These days it is much more common to read about a car museum shutting its doors for the very last time than it is to learn of a brand new one opening. But that is exactly what has happened in the UK in May 2021. First reports of the plans for what was to be called the Great British Car Journey emerged in the winter of 2019/20, with plans for an opening later in the year. But the next that we all heard was that things had changed, largely because of serious health issues with a couple of the founders and the venture looked like it was all off. But in the early weeks of 2021 the exciting news was that the museum was taking shape and would open in late Spring, subject to Covid regulations in force at the time. The museum is largely the inspiration of a gent called Richard Usher who made his money from his Auto Windscreen business, and more recently who owned the Blyton Park race circuit. He had steadily been acquiring a large collection of British cars, few of which were particularly valuable but which hold massive nostalgic appeal for many, as they represent the sort of cars that parents and other relatives drove or even those in which we all started our own driving career. Usher’s collection was augmented when be bought a considerable number of the cars from the James Hull collection. With the acquisition of an old warehouse on the banks of the River Derwent, in Ambergate, to the north west of Derby and on the A6, he had the right sort of facility to be able to display his collection. It duly opened on the 15th May 2021, and I was able to fit in a visit just one week later. Here is what I saw.
The museum is housed in a long rectangular building, but clever design means that it feels like you are entering different rooms to reflect specific themes or eras of the British Motor Car. As well as around 150 cars on show, there are large numbers of huge posters on the walls and hanging from the ceiling, most of which reflect period advertising. When you check in, you are handed a portable electronic device with an audio narrative which outlines the history of the British Motor Industry, with additional details on some specific cars. You can scan the QR codes by the cars for more information should you so desire. If you listen to the entire narrative, it will take you a good couple of hours to complete a tour of the displays. I suspect most people started off listening to it, but quickly abandoned it all. The audio production was good and highly informative. It was broken up into 9 Chapters, and the cars on show more or less corresponded to these, in Chapter order.
PRE WAR MOTORING
The oldest cars in the collection are a number of the iconic Austin Seven. By 1921, Herbert Austin’s was facing imminent bankruptcy. Like many of the other early car companies, Austin had produced large and costly cars since the firm’s inception and there simply was not a big enough market for the number of cars and car makers that were producing vehicles at the time. Herbert Austin’s master stroke was to produce a cheap and affordable car which did much to put Britain on wheels in the 1920s. The first Sevens were built in 1922, and were four seat open tourers. Nicknamed Chummy, the first 100 featured a 696cc four cylinder engine, which was quickly upgraded to the 747cc unit that remained until the end of production some 17 years later. The first cars had an upright edge to the doors and a sloping windscreen, but from 1924, the screen became upright and there was a sloping edge to the doors, as well as a slightly longer body. Stronger brakes came along in 1926, along with a slightly taller nickel-plated radiator grille, conventional coil ignition, a more spacious body and wider doors. An even longer and wider body arrived in 1930, as well as a stronger crankshaft and improvements to the brakes which coupled front and rear systems together so they both worked by the footbrake. In 1931 the body was restyled , with a thin ribbon-style radiator and by 1932 there was a four speed gearbox to replace the earlier three-speeder. 1933 saw the introduction of the Ruby, a car that looked more modern with its cowled radiator. There were also Pearl and Opal versions. Development continued, so in 1937 there was a move to crankshaft shell bearings in place of the white metal previously used, and the Big Seven appeared. The last Seven was made in 1939, by which time 290,000 had been produced. Aside from saloons and tourers, there had been vans and sports derivatives like the Le Mans, the supercharged Ulster and the rather cheaper Nippy. Around 11,000 Sevens survive today. A quintet of Sevens were presented here, ranging from three of the early cars, with different body styles, through ot the Seven Swallow and a late model Chummy, the cheapest version of the late 1930s range.
Head around the dividing screen and into the start of the next Chapter, and there were a couple of examples of the larger Austin Ten. 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.
POST WAR – PRODUCTION RESUMES
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 and to be seen here were a number of cars including one of the rare Minor Million cars made in 1961 to celebrate the fact that this was the first British car to sell a million examples.
The Austin Sixteen (also Austin 16) is a 2.2-litre motor car that was built by Austin from 1945 until 1949. It was the first ‘new’ car to be produced by Austin following the end of the Second World War. Apart from the name, it shared nothing with the pre war Austin 16. Whilst it used a brand new 4-cylinder 2199 cc, overhead-valve engine—the first to be used in an Austin car, it in fact used the chassis and body of the pre-war Austin 12, which continued to be produced, alongside the other pre-war saloons the 8 hp and the 10 hp. The number Sixteen was not an indication of the actual power output of the engine but rather the result of a calculation used to determine the excise duty (road tax) payable for the vehicle. The engine in fact produced 67 bhp at 3800 rpm. The car shared a number of features with the famed London Taxi, one of which was the built-in hydraulic jacking system operated from a pump located under the bonnet. The Sixteen had a healthy turn of speed for its day with a maximum quoted speed of 75 mph (121 km/h). In the bitterly cold winter of 1947 Alan Hess and a team of drivers with 3 Austin Sixteen vehicles undertook a publicity run on behalf of the Austin Motor Company to visit seven Northern European Capitals in seven days. Despite extraordinary travel difficulties caused by heavy snow, the vehicles completed the adventure successfully, and the story is related in Alan Hess’s book, Gullible’s Travels. Steering was by a cam and lever system which provided a dual ratio to ease parking. Suspension was all elliptic (overslung in front, underslung at the rear) with rigid beam axles all controlled by Luvax-Girling double acting hydraulic shock absorbers—a transverse torsion bar linking both pairs. Brakes by Girling were mechanical using a wedge and roller system in 11 inch drums with twin leading shoes in the front drums
In 1947, Austin produced two virtually identical chassis, one for the A110 (later A125 Sheerline, built entirely by Austin at their Longbridge factory) and the A120 (later A135) chassis used by Vanden Plas to produce the Princess at their Kingsbury works (North London). Although Vanden Plas was by now wholly owned by Austin and much of the running gear and instrumentation was the same in the two cars, the Princess was the Austin flagship, with a higher specification leather, wool and burr walnut interior. The original Princess was powered by a 3.5-litre straight-six engine. This was enlarged to a 4.0-litre unit without further modifications. The Princess was often built to order. Customers could specify the colour required and a range of different setups were available. These included triple or single carburettors and twin or single exhaust systems. Whilst the sportier multiple carb version performed better, it achieved only 12 to 14 mpg. The single carburetor version gave slightly better fuel consumption. Performance was good for a car of its size, with a top speed of 90 mph (140 km/h) and acceleration 0 to 60 mph in 20 seconds. In 1950, the Limousine version was introduced. The chassis length and passenger area were enlarged to enable a pair of drop down seats to be mounted on the rear of the front seats and a glass division was standard. These early cars are now extremely rare, especially the saloon versions. Many of the saloons were converted for use as taxis in the late 1950s, fitted with Perkins diesel engines for better economy. The 3993cc 6-cylinder engine was also fitted, as a petrol option seldom taken up, to the Austin and Morris normal-control (i.e. “bonneted”) WEK and WFK commercial vehicles. The Austin Princess IV was introduced in 1956. Offered in Saloon and Touring Limousine models, this replacement for the former Sheerline and A135 only stayed in the catalogue until 1959; 200 were built. The last A135 Mark 3 had been priced at five times the price of an Austin A30. The new IV had to be priced at 6.5 times the price of an Austin A30, at which price there was almost no demand. The name was shortened in August 1957 when the car lost its “Austin” designation, now being branded simply as the Princess IV so it might be sold by either Morris or Austin dealers. The Times tested the Princess IV and reported on it at some length in early February 1959. The Princess IV was discontinued in 1959 and replaced in the catalogue by a much smaller model, an upgraded Austin Westminster (Pininfarina-designed Vanden Plas Princess see below), which retailed at little more than 40 per cent of the Mark IV’s price.
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.
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.
In 1953, Ford released the 100E, designed by Lacuesta Automotive. It was a completely new car, its style following the example of the larger Ford Consul introduced two years earlier and of its German counterpart, the Ford Taunus P1, by featuring a modern three-box design. The 100E was available as a two-door Anglia and a four-door Prefect. During this period, the old Anglia was available as the 103E Popular, touted as the cheapest car in the world. Internally there were individual front seats trimmed in PVC, hinged to allow access to the rear. The instruments (speedometer, fuel gauge and ammeter) were placed in a cluster around the steering column and the gear change was floor mounted. A heater and radio were optional extras. The dashboard was revised twice; the binnacle surrounding the steering column was replaced by a central panel with twin dials towards the driver’s side in 1956; the last from 1959 had twin dials in a binnacle in front of the driver and ‘magic ribbon’ AC speedo similar to the 1957 E-series Vauxhall Velox/Cresta and ’58/’59 PA models, and included a glovebox. Under the bonnet the 100E still housed an antiquated, but actually new, 36 bhp side-valve engine sharing the bore and stroke of the old unit but now with larger bearings and inlet valves and pump-assisted cooling. The three-speed gearbox was retained. Some models were fitted with a semi-automatic “Manumatic” gearbox. A second windscreen wiper was now included at no extra cost, although the wipers’ vacuum-powered operation was also retained: by now this was seen as seriously old-fashioned and the wipers were notorious for slowing down when driving up steep hills, or coming to a complete rest when trying to overtake. The separate chassis construction of the previous models was replaced by unitary construction and the front suspension used “hydraulic telescopic dampers and coil springs” – now called MacPherson struts, a term that had not yet entered the public lexicon – with anti-roll bar and semi-elliptic leaf springs at the rear. The car’s 87-inch wheelbase was the shortest of any Anglia, but the front and rear track were increased to 48 inches, and cornering on dry roads involved a degree of understeer: the steering took just two turns between locks, making the car responsive and easy to place on the road, although on wet roads it was too easy to make the tail slide out. A rare option for 1957 and 1958 was Newtondrive clutchless gearchange. The electrical system became 12 volt. A facelift of the Anglia 100E was announced in October 1957. This included a new mesh radiator grille, new front lamp surrounds, a larger rear window, larger tail lights and chrome bumpers. The 100E sold well; by the time production ceased in 1959, 345,841 had rolled off the production line.
Launched initially as a four-seat convertible, the A90 Atlantic made its début at the 1948 Earls Court Motor Show in London, with production models built between spring 1949 and late 1950, the range was later augmented when a two-door coupé, marketed as the A90 Atlantic Sports Saloon, followed a year later. It had been previewed at the 1949 Motor Show and was in production at Longbridge between 1950 and 1952. The Atlantic was one of the first post-war cars engineered from scratch by Austin, and was said to be styled from a thumbnail sketch by Leonard Lord, then Chairman of Austin, though in truth the styling was more likely the work of resident Italian Austin stylist Dick Burzi. The car was almost certainly influenced by a 1946 Pininfarina-bodied Alfa Romeo cabriolet, which just happened to end up at the Longbridge factory in mid-1947, a few months before the light blue 16 hp sports prototype made its first appearance in the experimental department and on nearby roads around the factory. A rare edition was a coachbuilt estate car, regularly seen in the 1950s used by a convent in Leith, Scotland. The car had a lifting rear door, and sported then unusual curved perspex roof panels. With the then Government edict of “Export or die” and steel allocated only to those who generated much needed dollar revenue, the Atlantic was designed specifically to appeal to North American tastes (certain aspects look like a 1949 Mercury and the bonnet brightwork looks similar to the Pontiac Chieftains of this era). The car featured up-to-the-minute detailing, with a wrap around windscreen, composed of a flat glass centre section with, tiny curved end panels. The front wings (fenders) sported twin ‘Flying A’ hood ornaments and swept down to a rounded tail, with spats enclosing the rear wheels. A centrally mounted third, main beam, headlight was built into the letter-box style air intake grille, and the then unheard of luxury of hydraulically powered windows and hood (convertible top), “flashing indicators” rather than trafficators, (for the United States market at least) and the option of EKCO or HMV Autocrat radios. The range-topping Austin was offered in a variety of “jewelescent” colours with names like ‘seafoam green’ and ‘desert gold’ but few of these brave new metallics were sold in the UK market. The convertible, a three window, drophead coupe had a simple fabric top, without rear quarter lights, which butted up to the rear of a rather thick windscreen header rail. The fixed head, five window, Sports Saloon, could be had with its roof painted or covered in fabric. This gave it the popular ‘drophead or cabriolet’ look; all the style with no leaks. Many photographs of this car are wrongly titled, due to observers confusing the fabric covered hardtop for a convertible. As its final party trick, the centre section of the three piece, wrap-around, rear window, could be lowered into the boot, for added ventilation by a remote winder above the front windscreen. Few people in the car’s native Britain would have ever seen anything like the futuristically-styled Atlantic before, and certainly not from a conservative mainstream manufacturer like Austin. The radical Atlantic suffered, however, from the dramatically new Jaguar XK120, also launched at the 1948 Motor Show. Out of a total production run of 7,981, 3,597 were exported, 350 of which were to the US. This low level of sales in the US was despite a huge focus by Austin, including a successful attempt at breaking 63 stock car records at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in April 1949 by Alan Hess, Charles Goodacre and Dennis Buckley) and a US$1000 price reduction in 1949, the four-cylinder 2.7-litre couldn’t compare in power output to native V8 engines — although, for its time, performance was strong. A few were also used in civilian versions of the Austin Champ. The car did see more success in former British Colonies, Europe,
Scandinavia and Australasia.
This 403 is an example of the second body design produced by Bristol Cars. First seen on the 401 model, which replaced the first ever Bristol model, the 400, a program of updates saw the car morph into the 403 (the 402 having been an open topped version of the 401) and this car was then produced between 1953 and 1955, the third of the eventual five series of Bristols powered by the BMW-derived pushrod straight-six engine. It replaced both the Bristol 401 and 402 in 1953 and whilst it retained much the same styling as the 401, the new 403 featured many mechanical improvements compared to its predecessor. The 1971 cc six-cylinder engine was modified through the use of bigger valves and larger main bearings with a diameter of 54 mm as against 51 mm on the 400 and 401, which increased the power output to 100 hp as against 85 hp in the 401. The acceleration was markedly improved: the 403 could reach 60 mph in 13.4 seconds as against 16.4 seconds for the 401. The 403 had a top speed of 104 mph. To cope with this increased power, an anti-roll bar was fitted on the front suspension and improved drum brakes known as “Alfins” (Aluminium finned) were fitted. Early models had them on all wheels, but Bristol thought the car was over-braked and they were thus restricted to the front wheels on later 403s. The 403 was the last Bristol to feature a BMW-style radiator grille. It is also noteworthy for having two extra headlamps at the side, almost pre-dating the adoption of the four-headlamp layout in larger cars (Bristol themselves adopted it with the 411 in the late 1960s).
An important car not just for Standard, but also for generating significant export revenue, the Vanguard was launched in 1948, the first all new British design produced after the war. It replaced all the pre-war models, production of which had restarted in 1946. The fastback styling of the first models aped American designs of the era leaving little doubt where it was intended to sell the car. As well as the fastback saloon and estate models, a pick-up was offered for the Australian market. The Phase 2 came along at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1953. Not so much a new model as an extensive re-design, keeping the same front end but with a contemporary Ponton, three-box design “notch-back” design, which provided 50% more luggage space and improved rear visibility. Mechanically there were few changes, and the design was produced for a couple of years, including, from 1954 with the option of a diesel engine, the first British car to do so. The third phase Vanguard, launched in 1955 would be very different.
Introduced initially as the Eight, it was launched in 1953 as a replacement for the Triumph Mayflower. Deliberately designed to be cheaper in every way, the first cars were extremely basic, though they were the cheapest four door car on sale at the time, listing for £481 at launch. They were too basic, as it turned out, and gradually, some of the features which the market considered important, such as an external boot lid and a passenger sun visor were added, and a more powerful engine appeared making the Ten, which arrived in 1954. A posher model, called the Pennant was added to the range in 1957, sporting traces of the then fashionable tail fins in an attempt to modernise the styling appeal, along with two tone paintwork. A very practical Estate model was also offered, called the Companion. In the 1950s, estate cars were regarded as largely being the preserve of the commercial traveller for whom luxury certainly did not seem to matter. Standard adapted their small car to produce the Companion, which was unusual among its competitors for having four passenger doors. The model was replaced by the Triumph Herald in 1959.
The extensively redesigned Oxford Series II was announced in May 1954. It was given a new shape directly foreshadowing the BMC ADO17 and, following the formation of BMC, notably getting the Austin-designed B-Series OHV straight-4. Styling was entirely new though the rounded body maintained a family resemblance to the Morris Minor. Sales remained strong when the Series III arrived in 1956, with around 87,000 sold. A 2.6-litre six-cylinder 7-inches longer Morris Isis version was announced 12 July 1955 with a saloon or Traveller estate body.
This imposing car is a Daimler DE36. Daimler DE was a series of chassis made by the Daimler Company from 1946 to 1953. DE chassis were the basis for Daimler’s largest and most expensive cars at the time. There were two versions: the short-wheelbase DE 27 with the Daimler Twenty-seven six cylinder engine, and the long-wheelbase DE 36, the last Daimler Straight-Eight, with the Thirty-six straight-eight engine. Daimler DEs, especially the DE 36 Straight-Eight, was sold to royalty and heads of state around the world, including British royalty under the royal warrant that Daimler had held since 1900. The DE chassis was also the basis for the DC ambulance chassis on which coachbuilders Barker and Hooper built five hundred units of the Daimler DC 27 Ambulance. A variant of the DC chassis became the DH chassis, on which fifty DH 27 limousines were built for Daimler Hire. The DE chassis was designed by Daimler chief engineer C. M. Simpson. It was based on a separate steel frame, which was the conventional practice at the time. This allowed customers to order a rolling chassis and have a body custom-built to their own specifications by a coachbuilder. The side rails of the frame were reinforced by x-braced crossmembers. The rear wheels were driven through a Hotchkiss drive system modified with control arms linking the rear axle casing to pivot points on the frame located directly above the true pivot of the leaf springs. These arms controlled the lateral movement of the rear axle without distorting the normal action of the springs, and allowed freedom in the vertical and longitudinal directions. Final drive was by hypoid gears, replacing the worm drive that had been used on final drives in Daimler cars since 1910. The rear track was 63 inches (1,600 mm) wide. Tyres were 8.00 x 17 all around. Based on the design used with the DB 18 chassis, the front wheels were suspended independently of each other by pairs of control arms, of which the lower arms were of the wide-based wishbone type and were supported by coil springs mounted to the frame. The upper arm was shorter than the lower and operated Luvax-Girling dampers. The track rods were pivoted to swing at the same radius as the suspension links. The front dampers were connected to each other by an anti-roll bar. The front track was 60 inches (1,524 mm) wide. The steering used Marles roller gear but, instead of the kingpin being inclined to create castor angle as was conventional, the hub centre was placed behind the kingpin centres. This was done to improve the controllability of the car. Braking was by Girling hydro-mechanical brakes, with hydraulic brakes at the front wheels and mechanical brakes at the rear wheels. These were assisted by a Clayton-Dewandre servo motor. The bodywork available through Daimler included electrically operated windows and central divider, interior lights that were switched on when a door or the boot lid was opened, and warning lights on the rear wings that were on while the boot was open. The DE 36 was the last Daimler Straight-Eight and the last British motor car with a straight-eight engine to be made available to the public It was offered in saloon, limousine and drophead coupe body styles. In addition to British royalty, Daimler sold DE 36s to the royalty of Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the Netherlands, Monaco, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand. 205 DE 36 chassis were built. Production ended in 1953.
Unlike the rest of the cars which had all been carefully restored (if they had needed it), this Land Rover Series 1 bore all the signs of a hard life!
