Jeremy Clarkson's piece is a tad OTT -- as usual -- but I could not have put
Goodbye, Rover. Sorry, I won't be shedding a tear
By Jeremy Clarkson of The Sunday Times
Red Robbo, immortal face of Longbridge strikes; BL boss
Sir Michael Edwardes in 1979; and Graham Day greeting Margaret Thatcher in
We're all supposed to be weeping over the death of MG Rover. But
this is not like the death of Concorde or the death of the Queen Mother.
This is not the death of a national institution.
Of course it must be a very bleak time for the company's 6,500
employees and their families as they stoically face an uncertain future.
They are not to blame - they didn't choose the management. I dare say the
closure must also be worrying if you recently bought a Rover and now your
warranty is null and void. But this is your fault for buying a stupid car. I
have little sympathy for anyone who ignored the advice of every expert in
the land and bought a 45 "because it's British".
There was a time when British engineering counted for something.
But unfortunately this time was 1872. Today the demise of MG Rover is being
blamed on a collection of businessmen, two of whom have face hair, who
bought the company from BMW for a tenner and then began what looked to some
like a massive asset-stripping operation.
This isn't surprising. What is surprising is that after so many
years of utter and absolute hopelessness there might have been any assets
left to strip.
Let's begin with Longbridge, which I think I'm right in saying
was once the biggest car factory in the world. Certainly it's the only
factory with a dirty great main road running right through the middle of it.
In the glory days of BMC, cars were built in one part of the
factory and finished in the other. Which meant the unpainted, unprotected
shells had to be taken across the road no matter what the weather. As a
result many had rusted away before they made it to the showroom.
Eventually a tunnel was constructed so the cars were no longer
exposed to the elements. Great. But sadly the tunnel was exactly 2in too
narrow for the Austin 1800, the so-called land crab, that was in production
at the time.
Not that it mattered much because the paint shop in the bad old
days rarely had any paint anyway. Richard Littlejohn, who covered the
disputes that plagued Longbridge back in the 1970s, said he would regularly
go to workers' houses to find the bathroom was Allegro beige, the door was
Marina green and the sitting room was TR7 yellow.
When Volvo went all sporty, the weak and the
feeble had to look elsewhere. Most ended up in Rovers, dithering at
junctions and generally driving the wrong way down motorways. There's one
Rover that has been stationary at the double mini-roundabout in Chipping
Norton for 15 years, its driver paralysed with fear
When the Mini came along Ford was horrified, partly at the
clever design that made its efforts look old fashioned, but mostly by the
extraordinarily low price. Wondering how on earth this little car could be
sold so cheaply, they bought one and spent months analysing every last
component. Only when the work was completed did they uncover the awful
truth. Every single one was being sold at a loss.
This, of course, is the plague that besets all British
inventiveness. It's always allowed to fester by idiotic management.
We saw a similar problem when Rover and Honda teamed up to make
the 800. When it finally made it into production: disaster. Customers found
that the back window kept popping out. Of course this didn't really matter
because by the time the 800 came along Rover was already wearing margarine
trousers on its inevitable slide into oblivion.
A slide that really began when British Leyland went bankrupt in
1975 and was nationalised.
On paper it must have seemed like a good idea, bringing together
97 different companies to form BL. But in practice the workforce and
management at each plant were still fiercely proud of whatever it was they
So, when Morris made the Marina, Austin came up with the
Allegro, which meant BL was competing against itself. And it was the same
story with Triumph. Remember the Stag? When it was being developed Triumph's
engineers had access to the Rover V8. It was light, frugal and powerful and
would have been ideal. But there was no way they'd use "Rover rubbish", so
instead they nailed together two Dolomite engines to create their own V8,
which overheated every time it was wet, dry, windy, cold, hot or grey
And let's not forget BL's styling department. Today Ford houses
its design team in Soho, so that they're in the thick of the movers' and
shakers' action. In Italy the staff at Pininfarina and Ital are deliberately
made to work in exquisite towns with Renaissance architecture and many men
in sunglasses. Which brings us to the Metro. It could only have come from a
town that housed the Bullring.
So, infighting, lousy design and a factory that was no more
suitable for car production than a stable. And to make matters worse the
company had been targeted by extremists who were determined to make sure
that no car made it onto the road. In his first six months as chairman
Michael Edwardes had to deal with 327 different industrial disputes.
It's easy to understand the motivation for all this unrest and
hopelessness. It's much more fun to stand round a brazier shouting "scab" at
anyone in a tie than it is to spend all day bolting Prince of Darkness Lucas
components onto a car that wouldn't have worked anyway.
