MGR@10 Month : Keith Adams through the looking glass…

Keith Adams recalls the fateful day, 10 years ago, that MG Rover went into administration.

MG Rover

‘It’s over. They’ve called in the receivers.’

A simple text message from my friend and colleague, Mike Duff… At that moment, it really did feel like my world had collapsed around me. Far from being in Birmingham to share my grief with the workers at Longbridge, I had been strolling around the Techno-Classica motor show in Essen with BMC/Leyland-loving friend and long-time faithful Contributor, Alexander Boucke.

I was there working on a show report for Classic Car Weekly, but the moment that text message came in, I wanted to be near a computer – I wanted to mainline the news coverage, feel closer to the death of the car company I’d felt so close to for so long. I wanted to be among my friends, my community. My mind was not on smiling classic car fans and their highly polished prize cars. No, it was in Birmingham.

I say that because, for much of MG Rover’s life, had been there, relaying events, tracking its past, and putting some sense and perspective to the BMC>Rover soap opera to that point. And since the end of 2003, we’d been tracking and distilling the news for the site’s faithful readership. And because of this, I felt extraordinarily close to the company – perhaps because, through my constant pulse taking, I could feel the patient dying. Even if I was in denial.

My own links with the company formerly known as British Leyland are pretty tenuous, really. I’d worked for BT Centrica as an onsite engineer at Longbridge, Gaydon and Solihull during 1999-’00, and beyond owning a number of its finest products (the pinnacle was either an SD1 at 18-years old, or the Metro 1.3HLS I had at 20 and in which I had brought my new-born son home), my interest was merely as a car enthusiast who’d been following the company’s fortunes for as long as I could remember.

And being a lover of the underdog, I’d been rooting for BL for as long as I can remember, and met each new product launch with the hope and expectation of a six year old opening his presents on Christmas morning. The Maestro and Montego – I rooted for those, and as soon as I could drive, I put a Rattan Beige example of the former, outside my house. The same with the Rover 800 – and that was a little later. But excitement was followed by disappointment, usually.

Until, that is, the launch of the Rover 200/400 in 1989, when Rover finally got it right. The car was a class-leader, and all was right with the world. Until they fluffed its replacement, then the company fell into a 1990s morass under the stewardship of BMW. Not that the Germans were responsible for MG Rover being left where it was on that fateful day 10 years ago. Oh no, there were many more reasons than poorly-judged ownership for the ultimate self-destruction of MG Rover – the Government, management, the product…

On that day, I wanted to blame someone, anyone for the failure of ‘my’ carmaker, though. But I knew that I had to coolly, calmly report the events as they unfolded, and I think that the need to produce the story for the website helped me get through it. As did the support of the community, which eventually rallied together to take part in the first Pride of Longbridge event, the weekend after the closure. That was a heartwarming gesture of support, not defiance.

The real victims of MG Rover’s destruction 10 years ago, though, were the workers of Longbridge and their families. Those who lost their jobs, forced onto the dole, and who, a decade on, have yet to see any form of meaningful compensation. But despite the bad news for Longbridge, the British car industry has recovered and prospered. Jaguar Land Rover, the rump of what’s left of the BL Empire, is worth billions, and is building cars the world wants. And I guess that’s something we should all be very proud of. And the rest of the UK industry is going from strength to strength.

Thinking back to that fateful day still hurts, and I hope you won’t mind me shedding a quiet tear of sorrow today. But tempered with relief that there’s a booming car industry in the vacuum left by the exit of MG Rover. Even if it’s not in Longbridge.

  • If you want a rundown of the month from hell, where better than to relive it on as it recorded it back then. I won some plaudits for my coverage at the time – I wonder, today, whether such an account would be written in such a way, or would it just be a social media stream? Anyway, enjoy…

Here’s how I reported on the devastating day’s events from the relative comfort of
my bolt-hole in Germany, on 8 April 2005.