Known officially as the Sprite, it was announced to the press in Monte Carlo by the British Motor Corporation on 20 May 1958, just before that year’s Monaco Grand Prix. It was intended to be a low-cost model that “a chap could keep in his bike shed”, yet be the successor to the sporting versions of the pre-war Austin Seven. The Sprite was designed by the Donald Healey Motor Company, with production being undertaken at the MG factory at Abingdon. It first went on sale at a price of £669, using a tuned version of the Austin A-Series engine and as many other components from existing cars as possible to keep costs down. It was produced for a little over 3 years before being replaced by a Mark 2 version, which was then joined by a badge-engineered MG version, the Midget, reviving a model name used by MG from the late 1920s through to the mid 1950s. Enthusiasts often refer to Sprites and the later Midgets collectively as “Spridgets.” The first Sprite quickly became affectionately known as the “frogeye” in the UK and the “bugeye” in the US, because its headlights were prominently mounted on top of the bonnet, inboard of the front wings. The car’s designers had intended that the headlights could be retracted, with the lenses facing skyward when not in use; a similar arrangement was used many years later on the Porsche 928. But cost cutting by BMC led to the flip-up mechanism being deleted, therefore the headlights were simply fixed in a permanently upright position, giving the car its most distinctive feature. The body was styled by Gerry Coker, with subsequent alterations by Les Ireland following Coker’s emigration to the US in 1957. The car’s distinctive frontal styling bore a strong resemblance to the defunct American 1951 Crosley Super Sport. The problem of providing a rigid structure to an open-topped sports car was resolved by Barry Bilbie, Healey’s chassis designer, who adapted the idea provided by the Jaguar D-type, with rear suspension forces routed through the bodyshell’s floor pan. The Sprite’s chassis design was the world’s first volume-production sports car to use unitary construction, where the sheet metal body panels (apart from the bonnet) take many of the structural stresses. The original metal gauge (thickness of steel) of the rear structure specified by Bilbie was reduced by the Austin Design Office during prototype build, however during testing at MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) distortion and deformation of the rear structure occurred and the original specification was reinstated. The two front chassis legs projecting forward from the passenger compartment mean the shell is not a full monocoque. The front sheet-metal assembly, including the bonnet (hood) and wings, was a one-piece unit, hinged from the back, that swung up to allow access to the engine compartment. The 43 bhp, 948 cc OHV engine (coded 9CC) was derived from the Austin A35 and Morris Minor 1000 models, also BMC products, but upgraded with twin 11⁄8 inch SU carburettors which gave it 43 hp at 5200 rpm and 52 lb/ft at 3300 rpm. When tested by “The Motor” magazine in 1958. It had a top speed of 82.9 mph and could accelerate from 0-60 mph in 20.5 seconds. Fuel consumption of 43 mpg was recorded. The rack and pinion steering was derived from the Morris Minor 1000 and the front suspension from the Austin A35. The front suspension was a coil spring and wishbone arrangement, with the arm of the Armstrong lever shock absorber serving as the top suspension link. The rear axle was both located and sprung by quarter-elliptic leaf springs, again with lever-arm shock absorbers and top links. There were no exterior door handles; the driver and passenger were required to reach inside to open the door. There was also no boot lid, owing to the need to retain as much structural integrity as possible, and access to the spare wheel and luggage compartment was achieved by tilting the seat-backs forward and reaching under the rear deck, a process likened to potholing by many owners, but which resulted in a large space available to store soft baggage. The BMC Competition Department entered Austin Healey Sprites in major international races and rallies, their first major success coming when John Sprinzel and Willy Cave won their class on the 1958 Alpine Rally. Private competitors also competed with much success in Sprites. Because of its affordability and practicality, the Austin Healey Sprite was developed into a formidable competition car, assuming many variants by John Sprinzel, Speedwell and WSM. The Sebring Sprite became the most iconic of the racing breed of Austin Healey Sprites. Many owners use their Austin Healey Sprites in competition today, fifty years after its introduction. 48,987 “frogeye” Sprites were made and the car remains popular to this day.
BMC, BRITISH LEYLAND and OTHER BRITISH COMPANIES
The consolidation of the British motor industry started well before the Second World War, with the Nuffied Group owning Morris, Riley and Wolseley and Standard buying a bankrupt Triumph up. It was in 1952 when Austin and Morris came together to form the BMC organisation that dominated the UK sales charts. However, rationalising the products and the factories where they were built proved to be mission impossible for a series of corporate leaders and the scene was set for the company’s ultimate failure, but not before further mergers would take place. Standard-Triumph and Leyland would come together in 1961 not long after Jaguar had rescued Daimler. By 1968 all these groups, and Rover had merged to form British Leyland who had a vast range of cars and far too many assembly plants. Donald Stokes tried valiantly to rationalise, but with little success and for a while sales of the cars held up strongly. With more disposable income and the number of families buying a second car on the increase, the market was strong not just for the cars of British Leyland but also for many of Britain’s specialist manufacturer and the products of a number of them were also included in this Chapter.
Needless to say, such an important car as the Mini is well represented here. Early cars from the first few months of production are particularly sought after these days, changing hands for what seems like improbable sums of money, and with values in excess of £50k for truly pristine original cars, then restoration is actually viable, so you do often see one of the 1959 cars at shows. They have a number of differences from the later cars where things were changes quite quickly as a result of further testing and owner experiences.
Along with the Morris Mini Traveller. the Austin Mini Countryman was a two-door estate car with double “barn”-style rear doors. Both were built on a slightly longer chassis of 84 inches (2.1 m) compared to 80.25 inches (2.038 m) for the saloon. The early Morris Mini Traveller and Austin Mini Countryman cars had an internal fuel tank located on the left hand side of the rear load area. This is identifiable by the fuel filler cap being on the left hand side of the car just below the rear window. In October 1961 the fuel tank was relocated to the underneath of the car and the filler cap was moved to low down on the right hand side of the car – the same configuration that was already in use on the Mini Van. From the start of production both models had a decorative, non-structural, ash wood trim on the rear body, in the style of a pre-war shooting-brake. This gave the car a similar appearance to the larger Morris Minor Traveller and gave rise to these cars simply being called a woodie. It is a popular misconception that the difference between the Traveller and the Countryman is the wood trim. An all steel version of both the Traveller and the Countryman without the wood trim was launched for export markets in April 1961 and for the home market in October 1962, but the woodie version remained more popular. In October 1967 the Mk2 version was launched with the same changes as the saloon. Approximately 108,000 Austin Mini Countrymans and 99,000 Morris Mini Travellers were built. Variations of this model were also built in South Africa, by Innocenti in Italy and by Industria de Montagem de Automoveis in Portugal. The models were replaced by the Clubman Estate in the autumn of 1969.
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. Early domestic market Clubmans were still delivered on cross-ply tyres despite the fact that by 1970 radials had become the norm for the car’s mainstream competitors. By 1973 new Minis were, by default, being shipped with radial tyres, though cross-plies could be specified by special order, giving British buyers a price saving of £8. The most significant update after this came in 1976, when the engine was upgraded to the 1100cc A Series unit, cloth seat trim was made standard and the wiper functions were moved to a column stalk. The Clubman models were deleted in 1980, effectively replaced by the Metro, and they are relatively rare these days. The Clubman Estate here is significant as it is museum founder, Richard Usher’s first car.
This elegant looking Mini was built in 1989 to mark the 30th anniversary of the model. Based on the Mini Mayfair, it had the standard 998 cc and was mechanically identical to the normal production cars. It could be distinguished by its chrome bumpers and grille, coachlines and 1959-1989 crests, whilst inside there was half leather/lightning cloth upholstery with red piping. Additional equipment included Minilite-style wheels, a security coded stereo and a leather-bound copy of Rob Golding’s book (“Mini”). Of the 3,000 produced for the UK, 2,000 were in Cherry Red and 1,000 were Black; 2,800 were manual and 200 had an automatic gearbox. 600 were made with an optional sun roof.
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.
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. 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. 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. 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 there were none of these present on this occasion. Three examples were here: a Morris 1300, an MG 1300 Mark 2 and an Austin 1300 GT
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 at 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. A number of replica models have been built in more recent years, with the Naylor of the mid 1980s being perhaps the best known.
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 homemarket 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.
Three years after the launch of the Herald, Triumph created a more sporting version by putting a 1600cc 6 cylinder engine under the bonnet, calling the result the Vitesse. Handling of the early cars, on their swing axle suspension was best described as “interesting”, but Triumph worked hard to revise (tame!) it so by the time that the 2 litre models were launched in 1965, the car was rather easier to drive briskly on bendy roads. A Mark 2 version was launched in 1968, with new front end styling and other trim differences, and the model lived on until 1971
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 Riley One-Point-Five and similar Wolseley 1500 were produced from 1957 to 1965. They utilised the Morris Minor floorpan, suspension and steering but were fitted with the larger 1,489 cc B-Series engine and MG Magnette gearbox. The two models were differentiated by nearly 20 bhp, the Riley having twin SU carburettors giving it the more power at 68 bhp. The Wolseley was released in April 1957 and the Riley was launched in November, directly after the 1957 London Motor Show. The Series II was released 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 was introduced in October 1961, featuring revisions to the grille and rear lights. In October 1962 the cars 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 1,489cc 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. It was the Wolseley 16/60 that was on show here.
Donald Healey had been producing a range of expensive sports cars from the 1940s, cars such as the Silverstone, the Abbott and the Farnham. For the 1952 London Motor Show, he produced a new design, which was called the Healey Hundred, based on Austin A90 mechanicals, which he intended to produce in-house at his small car company in Warwick. It was one of the stars of the 1952 Show, and it so impressed Leonard Lord, the Managing Director of Austin, who was looking for a replacement to the unsuccessful A90. that Lord struck a deal with Healey on the spot, to build it in quantity. Bodies made by Jensen Motors would be given Austin mechanical components at Austin’s Longbridge factory. The car was renamed the Austin-Healey 100, in reference to the fact that the car had a top speed of 100 mph. Production got under way in 1953, with Austin-Healey 100s being finished at Austin’s Longbridge plant alongside the A90 and based on fully trimmed and painted body/chassis units produced by Jensen in West Bromwich—in an arrangement the two companies previously had explored with the Austin A40 Sports. By early 1956, production was running at 200 cars a month, 150 of which were being sold in California. Between 1953 and 1956, 14,634 Austin-Healey 100s were produced, the vast majority of them, as was the case for most cars in this post war era, going for export. The car was replaced by an updated model in 1956, called the 100-6. It had a longer wheelbase, redesigned bodywork with an oval shaped grille, a fixed windscreen and two occasional seats added (which in 1958 became an option with the introduction of the two-seat BN6 produced in parallel with the 2+2 BN4), and the engine was replaced by one based on the six-cylinder BMC C-Series engine. In 1959, the engine capacity was increased from 2.6 to 2.9 litres and the car renamed the Austin-Healey 3000. Both 2-seat and 2+2 variants were offered. It continued in this form until production ceased in late 1967. The Big Healey, as the car became known after the 1958 launch of the much smaller Austin-Healey Sprite, is a popular classic now. You come across the 3000 models more frequently than the 100s, as they accounted for more than 60% of all Big Healey production, so it was nice to see an example of the latter here.
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. Seen here was a mark 2 Morris 1800S.
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! This is a late model Austin Maxi 2.
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. Seen here was an Allegro Estate.
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.
The Ital was given the design code ADO73 F/L (as internally it was considered a facelift of the Series 2 Marina (ADO73) launched in 1976) and was first launched on 1 July 1980. It took its name from Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Italdesign studio, who had been employed by BL to manage the reengineering of the Morris Marina, a car which had been produced by the company since 1971. BL’s advertising emphasised the car’s connection with the Italian design house, which had not had a direct role in the styling of the new car, which had been handled in-house by Harris Mann. Italdesign had been involved in a consultancy role to help design new tooling and assembly methods and work out how to integrate the altered parts of the new car into the existing Marina production chain. This is why, despite bearing the studio’s name, the Ital is absent from lists of the styling jobs handled by the firm. It was originally planned to brand the car as the Morris Marina Ital, but for most markets the Marina name was dropped on the orders of Michael Edwardes and only the Ital name was used. The Ital had revised exterior styling, but retained the Marina’s 1.3 and 1.7 litre petrol engines and rear-wheel drive chassis. The dashboard and interior of the Marina were also carried over largely unaltered, including the main fascia panel which faced ‘away’ from the driver. The Marina’s coupé variant was not produced in Ital form, but the four door saloon, five door estate and pick up and van versions were carried over from the Marina range. From October 1980, an automatic version of the Ital was available with the 2.0 litre O-Series power unit, as the range topping 2.0HLS. Only about 1,000 2.0HLS models were sold so due to this and their short production run, the 2.0HLS is now the rarest Ital model. In November 1981 all HL and HLS models were fitted with upgraded interior trim. Finally, in September 1982, a revised Ital range was introduced. The L and 2.0 litre models were dropped and the HL and HLS were replaced by the SL and SLX models. Front suspension was changed to telescopic front dampers across the range and parabolic rear springs were also fitted, together with additional soundproofing and improved trim. Thus cropped, the range now consisted of the 1.3 SL and SLX saloon, 1.3 SL estate, 1.7 SLX saloon, and the 1.7 SL saloon and estate. The saloon models were dropped in February 1984, with the estate models remaining in production until the summer of that year.
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.
The Triumph Toledo was introduced in August 1970 as a cheaper version of the Triumph 1300, which was at the same time replaced by the Triumph 1500. The Toledo, like the front-wheel drive 1500, came with a new split grille at the front, but instead of the 1500s twin round headlamps, it had single rectangular units set in a grey plastic grille. The rear end was like that of the 1300 except for the tail lights, which were of a simpler, flat-faced design. The biggest change for the Toledo was a move to rear-wheel drive and live rear axle (still with coil springs), in the interest of simplicity and low production costs. The interior was also cheaper, with wood confined to a dashboard consisting of a simple plank with holes drilled for the quite basic instrumentation but the interior was a cut above most other small cars at a time when black plastic was commonplace. Initially, the Toledo was only available as a two-door saloon with the 1296 cc engine Standard SC engine of 58 bhp. Drum brakes were fitted all round and there was no overdrive or automatic option available. In March 1971 a 4-door “special export” version was launched at the Geneva Motor Show, featuring a 1500 cc engine in single and twin carburettor “TC” form producing 61 and 64 bhp, respectively. From late August 1971 the four-door model was also available on the home market. The four-door Toledo featured the same side body pressings as the Triumph 1300. The interior furnishings were in most respects indistinguishable between the two versions, but buyers of the four-door car received two extra ashtrays in each of the extra doors. Radial ply tyres were specified in place of the cross-plies offered on the two-door car, compensating for the additional 50 kg (approx) of weight involved in installing the extra doors. The two-door model differed very little from the more popular four-door model in overall appearance, the two-door featured non-wraparound front and rear bumpers (although this would change in 1973 to full wraparound bumpers), whilst the four-door featured wraparound bumpers from the start. Two front bumper under-riders were fitted to the two-door model; however these were deleted on later cars from around late 1972 / early 1973. The specification gradually improved over the years. In October 1972 front disc brakes were fitted as standard on both models and a heated rear window became standard equipment by late 1973 / early 1974. In March 1975 the two-door version was dropped: the four-door model continued in production for another year, but in improved specification form. The existing Triumph Herald three-rail type gearbox was replaced with a Triumph Spitfire 1500 type single-rail gearbox and the car was fitted with a new clutch. The new look Toledo was also fitted with side body trims, new look black type front grille (replacing the silver type front grille) and a stainless trim was added to the side roof guttering. The specification again improved; standard equipment now included a rear-view dipping mirror, fasten seat belt warning light, reclining front seats (previously an option), twin reversing lights (also previously an option), cigar lighter, hazard warning lights and a driver’s exterior door mirror. A laminated windscreen, front head rests and brushed nylon seat facings were optional extras. The Toledo was finally replaced by the Dolomite 1300 and 1500 in March 1976. Total production was 119,182 cars, making it one of Triumph’s best-selling small saloon cars.
Representing Triumph’ small sports car, the Spitfire, was this 1500 model. 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.
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.
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.
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. The example seen here is a regular TR7 Convertible.
The Daimler DS420, also known as the Daimler Limousine, is a limousine made by The Daimler Company Limited between 1968 and 1992. The car was designed for official use and it was popular with chauffeur services, hoteliers and undertakers. It was used as an official state car in many countries. No other limousine model has been delivered to more reigning monarchs than the DS420, and the car is still used by the royal houses of the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, and Luxembourg. The Daimler Company was purchased by Jaguar Cars in 1960, which itself was bought by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) in 1966 and became part of the larger British Leyland conglomerate in 1968. BMC and Jaguar each had their own limousines before merging operations: the Vanden Plas Princess and the Daimler DR450, respectively. Rather than build two competing products, they decided to consolidate limousine production to a single model under the Daimler marque. Most of the engineering of the DS420 would be carried out by Jaguar, the new model to share parts such as the engine, gearbox, and suspension with the Jaguar 420G. Production of the DS420 was announced in June 1968, with the cars being built at the Vanden Plas works in Kingsbury. The short designation DS420 was in accordance with earlier Daimler designations where the first letter stood for Daimler, the second letter was part of an alphabetical sequence (i.e. the predecessor was “DR”, thus the successor was “DS”), and “420” referred to the 4.2-litre (260 cu in) displacement of the XK engine. The DS420 was built on the floorpan of Jaguar’s 420G flagship model with the Jaguar wheelbase extended 21 in (533 mm). The front styling was like the current Daimler Sovereign with the traditional Daimler fluted grille and the headlights of the Jaguar 420G. The new limousine also shared the 420G’s twin ten-US-gallon (38 l) fuel tanks set in each of the rear wings, each with its own electric SU pump selected by a dashboard-mounted switch. The driver sat on a fixed full-width bench seat in a relatively upright position with no more allowance for the driver’s size or shape than 2.75 inches (7 cm) of telescopic adjustment to the column of the low-set steering wheel. The passengers were seated behind a bulkhead with a sliding window that separated them from the driver’s compartment. Three of the six passengers sat facing forward on a bench seat over 6 feet (1.8 m) in width, while the other three sat on occasional folding seats. In comparison to a Rolls-Royce Phantom VI, the DS420’s wheelbase was 4 inches (10 cm) shorter, its body 12 inches (30 cm) shorter, it was approximately 350 kilograms (770 lb) lighter, and its engine had only about two-thirds the displacement of the Rolls-Royce V8. As such, the Daimler was less expensive than a Rolls-Royce, less than half the price of a standard long-wheelbase Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow. Originally, the cars were built at the Vanden Plas works in Kingsbury Lane, London, from body shells made by Park Sheet Metal Company, assembling panels supplied by Motor Panels of Coventry, and by Pressed Steel Fisher. Early limousines bore the “Daimler Vanden Plas” designation on tread plates and workshop manuals. The Kingsbury plant was closed in 1979 and production moved to Jaguar in Coventry, where it continued until 1992. The move to Coventry also brought the second and most extensive facelift in the car’s life, when larger bumpers and a revised rear number-plate frame were fitted. The previous face lift had occurred in 1972 modernizing the window arrangement for the rear passengers. This involved a change from the previous design’s division glass design (split between one vertically sliding portion and one fixed pane) to one single window that could slide up and down. It also addressed the corrosion issue of earlier cars (which was related to the division glass), slightly changed the dimensions of the grille, exterior badge placement, and reduced the amount of woodwork in the interior. The third and final face lift came in 1987, with the change to new, plastic-coated bumpers and minor changes to the interior. This last model, known as the “Mk IV”, was produced until 1992, when Jaguar/Daimler ceased production of their last coach-built limousine. The factory also supplied part-bodies to external coach-builders to allow them to construct hearses. Delivered vehicles varied from very basic models, with manually operated windows, to a model—reportedly produced in 1984 for the use of Jaguar boss John Egan—that was outfitted as a mobile boardroom, complete with a TV, computer, printer, and cocktail cabinet. The DS420 had an extensive list of additional options. Private owners tended to fully option their cars, while the service industry, including the funeral trade and limousine companies, tended to want few options. Until the early 1980s, after their purchase by Hertz, Daimler Hire was one of the largest clients. Daimler Hire cars were offered as limousine transportation, as well as for state and official use. Most Daimler Hire cars were well equipped with options, including electric division window, air conditioning, matching leather interiors, and the bonnet flag mount for ceremonial use. The DS420 had a fascia very similar to contemporary Mark X and 420G Jaguars retaining the old-fashioned steering column and pencil-thin steering wheel. Two cars were built in landaulette bodywork by the factory. Apparently neither have survived. By 1992, the DS420 was the only model in the Jaguar range still using the XK engine, along with other parts of the drive train and suspension; and, although the car still appealed to its traditional customers, production was no longer economical. The last DS420, registered L420 YAC, was built in Browns Lane towards the end of 1992 and is the last production car built to have an XK engine installed. This is in the care of the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust. No direct replacement was produced by Jaguar, although coach builders have adapted the Daimler version of the XJ6.
