well putting their own touches to the interior. They had also put their brand new K Series 1.4 litre engine under the bonnet, though, and once the press and then the public got to drive the new car, any thoughts that this might be another dull Japanese car were dispelled, as it was evident that this was a cracking new car in every respect. Only high prices counted against it, but look past that, and the choice between a Rover 214 with a 92 bhp engine and sweet five speed gearbox and a quality interior, or a Ford Escort 1.4 saddled with the rough and crude 75 1.4 litre CVH engine and a decidedly mass-market feeling interior pointed in the Rover’s favour every time. The 216 model retained a Honda engine, but with 125 bhp, this was unbelievably rapid for the class. The 4 door saloon version, the 400, followed a few months later, and then Rover added their own unique 3 door body style, as well as the option of a 2 litre model for a hot hatch to rival the Golf GTi and 309 GTi. Seen here were a number of examples of the 200, including some of the early cars, which to my eyes look better before the false grille was added.
Coupe, Cabrio and 400 Tourer versions followed soon after, giving a comprehensive range which was a clear class leader. I had a 414 Si from January 1992 for three years, during which time I put over 100,000 miles on the clock, the highest mileage I had covered to date, and I thought the car was absolutely brilliant. It would have been even better with power steering, probably, but this was an era when you needed to go up a size or two to find this feature as standard. Gavin Bushby’s 416 GSi model was here – his daily driver, he says – and it was good to remind myself of the interior of the car, though his being a GSi had a bit more wood veneer in it, as well as few other features that were standard on the top of the range car. Elsewhere there was one example each of the Cabrio and the 400 Tourer as well as several of the Coupes.
ROVER 800 – R17
In the autumn of 1991, the 800 was re-skinned and re-engineered under the R17 codename. This saw the re-introduction of the traditional Rover grille (which would be applied to all other models in the range in the coming years) and more curvaceous bodywork. The scope of the design change was restricted by the need to retain the core XX structure, including the door structure design. The redesign was a partial answer to major press and market criticism of the “folded paper” school of design and the quest for better aerodynamics that had led to many cars appearing very similar, especially from the front. The redesign found much favour and as a result the car’s sales enjoyed a renaissance, the 800 series becoming Britain’s best selling executive car in the early to mid-1990s, overtaking the Ford Granada which had been Britain’s best-selling car in this sector almost continuously since its launch in 1972. Although the Granada’s successor, the Scorpio, failed to sell well, the 800 was faced with stiff competition from 1994 in the shape of the Vauxhall Omega. Mechanically, the car was similar to the later XX cars, though the T16 2 litre engine replaced the M16 found in pre 1992 cars and this was offered in normally aspirated and Turbo forms, the Turbo being fitted to the Vitesse and the later Vitesse Sport (1994–96), taking the place of the former 820 Turbo. V6 models were offered with the Honda 2.7 litre engine initially but this was substituted with Rover’s own acclaimed KV6 unit in the later years of production.
Following concerted efforts to learn from the problems that had hit the early model years, especially under the more extreme United States market and climatic conditions, quality in general had improved dramatically by this stage, but the decision to leave the US market had already been taken. In a way that was a problem as the two-door three-box Coupé version which was launched in early 1992, having debuted at the 1991 Motor Show, had been conceived very much with the American market in mind. The Coupe was, however, sold to other export markets. Eighty percent of the interior and exterior of the 800 Coupé was finished by hand. From 1992 until 1996, the Rover 800 Coupe came exclusively with the 2.7 Honda V6 engine and 16″ Rover ‘Prestige’ alloys. A four-speed automatic transmission came a standard, and the car was capable of well over 130mph. Later versions had the Rover KV6 and 2 litre 4 cylinder engines. There was three Coupe models here.
