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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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Rover R6X

The observant among you will have noticed two common themes in this top ten: the 'make do and mend' approach of model development; and the '... then they ran out of money' statement that echos throughout the pages. Well, the Rover R6X combines both of those threads. R6 was a Metro replacement that used much of the Metro's underpinnings with a few suspension tweaks. Because, you know, creating a new model out of a car that's already a decade old has always worked... not. The model made it all the way to the prototype stage before - you guessed it - management opted to save a few quid and the rather familiar looking Rover Metro of 1990 was deployed. As missed opportunities go, R6X takes top spot. All the hard work had been done so development costs would've been minimal, but the car looked different enough to have earned a new name and the sales potential that goes with that. As it was, the Metro was left to sell long after its best before date had expired.


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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