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CAR magazine 1999 - The secret files that condemn Rover...


Spiny Norman

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This article, taken from the April 1999 issue of CAR magazine makes for pretty unpleasant reading as it tells of all the troubles of the BMW takeover and the numerous faults with some of the new cars, particularly the Freelander.

 

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^^^clicky links^^^

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I remember reading that and feeling that some of it was sour grapes. The Freeloader was a piece of rubbish but the 75 was a good car apart from the usual K Seal Series OMG HGF issues.

Really, the Krauts should have fired the whole Rover management team from Day 1 and put their own key bods in. But they made other mistakes, the biggest one being overestimating the Rover brand's worth and pricing the 200 and 400 way too high. It was a shame because they were quite close to making a success of it.

 

Riley Coupe? It'll never happen now. :(

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Riley Coupe? It'll never happen now. :(

There was talk of a Rover 75 coupe for a while and a couple of prototypes were built, sharp looking car I reckon. That with the V8 from the ZT260 would have made a worthy range topper instead of that daft SV thing they built but nobody bought.

 

zNqvk.jpg

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There was talk of a Rover 75 coupe for a while and a couple of prototypes were built, sharp looking car I reckon. That with the V8 from the ZT260 would have made a worthy range topper instead of that daft SV thing they built but nobody bought.

 

zNqvk.jpg

 

I love that.

 

The best thing about would be the colour combinations.

You could have that in a deep claret, metallic BRG, Old English White, Wedgewood Blue or Royal Blue with a beautiful interior covered in soft tan/cream/aubergine/green leather with matching wilton carpets and huge slabs of honest-to-god-burn-it-in-the-fireplace walnut.

None of that sliver/grey/black with a black interior full of black buttons that light up black that you get in other cars.

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Very interesting. I always thought Michael Edwardes' purges and modernisation cut out a lot of the dead wood and the cardy wearing pipe brigade. Obviously not, either that or they go complacent again. Amazed BMW let the rot continue to set in. If you bought a company for a tenner you would think there would be a few problems to look into. I guess they didn't want to ruffle people's feathers too much, in order to keep the staff on side.

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A lot of truth in that article, especially the inconsistent build quality remark. With all due respect and affection for the boys at Longbridge, they were shit at nailing what are pretty simple cars together. My then brand new 25 was delivered to me with leaking power steering and 2 bolts missing from the back seat (Charles Hurst PDI is shit as well).

 

However, irrespective of who the individual Rover managers were, it was on BMW's watch that:

 

1. They ditched the cash-cow Maestro van. This is money for old rope.

2. They pitched and priced the R3 200 as an Escort-class car, when patently it is not, it's too small

3. The 800 lived too long, and the 600 should have been revised instead of being axed.

4. The 100/Metro was never replaced

 

Also, and I can't remember his name:that TIT who designed Rover's adverts of that era. Toe curling crap. "Go to Edinburgh to see the tattoo" and "Englishman in New York". Utter toss.

 

Michael Edwardes book "Back from the Brink" is an interesting read for BL nuts, and also students of the politics of the time. (ISBN 0-00217074-4)

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I do agree that is was silly to not replace the Metro/100. Should've been another supermini, slightly larger in keeping with other companies and so also providing a platform for a Maestro van replacement.

It seems they wanted to focus on the up market sector and so abandoned one of their most sucessfull areas. CityRover was far too late and frankly complete overpiced shit.

I don't think CityRovers will even ever qualify for shite status. I have never seen a car before that I wouldn't care less if every single one of them was cubed, maybe because of what they represent as well as their crapness.

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However, irrespective of who the individual Rover managers were, it was on BMW's watch that:

 

1. They ditched the cash-cow Maestro van. This is money for old rope.

2. They pitched and priced the R3 200 as an Escort-class car, when patently it is not, it's too small

3. The 800 lived too long, and the 600 should have been revised instead of being axed.

4. The 100/Metro was never replaced

 

The villains of the piece were British Aerospace, who sold it on to BMW whilst keeping Honda, their partners, in the dark. If Honda had been given an option to buy, I think the story might have ended rather better. BMW bum raped a company for its viable brands and 4wd know-how and moved the rest on.

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ISTR that Honda did make noises about a takeover/merger, but this was backscuttled by the government who wanted to sell to a European company. Ford expressed a slight interest too, undoubtedly for L-R primarily, but Ford know how to put together a car that will sell. Back as far as 1990 Ford wanted to buy in K Series engines for the Fiesta and mark 5 Escort, but a licensing deal couldn't be worked out

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A lot of truth in that article, especially the inconsistent build quality remark. With all due respect and affection for the boys at Longbridge, they were shit at nailing what are pretty simple cars together. My then brand new 25 was delivered to me with leaking power steering and 2 bolts missing from the back seat (Charles Hurst PDI is shit as well).

