Part 1: The beginning (of the end) Our guest blogger, Campden Chipping, shares a fantastic three part blog on the perils of reviving an old British Car company, here’s the first instalment…
I hope you are really tempted to buy a classic car.
However, would you ever be tempted to buy an old company name? How difficult could it be to re-start making a model from the past?
The probable complete demise of Bristol Cars in 2020 got me thinking.
Once upon a time there were a gaggle of luxury brands that either were established or reinvented themselves in the post second world war era. The heyday we can now see was in the 1960s, so that by the 1970s trouble had already set in. Then little consideration was given to fuel consumption, yet there were oddities too. Often the exterior featured extensive handmade panels, whilst in stark contrast the interior would feature PVC cloth in some places. Effectively most of the luxury brands with few exceptions had lost control of their costs. Hence the famous exchange with Sir David Brown when a customer turned up with a load of cash, seeking discount. His reply was to state the list price, and to offer the customer the option to pay the additional funds to cover the true cost.
The 1973 oil crisis forced many companies to consider their future, or to be pushed into bankruptcy.
The underlying trends continued, however. In the golden era novelties such as electrically adjustable seats, electric window lifters and air conditioning were relatively simple to add to an expensive vehicle, whereas the mass market was not ready to adopt so the component costs remained stubbornly high. That vital dynamic allowed many companies to get away with relatively inexpensive but durable engines from the USA, whereas European ‘royalty’ would prefer to shoot themselves before doing such a thing. There is more to this than meets the eye…
The trend that was initiated appeared firstly as anti-lock brakes, followed by electronic multi-port fuel injection, engine management, body system control modules and more. Partially driven by law, these devices needed mass market volumes to justify the considerable engineering effort, so immediately pricing key systems out of the luxury brand sector. In the space of little more than two decades, the luxurious car market needed to find new ways to survive.
Out went the silly cost cutting, and in came the finest materials money could buy. Out went the extensive dealer network, and in came financial support for the most profitable outlets. Out went mass market advertising, and in came support of things like off shore power boat racing, ocean going yacht racing, or polo. This did not lead to success, but rather bought valuable time.