George got something else that year as well: a second grandson who would eventually inherit his sage purchase, still going strong and with less than 30,000 on the clock, at the not-so-tender age of seventeen. I then used the Acclaim to ‘see out’ my A-levels and my university degree, and even to start work at the age of 21. I also put Hella spotlights on the front bumper and a pair of six-by-nines on the back shelf (sorry, Grandad): items that, I was disappointed to note, don’t feature on the British Motor Museum’s example, although it’s otherwise wonderful.
You can probably appreciate why picking a birthday car didn’t take me long. It’s not a flash one; nothing to hold a candle to Bremner’s gorgeous DB4 or Goodwin’s fanciable Lotus. But then 1981 was bit of a desert for the introduction of interesting, world-beating passenger cars. When Google turned up the news that the Acclaim was introduced in the right year, I was suddenly uncharacteristically uninterested in the Maserati Biturbo or Lamborghini Jalpa that might have stood in for it.
The Acclaim was a car that didn’t sell in chart-dominating volume and didn’t attract the attention of enthusiasts like its immediate rear-driven forebear, the Dolomite. Some will tell you it was Triumph’s lowest ebb: a rebadged Honda Ballade used as a stopgap by British Leyland, with just enough UK-sourced content to count as ‘locally produced’. It filled a gap for BL in the early 1980s, in the build-up to the launch of what was expected to be a world-beating, all-new mid-sized hatchback: the Maestro. Like it or not, though, the Acclaim was significant. It was how Japanese car design and production techniques first had an influence on UK car making. Without that influence, volume car making on these shores would have died a death a long, long time ago.
The Acclaim was rightly celebrated for reliability, setting record lows for warranty payouts for BL. We had a Hillman Avenger before Mum took on Grandad’s Acclaim: a typical example of how UK volume car making had been. It broke down fairly regularly, wore twice as quickly, had much less room in it, leaked and stank (either of damp upholstery or exhaust fumes, depending mainly on the weather).
The Acclaim must have been like a revelation for its owners by comparison: it was comfy, compact, well-packaged, drivable, economical and pretty refined. You might say that it was the beginning of the redeeming modernisation of the UK car industry. But here’s the plain truth: if my grandad had bought almost any other British-built car in his price range back in 1981, I reckon I’d have been getting the bus to my Post-modernist Literature seminars in 2001. And since you can’t offer lifts to girls when you’re on the bus, I was very grateful that Grandad George chose so well.