Longbridge: 100 years of car manufacturing came to an end at 11.00am last Friday, when the Longbridge production line came to a halt. At 10.45am today, the Department of Trade and Industry announced that SAIC would not be returning to the negotiating table, and at 10.52am the end was confirmed: PwC would not be asking for further money from the government, announcing 5000 redundancies.
Longbridge: 100 years of car manufacturing came to an end at 11.00am last Friday, when the Longbridge production line came to a halt. At 10.45am today, the Department of Trade and Industry announced that SAIC would not be returning to the negotiating table and, at 10.52am, the end was confirmed: PwC would not be asking for further money from the Government, announcing 5000 redundancies.

After the longest week of its 100 year history, Rover finally came to an end today, following an announcement by SAIC that it would not be returning to the negotiating table. The news came as a terrible blow, and although it was not unexpected, the swiftness of the announcement follwing the government’s pledge to continue its funding of negotiations with PwC, to the tune of £25m.

When PwC announced to the press it was over, it was described as a terrible day for the company – because SAIC has not come back, PwC would not be going back to the Government for any more money, and this was confirmed an hour later by the DTI, which also added that it would be issuing 5000 redundancy letters over the weekend. The 1000-or-so workers left, were either in the administrative sector of the company, or were line workers retained to build the last of the uncompleted cars in the factory.

Ian Powell, one of the joint administrators said: ‘We have received a copy letter from SAIC early this morning which communicates to the DTI that they are not willing to acquire either the whole or part of the business on a going concern basis. In light of this important development we have concluded that there is no realistic prospect of obtaining sufficient further finance to retain the workforce while the position with other parties is explored. As we indicated earlier in the week significant redundancies will now be effected.’

Tony Lomas, joint administrator and partner, added: ‘We have worked closely with the unions, Government, employees and directors to understand the position and the options for the business. It was apparent that very significant funding would be required to sustain the business as a going concern and that a sale of the complete business would be extremely complex and would take a long time to conclude. In addition to exploring the interests of SAIC we have received a number of other enquiries. In our view, none of these is capable of resulting in a sale of the complete business. During the course of this week we have made every effort to establish SAIC’s intentions. We have had regular contact with SAIC’s advisers and had established direct contact with the company. SAIC has now stated its intentions and unfortunately does not wish to acquire the business.’

Ian Powell continued: ‘We are extremely disappointed that SAIC has decided not to progress discussions to acquire the business. We are very conscious of the impact this news will have on the employees, their families and the businesses dependent on MG Rover Group. Regarding the employees and their families, this is obviously devastating news. There was some hope regards the SAIC situation – and that hope has gone on for a long, long period of time prior to the administration. With their certainty we felt we no alternative but to to take the decisions we have taken and communicate them as quickly as possible to the employees…’

Workers too stunned to go home linger around Q-Gate. One said: ‘Five years ago, we welcomed John Towers with open arms and a glass of champagne – I don’t know what to think of him now.’

John Towers spoke to the press and maintained his strategy had been the correct one: ‘I don’t feel guilty about the process we’ve been through – wind the clock back and I would do exactly the same.’

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown halted election campaigning to go up to Birmingham, and immediately announced that the Government would be providing a £150m support package, which would be used to help redundant workers, and the areas hardest hit by the closure. Tony Blair was appearing on a Radio 2 ‘phone-in when the announcement was made and, when asked by a Longbridge worker, Phillip Hanks, why Labour couldn’t help more, by re-nationalising the company, he said: ‘There’s no point me giving you false hope when I can’t – I can’t, myself, save the company…’

Blair went on to say: ‘We will put together a big package for the employees – and we’re doing everything we can help people, particularly in the short term with regard to paying their bills. Everyone will be getting a personal adviser to help with retraining…’ The Government obviously feels the West Midlands economy is strong enough to absorb the 6000 job losses.

Tony Woodley, the General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, said: ‘This is devastating news – our worst fears have been realised. It is the darkest day – ever – in the history of the British car industry.’

So, without a bail out, and no money, that leaves the factory to be slowly wound down. A sad and desperate end to a long history…

John Towers: ‘We feel absolutely devastated, but our feelings are nothing compared to the thousands of people we employed and their families.’

