Events : The Tomcat Affair reunion proves to be a great success

What started as a ‘what could we do?’ musing turned into a unique event on Sunday, 28 August when 30 Rover 200 Coupés arrived at the UTAC Millbrook Proving Ground, Bedfordshire for a celebration of a 30-year-old record-breaking run by a team from Rover Group.

The musing, on the Austin Rover/Rover Group alumni’s LinkedIn page, got very exciting when an ex-Rover employee now working at UTAC asked ‘Would you like to come back?’

Of course, we would!

To recap, in 1992, a team of volunteers from Rover Group, including drivers, engineers and logistics experts, took two near-standard, ex-prototype cars to Millbrook and broke 37 UK Land Speed Records, 36 of which still stand today.

The first attempt had to be aborted due to driveshaft problems, but the team returned a month later and ran through a foggy night to break all the records they were aiming at. These included 156.00mph for the flying 5km distance and 138.43mph for the 24 hours, from a standing start. They covered 3,322 miles in that time, which was further than the winning Le Mans car that year.

30 years later, what better way to celebrate the anniversary would there be but to return to the site where the records were broken with the road cars that the record-breaking publicity promoted?

The two clubs that look after the Rover 200 Coupé, the Rover 200 & 400 Owners Club and the Rover Coupé Owners Club, got together with UTAC Millbrook and some of the original Tomcat Affair organisers and came up with the plan to celebrate the cars, the owners, the original team and the records broken. Contact was made with the owner of the original yellow car who was excited to be able to stretch the car’s legs again. Unfortunately, the red car was sold to one of the Tomcat Affair’s sponsors after the event and subsequently disappeared.

The plan came to fruition with owners arriving at Millbrook on a bright Sunday morning hoping for something rather special. There was a great mix of road cars present, from a K-reg launch car all the way through to late registered S-reg and T-reg cars.

There was a predominance of Turbos, but all engines from D-Series to K-Series were present and in a great array of colours too. After the original car, one of the cars to attract most attention was a Turkish-registered Turbo car-and-trailer-combo that the owner, Mert Özgün (below), had driven to the UK in April for the annual Pride of Longbridge event and had been persuaded to leave here, then fly home and return for this event.

The event was also attended by a dozen ex-Rover Group staff, members of the ‘Tomcat Affair’ team in 1992, who were able to take passenger rides in the road cars and talk about what had happened 30 years ago with the owners.

A proper reunion

After a talk from Steve Carter, ex-Rover Chief Engineer, covering the original event and then a briefing from Peter Stoker, UTAC Chief Engineer on the ‘dos and don’ts’ of driving on a proving ground, we were on our way into the high security track. The original car, owned for the last 20 years by Peter Collins and recommissioned for the event, led us onto the 2-mile high-speed bowl.

We were able to circulate the bowl at UK motorway speeds for several laps and then arrange ourselves in staggered lines across all 5 lanes for photographs from trackside and from the bridge. As the speed slowed, we were able to look around and the view of Coupés in front, behind, left and right was amazing!

We were then taken to the Hill Route for 2 laps of this famous track. This is where Bond rolled his Aston Martin in Casino Royale and, more recently, the Haribo cops stopped for their chat, but we were too busy enjoying the drive to spot exactly where they were filmed. There were points on the route where you couldn’t see any part of the road without a Coupé on it.

All too quickly it was over and we returned to the car park. The resulting conversation was on another level with everyone buzzing about what they’d just been able to do.

The question on everyone’s lips was ‘When can we do that again?’ Let’s see…

  • The Rover 200 & 400 and the Rover Coupé Owners Clubs would like to thank all the staff at UTAC Millbrook for making this fantastic day possible and also Turkish company Etisan for sponsoring the event. As a result of ticket and T-shirt sales, the clubs will shortly be making a donation to BEN, the charity for employees in the automotive industry.

10 Comments

  1. I love the trailer. It reminds me of the back half of a van fitted with shafts for a donkey or horse or even ox to pull it. I saw the ‘hybrid’ in Botswana in the 1970. Only a single axle and one pair of rubber tyres though.

  2. I still can’t get how Rover went from the Rover Tomcat 1992/93 launch and the wider excellence of the R8 to the pretty poor R45 in just 8 years and ultimate failure in such a short time when they were owned by such a cash rich and highly renowned (rightly so) owner up to 2000. Talk about screw up.

  3. Put simply, after a lot of soul-searching BMW realised that to bring Rover Group into BMW parameters, would require a huge amount of investment which even then could not guarantee a worthwhile level of sales, so it was seen as a huge gamble just to achieve some volume market coverage. Only after purchase did their detailed forensics reveal they had greatly underestimated the size of the task. Not only would they need to rebuild and re-equip plants, they would need to re-educate the staff in BMW methodology, rationalise distribution and then overcome the endemic negativity of the Brit buying public.

    Back home in Bavaria the board had plenty to keep them occupied implementing a detailed BMW future plan and adjusting their forecasts to incorporate the Brit nameplate(s), without the huge involvement in a major British organisation overhaul. Thus, Rover looked increasingly like a reckless gamble which could bring down BMW themselves. Their experience with the 75 confirmed this. Within the board there was a lot of friction over the whole affair and heads rolled.

    Thus an exit was sought and shrewdly, the Mini nameplate and plant was retained to achieve many of their original objectives. Having interviewed board members at the time, I was never able to secure any kind of direct answer to the question “was your original objective to purchase Mini and sell off everything else?” Yet I strongly suspect so.

    Interestingly, BMW retained ownership of various nameplates – and can and do still command UK back-street outlets and other businesses not to use those nameplates in advertising.

  4. Does anyone know whether the aforementioned red prototype car which disappeared still exists? Would be interesting to know what became of it.

  5. Red car was should to a company in Japan, I’m trying to locate it now, I did have the company name to hand, I will try and dig it out for you.

    • It was sold to Ogihara but they have been owned by a Korean Company for some time now.

      We don’t know for certain that the car even left the UK…

      Anything you can find will be helpful – thank you 🙂

  6. The original yellow car will be on display on the Rover Coupe Owners Club Stand for the Classic Motor Show at the NEC between November 11th to 13th.
    This will be the first time it’s been seen in public for over a decade.

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