One of the most loved Jaguars of all time, both when it was new, and still now, is the Mark 2 saloon. Many will tell you that it is not the 3 Series BMW that “invented” the “compact sports saloon” car class, but this model, which dates back to 1959. A thorough revision of the small Jaguar saloon that had joined the range in 1955, the Mark 2 was notable in that it was the first car to use the Arabic numeral in its name, as opposed to the Roman numerals of the larger Jaguar models. At launch, the earlier model which had hitherto been known by its engine size was christened the Mark 1. Although clearly based on that car, the updated car looked significantly different, with an increase of 18% in cabin glass area greatly improving visibility. The car was re-engineered above the waistline. Slender front pillars allowed a wider windscreen and the rear window almost wrapped around to the enlarged side windows now with the familiar Jaguar D-shape above the back door and fully chromed frames for all the side windows. The radiator grille was amended and larger side, tail and fog lamps repositioned. Inside a new heating system was fitted and ducted to the rear compartment (although still notoriously ineffective). There was an improved instrument layout that became standard for all Jaguar cars until the XJ Series II of 1973. As well as the familiar 2.4 and 3.4 litre engines, what made this car particularly special was that it was also offered with the potent 220 bhp 3.8 litre unit that was fitted to the XK150 and which would later see service in the E Type. This gave the car a 0 – 60 time of around 8.5 seconds and a top speed of 125 mph. No wonder that the Mark 2 became popular as a get-away car for the criminal fraternity, and to keep up with and catch them, many police forces bought the car as well. With revised suspension and standard four wheel disc brakes, the car was effective on the track, taking plenty of class wins when new, and it is still popular in historic racing circles today. The quickest and most successful private entries came from John Coombs, a man with significant race experience who operated a large Jaguar dealership in Guildford. Coombs would undertake modifications to meet the demands of his customers, so not all the cars that he worked on are the same. Jaguar replaced the Mark 2 with simplified and slightly more cheaply finished 240 and 340 models, as an interim measure until an all-new model was ready to take over from them. The 3.8 litre disappeared from the range at this time, but in the 7 years it had been in production, it had been the best seller of the range, with around 30,000 cars produced, as compared to 28,666 of the 3.4 litre and 25,741 of the 2.4 litre model.
The Invader was the last car made by the Gilbern company. Introduced in July 1969, it was based on the Genie but with improved chassis and larger brakes. The front suspension now came from the MGC and the chassis was strengthened. It took the brand further up- market with fittings such as electric windows and walnut-veneered dashboard. The Invader was available as a complete car and from 1970 an estate version was also produced. Automatic or manual transmission with overdrive were available. It was updated to the Mk II version in 1971. In September 1972, a Mk III version was released, which had a Ford Cortina front suspension and was restyled front and rear. The engine was the higher tune unit from the Ford Capri 3000GT. The body was produced using new moulds and was both wider and lower than that of the earlier Invader, with the tack was extended by four inches. The wider axle led to wheel spats being added to the sides of the car. At the back the live rear axle was located by trailing links and a Panhard rod: adjustable shock absorbers were fitted all round. It was only available as a factory-built car and cost £2,693 in 1972, which was a lot of money. That proved to be the car’s ultimate downfall, and production ceased in 1973 after 603 had been made. The survival rate of Gilbern models is very high.
Needing little in the way of an introduction is the iconic Morgan and there was a lovely example of this long-running car here.
More of a luxury model than the SE5, the SE6 series Scimitar GT, launched in October 1975, was aimed more at the executive market. These models were two-door sports estates, again with the Ford V6 3.0 litre engine as used in the 5a with 135 bhp,: the wheelbase was increased by 4 inches and the track by 3 inches making the cars correspondingly longer and wider than their predecessors. The extra length was used to improve rear-seat legroom and access which enhanced the car’s credentials as a ‘genuine’ four-seater. The SE6 was replaced by the SE6A in late 1976. 543 SE6 models were produced. The SE6A displayed a number of changes, including Lockheed brakes and suspension revisions. An easy way to spot a 6A from a 6 is the change to orange from red reflectors on the rear extractor vents, and the 3 vertical grooves in the front bumper (in front of the wheelarches) were removed. 3877 SE6As were made – making it the most popular version of all the SE6 shape. Ford stopped making the “Essex” engine for the Capri by 1981, and production stopped completely in 1988 so one of the major differences with the SE6B was the engine. The German-built Ford “Cologne” 2.8 litre V6 was used instead (thus the chassis on the 6B differs from the 6/6A at the front) and provided similar power but rather less torque at low revs. The final drive ratio was lowered from 3.31:1 to 3.54:1 to compensate. All SE6Bs (and the SE8) were equipped with the quite troublesome Pierburg/Solex carburettored engines (many owners have changed to the Weber 38DGAS from the Essex engine) and although the battery was moved from the 6/6A position to allow for injection equipment to be fitted, none ever left the factory so fitted. Some late versions (around 1983 on) came with the galvanised chassis as standard but the exact numbers and chassis details are vague. Introduced at the 1980 Geneva Motor Show, only 437 SE6Bs were manufactured. Production ceased by 1986. But that was not the end of the story. After production at Reliant ceased, Middlebridge Scimitar Ltd. acquired the manufacturing rights to the Scimitar GTE and GTC in June 1987. This company, based in Beeston, Nottingham, produced a 2.9 litre version of the GTE with many modifications and modernisations (over 450) including electronic fuel injection and a five-speed Ford T9 gearbox.(with the Ford A4LD 4 speed auto as an option). The fifth Middlebridge Scimitar built was delivered to HRH The Princess Anne. Only 78 Scimitars (all but 3 cars in RHD) were ever produced by Middlebridge before the company went into receivership in 1990. One GTC was made, using a LHD body from Reliant which was converted by Middlebridge to RHD but the car was never completed and eventually the body and chassis were separated and sold off to new owners. The production rights were subsequently acquired by Graham Walker Ltd., which as of 2014 built Scimitars to order
The Rootes Group was another combination of what had started out as separate marques: Hillman, Humber, Sunbeam and Singer, a plan master-minded by the Rootes brothers, Billy and Reggie, who were a finance and a sales specialist respectively. Hillman was the volume brand, but as the cars were also positioned as slightly more expensive (and better finished) than Fords or Austin and Morris, they never sold as strongly. By the 1950s, the Singer had become little more than a badge-engineered and posher Hillman whilst the Sunbeam was the sporting part of the Group and Humber the luxurious one. Rootest sold out to Chrysler in the mid 60s, and then starved of investment the model range aged, leading to its eventual acquisition by Peugeot in 1978.
The Minx sold between 1945 and 1947 had the same 1185 cc side-valve engine, the same wheelbase and virtually the same shape as the prewar Minx. This postwar Minx became known as the Minx Mark I (or Minx Phase I).This was the first Minx with a protruding boot (trunk) that nodded to the Ponton, three-box design by then replacing the ‘flat back’ look, inherited from models that had debuted in the 1930s. Between 1947 and 1948, Hillman offered a modified version they called the Minx Mark II. A much more modern looking Minx, the Mark III, was sold from 1948. Three different body styles were offered initially, these being saloon, estate car and drophead coupé (convertible). Beneath the metal, however, and apart from updated front suspension, little had changed: the Mark III retained the 1185 cc side-valve engine of its predecessor. Claimed power output, at 35 bhp, was also unchanged. However, in 1949 the old engine was bored out and compression ratio increased, for the Minx Mark IV, to 1265 cc, and power output increased by 7 per cent to 37.5 bhp. A Mark IV saloon tested by The Motor magazine in 1949 had a top speed of 67 mph and could accelerate from 0–60 mph in 39.7 seconds. A fuel consumption of 32.1 mpg was recorded. The test car cost £505 including taxes, the price including radio (£36), over-riders (£5) and heater (£18). The Mark V, introduced in 1951, featured side chromium trim and a floor mounted handbrake. The Mark VI of 1953 featured a new grille, revised combustion chambers and a two-spoke steering wheel. A fourth body variation was added, badged as the Hillman Minx Californian, a two-door hard-top coupé with, slightly unusually, a b-pillar that wound down out of sight along with the rear side window to give an unbroken window line when all windows were fully opened: the rear window assembly was of a three-piece wrap-around form. The wheelbase and overall length of the car remained the same as those of the four-door saloon and convertible permutations. The Mark VII, also introduced in 1953, featured longer rear mudguards and a bigger boot. For the Mark VIII, in 1954, a new ohv 1390 cc engine was installed. This engine, two years later, went into the first of the new “Audax series” Minxes. Seen here was the stylish Hillman Minx Californian
The Alpine was derived from the Sunbeam-Talbot 90 Saloon, and has become colloquially known as the “Talbot” Alpine. It was a two-seater sports roadster initially developed for a one-off rally car by Bournemouth Sunbeam-Talbot dealer George Hartnell. It had its beginnings as a 1952 Sunbeam-Talbot drophead coupé. Announced in March 1953 it received its name following Sunbeam-Talbot saloons successes in the Alpine Rally during the early 1950s. On its first competitive outing, the July 1953 Coupe des Alpes, the new car won the Coupe des Dames (Sheila van Damm) and, without loss of any marks, four Coupes des Alpes driven by Stirling Moss, John Fitch, G Murray-Frame and Sheila van Damm. The car has a four-cylinder 2,267 cc (138.3 cu in) engine from the saloon, but with a raised compression ratio. However, since it was developed from the saloon platform, it suffered from rigidity compromises despite extra side members in the chassis. The gearbox ratios were changed, and from 1954 an overdrive unit became standard. The gear-change lever was column-mounted. A true open 2-seater, there were no external door handles or wind-up windows. The Alpine Mark I and Mark III (no Mark II was made) were hand-built – as was the 90 drophead coupé – at Thrupp & Maberly coachbuilders from 1953 to 1955, and remained in production for only two years. Of the 1582 automobiles produced, 961 were exported to the USA and Canada, 445 stayed in the UK, and 175 went to other world markets. In 2000 it was estimated that perhaps as few as 200 had survived. The Sunbeam Alpine Mk 1 Special was based on the 2267 cc Mk 1 Sunbeam Talbot motor, with alloy rocker cover and Siamese exhaust ports (cylinders 2 and 3). These motors developed a reputed 97.5 bhp at 4,500 rpm, mainly by raising the compression ratio to 8.0:1 and incorporating a special induction manifold with a twin choke Solex 40 P.I.I carburettor. The motors of the Sunbeam Alpine Team Cars (MKV 21–26) were configured the same as the Sunbeam Alpine Mk I Special, with further tuning by ERA to raise power to 106 bhp. Very few of these cars are ever seen on the big screen. However, a sapphire blue Alpine featured prominently in the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock film To Catch a Thief starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. More recently, the American PBS show History Detectives tried to verify that an Alpine roadster owned by a private individual was the actual car used in that movie. Although the Technicolor process could “hide” the car’s true colour, and knowing that the car was shipped back from Monaco to the US for use in front of a rear projection effect, the car shown on the programme was ultimately proven not to be the film car upon comparison of the vehicle identification numbers. A Mk I model also appears in the 1957 British horror film Night Of The Demon.
Replacing the Sunbeam-Talbot 90s were the first cars to bear the Rapier name and the first of the “Audax” range of light cars produced by the Rootes Group. Announced at the London Motor Show in October 1955, it preceded its Hillman Minx and Singer Gazelle counterparts which were not introduced until 1956. The Rapier was a four-seat, two door hardtop coupé, and although designed “in house” by the Rootes Group, it was inspired, via the Raymond Loewy design organisation, by the new-generation Studebaker coupés of 1953. The styling of the Series I Rapier was undertaken by the design firm of Raymond Loewy Associates and showed a great deal of influence of Raymond Loewy’s 1953 Studebaker Hawk (itself an acclaimed design). Available in a range of two-tone colour schemes typical of the period, it had a steering column gear change, leather trim and an overdrive as standard fittings. Vinyl trim was an option in the UK and standard in certain export territories. Rapier bodies were built by Pressed Steel, shipped to Thrupp & Maberly in north London where they were painted and trimmed, then shipped again to the Rootes assembly plant at Ryton-on-Dunsmore near Coventry where the engines, transmission and running gear were fitted. This complex situation persisted until late 1963 when the Series IV was introduced. The Rapier’s 1,390 cc engine was essentially the same as that fitted to the Hillman Minx but with a raised compression ratio (8:1 instead of 7:1), a Zenith DIF 36 carburettor and revised inlet and exhaust manifolds. In this form it developed 62.5 bhp at 5000 rpm. A column change, four speed transmission with overdrive on third and top was included in the price as a standard feature. From October 1956, directly as a result of experience gained in international rallying by Rootes’ competition department, the Rapier was fitted with the updated R67 engine on which the Stromberg carburettor was replaced by twin Zenith 36 WIP carburettors on a new inlet manifold. This engine produced 67.5 bhp at 5000 rpm, the effect of which was to reduce the Rapier’s 0-60 mph time by almost 1 second and increase its top speed by 3 mph. In competition, a Rapier driven by Peter Harper finished in fifth place in the 1958 Monte Carlo Rally. In total, 7,477 units were produced of this initial version of the Sunbeam Rapier. It was discontinued in 1958 on the introduction of the Series II, which was announced on 6 February 1958, available in hardtop and convertible forms. Rootes arranged for nine of the new cars to be in Monte Carlo for the press to try at the end of the 1958 Monte Carlo Rally. The traditional Sunbeam radiator grille was reintroduced, albeit shortened and widened and the spaces at its sides were filled with horizontal side grilles. The two-tone lower body colour scheme of the Series I was discontinued in favour of a broad full length flash in the same colour as the roof, but the most obvious change was the appearance on the rear wings of pronounced fins. The interior of the Series II was little changed from that of the Series I, except that a floor gear change replaced the column change, a modification, developed on the works Series I rally cars. To keep costs down, the leather upholstery, standard on the Series I, was discontinued in favour of vinyl and overdrive became an extra cost option. An improvement in the Series II though, was its more powerful engine. Referred to as the Rallymaster, it had an increased capacity of 1,494 cc. The capacity increase combined with a higher compression ratio of 8.5:1 and larger inlet and exhaust valves to raise the power output to 73 bhp at 5,200 rpm. Autocar quoted the top speed as 91 mph with a 0-60 mph time of 20.2 seconds. Also as a direct result of competition experience, the Series II was fitted with larger front brakes and a recirculating ball steering box instead of the worm and nut box of the Series I. The Series II was discontinued in favour of the Series III in 1959 after 15,151 units (hardtop and convertible) had been built. The Series III was introduced in September 1959. Rootes made subtle changes to the car’s body which individually were insignificant but when combined, considerably altered its appearance. For example, the number of horizontal bars in each of the side grilles was increased from three to four and the boot lid acquired an oblong number plate recess and surround in place of the square one of the earlier cars. The most striking change was the redesigned side flash, now narrower and lower down the side of the car with the Rapier script on its rear end. The most subtle change, however, was a reduction in thickness of the windscreen pillars and a lowering of the scuttle line to give a 20% increase in windscreen area. Inside the Series III the changes were more evident. Rootes stylists completely redesigned the seats and interior panels and specified that they be trimmed in single colour vinyl with contrasting piping. For the first time, deep pile carpets were fitted as standard in the foot-wells (previous versions had rubber mats). The steering wheel, control knobs and switches were in black plastic instead of beige. The dashboard, instead of being, as in the earlier cars, padded metal and plastic, was covered in burr walnut veneer surmounted by a padded crash roll fitted with black-faced British Jaeger instruments. Mechanically, the Series III benefited from the design of the Sunbeam Alpine sports car with which it shared its engine. Although the engine’s displacement was still 1,494 cc, it was fitted with a new eight-port aluminium cylinder head with an increased compression ratio and redesigned valves, and used a new, sportier camshaft. The twin Zenith carburettors from the Series II remained but were mounted on a new water heated inlet manifold. The result of these changes was a power increase of 5 bhp to 78 bhp at 5400 rpm. Gearbox changes included higher second, third and top gear ratios, and a reduced angle of gear lever movement to make for shorter lever travel and snappier changes. New front disc brakes significantly improved the Rapier’s braking capability and widened its front track to give greater stability and improved road-holding. The Series III, of which 15,368 units were built (hardtop and convertible) gave way to the Series IIIA in April 1961, which was was announced with the Series II Sunbeam Alpine 1,592 cc engine. Externally and internally the Series IIIA was identical to the Series III. The improvements were directed solely at improving the durability of the car. To this end, engine capacity was increased and a stiffer crankshaft fitted. To increase reliability, the crankshaft incorporated larger diameter connecting rod bearings which called for modifications to the connecting rods and gudgeon pins. Modified oil and water pumps completed the engine changes. As a result, power output increased from 78 bhp to 80.25 bhp at 5,100 rpm and torque increased from 84 lb·ft at 3500 rpm to 88.2 ft·lbf at 3,900 rpm.In addition, the Series IIIA included many detail changes such as an increased diameter front anti-roll bar which greatly improved roadholding, a redesigned clutch bell housing, a revised clutch assembly with nine pressure springs instead of six and a redesigned air cleaner assembly. Inside the car a fresh-air heater, hitherto available only at extra cost, became a standard fitting. All of these changes combined to make the Series IIIA subtly different from its predecessor and to give the Sunbeam Rapier a new lease of life in the showroom. Maximum speed for the Series IIIA was lower than the Series III at 90 mph. It also took longer than the Series III to get to 60 mph (19.3 seconds) but its engine was far more durable. In mid 1963, the Series IIIA convertible was discontinued but the hardtop soldiered on until October 1963 when it was replaced by the Series IV. When production of the Series IIIA ceased, 17,354 units had been built. Late in 1963, Rootes were set to drop the Rapier. It was no longer the mainstay of the competitions department because Rootes had directed its competitive effort towards the Hillman Imp and the Sunbeam Tiger. In fact a totally new Series IV Rapier had been designed, prototypes built and testing completed, and then the Rootes Group changed its mind! The new Series IV Rapier became the Mark I Humber Sceptre and the old Series IIIA Rapier was redesigned, hopefully to give it a new lease of life as a touring saloon rather than a sports coupé. The most obvious difference was the change to 13-inch road wheels in common with the rest of Rootes’ light car range. This meant that the stainless steel wheel trims of earlier Rapiers were replaced by Rootes corporate hub caps and rim finishers. At the front, the car was redesigned to make it look more up-to-date. A new bonnet made the front look lower and flatter and the front wings were modified to accept extensions housing alloy side grilles and sidelights with amber turn indicators. The traditional Sunbeam grille, already stylised for the Series II, was further modified to give a lower, more square shape with a pronounced convex profile. New headlamp rims were fitted, in fact Sunbeam Alpine items but chromed for the Rapier, and a new front bumper using the same shape and profile as the rest of the Light Car range. At the back, a new full width number plate plinth appeared with a new Light Car range bumper. To give a more open look from the side, the frames were removed from the side windows. Finally, small badges fitted at the bottom of each front wing and on the boot lid proclaimed each car to be a “Series IV”. Inside, a new dash, still in walnut veneer, but with the glove box raised into the dash itself allowed the inclusion of a proper storage shelf on each side of the car. Instrumentation and controls were much as before except that the heater switches and ashtray were now housed in a console in front of the gear lever. To aid driver comfort, an adjustable steering column was fitted along with new front seats which allowed more fore and aft adjustment and for the first time, included backrest adjustment. In common with the rest of the light car range, the Rapier’s front suspension was re-engineered to replace the half king pin on each side of the car with a sealed for life ball joint. All other suspension joints became either sealed for life or were rubber bushed thereby eliminating every grease point on the car. Gearing was adjusted overall to compensate for the smaller wheels and the front brake discs were reduced in size so that they would fit inside the wheels. A brake servo became standard and the spring and damper settings were adjusted to give a softer ride. A new diaphragm clutch and new clutch master cylinder brought lighter and more progressive clutch operation. The 1,592 cc engine from the Series IIIA was unchanged but the twin Zenith carburettors finally gave way to a single twin-choke Solex 32PAIA in the interests of serviceability. The effect of the new carburettor was to increase power to 84 bhp and torque to 91 lb·ft at 3,500 rpm. In October 1964, along with the rest of the light car range, the Series IV received the new Rootes all synchromesh gearbox, a change which coincided with the introduction of a new computerised chassis numbering system. When production of the Series IV ceased in 1965, 9700 units had been built. Pending completion of the new Fastback Rapier, Rootes decided to have one more go at updating the Sunbeam Rapier. In September 1965 they introduced the Series V version which looked exactly like the Series IV inside and out except for badges on wings and boot which now said “1725”, revealing a re-developed engine, although the actual capacity was 1,724 cc. Rootes redesigned the Rapier’s four cylinder engine to increase the capacity, with a new five main bearing crankshaft, making the unit stronger and smoother. This engine would be developed for many subsequent models. In the Series V Rapier the engine developed 91 hp at 5,500 rpm. To further update the car, they changed its polarity from positive to negative earth and fitted an alternator in place of the dynamo. They also devised a new twin pipe exhaust system so that the new engine could breathe more easily. The effect of these changes was to increase the Rapier’s maximum speed to 95 mph and reduce its time from rest to 60 mph to 14.1 seconds. However, for all its improvements, the Series V just did not sell. By the time it was discontinued in June 1967, only 3,759 units had been built, making it the rarest of all the “Series” Sunbeam Rapiers. Seen here was a Series III Fixed Head model.
