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July 2018

Following our success with the Lucas cataloguing project in late 2017, we decided to apply for another round of funding to make more of the vast BMIHT Archive Collections accessible. As a result, we are pleased to announce the award of £30,000 from the ‘Archives Revealed’ funding programme.

This scheme is administered by The National Archives (TNA) which provides overall support for archives of all types throughout the UK, and The Pilgrim Trust which is dedicated to preserving and promoting Britain's historical and intellectual assets.

The Archive Collections of BMIHT comprise the most significant body of material relating to the social, industrial and product history of the British motor industry in existence. Our Archives Revealed project, entitled 'The Art of Selling', is based on a unique collection of sales and press material originating from British Leyland. It is a fine example of an esoteric body of material which should not have survived, and yet its preservation opens up a rich vein of social and industrial history which has wide appeal. It comprises a varied set of material covering a very complex period in the history of the industry. This is the main reason why, to date, we have not had the resources to do much more than a rough sort. Finding anything is therefore something of a minefield, depending on the memory of staff.

This funding will enable us to recruit a professional Archivist and a small team of specialist volunteers who will sort and re-package the Collection. They will then create a comprehensive electronic catalogue which will be made available online via TNA's Discovery resource, opening the Collection up to public view for the first time.

Running in parallel will be a social media campaign, new outreach programmes, and the forging of new relationships with community groups.

This is therefore a great opportunity to highlight some of the material which will be accessible by the end of the project. The Collection covers way more than you may think – press packs, press cuttings, press releases, paint samples, price lists, motor show programmes, dealer information, corporate identity manuals, planning for VIP visits, Christmas cards, calendars and merchandising literature – and these are only the things we know about! It also covers many decades, so we will focus on some of the more colourful material from the 1980s, which may bring back vivid memories for those who remember the popular culture of those years; the era of Back to the Future, Madonna, leg warmers, Aliens, shell suits, Pacman, the Walkman, shoulder pads, Wham, perms, Tetris, Spandau Ballet…

1980 British Leyland Calendar

Where better to begin than a calendar for 1980. This would have been sent out to dealerships and buyers to decorate their offices. There is a long sequence of these calendars which are usually an opportunity to showcase artistic photographs of the latest products. This one is curious in that, apart from the cover, the cars barely get a look in. Instead, each month features a different historic attraction, none of which seem to be motor industry related – there are museums and heritage sites devoted to a brewery, a pottery, canals, railways, and ships. This particular page celebrates the Bluebell Railway, dedicated to steam trains. The only clue that this is a motor industry calendar is a small car picture placed in the bottom left corner of each page – which is actually the reverse side of the calendar page so would not have been visible when the calendar was hung up. For May, the car in question was a Mini Clubman 1275 GT, though curiously, this is not the same type of Mini as the one which appears on the cover. The 1275 dropped from the model range in October, to be replaced by the Metro, but obviously this couldn't be reflected in the calendar since they couldn't feature a model which hadn't yet been launched.

 1981 Triumph Acclaim Press Pack

We have a large selection of press packs. These were presented to the press at launch events to explain the many virtues of the new model and provide comparisons with rival products. This one is particularly significant because it announces the arrival of the Triumph Acclaim with the words: 'The first volume production car to be built in Britain by a British company in collaboration with a major foreign concern – the Honda Motor Company of Japan – the Acclaim comes to the market bang on schedule'. The relationship between British Leyland and Honda ran throughout the 1980s, with the Japanese influence helping to improve both the company's products and its working practices, signified here by the remarkable feat of not having to delay the launch due to manufacturing problems or industrial unrest. It would be the first of a successful model range including the Rover 200, 400, 600 and 800.

By its nature, the information presented in a press pack attempts to put the company's products at the forefront of contemporary social and technological trends and thus they provide a fascinating and sometimes amusing insight into their era. In this case, the company has chosen to emphasise the car's modernity and advanced engineering by printing the text in 'courier' font on the green lined perforated paper used in a dot matrix printer. The dot matrix would have been used in conjunction with the equally new-fangled personal computer, both of which seem rather quaint now!

