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May 2016

My name is Cath Mayo and in my role as Conservator for BMIHT I have to be versatile, mending, repairing and supporting the Archive’s vast and eclectic collection. As you can imagine, this could involve absolutely anything and I never know from one day to next what will appear from the boxes on the shelves for me to look at.

Recently, I was asked to work on the repair, mounting and encapsulation of the Design Drawing Collection, which consists of hundreds of sketches and paintings of cars in different forms and from many different periods. As soon as I opened the drawers, I was absolutely enthralled; the colours and workmanship of the drawings were astonishing and every drawer was a joy to open. The drawing I have chosen is a lovely example of the work which came out of the Longbridge Design Studio during the British Leyland era.

Concept drawing by Harris Mann for the Austin Ambassador

Why This Document?

As I worked my way through the drawers, I reached one labelled ‘Harris Mann’ which I recognised as the name of one of the company’s leading designers. Among other things, he had worked on the Triumph TR7, the Austin Allegro and the Princess. Beautiful creations leapt out at me and I was at a loss as to where to start. The one that stood out the most was a proposal for the facelift of the ‘wedge’ Princess, just before it became the Ambassador. Why this car? I have to say that I do have a soft spot for Ambassadors as we had one as a family car quite a few years ago. I think my dad would definitely rank it in his top three favourite cars (although I do remember the brakes failing quite often and getting it stuck in reverse).

In the early 1980s, the Austin Ambassador was British Leyland’s answer to the public demand for a family car with a hatchback, something that the Princess didn’t have. Harris Mann got to work on the problem and came up with new styling ideas for the Ambassador. You can see from the picture that the car has retained many of the Princess features, including the headlamps, grill and of course the iconic wedge shape. The Ambassador which eventually went into production had a very different front, but the lovely lines are still present and the essence of the Princess very much lives within it.

The drawing itself was in very good condition, only requiring a small amount of cleaning. It was mostly surface grime, which came away easily with the careful use of a silicon sponge. After cleaning, I made a mount and a bespoke size polyester enclosure for it. This was done by cutting sheets of polyester from a large roll and welding them together using a special machine. The final enclosure was a perfect fit for the drawing, which meant that it was now completely protected and also easily viewed without the risk of causing damage.

I really enjoyed working on Harris Mann’s drawing and I hope you enjoy looking at it as much as I did. I have to say, that it’s been a fantastic task working my way through the delights of the design drawing collection.

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