A new Hawk was announced in May 1957, which had a completely new body with unitary construction which it would go on to share with the 1958 Humber Super Snipe. The new model was, like its predecessors, a large car. For the first time an estate variant was available from the factory – the Hawk estate had the largest unitary bodyshell of any British-built car up to that point, a status it retained until the Jaguar Mark X was launched in 1961. The 2267 cc engine was carried over, though with modifications to the distributor mounting, and other details; and an automatic transmission, the Borg Warner D.G. model, was now available. The body was styled in Rootes’ own studios and featured more glass than previous models, with wrap-around front windscreen, which gave it a considerable resemblance to a base model 1955 Chevrolet 4-door sedan. The missing rear quarter-lights were returned in Series IV. The estate version featured a horizontally split tailgate—the lower half opening downwards (to provide an extra length of luggage-platform if necessary) and the upper half upwards. The fuel-filler cap was concealed behind the offside rear reflector. There were several revisions during the car’s life, each resulting in a new Series number. When production ended in 1967, with no replacement, the market for large estate cars was effectively handed over to Volvo, who for many years had virtually no rivals (Citroen and Triumph may choose to disagree, of course!)
Known internally at Rootes as the “Apex” project, the Imp was to be the group’s first post-Second World War small car. Its main rival on the home market was the BMC Mini, which preceded the Imp by almost four years. Launched in May 1963, much was expected of this promising small car, which was all-new and which was built in a new factory in Linwood in Scotland, far away from the rest of the Rootes Group’s facilities in the Coventry area. Conceived as a direct competitor to the BMC’s Mini, it adopted a different approach to packaging, with a space-saving rear-engine and rear-wheel-drive layout to allow as much luggage and passenger capacity as possible in both the rear and the front of the car. It used a unique opening rear hatch to allow luggage to be put into the back seat rest. In addition to its 875 cc all-aluminium power unit, adapted by Rootes from a Coventry Climax FWMA fire pump engine it was the first mass-produced British car to have an engine in the back and the first car to use a diaphragm spring clutch. The baulk-ring synchromesh unit for the transaxle compensated for the speeds of gear and shaft before engagement, which the Mini had suffered from during its early production years. It incorporated many design features which were uncommon in cars until the late 1970s such as a folding rear bench seat, automatic choke and gauges for temperature, voltage and oil pressure. At launch it was considered advanced for the time, but reliability problems quickly harmed its reputation, which led to the Rootes Group being taken over by Chrysler Europe in 1967. Over the life of the car, Rootes (and later Chrysler UK) produced four body styles. The original saloon was introduced in May 1963 and ran through to the end of production in 1976. It has an opening rear window, making it effectively a hatchback. The opening rear window was intended to make it easier to load the small luggage area behind the fold-down rear seat. The fold-down nature of the rear seat was itself unusual in small car design at the time, being more often associated with larger upmarket estate cars. In 1965 a van badged as the “Commer Imp” was introduced. A coupe, the Imp Californian, was introduced in 1967 at the same time as the van’s pressings were used to create an estate car, badged “Hillman Husky”. Several estate car prototypes using the saloon body with extended rooflines were tried, but never offered to the public. Instead, buyers choosing the estate had to settle for a van-derived car with somewhat unusual styling. Both the van and estate ceased production in 1970. In an attempt to interest a wider public when sales figures fell well short of the intended 100,000 cars per annum, several badge-engineered derivatives, such as the luxury Singer Chamois (launched October 1964), and the Sunbeam Sport (launched October 1966), with a more powerful twin-carburettor engine, were offered with varying degrees of success. For marketing reasons the Singer variants were sold as Sunbeams in many export markets, even before May 1970 when the Singer marque was discontinued altogether by Chrysler UK. In some markets, such as France, the “Sunbeam” name was used on all British Rootes products, including the Imp and the Husky.The coupe bodyshell is similar to the standard body but features a more shallow-raked windscreen and rear window which, unlike that on the standard bodied cars, can not be opened. The attempt at a more sporty design did not translate into better acceleration or top speed figures and the aerodynamics of the standard saloon are actually slightly better. The new body style made its first appearance at the Paris Motor Show in October 1967, with the introduction of the sporting Sunbeam Stiletto. The coupe body had also appeared, with less powerful engines, in the Hillman Imp Californian announced in January 1967 and the more luxurious Singer Chamois coupe. Production continued to 1976, and around 440,00 units were sold, a far cry from the figures achieved by the Mini, which sold at about 10 times that rate. Seen here were was a Husky estate
The Chamois was the luxury version of the Hillman Imp, added to the range in the autumn of 1964, just over a year after the launch of the Hillman versions. It was updated during the 1960s inline with the Imp versions and was deleted in 1970 when the Singer name was phased out.
The Sceptre MK III, introduced in 1967, was a derivative of the Rootes Arrow design and was the best-appointed version of this model offered by Rootes. It continued Humber’s tradition of building luxury cars and featured wood-veneer fascia, complete instrumentation, adjustable steering column, vinyl roof and extra brightwork on the wheel arches and rear panel. The MK III had a more powerful version of the 1,725 cc engine with twin carburettors giving 87 bhp. The manual-gearbox model featured either the D-type or the later J-type Laycock De Normanville overdrive, with the J-type fitted from chassis numbers L3 onwards starting in July 1972. As with all models in the Arrow range, an automatic gearbox was an option. A closer ratio G-type gearbox was fitted to later Sceptres, using the J-type overdrive. An estate car variant of the Sceptre was introduced at the London Motor Show in October 1974. It featured a built-in roof rack and a carpeted loading floor protected by metal strips and illuminated by an additional interior light. Washer and wiper were provided for the rear window, a rare feature on UK-market estate cars of the time. The Sceptre was discontinued in September 1976, along with the Humber and Hillman marque names. From that time, all models in the Chrysler UK range were branded as Chryslers. Production of the MK III totaled 43,951 units
Sitting below the Hunter in the Hillman range of the 1970s was the Avenger, a conventionally engineered small saloon that competed with the Ford Escort and Vauxhall Viva. 1250 and 1500cc models from launch were upgraded to 1300 and 1600cc in the autumn of 1973 and these garnered the majority of sales, but they are not the cars that have survived in the greatest numbers. The ones that you most often see now are the Tiger models. Named to evoke memories of the Sunbeam Tiger, the Avenger Tiger concept began as a publicity exercise. Avenger Super (four-door) cars were modified by the Chrysler Competitions Centre under Des O’ Dell and the Tiger model was launched in March 1972. Modifications included the 1500 GT engine with an improved cylinder head with enlarged valves, twin Weber carburettors and a compression ratio of 9.4:1. The engine now developed 92.5 bhp at 6,100 rpm. The suspension was also uprated, whilst brakes, rear axle, and gearbox are directly from the GT. The cars were all painted in a distinctive yellow called Sundance and they featured a bonnet bulge, whilst a rear spoiler and side stripes were standard, set off with “Avenger Tiger” lettering on the rear quarters. They are also distinguished by the fact that have rectangular headlights. Road test figures demonstrated a 0–60 mph time of 8.9 seconds and a top speed of 108 mph, which beat the rival Ford Escort Mexico, but fuel consumption was heavy. All Avenger Tigers were assembled by the Chrysler Competitions Centre and production figures are vague but around 200 of the initial Mark 1 seems likely. In October 1972, Chrysler unveiled the more “productionised” Mark 2 Tiger. The Avenger GL bodyshell with four round headlights was used. Mechanically identical to the earlier cars, the bonnet bulge was lost although the bonnet turned matt black, and there were changes to wheels and seats. These cars went on sale at £1,350. Production was around 400. These were available in a bright red colour called Wardance as well as the earlier Sundance, both with black detailing.
FORD and VAUXHALL
The next Chapter concentrates on the cars of US-owned Ford GB and Vauxhall. It was during the 1960s and 1970s that both marques started to gain significant market share. Both applied the same techniques that had brought them success in their domestic markets, with a carefully considered array of different trims and more importantly, a culture which believed in short model cycles with constant updates and refreshes. During the 60s, the average model cycle of a Ford or Vauxhall was 4 years whereas BMC’s products were much slower to change, and in a market where increasing numbers of customers wanted “the latest product” that counted for a lot. Vauxhall had a huge problem with rust which was not shaken off until the late 70s, by which time they were selling the same cars as German brand Opel, and Ford had overtaken British Leyland to lead the market. Although many of their models were now being built outside the UK, they were still perceived as British, which was important for acceptance in the all-important company car market.
Ford replaced their first European car with the 7Y in 1938, which following a minor facelift became the Anglia and Prefect. Post war, the Prefect design changed little until replaced in 1952. The headlamps moved into the wings and trafficators were fitted (internally lit semaphores springing out from the door pillars to signal left and right turns), though due to space restrictions these were left out on the Australian-built Ute. Only four-door saloons were available on the home market, the two-door sector being left to the Anglia but some were made for export. The brakes remained mechanically operated using the Girling rod system with 10 in (250 mm) drums and the chassis still had transverse leaf springs front and rear. A Prefect tested by the British magazine The Motor in 1948 had a top speed of 61 mph (98 km/h) and could accelerate from 0-50 mph (80 km/h) in 22.8 seconds. A fuel consumption of 33.2 mpg was recorded. The test car which had the optional leather upholstery cost £412 including taxes. In standard form, they commented that it was the cheapest 4-door car on the British market. It was replaced by the new 100E design in 1953. 192,229 were made.
Well known now, thanks to a starring role in the Harry Potter films is the Anglia 105E, a model that Ford launched in October 1959. It was a basic car, even in the better selling De Luxe version, so it was not surprising that Ford introduced a more powerful and luxurious model from 1962, the 123E Anglia Super. It had a larger 1198 cc engine and other refinements. Towards the end of the run Ford experimented with two colours of metallic paint on the Anglia, “Blue Mink” and “Venetian Gold”. 250 were made in the Blue and 500 were made in the Gold. Anglia saloons were provided with various levels of trim. The base model was the Standard, and this sported no chromework, painted rear light surrounds, steel slatted grille and limited interior trim. The deluxe had a chrome side strip, chrome rear lights, glovebox lid, sun visor and full width chrome radiator grille while the top of the range, also seen here, was the Super, which had twin chrome side strips, contrasting coloured roof and side flash, plusher interior trim, together with the 1198 cc engine and a gearbox with synchromesh on first gear.
Using the project name of “Archbishop”, management at Ford of Britain in Dagenham created a family-sized car which they could sell in large numbers. The chief designer was Roy Brown Jr., the designer of the Edsel, who had been banished to Dagenham following the failure of that car. The car was designed to be economical, cheap to run and easy and inexpensive to produce in Britain. The front-wheel drive configuration used by Ford of Germany for the new Ford Taunus P4, a similarly sized model, was rejected in favour of traditional rear-wheel drive layout. Aimed at buyers of the Morris Oxford Farina and Vauxhall Victor, the car was launched as the Consul Cortina was launched on 20 September 1962. with a 1,198 cc three-bearing engine, which was an enlarged version of the 997 cc engine then fitted in the Ford Anglia. A few months later, in January 1963, the Cortina Super was announced with a five-bearing 1,498 cc engine. Versions of the larger engine found their way into subsequent variations, including the Cortina GT which appeared in spring 1963 with lowered suspension and engine tuned to give a claimed output of 78 bhp ahead of the 60 bhp claimed for the Cortina 1500 Super. The engines used across the Mark I range were of identical design, differing only in capacity and setup. The formula used was a four-cylinder pushrod design that came to be known as the “pre-crossflow” version as both inlet and exhaust ports were located on the same side of the head. The most powerful version of this engine (used in the GT Cortina) was 1,498 cc and produced 78 bhp. This engine contained a different camshaft profile, a different cast of head featuring larger ports, tubular exhaust headers and a Weber double barrel carburettor. Advertising of the revised version, which appeared at the London Motor Show in October 1964, and which dropped the Consul name from its official designation, made much of the newly introduced “Aeroflow” through-flow ventilation, evidenced by the extractor vents on the rear pillars. A subsequent test on a warm day involving the four different Cortina models manufactured between 1964 and 1979 determined that the air delivery from the simple eyeball outlets on the 1964 Mark I Cortina was actually greater than that on the Mark II, the Mark III or the Mark IV. The dashboard, instruments and controls were revised, for the second time, having already been reworked in October 1963 when round instruments replaced the strip speedometer with which the car had been launched: twelve years later, however, the painted steel dashboard, its “knobs scattered all over the place and its heater controls stuck underneath as a very obvious afterthought” on the 1964 Mark I Cortina was felt to have aged much less well than the car’s ventilation system. It was also in 1964 that front disc brakes became standard across the range. The Mark 1 Cortina was available as a two-door and four-door saloon, as well as in five-door estate (from March 1963) forms. Standard, Deluxe, Super, and GT trims were offered but not across all body styles. Early Standard models featured a simple body coloured front grille, earning it the nickname ‘Ironbar’. Since this version cost almost the same as the better equipped Deluxe it sold poorly and is very rare today. Options included heater and bench seat with column gearchange. Super versions of the estates offered the option of simulated wood side and tailgate trim. In an early example of product placement many examples of the brand new Cortina featured as “Glamcabs” in the comedy film Carry On Cabby.
The Mark I Ford Escort was introduced in the UK at the end of 1967, making its show debut at Brussels Motor Show in January 1968, replacing the successful, long-running Anglia. The car was presented in continental Europe as a product of Ford’s European operation. Escort production commenced at the Halewood plant in England during the closing months of 1967, and for left hand drive markets during September 1968 at the Ford plant in Genk. Initially the continental Escorts differed slightly from the UK built ones under the skin. The front suspension and steering gear were differently configured and the brakes were fitted with dual hydraulic circuits; also the wheels fitted on the Genk-built Escorts had wider rims. At the beginning of 1970, continental European production transferred to a new plant on the edge of Saarlouis, West Germany. The Escort was a commercial success in several parts of western Europe, but nowhere more than in the UK, where the national best seller of the 1960s, BMC’s Austin/Morris 1100 was beginning to show its age while Ford’s own Cortina had grown, both in dimensions and in price, beyond the market niche at which it had originally been pitched. In June 1974, six years into the car’s UK introduction, Ford announced the completion of the two millionth Ford Escort, a milestone hitherto unmatched by any Ford model outside the US. It was also stated that 60% of the two million Escorts had been built in Britain. In West Germany cars were built at a slower rate of around 150,000 cars per year, slumping to 78,604 in 1974 which was the last year for the Escort Mark I. Many of the German built Escorts were exported, notably to Benelux and Italy; from the West German domestic market perspective the car was cramped and uncomfortable when compared with the well-established and comparably priced Opel Kadett, and it was technically primitive when set against the successful imported Fiat 128 and Renault 12. Subsequent generations of the Escort made up some of the ground foregone by the original model, but in Europe’s largest auto-market the Escort sales volumes always came in well behind those of the General Motors Kadett and its Astra successor. The Escort had conventional rear-wheel drive and a four-speed manual gearbox, or three-speed automatic transmission. The suspension consisted of MacPherson strut front suspension and a simple live axle mounted on leaf springs. The Escort was the first small Ford to use rack-and-pinion steering. The Mark I featured contemporary styling cues in tune with its time: a subtle Detroit-inspired “Coke bottle” waistline and the “dogbone” shaped front grille – arguably the car’s main stylistic feature. Similar Coke bottle styling featured in the larger Cortina Mark III (also built in West Germany as the Taunus) launched in 1970. Initially, the Escort was sold as a two-door saloon (with circular front headlights and rubber flooring on the “De Luxe” model). The “Super” model featured rectangular headlights, carpets, a cigar lighter and a water temperature gauge. A two-door estate was introduced at the end of March 1968 which, with the back seat folded down, provided a 40% increase in maximum load space over the old Anglia 105E estate, according to the manufacturer. The estate featured the same engine options as the saloon, but it also included a larger, 7 1⁄2-inch-diameter clutch, stiffer rear springs and in most configurations slightly larger brake drums or discs than the saloon. A panel van appeared in April 1968 and the 4-door saloon (a bodystyle the Anglia was never available in for UK market) in 1969. Underneath the bonnet was the Kent Crossflow engine in 1.1 and 1.3 litre versions. A 940 cc engine was also available in some export markets such as Italy and France. This tiny engine remained popular in Italy, where it was carried over for the Escort Mark II, but in France it was discontinued during 1972. There was a 1300GT performance version, with a tuned 1.3 L Crossflow (OHV) engine with a Weber carburettor and uprated suspension. This version featured additional instrumentation with a tachometer, battery charge indicator, and oil pressure gauge. The same tuned 1.3 L engine was also used in a variation sold as the Escort Sport, that used the flared front wings from the AVO range of cars, but featured trim from the more basic models. Later, an “executive” version of the Escort was produced known as the “1300E”. This featured the same 13″ road wheels and flared wings of the Sport, but was trimmed in an upmarket, for that time, fashion with wood trim on the dashboard and door cappings. A higher performance version for rallies and racing was available, the Escort Twin Cam, built for Group 2 international rallying. It had an engine with a Lotus-made eight-valve twin camshaft head fitted to the 1.5 L non-crossflow block, which had a bigger bore than usual to give a capacity of 1,557 cc. This engine had originally been developed for the Lotus Elan. Production of the Twin Cam, which was originally produced at Halewood, was phased out as the Cosworth-engined RS1600 (RS denoting Rallye Sport) production began. The most famous edition of the Twin Cam was raced on behalf of Ford by Alan Mann Racing in the British Saloon Car Championship in 1968 and 1969, sporting a full Formula 2 Ford FVC 16-valve engine producing over 200 hp. The Escort, driven by Australian driver Frank Gardner went on to comfortably win the 1968 championship. The Mark I Escorts became successful as a rally car, and they eventually went on to become one of the most successful rally cars of all time. The Ford works team was practically unbeatable in the late 1960s / early 1970s, and arguably the Escort’s greatest victory was in the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally, co-driven by Finnish legend Hannu Mikkola and Swedish co-driver Gunnar Palm. This gave rise to the Escort Mexico (1598cc “crossflow”-engined) special edition road versions in honour of the rally car. Introduced in November 1970, 10,352 Mexico Mark I’s were built. In addition to the Mexico, the RS1600 was developed with 1,601 cc Cosworth BDA which used a Crossflow block with a 16-valve Cosworth cylinder head, named for “Belt Drive A Series”. Both the Mexico and RS1600 were built at Ford’s Advanced Vehicle Operations (AVO) facility located at the Aveley Plant in South Essex. As well as higher performance engines and sports suspension, these models featured strengthened bodyshells utilising seam welding in places of spot welding, making them more suitable for competition. After updating the factory team cars with a larger 1701 cc Cosworth BDB engine in 1972 and then with fuel injected BDC, Ford also produced an RS2000 model as an alternative to the somewhat temperamental RS1600, featuring a 2.0 litre Pinto (OHC) engine. This also clocked up some rally and racing victories; and pre-empted the hot hatch market as a desirable but affordable performance road car. Like the Mexico and RS1600, this car was produced at the Aveley plant. Seen here were the 1300E as well as the RS2000.
