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The BMC Story

drambuie

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Thanks for sharing this BMC documentary. Too bad all the over the top U.S Government political regulations put the Great British Sport car company's out of business back then. A destruction of a whole industry that produced some of the most Fun and beautiful cars ever made. I have to wonder how the Austin Healey, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Triumph and MG brands would have developed over the years! What a shame so few effect the so many!
 
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The decline of the British Motor industry was affected by far more than a few US governmental regulations. I recommend T. Whistler's At the end of the road : the rise and fall of Austin-Healy, MG, and Triumph sports cars and The British Motor Industry, 1945-1994: A Case Study in Industrial Decline for explanations: "British-owned firms suffered from pervasive weaknesses, particularly in engineering, product-design characteristics, product quality, and distribution. The debilitating effects of these functions have largely been overlooked in previous studies, which have concentrated primarily upon manufacturing, investment, and corporate strategies." These cars were often treated as cash-cows and weren't developed as they should have been-- and other competitors like Datsun's 240z,offered competing products that were more modern. In 1973 I went into BL and ordered a distributor drive gear for an MG-- it took 21 months to arrive.
 
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HealeyRick

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By the time the U.S. safety regs came into play for the '68 models, the British sports cars were all a little long in the tooth. The Healey couldn't meet the new standards, but even at the introduction of the BJ8, R&T was calling it outdated. The MGB was a five year old design and not updated. The TR6 was fairly new, but again a throwback design. Competing against these offerings were quite modern designs from Porsche with the 914, Fiat with the 124 and 850 Spyders, Datsun with the 1600 and 2000 roadsters (a better MGB) and of course, the game changer - the 240Z Also competing against the LBCs were the U.S. pony cars and muscle cars, which really put a dent into British sports car sales. Even the BMW 2002 was taking sales away from the LBCs. BMC and BL never seemed to put the funds into developing new models and even when they did, the union troubles resulted in hideous quality control issues (see the TR7) that just about killed desire to buy a British sports car in the US. No doubt the safety and emission regs really hurt the performance of the MGB, MG Midget and Triumph Spitfire. but those cars were so outdated that they were only appealing to the real dedicated LBC buyers. It is sad, though, to watch the film and see what we as enthusiasts, and the UK as a nation, lost.
 

drambuie

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Thanks for the recommendation in case study, I will certainly give it a read...I always find history so fascinating and as it pertains to our current and future political and industrial circumstance we find ourself in, both domestic and abroad. I remember back in the seventies how profoundly Products from Japan started a world revolution in terms of engineering, CNC machining and upscale quality and work ethic. Namely the 750 Honda Motorcycle... I was witness to see how that 1969 CB 750 Honda change the way the American people looked at things in terms of reliability and quality. What a radical difference compared to the very crude castings and machining of Harley Davidson or British motor castings for example. I remember Honda introducing me to CNC Machining at that time... I could not get over how beautiful the castings looked, the very close tolerances of all there motor components...not to mention the quality of electrics and engineering. To me at least... The 750 Honda Changed "EVERYTHING" Just push the button and go! No more oil leaks, smoking popping spitting motors that break down.... I took many a road trip on my 750 Honda... Gone where my British made 850 Nortons and Harley Sportsters and SuperGlides... However, later on I still owned and loved both vintage And current Harley's. And eventually old British sports cars became my Great Passion. I always loved owning and driving sport cars of great contrast, Such as my old British sports cars and My Nissan 350Z Roadster. Each one makes me appreciate the other! However, 90% of the time I would pull the car cover off the Healey when faced with choosing which car to drive!
 

John Turney

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Great video. When the BMC video finishes, there are other videos to select, including a three-part series by the Top Gear guy on why the British car industry went away. None of the reasons given had to do with US regulations. The Brits were always good at working around government regulations.
 

Editor_Reid

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I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the role of unions in the demise of the British motor industry. I don't claim to be a scholar on the subject, but with dozens of unions and frequent strikes by many of them at once - hardly a day going by without numerous of them on strike - it seems that it could not have had anything but a very negative effect on production and economics.