Keith Adams


  1. Despite still being a child when this happened, I can still remember well the moment I heard this sad notice.
    Despite being a fan of Mercedes for many years, I’ve always liked Rover. In some aspects, it made me remember Mercedes: comfortable and well built cars, with a timeless design.
    But nowadays, I can clearly see there was a difference: in Rover I saw the innovative spirit that was typical in the british car industry, the spirit that made them create the turbine cars or the fantastic K series engine. Above all, was this that made Rover “a class of its own”.
    After all, the Rover break down meant the end of the last independent mass-production british car maker and, for me, also the loss of a part of that spirit. And thats why year after year I admire more Rover.

  2. I remember hearing the news. At the time i was looking and searching to buy my first car (hadnt even got my licence yet). A SD1 with V8..

    When MG R died everyone told me to look for an onther brand to buy….

    In may i bought my 85 targa red vitesse… Still got her. Two years later i bought a 98 nightfire red Tourer as a dailydriver.

    Its a shame the Roverbrand is gone

  3. Don’t consider Rover as completely finished. After all, the Rover brand has gone back to it’s origins- now part of JLR. That gives hope. Think about it, Jaguar’s new models being released right now are more contemporary, less traditional walnut and leather. A definite move away from past in order to compete head on with Audi and BMW, the cars Brits buy right now. Could that be because future plans include a return for Rover for the chrome, walnut and leather market?

    I remember the fateful day only too well. I work in the media. I’ve got lots of media archives covering the event from that day and for months afterwards. Makes painful viewing.

    What failed on that day though was the old BMC at Longbridge. Other parts of the BL empire have succeeded- JLR (original Rover at Solihull and Jag at West Brom etc), MINI (Morris at Cowley) and now MG/Austin/Morris/LDV and a few other marques at Longbridge. Alright, the Longbridge operation is tiny compared to what it was and right now only MG is being used as a brand, but it’s still open… hope! And they have a design team there (to some degree). It’s not the doom it was 10 years ago today.

    • I really don’t believe that the wood-and-leather market exists anymore. You can still specify wood, even on the Jag XE. It’s a minority taste that can be specified on certain cars.

      The Rover name is riding high anyway, on SUV’s. To be honest, the most significant Rover ever was the Starley Rover Safety Bicycle. It was the pattern from which all modern bicycles are made. Rover already changed a hundred years ago from making bicycles to cars. Concentrating on SUV’s rather than saloon cars is a minor shift compared to that.

  4. I remember that day only too well, being a journalist. Most of my colleagues gave me plenty of space that day knowing it would be a raw subject to discuss. And it was.

    There were no tears as I was too stunned by the news. I kept watching the news, video recorder working overtime taping the news, hoping to hear an announcement that someone was prepared to step in and save this company. Even though it was not coming, the hope was still there.

    Admittedly I had been one of those few journalists who had given MG Rover Group a lot of support in my coverage of their products and news releases, as the products were actually far more appealing than the general perception implied. I still have very fond memories of the 75 V8 and fully kitted-out Rover Streetwise I had on loan from the press fleet, with a framed image I took of the 75 V8 still hanging proudly on my wall!

    As I drove into town later on that day in my immaculate MG Maestro, several people came up and admired the car and then said it was a shame about MG Rover Group. I then asked them what they drove and the answers did not include vehicles with a link to the Midlands. I suddenly felt everyone’s efforts at Longbridge had been a waste of time when the buying British public had shown only a tiny amount of sympathy (was it genuine?), had been complimentary about the products but had not actually gone out and bought a modern Rover or MG. What more could MG Rover Group have done to actually get British support behind them once again? Even in the early 1990’s when the product range was fresh and comprehensive, displayed a prestigious badge on the bonnet (or in the chrome grille) and was commanding much praise (and awards) from the motoring press, the British buying public were still not showing their support.

    All I could think of was the loss of 5,000 jobs in the Longbridge community – I had seen the effects on a lesser scale four years previously when Racal shut down a manufacturing facility in a small, economically struggling seaside town in East Devon with the loss of 165 jobs. Many of those MG Rover Group workers only knew the jobs they had been doing, often for most of their working lives. How would they cope and possibly adapt? What alternative employment would be available for them? How would the supply chain manage?