Vauxhall followed up the FA Series with the FB Victor in the autumn of 1961. Among many changes was a substantial improvement regarding rust protection. Quite in contrast to its “junky” predecessor, it was considered a solidly built, well-proportioned vehicle. It was widely exported, although sales in the US ended after 1961 when Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick came up with home-grown compact models of their own, with the all-new GM “Y” platform Consequently, the FB only achieved sales of 328,000 vehicles by the time it was replaced in 1964. The body styling owed nothing to any US GM influence. Mechanically, the main change was the option of a 4-speed all-synchromesh transmission with floor change but the previously used 3-speed all-synchro column change unit was still fitted as standard. The engine was also revised with higher compression ratio and revised manifolding increasing the power output to 49.5 bhp. This gave the model a top speed of 76.2 mph and could accelerate from 0–60 mph in 22.6 seconds, and slightly better fuel consumption at 32.2 mpg. In September 1963 the engine was enlarged from 1508 to 1594 cc. The increased capacity coincided with a further increase in the compression ratio of the standard engine from 8.1:1 to 8.5:1, reflecting the continuing increase in the average octane level of “premium grade” fuel offered in the UK, now to 97 (RON). 1963 was also the year when front disc brakes with larger 14 in wheels became an option. Models with the larger engine had a revised frontal treatment with a block style grille element and revised parking lights at either lower extreme of the grille. A Vynide-covered bench front seat was standard on the base model and Super Victor but individual seats were standard on the De Luxe and optional on the lower-priced cars. Other options included a heater, fog lamps, radio, screen washers, reversing light and seat belts. Estate and “sporty” VX 4/90 models were also offered, and it is this latter which is seen here.
Launched in 1963, as a competitor to the Morris 1100 and Ford Anglia, the Viva was utterly conventional in design and was Vauxhall’s first serious step into the compact car market after the Second World War, and the marque’s first new small car since 1936. Offered only as a two door saloon, the new car was powered by a 1,057 cc overhead valve, four cylinder, front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels, it was comparable in size and mechanical specifications with the new Opel Kadett released a year earlier in continental Europe. The Viva and Kadett were sold alongside each other in many markets. The HA set new standards in its day for lightweight, easy to operate controls, a slick short gearchange, lightweight steering and clutch pedal, good all-round visibility and relatively nippy performance. It was one of the first cars to be actively marketed towards women, perhaps as a result of these perceived benefits for them. The Viva was initially launched in Standard and Deluxe versions, identifiable by their simple horizontal slatted metal grilles. Minor changes in September 1964 included improved seats and more highly geared steering. A more luxurious SL variant appeared in June 1965. Engines were available in two states of tune: entry level models came with a power output of 44 bhp, while the Viva 90, introduced in October 1965, had a higher 9:1 compression ratio and produced 54 bhp. 90 models came with front disc brakes, while SLs featured contrasting bodyside flashes, a criss-cross chrome plated front grille, full wheel covers, three-element round tail lights and better interior trim. During its first ten months, over 100,000 HA Vivas were made, and by 1966 the HA had chalked up over 306,000 sales, proving that Vauxhall had made a successful return to the small-car market, which they had abandoned following the Second World War. In common with other Vauxhall models of the period, the HA, suffered severely from corrosion problems. One of the main problem areas being the cappings along the top side edges of the luggage compartment badly corroding and allowing water to enter, consequently leading to severe structural corrosion in the luggage-compartment floor area. As with a lot of other British cars of that period, many Vivas failed to survive long term, so it was good to see one.
Rather rarer is the Victor 101 FC, with an Estate model on show. These are the least often seen of any Victor type, partly because the car was only produced for three years, from 1964 to 1967. Looking quite different to the FB, the FC was the first Vauxhall to use curved side-window glass, allowing greater internal width: the Estate derivative was noted as being especially capacious for its class. Nevertheless, the public at the time regarded it as a qualitative downgrade after the pleasantly styled, conservative FB. As a countermeasure the FC Victor was marketed as the Victor 101, the name arising from the claim that there were ‘101 improvements’ over the FB. Bench or separate front seating was offered, with three-speed column-change gearbox or the optional four-speed floor change. A ‘Powerglide’ two-speed automatic transmission was also available. Another US feature was that the optional radio was incorporated into the bright-metal dashboard trim. An innovative styling cue, which was adopted four years later by the Audi 100, was the incorporation of the side and indicator lamps in the front bumper, as had been common practice in the US for many years. The sculpted bumpers were, for the first time in the UK, contiguous with the body styling. The overall look of the car was unique in GM, with its slab sides outlined with brightwork seam covers incorporating the door handles. This, with the full width grille incorporating the headlights, was more reminiscent of the Lincoln Continental. The FC (101) was the last Victor to have an engine with push rods and rockers operating the overhead valves. As with the rest of the running gear, the sporting VX 4/90 was developed from the FB series and offered an alloy head, higher compression ratio, twin-Zenith 34IV carburettors, stiffer suspension and additional instruments. Vauxhall took the VX4/90 seriously enough to offer an optional limited-slip differential, but few cars were ordered with it: the VX4/90 was, by this time, largely overshadowed by the less expensive Ford Cortina GT, which also had a higher profile in race and rally competitions. All Victors sported a different grille treatment for 1967, a final-year facelift that was standard Vauxhall practice at the time. This had a more finished and upmarket look with sturdier bars rather than the cheaper looking criss-cross element on earlier cars. The waistline chrome strip was also thinner.Victor FC models had racked up 238,000 sales by late 1967 when the ‘Coke bottle’-shaped FD replaced it.
After a gap of three years with no new models emerging from Vauxhall there was much excitement on the release of a modern looking small hatchback, the Chevette, first seen in March 1975. Although some were disappointed that this was not an all-new design, but an adaptation of the Opel Kadett which had been on sale for 18 months, the reality was that the Vauxhall version of the global T Car program, which saw versions of the car produced with Isuzu, Holden and Chevrolet badges as well, was a worthy entrant in the class and it sold strongly, especially as the range expanded to include two and four door saloons, an estate and even a van. Like most cars of the era, though, only the ultra sporting HS2300 models are reasonably common among classic car circles these days, so it was nice to see one of the regular L Hatch models here.
The Fiesta Fly was a conversion of Ford’s first ever front wheel drive supermini which was first seen in 1981. Designed by David McMullan, it had a permanently welded-shut boot, with a plastic sill fitted to prevent the car from needing to be repainted. The production history of the Fiesta Fly is not clear; but the common claim that only 20 or so cars were built is probably untrue. It is believed that this figure refers to the number built by Crayford, rather than the number built in total. What is known is that Dorset-based firm F. English Coachwork Division bought the rights to produce the Fiesta Fly sometime in 1982, and Autocar reported in September 1983 that about 100 Fiesta Fly conversions had been produced. It is believed that F English built around 200 Fiesta Flys, with 83 known to survive. Crayford also reportedly built two Fiesta Flys based on the Mk2 Fiesta. It was possible to purchase any production Fiesta model in Fiesta Fly form, not just the 1300 and XR2 models as is often reported.
From inception, Ford in the UK and Ford in Germany produced their own ranges of cars, and in markets where both were sold, they competed against each other. It was only with the Consul and Granada that were launched in the spring of 1972 that they finally arrived at a single model range that would be offered to customers. But even then, there were differences between the UK-market Dagenham built and European market Cologne built cars, with the British Pinto 2 litre and Essex 3 litre V6 engines under the bonnet of UK market cars and the 1.7 and 2 litre V4 engines that had been used in the high end Taunus models continuing in the continental cars. A two door model that was added to the range in March 1973 was never offered to British customers, but was developed as there was still a significant market for large saloons with just two doors in Germany (the Mark 2 Granada was offered with 2 doors as well), and there was a Coupe. This one did eventually come to the UK, in 1974, when it was launched as the top of the range 3.0 Ghia model, with just about every conceivable item of equipment included as standard, and the first Ford to bear the Ghia badging that would be systematically applied to every range in the next couple of years. A Saloon version with Ghia badging followed later in the year, and this sold more strongly, so the Ghia Coupe was never a big seller, and is quite rare now. This is a top of the range Granada 3.0 GXL.
The Capri Mk III was referred to internally as “Project Carla”, and although little more than a substantial update of the Capri II, it was often referred to as the Mk III. The first cars were available in March 1978, but failed to halt a terminal decline in sales. The concept of a heavily facelifted Capri II was shown at the 1976 Geneva show: a Capri II with a front very similar to the Escort RS2000 (with four headlamps and black slatted grille), and with a rear spoiler, essentially previewed the model some time before launch. The new styling cues, most notably the black “Aeroflow” grille (first used on the Mk I Fiesta) and the “sawtooth” rear lamp lenses echoed the new design language being introduced at that time by Ford of Europe’s chief stylist Uwe Bahnsen across the entire range. Similar styling elements were subsequently introduced in the 1979 Cortina 80, 1980 Escort Mk III and the 1981 Granada Mk IIb. In addition, the Mk III featured improved aerodynamics, leading to improved performance and economy over the Mk II and the trademark quad headlamps were introduced. At launch the existing engine and transmission combinations of the Capri II were carried over, with the 3.0 S model regarded as the most desirable model although the softer, more luxurious Ghia derivative with automatic, rather than manual transmission, was the bigger seller of the two V6-engined models. Ford began to focus their attention on the UK Capri market as sales declined, realising the car had something of a cult following there. Unlike sales of the contemporary 4-door Cortina, Capri sales in Britain were to private buyers who would demand less discounts than fleet buyers allowing higher margins with the coupé. Ford tried to maintain interest in 1977 with Ford Rallye Sport, Series X, “X Pack” options from the performance oriented RS parts range. Although expensive and slow selling these proved that the press would enthusiastically cover more developed Capris with higher performance. In early 1982, the Essex 3.0 V6 which had been the range topper since September 1969 was dropped, while a new sporty version debuted at the Geneva Motor Show, called the 2.8 Injection. The new model was the first regular model since the RS2600 to use fuel injection. Power rose to a claimed 160 PS, even though tests showed the real figure was closer to 150 PS, giving a top speed of 210 km/h (130 mph), but the car still had a standard four-speed gearbox. The Capri 2.8 Injection breathed new life into the range and kept the car in production 2–3 years longer than Ford had planned. The four-speed gearbox was replaced with a five-speed unit early on – at the same time Ford swapped the dated looking chequered seats for more luxurious looking velour trim. A more substantial upgrade was introduced in 1984 with the Capri Injection Special. This development used half leather seating and included a limited slip differential. Externally the car could be easily distinguished by seven spoke RS wheels (without the customary “RS” logo since this was not an RS vehicle) and colour-coded grille and headlamp surrounds. At the same time the 2.0 Capri was rationalised to one model, the 2.0 S, which simultaneously adopted a mildly modified suspension from the Capri Injection. The 1.6 model was also reduced to a single model, the 1.6 LS. The car was finally deleted at the end of 1986, 1.9 million cars having been made over 18 years, and having been sold only in the UK for the final months of production.
It is almost 40 years since the launch of the Mk 2 Cavalier, a model which marked the introduction of front wheel drive and the availability of a hatchback to a market segment that was still very conservative in its taste. That the new car was head and shoulders above all its rivals was very evident very quickly, with lusty 1.3 and 1.6 litre engines making it good to drive just adding to the appeal. The range expanded with the more luxurious CD version arriving in late 1982, at which point a five speed gearbox became an option, and a 1.8 litre injected engine added some spice to the SRi version which every 1.6L driver aspired to. Diesels came in 1983 and there was also a practical Estate model in the UK (but not the rest of Europe) which used pressings developed for the Australian Holden Camira version. An open topped model was offered later. A mild facelift in 1986 was enough to keep the car fresh until its replacement by the more rounded and aerodynamic looking Mark 3 in 1988, but somehow it never quite hit the same spot, and GM have struggled ever since to find the same appeal as this car did.
By 1978, Ford Europe was working on a new mid-range model to replace the Cortina/Taunus during the early 1980s, working under the codename “Project Toni”. Ford had confirmed during 1981, a year before the Sierra’s official launch, that its new mid-range car would carry the Sierra name, signalling the end of the Taunus and Cortina nameplates after 43 years and nine generations respectively 20 years and five generations. In September that year, it had unveiled the Probe III concept car at the Frankfurt Motor Show, hinting at what the new car would look like when the final product was unveiled 12 months later. At first, many found the design blob-like and difficult to accept after being used to the sharp-edged, straight-line three-box styling of the Taunus/Cortina, and it was nicknamed “the jellymould”. The shape served a purpose though, producing a drag coefficient of 0.34, a significant improvement over the boxy outgoing Taunus’s/Cortina’s 0.45. This aerodynamic design was key for reducing fuel consumption according to Ford, and was even used as compensation for the V6-engines. The interior was more conventional, although Ford took a page from BMW by angling the center of the dashboard towards the driver. Sales were slow in the first months – the situation being exacerbated by heavy discounting by Ford dealers of surplus Cortina stock from the autumn of 1982 onwards, with more than 11,000 new Cortinas being registered in 1983. However in 1983, its first full year of sales, the Sierra managed nearly 160,000 sales in Britain, outsold only by the smaller Escort. Ford had also launched the more conservatively designed Escort-based Orion saloon that year, which found favour with buyers who would otherwise have been the Sierra’s target customers. In West Germany, it was proving very popular from an early stage; within months of its launch, it was reportedly achieving treble the number of sales that the Taunus had been attaining – though in West Germany, the Taunus had not been quite as popular or iconic as its Cortina equivalent had been in Britain. It was later in the Sierra’s life that the styling began to pay off; ten years after its introduction, the Sierra’s styling was not nearly as outdated as its contemporaries, even though all major competitors were newer designs, though the Sierra had been tweaked on several occasions and many new engines had been added. The most notable changes came at the autumn of 1987, with a major facelift and the addition of a 4-door saloon (UK: Sapphire). As other manufacturers adopted similar aerodynamic styling, the Sierra looked more normal. At its peak, it was Britain’s second best selling car in 1983, 1988 and 1989, and was still Britain’s fifth best selling car in 1992. Its best year was 1989, when more than 175,000 were sold. However, it was outsold by the Vauxhall Cavalier in MK2 form during 1984 and 1985, and then from 1990 until its demise by the MK3 Cavalier. Nevertheless, it comfortably outsold its second key rival, the Austin Montego, which was launched in April 1984. Between 1985 and 1988, the Sierra faced fresh competition in Europe from the likes of the Renault 21 and Peugeot 405, while Japanese carmaker Nissan was producing its Bluebird model in Britain from 1986. Early versions suffered from crosswind stability problems, which were addressed in 1985 with the addition of “strakes” (small spoilers) on the rear edge of the rubber seals of the rear-most side windows. These shortcomings saw a lot of press attention, and contributed to early slow sales, when it was outsold by its key rival the Vauxhall Cavalier in 1984 and 1985. Other rumours that the car hid major crash damage (in part true, as the new bumper design sprung back after minor impact and couldn’t be “read” to interpret major damage) also harmed the car’s reputation. This reached near-hysterical heights in its early months on sale, with UK press making a report that Ford would reintroduce the previous Cortina model out of desperation. These reports were swiftly denied by Ford. However, sales began to rise during 1983, and it finished as Britain’s second best selling car behind the Escort. After being outsold by the Cavalier for the next two years, it regained its lead of the market sector in Britain during 1986, and a refreshed range (with more engine options as well as the introduction of a saloon) enjoyed a surge in sales from 1987, though the MK3 Cavalier finally outsold it in 1990. Even in 1992, the Sierra was still Britain’s fifth best selling car. It was nicknamed “the salesman’s spaceship” on account of its status as a popular fleet car in Britain. In contrast to the Sierra’s groundbreaking exterior design, the drivetrain was quite outdated as it was adopted from the outgoing Taunus/Cortina. Engines and gearbox wear upgraded, but the Sierra maintained the rear-wheel drive configuration. Most competitors were already switched to front-wheel drive around that time. Ford claimed however this set-up was required to offer V6-engines, which had to contribute to the Sierra’s driving comfort. New for the Sierra was a diesel engine, although the engine itself wasn’t new at all. Similar to the Ford Granada, Ford used an “Indenor”-engine which was designed by Peugeot in the 1950s. While the Granada was offered with 1.9, 2.1 and 2.5 diesels, the Sierra unit had a displacement of 2,3 litre. This engine was replaced only in 1989 by an all-new 1.8 liter turbodiesel, developed by Ford itself. The Sierra had a four-speed manual gearbox as standard, with a five-speed as option but standard on the 2.3D and 2.3 V6. At a time when the rival Vauxhall Cavalier was offered with a five-speed, this led to some critics commenting that the Sierra was somewhat underpowered. In the mid-1980s, many smaller cars (some even two segments smaller) featured five-speed gearboxes as standard. One of the most striking design features of the Sierra was its closed front panel instead of a grille, which was later also to be found on the 1985 Ford Taurus. The air intake was situated below the front bumper, making the Sierra a so-called ‘bottom breather’. The headlights were integrated in this front panel while the indicators were mounted in the bumper within a combined unit with the foglights. However, this set-up was only present on the top-of-the-line “Ghia”-trim as well on the later introduced XR4i sportmodel. The other Sierra models had a more traditional front end with a two-bar grille between the headlights, being unpainted on the base model. These models had the indicators in the bumper as well, although being slimmer but wider and without the foglights. Both the Ghia and XR4i had wide headlights with two lenses while the other models had smaller lights with a single lens. For the 1985 model year, all the lower-spec models, except the base model, adopted the Ghia and XR4i’s front grille and headlight treatment. However, the second lens of the lower-spec models had no actual light within it. On the Ghia and XR4i this lens contained additional high beam lamps. The South-African XR8 model’s front end was similar to the XR4i’s but featured a small grille between the headlights. The rear lights of the Ghia, as well as the very early XR4i’s, were the same shape and layout as other models, but featured tiny horizontal black strakes on the lenses to give the impression that they were smoked. The car was replaced by the Mondeo in Europe in April 1993, though stocks lasted for about two years afterwards. The Sierra remained a popular second-hand buy and common sight on British roads until well beyond the year 2000.
