Blogs : May 2005

31 May 2005

Who put the lunatics in charge of the asylum?


THE magnitude of the collapse of MG Rover still seems almost surreal. With each passing day our understanding of what happened grows with the steady and continuing drip of information that becomes public. There are also questions being raised about the stewardship of Phoenix and whether or not the accounts of the company were accurately reported. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty so these remain as no more than unanswered questions so far. What is becoming increasingly apparent is the extent of the managerial ineptitude that led to this sorry end.

MG Rover’s failure is so extreme that it is clear that it did not fail because of a few poor management decisions or because they got ‘unlucky’ – the failure appears to be a classic example of widespread and quite profound management incompetence. Failures on this scale do not just ‘happen’ to a strong, capable, management team with a good track record: there must have been grounds for concern before they took over.

No-one would suggest that putting lunatics in charge of an asylum is a wise policy but it is hard not to draw a comparison with that saying and the case of Phoenix and MG Rover. Who on earth thought these guys could run the company?

BMW must be mightily relieved. It got the perfect fall guys to keep the company going just long enough so that they could get out from under the problems that it had created. As an extra bonus for them, MG Rover’s management appears to have been so bad that it have made BMW look good in comparison.

It is time to ask wider questions. Did BMW prefer selling to Phoenix because they were going to maintain the illusion that it could still be ‘business as usual’ at Longbridge even though its own analysis showed that this was not feasible? Did the government support them for the same reason (though with different motives)?

Did BMW prefer selling to Phoenix
because it was going to maintain
the illusion that it could still
be ‘business as usual’ at
Longbridge even though its own
analysis showed that this was
not feasible?

It has been suggested that the government steered BMW away from doing a deal with John Moulton’s Alchemy group and towards the Phoenix 4. It is not useful to speculate on whether or not Alchemy’s plan would have been more successful but it would undoubtedly have led to more job losses immediately than the Phoenix plan. Alchemy’s proposal would have had the benefits of a broader asset base to support the company than is currently the case at MG Rover after the assets have been squandered over the last five years.

Was the government prepared to go for any plan that avoided the harsh reality of job losses – without any consideration of whether or not it was realistic? If so, it would not be the first time that a government (in Britain or elsewhere) has wanted to avoid short term pain and in the process created more long-term damage. BMW also had a vested interest in avoiding job losses in the short term.

If BMW and the government backed Phoenix because they both genuinely thought that they had the best business plan, that would be a normal business decision and sometimes reasonable business judgements have bad results. With the benefit of hindsight, and in view of the scale of the failure, it would also be a surprising one.

There needs to be a full inquiry into MG Rover. Such an inquiry needs to detail the painful facts of MG Rover’s demise but it also needs to address the wider question. Who put the lunatics in charge of the asylum?

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27 May 2005

The Money Programme


I HAVE just finished watching the BBC Money Programme’s breakdown of its opinion of what went wrong at MG Rover during the Phoenix Years.

All I can say is that I feel cheated by the BBC’s shameful negligence. It had the perfect opportunity to tell us the truth about the Phoenix Four, and its dealings while in charge of MG Rover, but in the end, it took the cheap, tacky and sensationalist approach, and told us nothing new. Instead it chose, to assert opinion, rather than fact, and for me, that breaks the main golden rule of good news reporting.

So… a wasted opportunity. If the Money Programme team had done a little bit of proper digging instead of burning stage money, we could have been treated to a very good break down of what happened during the Phoenix Years.

Is this what TV Journalism has reduced itself to?

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26 May 2005

It’ll all come out in the wash


AM I the only person out there who is really concerned about what is going to happen once the government commissioned auditor’s report on MG Rover’s finances is published for the world to see?

I don’t know anything more about MG Rover’s financial situation than any other observer, so can’t really state categorically any real facts about the monetary dealings of Phoenix Venture Holdings. However, I do get to hear the odd snippet now and then, and whenever I do, I really do worry about the contents of each little nugget.

For one, it emerged a month or so ago that Phoenix’s premature announcement that MG Rover and SAIC had climbed into bed together to form their ill-starred joint venture was not a clever piece of PR, but an emergency measure to stave off increasingly worried creditors, who feared for the future solvency of the company. It is believed that such was MG Rover’s plight, that as early as last November, it was getting close to trading without funds to meet obligations, and that the only way to get round this (in the short term) is to increase confidence in the company by making it look as if financial salvation was around the corner in the shape of a company-saving deal with the Chinese.

And if that was the case, it was a desperate gamble on the part of Phoenix’s management – and probably a way of keeping the company’s auditors in check, and stopping any recommendation that the company should go into administration, when there was the very real hope a deal could be struck with the Chinese.

