Fourteen years ago today, Rover unveiled the production version of the 75 to the press in an expansive and ambitious event at Tower Bridge in London. It wasn’t the first time the car had been seen – it was officially unveiled at the previous year’s NEC Motor Show alongside the Jaguar S-Type. Yes, it had been shown early, but there was good reason for that – Rover wanted to spoil Jaguar’s launch, even if it meant showing its hand to the world six months early.
The NEC launch, of course, ended up being a disaster, with Bernd Pischetsrieder – the BMW Group’s boss – deciding to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by questioning Longbridge’s future and scuppering the 75’s chances before it had been driven by anyone outside of the company. Eight months on, we then had the overblown launch event starring scores of the cars, several with tuned horns to play along with a Dave Stewart rock opera played by the London Philharmonic orchestra, and violinist Vanessa Mae. In all, a strange and wonderful launch for a non-conformist retro/modern motor.
The problem was that, in reality, the Rover 75 was already doomed by this point, even if it had been awarded What Car? Car of the Year 1999. For those with shorter memories, compare its arrival on the market with that of the final Saab 9-5 – here was a make or break product, full of hope and potential, but who’s maker was already in the beginnings of its final death throes. The Independent on the day was realistic in its coverage.
It surmised that Rover would struggle to make money on it. ‘Making a success of the 75 will be a tall order. And if Rover does pull it off, then it will have to repeat the trick twice over with the next new models due off the production line – a new Mini due out at the end of next year and the replacement for the Rover 200/400 series, the R35, which is expected in 2002.’
Professor Garel Rhys said in the ‘paper: ‘There are plenty of BMW shareholders who wanted to see Rover Cars disposed off and they will become more vociferous if the 75 fails to deliver. In that case a sale to General Motors or Volkswagen is something that BMW would have to look at very seriously.’
Autocar‘s Hilton Holloway (then at CAR Magazine) was far more realistic – and on the money. ‘Unless there is a sudden leap in sales, I would be very, very worried. And if things don’t start to happen by February or March next year, I think they’re going to be seriously panicking.’ He was right – and, in May 2000, the company was sold to the Phoenix Consortium.
Enjoy this video of that day.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.