Going through some of my old photos, I found these interesting shots. They were taken on MG Rover’s stand at the NEC on 27 May 2004, and represent the great and the good of its line-up. How little did we know…
In 2004, the British International Motor Show had changed dates from its traditional October slot, to the end of May. The rationale for the move was to try and get the UK’s struggling event into its own slot in the calendar and stop competing with France and Japan for headlines in the motoring press, by running within weeks of them.
It’s interesting looking back at the motor show for other reasons than the plethora of new car launches – of which, there weren’t many major ones. It seemed that, in 2004, the UK was still seen as bit of a backwater in manufacturing terms and the news was dominated at the time by MG Rover’s ongoing death struggles. It all seemed rather desperate, despite Land Rover moving into the next phase of its renaissance with the recent launch of the Discovery 3.
However, in 2004, my main reason for being there, and having managed to bag a press pass (even thought I was still an IT network analyst at the time), was to cover the show – with focus on MG Rover – for the AROnline website (or www.austin-rover.co.uk as it was known back then). May 2004 was an interesting time for MG Rover, mainly because the arrival of the facelifted 25 and 45 had taken longer than we had hoped, and sales were sliding following the news the previous November that the Phoenix Four had pocketed some of the largest salaries (via their pensions) in the UK automotive business. The CityRover’s launch had also been stymied by the poor publicity it had received at the hands of Top Gear – so morale at Longbridge was not at its best.
Still, to me, the MG Rover stand looked like a good place to hang out. All of the models on show were either new, or had been revised, and outwardly, the company was playing up its confidence in these new cars. Rod Ramsay gave a little speech, which sold MG Rover, and sold it hard, while the motor showgoers flocked to see the XPower SV-R, a car which MG Rover failed to market as well as it could have.
As for the 25 and 45, it was clear, even to me with my pro-MGR agenda at the show, were dead in the water. They might have looked a little less creaky, thanks to their facelifts, but buyers had already moved on. And yet – the MG ZR and ZS were still loved, and were greeted favourably. Not bad for a few badges, different paint and trim treatments and uprated chassis set-ups. So, it was all good, yes? Well, no.
Within a year, MG Rover was over. The money had run out and a lifesaving deal with the Chinese – despite being tantalisingly close – never happened.