Opinion : Rover 75 shown to the world – and torpedoed

Keith Adams recalls the ill-fated Rover 75 launch, held 25 years ago this week at the NEC in Birmingham…

Twenty-five years ago this week, Rover unveiled the Rover 75 to the world’s press at the NEC Motor Show in Birmingham. It was wheeled out months early to show that BMW’s tenureship of the company was about to bear fruit – but, more than that, it was the perfect spoiler for the international unveil of the Jaguar S-Type, which was also retro-styled – albeit somewhat less successfully.

It should have been a magnificent moment in the company’s history. And in many ways it was. The press loved the way the 75 looked, even Jeremy Clarkson (above). Here, it seemed, was a new car that could replace the 600/800 in a single stroke, and take on the best of the European opposition. Except that BMW’s CEO, Bernd Pischetsrieder, had other ideas. He wanted to make a statement about the future of Rover in the UK.

He was in no mood to woo the world’s press at the unveiling – he was still smarting from the effects of the Pound’s strength in relation to the Deutschmark, and its affect on the overall profitability of BMW’s investment in the UK. Also, he disliked the UK Government’s procrastination over the state subsidy that BMW had asked for to aid for the renovation of Longbridge.

Pischetsrieder’s Rover 75-shaped torpedo

As with all new model launches, a press conference had been planned – to be led by Pischetsrieder – to announce the new model. It was scheduled for 4.00pm, but this time came and went, while the BMW CEO and Rover’s BMW-appointed Chairman, Walter Hasselkus, sat together in deep discussion. Obviously, this was going to be no ordinary press launch.

At 4.30pm, Pischetsrieder finally stood up and addressed the assembled journalists. He pulled no punches – essentially, Rover was mired in a deep crisis and drastic action would be needed to safeguard production at Longbridge. ‘Short-term actions are required for the long-term future of the Rover Group,’ he said. ‘Talks are taking place with the British Government about the problem.’

It was a stark announcement to make – and, if nothing else, it completely undermined all the good work achieved by the Engineers, Designers and other workers in the Midlands, by overshadowing the launch of the car and highlighting the troubles of Rover. Autocar’s Steve Cropley summed up the feelings of the assembled press perfectly: ‘…we were all a bit stunned, both by the content and timing of what Bernd Pischetsrieder said.’

What the press thought of Pischetsrieder

He went on: ‘We had all been feeling pretty enthusiastic about the 75 and the unveiling had gone well. Huge crowds, lots of applause. And the car did, quite genuinely, look very pretty and right for the job. Unlike some BL/BLMC/AR creations of the past, it had absolutely nothing to apologise for.

‘So it seemed bizarre, even grotesque, that the company’s top man should choose to undermine the moment so thoroughly. He deflected the media from praising the car the way they would naturally have done, deflated the workforce, who must have been on a high, and introduced a degree of buyer uncertainty that could have been avoided.’

And from that moment on, the future of the 75 – once so bright – was sealed in failure. Why would anyone buy a car from a company that was very likely to close? Why indeed?

Six months on, and London launch puts on a brave face

In June 1999, the production version of the 75 to the press in an expansive and ambitious event at Tower Bridge in London. Eight months on from the NEC disaster, and had the overblown launch event starring scores of the cars, several with tuned horns to play along with a Dave Stewart rock opera played by the London Philharmonic orchestra, and violinist Vanessa Mae. In all, a strange and wonderful launch for a non-conformist retro/modern motor.

The problem was that, in reality, the Rover 75 was already doomed, even if it had been awarded What Car? Car of the Year 1999. For those with shorter memories, compare its arrival on the market with that of the final Saab 9-5 – here was a make or break product, full of hope and potential, but who’s maker was already in the beginnings of its last death throes. The Independent on the day was realistic in its coverage.

It surmised that Rover would struggle to make money on it. ‘Making a success of the 75 will be a tall order. And if Rover does pull it off, then it will have to repeat the trick twice over with the next new models due off the production line – a new Mini due out at the end of next year and the replacement for the Rover 200/400 series, the R35, which is expected in 2002.’

The end comes quickly…

The late Professor Garel Rhys said in the ‘paper: ‘There are plenty of BMW shareholders who wanted to see Rover Cars disposed off and they will become more vociferous if the 75 fails to deliver. In that case, a sale to General Motors or Volkswagen is something that BMW would have to look at very seriously.’

Autocar‘s Hilton Holloway (who was then at CAR) was far more realistic – and on the money. ‘Unless there is a sudden leap in sales, I would be very, very worried. And if things don’t start to happen by February or March next year, I think they’re going to be seriously panicking.’ He was right – and, in May 2000, the company was sold to the Phoenix Consortium.

It remains a shame that the 75 was the innocent victim of this collapse of a carmaker. After all, it was blessed with superb ride and handling, and, in V6 form, was a fast, smooth and appealing executive car. The weaker K-Series models were due to replaced by BMW-engineered NG-Series power units, which were due to come online in 2002 (had BMW and Rover not been divorced), and no doubt, it would have lived to about 2006 after a productive life. Ah, well…

Enjoy this video of that day.


Keith Adams


  1. I was at the NEC Motorshow, there was a big crowd around the new Jag but many just looked then walked by the new Rover, I even asked for a Brochure with a stunned Guy on reception and if I may was probably the nicest person at an event to give me the Launch Bumf, I think He could tell I wasn’t a customer, but was just so pleased anyone had shown an interest…

    However I hadn’t realised that BMW had given their “English Patient” The Death Warrant… All rather Sad Really.

