The Rover Takeover: Firm came back from the brink: The History

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The Independent Online
ROVER'S origins go back to 1877 when John Starley and William Kemp went into partnership making pennyfarthings and tricycles in a small workshop in Coventry.

The first Rover car - an eight horse-power affair - appeared in 1904 and two years later the Rover Car Company was founded.

The same period also saw the start of Wolseley and Austin. Wolseley was eventually absorbed into Lord Nuffield's great Morris Motors empire in 1934.

It was Morris which, in 1925, spawned perhaps the most famous of British marques - the MG - named after the Morris Garages factory in Oxford where the first model was produced.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s the British car industry underwent a series of mergers.

Morris and Austin came together to form the British Motor Corporation in 1952.

In turn, BMC merged, first with Jaguar and then, in 1968, with the Leyland Motor Corporation, which a year earlier had acquired Rover. The result of all this frenetic activity was the creation of the British Leyland Motor Corporation.

The various component parts of BLMC had been responsible for some memorable cars - the venerable Austin 7, which revolutionised transport in the 1920s by getting people off motorcycles and on to four wheels, the Morris Minor, which reigned from 1948 to 1971, and the Mini, designed by Sir Alec Issigonis and launched in 1959.

Everyone from Peter Sellers to Twiggy and Lord Snowdon drove a Mini.

By 1975, however, BLMC was in such poor financial health that the Labour government of Harold Wilson had to rescue it after the bankers refused to extend any more credit.

In 1978, Michael Edwardes, a relatively youthful South African, arrived in the hot seat and renamed the company BL.

His task, as his book Back from the Brink suggests, was to salvage BL from the knackers' yard. The company was wracked by industrial strife, its product line was poor and its standards of workmanship lamentable.

After a series of high-profile public battles with union militants, led by Derek ('Red Robbo') Robinson, he succeeded in saving BL.

The public thanked him by turning their backs in increasing numbers on BL cars, among them the Marina and the Princess - once hurtfully described by a rival car executive as a 'flying turd'.

The turning point in Rover's fortunes came on Christmas Day 1979, when it entered into an agreement with the Japanese manufacturer Honda to build the Acclaim under contract at Longbridge. But, as the Japanese link grew, BL's famous old marques - MG, Morris and Austin - were quietly laid to rest. By 1986, BL had changed its name to Rover and, under the chairmanship of Graham Day, the Leyland truck business was sold to the Dutch, the bus operation to the Swedes and subsidiary businesses, such as Unipart, to their workforces.

Amid huge controversy, the remains of Rover - the car business and Land-Rover - were sold to British Aerospace in 1988 for pounds 150m.

But the mumbling that greeted the 'lock-out' deal negotiated between BAe and the Government, denying any suitor the right to bid, was nothing compared with the outcry that greeted the revelation a year later that the sale had only been completed with the aid of a pounds 44m 'sweetener'.

BAe was eventually forced to repay the money. But yesterday it was a return to the sweet old days. BAe's paper profit on Rover is pounds 650m.

(Photograph omitted)