Economic Situation in 1947
The sudden end of WW2 on June 6, 1947 left the United Kingdom in a desperate position. While the intense carrier strikes that had dominated the last 18 months of the war had destroyed much of the country's industrial and transport infrastructure, this had merely been the final act in a longer process of destruction. The desperate need of the German Army fighting in Russia for every piece of motor transport it could get its hands on had resulted in all the occupied countries of Western Europe being stripped of their cargo-carrying vehicles. Car and truck production facilities were taken over by the Germans and run flat-out in an effort to fill the need for more and more vehicles. As a result, the factories and their tooling were well on the way to being worn out from overuse and lack of proper maintenance long before the Corsairs, Maulers and Skyraiders bombed them.
Restoring some level of internal communications was an obvious priority for the new British Government but the question was how this could be achieved. There were two requirements that existed above all others, the restoration of internal transport so that goods, especially food, could be moved around and the supply of agricultural machinery so that food could be grown more efficiently. In 1947, Britain was perilously close to starvation; pre-war Britain had been dependent on imports for some 30 percent of her food requirements. The wartime gap had been filled by imports from Europe. These had flowed freely until mid-1945 and had only been partly restricted by the carrier attacks in late 1945 and early 1946. However, from the early spring of 1946 through to the end of the war, the incessant strikes by carrier-based aircraft meant that cross-channel and cross North Sea supply trips could only take place at night, and even then were subject to great loss. Ironically, it was with the coming of peace that the crisis struck full force. Almost immediately, without the iron hand of German control forcing countries to send food to the UK, those shipments stopped. Then, when the Great Famine started, there was no food to send. Britain's only source of food was the aid shipments from the Commonwealth, Southern Europe and the U.S. and they had to be moved from the ports to the cities and around the country.
Russia and Eastern Europe did not suffer this total lack of transport capability. When the U.S. Army (and to a lesser extent the Canadians) returned from Russia, they left their equipment behind. Trucks and armored vehicles were the obvious items but it was the specialized vehicles such as mobile cranes, busses, water carriers and engineering vehicles that really helped the Russians and Eastern Europeans to rebuild. Even abandoned German vehicles made their contributions. Little or none of this equipment was available in Europe and even less was in the UK. In 1947 Britain, a bicycle was high-technology transport. The need was desperate but there was no ready supply of vehicles, and no credit base to import them. The UK needed trucks by the park, busses by the garage full, shed loads of bicycles and tractors lots of tractors and it just didnt have them.
However, as with the aircraft industry, not all was quite as desperate as it seemed. The big car companies, Ford at Dagenham, the other great car factories in the Midlands had been devastated and were little more than charred wood with a brass name-plate attached. However, these only represented the visible portion of the industry. The light engineering and smaller companies, some of which were barely more than cottage industries, had survived remarkably well and, relying as they did, on hand craftsmanship, they were better placed to recover.
The first step was the recovery of the rail network. This had been bombed and blasted almost to extinction but there was no substitute for trains when it came to moving cargo. Fortunately, enough steam locomotives had survived to provide a basic service and the railway factories themselves had survived quite well. As work teams cleared the tracks of unexploded bombs and relaid the tracks, extemporized rail wagons started to appear. Railway passenger cars were still a rare luxury, most passengers rode sitting on the floor in goods cars and considered themselves lucky. The availability of rail production facilities lead to something else. Railways were available limited but there. Vehicles were not. There were no busses, no taxis and certainly no private cars. Trams made an immediate comeback and the post-war years saw the reconstruction of tram networks in all the major cities. In a very real sense, this took the British cities back more than a quarter of a century, giving them the appearance and conditions of before the First World War. Sociologists have suggested that it was that regression, that return to an era where British confidence and industry were at its height, that gave the British the strength to bounce back from the parlous condition to which they'd sunk.
The first part of the automobile industry to recover was the motorcycle industry. To some extent, this was inevitable since the bombed and blasted British road system was best suited to use by two-wheeled vehicles. Another factor was that motorcycle manufacture was typical 'Light Engineering' and, like most UK light engineering efforts was heavily reliant on "back lane manufacture", the network of tiny machine shops, many no larger that a domestic garage or garden shed. These were virtually immune to American bombing, it would require carpet bombing or nuclear attack to put much of a dent in such a dispersed industry. Even the larger motor cycle companies were well placed to recover quickly. Machine tool demands were low, a basic level of skills weren't too hard to reach (although much harder to perfect) meaning that the dispersed and decimated workforce could be quickly reconstituted. Even better, the product was cheap both in real terms and in the sense of raw materials demand. As a result, the British motorcycle industry was quick to get back into production and was ideally suited to the environment. Within a few years, the motorcycle and sidecar combination was back as family transport, a position it was to hold until the early 1960s.