    Deep down I always knew MG Rover Group was walking on a very tight rope in terms of their long term survival, which needed a formal tie-up with another partner. But a rather naive part of me always thought there would be someone ready to step in to keep it on life support until that was achieved. The whole situation brought home the harsh reality that no major industry is considered immortal by this country and those who govern it, especially in the manufacturing sector. Politicians suddenly looked rather self-absorbed and rather toothless in their abilities, in my eyes. Even when would-be or defending MPs came touting for my vote, all of them would avoid making any comment about the situation at Longbridge when asked, or showing any form of sadness about what had happened.

    I, too, have kept all the press cuttings in national and regional newspapers although I have not bothered to read them in more recent times as it will bring back some painful memories of ‘my’ car company and the loss of ‘my’ brand, namely Rover, rather like reading a long obituary for a close relative.

    I still miss what was MG Rover Group, especially the Rover brand and the amazing commitment and enthusiasm of its impressionable workforce. Even now when I walk into new car showrooms just to peruse the latest offerings, I instinctively feel that part of my motoring passion has been lost and I no longer have the same sense of enthusiasm. I love what has happened to the success of Land Rover but even if I was in the position to buy a nearly new Land Rover, it still would not recapture the same spirit or sense of belonging I get whenever I drive something from MG Rover Group or Rover Cars.

    Today, the commitment to always own an MG Rover Group or earlier Rover Group vehicle is as strong as ever. Along with being fastidious about my ‘last to be registered’ turbo-diesel MG ZR Trophy SE, I am also as equally committed to restoring my MG Maestro and one day achieving my dream of buying a Rover and keeping it. For me, the pride is still burning brightly!

    • David, are you going to Pride Of Longbridge this year? Will we have a chance to compare ZRs ?

      • @ Dave Dawson:

        Yes, I am planning to attend Pride of Longbridge with the MG ZR. It is a late registered example finished in Ignition Blue, with 5-doors and a write-up on its history displayed on the front windscreen, along with a ‘More Root Canal Treatment?’ advert for the Trophy models.

  5. Yes it was a sad day, if inevitable, and I’m sure many still feel pain when they think back, but it has to be emphasised that it wasn’t the end of the British Car industry or even what was British Leyland.

    Cowley (and Swindon) are churning out MINIs, with engines coming out of Hams Hall, a facility that would have replaced the Longbridge engine plant if BMW had kept Rover.

    Leyland still produces trucks

    And above JLR are producing world beating products, employing 25,000 in the UK, employing engineers at Gaydon who probably worked on R8 and even the Metro. Solihull (the true home of Rover) is now producing a top class junior exec saloon the XE, a true successor to the Rover/Triumph 2000s (and Rover 600 for that matter and without the Honda bits under the skin).

    Indeed with the expansion of Solihull and Castle Bromwich, the Hams Hall engine plant and the new JLR Wolverhampton engine plant, the midlands car sector is once again looking very healthy!

    • I think you’re quite right about the XE being a worthy successor to the likes of the P6 and the SD1. The main thing I think we’ve lost is a mass market manufacturer producing cleverly packaged small and medium cars. It’s more Austin/Morris that I miss than Rover. A modern day take on the Maxi using MG3 mechanicals and priced to compete with the Dacia Logan would top my new British car wish list.

      • The Nissan Qashqai is probably the nearest you’ll get to what you want…
        A spacious car priced to compete with the Logan would need to be made abroad to make any money

        • They could make it in China – as far as I’m concerned if a car is designed by a British team drawing from a British design heritage then it’s British regardless of where it’s manufactured. A clever, cheap little MPV badged as a Morris Traveller or some such could do well across Europe, IMO.

    • True there is no doubting the success of today’s British car industry. Indeed, parts of BL still exist and are very successful. Somehow though it still feels as if the company has gone. It could, however, be replaced if MG UK becomes a success, a big seller and cars in the mass market are again very evident.