  2. I remember the launch on TV News at London in June 99. Actually I was working there on a job at the time – but not at Tower Bridge. If I recall, the Beeb interviewed a Doctor who had bought one. Hard to think it happened 14 years ago!

  3. “In that case a sale to General Motors or Volkswagen is something that BMW would have to look at very seriously.”

    GM were having issues with their own premium brand Saab, asking them to use GM platforms which the Swedes usually re-engineered at huge cost.
    Nice analogy between the 75 and 9-5 btw, always thought the platform name of ‘Phoenix’ a little ironic….

    VW also have too many brands, though Rover may have ended up as a partner brand to Skoda, Skoda focusing on the likes of the Fabia / true budget end, the Octavia and Superb ending up being Rovers. The grille is quite close…

    A range of the Mini, 25/45 and 75 might have been interesting, though going into a Mini showroom, it looks closer to a nightclub or trendy clothes shop than a traditional car showroom.
    That is part of the ‘cool’ appeal that may not have rubbed off onto the larger cars (though it would’ve given a logical upgrade path rather than Hatchback -> Countryman -> 3 series)…

    As an aside, my other half overtook a Rover 75 on the motorway, and commented on ‘Arthur daley lookalike in his jaaaaag’, which is a bit of a reverse compliment to the car.

  4. I too was at the NEC that year, and Rover’s stand was a scrum round the 75, just meerly busy at Jagwahr – I seem to recall Jagwahr was having its wish washy colour palate period though.

    • My memory of that show was Jaguar allowing a fixed number of people on to its stand so after 15 minutes I got to see and sit in the S-type, Rover wasn’t letting the public near the cars with viewing from behind a barrier. From memory it was a weekend and the NEC was rammed.

      I later got to drive a top line V6 auto press demo around NZ for two weeks and it was superb. Drew admirers any where it was parked. But it wasn’t selling, as BMW’s then sales chief lamented to me. Shame. A jolly good car torpedoed at birth, as you say.

  5. I was there as well in 98. Just over a year later picked up a brand new Midnight blue 75 1.8 Club. Tax Free it was £7000 cheaper than the UK list price. A quick check on DVLA revealed it was still taxed until January this year. Anybody here own or know anything about V399 OKO?

  6. I was lucky enough to be travelling abroad during 1998-99 and so rushed to a newsagent in Hong Kong to find out which new arrival (Jag or Rover) looked like a winner. The S-Type, with it’s slab sides and toilet seat grille looked hideous, and still does come to that. The Rover 75 oozed class, combining retro charm with modern appeal. That interior still looks the business and those seats, particularly in leather were amazing. Hard to imagine then what has happened in the years since. Tears to a glass eye etc etc….

    • That was a true guide to how good the Rover 75 was. In Europe, despite having about half the dealers of Jaguar, the Rover outsold the Jaguar S-Type from the start, despite not being ‘executive class RWD’ like BMW and Mercedes Benz.
      It was, and is, the better car to drive as well as look at.
      In that one misguided speech, Bernd Pischetsrieder,(incidentally a first cousin once removed of Sir Alec Issigonis.), did more damage to Rover than all the strikes of all it’s divisions in history.

  7. Gosh, that video brings back memories. I was at Uni when the 75 was launched and I remember reading all the reports of Rover’s financial woes and thinking that they were just press sensationalism.

    Needless to say, all these years later I think differently about it. Such a sad story.

  8. I actually attended the Press Day of the 1998 British Motor Show and saw the 75 as it was unveiled. The interest in it was incredible and I remember spending what seemed like three very long minutes sat in the driver’s seat of one of the two examples finished in Wedgewood Blue. It really did spark off optimism in the product and what we could expect to see, now that Rover was no longer constrained by licensing agreements or ageing designs they could not afford to replace.

    I remember asking two specific questions: 1) how much will the range cost from? And, secondly, will there be a performance-derived Vitesse variant to follow? The gentleman I spoke to (a Mr Towers; although obviously not THAT one!) could not confirm anything about prices or sales delivery at the point, and would not be drawn on the availability of a Vitesse variant in the future.

    I never got to sit in the Jaguar S Type as the one I saw was suspended from the roof on a tilted platform. Not that it mattered that much, as the Rover’s styling, aire of confidence and feeling of quality had already won me over.

    I must buy one one day!

  9. In many ways the exchange rate did for Rover although BMW said their productivity was not good enough! Rover was losing money. If the Rover 75 had been sold through BMW dealers and the rest of the range (apart from MGf) abandoned then it may have worked with Mini coming alone in 2001. At launch price point with USA sales through BMW and then BMW new engines it would have worked – I am sure the styling was correct and that interior… fantastic car but spoiled by association with Rover 200/400.

  10. I still think B** messed up getting rid of the MG Rover marque, without Rover they are having to use their own badge on an ever downmarket range of vehicles, their CAT MPV due soon could seriously destroy it’s image.

  11. @10 Not sure if you read the Book Rover end of the Road?, It is written that the Exchange rate was indeed Killing Rover, However at the same time BMW were making Millions! Before I read the book I was under the impression The Bavarians were scared that Rover were getting too close for comfort i.e

    BMW 3 series Rover 400 series

    BMW 5 series Rover 600 series

    BMW 7 series Rover 800 series

    And then set out to undermine the range to distance it from themselves i.e. 25,45,75. We all know that the Rover range was in a different Market to BM, but you have to remember there are fewer petrol heads than buyers who just want something that looks OK and when looking at the equipment and price lists, on paper at least Rover I’m sure would of won (in theory?) with the possibility some potential would be BMW buyer’s would have jumped ships (just my daft opinion of course). And of course the Jewels in the Crown Land/Range Rover.

