Six cars that rep­re­sented the scope and big am­bi­tions of the Bri­tish mo­tor in­dus­try

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - 70 Years Of The Standard Vanguard -

Stan­dard’s an­nounce­ment of its new Van­guard in July 1947 marked a new era for the UK’s car in­dus­try. Bri­tain was not a ma­jor ex­porter of cars be­fore the Sec­ond World War, but the Van­guard was de­signed to flow, ac­cord­ing to the man­u­fac­turer, ‘in ever in­creas­ing num­bers to the mar­kets of the world’.

In the im­me­di­ate post-war era, the Gov­ern­ment saw au­to­mo­tive ex­ports as a key el­e­ment in re­build­ing the econ­omy, but the chal­lenges fac­ing the Bri­tish mo­tor in­dus­try were vast. Many bomb­dam­aged fac­to­ries were only just gear­ing up to civil­ian pro­duc­tion and such was the short­age of raw ma­te­ri­als that the Min­istry of Sup­ply al­lo­cated Bri­tain’s car­mak­ers with steel ac­cord­ing to their ex­port sales. By 1947 the mo­tor in­dus­try was ex­pected to sell 75 per cent of its out­put abroad.

More than a mil­lion Bri­tish cars went over­seas be­tween 1949 and 1951 – twice that of the USA and dou­ble that of France, Italy and Ger­many com­bined. The UK’s share of world mo­tor ex­ports was just 15 per cent in 1937, but this fig­ure had risen to 52 per cent by 1950.

Bri­tons wish­ing to buy a new car in the late 1940s had to wait for years but the UK’s ve­hi­cle mak­ers had to bal­ance over­seas sales with the de­mands of the lib­er­alised do­mes­tic car mar­ket as the 1950s pro­gressed. Fur­ther­more, the mo­tor in­dus­try be­gan to face in­creas­ing com­pe­ti­tion across the world, first from a resur­gent Euro­pean mo­tor in­dus­try and then from an in­flux of new Ja­panese ri­vals. How­ever, the fas­ci­nat­ing book, Bri­tish Cars

of the Late Six­ties es­ti­mated that ‘one in ten out of ev­ery car in the world was from the UK’ by the end of that decade – a fig­ure that was achieved against con­sid­er­able odds.

One con­stant is­sue fac­ing all car­mak­ers was that of im­port du­ties – Bri­tish ve­hi­cles re­ceived pref­er­en­tial treat­ment in Den­mark while the prices of for­eign cars were vastly in­flated in Italy. To cir­cum­vent such re­stric­tions, cars were fre­quently dis­patched in com­pletely knocked down (CKD) form, which saved on ship­ping costs and al­lowed the ve­hi­cle to be as­sem­bled as a ‘home prod­uct’, us­ing a cer­tain per­cent­age of for­eign­made com­po­nents. The de­gree of lo­cal con­tent var­ied and as­sem­bly some­times de­vel­oped into full man­u­fac­tur­ing. Ac­cord­ing to mo­tor­ing his­to­rian (and for­mer CCW editor) Keith Adams, the newly-formed Bri­tish Ley­land had 66 over­seas plants and for­eign pro­duc­tion amounted to 340,000 ve­hi­cles per year by 1968.

The 1970s saw a marked de­cline in over­seas sales of Bri­tish-made cars. Chris Cowin notes in his en­gross­ing book, Ex­port Drive: BMC & Bri­tish Ley­land Cars in Europe and the World 1945-1985, that ‘Bri­tish car ex­ports to the USA had vir­tu­ally ceased by 1982, while for the Com­mon­wealth area they had de­clined to a very low level.’

Yet, this does not de­tract from the Bri­tish mo­tor in­dus­try’s achiev­ments; if we were to in­clude ev­ery car ex­ported from or as­sem­bled by the UK this ar­ti­cle would start to re­sem­ble War and Peace in terms of length, if not lit­er­ary achieve­ment.

Some mod­els en­joyed a lengthy af­ter­life, such as the mighty Hin­dus­tan Am­bas­sador (née Mor­ris Ox­ford Se­ries III) and many ve­hi­cles were ‘for ex­port only’, from the US-mar­ket Tri­umph TR250 to the Ply­mouth Cricket, aka the Hill­man Avenger.

Car­mak­ers across the world also formed li­cence agree­ments with over­seas man­u­fac­tur­ers, re­sult­ing in the Hyundai-built Ford Cortina, Hill­man Hunter-based Paykan (which is still in pro­duc­tion as a pick-up) and the Nis­san-made Austin A40 Som­er­set and A50 Cam­bridge.

And so, the half a dozen cars we’ve as­sem­bled here are just a few ex­am­ples of the sheer di­ver­sity of the ‘Ex­port or Die’ ethos.

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