In fact, the spectre of the up-coming Chinese deal meant that sensible business decisions (such as closing down loss-making elements of the company) were simply not taken. It is my belief, that John Towers really did believe the company had a future in the ‘volume’ sector – an opinion that is partially backed up by the news that as early as last year, MGR had been making descreet enquiries about selling off the MG TF operation, wholescale…

It emerged a month or so ago that
Phoenix’s premature announcement
that MG Rover and SAIC had climbed
into bed together to form their
ill-starred joint venture was not
a clever piece of PR, but an
emergency measure to stave off
increasingly worried creditors,
who feared for the future
solvency of the company

Surely an illogical decision as it was one of MGR’s few remaining profitable ventures – Britiain’s best-selling roadster for goodness sake!

The only conclusion from that little episode, is that Phoenix was not an asset-stripping operation. It was more in a holding pattern – believing that if it could cling on to the operation, a saviour would ride in on a white horse and rescue MGR from oblivion. And in the face of collapsing sales and dwindling public goodwill, the only way to maintain a holding pattern was to bail out any profit making part of the business.

So, the parts business went, then the building itself… then, it would have been the TF next.

And if anyone has any doubts that public goodwill had been dwindling, cast your mind back to the national outcry against BMW when it became public that it was in the process of ejecting The Rover Group. During the formation of Phoenix back in 2000, an 80,000-strong demonstration in Birmingham convinced the government that the public still cared. This time round, there were no major demonstrations… and the government knew Phoenix had created a climate favourable for the public to accept the company’s closure without too much damage being done. Let’s call it the perfect soft landing.

If Phoenix is allowed to have an enduring legacy not overshadowed by allegations of financial wrong-doings, it is that the MG marque is strong and deserves to live. The TF is an enduring success, and the ZR has proved a success with the young. It is because of the re-invigoration of the MG marque that there are companies out there willing to risk a great deal by trying to buy the TF production facility from PwC.

However, Phoenix Venture Holdings will not be remembered for MG’s renaissance.

Whatever emerges from the auditor’s reports, the ‘Phoenix Four’ will be remembered for being inept managers… at best.

And that will be of no comfort at all for all those unemployed ex-MG Rover workers.

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25 May 2005

I’m through


MGR has produced some of the industry’s great cars; Mini, SD1, MGB were cars that typified their class.

Sadly none really since the 1970s have emulated this feat. Instead, some got close; 200, 600, 75 and MGF, to name a few. Sadly, there were also some dire cars and cars that no matter how brilliant, broke down far too often.

I saw a guy in Birmingham on tonight in a garage with his immaculate K-registration 214; bonnet up and steam and water everywhere. I asked him if I could help, as I always like to think of Rovers as ‘Gentleman’s carriages’. He said: “I’ve just had the head gasket done”…

I asked if he had been maintaining the cooling system, to which he said: “all Rover engines blow a gasket at 50,000 miles.” He then went on to say he had decided to get rid, and that he didn’t know what else to get, as he liked his Rovers.

His car had only done 50,000 miles.

I advised a diesel, a Rover of course.

The point is, this is typical. I buy MGR because I am an enthusiast. I loved Minis and Minors as a kid, and grew up defending Meastros and Montegos to very sceptical parents. I loved watching out for the latest BMC>Rover at the dealers, or in the car mags, to see what they had come up with – to see if they finally got it right and would turn the corner…

As a kid, I even had a mural of BMC>Rover cars painstakingly cut out form brochures on my bedroom wall…

However, nowadays I do not like being ripped off with dud cars of any make – a concept I didn’t really need to worry about as a kid.

And I’ve had Rovers let me down – each time trying my patience further. I had a 214SLi, which I loved to bits, but that head gasket problem affected it. After that, I went for an R3 diesel…

Since then, I haven’t looked back – it remains a great car. It was a bargain and I haven’t looked back. Many other potential buyers obviously didn’t give the company another chance. How many times have I heard, ‘no, not a Rover… never again”?

Yet I still get comments from people, pointing at my diesel, saying that the engine won’t last. Along with other negative comments, about it being ‘crap’. I reply with glee that I have had 110,000 trouble-free miles, and that it is actually very good – and do so with confidence. Even, though I increasingly feel like the class clown for doing so.

The K-Series engine is heartbreakingly close to being the greatest ever product from BMC>Rover. It is widely copied, for a start. But why couldn’t MGR make it indistructable too? Of course, MGR never took responsibility for selling an engine with a fundamental design fault, leaving owners to pay for repairs on their pride and joy.

This past year has been horrid, in regards to being a MGR enthusiast. Silly habits, like checking out the car mags for scoops and news of new models, road tests etc… well that’s over…

With RDX60/Nexus, I no longer believe it ever existed (I haven’t for some months) in any real form past the initial stages. When was it due for launch? 2007ish? Or was it Christmas 2004, if a deal hadn’t been done? Sounds ready… not! From what I have read on here about about RDX60, was not about a great car. And this was
the only car to save Rover!