    However that book does fill in the missing gaps, It is one of Doom and Gloom but BMW does come out of it slightly better before I read it.

  12. Interesting to see the Jaguar-versus-Rover rivalry at play. With better management on both sides, they could have become the BMW and Mercedes-Benz of the UK. That attempt to show up the S-Type calls to mind the legendary Ford and GM rivalry, such as at the recent Detroit Motor Show, when Ford created a makeshift concept truck solely to rain on the parade of GM’s new K2XX pickups.

    Perhaps if it had been properly sorted for the North American market, the Rover 75 could have become a formidable rival to its second cousin (twice removed), the Acura TL. I don’t know if the KV6 engine was up to that task, though.

    @11 – I always thought BMW missed a trick by disposing of so many brands in the 2000 divestment. Just looking at how similar to the 1960s ADO16, ADO17 and Maxi the Countryman/Paceman duo appear, it strikes me that BMW could have retained the Austin brand and sold the Mini under it, perhaps alongside an R30-based Austin. The Countryman might not have suffered all the press ridicule it did for being “not-so-Mini” in that scenario.

    Really surprising that they failed to see any reason to keep the Austin brand, if only to prevent another owner doing something stupid with it and tarnishing Mini by association (eg. Phoenix’s mismanaged of Rover versus Land Rover).

  13. Under BAE Rover made consistent (and growing) profits, as soon as B** bought the company they made constant (and ever growing!) losses.
    It was the German firms complete ineptitude in running Rover that was at fault.

    • I respectfully disagree. BAe made growing profits with Rover because they weren’t investing properly in new models and the next generation of platforms and engines, they were gifted the company at a fraction of its value by the government as compensation for lost military contracts and had no interest in making a success of Rover beyond rebadging Hondas and selling it all off at a profit to another carmaker. BMW on the other hand invested massively in new models like 75, MINI, Range Rover and the underlying technology that underpinned them. I don’t think there was much BMW could have done to save the Rover brand the damage had been done years earlier

  14. I was a Facilities Manager responsible for company cars and advanced driving for all staff at the time of the 75 release. We had a list of possibles that included Volvo, Saab, Rover, Jaguar, Mercedes and Vauxhall. Almost all our guys wanted the new Jag – until they drove it. Everyone complained about road noise, hard seats and a hard ride. I think I’m right in saying that almost all the would be Jag owners chose the Rover once they had driven them both. I think the rest chose the ageing Volvo 240 series simply because they had had one before – or the Omega. We certainly never did have a Jag on the fleet and a few guys bought their 75’s from the lease company – rotten deal financially but they just wanted to keep their cars!
    As for servicing and costs – they were better financially than everything else except the Volvo – the half a dozen Mercs we had were a complete nightmare! We had around 100 cars in total.

  15. @12 – I very much doubt BMW lost a wink of sleep over the 400 of all things stealing sales from its soon to be launched E46 3 series in 98! I remember the 75 launch night at my local dealer. An old cyclops Rover on display, a string quartet playing in the corner of the showroom and a Primrose Yellow 75 amongst the new cars on display.

  16. @16, the 400 as mentioned was in a different Market, However Rover were on the rise at the time of take over “Hence another reason for the purchase” and again as mentioned The vast majority of Buyers don’t really care if their car has outstanding this or that ! so long as its is Ok in most departments, If Rover had progressed at the same rate it had done then BMW (I’m guessing) probably would have started to get uncomfortable, The 600 got close to the 3 series (certainly in the car park at least) and to many that’s all that counts.

  17. I worked at a dealership in Aug 1998 and Rover was properly goosed. The 800 was a joke and the range of K-series engines was proving to be a disaster. BMW should have launched 75 sooner and with their own engines. Oh, and it should have been substantially cheaper.

  18. People need to understand a few things about BMW’s relationship with Rover:

    BMW’s interest was primarily in aquiring the Mini name, and a (relatively) low cost manufacturing site. They was because they wanted to expand sales into a new niche, without risking damage to the BMW brand.

    BMW was appaled at the massive losses being sustained by the Rover Group, especially Land Rover. The warranty costs were massive. Far from being the ‘jewel in the crown’, Land Rover’s warranty was running in excess of £300 million. Large markets were effectivly closed to Land Rover because their products were so poor.

    BMW’s choice of Cowley over Longbridge was due to better end-of-line build quality, and a more compliant workforce.

    • Errr… No. BMW wanted volume to be a world player and their strategic aim was to develop Rover in the Audi mould – complementary to their brand rather than competitive. But they let Rover carry on as before for too long. Land Rover warranty costs were enormous but it generated cash. It was outselling Rover by the time of the sell-off.

        • Err.. No – so was I and later had the benefit of interviewing a senior BMW executive who revealed the company’s strategy for Rover Group. If they wanted anything, it was Land Rover. Mini didn’t carry enough brand equity to make it worth buying Rover. They changed the concept and the name (to MINI) anyway…

    • BMW never wanted ‘Rover’, they wanted ‘Austin/Morris/MG’or the old BMC volume side of BLMC, which had tried to move upmarket by using the brand cachet of the well regarded Rover name

    • Indeed, before the purchase of Rover for a mere £120M BMW made three three box saloons and had nothing in many emerging markets, analysts quite rightly had a downer on BMW and Ford were sniffing around with takeover in the air – taking over Rover put all that to bed killing off any hostile takeover in a stroke. The Rover group made a car in practically every sector.

