1978 Land Rover history
A fresh start - A new boss, with a new vision as Land Rover Limited becomes a division in its own right
Under Michael Edwardes’ chairmanship the British Leyland empire was to regroup, consolidate and then to be split up again. The remaining elements being a slimmed down and profitable version of the original giant.
The British Government, who were the major shareholder, were still trying to turn the fortunes of the giant company around. The lower end of the product range went into a division called Austin Rover Ltd which was to produce a revised range of the more mundane cars, these were the ones that were hard to sell and making huge losses for the company. The higher end became Jaguar Rover Triumph which in turn was made up of three separate companies making the better quality vehicles.
Jaguar, Rover Triumph were to continue making many models, including the SD1 which at that time was being assembled at Solihull in a large specially-constructed building, with the 4x4 sector becoming a new wholly-owned subsidiary called Land Rover Ltd.
Land Rover Ltd was really the spiritual successor to what had been the old ‘Rover Co’ before all the mergers and takeovers.
It inherited the Solihull site and some of the outlying component factories. It did not at the time inherit the SD1 production block at Solihull which was planned to be sold off as a separate unit, although it was ultimately retained.
Mike Hodgkinson was appointed managing director of Land Rover Ltd and, with his financial background, soon saw the flaws in the previously adopted Ryder report and so revised the future plans. He had a sound grasp of the market for these types of vehicles, having previously been part of the team which brought the Range Rover to market.
Hodgkinson’s vision was not just to increase production, but to revise the model range as well to make them more appealing to the customers by introducing features they had actually wanted for a long time. For the first time in its history the Range Rover in particular was going to get the resources it needed to allow it to be developed.
The new company was formed in July 1978 and in August Land Rover Ltd announced that it had secured £280 million to expand production facilities and to introduce new models. As stage one of this plan, £30million of production facilities were to be rearranged to put Range Rover production up by 50 percent to 450 units per week and Land Rover production up by 8.5 percent to 1500 units per week with replacement of the old six-cylinder model with a new V8 powered long wheelbase only model. This would be implemented almost immediately.
Stage two was to look further to the future and involved developing new models including four door and automatic Range Rovers as well as the coil-sprung utility range – the One Ten and, later, the Ninety. It meant that the company and the Solihull site would become dedicated to 4x4 production with its own specialist sales force and dedicated development engineers working on the future new models.
It was a brave plan set against the ever-deepening recession as Britain was really in a mess. Rampant inflation and pay rise requests led the Government to impose a five percent maximum on pay rises.
This led to massive strikes in many different industries. It is easy in retrospect to see why it was so difficult to sell cars against this background.
There was not much to cheer us up either. In March the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz ran aground off Brittany depositing 200,000 tons of crude oil into the sea. The first test tube baby was born and in Italy the Pope and his subsequent replacement died meaning three Popes in a year. If you really wanted to, you were able to see Grease or The Deer Hunter at the flicks, or listen to Do Ya Think I’m Sexy by Rod Stewart or Rivers of Babylon by BonyM on your record player.
1978 was one of the most important years in the history of Land Rover vehicles as it was when all the foundation stones were laid for the company, as we know it today. It was also the year in which the management of the parent company stopped treating the Land Rover and Range Rover as just revenue earners and milking all the profits.
With the substantial investment plans with money to develop much needed new models, Land Rover Limited was set on a path which would always have it set as the jewel in the portfolio of its several subsequent owners.