I hope the Chinese do make the 75 and 25, and that they make a success out of Rover. For no other reason than to show that it can be done. I hope they will import them and allow what remains of MG to modify and sell them, and that a new partnership can be formed. It is the only hope of any future for the company. And I believe the British history of the company will matter to them. At least Research and Development will continue in the UK, through Ricardo.

However, I am through. At the very end. I have given up.

My R3 200 diesel will be kept and looked after and I really want to see how long it will last for. Minis aside, it will be my last MGR (unless the Chinese pull a trick). I drove an Audi A4 TDi and a SEAT Leon (stretched R3 in styling, with a mix of Triumph at the front end) last week. I concluded just how far cars have moved on in such a short period of time.

So I guess I will become a VAG fan. With memories of MK1 Golfs and Sciroccos forefront in my mind as I do so. Yet, I’ll always mourn MGR.

Ironic, are the similarities between VAG and the old BMC/BL

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24 May 2005 back in business


IT’S a fascinating parallel with the real world, but the Rootes-Chrysler website has been bought by the Americans, and now it is back in business…

Thanks to my friends at ALLPAR, the website is now back online and under new management. It remains intact, although its new owners will be building it a new navigation system, which should appear in the fullness of time. The new owner, David Zatz has massive drive and determination, and is convinced he can make a success of the website, as well as develop it far more actively than I ever did. Looking at the size of ALLPAR, I don’t doubt it (that site’s stats dwarf’s).

I still have plans to expand and there may well be an element of the Rootes Group’s/Chrysler UK/Talbot products in it, but for the moment, it’s all wait and see, as to who I can rope in to assist…

As for, it’s not up for sale – unless someone fancies making me a rich man…

Anyway, go and check out, and leave David some feedback – I know he’ll be delighted to hear from you…

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Just been over to Rootes site, and I am glad you have not gone that route with

I am sure that it is only in the initial stages, but it does not look that good; adverts everywhere, wrong sized pictures, not the product you have produced over the time you have been doing these sites.

PLEASEEEEEEEEEEEE don’t go down that route, it looks a little, what’s the word, tacky, with all those ads…..


23 May 2005

The case for the prosecution


Wanted – for creating a monster and ensuring its failure

William Morris, Leonard Lord, George Harriman, Harold Wilson, Tony Benn, Sir Donald Stokes, Lord Ryder, Derek ‘Red Robbo’ Robinson, Margaret Thatcher, Ray Horrocks, Harold Musgrove, British Aerospace (for chronic underinvestment), Bernd Pischetsrieder (special mention for single-handedly trashing Rover 75 at launch), Wolfgang Riezle, the BMW board and Quant family, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (for not pledging two years funding as the SAIC deal was in the balance), Kevin Howe and PVH (otherwise known as the bed-feathering Phoenix Four), Tom Walkinshaw, China Brilliance, Shanghai Automotive, Jeremy Clarkson (motoring press representative — there are others, but I think he is their spokesman).


Sir Alec Issigonis: brilliant and revolutionary designer. Surely we can forgive him the Austin 1800?

Sir Michael Edwardes: he tried, he really tried

Graham Day: blameless; if only he had been given more time

Honda: no charges brought. Highly commended for exemplary conduct

TATA: no charges brought. Given ‘innocent bystander’ status

PricewaterhouseCoopers: no charges brought. They could yet be the saviours of what is left of the business

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20 May 2005

My new car(s)


WELL it’s silly season again, and therefore, it is time to get some silly cars back into my garage.

As you can see, my Citroen addiction is still yet to be slaked, and as a result, yet another BX 16 Valve has made it into Towers. This one is rather nice, because although the mileage is pretty high (c. 100,000), it has also been lovingly looked after, so hopefully, I won’t get into the realms of changing heads and engines in order to keep this one on the road…

We all know the BX 16V is a bit of an oddity – too large to fit comfortably into the Golf GTi set, but not big enough to slug it out with the Cavalier GSi, so buyers were limited. Either way, it means resale values are low, and if you look hard enough, you can pick up a clean one for little money. Well, that’s what I thought when I started looking for another one earlier this year.

It seems the Peugeot 205 set have taken the car (or its all alloy engine) to their hearts, and as a result, these BXes have been disappearing off he road quickly indeed. I am sure all MG Metro enthusiasts know all about that! Anyway, I’ll see how the BX goes – but one thing is fore sure, it may be quick and handle beautifully, it feels so flimsy inside, your average Maestro owner would probably end up moaning about sub-standard build quality.

Bargain of the year? New Mi16 cheap enough to take us on Staples2Naples if need be…

There’s also this – a nice 405 Mi16. Essentially the same car as the BX 16V, except with less challenging styling and no hydraulics. Not sure if I’ll be keeping it, but one thing’s for sure, if I end up breaking it for its engine, it’ll be sweet revenge for all those Citroens sacrificed to re-engine Peugeots. This will be a case of sacrificing a Pug for the greater Citroen good…

I wonder in years to come whether there will be any souped-up Minis being scrapped to feed MG Metros? In a way I hope so, if only to preserve the natural order of things.

