British Leyland finished

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Sir,

So you had to do your dash round those continental capitals in a continental Carriage singe Leyland “couldn’t be bothered”. Well, bully for them! As some of your readers will be aware, Finland has as yet not been absorbed into the Great EEC but was earlier a trading partner with Great Britain in EFTA. However, this did little to promote the British Motor Car in these parts and it took EEC-made cars to sweep the “top thirty” in the pop charts. Strangely enough the only British car to feature in the top thirty last year was the Cortina (sold and imported by the same people who handle the European Fords—and I mean SOLD) and just scraping in at number thirty we had Britain’s very own Range Rover which no doubt owes its success to the fact that when it first appeared here it was classed as a tractor and was thus exempt tax. I am led to understand that Finland is Dagenham’s biggest Export Market—doesn’t say much for their other markets.

Why doesn’t Mr. Finn tool about in those lovely, old-fashioned Rovers, Triumphs and the useful Maxi—why are there so few Leyland cars bought by the eager car-buying Finn? I suppose one reason is that “the others” have more to offer . . . or is it Leyland’s own fault. Classic cases of “head in the sand” and “take it or leave it” spring to mind and sadly I have to say the Finns seem to do as they are bidden and simply “leave it”.

I have just come home from a six-hour session at the International Motor Car Show presently being staged in Helsinki and presumably paid for by the importers of the various cars available here. It was great poking about in the boot of the new Honda 1200 Civic—crawling through the insides of the Mercedes range (their costliest car on the stand was a mere £13,000 when converted into sterling) and the numbers of people sitting behind wheels and dreaming of the open road had to be seen to be believed. The Halls were full of brightly illuminated offerings in swinging colours, with leggy girls handing out brochures and salesmen immaculate in their company liveries encouraging all sorts of liberties and answering all sorts of questions. They were all there, the Mazdaa, the Toyotas, the Ladas and the Volgas; the Renaults and the Fiats, the Volkswagens and the Sunbeams, the Peugeots and the Citroens, the Wartburgs and the Zils, the Chryslers and the Dodges and the Fords and the GMs and the . . where were the Leylands?

The Leylands “show” consisted of one cut-up Marina coupé, one of the Army’s private Range Rovers from the UK which did the Trans-America route-blazing stunt, a fairly nicely restored Bull Nosed Morris supported by 3 Minis; one a 1959 model with over 209,000 kms. behind it and one a local racing version (suggesting coyly that 1, Minis last well and 2, they are quite fast) one or two Marinas, a Maxi, a couple of Rovers, a couple of Triumphs, Land-Rovers, an MG-B, a pair of Jaguars and an E-type V12 with a V12 motor on a stand. The funny thing was that the salesmen were so busy they spent the entire time I was in their area chatting together in a very relaxed fashion (lucky them!) and their girl dishing out a combined brochure was a bit dull—and dear friends, shades of Earls Court ALL THE CARS WERE LOCKED UP! Not only that but the whole “show” was a bit pathetic and not in the least inspiring . . . I could go on, but what is to become of the British motor car in Finland? I suppose a “standard” memo came from some high-up chap in the UK to the effect that . . our previous experience at motor shows would indicate that the general public (blast them) are not to be trusted inside a motor on show . . .” and I have to say that I didn’t notice that Mr Finn, his eager wife or his kids had stripped the other stands of their bits and bobs. But I did notice that Peugeot had clear perspex (?) bonnets and boot lids to foil light-fingered types (but then you see their spares are the dickens of a price so just to prevent anyone swiping an engine . . .) and I did see one Toyota with a gear knob missing—it was lying in the foot-well at the rear and I only happened upon it as I tried to get my feet under the driver’s seat. I duly gave it to a salesman who thanked me and deftly screwed it on again.

From the catalogue I noted that Toyota can sell you a car from their range of twelve imported models, ranging from 1200 c.c. at £1,399 to a two-and-a-half-litre Crown at £3,599. Their range is surpassed by Renault (845 c.c.—£1,099 to 1565 c.c.—£3,900) Peugeot (1130 c.c.—£1,999 to 2112 c.c.—£4,650) Ford (1008 c.c.—£1,314 to 5753 c.c. —£6,500), Fiat (594 c.c.—no price yet, to 3235 c.c.—£6,900). The Austin Maxi, which should be the best selling car in Finland, is rarely seen in the capital and even less often out of town. I wonder what directions their salesmen have had from “on high”. You must understand, you chaps out there at Head Office, that the natives here, although being very friendly, are impressed by a bit of a show. . . .

Sadly I drive a Volkswagen. I wish I could afford a British car—afford the privilege of being among the elite who have begged the local shop to release one of their carefully locked-up treasures. I wish I could aggressively thump the table when discussing cars and shout at my friends that British cars are so obviously the best—perhaps they are the best, but we shall never know!

Incidentally the V12 E-type had the highest declared top speed, rated at 240 k.m./h., so the natives did have something to oggle. . . . I wonder what the local Commercial Attache thinks about it all and I wonder how aware the chaps at Head Office are about local conditions. It’s enough to make one want to chuck in one’s passport. . . .

Before I forget, welcome to Europe (not only are the modern British cars rather “veteran” but some of the old ones that went to pay their respects would appear to be better in many respects—at least they weren’t all locked up in a drab corner). Must stop for a cup of tea, Rule Brittania.

Hensinki, Finland.
David B. Bullivant.