Ian Nicholls, AROnline‘s historian-in-residence, tells the Rover-Triumph story, and their part in the downfall of the British motor industry.
‘By 1978 we are due to be producing about 470,000 vehicles a year, compared with around 230,000 we built in 1973.’ – Bernard Jackman, Managing Director of Rover Triumph, February 1974
July 1986, when the last Rover SD1, a top of the range Vitesse, trundled down the Cowley assembly line, marked the end of an era. It was not just the end of the SD1, but the final demise of a plan that envisaged British Leyland producing 470,000 Rover and Triumph-badged premium priced cars by 1978.
This ambitious plan was built on the achievements of Rover and Triumph when they were still independent of each other, but catastrophically backfired, dragging both brands through the mire at a time when competition in the premium sector was hotting up. Rover-Triumph engineering was completely independent of BMC/Austin-Morris and represented an attempt to create a separate premium brand.
The traditional story of the British motor industry has tended to focus on BMC/Austin-Morris, with Rover and Triumph as minor players. Eventually, Triumph was killed off and the entire Austin-Morris range was badge-engineered as Rover cars. However, at one stage, a separate Rover-Triumph range was seen as a key to prosperity. This is how that idea gained traction and how, in the end, it all fell apart.
The story has been told before in separate model and marque strands, but this is how it all integrated. Along the way, we will come across ill-fated projects such as Rover P7, Rover P8, Triumph Puma, Triumph SD2 and Triumph Lynx.