Events : Gaydon>Longbridge – Save MG Rover Rally

An estimated 600 cars made the pilgrimage to Longbridge today in order to support the Longbridge workers and their families…

STUART BISHOP explains why the day will leave a lasting impression.

April 17, 2005

Richard Jessett’s Tomcat flying the flag: Patriotism was the order of the day.

I WILL  always remember as a day of mixed emotions; pride, sadness, regret, with virtually all in attendance playing the eternal game of what ifs. The Heritage Motor Centre, at Gaydon, Warwickshire, played host to a gathering of enthusiasts from all walks of life in a plethora of different vehicles from MGR’s chequered and colourful past, brought together, to salute MG Rover’s many tragic workers and to sadly bid “The Austin” a heavy hearted farewell.

Turning up at Gaydon at 10 o’clock, I was greeted with the heart warming sight of well over 100 cars, the majority, built in South-West Birmingham covering almost every chapter of “MG Rover’s” long life, from MG ZRs to MG Bs, Rover 800s to the very latest V8 engined 75s. – A virtual museum in itself.

Undoubtedly this was a group to be reckoned with.

With an hour to spare, I decided to make the most of my first trip to the Heritage Museum and admire some former BMC>Rover icons from times gone by. Walking around the museum and appreciating just what the company was capable of in its heyday really brought home just how much has been lost, ultimately due, perhaps to the content of a single letter.

I was greeted at the entrance by a vehicle I had come to know well in both name and reputation, but never the chance to admire in the flesh, 621AOK, the very first production Mini. Officially, the Mini is, “The Car of the Century”, an instantaneously recognisable icon that transcends class boundaries and remained in production for a prodigious 41 years, -at the very plant I was to later visit. Unfortunately I only had a scant ten minutes available to photograph and admire the very significant collection. I certainly intend to return and definitely recommend a visit.

Wandering back to the ever growing assortment of vehicles in time for the ‘off’, it was clear just how much this manufacturer meant to the group. I couldn’t help wondering if the loss of a global giant like Ford, an organisation many ill informed people still believe to be a British company, could ever hope to experience the same devoted spirit as a few hundred MGR fans with a point to prove. Of course, there were undoubtedly many well wishers and fans who didn’t realise the event was even occurring or perhaps were unable to attend, undoubtedly with a longer publicity plan many more would have taken part. However, thanks to the advent of the internet, in less than a week, a task force was duly assembled and ready to do their part for the company they cared about.

A welcome sight was the very obvious presence of the media, with the plight of MG Rover now ‘old news’ by media standards it was a very pleasing scene.

By approximately 11 O’Clock, the assembled legion of supporters were ready to proceed to Longbridge. After much horn sounding and some obligatory pictures for the press, in the region of 300 British vehicles descended upon Longbridge in an incredible convoy along the M40. I can’t help but wonder what passers by in their mundane Volkswagens, Citröens and Fords thought of the sight of MGRs as far as the eye could see, or sadly whether they’d notice at all if it wasn’t for the very predominant flags.

Inevitably, the convoy couldn’t stay as one long formation and interlopers eventually joined the parade, either through not noticing, caring or deliberately spoiling the party. As Longbridge began to show on signposts, many local residents we passed, stood on their doorsteps waving flags, giving supportive thumbs up or looking on in sheer awe at the sight of MGR’s history returning home. Despite recent events, their pride was obvious.

Driving past the now dormant gates really brought home just how vast the Longbridge Works are. As someone who never had the opportunity to visit, I knew the works were of a fair size but never realised quite how extensive. Turning into Lowhill Lane and seeing the street lined with nothing but MGRs was a sight to behold. Even this paled into insignificance, when one hundred yards further up, yet more assembled enthusiasts mingled with workers and their families, with the press looking on, outside the now infamous ‘Q’ gate.

Despite a Police presence, a constant stream of MGRs filtered through the crowds looking for places to park, inevitably due to lack of available space, some were sent back to find alternative parking but they would undoubtedly return. The atmosphere was very mixed with some of the workers reminiscing about happier times, others staring blankly at what would have been their second home.

Longbridge was awash with Rovers – and the workers loved seeing them come home.