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19 May 2005

Those voices again…


GHOSTLY voices coming to me in the night again. And the 1-Series was – again – the source of these nocturnal utterances. Apparently, it seem that the R30/1-Series resemblance is known within the depths of Land Rover, and one (ex-Rover Group) boffin was happy to feed my nocturnal companion with the idea that the German car is clearly derived from the work on the Rover prototype. The whispered voice told me that boffin man was quite clearly of the opinion that he could see a similarity of shapes in the hatchback and window area – something designed by the hard points of each car’s internal structure.

The voice continued by saying that someone in Rover recently uttered: “Imagine that car as a Rover, but also imagine it as a bigger MINI”. In other words, the R30 was clearly developed into the ‘MINI Maxi’ when the rug was pulled out from under it and that was the car Bernd Pischetsrieder presented to the BMW board on the day he resigned from the company, once it became clear most of the board had no confidence in his plans for Rover’s future.

The voice continued that many people might have doubts about how two cars could share so much when one is FWD, the other RWD, but in BMW/Rover’s case, this is a lot easier than imagined. It whispered how all BMW would need to do is re-engineer the inner front section of the 1-Series to take a longitudinal engine, but that’s no great great shakes – and how both cars would have shared similar rear suspension.

Now, I’m no conspiracy theorist, but when I keep getting these voices telling me such strange stories, I do start to wonder. Perhaps there are more ghostly voices out there who would like to tell me more…

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18 May 2005

Ford and MG?


I ALSO think Ford would make a good home for MG, now that it looks likely that MGR will be broken up allowing them to acquire the brand and the TF without the sort of liabilities that made integrating Jaguar into the Ford empire such a struggle.

Ford currently has a golden opportunity to relaunch MG as a sub-brand to Jaguar in much the same way that MINI sits with BMW. Here’s the plan.

As I understand it MGR outsourced the complete manufacture of the TF bodyshell to a company called Stadco. Only final assembly took place at Longbridge. Ford/PAG are already significant clients of Stadco who stamp panels for Jaguar and Landrover. Ford wouldn’t need to worry about the SAIC running off with the K series. They have access to a range of decent power units within their empire. Ford also has a Midland’s assembly plant about to become vacant at Browns lane where the whole lot could be pulled together and at last provide a good news’s story for the car industry in the Midlands. This would get MG up and running quickly for little investment. The Jaguar dealer network would handle sales, just as BMW dealers sell the MINI. Given that the Ford sourced engines can easily be federalised this also allows an immediate return for MG to the US and decent volumes.

The next stage could see Ford doing some cross fertilisation with other parts of its empire. The Mazda MX5 and RX8 provide state of the art rear wheel drive sports car platforms that would make ideal starting points for a modern day MGB/GT. Again federalising the cars for the US market will be easy.

Finally it is generally considered that the X-Type has stretched the Jaguar brand a bit too far down market. Perhaps an MG badge would sit more happily on Ford/PAG’s compact executive?

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17 May 2005

Where is Fireball XL5?


HAS anyone ever published a picture of XC512, or ‘Fireball XL5′, the sports car that BMC proposed in the mid-1960s to replace the Austin-Healey 3000? I have never seen one – but from what Geoff Healey wrote in his books, it must have looked very strange indeed….

There have been pictures published of the proposed A-H 4000 as depicted in Jeff Daniels’ book, ‘BL: The Truth About The Cars’ (ADO24), but I don’t think Fireball XL5 and this car are the same. According to me (and to Geoff Healey, who is more of an authority) ADO 24 was the widened (by 6-inches) Austin-Healey 3000 with a VDP Princess R 4-litre engine, which took shape in 1967 – and of which one prototype survives to this day.

The front-end style you depicted in Jeff’s book (and I use a different view of the same car on page 82 of my ‘Big Helaeys Collectors’ Guide’) was of a one-off , the result of an AUTOMOBILE YEAR styling competition of 1962, the ‘prize’ being that Pininfarina should build a car.

As far as I know, no image of XC512/’Fireball XL5′ has ever been seen in public – and I’m wondering I may float this conundrum on your website to see if anything might be flushed out ….

Not the ‘Fireball XL5’, but Graham Robson is looking for pictures of the original car.

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16 May 2005

Now the dust has settled…


ALL the ‘what ifs?’ have been discussed, all the BMW 1-series ‘is it an R30?’ questions posed and Jon Moulton has left the scene of the crime.

So what now? MG could still make a return as a Ford brand, despite Detroit’s protestations to the contrary. The name alone is a valuable commodity and if Ford purchased it just as BMW acquired Rolls-Royce, there is potential to start again, perhaps reintroducing Midget below TF as a replacement for Street Ka. A possible Ford takeover has been mooted before, and of course they tried to acquire Austin Rover back in 1985, but that would have meant purchase of Longbridge and Cowley with attendant workforce, the Gaydon development facility (which they have since bought anyway) and a very comprehensive design capability. Just purchasing the MG name would be a cheap, simple and easy way forward.