It was the launch of the Mazda MX-5 in 1989 which proved that there was still a sizeable market for affordable open topped sports cars, a market which MG had once dominated with the MGB and Midget, but which they had foresaken in 1981 when the last of these sports cars had ceased production. However interest in these classic MGs had not gone away with plenty of people spending a lot of money on restoring their cars. MG decided to offer them an alternative, and in 1992 they produced new body panels for the standard MGB body shell to create an updated MGB model. The suspension was only slightly updated, sharing the leaf spring rear of the MGB. The boot lid and doors were shared with the original car, as were the rear drum brakes. The engine was the 3.9-litre version of the aluminium Rover V8, similar to the one previously used in the MGB GT V8. A limited-slip differential was also fitted. The interior featured veneered burr elm woodwork and Connolly Leather. The engine produced 190 bhp at 4,750 rpm, achieving 0–60 mph in 5.9 seconds, which was fast but lLargely due to the rear drum brakes and rear leaf springs, the RV8 was not popular with road testers at the time. A large proportion of the limited production went to Japan – 1579 of the 2000 produced. Only 330 RV8s were sold initially in the UK, but several hundred (possibly as many as 700) of these cars were re-imported back to the UK and also Australia between 2000–2010 with a peak number of 485 registered at the DVLA in the UK. There was one examples here, in Oxford Green the most popular colour when new.
Another product resulting from the Honda partnership was the Rover 600, a medium sized executive car range that was produced between 1993 and 1999. The Rover 600 exterior was designed by Rover, and was a complete re-skin of the European Honda Accord, also built in the UK by Honda in Swindon. The core structure and vast majority of the engineering content was sourced from Honda but the vehicles were designed at the same time, with a small Rover team on-site in Japan. Colour and trim derivatives were also used to help separate the Rover from the Honda in the marketplace. It was generally said at the time that the Rover was a far better looking car than the Honda, and indeed many of the pre-launch clinics had given the car very high marks indeed for the elegance of its design. This was an example of partnering in the right way, as mechanically, the 600 relied lots of Honda, with the 1.8, 2.0 and 2.3-litre straight-4 petrol engines were all provided by the Japanese. All these were praised for their refinement and efficiency. The 2.0-litre turbodiesel Rover L-Series engine and turbocharged T-Series engines which joined the range some months after launch were developed by Rover, evolutions of units already available elsewhere in the Rover model range. The 620ti, the Turbo model, was launched in May 1994 and this was the most exciting car in the range. It had a turbocharged, intercooled, 16-valve, twin-cam 2.0-litre T series engine, a top speed of 143 mph and a 0-60 mph time of 7 seconds, thanks to 197 bhp and 174 lb/ft of torque. The 620ti also had uprated suspension, dark half-leather upholstery, and a set of six-spoke 16 inch alloy wheels. Autocar magazine had an example on a long term test and found it to be as quick in the mid-range as a Ford Sapphire 2.0i Cosworth following tests at Millbrook Proving Ground. The 600’s interior included wood and chrome trim, as well as relatively high equipment levels, although rear legroom was criticised as rather constrained. The interior was similar to the Japanese-built Honda Ascot Innova, except with a few cosmetic changes. Carpet was also not evident along the bottom trim of the dashboard, although it did feature there on the Innova. The Honda-derived chassis was reported to give a comfortable but unsporting ride.The 600 was available in a number of different trims. All models had power-assisted steering (PAS), electric front windows, remote central locking with alarm and immobiliser and tinted windows. The entry level 618i cars had unpainted bumpers initially which looked very cheap. The Si had split rear seats, Si Auto and above got a sunroof. SLi trim added electric rear windows and wooden door trim; GSi models received 15″ multispoke alloys and full leather trim. From 1994 all cars had a driver’s airbag. The 623iS had half leather trim and a small lip spoiler on its boot. The ti featured a set of 16″ six spoke alloys with uprated suspension, ‘Torsen’ gearbox and a dark half leather interior. Given the Rover’s equipment, prices were reasonably competitive in the large family car segment and considerably lower than the price of such compact executive cars such as the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. The car had a mixed time with the press, with initially positive reports turning quite damning quite quickly, for no really discernible reason., The car was well built and proved reliable, even the ones with the British engines! Production ceased in the Spring of 1999; when the car, along with the Rove 800 was replaced with the retro-styled Rover 75 developed under BMW’s stewardship. It was good to see one example here, and in nice condition, as this model is often conspicuous by its absence at events like this. Perhaps the tide has turned and the car is now old enough for youngtimer classic status?
