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Business: Britain’s Triumph

4 minute read

To compete in the already crowded, competitive U.S. auto market, Britain’s Standard Motor Co. Ltd. set out to develop a low-priced sports car that would do 90 m.p.h. Last May, in twelve test runs over Belgium’s flat Jabbeke highway near Ostend, Standard’s new car racked up top speeds of 125.8 m.p.h. with a stripped down “speed” trim and 115.4 in touring trim (with the top up). Standard’s delighted managing director, Sir John Black, 58, christened it the TR-2 (Triumph Two Liter) in honor of Triumph Motor Co. Ltd., the Standard subsidiary that built the car.

Last week the first mass-produced TR-2 came off the assembly line. Short (12 ft. 4 in.) and low (3 ft. 10 in. to the top of the windshield), it has a four-cylinder, 90-h.p. engine with two carburetors and 8.5 to 1 compression ratio. The TR-2 gets 24 miles to the gallon, has independent front-wheel suspension for easier riding and two bucket seats. A particular attraction for sports-car buyers: the jetlike scream produced at high speed by the air scoop in front. The TR-2 will goon sale in the U.S. early in September at about $1,500 plus taxes. One enthusiastic group of U.S. agents has already ordered 100 TR-2s a week for an entire year.

Gamble. The Triumph’s triumph was strictly the work of Sir John Black. He had come to Standard in 1929 from Hillman where, at 34, he had already made a name for himself as managing director. Standard was deep in the red, and its production was down to 34 cars a week. To get the company out from under, Black gambled. He asked for little salary and no share in any profits until he had assured Standard stockholders a 6% return on their investment. Then he expected the company to pay him more money.*

Black redesigned the cars, and sales started climbing. By 1939, Standard produced 50,000 cars a year. When World War II came, Standard switched to making airplanes, armored cars, etc. When the war ended, Sir John, unlike most British and American automakers, made a startling move: he scrapped Standard’s entire prewar line. Believing the only way to compete in the postwar market at home and abroad was to concentrate quantity production on a single, low-priced car, Black put Standard to work on the Vanguard. (He also got the manufacturing rights to the famed Ferguson tractor in all markets except the American and Philippine.) While most British industries struggled along with decrepit equipment, Sir John spent $40 million modernizing his plant. Standard now has three plants equipped to turn out 100,000 cars and 100,000 tractors a year and last year grossed $132 million.

Payoff. In 1945, Sir John bought up Triumph Motors with the idea of bringing out a low-priced sports car. To avoid expensive retooling, Triumph used Standard parts (e.g., Vanguard engine, Mayflower front suspension and rear axle).

Standard has kept production high and costs down with the help of an incentive payment plan. The company, which pays its 12,000 workers a good (for England) minimum weekly wage ($14 for men, $10.50 for women), provides increases for any group of workers which lowers the man-hour cost per unit. Says he: “If all British industries would adopt such an incentive scheme, we’d clear up our economic troubles overnight.”

*It did. In 1949, directors voted him a gift of 100,000 shares of stock, then valued at $2.80 a share. A year later, however, roused by Sir John’s tax-free present and a similar gift made by Austin Motor Car Co. Ltd. to Managing Director Leonard P. Lord, Britain’s Labor government levied a retroactive surtax on such deals, deprived Sir John of 95% of his gift.

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