      BMW saddled Rover with huge debt to build lots of new plant and then bleated on about the cash Rover were haemorrhaging (the relentless “Englsh Patient” story (a bit like project fear for Brexit.) was used build up a plausible back-story before dumping the company), there wasn’t enough cash to fix the K-Series (which Riccardo engineering fixed for peanuts for SAIC) because BMW didn’t WANT it fixed – they wanted another excuse to dump Rover, all those enormous Rover write-downs became BMW plant when what’s left of Rover was handed over to the Phoenix chancers – An in development mid-sized platform disappeared altogether (I suspect it became BMW 1 series, MINI MK2). Previously Land Rover had been sold for $3.8 BILLION (BILLION!) and MG-Rover emerged from the BMW debacle making three volume cars – two of which were well past their sell-by date – and a signed declaration that they wouldn’t develop an SUV (Part of the deal when they sold Land Rover) – and having to pay through the nose for their own engines they designed themselves along with any marked up BMW parts used.

      There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind BMW just wanted MINI and to split the cost of developing the X-Series stuff – they asset-stripped Rover leaving an empty shell with no chance of a future. The Rover deal left BMW in a healthy state with lots of new production facilities built at Rover’s cost with shiny new SUV and FWD/hatchback products. IMHO What they did was calculated and criminal – I’ll never buy a BMW product as long as I live – and nor should any other patriotic Brit.

  19. Good article. I was only 11 at this time but I remember having the What Car? edition with pre-launch S reg Wedgewood blue 75 and maroon S-Type. A gentleman up the road who was a school headmaster had the first one I saw in this area very soon after launch, a Wedgewood blue Club SE. I thought it looked great at the time in that colour with the Union alloys.

    • The X5 was a re-working of the 5-Series 4×4 Tourer and owed nothing to the then current Range Rover (except it was nearly the same size). The third generation of the Range Rover was a different matter however.. R30 was configured as either transverse (Rover) or inline (BMW). The BMW version was to be built at Cowley as revealed by questions in the House at the time of the Rover sell-off…

  20. @ Kev:

    “BMW was appaled at the massive losses being sustained by the Rover Group, especially Land Rover.”

    One of the key things to remember here is that BMW Group was judging Rover Group’s finances by its own accounting standards, which do not amortise investment over the same period as here in the UK. In 1998 no wonder the Rover Group was making a loss, as they had unveiled the new Series 2 Land Rover Discovery and of course the R40 Rover 75. BMW’s accounting procedure expected investment to be paid back through sales within twelve months, not three years.

    I am glad you brought up the subject of Land Rover’s warranty claims as this was more of a financial burden than falling sales within the Cars division.

  21. The trouble was BMW were sure what they did not want Rover to be, ie. a BMW, but they never were able to work out what they wanted a Rover to be.

    VW – Skoda

    BMW – Rover

    compare and contrast !

  22. IF… (and this is dangerous territory) BMW kept Rover in tact and then went on with introducing the new MINI, and kept investing in a 400 succesor… Rover would probably have become a succesful company for BMW…

    But they didn’t…

    • I’m sure BMW had access to the amount of money they were asking from the Government from, to put it vaguely, somewhere in Germany. It’s just that persuading folk over there to part with cash for something that wasn’t a BMW was too much to expect.
      A shame really as one only had to look at the MINI to see that it wasn’t exactly going to go down like a lead balloon. The monies required would probably been recouped in profit by the time the next model, the Rover 35, had come on line. Having seen the doomed prototype, this car showed distinct promise too.
      With hindsight, considering the potential Rover range & the fact that Land Rover niggles have been sorted. Rover would have been BMW’s answer to Volkswagen i.e not quite as prestigious as Audi but still a cut above Ford & Vauxhall/Opel.

  23. I don’t care what they say…..mike Rutherford had lovely hair then , he has lovely hair now

  24. It was effectively BMW shareholders and the Quandt family that pulled the plug on Rover,and its no use keep blaming the Rover men,BMW owned the outfit and would have done the due diligence not just waltzed in,couple that with the huge investment the Longbridge estate required,losses and pension liability its no wonder they flogged it to P4 for a tenner, with the £1Billion in assets,car stockpile and a bit of cash, taking Mini and CAD/CAM data they considered themselves getting off lightly.

  25. I saw the new 75 at the NEC, and wanted one straightaway, but couldn’t afford one for many years. Even when our company introduced a cash car allowance I still couldn’t afford one, so bought a used Mazda Xedos 9 which turned out to be the most reliable car I ever had, but totally anonymous.
    Then, at last, in 2007 with Rover dead for four years, used 75s were seriously cheap, so I bought a 75 Club SE 2.5 litre Auto for £4500, on around 40k miles. This turned out to be the best car I think I have EVER owned. It was a real beauty. I took it to France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy and it rolled off the miles superbly including a very fast run on an Italian autostrada one Sunday morning on the way home. Anyway, getting on a bit, I fancied one of the aluminium Jaguar saloons, so in 2010, sold it and bought an XJ6 3 litre. This is a superb car, but even so, I still love that Rover, in fact when I bought the Jaguar I tried to see if I could keep the Rover as well, but had no room for it, so it went to a good owner for £1600 in immaculate nick. Lucky man !!

  26. Hi Keith,
    I know I only converted my VHS copy to digital and loaded it up to youtube but it is good to see this video being shared on a site I visit regularly. Keep up the good work.