The motorcycle industry also proved to be a major export earner, something that should not be surprising since every factor that worked for the use of motorcycles in the UK applied also on the continent and more so. For a number of reasons, the UK motorcycles quickly came to dominate the market; the Italians were also heavily present but having been at peace for most of the time Europe was tearing itself apart, they had concentrated on luxury machines, powerful and advanced but also expensive. While they set the technical standards and kept everybody on their toes, they could not compete for the small, cheap mass market that the British started to address. The French also started to get involved but their industry was in an even worse state than the British and their presence merely served to keep the British companies honest. In effect, the British had the US market and most of the rest of the world monopolized for many years. This was a critical factor in the industry's recovery; the tight steel rationing scheme meant that only companies that had major export orders would get some supply. After all, for Britain, it was export or starve.
Another factor working in favor of the motorcycle industry was that the Second World War had effectively served as a management cull that had weeded out the dead wood tired out by the depression and infected with obsolescent and unworkable concepts. Those of that generation that had survived were now tainted with collaboration. The desperate shortage of machine tools also impacted here; motorcycles were economic users of machine tools. Later, the motorcycle industry had evolved into such an established and major group cash cow that they were at the top of the priority list for industrial investment.
Of course, all was not easy. The top end of the motorcycle industry had already started to die off. Brough Superior had gone to the wall in 1940. The next blow had fallen in 1941 when the HRD group had pulled stumps and headed for Australia. In 1947, Royal Enfield also decided to wind up operations in the UK and relocated to India. However, the rest of the big makes were able to survive and were joined by the selection of smaller who also managed to stay the course. Velocette, a family firm that operated a very loyal little factory which kept open through the war years, as much though love as anything else, gained a very early advantage when its LE motorcycle was adopted by the reformed British Police.
By the time the industry reorganization had been completed, the motorcycle industry was left with AMC (combining AJS and Matchless in a group that aimed big right from the start and was the only stand-alone motorcycle corporation in the pack. Later, its city backers tried to sell the group off and it was promptly nationalized ), BSA-Ariel-Triumph Douglas (whose Ariel Leader hit the market like a sledgehammer in the early 1950s and firmly establish the group as a powerful market force), Norton (a company which had an excellent name to trade on), Panther P&M (a good technically astute company that produced simple, solid and reliable motorcycles in an obscure corner of Yorkshire that was reputedly not shown on U.S. Navy maps and so remained unbombed), Rudge-Whitworth (a company formed out of what was left of Vickers in Britain and reused an old marque) and finally the bicycle maker Raleigh who entered at the lowest possible end of the market, producing a moped that was little more than a bicycle with a clip-on engine.
From the engine side of things, Viliers quickly gained prominence as an engine maker along with Douglas whose 350cc flat twin engine had served the Germans well as an auxiliary unit and whose plant got very heavily bombed as a result. That, plus an enduring quality control problem (Douglas had good designs but poor workmanship) limited their appeal in the post-war market.
A final factor in the growth of the motorcycle industry was the already well-established tendency for head office to dictate small economy models. In another environment, this might have been disastrous but in the reality of post-war U.K. it was spot on, and the healthy roadbike program basked in relatively generous funding and rational management appreciation. As a result, the BSA group in particular experienced explosive growth throughout the 1950s. They were supremely positioned to cash in on just about every market development and grew like topsy as a result. They purchased AMC when that group was denationalized in the early 1960s and, about the same time, swapped their UK bicycle arm with Raleigh in exchange for Raleigh's moped business in the late 50's-early 60's.
Eventually, it proved too good to last and the BSA group got to be get top heavy and came apart in the mid seventies. Oddly, the primary reason was too much success leading to a very poorly designed and excessively diverse corporate structure. The group experiences a very lean decade in the 1970s while it restructured, spinning its unwanted subsidiaries off to realign its core business towards consumer goods/electronics. Their motorcycle arm was the subject of a management buy-out at that time and became one of the successes of that era. The mass market had long since peaked but it had stabilized as a steady earner that still represented a very good business that allowed the independent BSA Motorcyles to dominate the industry.