MGF and MG TF
MG re-entered the sports car market in 1995 with the launch of the MGF Two versions of this mid-engined and affordable rival to the Mazda MX5 were offered: both of which used the 1.8 litre K-Series 16-valve engine. The cheaper of the two put out 118 hp and the more costly VVC model (by dint of its variable valve control) had 143 hp. Rover Special Projects had overseen the development of the F’s design and before finalising the styling bought-in outside contractors to determine the most appropriate mechanical configuration for the new car. Steve Harper of MGA Developments produced the initial design concept in January 1991 (inspired by the Jaguar XJR-15 and the Ferrari 250LM), before Rover’s in house design team refined the concept under the leadership of Gerry McGovern. The MGF used the Hydragas suspension, a system employing interconnected fluid and gas displacers, which gave the car a surprisingly compliant ride and which could be tuned to provide excellent handling characteristics. The MG F quickly shot to the top of the affordable sports car charts in Britain and remained there until the introduction of the MG TF in 2002. The MG F underwent a facelift in Autumn of 1999 which gave the car a revised interior as well as styling tweaks and fresh alloy wheels designs. There was also the introduction of a base 1.6 version and a more powerful 160 hp variant called the Trophy 160, which had a 0-60 mph time of 6.9 seconds. It was only produced for a limited time. An automatic version with a CVT called the Steptronic was also introduced. A comprehensive update in 2002 resulted in the MG TF, named after the MG TF Midget of the 1950s. Based upon the MG F platform but heavily redesigned and re-engineered, the most significant mechanical changes were the abandonment of Hydragas suspension in favour of conventional coil springs, the new design of the air-induction system that along with new camshafts produces more power than in MG F engines, and the torsional stiffness of the body increased by 20%. Various cosmetic changes included a revised grille, redesigned front headlights, bumpers, side air-intake grills and changes to the rear boot,. The car continued to sell well. Production was suspended when MG-Rover went out of business, but resumed again in 2007 when Nanjing built a number more.
When it came to replacing the R8, Rover decided to introduce two models, the larger 400 being closely related to the next generation of Honda and the smaller model which had become known as the R3 also intended to take over from the Metro/Rover 100, by now a 15 year old product. it was by-and-large an all-new car that had been developed by Rover. Honda did provide early body design support as a result of moving production of the Honda Concerto from Longbridge to Swindon, freeing up capacity for 60,000 units at Rover. At this point, the car had a cut-down version of the previous car’s rear floor and suspension and was codenamed SK3. Lack of boot space and other factors led to Rover re-engineering the rear end to take a modified form of the Maestro rear suspension and the product was renamed R3. By the time the car was launched, Honda and Rover had already been “divorced” after the BMW takeover the previous year. The new 200 used K-Series petrol engines, most notably the 1.8 L VVC version from the MGF, and L-series diesel engine. During the mid 1990s the L-Series was a very competitive engine, regarded as second only to the VW TDI in overall performance, and an improvement over the R8s XUD, particularly in fuel economy while almost matching it for refinement. The R3 featured a completely re-designed interior and dashboard to accommodate the fitment of a passenger airbag in line with new safety standards. The 1.8-litre models earned a certain amount of praise for their performance, whilst the intercooled turbo diesel was claimed as one of the fastest-accelerating diesel hatchbacks on the market in the late 1990s, but in general, the press were not quite sure what to make of the 200. Part of that was around its positioning rather than its attributes. It could, and probably should have been marketed as a supermini, it compared closely in size and engine range with contemporary models such as the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa, but instead Rover priced the car to compete with vehicles like the Ford Escort and Vauxhall Astra, which meant that it was criticised for being too small inside. Nonetheless, the third generation 200 was initially popular, being Britain’s seventh-best-selling new car in 1996 through to 1998. Within three years it had fallen out of the top 10 completely and was being outsold by traditionally poorer selling cars like the Volkswagen Polo Mk3 and the Peugeot 206.