  27. Had BMW really done its homework when it acquired Rover back in 1994? Had it realistically estimated the time required for Rover to achieve financial strength, independence?
    In the R8 era, Rover had turned round amazingly in terms of image & quality. However, it was still hardly strong in terms of financial resource. Having injected the funds Rover so badly needed to fund new models BMW then decided to pull out before reaping any of the rewards. Had BMW under estimated the time & funds required to sort Rover. Did BMW act too hastily in acquiring Rover, fearful of being swallowed up themselves?

  28. What the B** board simply failed to grasp was under the faded veneer, the long years of nationalisation and playing second fiddle to Honda, Rover engineers were some of the best in the world at producing first rate front wheel drive cars and pushing new ideas.
    Even today models like the Sandero Stepway can trace their genesis back to MGR products like the Streetwise, with much of JLRs resurgence being down to scores of ex-MGR engineers who have joined the company.
    Let us not forget either B** sold Rovers design base to Ford when they flogged Land Rover as well.

  29. I dont think BMW got where they are today or any other German corporation for that matter blithely buying a company and hoping/gambling for the best.

    Just reading Rover-end of the line shows some insight into this,some of the key players at BMW really wanted this venture to succeed,but they was up against the board and major shareholders. A billion isnt even breakfast at Ford or GM, thats what they fork out on one model alone.

    Whoever is the villian in an heartbreaking saga such as this,it was a slow motion disaster with its antecedance in the BMC/BLMC mergers.

    Probably Rovers best ever chance was when when BAE was at the helm,with truly superb cars with refinement no one could believe till they drove one. But greed and again shareholder interests (normally banks etc) and wet dream projects ruined any chance of this company going from strength to strength.Look what happened to Ferranti,GEC Marconi and ICI.

    I think we should exercise caution when traducing what SAIC is doing with MG, maybe they are appreciated more in China.

  30. There were a whole series of probably deliberate errors made by BMW. Firstly not exporting the MGF to the USA and secondly threatening to pull the plug on a brand new car. Sorry to say they were and are a bunch of tossers whose main claim to fame is the triumph of marketing over substance.

    • The MGf was never remotely good enough for the US – its main structure was two Metro sub frames welded together. You are right in them making a huge error in thinking that bullying the government of the day into giving them money for Longbridge was ever going to work…

  31. 17:”Under BAE Rover made consistent (and growing) profits, as soon as B** bought the company they made constant (and ever growing!) losses.
    It was the German firms complete ineptitude in running Rover that was at fault.”

    Nope, it wasn’t just BMW. BAE may have made profits, but they did it in a very British way that killed the company. BAE invested as little as they could get away, very typical British ownership. They also devalued the Rover brand by slapping it on down market models like the Rover 200.

    Rover only survived by using Honda platforms, and the K-series required government money to get off the ground.

    So BMW got a hollowed out company, reliant on Honda tech, making overpriced products, being sold to an aging customer base.

    Oh BMW made mistakes, making the 75 soft and retro was stupid. The market wasn’t interested in that sort of car. More worried about protecting BMWs product line up, than Rover. However Rover was in trouble before BMW came along.

  32. @bartelbe:

    “Nope, it wasn’t just BMW. BAE may have made profits, but they did it in a very British way that killed the company. BAE invested as little as they could get away, very typical British ownership. They also devalued the Rover brand by slapping it on down market models like the Rover 200.

    Rover only survived by using Honda platforms, and the K-series required government money to get off the ground.”

    Very good points here which reinforce the continuation of previous research into the economic and social history issues that lead to our decline in car manufacturing. In other words, shareholders interested in quick returns and not being in it for the long-haul, let alone willing to give up part of their dividend to enable sufficient investment in a long term strategy whereby the company was sustainble and the product had a competitive life cycle.

    British Aerospace shareholders and the management were no different, with the sale of Rover Group assets not being invested back into Rover Group itself or new products. By the early 1990s, Rover Group was making profits, although they were not sufficient to enable the company to develop all-new models unaided or on a regular basis. New products had to be developed on a shoestring budget, either making extensive use of existing technology or being hampered by restrictive licensing agreements. Add in to this the growing needs of Land Rover for new models and more freqent updates to existing ones, and Rover Group was in a very vulnerable position. It would take signifcant investment, at least ten years of continuous development in changing the product range and production facilities to achieve, and by a very committed owner in it for the long haul.

  33. I was there – the 75 was head and shoulders better than the S-Type. I seem to remember it being the year that Clarkson caused some controversy over Korean car designers and eating dogs

  34. Simon – your right. As I said earlier the 75 was popular with our staff and the ‘soft’ aspect was so welcome after ever increasing hard options – the Merc of the day to boot. There is a tendency to look back and judge by what the public considered trendy by today’s standards. Back in the 75 days – nostalgia sold whether it was a rough riding noisy Jag or a luxuriously trimmed, leather-clad and very quiet Rover.
    I really do wonder about the agenda and motives of those who kick 7 bells out of a very good car just because it was a Rover. But then again, I’m a guilty of the same thing. I honestly believe that Audis are very good cars – but I hate them and wouldn’t have one as a gift! Shot me self in the foot yet again methinks! Tax’s me brain all this balanced thinking!

  35. Just saw a used 04 reg facelift R75 on the pavement today, priced at £995. The bodywork looked immaculate (obviously not sure about mechanicals). Just goes to show how depreciation has taken its toll on these cars.