The growth of BSA lead to the development of a strong competitor that, after the AMC nationalization and subsequent sale to BSA, centered around Norton-Villiers. This started the process by absorbing Douglas and then spending the 1950s snapping up some of the small groups that had survived the Second World War. The most important acquisition was the Velocette company in the early 1960s. This group had done very well from a strategic partnership with an Italian motorcycle company that had resulted in their LE mechanical components being blended with a bodywork design that incorporated Italian styling with the result being a small, economical motorcycle that was so well-received there was a three-year waiting list for the vehicles. It was that production bottleneck that resulted in the merger with Norton-Villiers. It was also that merger that was to prove the savior of the Norton-Villiers-Velo group when its rapid growth almost caused its collapse in the late 1960s. It was the dynamic either a dynamic, enthusiastic leadership provided by the Goodmans that saved the group. Thus, by the mid-1980s the British motorcycle industry had taken on the shape it has today, dominated by a giant who is kept honest by a leading competitor, the pair being surrounded by a shoal of small but highly innovative niche producers.
Trucks and Vans
The motorcycle industry solved the personal transportation problem in the starvation years of the late 1940s and the more relaxed but still lean environment of the 1950s. Motorcycles were, however, no solution for the major difficulty, the transportation of good and supplies. The slowly reviving railway network filled some of the need but Britain was still much of a rural society where small villages held a disproportionate amount of the country's remaining assets. The British needed trucks and therein lay a problem. The German Army had also needed trucks, large numbers of them and that requirement had kept growing as the roaming American fighter-bombers took an ever-increasing toll of German transport. Indeed, the British truck industry had been one of the great prizes of the German takeover in 1942 for it is often forgotten that the British Army's motorized equipment was the envy of the world at the start of the war. The trouble, from the German point of view, was that there were too many producers building too many types of vehicles. As the Germans ran down the list of newly 'acquired' truck companies, they came across the names of AEC, Albion, Austin, Bedford (owned by GM via Vauxhall), Dennis, Foden, Guy, Leyland, Morris, Commercial Rootes, (a group which included Commer, Karrier, Sunbeam, Humber, Hillman etc), Scammel, Seddon, Sentinel (a producer of steam trucks!), Standard, Thames ( owned by Ford) and Thornycroft.
That meant there were about 14 firms from minnows to mammoths, with some of the sub-minnows already having been culled. This was too many for German sensibilities so they did what, to them, seemed logical and merged the whole lot onto three large management groups, more or less based on geography, one each in London, Midlands and Scotland, and each formed around a leading name. The Scottish group formed around Albion with Leyland providing the nameplate for the Midlands and AEC for the South. Oddly this diktat reorganization gave each group a reasonable spread of Marques, each of which represented a different base product, although it is reasonable to assume that was not part of the German considerations at the time. Nevertheless, the organization was efficient enough to start producing large numbers of trucks for the German Army. And that, of course, drew the American Navy bombers in swarms. London-based AEC did rather better in the bombing stakes that Albion and Leyland that suffered from easier access routes to the carriers off shore. A partial compensation in Leyland's case was that it had a greater haul of subsidiaries to cannibalize, and Albion has the smallest base but the most limited market.
Immediately post-war, the Government looked at the situation and decided it made a lot of sense the way it was. All three management groups were immediately nationalized and set up as state-run enterprises. The crying need was to get the factories producing trucks and the fastest way of doing that was to make each group concentrate on a single item. Leyland was assigned the job of producing the middle of the road trucks, starting with a 5 tonner. Albion was assigned to produce busses to get the workers to the factories and AEC got the job of producing a 10 tonner and a road tractor using their Scammel and Thornycroft heritage.
The problem was that, while this got an emergency production of trucks under way, it was uneconomic and inefficient given the numbers that actually came out of the factory gates. A further rationalization was needed. Leyland ate Albion first, but retained the badge. AEC had a simpler environment to work with and was of course, perfectly placed for its main role, refilling London with bright red busses. AEC's Scammel division re-emerged doing what it had always done, producing good heavy tractors for on and off-road use. They did the essential thing, winning export orders. Mostly to Africa where they took on the burden of transport as South Africa expanded northwards but South America proved a viable market and a few even found their way to Siberia. As it happened, the AEC trucks proved to be inferior on a hard road to the American Macks or a Kenworths, but they proved better suited to handling the thick, cloying mud of a Russian Spring and Fall.
