As some of you will know, I was the lucky fellow who took Keith’s Rover SD1 down to Sussex a few weeks ago for the Vintage at Goodwood festival. It was an ace event; really something else. Once I’ve gone through my pictures, I’ll make sure some come on here.
Since Goodwood, I’ve been looking after the Rover while Keith enjoyed his holidays. To be honest, I’ve been a bit reluctant to use it – it is a really nice car and I was paranoid about putting a dent in it or somesuch. Then my daily driver – my trusty 46-year-old Land Rover – threw a brake-related wobbly. Mrs Mills was away working and had taken her Rover 200, the Mini is out of test and the 1952 Landy is in bits. The SD1 was therefore pressed into use for a couple of days.
My commute takes me from my house in deepest Rutland, over the hills into Leicestershire and beyond to the tropical paradise that is Northamptonshire. Quite frankly, I fell in love with the old 3500 – it just felt ‘right’, with a nice feel to everything and a proper gearbox that felt like you are connected directly to the ‘box’s internals. It wasn’t even that bad on fuel. Why haven’t I got one??
Anyway, on the second day of SD1 commuting I wasn’t in the office. I had to go to rural Staffordshire to see a man about a Land Rover and some steam engine repairing so we growled down the A47, through Leicester and onto the A5, a fuzzy tape of Earth Wind & Fire’s Greatest Hits crackling away from the quality ’70s Unipart ‘stereo’.
My job only took until noon and, with time on my hands and a full tank of fuel, I had a look at the map. Hmm, not far from Birmingham – I could burble home the long way round and take in some BL history. I also reckoned the old Rover would get some looks in its spiritual home.
We left Tamworth in the pouring rain. From the driver’s seat, the wipers are about the only thing that really betray the car’s age. Don’t get me wrong, they work, but with the space-age dash and four-door-Ferrari looks, the chrome arms and relatively slow speed look rather odd. I decided to avoid motorways and headed down the A453 and onto the A38, round the Sutton Coldfield bypass, and onto Castle Bromwich and past the Jaguar assembly plant. The road is bordered by old factories and brick-built, grime-stained industrial buildings, now either empty or housing double glazing firms, hire companies or those ‘self-storage’ establishments.
Rather surprisingly, the traffic was free-flowing and the Rover was getting plenty of attention from other road users. Further ahead I needed to decide my ultimate destination – do I turn left and head for Lode Lane and the Land Rover works, where this SD1 was built but where I’ve been dozens of times, or carry on to Longbridge, recent home of Rover and with far more to look at? I pluck for Longbridge.
I come into the place from Longbridge Lane, over the bridge and past the ‘new’ British Rail station, which is almost as old as the SD1 I am sitting in. On the right is the Austin Sports & Social Club, whose sign also probably rivals the SD1 for age. To the left they are building a new Bournville College on the site of North Works, while at the traffic lights you can just see over the fence opposite to the new and old West Works – which, of course, aren’t there any more. All that remains is just a flat landscape with a few piles of rubble.
Left at the lights and over another bridge. The old Longbridge station, boarded up and graffiti’d, sticks out like a sore thumb. I don’t reckon it’ll be there much longer – doesn’t really go with the developers’ ‘Fresh start for Longbridge’ motto which is emblazoned on virtually the whole parameter of the old works. Trouble is, with the lack of progress on any form of development (bar knocking the place down, and the new college), it feels like a bit of an empty promise.
At the roundabout, the Council have plonked a Mini in the middle and covered it with flowers. It looks pretty sad, the poor old thing, but pleasingly it retains its funky ’80s Austin Rover wheeltrims. To the right of the roundabout, the old K Gate is a hive of activity. They are knocking down the old Paint Shop and two rather bored looking blokes are standing in the left-hand carriageway to divert traffic into the right-hand lane, just in case the demolition rig drops a few tons of bricks into the road. I clearly can’t park the old Rover here so we head on down Bristol Road and left into Lowhill Lane.
It is spookily quiet. Outside Q Gate, the main entrance, a lone TF stands guard while the car park beyond is fairly full of cars. Not many Rovers or MGs, mind. I burble down the hill, past the flight shed to the site of the old East Works, and park up.
East Works and the Cofton Works beyond are long gone, but the security building at the gate still stands, complete with a message written in a dusty window – ‘Don’t worry, lads – we’ve still got the Allegro!’ Across the barren, flat site the works’ painted walkways are still in place, snaking around the missing buildings. I walk back up the road and around the outside of the works as far as the bridge on Longbridge Lane. Here are a few pictures of what I saw. Poor old Longbridge.