EXPORT DRIVE: BMC AND BRITISH LEYLAND CARS IN EUROPE AND THE WORLD 1945–85
Published 2015 Reviewer’s own copy ISBN 978-1-511936613
Reviewed by: Mark Holman The title of this large softcover book might sound a bit dry, but it’s one of the best industry histories that I’ve read. I only wish that I’d come across it sooner so that this review was more current.
Building the book around the many marques that made up British Leyland in its various guises after World War II, with a focus on Austin and Morris, author Cowin covers the whole scene and the difficulties these brands faced — or created for themselves. For a few years after World War II, car-starved markets accepted British cars readily, and Empire/commonwealth Preference tariff arrangements helped in a number of markets. That situation changed quite quickly, though.
Within these 188 pages, you’ll find all the models and their suitability (or, often, lack of); personalities; markets; and the impact of things like exchange-rate fluctuations, government regulations, industrial relations within the car companies or their suppliers, endless restructuring within the UK companies and their overseas subsidiaries (which affected many dealers), poor spares and service, investment decisions, fragmented model ranges, wildly optimistic market forecasts, and competition from Europe and Japan, etc. Sometimes, the company was unlucky, too; for instance, the reversal of the US decision to ‘outlaw’ convertibles came too late for BMC to change a number of market decisions it had put in place.
Individual markets, local assembly and supply, and British Leyland’s (usually unfulfilled) hopes for these also get plenty of coverage, from New Zealand and South Africa to the US, Ireland, and Denmark.
As well as the broader picture, the book is full of fascinating snippets that help explain a lot. One example: when the Jaguar XJ-S was proving popular in Germany, dealers were told that they could only be supplied with one if they also took 10 Morris Marinas!
This is a large softcover book with about 60 black-and-white photos and adverts. I was able to find a reasonably priced copy on Trade Me. Well worth looking for!