Of course, Ford had their fingers burned purchasing and then (at huge cost) developing Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover. I am not convinced that the current Jaguar range is anything like a BMW beater, but there is no question that Aston Martin and Land Rover have delivered.

Surely Ford’s American parents recognise the potential of the MG brand in the US and Europe? They must be a little jealous of BMW’s success with MINI. This is their chance to do something about it.

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13 May 2005

New way to chat online


JUST a quick note to all that the new and improved Chat system is online. As well as comminicating using the BMC>Rover forums, you can now click and chat away any time you like – and it’s online, free and fun.

Simply click on ‘Online BL Chat‘ on the sidebar and chat away.

Most of the team hang around in chat after 9.00pm every Sunday, so if you have any questions, that is a good time to join… but anytime is good. The more people that use it, the better.

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12 May 2005

BMW 1-Series, Rovers R30 and RDX60: what’s the deal?


OKAY, so it looks like the old chestnut has raised its head again: the BMW 1-Series and the Rover R30… Are they related?

Well, I have to say that I’ve been sceptical up ’til now, because of what I’ve been told by various people. After all, the 1-Series is RWD, the R30 was FWD. Fundamental differences, then. Yes, we can link the styling, because it has been confirmed that BMW Design in Munich produced a very similar design for the R30, which was, ultimately, rejected.

However, I’ve heard vague whispers that I may have been wrong in my denial of this notion. These whispers came to me in the night – very often when I’m not expecting it – but this time they hinted something about there being many, many shared ‘hard points’ in the structure aft of the bulkhead. I guess there’s more to come out, and one day I am sure the story will come out, but for now, I leave you with the picture above, and ask you to make your own minds up…

The interesting common feature between all the cars is the rising line of the door bottoms in relation to their sills.

For now, I’ll sit on the fence – slightly swayed by my whispering voices, and BMW’s denial the the project exists at all. But I guess if the company wants to sell R30 as a fully-engineered project, it doesn’t want people playing up the 1-Series link. Does it?

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11 May 2005

SAIC wants to base in the UK… should we be surprised?


SOME of MG Rover’s redundant staff could be offered jobs by SAIC. The plan is a simple one – the Chinese believe they own two of Rover’s model ranges, and what it would like to do is take on a bunch of former MGR staff as consultants to aid getting the car into production, as well as working on future projects for the Chinese. It’s certainly no surprise – after all, we all know that the Chinese wanted Rover, so now it seems it could have it without being saddled with the need to produce cars in the UK, or the complications of a potentially messy joint venture.

It’s so simple, and almost elegant. And if it hadn’t happened to MG Rover, you’d probably admire the business acumen of the people behind what’s been going on.

I think it’s a terrible thing what has happened, but if some jobs can be rescued, while keeping a core of engineering excellence in Birmingham, then go for it. And we have some of the best engineers in the world right on our doorstep, so who can blame the Chinese for wanting to get their hands on them? There probably aren’t a huge number of alternative options to choose from.

But when those Chinese Rover 75s start rolling into the UK, don’t expect many people to buy them. One major factor behind buying a new Rover was the ‘supporting the home team’ standpoint. With that gone, a fair chink of the cars’ appeal melts away.

I suppose the problem I’m facing at the moment is that MG Rover’s future is still being questioned. We all know it’s looking pretty bleak, but we really can’t start grieving while PwC continues to talk with ‘interested parties’. I guess we haven’t had closure on this – and although things are bleak, while things are still ongoing, there’s always that sliver of a chance.

I suppose we’ll know it’s really over when the bulldozers move in on the CABs… There are already a number of ominous looking ‘Advantage West Midlands’ signs adorning several fences around the Let’s hope they stop shy of the Elephant House, Kremlin and Conference Centre – these building should be listed.

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10 May 2005

So, Jaguar killed Rover?


READ an interesting piece in AUTOCAR today by Hilton Holloway stating that one of the factors that caused irrepairable damage to Rover was having Jaguar in the fold during those all-important years in the early Seventies. The founder of that company, Sir William Lyons, sat on the BL Board, and although he helped preside over the corporation, his heart lay with Jaguar.

And with that agenda at the forefront of his mind, the last thing he wanted for his beloved Jags was internecine competition from in-house rivals at Rover. So, the Rover P8 was killed, after oh-so nearly getting into production, because it came into direct conflict with the Jaguar XJ6 (in fact, had it not been for the introduction of the LWB version of the XJ, the Rover would have probably been given the nod for production). The P9 was also culled, and BL’s supercar interests were served with the Jaguar XJ-S instead.

Looking back, it is easy to see that Jaguar’s interests were given precedence over Rover’s.

the Rover P8 was killed, after
oh-so nearly getting into
production, because it came
into direct conflict with
the Jaguar XJ6.

