Edited by Rod Ward
Rover: the great British car marque with a ‘gentlemanly’ image and a reputation for solidity, quality and innovation. The first ‘Rover’ was the Safety Cycle invented by John Kemp Starley in Coventry in 1884. Motorcycle production began in 1902, followed by the first Rover cars in 1904. Reliable and well-built cars became the company’s forte in the 1930s. The iconic Land Rover, which is described in Auto Review 37, supported the company in the difficult post-war years, when all Rover production moved to Solihull. Steady development of ‘Auntie’ Rover P4 saloon cars, popular with bank managers and solicitors, led to the imposing P5 and the more advanced P6, the adoption of the ex-Buick 3.5 litre V8 engine, the SD1 saloon, and the mould-breaking Range Rover. Rover’s role in the Leyland Group could well have secured the company’s future. The enforced merger with the British Motor Corporation, however, weakened Sir William Lyons’ vision of a great British motor group in the Daimler-Benz mould. The Rover brand still survived being part of British Leyland, British Aerospace, BMW, the ‘Phoenix Consortium’, and Chinese ownership of some Rover designs. It even managed to become the principal remaining brand of the wreckage of the British motor industry, giving its name to ‘Rover Group’. BMW acquired the rights to many British car marques from British Aerospace, including the Rover brand. When the Phoenix Consortium made Rover cars at Longbridge from 2000 to 2005, they did not own the Rover brand name; it was licensed from BMW. The Rover brand was sold by BMW to Ford in 2006, to be reunited with Land Rover. In 2008 Ford sold Land Rover to Tata of India, and with it the Rover brand. Thus, the long-established Rover brand name is now owned by Tata.
The design rights to the last of the Rover-branded cars are now owned in China, but they cannot be sold as Rovers, hence the German-style homonym ‘Roewe’ under which some are marketed in China in the 21st century.