The Astra name originated with the Vauxhall-badged version of the first front-wheel drive Opel Kadett, which had been launched in 1979 as the Opel Kadett D. This model, which went on sale in March 1980, replaced the Vauxhall Viva in the UK. The last rear-wheel drive Kadett had also formed the basis of the Vauxhall Chevette, which remained in production until 1984. The Astra was Vauxhall’s first model to have front wheel drive. Not all trim levels were available with all body styles. Confusingly, in the British market both the Kadett D and the Astra were sold through separate marketing operations, with overlapping lineups that competed directly with each other. By 1982 this anomaly had been sorted out and the Opel lineup was limited to the well-equipped five-door Berlina (1.3S or 1.6S) and the sporty 1.6 SR, leaving most of the market to the Vauxhall-badged cars. As the consolidation of Opel and Vauxhall dealerships was completed, the Opel badged versions were eventually phased out entirely. Production began at Opel’s West German plant at Bochum in August 1979, with British deliveries of the Opel Kadett commencing in November 1979, four months before the Vauxhall-badged versions were launched. The overhead-camshaft engine (not 1200) was a huge leap forward from the earlier generation of small engines used in Vauxhall and Opel cars in terms of power, economy and refinement. It was initially available in 1300 and 1600 forms, and later an 1800 fuel-injected version was added, used in the Mk 1 Astra GTE model, introduced in 1983. This version of the Astra was an alternative to the Ford Escort XR3, Volkswagen Golf GTI and Fiat Strada 105TC. The car featured a new unified engine for Vauxhall/Opel, featuring an all-aluminium head, overhead camshaft and hydraulic valve lifters, and it quickly became popular with buyers. A 1200 cc version which used the older Opel OHV engine was also available. There were three body styles for the first generation Astra: hatchback, saloon, and estate, all available with two or four side doors. The saloons were styled exactly like the hatchbacks, except for a different rear window above a boot lid; from the side they looked almost indistinguishable from the hatchback, with no protruding notch at the rear. The saloon version was replaced by the Belmont saloon based on the Astra MK2 in early 1986. The white 1800 GTE was the first UK car to be ‘colour-coded’ with body trim that matched the base colour of the car, this included wheel arch extensions, front side and rear lower skirts, mirror covers, bumpers and even the alloy wheels were painted white. The black, silver and red versions of the GTE also had colour-coding but had the more conventional black bumpers and silver painted alloy wheels. There was also a van version which was badged as the Bedford Astra – the Bedford brand at that time being used for GM’s commercial vehicles in Britain and a few continental European markets. Unlike the previous Opel T-Car, no Coupé was offered. Early versions of the Astra were imported from the Opel factories in Germany and Belgium, with production beginning at Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant on 16 November 1981. Sales of this first Astra were strong, and gave Vauxhall a much-needed boost in the small family car sector after several years of declining sales with the Viva HC. It soon overtook the Austin Allegro as Britain’s second most popular small family car, although it was still a long way behind the Ford Escort in terms of sales success. The original Astra was awarded What Car?’s: ‘Car of the Year’ for 1980. However, it was pipped to the European Car of the Year award by the Lancia Delta
Codenamed “Erika”, the third generation Escort was launched in September 1980. The car, Ford Europe’s second front-wheel drive model, was originally meant to be called the “Ford Erika”, but ended up retaining the Escort name. Some say this was due to British consumers’ reluctance to let go of the “Escort” badge (as the first two generations of Escort had been among Britain’s most popular cars, with the Mk II being Britain’s best selling car in 1976), and some say that the Germans were concerned with the song Erika, which was a famous battlemarch of the German armed forces during World War II. The North American Escort introduced at this time was a distantly related derivative. Sales in the United Kingdom increased, and by 1982 it had overtaken the ageing Cortina as the nation’s best-selling car, beginning an eight-year run as Britain’s best selling car. Unlike the Mark II, which had essentially been a reskin of the original 1968 platform, the Mark III was a completely new design, and was conceived as a hi-tech, high-efficiency vehicle which would compete with the Volkswagen Golf and Honda Civic – considered at the time the class benchmarks. The Mark III was therefore a major engineering and stylistic departure from the two previous models; the biggest changes being the adoption of front-wheel drive, the new hatchback body and the all-new CVH overhead camshaft engines. The suspension was fully independent all around, departing from the archaic leaf spring arrangement found on its predecessors and the bodyshell was on average, 75kg lighter than that of the Mk II, yet Ford claimed was stiffer than the outgoing car. Ford however, was conscious that loyal customers of the previous generation Escorts may be deterred by the Mk III’s advanced design, and hence the car was marketed in the United Kingdom with the strapline “Simple is Efficient”. It was Ford Europe’s second front-wheel drive model launch, the first being the smaller Fiesta in 1976. The car used Ford’s contemporary design language of the period with the black louvred radiator grille and straked rear lamp clusters, as well as introducing the aerodynamic “bustle-back” bootlid stump (trademarked by Ford as Aeroback) which would be further developed in the forthcoming Sierra and Scorpio; the stump was proven to reduce the car’s aerodynamic drag co-efficient significantly, which was a class-leading 0.38 at launch. New were the overhead camshaft CVH engines in 1.3 L and 1.6 L formats, with the older Ford Kent-based “Valencia” engine from the Fiesta powering the 1.1 L derivative, although there was a short-lived 1.1 version of the CVH engine sold in certain markets before it was discontinued in 1982. The Escort Mark III was voted European Car of the Year in 1981, fighting off stiff competition from Italy’s Fiat Panda and British Leyland’s Austin Metro. From launch, the car was available in base (Popular), L, GL, Ghia and XR3 trim. As was common for Ford during this period, there were different dashboard mouldings for “high” and “low” series trim levels. GL and above models had a slush-moulded dashboard with ‘soft feel’ covering, and faux chrome embellishment. Base and L specification models had a ‘hard feel’ injection moulded dashboard with fewer holes for switches – the base dashboard was a sub-variation of this which omitted the centre air vents, glovebox, side demister vents and speaker grille and only a two-position blower fan switch. These lead-in models were extremely basic even for their time; in addition to the aforementioned dashboard, they came with just partial door cards with no armrests, vinyl seats (cloth was an optional extra), and no rear parcel tray or push button tailgate release. Consequently, these models sold very poorly and most buyers opted for at least the L specification. From mid-1982, a five-speed manual gearbox was introduced across the range. This was now standard on the 1.6 L versions and could be specified as an option on most 1.3 L engines. A selection of features was available, either as standard fitment or optional extras depending on model, including a tilt-and-slide sunroof, central locking, and electric windows. All models except for base and L were fitted with a check-light system for low fuel, low oil, low coolant, low screenwash, and worn out brake pads. Power steering was not available on European Escorts although it was available on the US Escort. The 1983 model year saw the Ford ATX three-speed automatic transmission (developed primarily for the US version) becoming available on the 1.6 L engine, and the base models now had cloth seat trim as standard. The Escort estate was initially only available with three doors, but a five-door version was introduced in 1983. In that year, a saloon version of the Escort, the Orion, was launched. It used the same mechanicals as the hatchback, but had a more upmarket image and was not available with the smaller 1.1 L engine. It was also directed at buyers of the earlier Cortina, which had ceased production in 1982, with its Sierra successor not available as a saloon at the time. However, the car attracted criticism from the motoring press at launch due to its suspension, with positive camber on the front wheels and negative camber at the rear, giving rise to the Mark III’s infamous “knock-kneed” stance. The Mark III soon had a reputation for a harsh, unforgiving ride. In September 1983 the revised suspension mounts from the Escort-based Orion and the larger Sierra steering rack were introduced as running changes for the 1984 model year which also coincided with other minor upgrades across the range, which included revised trim and steering wheels, new style badging and improved sound systems across the range, whilst the austere base models were finally given the “L” specification dashboard and improved seat trim. Another engine, introduced in August 1983, was the diesel engine. Developed in Dagenham, it was remarkably economical for its time, and still is to this day, managing over 70 mpg. It was available on the L and GL models. However, the performance was worse than the 1.1 L petrol version, with only 54 bhp and a top speed of barely 90 mph (140 km/h) – which prompted Ford to eventually enlarge the engine to 1.8 L some years later in the facelifted Escort. The Mk III model (1980–1986), was the most common type of car on British roads in December 1989, with almost 1,500,000 examples registered. A convertible version, made by coachbuilder Karmann, appeared the same year as the five-door estate (1983). It was the first drop-top car produced by Ford Europe since the Corsair of the 1960s. The Escort Cabriolet was initially available in both XR3i and Ghia specification, but the Ghia variant was later dropped.
The Mark 2 Astra was launched on 17 October 1984. It used the same range of engines and running gear as the Mark 1, but with a completely restyled body with better aerodynamics. It was voted 1985 European Car of the Year. Long-lived, the Mark 2 was available in estate, hatchback, saloon and cabriolet versions. The saloon was launched in January 1986 and sold as the Vauxhall Belmont; this trend to brand saloon models independently of hatchbacks was also used by other manufacturers of the period, with examples including the Ford Orion and the Volkswagen Jetta. However, this strategy was mostly unsuccessful, as this was Vauxhall’s only attempt at badging its hatchback-based saloon as a separate model, and Ford rebadged its Orion range as Escorts in September 1993. In 1987 a special one off “design exercise” based on a 1986 1.8 GTE was built by the Ellesmere Port factory to celebrate its 25th (Silver) Anniversary. The Astra GTE “Quicksilver” was first shown at the British International Motor show in 1987 and displayed in the Ellesmere Port showroom throughout the Plant’s “Silver Anniversary” year. Bertone built 6,764 cabriolets from 1987 to 1993. These came as 1.6 (with 82 bhp) and 2-litre (115 bhp) GTEs, the latter available with powered roof and electric windows. These cars are praised for their shake-free shells and their looks. The Mark 2 Astra sold well in the UK, and although it was never able to outsell the Ford Escort, it came closer than any other similar-sized car to achieving this.
Now rare are examples of the first generation Transit which was introduced in October 1965, taking over directly from the Thames 400E. This generation had the longest production run of any Transit to date, staying largely unaltered for 12 years until the major facelift of 1978, with overall production lasting for over 20 years before finally being replaced by the all-new VE6 platform in 1986. The van was produced initially at Ford’s Langley facility in Berkshire, England (a former Second World War aircraft factory which had produced Hawker Hurricane fighters), but demand outstripped the capability of the plant, and production was moved to Southampton until closure in 2013 in favour of the Turkish factory. Transits were also produced in Ford’s Genk factory in Belgium and also Turkey. Transits were produced in Amsterdam for the local market from the mid-1970s until the end of 1981. This factory had ample capacity, since the Ford Transcontinental produced there had little success (total production 8000 in 6 years). Although the Transit sold well in the Netherlands, it was not enough to save the factory, which closed in December 1981. The Transit was introduced to replace the Ford Thames 400E, a small mid-engined forward control van noted for its narrow track which was in competition with similar-looking but larger vehicles from the BMC J4 and J2 vans and Rootes Group’s Commer PB ranges. In a UK market segment then dominated by the Bedford CA, Ford’s Thames competitor, because of its restricted load area, failed to attract fleet users in sufficient numbers. Ford switched to a front-engined configuration, as did the 1950s by Bedford with their well-regarded CA series vans. Henry Ford II’s revolutionary step was to combine the engineering efforts of Ford of Britain and Ford of Germany to create a prototype for the Ford of Europe of today—previously the two subsidiaries had avoided competing in one another’s domestic markets but had been direct competitors in other European markets. The Transit was a departure from the European commercial vehicles of the day with its American-inspired styling—its broad track gave it a huge advantage in carrying capacity over comparable vehicles of the day. Most of the Transit’s mechanical components were adapted from Ford’s car range of the time. Another key to the Transit’s success was the sheer number of different body styles: panel vans in long and short wheelbase forms, pick-up truck, minibuses, crew-cabs to name but a few. The engines used in the UK were the Essex V4 for the petrol-engined version in 1.7 litre and 2.0 litre capacities. By using relatively short V-4 engines Ford were able to minimise the additional length necessitated to place the engine ahead of the driver. Another popular development under the bonnet was the equipping of the van with an alternator at time when the UK market competitors expected buyers to be content with a dynamo. A 43 bhp diesel engine sourced from Perkins was also offered. As this engine was too long to fit under the Transit’s stubby nose, the diesel version featured a longer bonnet – which became nicknamed as the “pig snout”. The underpowered Perkins proved unpopular, and was replaced by Ford’s own York unit in 1972. For mainland Europe the Transit had the German Ford Taunus V4 engine in Cologne 1.3, 1.5, and 1.7- or Essex 2.0-litre versions. The diesel version’s long nose front was also used to accommodate the Ford 3.0 litre Ford Essex V6 engine (UK) for high performance applications such as vans supplied to police and ambulance services. In Australia, in 1973, to supplement the two Essex V4 engines that were available the Transit was released with the long-nose diesel front used to accommodate an inline 6-cylinder engine derived from the Ford Falcon. The Metropolitan Police reported on this vehicle in 1972 via a Scotland Yard spokesman that ‘Ford Transits are used in 95 per cent of bank raids. With the performance of a car, and space for 1.75 tonnes of loot, the Transit is proving to be the perfect getaway vehicle…’, describing it as ‘Britain’s most wanted van’. The adoption of a front beam axle in place of a system incorporating independent front suspension that had featured on its UK predecessor might have been seen as a backward step by some, but on the road commentators felt that the Transit’s wider track and longer wheelbase more than compensated for the apparent step backwards represented by Ford’s suspension choices. Drivers appreciated the elimination of the excessive noise, smell and cabin heat that resulted from placing the driver above or adjacent to the engine compartment in the Thames 400E and other forward control light vans of the 1950s and early 1960s. The Transit was also assembled in South Africa between 1967 and 1974, the last Transit to be sold in that country until 2013, when a fully imported model was introduced. A facelifted version was introduced in 1977 and would continue until early 1986 when an all-new model was introduced.
There was more of a mix of cars here to represent the 1970s, a period characterised by sustained periods of industrial unrest which had profound effects on the British motor industry. Steadily sales of imported vehicles rose, with many being attracted by the high levels of equipment and promises of reliability from a growing number of Japanese cars. Britain’s major car maker, British Leyland ran out of money in 1974 and had to be bailed out by the government. Despite evidence of some excellent engineering, every new model was afflicted by build quality and reliability problems that meant that not only did the cars not appeal in export markets, but they continued to lose market share at home. And a lack of funds meant that there were few new models.
An enduring classic that has far more appeal now than when it was new (not an uncommon story) is the Jensen Interceptor, launched as a replacement for the rather gawky looking CV8 of the early 1960s. After a false start when a car with the same name was shown in 1965, which received a massive “thumbs down”, Jensen went to Italy to find a new stylist for another attempt. They ended up with Carozzeria Touring, who produced a stunning looking grand tourer which, although sharing some styling cues with other models that they had designed, had a style all of its own, and they then approached another, Vignale, to build the bodies before they would be shipped back to West Bromwich for final assembly. As with the CV8, motive power came from a large Chrysler V8 engine, which gave the car effortless performance, and a somewhat prodigious thirst. The original specification included electric windows, reclining front seats, a wood rimmed steering wheel, radio with twin speakers, reversing lights and an electric clock. Power steering was included as standard from September 1968. The Mark II was announced in October 1969, with slightly revised styling around the headlamps, front grille and bumper and revised rear lights. The interior was substantially revised in order to meet US regulations, and air conditioning was an option. The Mark III, introduced in 1971, revised the front grille, headlamp finishers and bumper treatment again. It had GKN alloy wheels and air conditioning as standard, and revised seats. It was divided into G-, H-, and J-series depending on the production year. The 6.3 litre engine was superseded by the 7.2 litre in 1971. A Convertible version was premiered in 1974,. but just 267 were built, and then in 1975 a Coupe model was shown, effectively a fixed roof version of the Convertible, just 60 of which were made as by this time, the company had fallen on hard times due to the then world-wide recession, and massive and costly reliability problems with its Jensen-Healey sports car. It was placed into receivership and the receivers allowed production to be wrapped up using the available cache of parts. Production of the Interceptor ended in 1976. Enthusiasm for the car remained, though, so in the late 1980s, a group of investors stepped in and re-launched production of the Interceptor, as the Series 4, back as a low-volume hand built and bespoke affair, marketed in a similar way to Bristol, with a price (£70,000 and more) to match. Though the body remained essentially the same as the last of the main production run of series 3; the engine was a much smaller Chrysler supplied 5.9 litre unit which used more modern controls to reduce emissions comparatively and still produce about 230 hp. In addition, the interior was slightly re-designed with the addition of modern “sports” front seats as opposed to the armchair style of the earlier models, as well as a revised dashboard and electronics. The then owner sold up in 1990 to an engineering company believed to be in a stronger position to manufacture the car which lasted until 1993 with approximately 36 cars built, and while work commenced on development of a Series 5 Interceptor, once again receivers were called in and the company was liquidated. Even that was not quite the end of the story, as the Jensen specialist based at Cropredy Bridge has made a business out of rebuilding original Interceptors using modern components, with a General Motors supplied 6.2 litre LS3 engine and transmission from a Chevrolet Corvette. In May 2010, Jensen International Automotive was set up, with the financial backing and know-how of Carphone Warehouse founder and chairman Charles Dunstone who joined its board of directors. A small number of Jensen Interceptor Ss, which had started production under a previous company, are being completed by Jensen International Automotive (JIA), in parallel with JIA’s own production of the new Jensen Interceptor R; deliveries of the latter started at the beginning of 2011.
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.
“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.
The MG Metro was launched in May 1982, to more than a few howls of protest from MG purists who decried the fact that it was not a proper sports car. It was, however, a well-considered upgrade on the more prosaic Austin models, and it proved popular from the outset. Styling touches included MG badging, liberal use of red inside – even the seat belts – and different wheel trims. Mechanically there were alterations, too. The changes between the MG engine (taken directly from the Mini Cooper) and the standard 1275 included a modified cylinder head, with larger valves and improved porting, altered cam profile and larger carburettor leading to a 20% increase in BHP to 72 bhp. At the October 1982 Birmingham Motor Show the MG Metro Turbo variant was first shown. With a quoted bhp of 93, 0–60 mph in 8.9 seconds, and top speed of 115 mph (185 km/h) this car had few direct competitors at the time, although the growing demand for “hot hatches” meant that it soon had a host of competitors including the Ford Fiesta XR2, Peugeot 205 GTI and Renault 5 GT Turbo. This model had a few addition modifications bolted on over the normally aspirated MG model to give an additional 21 bhp. Aside from the turbocharger and exhaust system itself, and what was (at the time) a relatively sophisticated boost delivery and control system, the MG Turbo variant incorporated stiffer suspension (purportedly with engineering input from Lotus), and an uprated crankshaft of nitrided steel and sodium-cooled exhaust valves. Both MG variants were given a “sporty” interior with red seat belts, red carpets and a sports-style steering wheel. The Turbo also benefitted from an LCD boost pressure gauge. The Turbo also received alloy wheels, black wheel arch extensions, blacked out trim, a rear spoiler surrounding the windshield, and prominent “TURBO” decals. While it retained rear drums, the front disc brakes were changed to ventilated units. The later MG variants were emblazoned with the MG logo both inside and out, which only served to fuel claims of badge engineering from some of the more steadfast MG enthusiasts. Others believed that this sentiment was unfounded, particularly in the case of the turbo variant, due to the undeniably increased performance and handling when compared to the non-MG models. From 1983, the MG badge also found its way onto higher performance versions of the Maestro, and shortly afterwards it was adopted for higher performance versions of the Montego. Sadly, there are relatively few survivors.
This is a splendid early Fiesta XR2. The XR2 was the first truly sporting Fiesta, as the earlier S badged cars were mechanically the same as the other models in the range and even the Supersport was offered in Europe for the 1980 model year, used the regular 1.3 litre Kent Crossflow engine. It was well enough received, though, to convince Ford to introduce in October 1981 their second XR-badged model, following the October 1980 launch of the Escort XR3. The XR2 featured a 90 bhp 1.6 litre engine and is easily identified from the black plastic trim which was added to the exterior and interior. The small square headlights were replaced with larger circular ones resulting in the front indicators being moved into the bumper to accommodate the change. With a quoted performance of 0–60 mph in 9.3 seconds and a 105 mph top speed, the XR2 hot hatch became a cult car beloved of boy racers throughout the 1980s meaning that very few have survived. This one was in fabulous condition.
