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Here at ViaRETRO, we have often touched on the subject of the complete collapse of the British car industry. We have done so both on our Danish site as well as here on our English site – multiple times even. It’s a fascinating – if rather sad – subject. Today, it’s time to revisit the fall of British car manufacturers again simply because I happened to stumble across this excellent graphical illustration.

The great sinner in the collapse has of course long been known to be the British Leyland corporation. This illustration shows perfectly just how brutal its strangulating hold on the whole industry became with the grand merger in 1968.

Of course, the illustration also shows that there were several other mergers prior to 1968, however they were all of much smaller scale and nowhere near as all-encompassing as in 1968. Have another look at the diagram: British Leyland killed off all of seven proud, old British car manufacturers, starting with Riley only one year after the merger, and eventually including big and significant marques such as Austin, Morris and Triumph – all of which dated back to well before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Yet mergers like these aren’t uncommon, and similar events took place in other car producing nations – just not with the same catastrophic consequences as in Britain. Of all the marques on the diagram, every single one of them is now either deceased or owned by non-British corporations. In fact, that even applies to those British car manufacturers which are not displayed on the diagram – except for one…

The only British marque to have dodged the bullet, remained British owned and largely continued unchanged since the company’s very conception is of course the Morgan Motor Company. Had they been included in the above diagram, they would have simply been illustrated with one long, straight, vertical line. At Morgan, development has never been permitted to impact on the original concepts. Of course there has been a slow evolution of their models – especially in recent years (driven largely by legislation). But despite now utilising all-aluminium engines, the tradition bound company still to this day holds stubbornly onto using ash frames in order to strengthen the bodywork of their small roadsters.

The Morgan company is in many ways the very definition of British. Further to that, it’s driven by a man – or a few men – with a very clear vision. It was a small workshop with mechanics and engineers which slowly grew with time and ended up with actual car production. And that’s where it remained.

What can we deduct from this? I’m not entirely sure myself. Would Austin have survived if it had been managed by someone like Henry Morgan or his son Charles? Probably not. How do our knowledgeable ViaRETRO readers feel about the demise of the British automobile industry, and how do you feel about Morgan? Feel free to discuss in the comments area below…


7 Responses

  1. Per Ørsted

    Major problem was the quality/quality control, tecnical innovation, strikes and the like. Japan and Germany took of and were serious about it. Loved the British cars but left them due to really poor quality. Sad story.

  2. jakob356

    Being in the field og graphical visualisation myself, I love the diagramme! But it must be pretty old, since no one has heard from Rover og MG in over 10 years. But nevertheless suitable for a retro website!

    I would have loved to see Reliant, Vauxhall, Jensen, Bristol, Lotus, Rolls-Royce and Aston Martin fit in there as well somehow.
    And didn’t Jaguar start out as “SS Cars”? The original Rover company name is there.

    In the age of the internet, nationality does not matter too much. It is not so important that your american iPhone is built in China.
    I certainly don’t care that our rainy day commuter car, which bears a proud french lion on the hood, was designed by an italian, built in the Czech Republic and has a japanese engine that Toyota got from Daihatsu. I DO care that it costs nothing to buy or run or repair and never breaks down.

  3. Dave Leadbetter

    I hate to be the one to say it, but Morgan is no longer British owned either. An Italian investment company bought a controlling stake earlier this year…

  4. Tony Wawryk

    AS many ViaRETRO readers will know, I worked for British Leyland/Austin Rover Group during some of the most turbulent years of the Sir Michel Edwardes era – I wrote a bit about it as part of my NEC Classic report last November. During my time there – October 1979 to (from memory) April 1985 – we launched the Metro, Maestro, Montego, Acclaim (Triumph badged Honda Ballade), Rover 200, Morris Ital, Ambassador and some of the SD1 variants. Quite a few of these cars were pretty Ok (the Ital a dishonourable exception) but poorly executed, and there was considerable industrial unrest. Most of the mergers in the diagram had happened by then, but the company was already well on the slippery slope of decline.
    Interestingly, the UK was – until very recently – making more cars than for many years, but for other manufacturers, mainly Japanese ones, ironically enough, so it’s clear that the Brits can manufacture reliable cars – I guess you can draw your own conclusions from that.

  5. yrhmblhst

    Must disagree vehemently with Mr Jakob356 – it DOES make all the difference in the world where cars [and other things] are built as well as who / where the parent company is. caring only about short term ‘cost’ is one of the things that has gotten us – us being the Western Societies – in to a lot of the economic and social troubles we now face.

  6. jakob356

    You are probably right.
    With my 8 classic vehicles I do care a lot about heritage, and in which factory it was made and how. I can spend many hours with the internet researching.
    But the boring commuter car to me is just a thing, that is there to do its purpose, until it someday does not work anymore, like a regular hammer or a broomstick. And if it was cheaper to rent one from the corner of the street, like an electric scooter, I would probably do that instead.
    If someday it came out, that it was made with child labour, the production polluted an awful lot, the makers never paid their taxes, or it was supported by some non democratic power, we would probably switch to another “better” product.
    Within 10 years it will probably be common bad taste to own a fossile fuels driven car, but it is most likely worn out by then.

  7. Dave Leadbetter

    @jakob356 “If someday it came out, that it was made with child labour, the production polluted an awful lot, the makers never paid their taxes, or it was supported by some non democratic power….”

    If you (probably) remove child labour from the equation, you’ve inadvertently described much of the motor industry there, if you trace the supply chains back far enough…

    I have to agree with our Stateside correspondent that the global race to the bottom will ultimately have no winners. But you make a fair point, Jakob, that cars have become so anodyne you might as well just rent the least offensive one. Certainly in these parts, all the car advertisements focus more on how easy it is to link your i-telephone to the infotainment system rather than how good they are to drive (spoiler alert – they’re all about the same). As a former motor industry survivor myself it saddens me to see how I can no longer relate to it anymore…

    It hurt me to write the word “infotainment”.


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