Rover was a British automobile manufacturer and later a marque based at the famous Longbridge plant in Birmingham. In recent years it was part of th MG Rover Group. However, in April 2005, production stopped when the company became insolvent. In July 2005 the Nanjing Automobile Group acquired the assets, with plans to resume production in China, and possibly also at Longbridge, in 2006.
The first Rover was a tricycle manufactured by Starley & Sutton Co of Coventry, England in 1883. The company was founded by John Kemp Starley and William Sutton in 1878. Starley had formerly worked with his uncle James Starley (father of the cycle trade) who began in manufacturing sewing machines and switched to bicycles in 1869.
In the early 1880s the cycles available were the relatively dangerous penny-farthings and high-wheel tricycles. J. K. Starley made history in 1885 by producing the Rover Safety Bicycle – a rear-wheel-drive, chain-driven cycle with two similar-sized wheels, making it more stable than the previous high wheeler designs. Cycling magazine said the Rover had ‘set the pattern to the world’ and the phrase was used in their advertising for many years. Starley’s Rover is usually described by historians as the first recognisably modern bicycle. In 1888 Starley made an electric car, but it never was put into production.
In 1889 the company became J. K. Starley & Co. Ltd and in the late 1890s, the Rover Cycle Company Ltd. Three years after Starley’s death in 1901, the Rover company began producing automobiles with the two-seater Rover Eight to the designs of Edmund Lewis who came from Daimler. During the First World War they made motorcycles, lorries to Maudsley designs and not having a suitable one of their own, cars to a Sunbeam design. Bicycle and motorcycle production continued until the Great Depression forced the end of production in 1925. The business was not very successful during the 1920s and did not pay a dividend from 1923 until the mid 1930s. In 1929 when there was a change of management with Spencer Wilks coming in from Hillman as general manager. He set about reorganising the company and moving it up market to cater for people who wanted something “superior” to Fords and Austins. He was joined by his brother Maurice, who had also been at Hillman, as chief engineer in 1930. Spencer Wilks stayed with the company until 1962 and his brother until 1963. After automobile production resumed in 1947, following the Second World War, the company began producing the Land Rover.
In 1950, designer F. R. Bell and Chief Engineer Maurice Wilks unveiled the first car powered with a gas turbine engine. The two-seater JET1 had the engine positioned behind the seats, air intake grilles on either side of the car and exhaust outlets on the top of the tail. During tests, the car reached top speeds of 140 km/h, at a turbine speed of 50,000 rpm. The car ran on petrol, paraffin or diesel oil, but fuel consumption problems proved insurmountable for a production car. It is currently on display at the London Science Museum. Rover and the BRM Formula One team joined forces to produce a gas turbine powered coupe, which entered the 1963 24 hours of Le Mans, driven by Graham Hill and Richie Ginther. It averaged 107.8 mph (173 km) and had a top speed of 142 mph (229 km/h).
The 1950s and 60s were fruitful years for the company, with the Land Rover becoming a runaway success, as well as the P5 and P6 saloons equipped with a 3.5L (215ci) aluminum V8, the design and tooling of which was purchased from Buick, and pioneering research into gas turbine fuelled vehicles. In 1967, Rover became part of the Leyland Motor Corporation, which merged with the British Motor Holdings to become British Leyland. This was the beginning of the end for the traditional Rover, as the Solihull based company’s heritage drowned beneath the infamous industrial relations and managerial problems that beset the British motor industry throughout the 1970s. The Rover SD1 of 1976 was an excellent car, but was beset with so many build quality and reliability issues that it never delivered its great promise. A savage programme of cutbacks in the late 1970s led to the end of car production at the Solihull factory which was turned over for Land Rover production only. All future Rover cars would be made in the former Austin and Morris plants in Longbridge and Cowley, respectively.
Rover and Honda
In the 1980s, the slimmed down BL used the Rover badge on a range of cars co-developed with Honda. The first Honda-sourced model, released in 1984 was the Rover 200, which, like the Triumph Acclaim that it replaced, was based on the Honda Ballade. (Similarly, in Australia, the Honda Quint and Integra were badged as the Rover Quintet and 416i.) In 1986, the SD1 was replaced by the Rover 800, based on the Honda Legend. By this time Austin Rover had moved to a one-marque strategy and renamed itself simply “Rover Group”. The Austin Maestro and Montego, now badged as Rovers (though the word ‘Rover’ never actually appeared on the badging, just a version of the Viking badge), were replaced by the Rover 400 and Rover 600, based on Honda’s Concerto and Accord.
This was to prove to be the turn-around point for the company, steadily rebuilding its image to the point where once again Rovers were seen as upmarket alternatives to Fords and Vauxhalls. The 1994 takeover by BMW saw the development of the Rover 75, before the infamous de-merger in 1999. BMW retained the rights to the Rover name after it sold the business, only licencing it to the new company owners and has said that Ford has the right of first refusal to it if it is sold because of their ownership of Land Rover.
The company continued as the MG Rover Group but production ceased on July 7, 2005, when it was declared insolvent. In July 2005 the entire company was sold to the Nanjing Automobile Group, who indicated that their preliminary plans involved relocating the Powertrain engine plant to China while splitting car production into Rover lines in China and resumed MG lines in the West Midlands (though not necessarily at Longbridge), where a UK R&D and technical facility would also be developed.
Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation who were also bidding for MG Rover, plan to release their own version of the Rover 75 in late 2006, because they do not own the rights to the name it will not be badged as a Rover.
• 1904-1912 Rover 8
• 1906-1910 Rover 6
• 1906-1910 Rover 16/20
• 1912-1923 Rover 12
• 1919-1925 Rover 8
• 1924-1927 Rover 9/20
• 1925-1927 Rover 14/45
• 1927-1932 Rover Light Six
• 1927-1947 Rover 10
• 1929-1932 Rover 2-Litre
• 1930-1934 Rover Meteor (16HP/20HP)
• 1931-1940 Rover Speed 20
• 1932-1933 Rover Pilot/Speed Pilot
• 1932-1932 Rover Scarab
• 1934-1948 Rover 12
• 1934-1948 Rover 14/Speed 14
• 1936-1948 Rover 16
• 1984-1999 Rover 200 (213/214/216)
• 1999-2005 Rover 25
• 2003-2005 Rover Streetwise
• 1948-1949 Rover P3 (60/75)
• 1949-1964 Rover P4 (60/75/80/90/95/100/105/110)
• 1963-1976 Rover P6 (2000/2200)
• 1976-1986 Rover SD1 (2000/2300/2400/2600)
• 1990-1998 Rover 400 (414/416/418/420)
• 1999-2005 Rover 45
• 1958-1973 Rover P5 (3-Litre/3.5-Litre)
• 1963-1976 Rover P6 (3500)
• 1976-1986 Rover SD1 (3500/Vitesse)
• 1993-1999 Rover 600 (618/620/623)
• 1986-1998 Rover 800 (820/825/827) and Sterling
• 1998-2005 Rover 75
• 1980-1993 Rover Metro
• 1994-1998 Rover 100
• 2003-2005 CityRover