Exactly a decade ago this week, I had the opportunity to live out a childhood dream; that is to buy a brand new car at an International motor show. Naturally, the car came from our dear old MG-Rover Group and the show was Birmingham’s Motor Fair.
The location was of course in the NEC and fortunately MGR had made a triumphant return to the domestic motorshow scene having boycotted it previously following the acrimonious split with the dastardly BMW Group.
The stand that year was buzzing; the MG Zed range in Monogram, the V8 concepts in X10 and R40 flavours and the stunning and scarcely believable MG SV Supercar (yes, you can have 900bhp), the trendsetting but much mocked Streetwise and the underrated CityRover.
There was a little sandwich board advertising generous discounts on certain cars held in group stock which were built but unregistered. I met my old chum ‘Sir’ Bob Carter, then Field Engineer for UK and Ireland. He’d taken orders for 3 SVs that day such was the demand and excitement for the carbonfibre car.
We were taken upstairs above the stand and sat at a table where we were wined and dined. We placed an order for a Rover 75 Tourer in a 1.8 manual Club SE format flavoured in Wedgewood Blue. The V6 was too proliferate for the motor in-law and the surprisingly good Turbo’d version wasn’t yet available. What about the diesel you say? Wash your mouth out…
We were handed a bespoke Tourer brochure and told that our nearest dealer would be in touch. Sure enough Stour Valley in Stourbridge contacted us and after a little bit on confusion (they had no idea of the deals being offered by Rover on the NEC stand) we got our Tourer, VK52 RYR.
We were given 22% discount and 2 or 3 years free servicing from memory, there may have been a finance deal on offer too, but didn’t need ‘chucky’. While no Montego in terms of space or style, it was an exceptionally nice car both inside and out. The delightful quality of the thing is what I remember most.
Those trading-up from a R8 ‘Tracer’ Tourer would have been impressed with the water-tightness of the tailgate and the sense of solidity. The only disappointing aspect of the car was the little K-series lack of verve and the inverse-tardis of the load-space, but they were more than fine for our requirements.
This being an early Tourer, the dreadful (but necessary) effects of Project Drive hadn’t been wrought. The door mirrors were of the ‘Bullet’ style, the boot floor had the trick double-well stowage facility with gas struts holding the compartment lids up when opened. I think they illuminated too? A spare wheel with a tool kit was also in there, remember those?
It served the family faultlessly for 5 years. The car lost none of its stately style or quality in that time and it was always to treat to ride in. It was a car which instilled a sense of pride and well-being to all those who came into contact with it.
For my In-Laws it represented a return to Longbridge. Despite living in the shadow of the plant, they’d long since fell out with its products. The last cars to grace the Wentworth Road driveway were a company Allegro (of the blue flashing light variety), a Marina and a TR7. After that it was Japanese all the way, except for a Korean Marina (surprisingly well regarded).
Sadly the days when you could waltz up to your home gown car company and order an affordable and faintly exciting car are long since gone and I pity the children of today. You cannot even place a small deposit down with Morgan any more, safe in the knowledge they’ll not come knocking for another 10 years. Even Peter Wheeler (RIP) was always a good ‘spot’ looking after his stand long after the Press had left. He once half-joking tried to cadge a lift to Le Mans from me!
For that reason, all those glitzy international motor shows I attend for AROnline will never live up to the days when CAR magazine had a stand and Reliant were promising a new sports car for pocket money. Whatever happened to all those MG SV orders? Well the spec of the car and the delivery dates changed so much most of the pre-launch orders were lost. Never mind, eh?