Rover has a long and successful history, until recent times, when a series of bad decisions, combined with plummeting sales, led to Rover seeking a partnership with another manufacturer to keep it afloat. Unfortunately this was never going to provide a long-term solution, and Rovers survival was dependent on borrowed time and borrowed money, neither of which will last forever. So where did it all go wrong for what was once a British giant of car manufacturing?
Rover was first established as a bike builder in 1878. They did not start producing cars until 1904. Rover proved resilient and managed to keep going through several mergers, takeovers and even the odd revival.
The Mini was originally marketed as the Austin Mini. Austin was however part of the Austin Rover group, which at the time was a subsidiary of British Leyland. The mini was manufactured in the Longbridge and Cowley plants (both Rover plants). It wasn’t until 1988 that the Mini was officially branded as a Rover Mini.
The Rover Metro competed in rallies under the guise of the 6R4 (6 Cylinder, Rear engine, 4 wheel-drive). It is powered by a 3.0 litre V6 engine, which produces 410 bhp. After it’s introduction the governing body tightened regulations on group B rally cars, instantly making the project ineligible to race. It has since gained a hardcore fan base, and can be seen competing in many classic rallies and club competitions the world over.
During World War I Rover poured all of its resources into building motorbikes rather than cars. Likewise, in World War II they gave there manufacturing capabilities over to the war effort. During 1939 to 1945 manufacturing of automobiles effectively ceased.
Rover cars both old and new were always a firm favourite with the UK police force. The model range catered for every aspect, whether a bigger car for motorway police or a smaller more economical option for around town and housing estates.
Eventually the initial owners of Rover lost control in a government backed purchase by British Leyland. Rover would stay under their stewardship for many years. Rover evolved into the Rover group, which was then purchased by British Aerospace in 1988. It was under their ownership that a partnership with Honda was agreed. Rovers were once again starting to gain a good reputation for quality vehicles.
A brief glimpse of hope
The rover 200 coupe proved popular and provided rover with a much needed hit. The 220 Turbo was one of the desirable cars of the time, regularly featuring amongst the posters adorning every schoolboy’s walls.The Rover 75 was also released to critical acclaim, swooping many awards. BMW announced at its launch that they were intending to cease production at Longbridge. This meant the car buying public was put off purchasing the model.
BMW purchased the Rover group from British Aerospace in 1994. Some say it is because they recognised Rover as a potential threat to the popularity of BMW in the UK, whilst others believe they were looking to get their hands on Land Rovers knowledge of 4x4’s for their own upcoming X range. The sale to them included Rover, Land Rover, Riley, Mini, Triumph and Austin Healey. BMW invested heavily, but then split the company up, selling of the unwanted parts and retaining the profitable ones. BMW sold Rover to Ford, who would later offload the brand to Tata motors. They still retain the rights to the marque today. As they are producing no cars the marque is currently considered dormant.
The Viking invasion
The symbolism of Vikings is due to the initial name adopted. They saw the Viking as a wanderer or seafarer, both terms relevant to Rover. The early Rover badge adopted an actual Viking rather than the boat. It wasn’t until 1929 that they would adopt the longship badge we know today.
Rover missed out on several potential models that could have saved the brand. Firstly cam the sale of Land Rover by BMW. This was followed by BMW retaining the Mini brand when they sold it. This meant that all the time Rover had spent on research, they would now not reap any benefits. The mini was rebranded as a BMW Mini, it was an instant success.