  36. #34. Absolutely nothing happened to ICI . It was profitable to the end and was taken over by Akzo, rather to my regret as I was a substantial shareholder, didn’t need the cash, and enjoyed the good yield of dividends

  37. @43,So that would be Dutch ownership then? ICI was known as the bellweather of the British economy once upon a time,chemicals contributing some £40+ million a day if my memory serves me correctly.

  38. My sister has a Rover 45 diesel, which for all it is a bit tatty and might have to do soon as parts are getting expensive and rare, still looks a lot classier than a BMW 3 series from the same era, which is just black plastic everywhere. Also did I read in 1999 that some motoring writers considered the 75 to be a far better car than the new 5 series and BMW were furious?

  39. @40 I’m with you on Audi. The ’83 100, the ’89 80/90, the A2 and the ’96 A6 are the high points. the current A4 is the Cortina for the noughties. I could have had a fully loaded one as a company car, but couldn’t bear the thought of driving something that is usually lodged up my arse on the Mway. The A3 is a particularly lazy car, usually driven badly. Almost all Audis these days are company car black- so being to avoid paying out for the optional metallic paint – which pushes the tax up. I’m not exactly free from company car cliche – I drive a 3-series coupe, but at least I specced metallic paint, and a red leather interior! (Be nice, I got rid of my Alfa 156, which I adored, for ze German car!)

  40. @Simon H

    The 3 series is the modern day RWD Cortina. The A4 being the modern day FWD Cavalier.

    The Capri sits somewhere between the A5 and your coupe.

    Almost all A4s you see have huge ‘Fleet hire’ dealer stickers / numberplate dealer marks.

    Not my cup of tea. I was in an A3 recently and found it very drab and cramped, less headroom than my old ZX had! The seats are like a church pew, and for the price of the things you’d imagine a nice satnav system, not a 1980s Amstrad Hifi style red LED CD player.

    They were once the German Citroen, being a bit different with aerodynamic saloon shapes, 4×4 rally cars etc. until VW realised they had a cash cow with the TT and pushed the brand up the price list, trendy types rejoiced.

    I always use the Audi-Apple analogy, Apple computer was once a leftfield choice for academics and hardcore fans, with the iMac/iPod onwards they became trendy, started pushing prices up, and are now the machine of choice for ‘new media’ types.

  41. A very nice comparison with the launch of the Rover 75 and the last Saab 9-5.

    Will M – The expectation GM had with Saab was that the Swedes would effectively just re-body existing group platforms, but I’d honestly ask if the GM2900, Epsilon and Epsilon 2 platforms were really the best starting points for premium car development. Saab’s engineers did a fantastic job with the less than class competitive platforms they were provided with.

  42. About five years ago Vauxhall launched the Insignia on that same site as Rover did with the 75 but without the big scale of rows of cars and a full Philharmonic orchestra. They did a mock UFO crash scene and the car dropping out of the UFO style capsule when a crane lifts it high above the crowd.

    Looking back at the Rover 75 launch it reminded me of new labours first years in power and hype of we are all cool Britannia also to give the 75 a boost Tony Bair stepped out of one in front of No 10. For violinist Vanessa Mae she looks a bit uncomfortable of the roof of one.

  43. @46 Simon
    My deepest commiserations – I could hardly believe what I was reading. You actually lost your beloved Alfa and had to downgrade to a 3 Series BM thingy. I think that with all the benefit fiddling and mis-use of government (our) money you deserve trauma counselling on the NHS and you would be rightfully entitled.
    On the up side, you can presumably go back to an Alfa at a later date but in the meantime, keep watching that Dangle thingy, you never know it might get prettier one day.
    (No it won’t – it’s German – added by Mrs Wolseley Man)

  44. @48, I cant see how the Epsilon 2 platform is not a success,used on over half of GM’s cars worldwide,developed at Opel.Far more of a success here than the Mondeo/Mazda 6 platform in any case.

  45. @51, I know what you mean about the Mondeo/Mazda 6 platform, Ford handed it to Volvo who stretched it for the V70 and S80 and neither of those seem to have really grabbed the perceived sales that the old 740/760 did here.

    Epsilon 2 is better than the original Epsilon, but there’s something about the Insignia I’m just not keen on. There again, I’m a Saab fan, so that might explain things!

  46. @52,I rue the day we lost SAAB,the very last 9-5 was nothing short of stunning in my eyes,Insignia in drag or not! Which to be honest is one of my favourite cars!

  47. I had planned to change our 04 plate facelifted 75 CDTi Tourer with 151k miles for a smaller motor cheaper to run and tax. But, when it came to it, just couldn’t part with it. There’s simply nothing out there that we like. I just won’t conform and buy an over rated Das Dull Auto from VW/Audi/BM*, Seat fills me with dread and a Skoda is a slightly less overpriced but still exceedingly dull V dub. I just can’t get excited about Vauxhall’s rebadged Opel range, and Ford is so bland.

    Our 75 has been utterly reliable, spacious, returns 44 average MPG around town, comfortable and nothing touches it for charm. I quite enjoy people knocking it because it’s a Rover, until they look closer and realise, actually it’s quite nice…..and unique. A refreshing alternative to a black inside and out Audi etc.

    I remember James May reviewing it in ’99 and being critical of it’s retro style and gentleman’s club interior. He just didn’t get it, but I do, and I miss that not being on the market now. Please JLR, keep Jag as the forward looking, sporty, German car bashing range, bring back Rover for the retro, cluby, smooth, cosetting leather, walnut and chrome clad barge for wafting around in. Nobody did it better.