Imagine if the P8 and the XJ had been produced. BL would have had an unrivalled line-up in the super-saloon class. Rover’s offering acting as the luxury cruiser, while the XJ offering a sportier alternative.

The harsh reality was that BL had a lot more pressing problems than those in the upper reaches of the market. Had the P8 and XJ ended up competing in largely the same market, then it could have worked. Or is more likely the case, it would have suffered from the same issues that VAG is suffering from, offering the Audi A8 and the Volkswagen Phaeton. Yes, they offer a different range of appeals, but they are still rivals. So, in all – possibly a nor-so-wise model policy. Yes, Mercedes-Benz is perhaps making it work now with the CLS and S-class models, but the jury is out as to whether one will steal sales from the other.

So, yes, Jaguar did stop Rover from pressing forwards with a potentially world beating model line-up (although I have my doubts – the P8’s styling was not particularly effective), but does anyone blame BL for this model rationalization? After all, it’s only what should have been done in the middle-market. I mean, what other company at the time had so many completely different cars on sale with engine capacities between 1300cc and 1600cc? Exactly…

No, Jaguar didn’t kill Rover. Being in BL did…

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9 May 2005

Why no RSP Rover Vitesse?


THE recent general election brought to mind something other motoring pundits have already mentioned. Rover cars were used as ministerial transportation. When Margaret Thatcher entered number 10 Downing Street in May 1979 she was filmed making an exit from her Rover P5B. And she was one of many who used Rovers.

As the Thatcher years progressed, Ministers of the crown were seen using Rover SD1s. Fast forward to May 2005 and Tony Blair and his collegues are to be seen using Jaguar XJ8s, not Rover 75s. Why is this so? Well, the Jaguar XJ8 seems to posess what the Rovers of old had – plenty of grunt and rear passenger space. The cabin of the Rover 75 seems cramped in comparison, not worthy of one of Her Majesty’s Ministers.

I believe Rover made a fundamental mistake in terminating production of the Rover SD1 altogether in 1986. The Rover 800 was an excellent car – superior to the Rover SD1 in 2000, 2300 and 2600 form. A new car was most definitely needed to take on the Ford Granada in the executive car market. But that in itself was part of the problem with Rover’s marketing strategy. The Rover 800 was conceived at a time when Jaguar were still part of the BL empire. Rover and Jaguar’s model range had overlapped, but now it was the task of Jaguar to take on the likes of BMW and Mercedes, while Rover took on Ford and GM in the executive car market.

BL were so focused on creating a rival to the Ford Granada they decided the SD1 was too big, and that smaller car was needed, with engine options similar to the Granada (a car which offered 2-8 litres as its largest engine size). The venerable 3528cc Rover V8 was regarded as too big for the market.

By the time the Rover 800 emerged in 1986, Jaguar had been privatised and was no longer an in-house rival and the Rover SD1. For all its build quality and reliability issues, the Rover SD1 was a magnificent car which exuded road presence. In comparison, the Ford Granada looked like a Cortina on steroids. The Rover SD1 was a car one liked to show off to the neighbours, and if one was lucky to have the V8 then it sounded glorious.

The Rover SD1 stormed the race tracks of europe, thrashing the likes of BMW. In the SD1’s final years, Austin Rover upped the specification of the car to appeal to the kind of buyer that might have bought a BMW, Mercedes or Jaguar. In short the SD1’s appeal transcended the market slot its creators intended for it.

Capable car though the Rover 800 was, it was not the wild roadburner the V8 SD1 was and I argue that many SD1 customers looked elsewhere for their next car. Who could supply a big engined, torquey, rear wheel drive car? Why BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar. To many of these people, the Rover 800 was a Montego on steroids!

I believe Rover made a fundamental
mistake in terminating production
of the Rover SD1 altogether in 1986.

And so, Rover lost a niche market which it never regained. To many people Rover became the new brand name for Austin in the same way that Marathon chocolate bars were renamed Snickers. Children are taken to school in Rover Metros. The V5 registration document of my car states it is a Rover Mini Cooper. Britain is littered with bangers that have Rover badges. Rover ceased to be a prestige brand.

Yet it could have been different.

I argue that on the launch of the 800, Rover should have continued limited production of the V8 SD1 in its 190bhp EFi guise as a top of the range car. There was nothing wrong with the styling – it was still a great looking car. Some effort could have been directed towards improving other areas of the car. With the 3947cc version of the V8 in the offing, the car could have been made even faster.

If a TVR spec V8 had been fitted, the car would have had more appeal. The bizarre thing is Austin Rover Motorsport backed the TWR Rover SD1s throughout the 1986 season. Win Percy was crowned European Touring Car champion driving a car that had ceased production in July of that year. What was the point of the exercise?

