As the swinging 60s slipped into the striking 70s the British motor industry was in a state of chaos. The recently merged British Leyland had too many old products and too many demands on its limited resources. Yet in one corner of the British motor industry all was rather good. Or so it seemed. Ironically for a country with limited resources of sun Britain was the world leader in convertible sports car production. Our cars went all over the world – generally to sunnier places – and were universally loved. From bargain drop tops like the Triumph Spitfire to iconic supercars like the v12 E Type, British sports cars pretty much had the whole market sown up. In 1970 Britain had the Spitfire, MGB, Midget, Stag, E Type and TR6, all excellent cars and still – mostly – very popular. So whaddappened? Motoring historians have poured over that question for years. The answer seems to be not much. Not much happened because the newly merged BL couldn’t decide where to start. With so many factories and so many staff BL seemed to choose, eventually, a path of mass market volume. Expensive to produce – but profitable – sports cars didn’t seem to fit the desire for volume to keep factories running and staff employed, a critical factor given that Government was bankrolling the whole venture. So BL opted to stretch the existing models on into their dotage. In 1970 most of the cars listed above were in the autumn of their years having been launched in the early 60s. The uncertainty over the future of their parent companies had stalled plans for replacements. Which, given what some of those replacements looked like, is probably just as well. BL eventually pulled together some sort of sports car strategy and launched the TR7 and XJ-S onto an ungrateful world. Both were initially launched as hard tops thanks to fears about planned US safety legislation. Both comprehensively missed the mark left by their predecessors by a country mile. The MGB, Spitfire and Midget soldiered on until the early 80s by which time they were shadows of their former selves, lumbering under-powered relics that seemed to personify everything they stood against at their launches. A few years later of course Mazda launched the MX5 and everyone realised how much they loved sports cars. Belatedly MG responded with the F and it seemed that once again Britain was at the forefront of open top sports car motoring. The arrival of the XK8 even suggested we might stake our claim to America again. Although Jaguar is resurgent it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Our roads are now filled with open top Mercedes, Mazdas, Audis, VW and on it goes. Sports cars are the profitable must-have element of any manufacturer’s range. What if is an ultimately pointless discussion but, regardless, what if BL had realised just what it had when it had it? Given the threat to open top cars in the US, the need for volume to support factories and political aspirations and the cost of gearing up for a low volume sports car perhaps BL had no other choice than to throw its position in the sports car market to the dogs. But it could have done better than the early XJ-S and TR7. The XJ-S is a very good and very handsome car but it didn’t replace the E Type – it was a grand tourer to the E Type’s cheap sports car pretensions. Buyers expected another E Type and were confused. The TR7 was just dismal. Time has not improved what is essentially a car built around the lowest common denominator. The TR7 had an impossible task to fulfil in terms of replacing the Spitfire, Midget, MGB and TR6 but it didn’t even come close. Ironically for a company committed to the principle of badge-engineering, a concept that sold the same thing, but different, to different markets, with the TR7 BL tried to sell the same thing, but the same, to different markets of MG and Triumph enthusiasts. The tragedy of BL’s slippery slide out of the sports car market is not that it happened by accident. It happened by design. BL’s strategy in this market – one cheap and one expensive sports car – was flawed because neither product could cover the wide range of cars they replaced and at launch neither was what the market wanted. Britain and the USA had moved on. The final insult is that the only brand that has survived from BL is the one that’s all about sports cars – MG. You can sample every convertible car from the zenith of British open top motoring at http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.