 

However, irrespective of who the individual Rover managers were, it was on BMW's watch that:

 

1. They ditched the cash-cow Maestro van. This is money for old rope.

2. They pitched and priced the R3 200 as an Escort-class car, when patently it is not, it's too small

3. The 800 lived too long, and the 600 should have been revised instead of being axed.

4. The 100/Metro was never replaced

 

Also, and I can't remember his name:that TIT who designed Rover's adverts of that era. Toe curling crap. "Go to Edinburgh to see the tattoo" and "Englishman in New York". Utter toss.

 

Michael Edwardes book "Back from the Brink" is an interesting read for BL nuts, and also students of the politics of the time. (ISBN 0-00217074-4)

 

The R3 200 should have been badged as a 100 & been marketed as the replacement for the Metro/100. There would then have been no need for the dreadful CityRover.

 

The Civic-based 400/45 Hatchback should have been badged as the 200 - the Escort/Astra rival. The 400/45 saloon should have been released before the hatchback (thus distancing itself from the Civic) & badged the 400. An estate version would have probably been a good idea too.

 

No need for two larger cars (600 & 800) so happy for the 75 to effectively replace both.

 

That 75 Coupe is bloody lush and should have been produced.

 

Sorted!

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Ashmicro is pretty much spot-on, with a few extra points - the Maestro van could have endured a front-end reskin - that could have crossed over to the Montego saloon/estate sand have been kept as a budget car - and the Rover 200 platform could have been shortened to provide a Metro replacement. However, the biggest thing that condemned Rover was paint.

If they'd painted them properly (like they did with the very earliest Metros that still survive now) and updated their corrosion proection they'd have done far better. Tthey were still using celly in 1990, and the seam-sealing on a 1997 Disco appears to be the same brushed-on stuff as a 1983 Metro, ffs - VW were using spray-on seam sealer by at least 1987, and it was excellent - had no-one in A-R thought of buying and dismantling the opposition's motor's and seeing how they were put together?

 

We got it wrong, very wrong/

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I remember reading that article and thinking it confirmed what I'd felt for a long time, that Rover was a goner regardless of how much the Brit press boosted the 75.

 

A lot of truth in that article, especially the inconsistent build quality remark. With all due respect and affection for the boys at Longbridge, they were shit at nailing what are pretty simple cars together. My then brand new 25 was delivered to me with leaking power steering and 2 bolts missing from the back seat (Charles Hurst PDI is shit as well).

 

However, irrespective of who the individual Rover managers were, it was on BMW's watch that:

 

1. They ditched the cash-cow Maestro van. This is money for old rope.

2. They pitched and priced the R3 200 as an Escort-class car, when patently it is not, it's too small

3. The 800 lived too long, and the 600 should have been revised instead of being axed.

4. The 100/Metro was never replaced

 

Also, and I can't remember his name:that TIT who designed Rover's adverts of that era. Toe curling crap. "Go to Edinburgh to see the tattoo" and "Englishman in New York". Utter toss.

 

Michael Edwardes book "Back from the Brink" is an interesting read for BL nuts, and also students of the politics of the time. (ISBN 0-00217074-4)

 

The R3 200 should have been badged as a 100 & been marketed as the replacement for the Metro/100. There would then have been no need for the dreadful CityRover.

 

The Civic-based 400/45 Hatchback should have been badged as the 200 - the Escort/Astra rival. The 400/45 saloon should have been released before the hatchback (thus distancing itself from the Civic) & badged the 400. An estate version would have probably been a good idea too.

 

No need for two larger cars (600 & 800) so happy for the 75 to effectively replace both.

 

That 75 Coupe is bloody lush and should have been produced.

 

Sorted!

To be fair to BMW, it was 100% Rover management to blame for this fixation on 'premiumness' despite the fact their cars simply weren't. The tendency towards arrogance and 'we know best' was always there, even going back to the pre-BL days, but the nail in the coffin was when they started to get ideas above their station due to the relative success of the R8. Because Rover managed to take the base of a Honda and turn it into something a little bit more appealing than a Mk5 Escort/Ashtray/R19/309/Tipo etc, Rover then decided it was well on its way 'upmarket'. Get real. That arrogance manifested itself in the decision, late in the day, to turn R3 into the new 200 - it was actually supposed to be the new Metro, and if you look at the sketches for the car they're badged up as 100s. That in turn pushed the 1995 400 from being priced at slightly-above-Escort levels, to taking on the Mondeo. As is now history, buyers weren't fooled and they bombed in the marketplace. Those two mistakes were critical and really hastened Rover's demise. BMW realised this, and sent its own people in, but it was all far too late to stop the inevitable. It also didn't help that the 75 was totally the wrong car for the times and completely out of touch with what buyers actually wanted.