I have always thought of the death of the British motor industry as more of a suicide than a murder. Competition from the Japanese and new and increasing US regulations certainly were not helpful, but in the main didn't they do it to themselves?
 

John Turney

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I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the role of unions in the demise of the British motor industry. I don't claim to be a scholar on the subject, but with dozens of unions and frequent strikes by many of them at once - hardly a day going by without numerous of them on strike - it seems that it could not have had anything but a very negative effect on production and economics.

I have always thought of the death of the British motor industry as more of a suicide than a murder. Competition from the Japanese and new and increasing US regulations certainly were not helpful, but in the main didn't they do it to themselves?

These videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAWH0EfMDfc&list=PLD929613E95DBFB9F with Jeremy Clarkson will give you about five reasons, including the unions, for it's demise.
 
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57_BN4

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What is really interesting is that the "rise and fall" is part of a bigger cycle which affects all entities both small and large. It wouldn't have mattered how the deckchairs were arranged, the result was fixed in stone long before the industry even began because it is part of a bigger concept that we humans don't yet really understand. We can plot the same cycle for just about any entity or group including our current civilisation which to some degree tracks the progress of the motor industry.

The good news is that the rise and fall is only part of the cycle. After the "fall" or unwinding phase comes a renaissance which is the modern British motor industry.


Andy.
 

drambuie

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I would whole heartily agree, The history of mankind keeps repeating itself and runs the same old cycle, The same old tired failed recycled garbage that has reverberated through the ages...The problem is, each current generation thinks the recycled garbage is something new!
 

pan

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The demise of the British industry was bigger that just the motor industry. Very great social problems beset Britain at that time. Radical unionism was just a sympton of those problems.
 

EV2239

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The demise of the British industry was bigger that just the motor industry. Very great social problems beset Britain at that time. Radical unionism was just a sympton of those problems.

Unions were destructive and a nuisance before the war, but the real problems started when anyone worth his salt went off to fight and the factories were left with radical, far left extremists, pacifists, you name it. They even refused to train women and struck endlessly and they owned the Labour Party. They were trying to sabotage the war effort and they nearly succeeded. Worse than that, they were what returning troops had to work with.

In simple terms manufacturing only succeeds by reducing costs to remain competitive and the unions only exist to undermine this every which way. By the sixties two industrial leaders were hired to sort out BL/BMC and both told Harold Wilson that half of the 80,000 work force would have to be sacked to save the company. Because of union intransigence, twice as many worked for the company as were needed. Wilson refused to allow a single redundancy knowing that the problems would affect his successors, mostly Margaret Thatcher because, by the time she was elected, demand had evaporated and there was nothing to save.

There is evidence to show that the KGB were sending "shop stewards" to the UK to help our glorious workers in their struggle, I had friends in Special Branch who had to follow them. At it's core the Unions believed that total collapse of the British economy would result in a Socialist utopia, presumably with them in control. We got to 26% inflation and we were nearly bankrupted by the IMF thanks to all this.

Harold Wilson made speeches about the "white heat of technology" while simultaneously signing our manufacturing industry's death warrant. Eventually he had a complete breakdown that was covered up at the time. Callaghan, his successor had holidayed with Stalin when he was younger an returned enthused by his marvellous interpretation of socialism. Barmy or what!

Britain had a malign influence after the war that the Germans were lucky to avoid. They started anew and we carried in a beleaguered and near bankrupt state, underfunded and against the odds and this left us weak and unable to deal with it. The unions ownership of the labour party left them powerless to cope. Sadly our Labour Party is still union owned, but the Public sector now.

When it was too late, many of those in coal or manufacturing realised that the unions had robbed them of the life they loved and that they'd just been a pawn in power game.

Social problems, not really. Dirty politics more like.
 
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57_BN4

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The individual politics and workforce unionisation is largely irrelevant in the bigger picture because the driving forces behind what happened are far bigger than any actual series of events. The cycle that was the great British motor industry played out approximately the same in Detroit as well and presumably Japan in later years and in the not too distant future China and Korea.

