Michael Edwardes takes control and Cinderella finally gets a ticket for the ball
After the red-hot summer of 1976, life in 1977 throughout the country was very bleak. There was considerable unrest amongst the population, mostly caused by people asking for seemingly justified pay rises so that their earnings stayed level in an economy with rampant inflation. This, however, did nothing to help industrial relations or even inflation.
The unemployment figures were high and rising, and relations with trade unions was at an all-time low. Strikes were commonplace. Everyone in business was struggling, especially the Government-controlled British Leyland and in particular the Austin Morris division which continued to churn out cars that the buying public just did not want to buy.
The designs in general were unappealing and there was a lot of inter-company competition, with several totally different models competing in the same sector. For example, in the 1800cc range there were five totally different cars competing for the same buyer. It was a very costly way to produce, advertise and sell motor cars.
It was fortunate in a way that the Queens Silver Jubilee fell on June 7, 1977 as it diverted attention away from the fact that the country was almost bankrupt. There was an almost spontaneous outburst of patriotism. The displays of national pride in the royal family and all the street parties were great escapism while it lasted.
Breakfast television made its debut with Good Morning television and police throughout the UK were stepping up efforts to catch the serial murderer known as The Yorkshire Ripper. If you wanted to avoid the evening news on television there was always the cinema where the George Lucas film Star Wars and Steven Spielbergs Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jaws were first shown.
In the USA in August, Elvis Presley died in at his home Gracelands.
There were slight improvements to the Range Rover for 1977 which included a twin exhaust system, door-mounted mirrors instead of the bonnet mounted items and a slightly higher ratio gearset in the transfer box to improve the fuel consumption.
In another attempt to increase economy, an overdrive similar in concept to the one available as an option on the Land Rover, became available as a dealer fit option. The add-on two speed gearbox was developed in the same manner as the other unit by the same company, Fairey Winches. It may have helped the fuel figures slightly, but it did nothing for the gearbox as it introduced more slop and noise into as already noisy, sloppy original.
The specification of the Land Rover was to continue unchanged for the time being. For several years the only alterations to the Land Rover were to comply with changing legislation in the various different markets or to lessen the manufacturing costs, and so squeeze a little more profit.
At this point in time sales of Land and Range Rovers accounted for about 15 percent of world 4x4 sales. It was a growing market where they held a 50 percent share of the home market, down from an all-time high a few years previously of 98 percent. With demand outstripping supply, people were turning to the rapidly increasing volume of 4x4 vehicles coming out of the car factories in Japan. These were cheaper, seemingly better equipped and most importantly readily available. The Land Rovers traditional export markets took to them in ever increasing quantities.
The products of the remains of the old Rover and Triumph companies were sought after, and this part, with the Stag,TR7 and Spitfire sports cars the Dolomite range and the new SD1 model which became available with the Triumph based 2300 and 2600cc engines, actually sold more units than the previous year. Towards the end of 1977 there started a strike at the old Triumph factory at Speke near to Liverpool. production of vehicles was halted and it ultimately led to the closure of the factory and the redundancy of the total workforce.
In the background, Land and Range Rover were still selling well and the profit made propping up the company, but it was still haemorrhaging badly. BLs recently installed chairman, Sir Richard Dobson, was forced out of office over the publication of an ill-judged remark, and was replaced by Michael Edwardes.
He started immediately on the Edwardes Plan. This was to slim the group down to its core elements and to restructure it into four separate companies: Austin-Morris, Rover-Triumph cars, Jaguar Cars and Land Rover Ltd. There was to be the proper investment in those areas of the companies that justified it, as this was to be a product-led recovery.
At last Cinderella, in the guise of the 4x4 producing areas of the company, was about to go to the ball.
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