    The Rover 75, anything else is just ordinary.

  48. @Timbo:

    I like your sentiments towards the Rover 75 and the Rover marque in general. If I was in the same position as you – owning a Rover 75 – I would be asking exactly the same questions to myself. I’m afraid I have never really warmed to Jaguars (I’m not sure why) and as much as I love Land Rovers, a sports utility vehicle does stil have a distinctly different driving character to a ‘conventional’ saloon or estate.

    My advice to you would be to keep the 75 as it doing what you want it to, without showing any signs of faltering.

    If you are free this Sunday, why not bring it to Coughton Court, near Alcester, for the Rover Sports Register’s 60th anniversary rally?

  49. The R75 attracts a very loyal audience. Unfortunately, it’s not a very large section of the market who wanted something so retro and ‘wafting’, indeed MGR tried to dilute the retro nature of the 75 with their dodgy facelift…

    SAAB are dead, premium French cars effectively non existent, Italy make nothing in that segment, so clearly the German manufacturers are giving the public what they want, as happily JLR are as well.

  50. #43. Nothing happened to ICI? Really? The splitting of the old ICI into “new” ICI and Zeneca in 1993 was really rather stupid. This was purely precipitated by Hanson’s sniffing around ICI mainly due to the vast pension fund that had been built up. The split was engineered to separate the two “jewels in the crown” of ICI, namely Paints (into “new” ICI) and Pharmaceuticals (Zeneca). The other businesses were crudely split between the two as to generate two new businesses with roughly the same share price at separation (if I remember correctly the share price was around £7). The new ICI share price then consistently headed south over the next few years. The decision was then taken to sell of the profitable bulk chemicals and polymers businesses and concentrate on “specialty” chemicals, paying way over the odds for Unilever’s specialties businesses (Unilever must have been laughing themselves silly). AkzoNobel then waded in with a takeover offer which ICI accepted as the management had made such an unholy mess of the business.
    They would have been better off divesting the pharma business only in 93 – just look at BASF to see what ICI could have been (BASF divested their pharma business but kept the core of the business together). Really criminal what happened, similar to GEC (Lord Weinstock must have been turning in his grave over that).

  51. @maestrowoff

    See my earlier blog lamenting the lack of the large French car but advocating Jags as their successors 🙂

    It could be argued that the Chrysler 300 is something of a spiritual successor to big Fiats/Alfas of old…

    And the more I see Volvo S80s the more I think they’re a classy but not overly agressive big saloon.

  52. Hello David 3500, thanks for the invite to the rover event this Sunday. Sadly I can’t make it but hope every one has a good day out there.

    My other car (I use for business) is a face lifted Jag X-Type estate. It’s interesting comparing the two, surprisingly very different characters. The Jag is the more sporty obviously, but somehow the Rover has a 60’s Jag feel about it that you just can’t get elsewhere.

    In my view, the UK’s current taste for aggressive, hard style of big German car will pass and many will look back with sorrow at what was lost with the 75 and what it’s successors could have been. Though the following is only small, people do often say the 75 was in fact a very nice car and still has admirers 15 years later.

  53. Timbo @ 59
    Unfortunately the current trend for aggressive cars will remain until we get rid of the Audi and BMW set who drive them so aggressively.
    Darn it! That’s lost me the last few friends I have!

  54. You still see a lot of 75/ZT’s about, were they really all bad? Ageless styling, it was BMW who put the boot in, raiding the “BINI” and taking Land Rover technology for their own devices… The pesky Munich boys knew what they wanted and shafted the the group when sold off with nothing left in the kitty. MGR should have got back into bed with Honda, but I guess their fingers were burnt back in the 90s…

    • @ Welshy, you’re right BMW only wanted Rover for Mini and Land Rover, the other part of the business was of little interest to them. When they walked out on Rover in 2000, the Phoenix 4 found there was very little money to develop MG Rover and the company fell behind as their cars became old fashioned and they had no money to develop products like crossovers and MPVs. By 2005, the 25 and 45 in particular were very aged designs and Project Drive made them feel cheap and nasty.

      • My R45 was a year 2000 model, still with a good level of trim and refinement. The 2002 onwards Project Drive cars had cheaper Formica style wood dash panels and cream dials, but as Glenn says these versions were inferior. The final 2004 facelift version was a brave attempt to revive the car (by having an all new dashboard) but was an old design by then

  55. The 75 proved itself to be a durable car, vastly more so than the SD1, which was largely extinct by the mid nineties, and the now rare 800. Those that I still see are immaculate and seem to have been well maintained, proving the 75 was a good car.

  56. Have read of future Rovers featuring BMW NG 4/6-cylinders though was the existing Rover 75 planned to make use of at least the 4-cylinder versions to replace the K-Series?

    Also have to wonder whether BMW envisioned future FWD/4WD Rover models adopting turbocharged petrol engines much earlier compared to BMW itself in real-life, since an R30 with a 170-174 hp 2-litre N43 or N45 4-cylinder would have not been able to compete with hot hatches of that period.

  57. Didn’t the BMW board sack him?
    It was one thing owning an English patient but almost killing it off was just too much for them.

    • They did – Reitzle resigned when the union reps on the BMW board vetoed him and he ended up with Ford’s PAG. It is said that Millberg was in the nearest office to the board room and got the job as he was so bland that no-one could object to him…

  58. The Rover 75/ MG ZT might not have been a massive success, but it sold in respectable numbers, diesel models were popular in France and Italy, and most owners liked them. Also, how many 13 year old Rover SD1s would you see, as rust and mechanical failure killed most by their tenth birthday, while I still see many immaculate Rover 75s, some dating back to the start of the last decade. It must prove one thing, the 75 was a much better built car than the SD1 and the 800, which is very rare now.

