| 23rd April 2012
Happy St. George’s Day! To celebrate, we’re being quintessentially English this (Monday) morning, by moaning and complaining at anything and everything that comes our way. Especially when it comes to tea – we had to make the first round of brews this morning, which has put us in a stinker of a mood...
So, we’re going to put all of that negative energy to good use and write about the English car industry’s most disgusting creations of all time. We were originally going to pick our five favourites in celebration of St. George, but we thought that highlighting some of the worst Frankenstein’s monsters to ever hit British roads would be a lot more fun:
The Morris Motors trademark is now owned by the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SIAC), with the Ital being the last passenger model to roll off its production lines whilst it was still under the stewardship of British Leyland. It’s no wonder the Ital has such a frightful reputation. The slightest drizzle would cause it to seize up with rust, while a number of other build quality problems somehow made it through quality control.
Though the design was seriously outdated, even before it was launched, the Morris Ital still boasted reasonable sales figures, showing that people at least considered it when they wanted to buy a new car. Morris, though, realised they were beat, and concentrated on their van range instead before selling the Morris name to China.
Hillman’s earliest cars were bloody massive, often carrying a 9.76-litre 6-cylinder engine or a 6.4-litre four. They decided to scale them down in the post-war period though, with the Imp being one of its more miserable creations. Seriously, who would want a car with the moniker 'Imp'?! Its name wasn’t the only thing wrong with it; though admittedly the Imp was a success on the racing scene, it was a terrible passenger car to own. It had a number of mechanical and cooling problems, whilst its awful design ensured that sales started off slow in the small car market – and stayed that way...
The Imp was a huge gamble for Hillman’s owners, the Rootes Group, which ultimately failed to pay off. All the Imp could do was look out the window at the more popular Austin Mini, and dream of what might have been...
Though Talbot changed hands a number of times over the years, it was always very much regarded as a British manufacturer. The Sunbeam was pretty much doomed before it was even conceived, with the government at the time giving then-owners Chrysler a grant of £55 million to produce a car that would help keep their Linwood factory in business. The aforementioned Rootes Group had been bought by Chrysler in 1967 to become Chrysler Europe, but was facing problems throughout the 70s (as were most manufacturers) because of industry strikes and Japanese market success.
The development period was a paltry 19 months, and it showed. Though it got moderately positive press reviews, the Sunbeam had a number of development constrictions because of scheduling and component issues. The need for accessible British components meant the design was based on the dated rear-wheel drive Hillman Avenger, and its rigid looks and lack of alternative bodystyles alienated it from the UK market. Chrysler Europe was eventually bought by PSA, who closed Linwood, slapped a Talbot logo on the Sunbeam and let it die a lonely death.
Though popular in the United States when Uncle Sam's crowd wanted to buy new cars, Triumph’s TR7 had a terrible image problem in the UK because of labour strikes in the Speke factory and poor press. The TR7 looked like a doorstop, and despite promotions and backing from a number of hard-hitting companies (Coca-Cola, Levi’s, The New Avengers), quality issues soon became apparent. Probably the most noticeable problem which generated a lot of negative press was during a maximum speed measurement exercise over a four-kilometer stretch of track by German car magazine Auto, Motor und Sport. They reported that the car "started to boil" during testing, and British Leyland were unable to immediately identify the problem. Nineteen days of silence and no comment implied wider issues.
A lot of the car’s problems were attributed to labour strikes and an inexperienced workforce at the company’s Speke factory in Liverpool. Production moved around various plants in the UK, such as Canley and Solihull, but by then the TR7’s reputation was shot. Various variants were cancelled over the years, including the Sprint, Lynx, Broadside and Boxer models.
Though Austin had – and continues to have – unbridled success with its Mini range, there were indeed darker times that the company would like to sweep under the rug. The Allegro, though popular upon its launch in 1973, had several dreadful design issues and quirks that helped contribute to its awful reputation. Our favourite is easily that the Allegro is more aerodynamic when travelling backward than it is moving forward. Less funny examples though included a (false) perception of terrible rust-proofing, a quartic steering wheel, a bulky frame because of the installed Marina-style heating system and many other flawed design concepts.
To many, the Allegro is a highlight of British car manufacturing at the time. Sir Digby Jones said in 2007: "It is what I call the British Leyland model – you put a lot of money in at the top, and an Austin Allegro comes out at the bottom." But though the Allegro had a lot of bad press – and rightly so – it still commanded respectable sales figures up until 1983, with it being the fifth best-selling new car in Britain in 1979. These days though, people just want to buy a new Mini instead!
Enjoy our list? Have we missed a car out or have we pretty much nailed the worst entries in British motoring history? You can leave your comments below, on our Facebook page or tweet us on our @Askaprice Twitter account!