Wednesday, June 4, 2014

THE TR7 SALES SOLUTION


So here we are, 1980 and the Triumph TR7 had a slow sales start in Australia. Everything about the car was a conundrum, and potential buyers didn’t ‘know’ what the car was. Was it a two-seat sedan car? Was it a sports car? Was it a Grand Touring coupe?

 
It didn’t really ‘look’ like a sports car, and with a closed cabin the true sports car buyers, and more importantly buyers of previous Triumph TR sports cars thought it was a bit ‘soft’. In short, it didn’t have any credentials.

In 1977 Leyland Australia’s marketing department became convinced the company should 'acquire' a TR7 which Group 44 had been racing in the USA, and put it on the race track in Australia to give the car some cred.

Unfortunately the team which campaigned the car didn’t have a lot of resources, and although the race car was sponsored by Playboy magazine, it was all advertising contra rather than cash. To top it all off the team was inexperienced, and both the car and driver were unreliable. I think it only finished two of the races it was entered in, and nowhere near a podium place.

This was turning out to be an expensive promotional tool, so we had to come up with a better idea. The marketing and public relations departments got their heads together and conceived the idea of a one-make race series, featuring a field of TR7s.

It was up to me and my PR team to put the details in place, and better still, find a sponsor to offset the cost of campaigning a number of cars, and paying ‘star’ drivers to participate.

At this point in the Blog post, I must point out that my friend Russell Turnham, Leyland Australia's Marketing Manager, says that so far I have been entirely too kind to the TR7.
 
 
He reminds me that we had to ‘strong-arm’ the Triumph Owners Club to accept buyers of TR7s, The Club did eventually acquiesce, but only accepted TR7 owners as associate members! Russell also reminded me that the quality of the cars coming out of Speke was atrocious.

In his own words: “The plant was manned by a workforce of unemployed longshoremen who built cars like they loaded ships, badly, and with complete disinterest.  To say BL was conned into building cars in Liverpool by a British Labor government blackmailing a penurious company, with financial subsidies, seems to sum up the business case?”

Back to Australia, and the grand plan to run a one-make race series to sell this car that was neither fish-nor-fowl.
 


Barclays Bank willingly became our sponsor, because it was keen to get into new car financing, and saw the promotional opportunity as a gift. Thus, the campaign was called the “Barclays TR7 Pro-Car Series” – and would feature seven TR7s, driven by seven top-flight professional drivers, over seven laps, at seven race meetings, and televised by (who else?) Channel 7.

 
For anyone familiar with Australian motor racing, you’ll recognize we really did have a top-flight list of drivers. Led by Jack Brabham, we also signed up Colin Bond, Jim Richards, John Goss, Kevin Bartlett, Ian ‘Pete’ Geoghegan, and Bob Morris.

 

















In the course of the series we had ‘casual’ drivers like Dick Johnson, John Harvey and Ron Dickson, who filled in when others were racing elsewhere.

 

The racing was close, exciting, thrill a minute and very good spectator viewing, either at the track or on television. Many people said it was the most fun they had seen, despite the fact that the cars were virtually standard, and ‘slow’ by racing standards.


 
The series was a huge success and we sold every TR7 coming into the country in 1980. In 1981 we followed up with the TR7 Pro-Am Series, where we had five pro drivers racing against amateurs who had bought TR7s just to compete in the Pro-Am series.

 

The first round of the 1981 Barclays TR7 Pro-Am Series
The sour grapes came in June of 1981 when the feisty chairman of British Leyland, Sir Michael Edwardes, threatened the union at the Speke plant in Liverpool, that if they did not end industrial action, he would close the plant.

BL Chairman Sir Michael Edwardes
 
The workforce didn’t stop industrial action, so Edwardes closed the plant, and that meant no more TR7s.

 

 
 
 
 
 
So we had this great sales machine running at full speed, and NO TR7s to sell! In fact, much like the XJ-S was for Jaguar, the TR7 was a (surprisingly) commercially-successful model, eventually selling more than 115,000 cars in just six years.

AS the PR department was responsible for putting the whole package together, I must highlight and praise my PR Manager at the time, Michael Breen (who is now PR Manager for Toyota Australia), and mechanical engineer and tuner Ron Gillard, who ‘fettled’ all the cars and put seven perfect, race-ready TR7s on the starting grid for every round. Ron proudly says that there was not a single DNF due to mechanical issues.
Ron Gillard (Left) with John Goss, Colin Bond, Pete Geoghegan and Bob Morris

 Mike managed all the administrative loose ends, and Ron put in hours testing the cars and fine-tuning them for racing.

Ron Gillard racing at Oran Park
Without those two guys the Series would never have been the success it was!

What’s the major lesson from this exercise? We had a healthy budget, we didn’t cut corners, either in the race car preparation, the promotion, or the follow-up publicity and PR. Which bears out my lifelong operating maxim:

 “Pay peanuts, get monkeys.”
 
Photos courtesy of Chevron Publishing, Ron Gillard and John Crawford

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