Lotus-hating UK dopers: But how did Ford get so much of the British auto market?

Saw “Made in Dagenham”, about the Ford strike at the plant in England in 1968;

The movies claims Ford is the biggest manufacturer in Europe

Ok, I give up. Why would the British want to buy Ford escorts, as opposed to say, Triumph, Lotus, Aston Martin, MG, Rolls, Bently? (Ok I am biased in favor of the expensive marquee brands, but I 'm sure there were British (and even European) companies that could have defended against Mo-Town motors?)

I’m not British, but…

Triumph and MG don’t exist anymore. British Leyland destroyed them by continuing to make outdated designs and through horrible mismanagement. Not to mention all of the strikes. Datsun (Nissan) sounded the death knell for Triumph when it introduced the 240Z. Triumph’s response, the TR7 had lower performance to the TR6, and the TR8 was too little, too late. MG was allowed to languish, its 1960s engines strangled by U.S. emissions regulations.

All of the cars you list are niche cars. Not everyone wants a sports car or a roadster or a luxury car. Most people want or need or can afford ‘family cars’. MG did make sedans and family coupés at one time, but they concentrated on roadsters/sports cars from the '50s onward. Lotus have always been about spartan cars with great handling. Rolls and Bentley didn’t want to cheapen their brands with more proletarian offerings.

Ford is no newcomer to the British or European markets - take a look at the history of Ford of Britain, the subsidiary which set up the Dagenham works. In particular: “After the First World War, the Trafford Park plant was extended, and in 1919, 41% of British registered cars were Fords.” So there was never any perception of them being ‘foreign’ cars when the ‘British’ ones became so awful. Couple that with the flexibility Ford Europe had to shift production to other countries in order to escape the industrial relations problems that developed in Dagenham.

But why wasn’t there more national sentiment? Even though Ford had great presence for 50 years, so had Toyota in the US, but there are still hordes of redneck types who buy only “Amurrican” despite better Japanese reliability. Where were all the hard core union men in britain during this? Surely even the cockneys knew Ford was not british?

Weren’t the English Ford workers union? ISTM that they wouldn’t care so much about the parent company’s nationality as long as their demands were being met.

England and Europe have different ideas about cars than we do in the States. It’s true that U.S. workers did their fair share of shouting, ‘They took uhr jawbs!’ when Japanese cars sold in the States were predominantly made in Japan. But I hear less of that nowadays, when Japanese and other autos are being built here. In any case, car philosophy: Japanese and European cars have tended to be smaller and less powerful than U.S. cars. For one thing, the roads there tend to be narrower. For another, gas is a lot cheaper in the U.S so we could afford bigger, more powerful cars. (And Americans tend to have a ‘bigger is better’ attitude.) Though there were some mid-sized (which would be huge, nowadays) cars in the '60s that advertised 20+ mpg, for a long time fuel efficiency was less of a factor. ISTM that many Americans see small, efficient, but ‘underpowered’ cars as an affront to their masculinity. A Ford made for the English or European market is probably like most of the domestic products so there isn’t such a difference as a Toyota vs. full-sized American V8 that we had here.

Ok I see, but that just raises the question of how the UK motor industry seems to have collapsed entirely? (Except for Rolls?) Why would the labor unions let that happen?

No bogus bailouts?

Heh. Bought by Volkswagen. But VW only wanted Bentley, and now RR cars are being made by BMW (which, in the first link, got the rights to the name ‘Rolls Royce’).

British cars have a reputation for sucking really badly in the electrical and rust department. As bad as Fords used to be (I can’t speak for recently without experience) they were still a hell of a lot more reliable than most UK brands. When most people get into their cars they want it to turn over and travel from A to B without any breakdowns and then bring them home. Brit brands had a terrible reputation among the Brits. It’s okay for a rich guy to screw around with a Lotus or MG or Austin Healy on the weekends, but at 5 in the morning when it won’t start? And you have to get to work?

Jaguars had a horrible rep here in the US for breaking down. They actually improved in rep when Ford owned them. Now that Rolls and Bentley and Jaguar are foreign owned, their owners might do something about their reputations. Anybody who can afford a Rolls or Bentley has a second and third car and might not care.