Originally designed as part of the Great Brits Minis (along with David Bowie’s chromed Mini, Natasha Caine’s bullion Mini, Kate Moss’s Spider Web Mini and the ‘Design a Mini’ competition winner Mark ward’s clock cogs mini), the 84 striped, 24 colour car (I believe 2 were made) appeared at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show, and inspired a run of limited edition minis. 300 UK cars were made, with a total of 1800 worldwide. The Paul Smith mini is one of the best equipped limited edition Minis, and in the UK, was only available in Paul Smith Blue. This colour is reputed to be the colour of the shirt that Paul Smith was wearing at the meeting with the rover designers, and when asked what colour he wanted the car, he tore a section off his shirt!! (How true this story is is unknown, but is one we have heard for years in the mini community, and we like it!!) The Japanese spec cars were also available in Old English White, and Anthracite Black, together with air conditioning. The Paul Smith Mini was designed to mimic a Paul Smith Suit. It had a conservative appearance, but had a bright twist! Several parts were given the ‘Paul Smith’ treatment and were coloured in bright Citrus Green. These parts were the rocker cover, HT leads, inside the glove box, the petrol tank and the boot board. The Paul Smith Mini was available from May 1998 at a cost of £10225 on the road. Although the Paul Smith was one of the most luxurious production minis ever made, initially sales were, allegedly, not very good, and rumour has it that after the 300 UK cars were made, only a few hundred of the remaining 1500 export models were ever made, although this has never been proven.
1980s and 1990s – RESHAPING THE INDUSTRY
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.
The last car ever to bear the Triumph was this, the Acclaim. A front-wheel drive medium-sized family car made from 1981 to 1984, it t was based on the Honda Ballade and used a Honda-designed engine, but met United Kingdom component-content requirements which were still in place at the time. Not only was it the final model of the Triumph marque, and the first fundamentally Japanese car to be assembled in Europe, it was also the first product as a result of the partnership with Honda which ran for over 15 years. The development process began in 1978, when British Leyland entered into negotiations with Honda to develop a new small family saloon, originally intended as a stopgap measure until the Maestro/Montego models were to be ready for production in 1983. On 26 December 1979 Michael Edwardes officially signed a collaboration between the two companies. The new car went into production 18 months later, badged as the Triumph Acclaim and based on the Honda Ballade. It replaced the Triumph Dolomite of the 1970s. The Acclaim was officially launched by BL on 7 October 1981 and with the ending of Dolomite and TR7 production, it meant that the Acclaim was the only car to wear the Triumph badge after 1981. The Acclaim was significant as the first essentially Japanese car to be built within the European Economic Community (now the European Union), to bypass Japan’s voluntary limit of 11 percent market of the total number of European sales. The Acclaim was also a major turnaround point for BL itself, with the car sporting good reliability and build quality from the outset. The Acclaim holds the record for the fewest warranty claims for a BL car. Unlike previous Triumphs, it was assembled at the Pressed Steel Fisher Plant at Cowley Oxford, taking over the withdrawn Austin Maxi production lines. It paved the way for the Honda-based, Rover-badged range of cars which BL, Austin Rover and Rover Group would develop throughout the 1980s and 1990s. There was not time to do much about the styling, with the most notable outward change from the Honda being the appearance of a central badge on the grille. At the time, the Japanese model had “Honda” to the right-hand side of the grille. Other changes included twin Keihin carburettors (the Ballade had only a single carburettor), the mirrors were situated on the doors, the independent front and rear MacPherson strut suspension was tweaked for the UK market and the seats were based on Morris Ital frames. The Acclaim was provided in a more luxurious interior trim than its Honda equivalent, even in its base models. The brakes were disc at the front and drum at the rear. All Acclaims were powered by the transverse-mounted all alloy and overhead-cam 1335 cc engine found in the Honda Civic driving the front wheels through either a five-speed manual gearbox or a three-speed Trio-matic gearbox (a manually selectable automatic transmission, the same as the Hondamatic) and the interior was nearly identical (except for the seats). The usual BL trim levels were offered: L, HL, HLS and the top of the range CD, which had front and rear electric windows, chrome bumpers, headlamp washers, 165/70 tyres (the L had 145/80 tyres and the HL & HLS had 155/80 tyres), plastic wheel trims, velour upholstery with seat pockets on the back of the front seats, front seat head restraints and optional air conditioning. The car remained largely the same throughout its production life. A Mark 2 version of the Acclaim came out in 1983 (from VI No. 180415 onwards). The main changes were to the exterior door handles, an electronic digital clock replaced the previous mechanical one, a restyled steering wheel, a restyled gear knob, the rear interior door handles (they were just swapped) and the heater recirculation control, which was moved. Mark 2 HL and HLS cars were better equipped than the earlier ones. There was a limited-edition Avon Acclaim that had leather seats with piping to match the body colour, leather door panels, wooden and leather trimmed dashboard, wooden door cappings, two-tone metallic paint, colour-coded wheels with chrome embellishers, chrome-plated grille, colour-coded headlamp surrounds, vinyl roof and extra soundproofing. There was also an Avon Turbo, which had Lunar alloy wheels with 205/60 tyres, suede upholstery, front air dam, and side decals. A Turbo Technics turbocharger increased the engine’s power output from the standard 70 bhp to 105 bhp. It is thought that there are only four surviving Avon Turbos including the press car (VWK689X), which was the first Avon Turbo. In 1982 and 1983, the Acclaim featured in the top-ten-selling cars in Britain, the first Triumph to achieve this feat since records began in 1965. Production finished in the summer of 1984 when the Rover 200 was launched, based on the next incarnation of the Honda Ballade. A total of 133,625 Acclaims were produced, the vast majority of which were sold in the UK, with the last Acclaim off the production line (a silver CD with the Trio-matic) now in the Heritage Motor Centre. The Acclaim’s demise saw the end of the Triumph marque as a car.
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.
Three generations of mid-sized Ford were here. Oldest of these was a Cortina 80. Also here was a Cortina 80, sometimes known as the Mark V. It was announced on 24 August 1979. Officially the programme was code named Teresa, although externally it was marketed as “Cortina 80”, but the Mark V tag was given to it immediately on release by the press, insiders and the general public. Largely an update to the Mark IV, it was really a step between a facelift and a rebody. The Mark V differentiated itself from the Mark IV by having revised headlights with larger turn indicators incorporated (which were now visible on the side too), a wider slatted grille said to be more aerodynamically efficient, a flattened roof, larger glass area, slimmer C-pillars with revised vent covers, larger slatted tail lights (on saloon models) and upgraded trim. Improvements were also made to the engine range, with slight improvements to both fuel economy and power output compared to the Mark IV. The 2.3 litre V6 engine was given electronic ignition and a slight boost in power output to 116 bhp, compared to the 108 bhp of the Mark IV. Ford also claimed improved corrosion protection on Mark V models; as a result, more Mark Vs have survived; however, corrosion was still quite a problem. The estate models combined the Mark IV’s bodyshell (which was initially from the 1970 Ford Taunus) with Mark V front body pressings. A pick-up (“bakkie”) version was also built in South Africa. These later received a longer bed and were then marketed as the P100. Variants included the Base, L, GL, and Ghia (all available in saloon and estate forms), together with Base and L spec 2-door sedan versions (this bodystyle was available up to Ghia V6 level on overseas markets). The replacement for the previous Mark IV S models was an S pack of optional extras which was available as an upgrade on most Mark V models from L trim level upwards. For the final model year of 1982 this consisted of front and rear bumper overriders, sports driving lamps, an S badge on the boot, tachometer, 4 spoke steering wheel, revised suspension settings, front gas shock absorbers,’Sports’ gear lever knob, sports road wheels, 185/70 SR x 13 tyres and Fishnet Recaro sports seats (optional). Various “special editions” were announced, including the Calypso and Carousel. The final production model was the Crusader special edition which was available as a 1.3 litre, 1.6 litre, and 2.0 litre saloons or 1.6 litre and 2.0 litre estates. The Crusader was a final run-out model in 1982, along with the newly introduced Sierra. It was the best-specified Cortina produced to date and 30,000 were sold, which also made it Ford’s best-selling special edition model. Another special edition model was the Cortina Huntsman, of which 150 were produced. By this time, the Cortina was starting to feel the competition from a rejuvenated Vauxhall, which with the 1981 release Cavalier J-Car, was starting to make inroads on the Cortina’s traditional fleet market, largely helped by the front wheel drive benefits of weight. Up to and including 1981, the Cortina was the best selling car in Britain. Even during its final production year, 1982, the Cortina was Britain’s second best selling car and most popular large family car. On the continent, the Taunus version was competing with more modern and practical designs like the Talbot Alpine, Volkswagen Passat, and Opel Ascona. The very last Cortina – a silver Crusader – rolled off the Dagenham production line on 22 July 1982 on the launch of the Sierra, though there were still a few leaving the forecourt as late as 1987, with one final unregistered Cortina GL leaving a Derbyshire dealership in 2005. The last Cortina built remains in the Ford Heritage Centre in Dagenham, Essex, not far from the factory where it was assembled.
The Sierra was the bold replacement for the Cortina, arriving in the autumn of 1982. People were unconvinced at first, with ultra-conservative fleet managers being unsure even though it retained rear wheel drive unlike its arch nemesis, the Cavalier. A range of engine options and trims, in the best of Ford traditions grew even more over the years, and gradually sales picked up, though it never achieved the success of its predecessor and even now it has far fewer fans than any generation of the Cortina. Accordingly survivors of the regular versions are now quite rare, so it was good to see this one, a 2.0i Ghia.
The Ford Mondeo I (first generation) is a mid-size car that was produced by Ford, beginning on 23 November 1992, with sales beginning on 22 March 1993. It is also known as the Mk I Mondeo; the 1996 facelift versions are usually designated Mk II. Available as a four-door saloon, a five-door hatchback, and a five-door estate, all models for the European market were produced at Ford’s plant in the Belgian city of Genk. Instigated in 1986 (just before its Sierra predecessor received a major facelift), the design of the car cost Ford US$6 billion. It was one of the most expensive new-car programmes ever. The Mondeo was significant as its design and marketing were shared between Ford USA in Dearborn and Ford of Europe. Its codename while under development reflected thus: CDW27 signified that it straddled the C and D size classes and was a “world car”. The head of the Mondeo project was John Oldfield, headquartered at Ford Dunton in Essex. A large proportion of the high development cost was due to the Mondeo being a completely new design, sharing very little, if anything, with the Ford Sierra. Unlike the Sierra, the Mondeo is front-wheel drive in its most common form, with a rarer four-wheel drive version available on the Mk I car only. Over-optimistically, the floor pan was designed to accept virtually any conceivable drivetrain, from a transverse inline-four engine to a longitudinal V-8. This resulted in a hugely intrusive and mostly disused bellhousing cover and transmission tunnel. Resultingly the front interior, especially the footwells, feels more cramped than would be expected from a vehicle of this size. The Mondeo featured new manual and automatic transmissions and sophisticated suspension design, which give it class-leading handling and ride qualities, and subframes front and rear to give it executive car refinement. The automatic transmission featured electronic control with sport and economy modes plus switchable overdrive. By 1989, Ford had confirmed that it would be launching an all-new front-wheel drive car to replace the Sierra within the next four years, although it had not yet decided whether the Sierra name would continue or be replaced, with some subsequent reports even hinting that the Cortina name could make a comeback, having been axed in 1982 when replaced by the Sierra. Several prototypes were tested that year, but the launch of the Nissan Primera in 1990 prompted Ford to make a number of major alterations to the final product, as it saw the new competitor from Nissan to be the benchmark car in this sector, having previously identified the Honda Accord as the class leader. The car was launched in the midst of turbulent times at Ford of Europe, when the division was haemorrhaging hundreds of millions of dollars, and had gained a reputation in the motoring press for selling products which had been designed by accountants rather than engineers. The fifth-generation Escort and third-generation Orion of 1990 was the zenith of this cost-cutting/high-price philosophy, which was by then beginning to backfire on Ford, with the cars being slated for their substandard ride and handling, though a facelift in 1992 had seen things improve a little. The Sierra had sold well, but not as well as the all-conquering Cortina before it, and in Britain, it had been overtaken in the sales charts by the newer Vauxhall Cavalier. Previously loyal customers were already turning to rival European and Japanese products, and by the time of the Mondeo’s launch, the future of Europe as a Ford manufacturing base was hanging in the balance. The new car had to be good, and it had to sell. It was unveiled to the public on 23 November 1992, although sales would not begin for another four months. At this stage, Ford confirmed that the new car would feature a completely new name and would be called the Mondeo. Safety was a high priority in the Mondeo design, with a driver’s side airbag (it was the first-ever car sold from the beginning with a driver’s airbag in all of its versions, which helped it achieve the European Car of the Year title for 1994), side-impact bars, seat belt pretensioners, and antilock braking systems (higher models) as standard features. Other features for its year included adaptive damping, self-leveling suspension (top estate models), traction control (V6 and 4WD versions), and heated front windscreen, branded Quickclear. The interiors were usually well-appointed, featuring velour trim, an arm rest with CD and tape storage, central locking (frequently remote), power windows (all round on higher models), power mirrors, illuminated entry, flat-folding rear seats, etc. Higher-specification models had leather seats, trip computers, electric sunroof, CD changer, and alloy wheels.Intended as a world car, it replaced the Ford Sierra in Europe, the Ford Telstar in a large portion of Asia and other markets, while the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique replaced the Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz in North America. Despite being billed as a world car, the only external items the Mondeo shared initially with the Contour were the windscreen, front windows, front mirrors and door handles. Thus, the CDW27 project turned out not to be a true world car in the sense that the original Ford Focus and newer Fords developed under the “One Ford” policy turned out to be—that being one design per segment for the world. In May 1994, a revised model line up was introduced as part of Ford launching a new 24v V6 engine version in the 24v and Ghia trim levels. Minor changes were made to the estate roof luggage rails design, the fuel flap/boot release handle surround was removed, the drivers under dash glove box lid was removed and black bumper paint details changed to be full body colour on all models, thinner 3 piece side door strips replaced the previous wide mouldings on some models. A revised MTX75 gearbox has hydraulic clutch operation and an electronic speedometer and gearbox sensor, replacing the cable operation of the earlier clutch and speedometer. The security of the cars was improved with the introduction of the PATS system with transponders fitted to each of the 3 car keys issued ( 1 red key is a master) and coded to the ECU immobiliser system. Optional infra-red remote locking is made available on most models and standard on the Ghia. The premium sound system head unit with sub woofer was dropped as an option. The Aspen replaced the “Base” model, but retained the basic features and were the only models to have manual winding front windows. The 24v model was introduced as a budget performance version, with sports seats, 15” steel wheels and trims with 205/55 tyres, red transparent centre rear panel (saloon only) but otherwise only has an LX interior and exterior specification level. The Ghia interior was updated with new fabric and wood effect dashboard and centre console fascias and front door pull inserts, replacing the grey ones of the previous Ghia model. 15” alloy wheels as seen on the Scorpio were fitted with 205/55 tyres replacing the previous 5 spoke 14” alloys with 195/60 tyres. A new Chrome surround front grille is added and a transparent red rear centre panel replaces the dark panel (saloon only), to distinguish the model from the lower spec cars. Headlamp wash is dropped from the standard specification and made an optional extra. Further changes came in September 1995. A Ghia X model is introduced featuring nearly all the options available on the previous Ghia model, including leather seats and centre armrest (but retaining fabric on the interior door cards), headlamp wash, cruise control and fuel computer. The Ghia model is downgraded with 15” steel wheels and multi-spoke wheel trims and some interior comforts are removed and only available as extras. The 24v model was dropped and a Si 24v model added. The 2.0 Si short ratio MTX75 gearbox is quietly replaced by the standard 2.0 unit as customers feedback stated it was too noisy on the motorway. New 2 piece elliptoid side mouldings were introduced in line with other Ford models, replacing the linear 3 piece versions, along with a new front wing with the side indicator located lower down inline with the new door mouldings. The mid-cycle facelift, launched in October 1996, had three of the original Mondeo’s biggest criticisms addressed: its bland styling, the poor headlight performance, the reflectors of which quickly yellowed, and the cramped rear legroom. The lowering of specification levels around that time (e.g. air conditioning and alloy wheels became optional on the UK Ghia models) may have indicated a desire by Ford to cut costs and recoup some of the considerable sums invested in the original design. These specification levels were improved again in 1998 as the Mondeo approached replacement. The facelift left only the doors, the roof, and the rear quarter panels on the estate the same as the original model. Even the extractor vents on the rear doors were replaced by a panel bearing the name Mondeo. The most notable change was the introduction of the grille and larger, wraparound lighting units. The saloon version featured some distinctive rear lights. These incorporated an additional reflector panel that extended around the top and the side of the rear wings. Unlike the iterations seen on the heavily facelifted Scorpio and Mk IV Fiesta during the previous year, this facelift was well received. The interior was also mildly revised, though the basic dashboard architecture was the same as before. Safety specification was improved, with the car gaining a full-sized driver airbag in place of the smaller ‘euro-bag’ fitted in the Mk I Mondeo. The Mk II gained a ‘flagged’ three-star rating in EuroNCAP testing, which was average for rivals of its time (the same as the Vauxhall Vectra, better than the Citroën Xantia and Peugeot 406, and worse than the Nissan Primera). The cars’ structure suffered excessive footwell intrusion in the frontal impact and a disturbing B-pillar displacement in the side test. The Zetec engine was thoroughly revised in 1998. The updated version was far more refined at high revolutions, addressing a common criticism of it. The first generation Mondeo was replaced in 2000, by the larger second generation; in the United States and Canada, the Contour/Mystique were replaced by the Fusion and fourth-generation Taurus and fourth-generation Sable.
The Reliant SS1 was a brave effort, but which never delivered on the potential of the concept. When word leaked out in the early 1980s, that Reliant was developing a small two seater sports car, everyone got rather excited. But the result was something of a disappointment, with rather gawky lines penned and not that much driving fun thanks to the (cheap to acquire) Ford CVH engines under the bonnet. Whilst the upgrade to the 1800cc turbo Nissan engine addressed the relative lack of go, the real problem was that a low volume manufacturer could not compete against one of the automotive giants and one of these, Toyota, launched a mid-engined rival even before the Reliant could establish itself
Twenty-five years after the introduction of the original Range Rover, the second-generation was introduced for the 1995 model year, based on the 8 inches (20 centimetres) longer chassis of the old LWB model, and with an updated version of the Rover V8 engine. There was also the option of a 2.5-litre BMW six-cylinder turbo-diesel with a Bosch injection pump. This was the first diesel injection with electronic controls in a Land Rover, before common rails were introduced. This was a result of BMW’s subsequent ownership of Rover Group and hence the Land Rover brand. The new model offered more equipment and premium trims, positioning the vehicle more strongly above the Land Rover Discovery than the old original, to meet the increased competition in the SUV marketplace. This model was the last to feature the Rover V8 and interior leather supplied by Connolly who went out of business in 2002. It was the first model to feature Satellite Navigation as an option. The car never found the same level of enthusiasm as the model it replaced.
In May 1990, a heavily revised Metro 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 (bvery 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.
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.
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.
