Library Muse (continued)
breaking BMC cars at Bonneville Salt Flats in the 1950's, and
the effect that these activities had on car sales. Gordon Whitby
was ultimately promoted several times during his 16 years with
BMC. Kjell Qvale, owner of British Motor Car Distributors of
San Francisco, bought the Compton distributorship from Hambro
in 1964, at which time Gordon became General Service
The book discusses all of the BMC car models sold in North America from the early 1950's through 1980, relating quality problems and differences between British and American customers' expectations. While competitor cars were getting stronger engines, better gearboxes and independent suspension, BMC was apparently negligent at upgrading their cars to satisfy the American market. Their sports cars were always good, outselling all other sports cars in the world, but there was a limited market for two-seaters. Their sedans (potentially much larger market) were less than up to par for American expectations, and the factory was slow and/or reluctant to improve either the features or quality.
Volkswagen had a jump on import sales from 1949
and were selling more cars than all other imports combined. As large as BMC was in Europe, and as fast as they were growing in North America, they were not catching up with VW in North America. In 1958 Nissan (Datsun) and Toyota both got a toe hold to start importation and sales in California. While very slow starting the first few years, they did eventually ramp up sales to take a significant share of the import car market. As small sporty cars were becoming popular, the domestic manufacturers were introducing new smaller models beginning about 1960. The 1960 Ford Falcon gave rise to Mustang in 1965, and Chevrolet ceased production of the Corvair by 1970. Rising safety and emissions regulations would ultimately do in some of the smaller manufacturers.
Gordon Whitby was generally dissatisfied over the
years with slow response by BMC in upgrading their cars features and quality. In 1967 he went to work for Nissan (Datsun Motor Cars) where the best sales year to date was only approaching 50,000 vehicles when VW was selling ten times as many. Starting there as General Service Manager he was promoted to District Sales Manager, being an unusual jump from Service to Sales. There was a continuing push to upgrade dealer facilities, promote quality cars, and create satisfied customers. In 1970 Datsun sold over 150,000 vehicles, finally outselling Volkswagen in the Los Angles Region, and was handily well ahead of Toyota. By 1979 Nissan was selling nearly 200,000 vehicles per year.
Meanwhile BMC was reorganized a few times under various changing names, but for the most part kept on selling older technology products with less than stellar quality, and suffering losses of market share accordingly. MG products from the Abingdon factory were generally money makers with good quality, and MGB in particular having a good reputation. In 1979, after a big nine day party celebrating the 50th anniversary of MG in Abingdon, the next day announcement was made for closing the MG factory.
Monthly Column of Driving Events
This month's Directions column will have no reports because there were no Driving
Events since you received the September/October Driveline. But luckily we still have a couple of very good events on the calendar. The Halloween Rally on October 31 will probably already be over, the Fall Tune-Down & Chili Party at Cowboy's house, maybe another Fall Color Tour with Dan Herman in NW Illinois, and the Cruise to the Rock on Thanksgiving. You will find the details about these MG Driving opportunities elsewhere in this Driveline. And we'll have a new event on November 20th that has has everything to do with driving however, not for MG's but for the homeless in the Arlington Heights area.
Before I go into this new event I would like to share with you why I think that the Cruise to the Rock is such an important event and why we should be very proud of it. On November 27, Thanksgiving, in 1895 the first automobile race in America started right here in Chicago. The story is very well summarized in these two articles: The Story of The First Auto Race in America and First Horseless Race. Both can be viewed at NYT.com. Can you imagine that our home town Chicago stood at the beginning of Motorsports in America? To celebrate the 100th anniversary of that (until then little known) event a reenactment was held on Thanksgiving 1995. The day drew a large crowd of spectators and more than 10 times the number of racers than the original, 100 years earlier. The entire course and the unveiling of a plaque on a rock on the corner of Midway Plaisance and S. Cornell Avenue, right next to the Museum of Science and Industry was covered by Bill Wildt's local TV network show Motorsports Unlimited. On Thanksgiving 1996 a small group of Chicagoland MG Club members had the idea that if celebrating the100th anniversary of the race in 1995 was fun and important, there would be no reason not to do it again for the 101th anniversary. Because there was no official celebration we just said "Let's cruise to the rock". When we got there we were welcomed by Bill with his TV show, who had the exact same idea. That year no other car clubs participated and we were the only attendees. But because we kept going year after year, and with Motorsports Unlimited continued TV coverage, and despite some hick-ups with the City of Chicago's bureaucracy, the event slowly became what it is today. Can you imagine that our Chicagoland MG Club stood at the beginning of this event? I have been away for a number of years on Thanksgiving, but this is one thing that you should have high on your calendar if you're in town. It starts early so that you can be home in time for the turkey and nothing creates appetite like a brisk drive in your MG to celebrate the 115th anniversary of the first driving event in America and the 15th anniversary of "our" Cruise to the Rock.
The new event I just mentioned has no official name
and I have referred to it as Oil Change Day. As you may not realize, many homeless people in our area have cars. Some