Rover dead - no tears,,12529-1580901,00.html
Jeremy Clarkson's piece is a tad OTT -- as usual -- but I could not have put
it better.
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 the 1980s
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
Jeremy Clarkson
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 were making.
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 I've 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 ventilation system.
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 car firms. 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 at home.
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Goodbye Rover. I'll never have driven any of you, but I'll miss you sorely (Some lady at a hotel I stayed at in Germany had one. Looked like it had potential).
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