Car making is hard. Profitable car making is a whole lot harder, and for proof you only need run a wistful eye over the defunct marques named below.
Some were born close to the dawn of the car, when bicycle makers and blacksmiths saw money in the new-fangled horseless carriage. Dozens of opportunists founded car companies, many of them clever engineers, savvy businessmen and sometimes both.
Car making at the start of the 20th century was like internet entrepreneurialism at the end of it: plenty jumped into the pool, but only the fittest survived in a market that many didn’t understand.
But other car makers have gone despite early successes. Recessions killed many and bundled others into doomed liaisons. Misreadings of the market, the complacency that came with selling sub-standard cars to Britain’s colonies, destabilising government policies, failure to spot the competition and poor management all contributed to the demise of car makers.
But what annihilated great chunks of the British car industry from the 1960s through to the century’s end was a poisonous mix of politics – from communist-agitated unionism to catastrophic government meddling and cost-obsessed management who couldn’t see that building a genuinely better car might build a better business.
Sydney Allard built almost 2000 cars between 1946 and 1959, many of them fast, American V8-engined sports cars, although there were plenty of saloons and even a woody wagon.
A maker of between-wars, high-quality sports cars in its heyday. Duller saloons followed, but the Graber-styled TC to TF series of coupés and roadsters were a handsome swansong. It was bought by Rover in 1965, but car production ended two years later, Alvis becoming a military vehicles maker. It was swallowed by BAE Systems in 2004.
During much of its 83-year life, Austin was a serial maker of tediously dependable family cars. But it also produced two landmark designs, both called Austin Seven. The 1922 original was an affordable car that put much of this nation on wheels, and its 1959 namesake triggered a design revolution for small cars. That car was the Mini, the Seven label soon being dropped.
The Mini was also available in larger sizes as the 1100 and the 1800. Like both Austin Sevens, the 1100 (and near-identical Morris) became huge sellers. But it was 1973’s 1100 replacement, the Allegro, that doomed Austin.
By this point, Austin was embedded within British Leyland’s Austin-Morris volume car division, which BL was desperate to revive. That almost came with 1980’s highly successful Mini Metro, but the Maestro and Montego follow-ups blew much of the resulting goodwill. Austin withered in 1988 with Austin-Rover’s relabelling to Rover, and the Metro, Maestro and Montego lived on briefly in a weird state of brandlessness.
A joint venture between Donald Healey and Austin resulted in the beautiful 1953 Austin-Healey 100 and the later ‘Frogeye’ Sprite, successfully built and sold by BMC. But with the Frogeye becoming an MG Midget and the Big Healey being outlawed by US legislation, the marque retired in 1971. BMW considered a revival in the late 1990s.