The Rover 200 BRM was first shown at the 1997 Frankfurt Motor Show and the reaction from the press and public was good enough that after a year of development the production Rover 200 BRM LE was officially launched at the British Motor Show in October 1998. It was based on the range-topping Vi model but with 1960’s BRM styling cues. It used the 145 PS 1.8-litre VVC K-Series. Inside, there were red quilted leather seats and door panels, red carpet, seat belts and steering wheel. Alloy heater controls and turned aluminium trim complimented this. On the outside, there was Brooklands Green paintwork, with silver trim details, large 16″ alloys, and an exclusive woven mesh grille sat above a large orange snout in the front bumper, which was the BRM trademark nose on all of its 1960s Formula One racing cars. Technical adjustments consisted of 20 mm lower ride height over the Vi and improved damping and handling, a close-ratio gearbox with a TorSen differential further developed from the Rover 220 Turbo, reduced torque steer and improved straight-line stability. The price was £18,000, excluding extras such as air conditioning, passenger airbag and a CD player. There were only 795 built for the UK, with an additional 350 for overseas markets. The steep price was originally slashed to £16,000 and when the Rover 25 was launched, this was cut to £14,000 to get rid of vehicles still lingering in showrooms. These days there is a very active owners Club for the BRMs, and at the Pride of Longbridge even you can expect to see 25 or 30 of these cars altogether. There were not quite that many here, but still enough for a long line of cars, which, all painted the same colour, made for quite an impressive sight.
A facelifted version of the Rover 200, renamed the Rover 25 (internal codename Jewel) was launched in autumn 1999. This version used similar frontal styling to the larger 75 model. The chassis was uprated to give sportier handling with the suspension and steering setup from 200vi and a number of safety improvements and interior changes were made. Even so, the 25 was instantly recognisable as a reworked 200 Series. The 1.4, 1.6 and 1.8 litre K series petrol engines as well as the 2.0 litre L series diesel were all carried over from the previous range. CVT automatic gearboxes were carried over from the R3 200, with ‘Steptronic’ (later ‘Stepspeed’ post-BMW demerger) semi-automatic system available from late 2000. R65 manual gearboxes were again carried over but were later superseded by Ford ‘IB5’ units in mid-2003. The Rover 25 also saw the introduction, from autumn 2000, of the 16V twin-cam version of the 1.1 L K-Series engine, replacing the 1.1 single-cam 8-valve K-Series engine previously found in the Rover 211i. This development saw power boosted from 59 to 74 bhp.
Less than a year after the Rover 25 was launched, BMW sold the Rover Group to the Phoenix consortium for a token £10. By the summer of 2001, the newly named MG Rover Group introduced a sporty version of the Rover 25: the MG ZR. It had modified interior and exterior styling, as well as sports suspension, to give the car the look of a “hot” hatchback. The largest engine in the range was the 1.8 VVC 160 PS unit, which had a top speed of 130 mph . It was frequently Britain’s best-selling “hot hatch” and there were a number of ZR models present here.
By 2004, the age of the Rover 25 / MG ZR’s interior design in particular was showing, so MG Rover gave the cars an exterior restyle to make them look more modern. The majority of changes however were focussed on the interior, which featured a completely new layout and fascia design. Production of both cars was suspended in April 2005 when the company went into administration. In March 2005 the 25 won the “Bargain of the Year Award” at the prestigious Auto Express Used Car Honours: “The compact hatchback was recognised by the judges for the availability and affordability that help make five-year old examples an attractive purchase proposition.”