    • “And above JLR are producing world beating products, employing 25,000 in the UK, employing engineers at Gaydon who probably worked on R8 and even the Metro.”

      You’re right, there are still quite a lot of us around at JLR!

      The 80s and early 90s were a great time to work in Rover Group but it only needed one hiccup to throw things badly off-course and that happened with HH-R (Rover 400) – it just wasn’t competitive with Mondeo, which it was priced against. Over-ambitious pricing really hurt R3 (Rover 200) sales, meaning that volumes pretty much halved from R8 to R3/HH-R and Rover Group started haemorrhaging money.

      For many years before then the new products had at best kept the status quo but many hadn’t even managed that. The Honda tie-up produced very good cars but not sufficient profits to guarantee the future.

      BMW couldn’t get their heads round ‘not-quite-premium’ profitability, insisting on similar returns to 3-series on proposed new medium car projects, which meant continued delays and the company needing to continue selling the outdated-by-then R3s and HH-Rs well past their sell-by dates.

    • That article is, to put it kindly, rather superficial. As far as Jaguar is concerned, it ignores completely the fact that its biggest seller in the last 8 years, the XF 6 cylinder diesels, are powered by Peugeot . Co-operative ventures such as this abound everywhere in the ( relatively ) high-tech industries of car manufacture and aeroplane construction, and even in the very high tech aero engine business . The economies of scale come not from building more and more product, but from sharing the major costs of tooling with other manufacturers, and that to a considerable extent JLR have been doing for 2 decades

  6. A very interesting & appropriate article by Keith. The closure of MG Rover was around the same time that I discovered and I was intrigued by the coverage on it.

    One memory that I have, was of Peter Beale doing a live interview for BBC N24 that week, explaining the case for asking the UK Government for a loan to secure the SAIC deal because “other avenues of finance were not available to them at that point”.

    What a shame events unfolded as they did, though it didn’t put me off buying my ZS a year later. I do wish the new MG company success – at least the name and presence lives on.

  7. “…my interest was merely as a car enthusiast who’d been following the company’s fortunes for as long as I could remember.”

    “And being a lover of the underdog, I’d been rooting for BL for as long as I can remember….”

    That pretty much describes me, Keith. I’ve had virtually no involvement working for the motor trade. Also, unlike so many contributors to the site who’ve owned scores of cars, several at once, I have owned only a few. In fact, I have only owned two MGR vehicles. However, once I had total freedom of choice in my car purchase I headed straight to the MGR stable. I’d followed with passion the fortunes of BL since I was just a young lad, the ’79 Marinas probably being the first to really attracting my interest.
    Ten years ago, MGR calling in the receiver was big, big news. I don’t think the closure of any other company would have hit me so hard.
    Today, my support is just as strong. What else for my new car other than an MG3? And my ZR is still lavished with attention – a definite keeper!! Only this afternoon, following 3 or 4 hours cleaning and polishing with POL in mind, I drove along thinking “My, it’s an eye catching car this! What else could I possibly prefer?!”

  8. It was a sad day, but it had been coming for a long time, the departure of BMW, Project Drive, falling market share and continuing reliability issues with the K series, meant it was only a matter of time before Rover collapsed.
    It must be said that what remains of the former British Leyland/ Rover empire is doing extremely well, Mini has been a huge success since 2001, Jaguar Land Rover are producting very desirable cars that people want to buy, and Leyland Trucks are still a success. For all the MG operation at Longbridge is tiny, who knows what the future will bring as sales are increasing and there is a plan to expand the dealer network.

  9. This was such a sad day, but really it had been coming for years, probably 20 or so. For me however the last of the cars I would have bought would have been the SD1, so I was part of the problem. To me cars like the Maestro and Montego had no soul, whilst the 75 even in its MG clothing did not really inspire me.

    Still so sorry for the fantastic people who lost their jobs and for the community. For me Longbridge was the heartbeat of a great city and thats praise from a Geordie who normally thinks Newcadtle is the only city worth talking about!

    I’ve visited a number of times and been in the factory twice, such a shame. Hope those who lost their jobs went on to better things, it would be good to catch up with them on the site.

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