That left the UK with two truck makers Leyland and the AEC Group. Both were denationalized in the early 1960s, their primary problem being that they suffered from the pervasive shortage of machine tools world-wide. In the US, the massive LeMay Interstate System was being built, an extensive network of super-highways that combined both strategic and economic needs. Built with extensive defense funding (the roads also served as emergency airstrips for SACs bombers and as a resupply net for NORADs missile batteries) they gave a tremendous boost to the American road transport industry. Rail remained the preferred long distance freight hauler but heavy trucks became a growing part of the American scene. As a result, not only did American industry absorb the production of machine tooling, it had the economic impetus for technical development. Both Leyland and AEC found themselves drifting further and further behind the technology curve and, as they did so, their profitability waned. By the late 1970s, they faced a crisis and impending bankruptcy. They were both re-nationalized and merged to form a single Leyland Truck Company. For almost fifteen years, this nationalized group became a scandalous example of waste and government run inefficiency until, in the early 1990s, it was sold for a pittance to the Spanish IVECO group.
Tractors and Agricultural Machinery
Agricultural tractors were another area where things just could not wait. Fortunately, Britain had one of the great geniuses of tractor design available and the need for the product was so urgent it more or less over-rode everything else. A policy decision was taken that one of the surviving automobile production facilities would be converted to tractor production . Due to the warm personal relationship between Ferguson and Sir John Black, Standard-Triumph got the nod. Ferguson's design genius produced a simple, easy to produce and economic to operate tractor, the TE20, or Tractor England 20hp. As agricultural production picked up with the end of The Great Famine, the new group found they had an estimated four customers for every TE20 they could make. To make matters better, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the Reconstruction Authority, the Ministry of Trade and Farmer Joe with a pocket full of gray market money were all looking to jump the queue. The American Ford group tried to compete with their Fordson N but their success was limited compared with the overwhelming attraction of "the little gray Fergie".
The success of the Ferguson tractor was assured by the grim state of European livestock. Right until 1947, the German Army had remained largely horse-drawn and the attrition of its horseflesh had been appalling. The German army never understood why its purpose-bred heavy draft horses, good for two years or more service in Europe, died like flies in Russia. Only in the 1990s did the extent of the Russian biological assault on the German horses become well-known; leading one historian to describe the situation as ".50 caliber Brownings just killed the horses Equine Encephalitis left alive". This was, of course, a reference to the American pilot's habit of testing their guns on the first herd of domestic animals they saw once behind enemy lines. The Germans were even forced to attempt the use of draft oxen to move supplies but that simply increased the rate at which Europe's pool of agricultural animals was diminished.
By 1947 Europe's equine stocks were in a pitiful state, and the truth is that they have never recovered. The great draft horses that had made the European agricultural scene were extinct, the very few survivors died in The Great Famine. As a result, agricultural production had to mechanize, just as the farmers had to plant and harvest whatever they could, regardless of the Famine and the catastrophe unfolding around them. be. The obvious result was that every man and every back-street smithy started making tractors as well. Ferguson, however, with his design genius and his pre-war association with Ford not only knew how to mass-produce his products but his designs were simply the best there was bar none. In fact, every modern farm tractor today has its links back to a post-war Fergie of one sort or another.
This situation worked another way as well. Ferguson also had a close relationship with David Brown and there was a distinct need for a more powerful machine that the TE20. A 50hp tractor was needed for some agricultural application but, more importantly, it was also needed as the basis for a bulldozer. Such vehicles were as rare as hens teeth and they were needed to start rebuilding the cities. These two lines were the life-and-death factors for the British industry and, eventually they were consolidated when Massey-Harris bought Standard-Triumph. Eventually, David-Brown procured the group and today, the consolidated company still carries the flag as the world's most technically advanced and efficient producer of agricultural machinery.
