Why did all main British car maker companies disappear while so many other Europeans didn’t? Was the main cause for this, British labor unions policies at the time?

I would like to answer this question from the point of view of the British motorcycle, rather than car, industry because I was there at the end.

I have written about this time in my autobiography “A Penguin in a Sparrow’s Nest” The Story of a Freelance Motorcycling Journalist eBook: Melling, Frank: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

If you would prefer to read a real book, on real paper, then please do have a look at Books By Frank Melling

The book gives rare insight as to the mess that things were in at the time because I was in a very odd position. in 1970, I was student who also worked as a freelance motorcycling journalist. This odd dichotomy gave me access to the highest levels of the British bike industry whilst my extreme youth, and permanently happy smile, led to me being treated rather as a favourite Labrador puppy.

This meant that I saw all aspects of the industry and came to realise that the awful mess it was in was a result of immense, multiple failings by many different players in the saga.

The core source of all the issues was the incredibly incompetent management. This began right at the top and then continued at every level.

Lionel Jofeh, BSA’s Managing Director – a man who actively despised motorcyclists – decided that this child’s tricycle – the Ariel 3 – was going to save the company when he was told that his customers loathed it. This is how much empathy he had with his customers.

The appalling Ariel 3

The BSA Group was the tenth biggest company in Britain in 1962 and ten years later was effectively bankrupt. The three cylinder Trident/Rocket 3 would have been competitive in the world market had it been put immediately into production in 1965 but by the time it staggered into life in 1969 Honda had a much better superbike.

The four years in between had been wasted in an orgy of self serving political in fighting between factions at Triumph and BSA.

The BSA Rocket 3 – the nearly bike

There were some outstanding middle managers within the group. Doug Hele, seen here kneeling alongside BSA Managing Director, Bert Hopwood, was arguably the best motorcycle development engineer in the world but he was not sufficiently “political” to make progress in the mire which was BSA management.

Moving down the shop floor workforce, there were many fine, clever and and dedicated engineers but the incompetency of the management dragged them down even when they could, and would have, excelled.

Corruption was rife too with theft taking place on an industrial scale. As a young man, I used to see a brand new 500cc Triumph engine advertised from a Coventry address (where the Triumph factory was located) in Motor Cycle News every week – year after year.

Not only parts but complete motorcycles were stolen from BSA – and in bulk too. It was appalling.

Finally, militant unions exploited the weakness of management – and were allowed to get away with destructive working practices of a truly dreadful nature.

Could have this been changed? I doubt it. I remember working on the building of a power station before I went to College and one week, I came home really disappointed on Friday evening because I had been forced to work a whole five days without a strike!

I once tried to discuss this failure with my mum and she made a very interesting observation. She said: “The war had taken it out of us love. All those lovely young men killed and us on rations and short of clothes for so long.

“After the war, we were all just so tired and wanted a break.”

Maybe that is the true epitaph of the death of British industry.

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