The Rover CityRover is a supermini car that was marketed by the former British manufacturer MG Rover under the Rover marque, between 2003 and 2005. Launched in the autumn of 2003, the car was a rebadged version of the Indian developed Tata Indica. Its performance was considered poor for a small car in contemporary road tests, and its lack of quality, poor road handling and high price were not well received. The CityRover was offered with only one engine: a Peugeot derived 1,405 cc four cylinder, eight valve engine producing 85 bhp and 88 lb/ft (119 Nm).It could accelerate to 60 mph in 11.9 seconds and had a top speed of 100 mph (160.9 km/h).It could manage up to 46.6 mpg. The CityRover was manufactured by Tata Motors, at their factory in Pune, India. Alterations for the British market included new bumpers, Rover badge grille, 14″ wheels, and new suspension settings. The high driving position and large glass area affords drivers with good all round visibility, while the rear lamps are mounted high up on the structure so other road users can see them more prominently. Doors were fitted with anti intrusion bars, with child locks at the rear. The steering column is collapsible and a driver airbag is fitted as standard to all models, with a passenger airbag standard on the top trim level, and available as an option on the entry the mid range trims. All seats have anti submarine ramps and three point seatbelts, with the front getting belt pre tensioners and height adjustable head restraints. ABS is included on style models. MG Rover was reported to be paying Tata £3,000 for each car and, with each model featuring a Rover corporate nose and revised suspension settings, the buying public was not impressed by the £6,495 starting price. In May 2004, Rover refused to lend a CityRover to motoring show Top Gear to test it. In order to answer the question of “just how bad could it be?” James May went undercover and test drove one at a dealer while carrying a hidden camera. May went on to say, “that is the worst car I have driven on this programme”. Sales were well short of MG Rover’s targets, so the CityRover was given an upgrade for the model year of 2005, with more standard equipment. In December 2004, prices were reduced by £900, confirming that the car’s previous prices had not been competitive. According to car reviewer Parker’s, the CityRover was the worst rated Rover car from MG Rover, with a rating of two out of five. In October 2013, Top Gear Magazine placed the CityRover as number two behind the Perodua Kelisa on its list of “The thirteen worst cars of the last twenty years.” The upgraded 2005 version was chosen to be used as the reconnaissance vehicle for the 2007 Himalayan Challenge Endurance Rally. With only minor modifications, the car was driven over the 7,000-mile (11,000 km) planned route from London to Delhi, by students from the University of Southampton, Chris Cardwell and Nick Clarke, without any major problems, including crossing significant distances of desert, and a number of mountain ranges. The reasons given by the event organisers for the choice of vehicle were that it is “the cheapest brand new car you can drive in Britain”, and to prove that the route could be driven in an ordinary small car, without the need for a large four wheel drive vehicle. Following completion of the race, the car was shipped back to the United Kingdom and sold to a prospective competitor, with the intention of using it on the event in September 2007. Production of the CityRover ceased in April 2005, along with the rest of the MG Rover range, when the company fell into administration.
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.
The success of the Mulsanne Turbo and Turbo R brought new life to Bentley, changing the position of the preceding 15 years where sales of the marque’s badge-engineered Rolls Royce cars had been only a very small percentage of the company’s sales. The obvious next step would be further to enhance the distinctive sporting nature of the Bentley brand and move away from a Bentley that was merely a re-badged Rolls Royce. Bentley appointed stylists John Heffernan and Ken Greenley to come up with ideas for a new, distinctive, Bentley coupé. The fibreglass mock up was displayed at the 1984 Geneva Motor Show in Rolls-Royce’s “Project 90″ concept of a future Bentley coupé. The concept was met with an enthusiastic reception, but the Project 90 design was largely shelved as the company began to work towards a replacement for the Rolls-Royce Corniche. During this process, Graham Hull, chief stylist in house at Rolls Royce, suggested the designs before the board for the Corniche, would suit a Bentley coupé better. From this point it was decided the Corniche could continue as it was, and efforts would once again be channelled into a new Bentley coupé. In 1986 Graham Hull produced a design rendering of a new Bentley coupé which became the Continental R. Based on the Rolls Royce SZ platform (which was an evolution of the SY platform), an aerodynamically shaped coupé body had been styled. John Heffernan and Ken Greenley were officially retained to complete the design of the Continental R. They had run the Automotive Design School at the Royal College of Art and headed up their own consultancy, International Automotive Design, based in Worthing, Southern England. Greenley and Heffernan liaised constantly throughout the styling process with Graham Hull. The interior was entirely the work of Graham Hull and the small in house styling team at Rolls Royce. The shape of the car was very different from the somewhat slab sided four door SZ Rolls-Royce and Bentley vehicles of the time and offered a much improved 0.37 coefficient of drag. The Continental R also featured roof-cut door frames, a necessity to allow easier access into the car which had a lower roof line than its 4-door contemporaries. A subtle spoiler effect was also a feature of the rear. The finished car is widely acknowledged as a very cleverly styled vehicle, disguising its huge dimensions (The Continental R is around 4” longer than a 2013 long wheelbase Mercedes S Class) and a very well proportioned, extremely attractive, car. The “Continental” designation recalls the Bentley Continental of the post-war period. The “R” was meant to recall the R Type Bentleys from the 1950s as well as the Turbo R of the 1980s and 90’s where the “R” refers to “roadholding”. 1504 Continental R and 350 Continental T models were made before production finally ceased in 2003. The revival of the Bentley marque following the introduction of the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo, and then the Continental R, is widely acknowledged to have saved Rolls Royce Motor cars and formed the groundwork which led to the buyout and parting of the Rolls Royce and Bentley brands in 1998. Bentley was once again capable of standing alone as a marque in its own right.
When new, the Silver Shadow was considered a big car, but looking at this one, it does not seem quite so massive any more.The Silver Shadow was produced from 1965 to 1976, and the Silver Shadow II from 1977 to 1980. Initially, the model was planned to be called “Silver Mist”, a natural progression from its predecessor Silver Cloud. The name was changed to “Silver Shadow” after realising that “Mist” is the German word for manure, rubbish, or dirt. The design was a major departure from its predecessor, the Silver Cloud; although several styling cues from the Silver Cloud were modified and preserved, as the automobile had sold well. The John Polwhele Blatchley design was the firm’s first single bow model. The original Shadow was 3 1⁄2 inches narrower and 7 inches shorter than the car it replaced, but nevertheless managed to offer increased passenger and luggage space thanks to more efficient packaging made possible by unitary construction. Aside from a more modern appearance and construction, the Silver Shadow introduced many new features such as disc rather than drum brakes, and independent rear suspension, rather than the outdated live axle design of previous cars. The Shadow featured a 172 hp 6.2 litre V8 from 1965 to 1969, and a 189 hp 6.75 ltire V8 from 1970 to 1980. Both powerplants were coupled to a General Motors-sourced Turbo Hydramatic 400 automatic gearbox, except on pre-1970 right-hand-drive models, which used the same 4-speed automatic gearbox as the Silver Cloud (also sourced from General Motors, the Hydramatic). The car’s most innovative feature was a high-pressure hydropneumatic suspension system licensed from Citroën, with dual-circuit braking and hydraulic self-levelling suspension. At first, both the front and rear of the car were controlled by the levelling system; the front levelling was deleted in 1969 as it had been determined that the rear levelling did almost all the work. Rolls-Royce achieved a high degree of ride quality with this arrangement. In 1977, the model was renamed the Silver Shadow II in recognition of several major changes, most notably rack and pinion steering; modifications to the front suspension improved handling markedly. Externally, the bumpers were changed from chrome to alloy and rubber starting with the late 1976 Silver Shadows. These new energy absorbing bumpers had been used in the United States since 1974, as a response to tightening safety standards there. Nonetheless, the bumpers on cars sold outside of North America were still solidly mounted and protruded 2 in less. Also now made standard across the board was the deletion of the small grilles mounted beneath the headlamps. Outside of North America, where tall kerbs and the like demanded more ground clearance, a front skirt was also fitted to the Silver Shadow II and its sister cars. In 1979 75 Silver Shadow II cars were specially fitted to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the company with the original red “RR” badges front and rear, pewter/silver paint, grey leather with red piping, scarlet red carpets, and a silver commemorative placard on the inside of the glove box door. 33 75th anniversary cars were designated for and shipped to the North American market. 8425 examples of the Shadow II were made, which, when added to the total of over 16,000 of the first generation cars made this the biggest selling Rolls Royce of all time. This is a Series 2 car.
Attracting lots of interest, as ever, was this Delorean DMC12. It is now over 35 years since this striking Northern Ireland built car entered production, but it still pulls the crowds, thanks in no small part, I am sure, to the gullwing doors, and its starring role in “Back to the Future”. The DeLorean story goes back to October 1976, when the first prototype was completed by American automotive chief engineer William T. Collins, formerly chief engineer at Pontiac. Originally, the car was intended to have a centrally-mounted Wankel rotary engine. The engine selection was reconsidered when Comotor production ended, and the favoured engine became Ford’s “Cologne V6.” Eventually the French/Swedish PRV (Peugeot-Renault-Volvo) fuel injected V6 was selected. Also the engine location moved from the mid-engined location in the prototype to a rear-engined installation in the production car. The chassis was initially planned to be produced from a new and untested manufacturing technology known as elastic reservoir moulding (ERM), which would lighten the car while presumably lowering its production costs. This new technology, for which DeLorean had purchased patent rights, was eventually found to be unsuitable. These and other changes to the original concept led to considerable schedule pressures. The entire car was deemed to require almost complete re-engineering, which was turned over to engineer Colin Chapman, founder and owner of Lotus Cars. Chapman replaced most of the unproven material and manufacturing techniques with those then employed by Lotus, like the steel backbone chassis. DeLorean required $175 million to develop and build the motor company. Convincing Hollywood celebrities such as Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis, Jr. to invest in the firm, DeLorean eventually built the DMC-12 in a factory in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland, a neighbourhood a few miles from Belfast city centre. Construction on the factory began in October 1978, and although production of the DMC-12 was scheduled to start in 1979, engineering problems and budget overruns delayed production until early 1981. By that time, the unemployment rate was high in Northern Ireland and local residents lined up to apply for jobs at the factory. The workers were largely inexperienced, but were paid premium wages and supplied with the best equipment available. Most quality issues were solved by 1982 and the cars were sold from dealers with a one-year, 12,000-mile warranty and an available five-year, 50,000-mile service contract. The DeLorean Motor Company went bankrupt in late 1982 following John DeLorean’s arrest in October of that year on drug trafficking charges. He was later found not guilty, but it was too late for the DMC-12 to remain in production. Approximately 100 partially assembled DMCs on the production line were completed by Consolidated International (now known as Big Lots). The remaining parts from the factory stock, the parts from the US Warranty Parts Centre, as well as parts from the original suppliers that had not yet been delivered to the factory were all shipped to Columbus, Ohio in 1983–1984. A company called KAPAC sold these parts to retail and wholesale customers via mail order. In 1997, DeLorean Motor Company of Texas acquired this inventory. There had also been a long-standing rumour that the body stamping dies were dumped into the ocean to prevent later manufacture. Evidence later emerged that the dies were used as anchors for nets at a fish farm in Ards Bay, Connemara, Ireland. About 9,200 DMC-12s were produced between January 1981 and December 1982. Almost a fifth of these were produced in October 1981. About a thousand 1982 models were produced between February and May 1982, and all of these cars had the VINs changed after purchase by Consolidated to make them appear as 1983 models. The survival rate of the cars is good.
In 1987, a new version of the mid-engined Esprit was unveiled, incorporating rounder styling cues given by designer Peter Stevens (who later designed the McLaren F1). A new Lotus patented process was introduced to create the new body, called the VARI (Vacuum Assisted Resin Injection) process, which offered more advantages than the previous hand laid process. Kevlar reinforcement was added to the roof and sides for roll-over protection, resulting in an increase of the Esprit’s torsional rigidity by 22 percent. Giugiaro is said to have liked the restyling, claiming it was perhaps too close to his original design. The Stevens styled cars retained the mechanical components of the previous High Compression Esprit and Turbo Esprit, but introduced a stronger Renault transaxle, which necessitated a move to outboard rear brakes. However, the MY 1988 North American Esprit Turbo kept its Citroën SM type transaxle and the Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection system used in the previous model year. The car’s Type 910 engine retained 215 bhp and 220 lb·ft, but decreased its zero to sixty from 5.6 seconds to a varied time between 5.4 – 5.1 seconds and a top speed of over 150 mph. The exterior style changes were accompanied by a redesign of the interior, allowing a little more space for the occupants. The Stevens styled Esprit is often known by its project code of X180. In 1989, the Esprit was again improved with the GM multi-port, electronic fuel injection system and the addition of a water to air intercooler, which Lotus has named the Chargecooler, producing the SE (Special Equipment). This inline-four engine was known as the Type 910S. Horsepower was pushed up to 264 with 280 available on overboost and zero to sixty miles per hour times reduced to 4.7 seconds with a top speed of over 160 mph. Several modifications were made to the body kit as well, like side skirts which are parallel to the body, five air ducts in the front air dam, wing mirrors from the Citroën CX and the addition of a rear wing. Along with the SE, Lotus produced the little seen Esprit S, a midrange turbocharged car offering fewer appointments and 228 hp, as well as the standard turbo still offering 215 hp . The N/A and lower-powered turbo were cancelled after 1990, and the S in 1991. Another unusual variant was a two-litre “tax special” developed for the Italian market, fitted with an intercooled and turbocharged version of a new 1,994 cc version of the venerable 900-series four-cylinder engine. Equipped with SE trim, this appeared in December 1991 and produced 243 PS at 6,250 rpm. Beginning in the autumn of 1996, this engine became available in other markets as well. The Esprit was a popular and successful addition to the American IMSA Bridgestone Supercar Championship and as a result Lotus produced the SE-based X180R, with horsepower bumped to 300 and with racing appointments. The Sport 300 was a derivative of the X180R sold in Europe, which included many modifications. These are known as the fastest of the four-cylinder Esprits and among the most desirable. In 1993, another exterior and interior revamp of the car resulted in the S4 which was the first model to include power steering. The exterior redesign was done by Julian Thompson, which included a smaller rear spoiler placed halfway up the rear decklid. Other major changes were to the front and rear bumpers, side skirts and valence panels. New five spoke alloy wheels were also included in the redesign. The S4 retained the same horsepower as the SE at 264 hp.The S4 was succeeded in 1994 by the S4s (S4 sport), which upped power to 300 bhp and 290 lb·ft of torque, improving all-around performance while retaining the comfort of the previous version. Top speed was increased to 168 mph, skidpad increased to 0.91g, an increased slalom of 61.7 mph and a 0-60 mph time of 4.6 seconds. Although the engine kept its 2.2-litre capacity, many modifications were added to improve engine performance. Some of the changes were enlarged inlet ports, cylinder head modifications, a re-calibrated ECM and a revised turbocharger. The most visible external styling changes was the addition of a larger rear wing taken from the Sport 300. In 1996 the Esprit V8 used Lotus’ self-developed all-aluminium, twin-turbocharged (Garrett T25/60 turbos) 90-degree V-8, Code-named Type 918, in front of the same Renault transmission as before with no Chargecooler. Derek Bell developed an uprated gearbox that overcame a lot of the gearbox problems with a much thicker single piece input shaft. The Type 918 engine was detuned from a potential 500 bhp to 350 bhp to prevent gearbox damage due to the fragility of the Renault UN-1 transmission. In period tests, zero to sixty miles per hour came in at 4.4 seconds and top speeds of over 175 mph were achieved. Produced alongside V8 models was the GT3, a turbocharged four-cylinder car with the type 920 2.0 litre chargecooled and turbocharged engine which had been used only in Italian market cars previously. In 1998 the V8 range was split into SE and GT specifications, both cars with a much changed interior configuration, both offering similar performance with the SE being the more luxurious of the two. The ultimate incarnation of the Esprit came in 1999 with the Sport 350. Only 50 were made, each offering 350 horsepower (per the name) and various engine, chassis and braking improvements, like the addition of AP Racing brakes, stiffer springs and a revised ECU. Several visual changes were made as well, including the addition of a large carbon fibre rear wing on aluminium uprights in place of the standard fibreglass rear wing. By this time the Esprit could reach 60 mph in 4.3 seconds as well as reaching 0-100 mph in less than 10 seconds, and weighed 1,300 kg (2,866 lb) as a result of many modifications. Thereafter, Lotus made little development aside from minor cosmetic changes including a switch to four round tail lights for the 2002 model year. Esprit production ceased in February 2004 after a 28 year production run. A total of 10,675 Esprits were produced.
Last car in the main display is this McLaren 650S which has been loaned by McLaren themselves.
Also in this section of the display were three cars which appeared just parked at the end, not quite part of the main display. Two of the further examples of something I had seen earlier in the museum tour. These were an example of the first front wheel drive Ford Escort, in facelifted guise, a late model Mini Cooper.
Also here was a second Triumph TR7, this one a Coupe.
DRIVE DAD’S CAR
An additional attraction at the site is the fact that there is quite a sizeable fleet of cars that you can drive. You can’t take them far – just a circuit on site – and you are accompanied, but this is sure to be a popular activity, and certainly one I can see myself wanting to take advantage of, though I did not do so on this occasion, as it was quite busy and you still have to wear a face mask whilst driving. The available fleet is illustrated on the venue’s web site, and the cars were all parked up outside, waiting, but you could not get up close (“health and safety”!, so there are only pictures of those which were near enough to be able to get photos of them.
This pair of late model Austin Seven were parked up by the museum’s main entrance.
Also there was this Sunbeam Alpine. The first Sunbeam to bear the Alpine name was an open-topped version of the Sunbeam-Talbot 90 sports saloon, named after the model’s success in rallying, especially the Monte Carlo rally, launched in 1953. Kenneth Howes and Jeff Crompton were tasked with doing a complete redesign in 1956, with the goal of producing a dedicated sports car aimed principally at the US market to compete with the MGs and Triumphs that were very popular. Ken Howes contributed some 80 per cent of the overall design work, which bears more than incidental resemblance to the early Ford Thunderbird, hardly a surprise, as Howe had worked at Ford before joining Rootes. The Alpine was produced in four subsequent revisions until 1968. Total production numbered around 70,000. Production stopped shortly after the Chrysler takeover of the Rootes Group. Styled by the Loewy Studios for the Rootes Group, the “Series” Alpine started production in late 1959. One of the original prototypes still survives and was raced by British Touring car champion Bernard Unett. The car made extensive use of components from other Rootes Group vehicles and was built on a modified floorpan from the Hillman Husky estate car. The Series I used a 1,494 cc engine with dual downdraft carburettors, a soft top that could be hidden by special integral covers and the first available wind-up side windows offered in a British sports car of that time. The running gear came mainly from the Sunbeam Rapier, but with front disc brakes replacing the saloon car’s drums. An overdrive unit and wire wheels were optional. The suspension was independent at the front using coil springs and at the rear had a live axle and semi-elliptic springing. The Girling-manufactured brakes used 9.5 in discs at the front and 9 in drums at the rear. An open car with overdrive was tested by The Motor in 1959. It had a top speed of 99.5 mph and could accelerate from 0–60 mph in 13.6 seconds. A fuel consumption of 31.4 mpg was recorded. The test car cost £1031 including taxes. 11,904 examples of the series I were produced. The Series II of 1962 featured an enlarged 1,592 cc engine producing 80 bhp and revised rear suspension, but there were few other changes. When it was replaced in 1963, 19,956 had been made. The Series III was produced in open and removable hardtop versions. On the hardtop version the top could be removed and the soft-top was stored behind the small rear seat; also the 1592 cc engine was less powerful. To provide more room in the boot, twin fuel tanks in the rear wings were fitted. Quarter light were fitted to the windows. Between 1963 and 1964, 5863 were made. For the Series IV, made in 1964 and 1965, there was no longer a lower-output engine option; the convertible and hardtop versions shared the same 82 bhp engine with single Solex carburettor. A new rear styling was introduced with the fins largely removed. Automatic transmission with floor-mounted control became an option, but was unpopular. From autumn 1964 a new manual gearbox with synchromesh on first gear was adopted in line with its use in other Rootes cars. A total of 12,406 were made. The final version was the Series V, produced between 1965–6.
Of the cars that were ready for someone to drive, there was a Hillman Imp, a couple of Morris Minor including a second example of the Minor Million and an early Mini.
The museum was busy whilst I was there, which is not unexpected given that it had only just opened and that people have not been able to go anywhere much for months but I foresee a great future even when the novelty wears off, as the ability to go back down memory lane – ample evidence of which I overheard in so many conversations where we people were talking about memories of these cars from when they were new – is bound to have an enduring appeal.
More details can be found at the museum’s own website: https://www.greatbritishcarjourney.com/