 

Truth is though, Rover's story is actually no different to that of any non-German so-called 'semi-premium' brand - doesn't matter whether it's Saab, Cadillac (in Europe), Alfa, Lancia... and I now note Renault and Vauxhall, of all people, are embarking (again) on this elusive drive 'upmarket'. I wince at how many billions of dollars have been squandered by truly delusional managements of all descriptions over the years. There is never the slightest grasp that taking on the Germans at their own game doesn't take one mild success story, it requires a commitment to underwrite ongoing losses and continual colossal investment for a quarter-century. Since the average tenure of a management team is 5-10 years and the next lot are always looking for easy extravagances to cut, you can see the problem here.

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I've worked in places where the culture is stuck in the past and it's very frustrating. A real shame that BL / MG / Rover couldn't pull themselves out of the '70s because some of their cars could have been excellent.

 

Imagine a Princess in 1978 that didn't have stodgy steering and broke down a lot, BMW wouldn't have got a look in back then! Some of their styling sketches were really good, even the Allegro looked good when it was rendered in magic markers, so why did it translate so badly in the metal?

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I always thought the 200 was too big to be a supermini, and too small for an Escort-size rival. I guess they were going for a two birds with one stone approach but it didn't really work. Not a bad car though, I have driven a few and they're ok. Also seemed to sell reasonably well.

Agree that one of either the 200, 400 or 600 was surplus to requirements.

And if the 200/MG van was an attempt to keep Maestro van customers it was a pretty poor attempt.

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One point to add to my previous post:

 

Rover management, like those of the other 'semi-premium' brands I mentioned, convinced themselves that there was space in the market for something a 'cut above' Ford/Vauxhall/Renault mainstream and below the German brigade, and they were (and are) dead wrong. Who on earth aspires to own a 'semi-premium' product? By definition, semi-premium is an oxymoron; it relies on your target buyer's aspirations in life being somewhat less than everyone else's. What has happened is exactly what was always going to happen - the Germans have moved into the mainstream sector, encroaching on the mainstream brands' turf and totally wiping out whatever 'semi-premium' niche might have once existed.

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I always thought the 200 was too big to be a supermini, and too small for an Escort-size rival.

Wasn't it the same with the Marina? Bigger than an Escort but smaller than a Cortina.

 

Back when they released the Mini they found out it wasn't a big sales success because Ford could give you more metal for the money, no matter if the Mini was just as fast and more economical. Big car on the driveway or in the carpark looks more impressive.

 

As said above, it's happening now with premium brands; who wants a blue collar Ford when the same money buys you a prestige marque?

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Wasn't it the same with the Marina? Bigger than an Escort but smaller than a Cortina.

 

Yep. And the Allegro smaller and too different from the Escort, and the Princess a bit too unusual for the normal Cortina customer.

The Marina was meant to hoover up more conventional would-be customers of the Allegro and Princess. There was some logic there...

 

 

Put it beside a modern supermini and it's now the small car - a Polo is the same length and the Corsa is an inch longer.

 

Yeah true, but I was comparing to stuff around at the time. Put an R3 next to a Corsa or Fiesta of that era.

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One point to add to my previous post:

 

Rover management, like those of the other 'semi-premium' brands I mentioned, convinced themselves that there was space in the market for something a 'cut above' Ford/Vauxhall/Renault mainstream and below the German brigade, and they were (and are) dead wrong. Who on earth aspires to own a 'semi-premium' product? By definition, semi-premium is an oxymoron; it relies on your target buyer's aspirations in life being somewhat less than everyone else's. What has happened is exactly what was always going to happen - the Germans have moved into the mainstream sector, encroaching on the mainstream brands' turf and totally wiping out whatever 'semi-premium' niche might have once existed.

 

The old R8 was a sort of 'semi-premium' effort, defo classier (and more expensive) than an equivalen escort/Astra etc and it worked mega well for them, probably their most successful product of 'modern' times.

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You'll always get people who buy "premium" brands just for the badge, even though the car is shit (BMW 1 Series for example). Perhaps that's a bit hypocritical of me to say, as a Jaguar owner, but I got the X Type because it's a good car. Equally, I have owned several Hyundais, hardly a premium brand, because they also were good cars.

 

I just don't understand people who spend a lot more money and get a worse car, just because it has a certain badge on it. As I've said, my 25 wasn't screwed together properly by Longbridge, but fundamentally it ticks all the "good car" boxes: Goes well, looks well, is easy and enjoyable to drive, is easy to see out of and is easy and cheap to maintain. Unfortunately for Rover, most buyers aren't like us, happy to put up with some foibles!

 

An interesting point to note: one of my mates is one of the richest men in NI, and he drives a complete shed of a 1989 SAAB 900 Turbo 16. He loves that thing, and his long-suffering girlfriend is always trying to get him to buy a newer car, most recently a 5 Series. Sure enough, he took the "BMW Weekend Test Drive" and gave the thing a good look over, but ultimately decided "it's not worth the money".

