Raison d’être: why AROnline exists
I HAVE always been fascinated by the products and the politics of the company that currently survives under the title of the MG Rover Group. Being a child of the 1970s, I have grown up with the company being constrantly in the newspapers and on the television; and it always used to intrigue me as to why our own media seemed so hellbent on destroying our only domestically owned large producer of cars. At the end of the day, the company employs thousands of people in the Midlands, and to destroy the company would deprive many, many people of their livelihoods.
So what possessed me to give up the best part of two years of my life to build this site?
Back in 1981, my mum bought me a copy of Jeff Daniels’ book, “BL: The Truth About the Cars“. It contained chapters dealing with each of the products that spanned the period his book covered, and unlike any other single marque book I had read to that point in time, it contained a very honest appraisal of each car, instead of the rose-tinted view that seemed to mar all of the other books written on the subject. I re-read this book many, many times and came to the conclusion that the products had a great deal to answer for, but the real reasons behind the failure of the company is much deeper. After all, who would deliberately design a bad car? No-one!
As time passed and the company drew further and further into retreat, I waited in vain for a follow-up to this book (be it by Daniels or whoever). It never really appeared, and I figured that seeing as there had been major turning points in the history of the company after this book was written in 1980, it would be good to have it recorded somewhere. Around 1999, on one of my visits to the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon in Warwickshire, I was no doubt boring my long suffering partner about the various prototype cars on show there… when it occured to me. If no-one else was going to write the book that recorded all of this history, then why the hell shouldn’t I do it? OK, so I have no links with the motor industry, but I thought that perhaps I could string a sentence or two together and I do have a burning interest in the subject… what more would one need?
So, after digging out all my relevant car magazines, I started to string a few chapters together. Inevitably, I was drawn to the Allegro first, but one by one, I managed to get further development stories down on paper. Writing some sketchy articles was one thing, but how would I go about verifying that what I have written was accurate – after all, a very important person in the development of this project once said to me, that conjecture and blind reliance on what has been printed before is an anathema to historical reporting. Subsequently, this has very much proven to be the case, but at the time, I wasn’t to know just how much! So, thinking about what to do next with my development stories, I decided, why not surf the worldwide web, find some owners’ clubs, then get my articles posted somewhere, where the experts could see what I had written.
And so, www.AROnline was born. Very quickly (and it surprised me just how quickly) people began to approach me with information – and just as quickly, I began to realise that there were many others out there with that same burning interest in the company and their cars. The site, essentially began its life as a showcase for my book – perhaps, somewhere that I could demonstrate that there is a story to be told. Very quickly, however, the site began to take over from the book. By that I mean, essentially, I was posting information from the book – but within a few short months, I was beginning to write for the site – and then retrospectively adding it to the book draft.
At around the start of 2002, the first (and probably most) important person in the development of the site came along. Declan Berridge shares my passion for cars, but fortunately for me (and you, the reader) he has a much better idea of how to design a website – and he also possesses a huge library of motoring books. And so, within days of him discovering my site, he was throwing new information, new pictures, and a new perspective at me. In his own time, and without my knowledge, he designed a new site to contain the information I had gathered, and one day, he offered to show me his design, and if I liked it, I could use it to house the contents of the site. Firstly, I was flabbergasted at this gesture of generosity, but soon realised that Declan had a huge faith in the project, and believed that a well designed site would sell it to many, many other people. And so it was, the site was soon moved off my rudimentary lets-stick-the-page-of-text-online site and into the slick, java-enabled site we have today.
Of course, there was more to Declan’s involvement than this; he continually pushed me to write new articles – to get a complete run of development stories, and also advised me at the times I “dried up”. Essentially, however, I now had a polished shop window to show off my wares. At this point in time, I approached Steve Cropley at Autocar to give me some advice on how to get in touch with some of the “names” behind the story – and in doing so, pointed him at the site. Either way, he liked what he saw and put me in touch with someone that used to work within Rover, who would prove vitally important in the development of my writing. He read what I had written and was able to offer a unique and inside perspective – and on many occasions, put me right! It was he that told me about where to look for information, and who to approach. Because of this, the content of the book was soon verified, and most of what I had written was going in the right direction.
The site was by now, going from strength to strength, and following a mention in the Sunday Times, I was approached by Malcolm Harbour, offering an interview. This was just the breakthrough the book and the site needed – and the information he gave me has also proven invaluable in the development of the project. Numerous mentions in the media have followed, and as a result, I have been able to gain information from many noteworthy sources. It is fair to say that every day I read through my notes, I am still bowled over by the amount of time that people such as Spen King, Roy Axe, Richard Woolley have given me, as well as those countless others that wish to remain anonymous. This truly has been a product of the worldwide web; there is no way that I would have been able to put together this story without the help of others, and in all likelihood, they would have been perhaps less forthcoming without the site.
It should also be noted that the many fans that have joined the cause have also contributed much – and not just the pictures. I have been put right on several points, and these people, who I now count as firm friends are listed in the credits section of the site…
So, there you have it – a site born out of the desire to check my book draft for accuracy… and it turned into a monster that has taken over my life. Let’s hope that the inward flow of information continues, and that we can get somewhere near to producing the definitive history of the company we call BMC>MG
Scope of the site
Firstly, I should state that I see the true starting point for the site as being 26 August 1959, the date on which the Mini was launched. This was the first car produced by BMC that represented truly original thinking, with all the models prior to this being essentially re-bodied versions of cars inherited from the pre-merger Austin and Nuffield organisations. That is why the detailed development stories start with the Mini, and proceed chronologically through each car subsequently developed by BMC and its variously-named successors, right through to the modern-day MG Rover Group. At the time of writing, there is a handful of cars for which I have yet to complete a development story, but these will be added in due course.
However, I recognise that BMC produced some interesting cars prior to 1959, and you will find mention of some of these cars in other areas of the site, such as the Timeline and Feature Galleries. The same applies to cars that were introduced by Jaguar, Rover and Triumph before they became part of the BMH/BLMC conglomerates.
I have also chosen to concentrate mainly on passenger cars, as I have little knowledge of truck and bus side of Leyland’s business.
One final point: I am happy to receive original, well-written articles on the development of these off-topic cars and commercial vehicles…
As you can see from the navigation column, the web site is organised into various sections, and you can find an indication of what is contained in each of these sections below.
News, blogs and frequently updated areas
Facts and figures
History, marque guides, sales and production figures, road tests
The heart of the site: development stories of each model in turn, and where applicable, picture and model related feature galleries
Projects and Prototypes
Detailed analyses of some of the projects that did not always lead to production vehicles
Cars brought to you by rival or complementary manufacturers
BL Group member cars, “My Baby and I…” your views on your cars, Club events, Links of resources, and offsite addtions
As an alternative to using the links in the navigation column to gain direct access to a page, you can use the site tour facility to progress through the site page by page. You’ll find the links for this facility on the grey bar at the top and bottom of each page included in the tour.
The site has been designed and tested to work with Microsoft Internet Explorer, Safari and Firefox browsers.