Forgive me for having been on a bit of a Rover binge lately, but for those who don’t know on 15th April 2005, the Rover Group finally ran out of money and Britain’s last volume car manufacturer disappeared forever. I remember well the BBC news reports showing workers being turned back at the gates of the Longbridge Plant in south Birmingham, their jobs finished and their cars ceased. In all, nearly 6,000 people in the Midlands were sacked upon the closure of Longbridge, and whilst Rover, a brand that had dated back to 1904 and had once been a symbol of pedigree British Motoring, finally died after a long and painful spell under British Leyland and ownership by BMW, MG was able to claw away from darkness thanks to Chinese investors, rescuing one of the most renowned and hallowed names in Motorsport history.
However, when it comes to what finally killed the Rover Company, what put the bullet into the back of their confused head, this is usually what people will choose. You’ve heard them all say this before, Auto Magazines, Fifth Gear, Top Gear, any other gear, they’ve all said the same thing, the CityRover was the evil that murdered Rover and the British Motor Industry.
But should we malign the little CityRover? Was it really the sole culprit?
I personally don’t think so, sure it didn’t help, but at the same time in order to understand Rover’s situation you have to go back to the early 90’s. In 1994 BMW bought Rover Group from British Aerospace and started to reorganise the poorly performing company and its damaged reputation under British Leyland. Throughout the decade the company either refurbished models from the 80’s such as the Range Rover, the Rover 200, 400 and 600, or replaced many former British Leyland Models such as the Montego, the Maestro and the Metro, whilst also developing new ones such as the Rover 75. Things were on a high note for the company, the cars were great, the quality was great, they were reliable, well performing, smooth, crisp, the motoring press more often than not lauded them for their precision and craftsmanship, with a style that harked back to the grand old days of British Motoring.
Sadly Grand Old Britain was seen less as a nostalgic roadtrip by potential British buyers, and more a crude attempt by BMW at stereotyping the British as Victorian relics of a dated and long dead social layout. Although older drivers and retired couples would buy them up in droves, the younger demographic wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole and Rover was losing a fortune. Things didn’t look good, the Metro wasn’t selling due to safety issues, the Mini was no longer a mass-production car and more a customer request novelty item, and while Land Rover and Range Rover were doing well in their own right, the Rover Company was haemorrhaging money and BMW lost all interest.
In 2000, BMW chose to break up Rover Group into its …