Dragon Data (1982 -1984)

The Mettoy factory and it’s logo

A small UK toy manufacturer called Mettoy founded Dragon Data Company in 1982. Dragon 32 started a new era for computers in the UK, especially with its new 6809 Microprocessor. This seemed to be a wise decision since programming with this new CPU is less complicated than others. The Dragon 32 is very similar to the Tandy. The Engineers not to make it identical to the Tandy computer, changed the serial port into a parallel port, standard and extended BASIC language was mixed and re-assembled, with a partially re-written bios, also from Tandy. A proof of this is the DNS appearing for no reason on boot up, as these are the initials of the author, Duncan Smeed (DNS). Due to the similarity of Dragon 32 with Tandy, The latter’s company could take legal action, but it was not worth it, since it would be time consuming, and probably the machine would be outdated by the time the court took a decision. The Dragon 32 was a great hit in the UK due to the problems that Spectrum and Acorn were having in supplying their machines. In October of 1982 Mettoy finances were getting worse, and the Dragon Data management knew that a takeover was the only solution that they needed. Management director Mr. Tony Clarke persuaded the financial institutions to buy more stocks and re-finance Dragon Data. This left Mettoy with only 15.5% shareholding after the Welsh Development Agency bought 23% and Pru-tech the largest holding with, 42%. As part of the deal Welsh Development Agency requested a larger factory with an increased manufacturing capacity compared to the current state within Mettoy. The new investment had to bring new contracts with Race Electronics enabling them to build up more production rate, to come closer to the high demand for their product. In 1983 Forty thousand ‘Dragon 32’ had been sold and Dragon Data had become the largest privately owned company in Wales. March saw the completion of the move to the new premises in Kenfig, and 5,000 Dragons rolled off the production line every week, and later was increased to 10,000 units believing that sales would continue to grow in summer. A single disk system with interface was planned for April at a cost of £275 and the OS9 operating system would be licensed from Microware. Even though the Disk Drive was not released in April, Premier Microsystems took the opportunity to release a new disk drive, but this did no harm on sales to the original company. A 64k Upgrade board, which was announced, previously, by May become a Mainboard swap with a cost of £75. The board was also to be used by the announced Dragon 64k with an additional RS 232 port to be priced for £250. A month later Dragon Data changed its mind on Dragon 32k upgrade. Users wishing to upgrade their memory to 64k were given the opportunity to change their Mainboard to the new Dragon 64k board with a total cost of £100. After discussions and meetings with six different companies in the US Dragon Data had appointed Tano Corporation to manufacture and supply the Dragon 32 & 64 computers. Dragon Data had chosen this particular company because they already had experience with the 6809 CPU and in the past they produced an Apple II clone. The first few thousand machines were to be built in Wales and the rest in US until Tano’s production was set up. When Dragon Data showed the Dragon 32 at a fair in the US, 4000 dealers made enquires about the machine.

Initially Dragon and Tano estimated a 400-500 production line but soon it was increased to 1,500 to 2000 units per week. The cause of all this was because dealers had been losing margins as Commodore, Atari and Texas Instruments slashed their prices leaving little profit for the dealers, and as a machine the consumer believed that for it’s price it offered a better system than others, especially if the dealers persuaded them so. In August 26th the Dragon 64k was launched at a price of $399 in the US, and £225 in the UK. The US package would also include an improved manual, spreadsheet, mail merge and Telewriter 64. Tano’s production began in September, this delay was caused mainly because Tano was a big respectable corporate and tests had to be run on the Dragon to see if the computer met the company standards and also started working closely with Dragon Data on previously planned machines. The first machine to arrive was the Dragon 128 in November, featuring a dual 6809 CPU, a numeric keypad, 128k Ram and OS9 selectable on power up.

Brian Moore 1984

In the meantime managing director Tony Clarke had to resign because of the shareholders, and asked Pru-tech to provide a senior executive to become the new chief executive of Dragon Data. They appointed Brian Moore until a new business plan for the company had been worked out. This announcement brought a £2.5 million investment package for Dragon Data. This was taken as if the company was in a difficult time, but a Dragon spokesman said that was natural at the current stage of development, and that the company expected a profit for its first year of operation, on a turnover of £18-20 Million.

It was also reported that although sales had dropped, Dragon’s market share had stayed constant, proving that times were difficult for even the market leader. Finally the long awaited disk system appeared on the shelves of Boots and Dixon’s at a cost of £275 for a single Drive Unit and £475 for a Double Drive. The Drive also included a controller interface with software ROM.

