Essays : The sweet smell of success

Want to smell like a Rover? Back in the 1990s, Rover Italia devised a product that allowed you to do just that.

Words and photography: Christian Lamb

The sweet smell of success

Rover Essenziale article

Between 1994 and 1997 Rover doubled its sales in Italy and became the country’s fastest growing car brand. Unlike the UK, where the brand had a chequered past (British Leyland and industrial action etc.), to the Italians the Rover name was associated with style. Giorgio Armani owned a Range Rover and both the Armani and Versace fashion houses used Rovers as company cars.

In June 1996, to strengthen the prestige of the brand, Rover Italia managing director, Salvatore Pistola hit on the idea of launching a branded perfume to increase public awareness of Rover as a stylish brand in Italy. Also, by using the launch to showcase its Italian subsidiary to UK journalists, Rover Group hoped to project a glamorous and successful image on to the British market. The project took just six months to pull together (June – Dec 1997) at a total cost of £50,000.

Rover turned to Milanese company Promoparf S.p.A. to create a scent for its Italian customers, reflecting the Rover brand values of tradition and innovation. The perfumer came up with Essenziale, a unisex eau de cologne. Described as ’vital as musk, refined and eternal’, the fragrance was packaged in bottles shaped like a Rover 600 radiator grille.

A small card within described the ethos: ‘Class, prestige, tradition and elegance; the values which have always distinguished the Rover marque apart have now become a fragrance: ‘Essential”. A unisex perfume which loyally respects the vitality and innovative spirit that is Rover. Lightly sparkling, citrus based, yet with a very distinguished personality; Essenziale is something which Rover connoisseurs seek in all they do.’*

Rover decided to launch the product at its annual press conference and dinner, on the eve of the Bologna Motor Show. On 2 December 1997 a select band of the UK media flew from the Rover headquarters in Warwick to Italy. Journalists from the BBC, the national newspapers, trade journals and the Italian media were given a tour of the 90,000sq ft Rover Village in Rome. Here, they browsed in the village’s library, competed with radio-controlled cars on a mini-racetrack and had a drink in the Rover pub.

The following day guests were taken on a tour of the sights of Bologna, before being taken to a private palazzo in the evening for the main event. After a presentation by Pistola, Italian actress and Range Rover owner Sophia Loren, unveiled the new fragrance.

Sophia Loren was at the launch of Rover Essenziale
Sophia Loren was at the launch of Rover Essenziale

In Italy, the presence of Sophia Loren at the launch generated huge interest from the Italian broadcast media and national newspapers such as La Stampa and Corriere della Sera. UK media coverage ranged from BBC Business Breakfast and the Daily Telegraph to motor trade titles and the Birmingham Evening Mail. Here, the launch was seen as something of a novelty, but details of Rover’s impressive sales record in Italy, were still reported across the board. The perfume’s success in Italy can be judged by the fact that the first batch of 2000 bottles was snapped up in just two days.

Undoubtedly this was largely the result of Pistola securing the ultra-chic Loren to front the product. However, it seemed that the company had a long haul before the product would be acceptable to the UK market. The Times motoring editor, Kevin Eason said that while the Italian media saw the perfume launch as perfectly acceptable, he was not sure the necessary leap in Rover’s image could be made in the UK.

Rover Essenziale article


  1. After studying Political science at university, Salvatore Pistola began his automotive career with Fiat in 1970. He then worked for General Motors Italia as Director of Commercial Vehicles, Director of Marketing and a Menber of the Advisory Board over a 20 year period. From 1993 to 2000 he was the President of Rover Italia and on the Advisory Board at BMW Italia following BMW’s purchase of Rover Group. From 2000 to 2006 he was President of Land Rover Italia. Also in 1998 Salvatore Pistola became  President of U.N.R.A.E. – L’Associazione delle case automobilistiche estere (Italian Association of Foreign Car Manufacturers.)
  2. *Italian text: ‘Classe, prestigio, tradizione, eleganza. I valori e lo stile che sempre contraddisinguono il marchio Rover sono diventati un profumo: ‘Essenziale’. Un profumo unisex, che rispecchia fedelmente la vitalita e lo spirito innovatore di Rover. Una fragranza agrumata, leggermente speziata, dalla personalita ben distinta: chi sceglie Rover la ricerca in tutte le cose.
  3. Source: PR Week UK, Thursday, 23 January 1997
  4. Essenziale Pictures – Christian Lamb (July 2012)
Keith Adams


  1. hai karate! anyone remember that concentrated piss in a bottle? used to see tramps on woodpecker corner get steaming on this.

  2. @Chris Baglin

    “Does it have the sweet smell of leaking coolant?”
    It certainly should have done! The bottle should have been shaped like a bottle of coolant. Alternatively, the bottle could have held two perfumes, one coolant fragranced, one oil fragranced. These could mix to create the true Eau de K-Series…

    Interesting to know the high regard in which Rover was held in Italy. The MG Z range should have gone done a storm then with the Italian love for sporty cars.

  3. @didierz65

    “Does it emulsify to create the perfect beauty mask?”

    Several times when least expected, especially in the large 1.8 litre bottle.

  4. If it smells ‘owt like the hum that Keith and I smelt after removing the valve cover on his 75 the other week… I’ll stick to me Blue Stratos!

  5. I’ve had Ferrari “after shave” and a Jaguar official “after shave” a few years ago. Given as Xmas presents.

  6. I actually bought one of these perfume bottles (albeit an empty one) several years ago. I must admit that it is a very attractive item that takes pride of place in the display cabinet. That said, I would still love to buy a mint boxed example.

    @ Christian Lamb:

    Thank you for providing some additional information over and beyond the initial feature that appeared in the Daily Telegraph’s motoring supplement all those years ago, which I still have a copy of.

  7. David 3500 – just spotted an unopened bottle on ebay – item 190733187291. No connection with seller etc. – I found the listing on ebay, Googled it (as I’d never heard of it) and found this page. If you’re still after a bottle I hope you get it.

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