BMW has the rights to the automotive use of the Rolls name. I think (as in I’m not sure) that Vickers still owns the name for jet engines.

The British car market was always fragmented-after WWII, there were easily a dozen brands made in Britain. Many of these firms folded becase they were too small to compete-and Ford (by virtue of its size) had advantages over the other makes.
In general, the British auto makers had problems with:
-capitalization-many were on the verge of bankruptcy
-poor design/obsolete engines and transmissions
-bad electrical gear (Lucas being the main offender)
-poor productivity (Jaguar had 6 unions in one factory)
With their obsolete designs and high costs, the British makers folded-or were absorbed by the government-funded entity called “British Leyland”. By the 1980’s, they were in a bad way-their products were poorly made and largely obsolete.

An old joke
Why do the Brits drink warm beer?

Because they have Lucas refrigerators.:smiley:

“Made in Britain” is as good as British, for many people - and indeed, many people couldn’t care less even about that. Fords have been such a fixture over here for so long that nobody really thinks of them as “foreign cars” - not in the way that Kias or Hyundais or Daewoos are.

Well yes, but since all they are mentally capable of doing is morris dancing and talking in cute slang, they can’t afford to drive cars.

Do you actually have the first clue about cockneys?


Although the cars are no longer manufactured, BMW today owns the Triumph logo and trademark. There are occasional rumours that they plan to revive the brand.

Since my father’s first Ford was Ford Anglia, for us all the Fords were always considered primarily English cars. Later ones had varying parts of them made elsewhere in Europe.

I knew about Henry Ford, but it took a lot of time before I could even make any mental connection between the English cars of my childhood and the American tycoon.

The national sentiment, at least when I was growing up, was - apart from the marques you mention that hardly anyone could afford - that “British cars are shit”. This was certainly backed up by all the British cars I ever owned.

My parents bought a brand new Hillman Imp. Which, as well as looking terrible and driving like a pig, had the distinction of a rear-mounted engine with the gas tank in the front, so many minor impacts could be catastrophic, and a crucial fuel tank breather inlet by the front wheel, that got clogged up with mud regularly, stopping the car instantly with little obvious explanation.

My first car, a Morris Marina, was the second worst piece of crap I ever drove (the worst being a Kia Pride). In the year or two I owned it the rust got so bad that the wings actually flapped - this was a design fault - the radiator blew up, the gearstick came off in my hand on a long journey, the electrics never worked, there was about 90 degrees give in the steering wheel before the car would do anyhting. Just atrocious.

I had a couple of original Minis, and yeah they were fun to whizz around in, but they broke down like all the time.

I now own a Ford Focus, from new, and am running it into the ground (99,000 miles right now), and apart from a few age-related problems it’s been amazingly reliable.

I forgot to mention the Marina’s oil leak.

Ford and Vauxhall (and old British marque bought by GM in th 1920s) were certainly widely considered to be British makes. But I don’t think the gulf between them and the makes that gradually got absorbed into British Leyland was that great. All mass-market cars were a bit shit back then. The BL cars were just a little bit shitter, on the whole (with some exceptions - I think Ford and Vauxhall would have happily taken the Mini and the Rover SD1, for example). Also, Ford had more professional marketing and nicer styling. They seemed to have a better grasp of what customers actually wanted.

Top Gear has had a couple good features about the old British car industry. One purely about British Leyland, and another one where one presenter bought an Austin-Healey and another bought something made by Lanchester. And one where, for a reason I could never figure out, one of them bought a Morris Marina.

Another thing to consider is that back in the 1970s and 80s, one of the major purchasing criteria in the UK was “how much do parts cost?” So many of the people who did buy British did so because they knew their car would go wrong, and therefore considered cheaper local replacement parts into the long-term cost of the car. Of course it was a false economy as British cars were more likely to go wrong in the first place.

And people used to do a lot of the repairs themselves. I remember my street as a teenager would have about a third of the cars up on ramps at the weekend with guys tinkering under them, including me and my fucking Marina. Now get off my lawn.