The very basic supply and demand curve determines the fate of any product and therefore its industry. Nobody can outsmart this one.
ch5_6.jpg


This cycle is not too different to the predator/prey model inherent in natural population balance, particularly with respect to an introduced species. An introduced species [personal transport] has a rapid growth as it consumes the easy food [eager car buyers] then has a die-off phase when it has outstripped its food supply [woops] then returns to a steady state where supply and demand are matched but both the predator and food supply have adapted to each other. It doesn't matter what the entity is, the cycle is pretty much the same. Wasps, rabbits, fish, cars, smart phones, flat screen TVs all follow approximately the same curve.

What this says is that we humans aren't yet smart enough overall to avoid the inevitability that this model predicts. Fear and greed are the primary driving forces that generate this cycle and as these are automated processes within all of us it is unlikely that we will outsmart this model any time soon.

Andy.
 

drambuie

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I promised the good editor Reid I would just talk about technical things here on this forum, but I whole heartily agree with EV2239 100%
 

glemon

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Interestingly, I think you can argue that the brits were at or near the top of the automotive world in the postwar on into the 50s, the jag 120 offered world beating performance at a much lower cost than comparable cars coming from Italy, and later Germany (300SL). The Triumph TR2 would outdrag any stock American car to 60 MPH when introduced, at the end of their cycle on top you had the advanced E-type (DOHC, four wheel discs, four wheel independent suspension) and the Mini, which became the template for a good chunk of the world automotive production 25 years later or so, by which time most all mass production lower to middle class sedans were unibody traverse engine front wheel drive for the packaging and production cost advantages. But then, with the exception of low volume manufacturers like Lotus, development stagnated, and the cars being sold in the late 60s and early 70s were basically the same or evolutionary continuations of late 50s design (see MGB, Big Healey, AH Sprite). American cars offered a hard to beat combination of power, reliability, comfort, space, and a higher level of technical sophistication than they are usually given credit for the in 60s (for example, best slushboxes and AC systems in the world, great bang for the buck v-8s), but this didn't really kill the British car in America. The rise of the European and Japanese cars in the late 60s and early seventies, which dealt with increased concern about fuel and insurance costs, and probably most importantly also dealt much better with US emissions regulations than the British or the American manufacturers, coupled with the fact that the European and Japanese cars were more direct competitors with the British cars, and the brit cars were getting to be really old designs is what sounded the death knell for the British sports car. MGs and Healeys were based on British sedans, if you look at the production numbers for many of these cars they often weren't greater than the numbers for the sports cars, there weren't the economies of scale needed to make a profit and put money back into development, and what money there was for development went into meeting US regulations instead of increasing performance or other marketable characteristics like body style. As production and design techniques changed, for example from frame on body to unibody, the cost of tooling up for new models got more expensive as well. I remember reading one about one BL executive from the period who said the production volumes were just never quite there to make a profit, with no profit for development the problems just compounded themselves, the last great hurrah was the TR7, which sold in very good numbers to start. But the new wore off and the reliability reputation hurt it as well. In fact the later convertibles built in 79-80 were pretty good cars, my brother bought one new and drove it for years, but even the glowing reviews of the TR8 could not save them at that point and the imports besides Jag went away, followed by most of the domestic industry in the next 15 years or so.
 

EV2239

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Britain claimed to make the best cars in the world after the war and that wasn't unreasonable. Not only that, but we'd exported a million cars by 1950, so we were the worlds largest exporters. However we had serious problems. Our factories were spread all over the place and small, we did not have the economies of scale of the American giants and the Labour Government has insisted on more factories being built where there was no work. This made serious logistic problems worse. Therefore what we achieved was remarkable and praiseworthy, but the Industry's leaders were demoralised and they knew that everything they made was too expensive and not profitable enough.

By 1955 the Germans overtook us as the worlds greatest exporters and I believe the industry saw the end then. Government interference and union issues had them in a vice and they had nowhere to go. Despite this, there were still signs of genius and we lasted longer than anyone expected.

Interestingly Britain made as many cars last year as it did at its peak in the seventies, after all these years we're finally back to where we were, but not with UK owned companies sadly.
 
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