MGR@10 Month : A look back at the Save MG Rover Rally in 2005

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Ten years ago today, an estimated 600 Birmingham-built cars made an important pilgrimage to Longbridge. They were there in order to support MG Rover’s workers and their families, whose futures were cast into uncertainty following the company’s fall into administration nine days previously…

We were there at the Save MG Rover Rally, which would end up morphing into the Pride of Longbridge. It was an emotional event, but MG Rover enthusiast, Stuart Bishop, put his feelings into words so effectively on the day that we’re running them again here. The day made a lasting impression on everyone who was there – especially Stuart.

Remembering MG Rover


Richard Jessett’s Tomcat flying the flag – patriotism was the order of the day

I will always remember 16 April 2005 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 MG Rover’s chequered and colourful past, brought together, to salute MG Rover’s many tragic workers and to bid ‘The Austin’ a heavy-hearted farewell.

Turning up at Gaydon at 10 o’clock, I was greeted with the heart-warming sight of more than 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.

By the time of the off for our convoy to Longbridge, 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 – 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 MG Rovers 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. However, 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 MG Rover’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 MG Rovers, 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 MG Rovers 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 16 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.


Gallery

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)


Longbridge


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)

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

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.
Keith Adams

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11 Comments

  1. Some great photos of such a poignant event… While I’m on, should all these historic posts not be titled as MGR@10Year rather than 10Month?

    • My understanding was that this month, there would be a series of articles on the 10th anniversary of the MGR bankruptcy.
      MGR@10Year would imply a year-long series of articles, which would be a bit much.

  2. ” 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 ….. could ever hope to experience the same devoted spirit …”

    I have often thought similar. Surely BL > MG Rover must vie for the title “Marque with the most loyal following” !

  3. I only ever owned Mini’s and Metro’s so what do I know, but for me Longbridge is the spiritual home of everything that is right and wrong with the British car industry. Great people, superb engineers, craftsmen and shop floor workers who had pride in what they produced, set against some very poor cars but also some exciting vehicles that will always be in my heart.

    I don’t know anyone who worked there, I don’t even live nearby, however having visited the area a number of times in the last ten years the sadness is still palpable. The best of wishes to all those who worked there, or whose are connected to it in some way. I hope 10 years on that everyone has been able to overcome the despair. I only wish we could put it right and get it back to where it belongs at the centre of a thriving Brummie based car industry.

  4. Rover were my customer back in the early 90s so I visited all of the sites including Longbridge. Without exception a first rate bunch of guys that were a pleasure to work with. How we lost Rover but the French still have Peugeot, Citroen and Renault – hardly synonymous with reliability – is beyond me.

  5. Used to work for a Rover Dealer. 1990 -1996.

    Was going through my old Briefcase the other day and found my old diary. Loads of phone numbers for Sales Office, Order Control, Regional Managers and Dealer Liason people. All of them unemployed.

    Remember going to Studley Castle (now that’s a place needs writing about) on Training Courses. Loads and loads of Longbridge people there on training as well. All gone.

    Went to Longbridge for Sales Training and MGF launch. Was unbelievably huge!

    Went to Cowley with MGRV8 customers. Must be some of those guys still there building MINI.

    Cannot believe it’s all gone….

  6. I remember coming across the photos of the abandoned factory while I was studying at university back in 2005 and thought it was haunting. Then a year or two later driving into longbridge in my little k series metro going passed the factory and looking at before they got rid of all the works – quite something I thiught seeing a site of that size without the hustle and bustle you’d associate with a vast complex like that. Hate to think what the workers went through

  7. And now it’s all gone… The end of MG ROVER also meant the end of 100 years of car production in Longbridge, one of the greatest car factories. But worse than that was the demolition of a huge part of the complex, showing the value that pelople gave to this car industry landmark.

  8. We were there too – in our brand new MG ZR picked up some days before – fully agree with the original essay – very moving. As we crawled past the assembled workers at the factory gate a guy in a think Birmingham accent said ” thanks for buying an MG Rover mate”. brought a tear to my eye. So very sad. will never forget that day or indeed month in our history.

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