The saddest memory of the day and the one that will haunt me longest was of a worker in full MG Rover attire, holding his young daughter up to the gates and remarking, “That’s where Daddy used to work”. Had history not unfolded so cruelly, it could be considered a virtual certainty she would have ended up either working at the factory or for something very closely related.

Shortly after taking some souvenir photographs of a factory I’d never contemplated losing, the amassed crowd and the collection of vehicles, something occurred that left a lump in my throat. As each enthusiast drove through the crowd which now comprised almost predominantly the former employees, each received a ‘personal’ thank you in the form of applause and cheering as each car drove slowly by, tooting their horns.

In the face of all that has happened, how can these people still have so much heart left?

After a while, the Police asked us to move on. I was frankly, dreading driving through the crowd, why should they applaud me? All I’ve done is driven 100 miles! These people have built nigh on every car I’ve ever owned and are now without employment! Slowly driving through the crowd and saluting them with the horn, one of the workers grabbed my arm and said, “Thanks mate, thanks for buying British.” For a time afterwards, I was speechless. I was driving home to a comfortable life with a comfortable job in a damn fine car. With no jobs to walk into and no money, what have these people possibly done to deserve such a cruelly dealt sleight of hand?

I wish them the very best of luck in the future, without people like them, this country is undoubtedly on the verge of becoming “Britain PLC”.

I can’t help feeling that the nation would mourn the loss of ‘Eastenders’ to a far greater degree than something that was once our national institution. I’m sure, if the general public could have experienced the events of the 16th of April first hand and the sheer frustration of it all, they’d be converted to our way of thinking.

This was an event I’m glad I didn’t miss, today I witnessed a chapter of British history.


Before the off: Gaydon

Before 10.00am, the crowds had really built up…

Craig Long’s Ledbury-built Maestro…

Mark Gray and his Rover P6…

Crowds really building up by 10.30am. One Gaydon worker was overheard saying: “I just don’t understand it. They all look so good – such a waste…

As of Friday, a now former-Longbridge worker, John Billington and his freshly restored Triumph Spitfire…

Lee Allen and his Rover 2600 – Oh yes, and the most enormous Union Flag at the event…

Flags were much in evidence…

The convoy

It’s doubtful the M40 has seen such a high concentration of MGs and Rovers as it did today… (Picture: Sky News)


All-British convoy heads towards Q-Gate

Probably the warmest reception for any Metro since 1980…

The crowd at Longbridge was large, and the mood was sombre…

MG TA ‘Midget’ certainly attracted attention…

(Picture: Richard Jessett)

‘Frogeye’ Sprite didn’t look out of place parked next to its modern decendents…

(Picture: Andrew Heron)

Everyone who drove past Q-Gate received a warm round of applause…(Picture: Andrew Heron)

Feelings are still running high…

(Photo: Tim Burgess)

(Picture: Richard Jessett)

(Picture: Andrew Heron)

(Picture: Andrew Heron)

(Picture: Andrew Heron)

Posted in: Events
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.

4 Comments on "Events : Gaydon>Longbridge – Save MG Rover Rally"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. francis brett francis brett says:

    Heartwarming and upsetting pictures in equal measure.

  2. David 3500 says:

    I went to this year’s PoL which was the first one I have attended. It really was a fantastic event set in a stunning location (Cofton Park) with some very interesting vehicles on display. These even included a few Triumphs and Land Rovers which obviously don’t have a direct link with Longbridge, although they certainly added to this interesting and “interactive history book”.

    It was great to meet former employees and others involved in trying to save MG Rover Group and have aninformal chat with them, surrounded by some truely spectacular cars. I really felt overwhelmed by being amongst so many interesting cars that command so much affection from me. And, of course, came the realisation that Longbridge and the British Motor Industry in general will never be the same again.

    If you haven’t been to PoL before then I definitely recommend it as an annual pilgrimage held on the Saturday nearest April 15.

  3. stephen says:

    I’ve done most all of the POLs but didn’t know about the very first . if i had known i’d of loved to of been there as a event to be involved in but the end of mg rover as we knew it is a very sad and shameful affair . i just hope that longbridge can survive and prosper ……. seems to me it is more on tick over at the mo……

  4. russ smith9former worker0 says:

    what a truly brilliant set of pics and words you made me think of all the memories of former collegues from my time at longbridge 1985 to 2000 when i took voluntary redundancy
    thank you

Have your say...