1983 Austin Rover Leisurewear Brochure

As with many popular car brands, Austin Rover decided to launch its own range of leisurewear described in this catalogue 'On The Move'. Austin Rover's theme for 1982 was 'Move over to Austin Rover'. We’re going to be kind and say that it's very of its time, including the smouldering male model on the cover. The company was clearly trying to tap into the British interest in Wimbledon by collaborating with Slazenger to create this fetching line of shorts, shirts and slacks. On closer inspection we realised that the sweater, T-shirt and umbrella (the most heavily Austin Rover branded items) were not actually manufactured by Slazenger, suggesting that perhaps they didn't want to be that closely associated with the car brand! The catalogue also contains the surviving price list - £19.99 for the jacket, bargain.

 1984 Sales Brochure Artwork

This piece of artwork comes from an undocumented folder so we're not entirely sure of its origins or purpose, though our best guess is that it represents a mock-up for a potential sales brochure. We’re hoping that maybe one of our specialist volunteers will be able to tell us more during the course of the project! The car is a Rover 'SD1' Vanden Plas and the proposed slogan 'the marque of good breeding' reflects British Leyland's efforts to distance itself from the legacy of strikes and poor reliability which had dogged its products during the 1970s and badly damaged its reputation. This would culminate in 1986 with the Company changing its name from British Leyland Ltd to Rover Group Plc.

 1984 MG Metro Christmas Card

Over the years we have put together a box simply labelled 'Christmas cards'. These customised cards were specially designed to send out to dealers, customers and purchasers. They were often entirely unrelated to Christmas or even winter but featured whatever product was leading the marketing effort at the time. This card was produced by Austin Rover and features the sporty MG Metro turbo, painted in red of course and with a racing number on its side, breaking out of a multi-coloured starburst with some added seasonal snowflakes. Following the general trend of the press collection, the card hasn’t been dated so we can only guess from the vehicle and the signature inside, which is that Austin Rover's Managing Director, Mark Snowden. It is most likely that it was produced to celebrate the introduction of this particular facelift in October 1984. The Metro was originally launched in 1980, and along with the Maestro and Montego represented a second strand of products which were British and not Japanese designs.

 1987 Metro & Batman Showroom Materials

Some people think that the cars British Leyland were producing in the 1980s lack excitement or pszazz, but the company was capable of imaginative marketing campaigns which tapped into popular culture to catch the attention of the public. If you think the British motor industry had no sense of humour, just take a look at the 'Metro and Batman Get You Going' campaign, in which superheroes Batman and Robin swap their batmobile for a Metro to negotiate the traffic jams of Gotham City. This brochure was distributed to dealerships, showing how the concept could be transferred to their local branch. They were invited to phone the 'Batman and Robin Helpline' and book their Metro Roadshow materials for £425+VAT. They could then transform their showroom into Gotham City with cardboard cut-out villains, competitions and games. Pow!

 1989 Plans for a Royal Visit to Solihull

As well as printed material, the collection contains a lot of the internal documentation created by the press office relating to launches and VIP visits. One of the most interesting files we have concerns the visit of HRH Princess Margaret to the Solihull factory in April 1989. It contains a four-month correspondence between the organisers at Solihull and the Royal Household, illustrating how much preparation went into such events. The letter on the left is from the Rover Group 'Policy and Government Relations Director' to the Royal Household, suggesting a possible itinerary for the visit, including a demonstration of the Land Rover's off-road capabilities and a photo call with the press. Though the letter is dated 14 February 1989, the press office's stamp is a little behind the times as it records a date of 16 February 1988!

The letter in the centre is the response from Kensington Palace in March which states that Princess Margaret has personally approved the programme although 'as I think I have already mentioned, Her Royal Highness would wish to watch, rather than partake in, the off-road demonstration'. The buffet menu (right) is appetising enough, though it seems a little downbeat for a princess, offering either cold poached salmon, roast beef, honey roast ham or asparagus quiche for the main course with profiteroles and hot chocolate sauce or strawberries and cream for pudding.

 Follow our Progress on Social Media

Hopefully these documents have given you an idea of how wide reaching the collection is and show that there is something for everyone. Keep up to date with the progress of the project through our different social media streams using the hashtag #BMIHTArtofSelling. We will be writing blogs, posting updates and images on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as well as updating a dedicated Flickr album.

  • Visit England Gold Accolade