ROVER 400/45 and MG ZS
The second generation 400 Series, codenamed Theta or HH-R, was launched in the summer of 1995 as a hatchback and later a saloon. This time it was based on the Honda Domani, which had been released in Japan in 1992, and was sold as part of the European Honda Civic range in five-door hatchback form. There were more styling differences than had been the case with the R8 cars, and once again, general consensus was that Rover had done a better job that their Japanese partner. Power came from the well rated 1.4 and 1.6-litre K-Series, with the 1.6-litre Honda D series SOHC used with the automatic gearbox, and the 2.0 litre Rover T Series petrol engines, as well as a 2.0-litre L-Series turbodiesels from the more luxurious 600 Series were a;sp available. Some months after launching the hatchback, Rover added a three box saloon to the range, a style which would not be duplicated by Honda.. Although not a bad car, the problem was that it sat awkwardly between two different sectors of the market, with pricing reflecting its upmarket ambitions, but passenger space suggesting it was really a Golf/Astra/Escort rival. It never quite captured the imagination and sales success of the R8 predecessor.
In the autumn of 1999, the 400 Series was facelifted (under the codename Oyster) and renamed as the Rover 45, as a parallel update to the one applied to the smaller 200 which morphed into the 25. The 1.4, 1.6 and 1.8-litre petrol and 2.0-litre diesel engines were carried over from the 400 Series, but the 2.0 four-cylinder petrol unit was replaced by a 2.0-litre V6 from the larger Rover 75 – although this power unit was only available on saloon versions. The 45 came equipped with the better seating of the 75 and whilst the 400 models handled very well, the suspension was tuned to give much better controlled ride characteristics with quicker steering. The 45 was available with Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) supplied by the German manufacturer ZF Sachs AG which had previously been used in the MGF. This particular design of CVT consisted of an oil-cooled laminated steel belt (with external oil cooler) running on variable pulleys. MG Rover had many CVT failures returned to the supplier. Rover’s own manual gearbox factory had been retained by BMW during the sale which created MG Rover. After buying its own gearbox designs from BMW for a time MG Rover eventually sourced an alternative supplier and later Rover 25/45 models up to 1.6-litre were fitted with Ford gearboxes. The revised model boasted improved equipment levels, comfortable interior and reduced prices, compared with the preceding 400 badged models. While the asking price was now in line with other small family cars, the Rover 45 began to lose market share. Being based on the 1992 Honda Domani, the 45 was by now an outdated car compared with contemporary offerings from other marques. A facelift in the spring of 2004 was MG Rover’s last effort to boost sales of the Rover 45, including a new front and rear end, a re-designed dash, revised suspension settings, improved equipment and lower prices, some of these changes were necessitated by the end of Domani production in Japan, as Honda refused to continue the supply of certain parts. Production of the car stopped in April 2005 due to MG Rover’s bankruptcy. Honda swiftly terminated the licensing agreement with MG Rover and removed the remaining tooling and assembly lines for the car from Longbridge prior to its sale to Nanjing Automotive.
In mid 2001, an MG version of the 45 had been launched, called the ZS, which gave MG a range of 3 different models as well as the TF sports car. The view of the press was that the suspension and steering alterations completely transformed the car, but this model was in a difficult part of the market, compared to the smaller ZR and is found fewer buyers. Those who did sample the ZS, especially in ZS 180 guise with the 2.5 litre KV6 got an absolutely cracking car though. It sported a V6 with all the aural benefits when all its rivals had 4 cylinder turbo engines. Later cars were facelifted to distinguish them more clearly from the Rover 45, with elements of the X Power bodykit being made standard.
