Wednesday, 22 March 2023

And Then We Went To Croydon

The concept of Badge Engineering is basically taking a base model, and - usually through subsiduary companies - creating just enough difference in the look (and possibly mechanicals) to have a whole new car.
BMC (later British Leyland) had many interchangeable Austin/Morris vehicles, and Wolseley, Riley and  Vanden Plas were also in the mix,  Latterly (under the Austin Rover name) the company entered into a badge-engineering partnership with Honda creating the Triumph Acclaim/Honda Accord and Rover 200 series/Honda Ballade.
Throughout the 70s, Vauxhall and Opel models were built on the same platform (and later in the same factory), and there was further badge engineering with the Australian manufacturer Holden.
Badge engineering also encompasses the licence production route where a company sells the rights to another manufacturere to build it's own version of a tried and trusted marque.
The Fiat 124 / Lada partnership is probably the prime example of this.  While the Fiat 124 may only had a relatively short life (1966 - 1974) it's licensing to Lada saw production of the boxy vehicle continue until 2010 - total sales of all variants of this vehicle exceed 25 million.

As the Fiat 124 was entering into production in 1966, the Rootes Group - home to the marques Humber, Commer, Hillman, Karrier, Singer, Sunbeam, Talbot - entered into a badge engineering exercise using their new Hillman Hunter as a base (under the Project Name Rootes Arrow).
Rootes Group had been in existence since the early 30s and had spent a lot of time acquiring a stable of manufacturers.  The problem was although they had the range to cover almost all bases of car buying, they were never the most relaible, quality built, or profitable companies.  Often mentioned in the pantheon of great British Car Producers, but in truth often lagging being it's prime competitors.
Chrysler - one of the US Big 3 - wanted a foothold in Europe and bought French company Simca in 1958.  They expanded with a minor stake in Rootes Group in the early 60s, and by 1967 purchased a majority stake.  

The Hillman Hunter was designed for the family car market, available in saloon and estate versions.  There were also coupe versions and a panel van / pickup truck variant produced.
Badge engineering, and the desire to use as many of the names it owned as possible, led to variants:

  • Hillman Arrow
  • Hillman Break de Chasse
  • Hillman Estate Car
  • Hillman GT
  • Hillman Hunter
  • Hillman Husky (panel van / pickup)
  • Hillman Hustler
  • Hillman Minx
  • Hillman Vogue
  • Humber Sceptre
  • Iran National Paykan (built under license, and continuing until 2005)
  • Singer Gazelle
  • Singer Vogue
  • Sunbeam Alpine (coupe)
  • Sunbeam Rapier (coupe)
Built around the same underpinnings, the majority were differentiated by trim levels (surely it would've been easier to use L, GL, GLS etc ?).

It was hoped that a single model with multiple variants could make strides in markets led by Fored Escort, Ford Cortina, Vauxhall Victor, Triumph 2000, Rover P6 - basically the hope was to nick market share from every car manufacturer.  A bold plan, with a couple of issues - namely the build quality and company inefficiencies of old.
Over it's relatively short life, due to the need to cut costs the range was rationalised to just the Hunter.
In 1977, Chrysler sold out to Peugout, and although the Chrysler name (and later Talbot) continued for a while, the iconic names of the Rootes Group were consigned to history.

Hereford may not be the Rock & Roll Capital of the world - to be honest, it's probably the Perry Capital of the World, but not much else.
Mick Taylor (the best guitarist in The Stones?) and Ellie Goulding both were born there.  As were three quarters of The Pretenders (Martin Chambers, James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon).  But perhaps Hereford's most famous sons are Mott The Hoople.

Mott The Hoople were originally called The Doc Thomas Group featuring original members Mick Ralphs (guitar) and Pete Overend Watts (bass), joined by Stan Tippins on vocals.  Drummer  Dale "Buffin" Griffin  and organist Verden Allen joined a year or so later, and the band renamed Silence.
Silence piqued the interest of producer Guy Stevens, but was un-impressed by Stan Tippins.
Ian Hunter - 30 years old, married with 2 kids, but desperately trying to make it as a professional musician - was selected as Tippins replacement.  With a new frontman in place (with considerably more ego and stage presence - plus a curly perm and dark sunglasses - Silence renamed themselves Mott The Hoople and plunged into the recording studio with Guy Stevens.

It's fair to say what came out (released on Island Records) did not shift units, but did find an audience.  However that audience failed to grow and by the time of album number 4, the band decided to call it a day.
But one of that small audience thought he might be able to help.  David Bowie sent a tape over containing a demo of "Suffragette City" in the hope they might record it.
The band listened to it, but decided it wasn't for them and informed Bowie that they had now split for good.  Never one to be beaten, Bowie phoned back 2 hours later announcing he had a new song for them to hear.  This time, there was "something" there that appealed to the band, and "All The Young Dudes" was worked up and taken into the studio.
With Bowie in the production chair, the single was a success followed by the album which somewhat vindicated the bands past 3 or 4 years of struggle.
Further album and singles success followed in 1973, even with Mick Ralphs leaving in mid-73 to form Bad Company.
At the start of 1974, it looked like Mott would break America but unfortunately exhaustion and band relationships put a stop to that.  And then at the end of 1974, not long after Mick Ronson joined Ian Hunter left the band for a solo career (Ronson followed him soon after) which effectively spelled the end for Mott The Hoople.
Their final single was "Saturday Gigs" in October 1974, was the last thing recorded by the band and the only Mott The Hoople studio track to feature Mick Ronson.
"Saturday Gigs" tells the story of the band from formation to demise with thanks to their audience.
IT also includes the line (in the 1972 verse) about how it all changed when they went to Croydon.  Croydon has that effect on people - once visited, the world is never quite the same again.
But in this case, the reference is either their visit to the Fairfields Hall in February (just after Bowie had presented them with "Dudes") or their return visit to The Greyhound as "Dudes" began to garner success.


  1. I'm learning a lot from these series, and it reminds me of the days when my dad worked in the car auctions, so all good.

    I'm curious where the Hillman Imp fits into all that, but I'm probably showing my ignorance by asking.

    Imagine if David Bowie offered you a song... and you turned it down... so he called you back with another one. Just imagine.

    1. The Imp pre-dates the Hunter by about 3 years, and also ceased about 3 years before the Hunter. It's engine was basically fire-pump.
      That too had about 10 different names and variants.
      Even went rallying - with a bag of concrete in the front boot to balance it out.

  2. The Hillman Imp was built at Linwood near Glasgow.My uncle worked there. The factory site is now the Phoenix Retail Park