The new disk system for the Dragon 32/64

The Drive had beaten the Cumana’s system, which was offering a Premier Microsystems DeltaDos cartridge, together with the Drive. Their system was even more expensive with £300, but everyone agreed that the DeltaDos was better then the DragonDos. In the US, the Dragon 64 was already in the shops, but the promise of the OS9 being available at the same time was not fulfilled. Together with the arrival of the Dragon 64 hit in UK, Dragon Data in France announced that they already had sold 5,000 ‘Dragon 32’, and that by Christmas, 20,000 units would have been shipped. The US customers showed interest in the machine, especially at the Color Computer Exposition ’83 in Pasadena. Software for the Dragon was not a problem since programmers started to convert their programs for the Dragon, but unfortunately this did not happen in the UK. The month of November 1983 saw a sad day in the history of Dragon Data. The Toy maker Mettoy, one of the shareholder and founder of the Dragon Data computers put its shares for sale. The Managing Director of Mettoy emphasized that his company will not be affected by just holding 15.5% stake and also no significant difference in Dragon Data would be affected. Pru-Tech, a subsidiary of General Electric Company, took the opportunity to increase its holdings from 42% to 49%. After consumers disagreed with the 64K upgrade offer, Dragon Data scraped that idea with a new offer. The offer was to take ones Dragon 32 to a dealer and change it to a Dragon 64k for a charge of £140. Logically was a good idea since dealers did not have to swap the boards around. The consumer wasn’t very happy about this decision, as they wanted more cash for their old machine. Consumers did not realize that the machine could not be sold again since the price they were asking was very high, and dealers would not buy a machine with little profit.

The Dragon 64 Launched in February 1984

In February 1984 Dragon Data finally released the OS9 for the public and with it their first technical book for programmers. The book was named ‘Inside the Dragon’ written by Dragon Data technical manager Duncan Smeed and an ex-colleague of his Ian Sommerville a computer science lecturer at Strathcylde University. General Electric Company started to tighten their control of Dragon Data when it was announced that sales and marketing of all Dragon Data products would be handled by a General Electric Company subsidiary. In the next few months double page spread adverts appeared in the National Computing Press. As a result of this Dragon Data were producing items that GEC will sell and controlling Dragon Data future without having major financial stake. GEC’s strategy had shown to be affected when Dragon Data was left to concentrate on developing computers and McMichael (subsidiary) had introduced a wide range of printers, monitors and cassette decks for the Dragon, together with their sales and marketing tasks. May 1984 saw the official announcement of two new micros code named Alpha at a cost of £700 and Beta around £2500 – £3000. The Alpha series basically was an upgraded Dragon 64 with a disk drive and modem. Project Beta was different and seemed that GEC Dragon really wanted to hit the market. The retail price was in the range of £2500 to £3000. Now that the production models were ready and to go on full production, the July 1984 issue of Dragon User announced the devastating news that the company in June was selling its Assets due to bankruptcy. The company stated that it had confidence in its new products and the market opportunities they represented and will be using its best endeavors in helping the receivers to explore ways of continuing trading. Earlier British Home Stores had decided to stop selling the Dragon 32 and cleared its shelves by offering the machine at bargain price. Boots, responsible for so many Dragon sales dropped the 32 within the following months, prior to the news although they will still stock software.

One of the many adverts published in Dragon User

The damage was caused mainly because the disk drive was not released in time and also the OS9 wasn’t a reliable system to work with. Various offers were made for Dragon data and it was known that both Tandy and GEC showed up a strong interest in the company. It was thought that GEC would produce the Dragon Professional and an MSX type machine if they took over. On the other hand Tandy’s main interest in Dragon Data lied mainly with the 32, 64 and importantly for after sales service support and for this reason people flew over from the USA and Europe to have a look at the plant. Philips was also interested in acquiring Dragon Data, but with only 52 staff remaining in the plant it was not known where manufacture of the future micros would take place. On August, Tandy had withdrawn the negotiations after its final bid was rejected and Eurohard SA showed up with a better agreeable settlement, making them the first micro manufacturer in Spain. Eurohard bought the Assets for £1 Million with rights to the Kenfig plant, machinery and intellectual property. It also showed that Eurohard had already previously signed a license with Dragon Data to manufacture Dragons in Spain. The new company’s factory was located in Extre Madura with a development area of 180 Miles south west of Madrid and close to the border of Portugal. The Funds came from two Spanish public sector development agencies Soviex and Ini. Also privately from a large financial group headed by Spanish Visa card chairman Eduardo Merigo.

