Video : Rover – The Long Goodbye

Keith Adams

Back in 2005, a number of great documentaries lamenting the end of MG Rover appeared on TV. I rather liked this one, which featured on BBC4, and a highlight of which is the laconic voiceover by the wonderful Geoffrey Palmer – that might be because it was nicely produced, featured all the right people and relied on a certain Keith Adams for the research and fact-checking.

Anyway, if you have a spare 40 minutes or so, it’s very much worth watching – even if it all feels a little like ancient history now…

Keith Adams


  1. Ah yes; I used this documentary quite prominently as a source for my Extended Project Qualification (Effectively a mini-dissertation students do at A-Level), on the decline of the British Car Industry. Fact wise it’s excellent, but then, and now, I can’t help but feel that some of the interviewees got a little too hung up on what constituted a “proper Rover”, and downplayed the successes of the Honda/Rover era .For example, the only aspect of the Rover 200 SD3 series (a car that, from what I’ve heard, is quite good) that was addressed was how plasticky the interior was; never mind the reliability et. al.

  2. Quote: “…but then, and now, I can’t help but feel that some of the interviewees got a little too hung up on what constituted a “proper Rover”, and downplayed the successes of the Honda/Rover era”.

    I had the same thoughts as you did, while the journalist with the name starting with ‘Z’ (Zog?) actually provided no real contribution to the subject of Rover. I’m not sure why he was approached!

    Packing so much about Rover into just 40 minutes was no easy feat, but it managed to get across most of the main themes about the demise of this once proud name. For anyone wanting to do a dissertation or thesis on the demise of the Rover marque, this programme is certainly useful reference material to build upon.

  3. I must, must find the time to view this start to finish.

    David 3500 – I have before now thought that many commentators place too much emphasis on the ‘Real Rover’ bit. Durimg the links with Honda, Rover was chosen as the brand, the route to turn the once huge British Leyland into a smaller, quality, niche producer …. and what a success they so nearly made

  4. I have viewed some of “Rover – The Long Goodbye” in the past. I recall thinking the focus was too much Rover and it was in some ways taken out of the BL>MG Rover context. As David 3500 remarks, I don’t remember there being much comment about the success of the R8 era.
    Before I comment more, and perhaps rely on poor memory, I’ll do my best to watch it in full at the weekend.

    In general, I think people commenting on the history of BL>MG Rover very often forgets the praise sometimes offered by

  5. …. it posted before I’d finished!!!

    In general, I think people commenting on the history of BL>MG Rover tend to view it as all bad and forget the high points. I think some journalists must forget the praise they themselves once offered.

    The thee ‘M’ cars all won their respective group tests when launched. They did in What Car? anyway. In the late eighties, nineties the press briefly regarded the new range of Rovers as a premium brand. I remember What Car? (again) raving about the 800 and R8. I recall Chris Goffey road testing the Rover Metro and remarking on quality you now expect of Rover. I could go on…

  6. I agree with those that it focussed too much on the “Old Rover” aspect, missing that whilst Rover was the trusted brand of the upper middle classes in 50s the world was changing around it and the program was wrong to see the P6 as a devaluing of the brand, it kept it relevant and gave them a presence outside the UK.

    Not only this point but they stay with this 50s view point to look at the whole Rover history onwards, which was irrelevant because the P6 redefined the brand, they also omitted that the brand would have moved up from the P6 away from the Triumph into Jaguar / Mercedes territory had it not been the merger with BL and that the SD1 (note a Car of the Year) was about focussing the brand in the P6 sector of the market, sitting above the 18/22 Series (Princess)and SD2 and above the XJ6.

    It also misses the point that despite the quality issues of the SD1, the Rover brand retained premium status in the market and it was the economic reality that was recognised before the launch of the LC10/11 that they could not continue as a standalone operation because they simply could never generate the sales volumes that meant that future cars would be Rovers (to attract a brand price premium, Trimuph was rejected because the surveys said people associated it too much with cheap sports cars and motorbikes) and collaborations with other manufacturers which rapidly firmed up as Honda.

    As others have noted they had initial good success with the Rover / Honda collaboration and showed customers were willing to pay a bit more over a Ford / Vauxhall and yes in the UK at least, a Honda for that Rover badge.

    But the program sticking with viewing the business from this 50s view point fails to recognise that what they were calling Rover, was not Rover but what remained of BMC, it also seems to skip the BAe years which failed to follow up on the more than moderate sales success of Rover in the late 80s and early 90s with investment in their replacements.

