The very last auto industry event MG Rover (MGR) took part in came on 12 April 2005 in Detroit. Alan Warburton, Iain Fleming, James Scott and Neil Butler of Powertrain Limited, MGR’s money-making engine and transmission operations, were in Detroit with Camcon to present a paper on camless engines at the giant Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress.
I visited SAE that year and was surprised to see MG Rover had a small display in the UK industry area in the giant Cobo Center and that there was an MG TF on the floor, top down and looking spectacular. On the car’s instrument panel were cards to fill out asking attendees if they thought the MG TF should come to the United States.
For those of us keeping track, the British Racing Green MG TF at SAE was just the second car which Rover Group/MGR had exported to the USA since it dropped the Sterling line of Rover 800s in late 1991. Sometime in the mid ‘90s, an MGB built from a new shell came to the USA to demonstrate the quality of the panels. That MG TF was the only other car that Rover officially sent to the USA.
After Rover withdrew for the third time from the USA, we Americans never again saw another Rover-built car offered here. We missed everything that came from 1992-2005. Some of the 1990s Rovers, the 800 Coupe (originally planned specifically for the US market), the Tomcat and the 75, likely would have done well here, provided the quality was at least as good as German cars.
MGR’s presence in the USA after Sterling was limited to Land Rover and Range Rover up until the time BMW bought Rover Group and broke it up. MGR skidding into receivership did not affect much in the way of Land Rovers here.
We had the slow-selling Freelander with its K-Series V-6. But that had got a reputation for blowing engines and was fading badly. So when MGR went bust, the Freelander died in the USA shortly thereafter.
Perhaps the biggest blow for Americans from the MGR debacle is that it once and for all crushed the hopes of MG’s strong American fan base. They’d been waiting since 1980 for MG to return.
MG was the sports car America loved first and we never stopped buying them. It was hoped that the MG TF would come to the USA someday when MGR were free of BMW. However, with Sterling gone, Rover no longer had a U.S. dealer network for cars and Land Rover dealers had their hands full.
But MGR’s managers were definitely thinking of North America. The company set up shop in Mexico in 2003 to sell the 75 and the MG TF and both were launched successfully there. The numbers sold in Mexico were not big, but it was a good start and it put MGR right on America’s doorstep. And there were rumblings that the Ford Mustang-powered MG SV, which was based on the bones of the already-federalized Qvale Mangusta, would lead MG’s return to the USA.
Of course, nothing came of it. And when the end came, no one here could have predicted how things have turned out for MGR.
Who could have guessed that:
- MG would be reborn as a Chinese brand of solid, but unexciting budget cars
- Roewe would be created carrying – initially at least – the DNA of Rover
- The troublesome K-Series would be re-engineered and its faults rectified
- Ford would pay BMW millions for the Rover name and then bundle it up with Land Rover to sweeten the deal for India’s Tata to take over Land Rover and Jaguar
- Jaguar Land Rover would rise up and surpass MGR’s sales volume and play a major role in vaulting Great Britain past France in automobile production
Yes, it’s been a strange decade since MGR went to the wall hasn’t it?
Somehow, though, I feel the story is not over yet. It may not happen soon but, if Jaguar Land Rover keeps growing, I believe there is a very good chance that we will see the famous Rover longship badge once more.