This left, of course, the car industry. Discussion of British cars has been left to last simply because for most of the last sixty years, that's where they have been. It would be erroneous to say that private car construction in the U.K. had low priority because that would imply that it actually had some. Indeed, for the first decade after the Second World War, the primary importance of the car industry was as resource bank that could be gutted to supply other sectors of the automobile industry. We have already seen how Standard-Triumph was only saved by the TE20 tractor turning it into an agricultural machinery producer. There was simply no room, in terms of resources or demand, for a private car industry. Even in the slightly more relaxed years of the late 1950s it was a standing joke that "everybody knew when a young man had got his first job, he bought a motorcycle. Everybody knew when a girl had got him, he went out and bought a sidecar." Even when the car industry did slowly start to revive in the early 1960s, it did so in response to a demand from small businesses for a means of transporting their products or stock. The result was a series of light vans that were essentially built on car chassis; their boxy structure gained them the name of "panel vans". Over the years, more capacity was needed and the panel van evolved into a small truck that saw a myriad of unexpected uses. Some variants, the famous Dormobiles, were built as mobile caravans, providing the British with a chance for low cost vacations while others were adapted for use as small busses. In the 1970s and 1980s, these vans became notorious as canvasses for air-brush artists to demonstrate their skills and gaudily-painted vans became a common feature on British roads.
The trend towards small vans and trucks was reinforced by the Government itself. Almost their first act when considering their defense budget was the construction of a light cross-country truck. The American jeep or the Russian GAZ-69 were obvious choices but they required foreign currency. The Americans might give their equipment to the Russians without any demand for payment but Britain was not so favored. Accordingly, the Government reformed the Austin-Morris group, equipped it with the left-overs from the beaten and blackened industry that had survived because it was too dispersed (mostly) to kill short of a SAC laydown, and ordered it to produce a jeep-clone. After a couple of experimental starts, that vehicle emerged as the FV-1800, better known as the Austin Champ. The first vehicles were procured by the British Army in 1953 and they found them to be excellent performers but extremely expensive and hideously over-engineered. A civilian version was also produced but its sales in the UK were very limited and its export chances against the flood of jeeps available at less than scrap metal prices was very limited
Ironically, this lead to a success story. The Rover Brothers still had their car company, again a case of back-lane production being too dispersed to completely destroy. However, having survived the war, they faced the prospect of seeing their assets seized and carted away for other users unless they could come up with a viable program. Their chief designer, Maurice Wilks had a capable 1.6 liter engine available and was inspired by watching an American jeep at work. Rover had no steel ration so Wilks had a brainwave. The huge American B-36 program had driven the creation of a vast aluminum industry; with the end of the war B-36 orders had been cut right back so aluminum crashed in price. So much so, the aluminum companies were prepared to almost give the stuff away and that is just the deal the Rover Brothers managed to negotiate. They signed an agreement with Alcoa under which the American company would supply aluminum sheeting to Rover Brothers with payment for the material only being due when the vehicles were actually sold to a customer. Wilks designed a boxy, capacious body and the Land Rover was born.
The vehicle's success was astonishing. It's first victim was the Austin Champ; the Land Rover could do 90 percent of what a Champ could but cost a quarter of the price. It was also far easier to maintain, not least because the Land Rover had very little in it to maintain (early versions didnt even have a speedometer as users pointed out, it was easy to tell when one was driving too fast, the doors fell off). The British Army cancelled the Champ program and purchased the Land Rover in large numbers. The vehicle also found a ready market in South America and Africa where it was discovered that the aluminum body outlasted the steel jeep by a wide margin. Rover had not just saved themselves, they'd established the company in a prime position to revive the car industry when the opportunity came. In 1959, the Land Rover got the ultimate mark of acceptance; seeking to replace its American jeeps and home-built GAZ-69s, the Russians elected to license-build the Land Rover as the UAZ-469. Now, greatly refined over its ancestor of almost sixty years ago, but recognizably the same vehicle, the Land Rover is still in production and serving the civilian and military cross-country light truck sector well.
It would be 1959 before the motor industry started to look at private cars again. In that year, Rover introduced a station wagon version of the Land Rover, a tentative step based on the perception that farmers needed to carry their families around and the state of British roads was still so bad that four wheel drive was a real bonus. Their Land Rover Discovery wasn't a great seller, its market niche was too restricted for that, but it sold enough to make its production a viable entity and it did suggest that a car industry was, once again, at least plausible.
The problem was, who was to build them. The Americans, Ford and Vauxhall, had remained in the UK, more because their American parents had forgotten they existed than anything else. They were stripped of machinery during the industrial convulsions of the late 1940s and early 1950s and eaked out a precarious living by maintaining the small number of surviving pre-war vehicles and by selling trucks and tractors. In the mid-1950s, the American powers that be remembered they existed and decided to make some minimal investments in the plants, more with a n eye to securing a toe-hold in Europe than anything else. They shipped over some worn-out industrial plant that had been replaced in American factories (despite its state, it was still far better than anything available in Europe) and returned some pre-war vehicles to production, giving them warmed-over body designs to provide some semblance of newness. These were the first British cars to return to production.
