Saturday, September 9, 2023

Jaguar and Land Rover - odd bedfellows?

William Lyons and the Wilks brothers created remarkable companies which made iconic vehicles. Was it just fate that brought the companies together?

The route to the first ‘marriage’ was circuitous.

In the fifties, William Lyons and Jaguar were doing well, producing cars much in demand and they had virtually doubled in size by buying Daimler, but also Coventry Climax and Guy Motors. To be honest this was a pretty rich mix. It therefore still strikes me as strange that Lyons would enter into merger discussions with George Harriman at BMC. Yet, we have to remember the times  –  when BMC’s Mini was the must have vehicle for swinging sixties. BMC also owned MG and Austin-Healey whose sports cars were much in demand.  It seems that Lyons saw BMC as having the weight to finance the development of the Jaguar models which he had at least in his mind if not on the drawing board. Jaguar merged with BMC to become British Motor Holdings in 1966.

The Wilks brothers had retired from Rover in the early sixties and Donald Stokes of Leyland viewed the company as offering a slice of motoring quality to the bus and truck company which he ran. Rover would join Triumph which had become part of Leyland with the Standard-Triumph acquisition in 1960.

The mid sixties saw BMH running into trouble. The answer in the eyes of the new Labour government was size and this would be provided by the charismatic Donald Stokes and Leyland. The merger took place in 1968.

The new group had riches beyond price in terms of wonderful motor cars. The Jaguar E-type and XJ6, the Rover P6, the Triumph 2000 not to mention the MGB and Triumph TR5. It also had a vehicle originally made for farmers from aluminium left over from aircraft production – the Land Rover. Rather more ominously it had a large number of old factories, dominant shop stewards and mass market motor cars that the public didn’t really want.

I explore what became the British Leyland story in my next book, Vehicles to Vaccines.

For this blog I note just three events that ensured that Jaguar and Land Rover would survive.

The rationalisation of BL could so easily have led to the loss of the Land Rover; instead the factory at Solihull was made over to 4x4 production. The Range Rover had been introduced at the end of the sixties just as BL was running out of money. The car was perfectly timed and demand soon far exceeded supply.

A little later, a brilliant manager, Geoffrey Robinson, was appointed Managing Director of Jaguar. He had no intention of the marque losing it kudos and initiated an ambitious plan to bring the company back on track. A lack of money caused this plan to run into the buffers. The appointment of Michael Edwards to lead to the eventual breakup of British Leyland had for Jaguar a streak of brilliance for he appointed John Egan to take up the reins at the then floundering motor company. Egan and his team brought Jaguar back so much so that, following privatisation, Ford paid handsomely for what was to lead their new speciality car group.

British Leyland became the Rover Group and this was bought by BMW. They in turn sold Land Rover to Ford where it worked closely with Jaguar.

The rest as they say is history, Jaguar and Land Rover both now prosper as JLR as part of the Tata Group.

It is ironic that the Wilks family didn’t see the Land Rover as their great success; it was the experimental vehicle powered by a gas turbine – Rover had after all been part of the development of the jet engine. Had this been the case, Jaguar and Rover would have been head to head. Had Land Rover stuck to the utility vehicle so loved by explorers, Ford may well not have looked at them. Yet with the Range Rover successors, Land Rover and Jaguar together look to the luxury car market where they both can prosper.


The ashtray belonged to my Dad who owned one of the first SS cars to carry the name Jaguar  

 

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