RAC Cars News


What went wrong at Rover?

By raccars Published


How did Rover go from one of Britain's greatest car brands to a byword for disaster?

Just over a decade ago, the MG Rover Group went bankrupt, a sad end to a once illustrious name. Started in 1878 as a bicycle maker before turning to cars in 1904, in the Sixties the Rover company was a great British brand. It became part of the Leyland Motor Corporation in 1967, followed by a mind bogglingly complicated succession of corporate reshuffling through the British Leyland portfolio during the Seventies and Eighties, together with the likes of Austin, Jaguar, MG, Morris and Triumph.

In 1988 BL became the 'Rover Group' and a subsidiary first of British Aerospace and then the BMW Group. This led to a brief but interesting revival of fortune during the Nineties. The Rover and MG marques then fell into the hands of the Phoenix Consortium and became the MG Rover Group, although the Rover name officially remained the property of BMW, which licensed its use. In 2005, the MG Rover Group began insolvency proceedings.

Further machinations saw Ford buy the rights to Rover in 2006, which it then included within the Jaguar Land Rover package sold to India's Tata Motors, together with Lanchester and Daimler. At the moment the brand remains inactive, with no vehicles produced using the Rover badge.

Those last decades were a painful time for a once great company. Poor management at British Leyland and successors, plus problems with quality control and with unions were ultimately at the root of the problem.

Morris Minor

In 1948 a motoring icon was born. The legendary Alec Issigonis was the designer, some years before he came up with the Mini. The Morris Minor was discontinued in 1972 after a 1.3 million unit production run and is now highly collectable.


A regular feature of the 'best cars ever' lists, the Mini was a revolution - both mechanically and socially. A pioneering transverse engine and front wheel drive layout helped to create masses of interior space and became the standard small car format. Production ended in 2000 after more than five million units before BMW undertook a risky but ultimately very successful revival of the Mini.


British Leyland exerted a kind of traction beam on some of Britain's greatest car makers, and Triumph was one of the brands it captured. The firm created some genuine classics but suffered, as Rover did, from the same issues that killed off British Leyland. The TR Series and the Spitfire are some of Britain's best-loved cars.

Rover P5

Even as part of LMC, Rover continued to make some excellent cars such as the P5 and P6, both popular as police cars. The P5 was used by Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, James Callaghan, Edward Heath and Harold Wilson and was available as a saloon or coupe from 1958-1973.

Austin 1100

1965's best-selling car was another Alec Issigonis creation, with 160,000 sold.

Jaguar XJ

Jaguar also passed through British Leyland from 1966 until 1984. It had one of its greatest successes in 1968 with the XJ series, which ran until 1992. It has taken Jaguar until the current decade and Indian ownership to really recover.


The Austin badge was worn by a fantastic selection of British cars, such as the Seven, the 1100, 1300 and 1800, the aforementioned Mini, the Maestro, the Maxi, the Montego and the much maligned Allegro. The latter rather dowdy looking car was produced from 1973-1982 and continues to inspire both affection and humour.

Range Rover

The link is now largely forgotten but Land Rover was born out of Rover after WWII. In 1970 the firm launched the world's first and, arguably, its greatest luxury off-roader, which remains hugely successful today. Like Jaguar, Land Rover has gone from strength to strength since Tata Motors took over.

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