The deal between Eurohard and one of the receivers, Touche Ross was actually a tripartite arrangement with GEC continuing in the UK market, and a new company called Touchmaster, which had to provide after-sales support and distribution of Eurohard products to the entire world, except Spain and Italy. The managing Director of Touchmaster was Brian Moore and used the old premises of Margam Port Talbot, with all of ex-Dragon Data employees. The main backer of this new firm was Pru-Tech and the first project to manufacture was a touch tablet. All software and peripherals previously released were also to be sold by Touchmaster at discount prices. After a month all the machinery and products were transferred to the new plant in Spain and after long negotiations with Dixon’s and Boots the remaining stock was sold to Comet. A TV program was also planned to be broadcasted in Spain and computers had to be sold to schools with a subsidiary of the government, resulting in very low cost machines. In the US Tano sold all the shares and stopped the Dragon production as this was not supported by the company anymore. This news brought GEC a decision to also stop their support of Dragon, and sold its stocks with no immediate plans to promote it.

The Dragon Professional never released only prototype exist

Sales of Dragon products started to decrease and Premier Microsystems ceased trading Dragon Disk Drives in December 1984. Fortunately for many firms this was not the case and at the first 6809 show for Dragon more than 7000 people turned up, with all major Dragon retailers there. Many wondered if the closure of Dragon Data had any effect on the market. In Spain the production started in November and to meet all orders Eurohard bought all the stock of GEC. Eurohard had appointed a software house and developer Compusense as the UK distributor for the Dragon. Eurohard’s Dragon products being sold in Spain, Italy, Greece, Israel and the Scandinavian countries, intended to start producing add-on boards for the IBM PC and the MSX, once their new board manufacturing plant began operation. This brought a license agreement with two US manufacturers for Eurohard to produce their boards in Spain for the European market. April of 1985 seemed as if finances were getting better for Dragon Data and Compusense announced that the new machine would have 128k Ram and will run on OS9 level II Operating system. The UK firm also confirmed that Eurohard had sold 20,000 machines in Spain before the Christmas season. Although January and February were obviously slow, for Spain consumers they were going to try a new market tactic. Dragon MSX made its appearance on May 1985 and Radofin of Hong Kong did manufacture on behalf of Eurohard. Suddenly a bad news arrived that month, one of the biggest software distributors Websters, stopped handling Dragon software. This news meant for users that software now was very difficult to find.

Boots took this opportunity, stating that they would still stock Dragon programs in their 150 top stores while there was a demand for it. On June, Compusense was appointed to develop the Dragon Plus. Since Compusense had a lot of machines to produce the company appointed Race Electronics as the National Service Center for all Dragon/Eurohard products. This brought Race Electronics to produce peripherals for the Dragon. Competition came for Race Electronics when Radofin also was launching its new Quick Disk for the Dragon. On August Eurohard chief development Jordi Martinez announced that 2 new machines were due to be launched and another development project was on its way. The first two projects were a Dragon 200 and 200-E. The Dragon 200 was almost identical to the Dragon 64 except the keyboard is in Spanish. The 200-E was the same machine as the 200 except for a built in 80 column card. Compusense had finally developed the Dragon Plus as an upgrade for all Dragon 64K for the cost of £100. After two months of the new Dragon Plus, Dragon User Magazine came out with an article reporting that Eurohard had closed their Madrid premises and withdraws to their factory. It seemed that Eurohard’s destiny had come to an end. Nothing was reported again until December 1987 issue when Eurohard arose a huge deficit because 37,000 Dragons were produced between November 1984 and October 1985 of which 20,000 machines were given away to institutes and schools.

President Eduardo Merigo resigned, with Eurohard owing money to Soviex, Planet and TV3. From October 1985 to March 1987 all the distributors sold their stocks for Dragons at ridiculously low prices, and at the end, the last Barcelona dealer was giving away his stock to Dragon Users for free. A further letter on the Dragon User magazine stated that Eurohard closed their Madrid base in November 1985, followed by the Barcelona facility in March 1986, and finally the Caceres factory in May 1987. 1988 was the final cut on Dragon Consumers. Microdeal announced that they would pull out of the Dragon market because of the lack of good new material and Microdeal’s stock of Dragon products were to be sold by mail order Dragon dealer Computape. John thanked all Dragon owners for their support and hoped that when they changed their computer, they moved to the two machines they now supported the ST and Amiga.