Of the British companies, Rootes had been smeared with the tar of collaboration and the feathers of USN fury. There had not been enough of the group left to reconstitute so their manufacturing plant (what was left of it) had been divided up between the truck groups and agricultural machinery. Their design group had left to go to India where they had got together with local entrepreneurs to form the Tata Automobile Group. Their first fully indigenous product was the Tata Imp, a small car for the masses that competed very successfully with the Ambassador. Austin Morris had survived as a result of the Champ but rebuilding a car production side was going to be a challenge. Most significantly, Britain hadn't produced a private car for almost twenty years. Not only had the design expertise atrophied, all the traditional Marques had slid into disuse.
There was one upside to this picture; starting from nothing meant a clean sheet of paper. At Austin-Morris, Alex Issigonis, the designer of the Champ, had learned from that previous experience and produced a small family car that was stripped to its basics yet also employed a number of "firsts" to produce a capable yet affordable car. Introduced in 1961, the Riley Elf was the right car at the right time. The sixties had brought the baby boom to the UK and a mother with young children found a motor cycle and side car combination unattractive. The Elf, known affectionately as the "Mini" to the extent is real name was virtually forgotten, offered space and comfort and an illusion of safety at least. Its wide stance and wheels at the extremity design allowed it to cope with Britain's roads while its simplicity and small engine made it cheap to buy and economic to run. By the mid-1960s, the Riley Mini was denting the hordes of motorcycles that had previously characterized British cities. Later in the decade, Austin-Morris bought the Humber brand for a nominal sum and used it to launch the Humber Princess a decent if uninspired medium-sized vehicle. This vehicle never achieved the sales record of the Riley and most of its production was absorbed by various government, civic and other organizations that required prestige vehicles for their senior staff. The real problem with the Princess was poor quality control and the prevalence of industrial disputes within the Austin-Morris group. The disaffected workers saw the Princess as being the "car for the bosses" while the Elf was "the worker's car" and there are many accounts of Princesses being sabotaged on the production line.
The problem was that profitability in the car industry is directly proportional to vehicle size; while large vehicles cost more to build than smaller ones, the increase in chargeable price is much greater than the cost of production increase. The success of the Mini effectively trapped Austin-Morris into a low-profitability corner and that meant the group had very little money to invest in research and development or plant re-equipment. Being a state-owned group did not help matters in this respect.
By the start of the 1970s, the Rover Group had become a highly profitable enterprise based on its Land Rover and the station wagon version of that vehicle. The group decided to spread its wings and produce a new medium-sized vehicle aimed at Britain's growing middle-management class, a group that wanted something larger and more luxurious than the Mini but without the staid reputation and appalling reliability of the Princess. In addition, Britain's roads had, after much effort, been returned to a reasonably passable state. Rover started by buying rights to Buick's V8 engine and combining it with a radically new, wedge-shaped body that had the conventional four passenger doors but also a large lifting tailgate (called a hatchback) that allowed the vehicle to carry significant cargo. The new SD-1 was an instant success and established Rover as a major car producer in direct competition to the state-owned Austin-Morris group.
Austin-Morris made several attempts throughout the late 1970s and 1980s to produce a rival to the SD-1 (including such best-forgotten names as the Ambassador, Allegro, Ital and Montego), all of which foundered on the same rocks of poor construction and abysmal reliability. Ford continued its policy of building mid-sized vehicles, filling the gap for a family car that offered more than the Mini but did not get into the bracket of the SD1, and carved itself out a nice position in that sector. Most recently, Ford expanded into the luxury car sector by reviving the Jaguar marque. Vauxhall did the same, or at least tried to, but with much less success. They ran through many name changes and were eventually sold to the Italian Fiat/Lancia group. Rover made their efforts to break into the small car market but their efforts were hindered by their background and their basic design art being orientated towards larger, more capable equipment. As a result, their small cars tended to be solid and reliable but very much over-priced. In the early 1990s, Austin-Morris was finally denationalized and sold to the French Renault group. Rover continued in business and has, most recently, re-entered the sports car market reviving the old Aston-Martin Marque.