Rover SD1@ 40 : Derek Whittaker – do not overlook our successes

As part of our Rover SD1 at 40 special, here’s what Leyland Cars boss, Derek Whittaker had to say on the subject. This article is taken from the British Leyland Mirror, 30 June 1976.


In common with his senior executives Derek Whittaker, Managing Director of Leyland Cars, is filled with enthusiasm for the new Rover. He feels the car and the new plant which builds it are proof to the rest of the world that the group has the strength, the ability and the will to succeed.

The new Solihull plant has the most up-to-date paint technology and a vast assembly hall embodying the very latest equipment for trim and final assembly operations. All this, says Derek Whittaker, should inspire confidence in Leyland Cars inside and outside the group. He told the Mirror:

‘Too many people dwell only on our problems. I have never tried to minimise their seriousness or the grave consequences if we cannot pull together to overcome them, but nevertheless we must not ignore our very considerable successes. Leyland Cars has existed in its present form for only eight months. During that time, all of it spent under close public scrutiny, we have announced many improvements to our product range.

‘We have launched the Jaguar XJ-S, Allegro 2, Marina 2 and improved the Mini range. The Princess and Dolomite ranges have been improved and rationalised and we have introduced the TR7 to the UK. We have also launched Supercover to give our customers unrivalled after-sales service.

‘Neither should we forget employee participation. Our employees now have an unprecedented opportunity for close involvement in the affairs of the group. Our initial success in implementing such a massive change in the way we plan to work together is a credit to unions, management and the workforce. Nothing now should prevent us from making real progress. We have the right new products, we have some quite excellent new production facilities and we have the involvement and the commitment of our senior employees involved with the participation system.

‘What we lack, and we all freely admit it, is a way of communicating and involving every employee in the really exciting prospects for Leyland Cars in employment and profitability terms. I cannot over stress the key importance of continuity of production every hour of every day, every day of every working week in the year.

‘This new Rover embodies so much of our strategy for the future. It has beautiful styling and excellence of engineering, superb road holding and exceptional fuel economy. It is a car very much in time with the requirements of the market now and in the future. It is also worthy of note that, in putting together this £95 million investment in this new model and new production facilities, we have for the first time in the history of our specialist car marques planned the project from the start in an aggressive manner.

‘We were and are convinced that this product can sell worldwide in exceptionally high volumes so all of our planning capacity, product derivatives, marketing and home and overseas selling was, and is, designed to ensure that this is a reality.’

Keith Adams


  1. At work, so a bit rushed, but had a quick read. The general impression is one of confidence – new Solihull plant with leading paint technology, expectation that SD1 would achieve big worldwide sales success, new XJ-S, TR7. Even Allegro 2 and Marina 2 sounds encouraging, a company recovering itself with a well planned future.

    So many troubles lay ahead, however…….

  2. @ Dave Dawson, the SD1 could have totally cleaned up in the luxury sector, the car was so good. A year later the six cylinder versions arrived to replace the ageing big Triumphs and Rover 2200, and were intended to hit at the Ford Granada, which by then was made in Germany. Hopes were extremely high for such a good car that was completely radical and new, dispensing with the saloon look in favour of a hatchback and which by the end of 1977 had all the bases covered, from the entry level 2300 to the luxurious 3500. However, in spite of all the faults and strikes, the SD1 still sold well, which proved a lot of people liked them.

  3. @ Glenn… I remember that a Rover 2000 SD1 was also available in the final days, but guess that probably felt underpowered in such a large car

    • It did. BL only fitted the SD1 with that engine to dip below the company car tax sub-2.0 banding.

  4. @ Hilton D, the 2000 came out with the 1982 restyle. It was an attempt to remind people of the 2000 of old and wasn’t as underpowered as people think. 104 mph for a carburated 2 litre car put it in the same league as an Austin Ambassador or a Ford Cortina. However, once injected rivals came on the scene, it did start to look underpowered.
    My thoughts on the SD1, it took Rover five years to try and make it a decent car and for all the later generation had the Vitesse and the traditional wood and leather interior, quality was never that brilliant and the SD1 never lasted in the same way a Mercedes of this era would. OTOH the 800 that replaced it had a shaky start, but the Graham Day era Rover soon sorted most of the bugs out within 2 years and the car became a successful executive model that was well liked by its owners.

  5. I had a 2300SE II which was a nice car, apart from awful cold starting, right up to the point the watts linkage on the suspension snapped – imagine a 2 tonne car doing a motorcycle style tank slapper and dumped me in a ditch.
    It wasn’t the last time I had a rear suspension member snap either, happened on my old safrane because some idiot previous owner had decided to tow something by using the nearside rear trailing suspension arm..
    I wonder given all the hoohah about brexit – if there would have been any improvement to BL fortunes if we’d have stayed out in 75?

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