ROVER 75 and MG ZT
Although the Rover 800 had sold well, by the mid 90s, it was in need of replacement. The relationship with Honda, which had helped to create it, as well as the slightly smaller and cheaper Honda 600 was over, as new owners BMW had their own ideas of what to do with the marque that it is alleged that they sometimes referred rather unkindly to as “The English Patient”. Three new designs were produced under the guidance of Richard Woolley; a large saloon codenamed Flagship, a smaller vehicle (with the codename of Eric), and the 75. Of these only the 75 concept progressed. The initial aim had been to re-skin the Rover 600, but following the BMW takeover it was quickly decided that this platform would not be re-used but replaced by an entirely new model. Work on the new model, codenamed R40, progressed well with little operational interference from BMW; the styling received an enthusiastic response from the management and both companies believed the classical look would be the ideal direction for Rover. Revolutionary new design processes were adopted, including the 3D virtual reality assembly simulation “ebuild” techniques, ensuring the car would achieve class leading build quality when series production started. Under the lauded styling were to be a range of petrol and diesel engines from 1.8- to 2.5-litre sizes. Petrol engines would use the much praised Rover 4-cylinder K series in 1.8-litre guise and the quad cam KV6, offered in either short-stroke 2.0 or revised 2.5-litre formats. The 2.0-litre was later dropped on introduction of the 1.8-litre turbo for emissions purposes. Transmissions on all models would be either the Getrag 283 5-speed manual, supplied from the company’s new facility in Bari, Italy, or the JATCO 5-speed automatic unit—one of the first transverse engine deployments made with this feature. Braking would be in the form of all-round discs, complemented with a Bosch 5.7 4-channel ABS system and electronic brake force distribution. The parking brake was a cable operated drum integral within the rear discs. Suspension was to be a MacPherson strut arrangement at the front, anchored by lower alloy L-arms. The wide spacing of the mounting points, compliant bushings and a perimeter subframe gave the model a cushioned yet precise ride with relaxed handling that could be tuned for different markets or model derivatives such as the later MG ZT. The rear suspension, after a period of uncertainty during development, was eventually a version of BMW’s Z-Axle arrangement first featured on the 1988 Z1 sports car. At the time of the launch, there had been speculation within the media that the Rover 75 used the BMW 5-Series platform, perhaps due to the overall size of the model, the apparent presence of a transmission tunnel and the use of the parent company’s rear suspension system, but this was in fact not the case: Rover engineers had used the concept of incorporating a central tunnel which had been explored by BMW as part of their own research into front-wheel-drive chassis design. As the 75 took shape, this core engineering was passed over to Rover and evolved into the Rover 75 structure. The tunnel concept, along with the rear suspension system, was also used by the Rover engineers for the design of the Mini. The Rover 75 was premiered at the 1998 British Motor Show, and it attracted praise for its styling and design integrity. Although some labelled its styling as too “retro”, suggesting it had been designed with an older buyer in mind, and was not sporting enough when compared to the competition, it received far more praise than the Jaguar S Type which debuted at the same time. The 75 went on to win a series of international awards including various “most beautiful car” awards, including one in Italy. Assembly originally took place at Cowley but in 2000, following the sale of the company by BMW to Phoenix Venture Holdings, production was moved to Longbridge. 2001 saw the introduction of the Rover 75 Tourer (developed alongside the saloon but never authorised for production by BMW), swiftly followed by the MG ZT and MG ZT-T, more sporting interpretations of the model, differentiated by modified, sporting chassis settings and colour and trim derivatives. Between 2000 and 2003, there were few changes to the range: the most significant was the replacement of the 2-litre V6 engine by a low-pressure-turbocharged version of the 1.8-litre 4-cylinder engine, which benefited British company car drivers, taxed on carbon dioxide emissions. A customisation programme, Monogram, was launched, allowing buyers to order their car in a wider range of exterior paint colours and finishes, different interior trims and with optional extras installed during production In early 2004 Rover facelifted the design of the 75 to look less retro and more European. Changes were restricted to bolt-on components and some technical upgrades. At the front was a new, more angular bumper fitted with a mesh lower grille, bigger door mirrors, one-piece headlights with halogen projectors fitted as standard, revamped front and side indicators and fog lights as well as a larger yet sleeker chrome grille on top. The rear also featured a more modern bumper with a new chrome boot handle. The middle-specification Club trim was dropped, and on Connoisseur trim light oak wood took the place of the original walnut, which remained standard fitment on the entry-level Classic trim. Rover also added a new trim to the range called Contemporary which featured revised fittings such as larger alloy wheels, body colour exterior accents, black oak wood trim and sports seats as well as an altered equipment tally. The instrumentation and its back-lighting were modernised, the console texture finish was upgraded and the seat bolsters revised to offer more support. Access to the rear seats was improved and leg-room increased. Production of this range continued until the collapse of MG-Rover in April 2005. The 75 developed an almost fanatical following among many of its owners, and although even the newest model is now over 10 years old, many have hung onto their cars. They were well built, and have proved reliable and long-lasting, so there are still plenty around. Several examples of both the Saloon and the Tourer were here.
