Chicagoland MG Club: Library
Earning The American Dream
by Gordon Whitby

2009 Hardbound, 8.5" x 11", 340 pages, color/B&W.

A 16-year employee of the Los Angles BMC distributorship as well as the only American race mechanic for BMC's 1950s record speed runs at Bonneville Salt Flats. Gordon Whitby gives an overview of the motor industry of that era with loads of pictures.

A British emigrant to the USA, arriving in the USA in 1952, the author began work as a mechanic with the MG-Austin distributor Gough Industries in Los Angles, the Nuffield Car Company distributorship. This was a era when all import car sales combined were tiny compared to domestic car production. There are detailed stories of working on the record 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 Manager.

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.

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