Rover later demonstrated their willingness to develop niche products with the creation of Rover Special Products. Such cars as the re-launched 1990 Mini Cooper RSP (I own one!), Range Rover CSK and MG RV8 appeared under the RSP banner. The latter was more than just an MGB bodyshell with a Rover V8, and showed to what extent RSP would go to get a product on the market. Surely an RSP Rover SD1 would not have been beyond them? The Rover SD1 has been through its banger stage and is now rightly hailed as the true classic it is.

Many enthusiasts have transplanted the larger capacity V8 from Land Rover’s finest into the SD1, including the later 4.6-litre variant.

If they can, why couldn’t Rover?

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6 May 2005

Our Staples2Naples chariot…


MORE details to follow soon, but I couldn’t resist showing you all a sneek-peek of our Staples2Naples 2005 car. Yes, it’s an Allegro. And, yes, it has a quartic wheel.

Sweep stakes have already started at work… will it actually make it to Naples or not?

See the Staples2Naples page…

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5 May 2005

Picture of the week…


AS YOU can imagine, a lot of interesting pictures cross my desk at Classic Car Weekly, and here’s one I couldn’t resist using on the website, even though it is not related to BMC>Rover…

All I can say is, can you imagine what that lot must have been like to drive?

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4 May 2005



BIG Brother’s little brother is no more.

Well, not for the moment, anyway. After running for nearly two years, I have decided that rather than let get neglected as it gathers dust in the shadow of this website, I have decided to put it to sleep for a while.

Basically, it was part of my dream to construct a range of websites like; each one covering the great marques of the British motoring scene. After, there would have been, and perhaps…

Sadly, due to lack of time, I look unlikely to realise that dream in the forseeable future, but perhaps the information I’ve gathered for these sites will reappear here after this site’s re-launch…

As always, your thoughts and opinions are welcome and valued.

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3 May 2005

MG Killed Rover!


AS MUCH as it grieves me to say it, the demise of Rover has been almost inevitable since the split with Honda. The actions of BMW and PVH have merely accelerated the process, although questions must be asked about the strength of PVH’s original business case on taking over the company in 2000.

The 200/25 and 400/45 were not dreadful cars back in 2000, they provided reliable and comfortable if overpriced transport. The MGF was a fun little car, more similar to Barchetta than MX5, but of limited appeal. Although the 75 was unnecessarily retro, it was at least class competitive and oozed a certain sense of quality over and above the Mondeo and Vectra. The one real achievement of PVH was getting the 75 estate into production.

In hindsight it is easy to criticize, however I truly believe the proliferation of badge engineering under PVH was wasteful and ill advised. The ZR, ZS and ZT may be fun to drive but they were a fatal distraction from the core business. The reality is that the market for these cars is very small, essentially appealing to the boy racer or empty nester. The sad thing is that all three ‘models’ demonstrated that Rover possessed engineers of some considerable talent, but this talent wasted on rebadging out of date models. A quick look at the most popular cars illustrates the futility of pursuing this demographic, as the two best selling cars in March 2005 were the Focus and Astra respectively. The majority of these sales would have been of the straight forward non sporting variety, however both of these cars are fun to drive whilst being contemporary and family friendly. The absence of a comparable Rover model was the achilles heel in the range, yet it has become evident with the demise of Rover that there were no real plans to replace the 400 in the near future.

I truly believe the proliferation
of badge engineering under PVH was
wasteful and ill advised. The ZR,
ZS and ZT may be fun to drive, but
they were a fatal distraction from
the core business.

Part of the responsibility for this can be traced back to BMW, who didn’t understand Rover and concentrated on producing the 75 instead of the 200 and 400 series replacements. This was further compounded by PVH wasting money on badge engineering, the City Rover and the ridiculous MG Xpower SV. This car was awful in it’s many previous iterations, and sticking an MG badge on it does the MG marque no favours at all. The tragedy is that both of the 400 series concepts that existed in the early days of MG Rover could have saved the company. The R30 and the TCV still look fresh today, and given the talent of the engineers at MG Rover, it is almost certain that they would have been dynamically competent and able to compete with the Focus and Astra.

For me, the demise of Rover marks the end of my 22 year affair with BMC cars, which started with a Riley Elf, progressed through several Triumphs and culminated with a Rover 400. Next week, I will take delivery of a new Renault Scenic 1.9dCi (yet another example of a fatal gap in the Rover product range), and the Rover will be sold for whatever I can now hope to get for it.

Goodbye Rover, and God Bless.

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2 May 2005

The power of the brand


THE various BBC ‘Have your ill-informed say’ forums showed quite clearly that the general public can’t tell the difference between a product and a brand. The product was new, tried and tested, top of its class, reliable, cost effective and good looking and yet still people felt it was old, pipe and slippers and a product of BL. This message did not come from MG Rover so where did it come from? In the end we were told ‘the brand was damaged beyond repair’ but where and when did this damage occur? Not from the BL days surely since the Honda years were profitable. Many on this forum have pointed out the recent damage done by things like the CityRover and Streetwise and yet the public access to these was so minimal that most people will have never heard of them.