    • All cars of that era are much better built than the previous generation. Loads of Mk 1 Focuses are still around, Mk4 Golfs and the Astra of the era are also fairly common.

      Scrappage schemes probably did for many late 80s/early 90s cars too

  59. Sad all of the above. But the BMW CEO came to the end of his tenure and that’s too bad because from what I’ve read, the Hydra-gas suspension was supposed to be in the BMW Mini but that changed after Pischetsrieder was given the axe. And it seems he was a distant cousin of Alec Issigonis. The BMW Mini could have been a whole different car with hydragas but we’ll never know.

  60. The one good thing to come out of this was the 75 was hailed as a genuinely good car, even by Rover haters like Jeremy Clarkson. Yes it was retro, but seemed to carry it off so much better than Jaguar’s poor pastiche of a sixties S type that never looked right. The 75 was rightly praised for its beautiful interior, quality fittings, refined drive, good handling and styling and had BMW had not botched up its launch with hints about selling Rover, it could have done better. Maybe there was sour grapes as this car was as good as a 5 series and the 75 was getting more attention.
    Once the Rover ownership crisis was fixed in April 2000, and it seemed Rover had a more secure future, the 75 and MG ZT developed a loyal following to the end. It was a good car and, barring some head gasket issues with the 1.8, never had any of the problems that beset the previous big Rovers.

  61. I think the fact they quoted expected sales figures and pre-orders based only on UK figures perfectly sums up the inward “little Britain” strategy of Rover during the 90s. Other car companies were expanding globally, or at least had established Europe-wide presence, meanwhile Rover were getting excited because they might be able to compete with imported executive cars produced in massive numbers at factories throughout the world.

  62. It is worth considering the central point BMW was making in that speech – though the 75 launch was a very clumsy place to make it.
    The sharp appreciation of sterling against the Deutschmark (a huge leap from 2.3DM to 3.3DM) and other currencies during 1996-1998 wasn’t just some abstract detail.
    It made it nigh-impossible for Rover to export profitably and/or in the required volumes, while sharpening competition on the UK market (because importers had the leeway to discount).
    BMW were essentially pleading with the government to pay more heed to the needs of the UK manufacturing sector in exchange rate policy …
    (To get technical – Gordon Brown had passed interest rate decisions, and inflation targeting to the Bank of England. Inflation was being kept in check by relatively high interest rates – with the downside that sterling was (for exporters) painfully strong. There were other methods to restrict demand (and thus control inflation) that the government could have pursued …. ).

    Rover was perhaps the most exposed major British firm in this scenario … (building price sensitive products, over half for export, with very low off-setting imports of components (unlike the other companies building cars in the UK at the time like Nissan – who were thus cushioned from exchange rate fluctuations)) ….
    If BMW had succeeded in persuading the government to adjust policy, and sterling had softened – it would have benefited the whole UK manufacturing sector, not just them. (and Bernd Pischetsrieder might even be hailed as a hero ) ….
    But they didn’t and their entire business strategy for Rover was under-mined – and (in a nutshell) had to be recast as a (somewhat) smaller-scale outfit building more premium-priced cars (MINI) … which could command a premium price worldwide and thus are less sensitive to the exchange rate…..
    And they have built almost 5 million of them in the UK since 2001, mostly for export, keeping 10,000 employed (directly) at the former Rover Group locations of Cowley and Swindon – and at Hams Hall….

    One can certainly disagree with the manner BMW made their point about exchange rates – but the point was very valid. …. The pound remained (compared to the 1994 value when BMW bought Rover) very high against the DM (& other currencies) through to 2005.
    This of course doomed MG Rover to exactly the fate BMW could envisage for that business – if they had hung on to it …. their exports were feeble in number and unprofitable by comparison with the 1994-97 period (when they were growing healthily and had come to exceed sales on the domestic market by 1998).

  63. The Rover 75 was a lovely car but what it needed was a bit more legroom in the rear seats, the stretched Rover 75 Limousine introduced, perfectly answered this criticism, but remains rare to find because very few people bought them.

    I have been on a lengthy journey in the back of a standard Rover 75, and the legroom comfort is ample, (just about), for two six feet adults, but not as generous for legroom as it should have been.

    I would’ve built all Rover 75’s (saloons and estates), on the extended wheelbase from the start to improve the comfort issue.

  64. I remember the event well. I worked for Jaguar and was on the S-Type launch team at the motor show at the time. Leading up to the event there was friendly banter between the Jag & Rover teams at the show and the 75 did look good. We were just as gobsmacked as the Rover guys when the speech was made. It was a real kick in the mouth for the whole Rover team and about as close to self inflicted industrial espionage as you could get.

  65. IMHO BP’s big mistake was allowing 75 to be developed in the first place.

    Rover should have gone straight in with R30 and pitched themselves as the BMW group centre of small / medium FWD cars. A flexible golf sized platform could have underpinned 2 series, Freelander, 200/400 replacement and put serious volume into the business.
    Instead Rover dropped a billion on a flawed niche product – they had one shot and they blew it.

    Sure BMW were a bit harsh but then they’re the only external party who had put real money into Rover since Ryder ( with a top up from Maggie for the K series). They had better options – like Durban and Spartanburg

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