What's more, it didn't matter. Back then, everyone still had a
sense that Britain ran the world, that Japanese cars were a joke and that
the Germans were a bunch of war-losing bastards. They were all so arrogant,
so far removed from the harsh reality of foreign competition, that they
refused even to look at the competition.
And anyway Jim Callaghan would simply roll up the following week
with another skipful of taxpayers' cash. Over the years BL has cost the
British government £3.5 billion.
This is my problem. Since I was old enough to read newspapers
always perceived the British motor industry to be nothing more than a
fountain of woe, waste and doom. A park full of men in donkey jackets
raising their hands. A strike with a Birmingham accent.
Yes, there were flashes of inspiration. The Mini, of course, and
the Rover SD1. Even the Maestro was clever; with lots of space and a light,
airy feel, it was years ahead of its time. But these were pinpricks of
light, no more noticeable than faint stars in the inky blackness of space.
And there seemed no end to the problem. The factories couldn't
be closed because negotiations would have to include the sheet metal
workers, the metal mechanics, the draughtsmen, the technicians and half a
dozen unions, including the all powerful TGWU.
On top of that, you have Harris Mann, who designed the TR7 and
the Allegro, and Red Robbo, who refused to make either. You have Lord
Stokes, who was an invertebrate, and Edwardes, who's much too small. Then
there's Graham Day, Mrs Thatcher, Jim Callaghan, me, apparently, Tony Benn,
Honda, BMW, the Shanghai Automotive group and British Aerospace who, in
1988, took the company off the government's hands, promising they wouldn't
sell it for five years.
Five years later almost to the day, and having invested
virtually nothing, they sold it to BMW for £800m. And what did BMW do? Why,
they launched the wilfully old-fashioned 75, proving that they had no idea
either. Nobody did. Nobody ever has done. Never in the field of human
endeavour has so much been done, so badly, by so many.
And then we ended up with the Phoenix Four, who cannot possibly
have dreamt even for a femtosecond that they had any chance whatsoever of
turning the company around. They needed at least four all-new cars, each one
of which would have to be at least as good as a Volkswagen.
And in these days of emission legislation and crash protection
requirements, a new Volkswagen costs around £1 billion to design and
develop. I'm told Renault recently spent £25m on a new heating and
On that basis the Phoenix Four didn't even have enough for a new
door knob. They must have known that. They must. And they must also have
known that no car firm in the world would want to get into bed with them.
Not with all that face hair going on.
Even so some people are saying the demise of MG Rover is my
fault because I failed to give the cars a good review and sneered at the men
in hats who drove them. I can't understand this reasoning; am I supposed to
recommend all cars that are made here irrespective of their price,
performance or quality? Because if I am, all of you must go out tomorrow and
buy a London cab.
Even if I thought for a moment that anyone paid any attention to
anything I say - and I have figures to prove they don't - I'm sorry, I'm not
employed to think one thing and say something else.
I didn't like the vast majority of Rover's cars when they were
being made and I won't miss them at all. What's more, I cannot even get
teary and emotional about the demise of the company itself - though I do
feel sorry for the workforce. In fact when I heard the news my first thought
was "good". Now we can move on and do something we're good at, like . . .
actually, I can't think what we're good at. But it definitely isn 't running
Think about it. The four coolest cars in the world are the Aston
DB9, the Rolls-Royce Phantom, the Mini and the Range Rover. British
ingenuity. Foreign investment. Foreign management.
There is, however, one big problem with the collapse. Road
safety. I really do think that with no more Rovers we will see a dramatic
increase in the number of crashes.
You see, in the 1960s and 1970s all the bad drivers who had no
interest in cars had Volvos. We knew to beware; just because a Volvo was in
the left-hand lane, indicating left, didn't mean it was going to turn left.
Then Volvo went all sporty, forcing the weak and the feeble to
look elsewhere. Most ended up in Rovers, dithering about at junctions and
generally driving the wrong way down motorways. There's one Rover that has
been stationary at the complicated double mini-roundabout in Chipping Norton
for 15 years, its driver paralysed with fear.
Now, with Rover gone, I'm worried because there'll be no advance
warning of a bad driver ahead. They could all be camouflaged in Fords or
BMWs. And you'll have no idea until the moment of impact.
I do think that in the fullness of time they'll all end up in
Hyundais and Kias - hopeless, uninspiring, witless, soulless, gutless,
characterless white goods from the Pacific Rim. I'm sure they'll feel right
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