The ‘damage’ to the Rover brand happened externally and recently.

The human brain can’t store two opposing concepts about an idea, it has to choose one or the other and subsequent action will be dictated to by that decision. For example we all know that over eating on fatty foods is bad for us (insert your own bad habit here), but many of us still do it as we pay more attention to the pleasurable aspects that we get from it and are surrounded by supporting messages to keep us that way. This is how marketing works. Put simply the group with the strongest marketing campaign wins and in this case it was the enemies of MG Rover that had the strongest marketing campaign. Usually in marketing a business or product the only opponents you have to face are the competition, or the customer making do without. Here we had those in addition to a negative media and a negative public. Compare the case with the supermarket war which Tescos is winning. Sainsbury’s, once the leaders are now losing customers and money hand over fist and may well disappear in a few years. But they only have to compete with the other supermarkets – we don’t hear any anti-Sainsbury rhetoric from the public or media on top of their market share battle.

The MG ZT V8 was marketed to be the
spiritual successor to the SD1 in
last year’s centenary brochure –
and it worked, but where did that
leave the Rover 75?

With hindsight, my advice to MG Rover could have been to tackle this challenge head on rather than ‘Relax it’s a Rover’ and ‘In a Class of it’s own’ which are both head-in-the-sand straplines. The way to do this wouldn’t have been too far away from what has been suggesting over the past few years: bold, confident and slightly rude.

But MG Rover’s marketing has not been a complete failure – just look at the rise of the MG brand to see what can be done. The MG ZT V8 was marketed to be the spiritual successor to the SD1 in last years centenary brochure – and it worked, but where did that leave the Rover 75?

It’s difficult to do, but try to remove any prejudice, good or bad, that you may have about the Rover brand and look at the above badges, as people may well do in the future. You’ve been told that these badges graced a range of cars from 1904 to 2005. What sort of car do you think it was? That should be the real legacy of the Rover brand.

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1 May 2005

So, who killed MG Rover?


British Aerospace

Picked up Rover Group for a song when the Thatcher government finally managed to off-load what was then a state-owned company onto its friends at BAe. Key assets such as land at Canley and Cowley were sold off and the volume cars business starved of investment. Increased reliance on Honda which at least meant healthy sales.

Verdict: Guilty of negligence


Personified by chief executive, Bernd Pischetsrieder. BAE sold Rover to BMW in 1994 for £800m. It brutally cut the 15-year link with Honda. BMW wasn’t so patient with the big losses, but had they held their nerve, Rover showrooms today globally would have the new Mini, new Rovers 45 and 75 plus the new Land and Range Rovers.

Verdict: Guilty, but with extenuating circumstances

The media

It’s true that some journalists carried on knocking British cars long after their substance and quality had improved. Jeremy Clarkson in particular comes in for unprintable abuse for his views on the MG Rover web forums (see Yet many, such as this journal (Sean is the motoring editor of The Independent – Ed), gave the home team a fair trial and the cars did have faults.

Verdict: Not guilty; don’t shoot the messengers

Thirty years ago, British cars were
unreliable and badly made. We insisted
on buying them. Now they are miles
better, but we persistently refuse
even to consider them.


Mostly New Labour, but the blame game stretches back to the 1960s, when Harold Wilson and Tony Benn encouraged the formation of the disastrous British Leyland, nationalised in 1975. Mrs Thatcher paid in cash reluctantly and sold it off cheaply. Stephen Byers backed Phoenix ahead of Alchemy (with hindsight an error). Patricia Hewitt jumped the gun on administration.

Verdict: Not proven

The police

MG Rover fans rallying to the cause were gobsmacked to find French police cars even outside Longbridge itself. No special favours are asked, but there is genuine puzzlement as to public procurement policy. EU rules demand a level playing field, but other countries seem better at backing their indigenous industries. Still, it wouldn’t have saved the company.

Verdict: Guilty of aiding and abetting

Phoenix Four

The four directors who bought Rover from BMW for £10. John Towers was the most prominent. Innocent of criminal charges, but their public relations were a disaster, taking £40m out. Unlucky to see partners TWR go bust and deals with China Brilliance and Proton fail before the Shanghai talks. Should have gone for broke with the new 45 in 2000.

Verdict: Guilty of corporate manslaughter

The public

Thirty years ago, British cars were unreliable and badly made. We insisted on buying them. Now they are miles better, but we persistently refuse even to consider them. Think about your own car choice. Did you even think of an MG or Rover? Then again, maybe you’ve had a K-series-engined car that suffered catastrophic head gasket failure or a rotten dealer.

Verdict: We are all to blame

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Posted in: AROnline Blogs
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

1 Comment on "Blogs : May 2005"

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  1. Peter Rowland says:

    I would like to hear from Graham Robson re XC5212 PLEASE.
    I own one of the three ADO24 Healey 4000’s and are gathering info on their history

    Regards PeterR

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