Also present were a couple of the MG ZT 260 cars, although I somehow failed to take pictures of either. Rather rarer than these, now, is the Rover V8 version, and there was one of those here. This was announced at the Geneva Motor Show in 2002. This was the second iteration of the modified rear-wheel-drive platform developed by MG Rover and already receiving plaudits from the media. The car boasted a new grille stretching down from the bonnet shut-line to the bottom lip of the bumper—a style that had also just appeared on Audi’s A6, which was not lost on the press. It was also the first V8 engine Rover since the demise of the Rover SD1 in 1986. The Rover 75 V8 was created as a means of proving MG Rover’s engineering expertise and to attract a development partner to the company. The car was extensively re-engineered to accommodate Ford’s Modular V8 in 4.6 litre capacity, driving the rear wheels to give a car with much higher performance, taking advantage of the stiffening tunnel in the body structure. These cars were built on the standard production line, and then removed to allow the necessary structural modifications to be carried out. The cars were then returned to the trimming lines for completion. Just under 900 were produced in both saloon and Tourer body styles, carrying either Rover 75 or MG ZT trim. The cars had numerous differences to the standard versions, drive train notwithstanding, with non standard heating and ventilation, and brakes and suspension capable of dealing with the extra power. Externally, there is little to indicate what is under the bonnet, other than quad exhaust pipes and a couple of subtle badges, although a large ‘premium’ grille was fitted to some cars following the 2004 facelift.
Later in the day, I spotted what can only be described as an interloper parked up among the cars. Earlier on. anything that was not theme compliant was asked to park in the main car park at the other end of the approach road, but somehow this McLaren 570S had sneaked past the control point and was among the display cars. Needless to say, it was attracting plenty of attention.
AND AN OMEN
There was another non-theme car in the display and there was perhaps an unintended irony from its presence. This was a 1980 Datsun Bluebird 1.8 GL Estate – owned by a gent who takes it to a number of events at which he marshalls and helps out, so I have seen to at Prescott and Shelsley Walsh among other places. It was the success of cars like this which contributed to the sales decline of British Leyland. The first Bluebirds, launched in 1972, looked a bit odd to European eyes, and they were not as good to drive as a Ford Cortina, but they were well equipped, and they were reliable, qualities which mattered to family buyers. Successive new models – and they arrived with almost unerring predictability every 4 years – got better and better. Whilst they were reliable, they were no less prone to rust than European cars of the period, and the majority of them have long since been scrapped. This one had the proverbial elderly owner who barely used it, and always garaged it for the first 30 years of its life. It was driven in London, so there are some small scars from this, but is otherwise in pretty good condition, and it is interesting to see it, especially as it is believed to be the only survivor of its type in the UK.
So, this was a most enjoyable event. The weather helped, for sure, with a good turnout of cars. No doubt, this was a real wallow in nostalgia, with the chance to see so may of the cars which constituted a significant percentage of those on our roads from the days when I was growing up. British Leyland, and all the marques within the empire, may be long since deceased, but enthusiasm for their cars – yes, even the ones with the dodgy reputations – remains strong both among the owners and the wider public. This event proved that beyond all doubt.