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One point to add to my previous post:

 

Rover management, like those of the other 'semi-premium' brands I mentioned, convinced themselves that there was space in the market for something a 'cut above' Ford/Vauxhall/Renault mainstream and below the German brigade, and they were (and are) dead wrong. Who on earth aspires to own a 'semi-premium' product? By definition, semi-premium is an oxymoron; it relies on your target buyer's aspirations in life being somewhat less than everyone else's. What has happened is exactly what was always going to happen - the Germans have moved into the mainstream sector, encroaching on the mainstream brands' turf and totally wiping out whatever 'semi-premium' niche might have once existed.

 

The old R8 was a sort of 'semi-premium' effort, defo classier (and more expensive) than an equivalen escort/Astra etc and it worked mega well for them, probably their most successful product of 'modern' times.

I know, but the point is that they didn't learn the right lessons from the R8, namely that you can only charge more for a product if it actually is superior to the competition. The '95 400, for example, was no class leader even when it was new, yet Rover management had its usual delusions of grandeur and priced the thing even above Mondeo levels, since they convinced themselves that the R8 on its own was sufficient to wipe twenty years' worth of memories of BL/ARG and that the Rover brand was now strong enough to support this insane pricing policy. Same applies to the R3 200, the 600, and even the 75 to an extent.

 

Also, it has to be said the R8 was the right car at the right time for Rover, since its competition in C-segment was either geriatric, hopeless, or both. Once Ford and GM Europe in particular got their act together with the Focus and Mk4 Astra, Rover was always stuffed.

 

The 'in-between' sizing stuff was a problem too, although not the biggest one. Usually, whenever it happens (not just with Rover), it's a symptom of a broader malaise, not the problem in itself per se. It tends to reflect:

 

a) a shift in development priorities halfway through;

B) lack of clarity about where in the market the product is actually supposed to sit;

c) misguided notions of avoiding 'overlap' with sibling brands;

d) all of the above.

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That 75 Coupé is bloody gorgeous, a V8 one of those would be on my list of things to own. Unfortunately, BMW didn't want Rover to have anything that could possibly take sales from BMWs, and I suspect the 75 Coupé would have sold quite a lot.

 

The idea that Rover was some sort of prestige company was blown away in the early '80s. Rebadged Hondas with a few faux-planks nailed to the dash were never gonna be a cut above... The R8 was a decent little car but the Kettle series engine should have been sorted before release and they should have made a less Japanese dashboard for it. The 600 wasn't a bad car, but it should have been a lot cheaper than it was, and again it was blatantly just a Honda. I know the 800 wasn't BMW's fault, but they should have killed it the nanosecond they bought the company if they wanted Rover to be any sort of 'prestige' brand, the 800 was shit in 1986, why the hell they were still trying to flog the things in '99 is beyond me.

 

It's obvious that Rover had some great engineers behind the scenes. The MG range (other than that tragically overpriced and shit supercar thing) that was built by Rovers skunkworks were great. Someone should have given them a few bob and told 'em to come up with some good ideas.

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That 75 Coupé is bloody gorgeous, a V8 one of those would be on my list of things to own. Unfortunately, BMW didn't want Rover to have anything that could possibly take sales from BMWs, and I suspect the 75 Coupé would have sold quite a lot.

 

The idea that Rover was some sort of prestige company was blown away in the early '80s. Rebadged Hondas with a few faux-planks nailed to the dash were never gonna be a cut above... The R8 was a decent little car but the Kettle series engine should have been sorted before release and they should have made a less Japanese dashboard for it. The 600 wasn't a bad car, but it should have been a lot cheaper than it was, and again it was blatantly just a Honda. I know the 800 wasn't BMW's fault, but they should have killed it the nanosecond they bought the company if they wanted Rover to be any sort of 'prestige' brand, the 800 was shit in 1986, why the hell they were still trying to flog the things in '99 is beyond me.

 

It's obvious that Rover had some great engineers behind the scenes. The MG range (other than that tragically overpriced and shit supercar thing) that was built by Rovers skunkworks were great. Someone should have given them a few bob and told 'em to come up with some good ideas.

 

 

I suppose the 800 was kept going because the Rover/BMW management assumed that a so-called 'prestige' brand should have a large car in it range, no matter if the thing was woefully dated & inferior to its rivals. Size matters!

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I was always gutted that BMW made off with the mini, I remember seeing them being tested at Gaydon back when I was a BMW apprentice, I categorically hate them for that.

 

What I can't understand is why make the 75 fwd? They took what I assume was the E39 chassis, arguably the most complete all round package that BMW ever made, and turned the engine round in it? Twats.

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