    They then cover the BMW years, but again fail to bring any real input from the BMW side of the story, instead falling into the “Urban Myth” that the Rover 75 was what German’s thought a Rover should be, overlooking that it was actually product of BMW limited resources which meant that they left Rover in the first years manage itself, as one BMW engineer said to me, “our mistake was to let them build the car they wanted, not what they and we needed” the result being was they built a car that sat in the same sector of the market as the “cooking” versions of the 3 and 5 series.

    Finally a bit that sticks with me was Mr Wilson condemning the Rover 75 as being irrelevant to the market, which I would agree with him (people like me who were looking for a aspirational saloon in the mid 90s, had memories of growing up wanting a P6 or SD1, it would have been our Dads who would have grown up wanting a P4 ), although I do recall at the time of the Rover 75 launch Mr Wilson literally “wetting himself” on old (old) Top Gear Motor Show Special about its retro styling and interior (clearly he was old enough to have grown up wanting a P4).

  7. I’ve just viewed the Long Goodbye in full – I had in fact seen most of it before.

    I think it’s pretty much on the mark up to the point where Rover became part of British Leyland and traditional Rover values were lost. Right in saying that the terrible quality of early SD1s did much damage to the Rover name.

    However, when it talks of the Honda era I think the ‘film’ continues to focus too much on old world traditional Rover values. It fails to describe the wider picture of saving something of the once huge British Leyland. The Rovers of the late eighties early nineties may not have been like Rovers of old. They were, however, a range of popular & successful cars regarded as somewhat premium.

  8. The film seems to ignore the success that is Land Rover/Range Rover,which was well in place by 2005 and had in reality been growing throughout the eighties and nineties.This has further strengthed over the past decade with phenomenal growth in both model range,volumes and profits.The launch of the Solihull built XE ,could also lead you to argue that the market segment vacated by the traditional rover saloon (p5/6) is now being covered as the Jaguar car range is widened in both choice and price.You could now say that traditional Rover is alive and prospering in the current JLR.
    What the film describes as Rover is really the death of the BMC volume car business-but to balance that look at the success of UK built mini.

    • I agree.

      They talk about the Rover 75 being this German idea of a Rover, when actually it was a continuation (just funded by BMW money) of where they had gone with the Accord based 600 and facelifted rover 800 and it was the MINI which originated out of BMW own styling studio which was BMW idea what a Rover should be which was actually what it had aspired to be when it became the Volume brand of what was left of BMC, by making premium FWD cars that carry a substantial price premium.

      • Yes, James May was too critical of the 75’s retro theme. Rover had been focussing on the retro Rover for some time, applying retro touches, facelifts to existing cars. The 75 was the first opportunity they had to apply this retro theme to a ground up new design.

        James, you too failed to see the wider picture of BL and instead focussed on the brave new designs of P6 and SD1.

        • But surely James May was proved right, it was too retro (as was the S Type launched at the time), it was people like Quentin Wilson who approved it who were shown by history to be wrong.

          Sure they were following on what they had been doing before, but that did not make it right.

          As for talking about the P6, well it was in that size and segment of the market (which was the mistake, Rover had no reason to be in that part of the market given that BMW dominated it already.

          But of course a modern day P6 would have been a BMW 5 Series and the SD1 would have been in a dead segment of the market of the European market for large volume brand cars ie Peugeot 607, so James was wrong to suggest that was where they should have gone.

          To me the way back under BMW was to use the out going 5 series platform as a basis for a Range Rover style Estate Car aimed at Merc and Volvo Estates to be sold through the Land Rover Dealerships. Two variants a cooking one with 4 aand 6 cylinder engines (Discovery like hump as well to expand the load area?) and a family friendly interior and a V8 varaint with traditional Leather and wood interior (Range Rover like split tailgate as well?).

          The FWD range should have been expanded around the MG Brand (as that had had far more investment with the RV8 and MGF than the Mini) focussing on sporty Hatchbacks (ie Audi A3, Alfa Mitio) and sold as a lead in product to the BMW RWD range. 4×4 variant of this Golf sized platform would have served as a basis for both a MG Rally Car and a Freelander replacement.

          • In a world of agressive ‘wall of metal’ Teutonic SUVs, the 75 is still an elegant looking saloon car, my better half often thinks they’re Jaguars.

            Retro was the German Anglophile vision of what a big Rover should be, it may have went down well in the US, we will never know. The modern sports saloons were BMW territory.

            With Mini – with their range of small and mid sized hatchbacks – and Jaguar – with their range of modern saloons, sports cars and an SUV – going from strength to strength, MG ramping up a small alternative range of hatchbacks and crossover, ‘BL’ has never looked stronger.

            The 75 design though needn’t have looked so retro. Rumour has it that Mercedes, around the early 2000s, designed what they thought a modern ‘traditional’ British saloon should look like, and came up with the gorgeous CLS…

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