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Top 10: British car industry 'might have beens'

The demise of the British motor industry in the 1970s and 1980s is a tale of missed opportunities. Cars that might have been great if only they'd received the funding they deserved. Instead, management so often chose the path of least resistance - also known as the cheapest option.

Choosing ten cars from such rich pickings wasn't easy, but we reckon we've picked the models that - if they had made it into production - might have made the biggest difference to the fortunes of British Leyland, Rover and BMC. So let's take a trip down memory lane in a parallel universe.. if that's even a thing.

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Tue, 11 Dec 2018

Rover 55

Granted, it's a bit of a Marmite car - but the the Rover 55 was the proposed replacement for the 45. With BMW at the helm, the car was developed in the late 1990s and scheduled for a 2003 launch. It was part of a two-pronged attack on the premium sector, which included the Rover 75. While the long nose and setback cabin hints at a rear-wheel drive design, the car was actually meant to be front-wheel drive. Power would come from a longitudinally-mounted K-series four-pot. It was penned with the focus on near 50-50 weight distribution and was expected to share its underpinnings with the 75, which actually handled pretty neatly (as the ZT proved). Would it have sold? Perhaps not against the 3-series and Audi A4 in the early 2000s. But as that market has diversified, it could've slotted in against streamlined executives like the 4-series and A5. Sadly, it was a victim of BMW's reduced ambition for Rover and the 55 was shelved leaving the 45 to soldier on.


Chris C    on 28 February 2018

Defeats continually snatched from the jaws of victory...

Why the "would've" abbreviations?

   on 1 March 2018

I agree with Chris C.
However, the article does not mention the deal struck between unions and management whereby strikes at supplier factories would lead to temporary layoffs at BL, but these layoffs would be paid. This meant that much government money destined to be invested in new models was siphoned off into workforce wages. It was a well-meaning agreement and well intentioned. Unfortunately the result was that every time part of the BL supply chain broke down because of a dispute, investment money was diverted into the wages bill. I was there at the time. Anybody who thinks that the 1970s were some kind of halcyon paradise we should somehow return to is a deluded fool. It was an awful time for everybody.

Howard Buchanan    on 1 March 2018

Nice try but no cigar. The only way in which our car industry could have been saved would have been to ban trade unions from operating within the industry- full stop. It took the Japanese and the Germans, of all people, to bring us to our senses, but by then it was too late for our car industry. Fortunately, Margaret Thatcher curbed the destructive power of the unions and thus limited the damage to the rest of the economy.

   on 1 March 2018

The unions get a bad press in this, but the fault lay at least as much - in fact, more - with greedy, petty incompetent, dishonest management. The squabbling, lack of vision and obsession with siphoning off the money into their pension funds is what killed MBC/BL/AR. The unions were right. The management were the villains. Of course, the press, under Thatcher's control, fed us a different and cynically false, picture, but history has now revealed the true facts.

If the management had run a competent and honest company with a decent labour relations and investment strategy, then the unions would have had nothing to complain about. No workers want to go on strike, but when their jobs, security and prospects are under continual erosion and attack, then what else can they do? Thatcher and her cronies deliberately appointed junkyard-dog managers into the organization whose job was solely to whip up discontent in an attempt to break the unions. It was never about making cars. It was only ever a political power play on part of a corrupt cabinet.

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