It's Overheated Again... B.L. - A Disaster?
Did the British automotive giant really deserve all of the hate?
The British Leyland Motor Corporation was founded in 1968 following the merger between Leyland Motors and British Motor Holdings, formerly the British Motor Corporation. Ultimately, they took over where B.M.C. left off with the company becoming bigger by the second. The merger meant that B.L's new leaders were now in charge of some of the best selling and finest marques in British automotive history such as: Austin, Morris, Triumph, Riley and Rover among many. This acquisition of illustrious names meant only one thing; time to make some money?
In this 5 year period, several successful vehicles from the 60s were still in production with only minor changes. This included the highly influential Mini among others, with the square-nosed 1275GT model being introduced in 1969.
You have to love the comedic 1970s advertising!
There were also interesting developments such as the Triumph Dolomite Sprint, released in 1973. The world's first production car to have 16 valves and the first British saloon car to have alloy wheels as standard. The cylinder head even won a British Design Council award!
The good times were about to end - 1973-1986
You have to remember that this is the era of striking in England; the extent of which was played upon and mocked in the brilliant 1971 film, Carry On At Your Convenience, which I insist you watch if you haven't already! Anyway! It's as simple as this, the B.L. staff spent more time outside, huddling for warmth around a burning barrel than they did inside the factory. As the years passed, during the times the workers actually elected to be inside the factory and because of the seemingly impossible working standards set by the unions, the quality of the vehicles produced weened like the confidence the production line had with their management. This truly reflected in the quality of the cars that left their factories.
The Triumph Stag - a good car, ruined.
To give one example of the issues shrouding the company, I draw your attention to this - The Triumph Stag. It was a great concept; a burbly V8 engine, a big boot, numerous comforts such as electric windows and power steering and the fact that it was the ideal grand tourer. The idea was that their owners could pack their bags and, within a matter of hours, be sipping wine in Monte Carlo. What's not to like there? There is a huge misconception regarding this particular car, however. Allow me to explain. Many of them suffered with monumental overheating problems, resulting in blown up engines and a massive bill. It seemed that no matter what anyone did to these cars, the engines would simply overheat which ultimately sealed the fate of the Stag in 1976 and cemented its reputation as a car that couldn't keep its engine cool. This reputation wasn't deserved as was proved in the excellent TV series For the Love of Cars, starring Ant Anstead and Philip Glenister. The route of the problem? The production line. The coolant system was more than adequate yet, because of the shoddy manufacturing, it didn't seem so.
The end of British Leyland's competitions department
B.M.C. and later B.L. were quite fanatically committed to motorsport and rallying in particular, from 1955 to 1980. The cars kept flying out of the Abingdon Competition Department throughout the 60s and 70s with vehicles like the MGB, the Mini and the Austin-Healey 3000. All of which beat expectations and sometimes surprised the world by beating larger, more powerful cars!
With this awesome repertoire of highly successful motorsport vehicles, it comes as a tremendous shock to us that in 1980, B.L. decided to close their illustrious Competition Department. The reasons for the closure could be down to serious problems within the company's financial situation at the time or that the leaders simply weren't interested in the sport anymore. Either way, this closure ultimately marked the eventual demise of several fascinating years of British cars being well and truly a match for the likes of companies such as Porsche and Saab in the rallying world. Maybe this put the public off the cars, too?
It started well and ended terribly
So, it seems that what started as a brilliant idea full of record-breaking potential declined with every passing year into what is now a tearful reminder of that which could have been. The great British marques could have still been produced to this day but instead, they've fallen into the pages of history to be left, gathering dust in the darkest corner of motoring's history. It's a real shame that so many forces pushed this company over the edge but, in the words of Isaac Newton, "what goes up, must come down."
What do you think?
As always, let me know what you think of this article and, if you have any ideas why British Leyland's reputation is so shocking despite some very clever designs, please get discussing in the comments! I am, as you probably know already, a massively devout fan of these cars and I know some of you are too. Let's try and change the public perception of what was, in truth, a company that created some awesome cars over its history, despite the problems it faced from within - it's about time!