ROVER – THE MARQUE – a brief history.
The Rover company has had a long, diverse and fascinating history. Although the company was officially wound down in 2005 when the last Rover car left the assembly line at the Longbridge Plant, the machines and designs they pioneered impact our lives today and will continue to do so into the future. From the early days of building sewing machines, that due to their superior design and construction are collectors items today, to the bicycle that changed the cycling world overnight, Rover has always been a leader.
In 1886 John Starley built the first safety cycle, ‘The Rover’. A cycle with 2 wheels the same size and a 2 triangle frame, a chainless shaft driven version for ladies, this basic design has changed little in 130 years. The machines ridden by the tour riders today are still of the same basic layout that Starley developed over a century ago.
It was the Rover Company, working on an original design by Frank Whittle, that was instrumental in developing the first jet engine that powered the first British aircraft at RAF Cranwell on the 15th May 1941. While Rolls Royce took over development of the aviation jets, the Rover design still forms the basis for the jet turbines that power aircraft that cover millions of kilometers around the world today. Rover continued to work with the development of small gas turbines and these engines were used as power sources for high speed trains, boats, auxiliary power plants in military jets such as the Vulcan, and powering water pumps and machinery in a wide range of industrial and military applications. Rover also developed a series of gas turbine powered cars.
The Rover-BRM gas turbine powered race car at Le Mans.
In a long list of firsts, Rover also developed and marketed the first practical domestic four wheel drive all terrain vehicle, a Rover for the land, the Land-Rover. Launched at the Amsterdam Motor Show in April 1948 the vehicle that was built as a stop gap for the company after the war was intended for farm use, but was embraced across the world. When the simplicity, versatility and amazing capability of the Land-Rover was recognised it was quickly seen in service in every farm, desert, jungle, swamp, mountain and trouble spot in the civilised and uncivilised world. At one point it was employed by almost 70 different armies across the world. The Series Land Rover has been the vehicle of choice for explorers, farmers, military, industry and weekend adventurers for an amazing 68 years, from 1948 until it ceased production as the Defender in January 2016.
There are many famous Rover owners.
In June 1970 Rover took the lead again, and showed the world another new vehicle that drove like a car, but had the off road capabilities of the unstoppable Land Rover. Rover had developed what we know today as the SUV. The Range Rover took the world by storm and was equally as accepted trans-versing a muddy field or scorching desert as it was parked outside Harrods or the Savoy. Almost every modern car maker now produces some form of SUV and many aspire to the Range Rover. Although the Range Rover has always been imitated, it was and still is reputed to be the ‘best car in the world’.
The first generation Range Rover Classic.
Rover has designed and built aeroplane components, turbine powered cars that were years ahead of their time, giant diesels, and brought innovation to a motoring world. Throughout this time they were however always a manufacturer of ‘fine motor cars‘.
Many books have been written about the Rover cars, the Rover company, the jets, the four wheel drives, and the wonderful history. (Many are in the extensive RCCSA library) The 105 year history was not without its turmoil, take-overs, and financial woes, as well as being embroiled in many political confrontations. While Rover cars no longer trades, the name and the products live on through the hugely successful and expanding Land Rover and Range Rover range of vehicles.
You can understand why Rover enthusiasts are passionate about the company and its products.
Today, the commitment of the members of clubs such as the Rover Car Club of SA exists to keep these fine vehicles and the wonderful history alive.
Evolution of Rover badges through the years.
David Bache was responsible for styling cars for Rover that are still recognised as icons today. He is responsible for work on the P5, the P6 as depicted above, and the entire SD1 project. He was responsible for the detail that gave Land Rovers their distinctive shape by introducing, among other changes, the ‘hip’ on the series 2, that carried over to the Defenders right up to 2016. The distinctive detail changes David made to the first Range Rover are still used to identify the vehicle’s DNA on the current Range Rover Vogue, Sport, Evoque and Velar .
The LAST one!
Sadly this is the very last Rover to be produced. It is a 2005 firefox red, CDTi Rover 75 Connoisseur, and is now on display at the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon in the UK.
The end of the Rover 75
On November 9th 2016 SAIC announced that the last Roewe has been built and that the model is to be discontinued. This spells the end for the Rover 75 and all that followed. Read the full story here.
The following gallery illustrates Rover cars from the first practical vehicle in 1904 the 8hp to the final 2005 Rover 75
Nothing but the best for the real James Bond. Just real luxury motoring, neither shaken nor stirred?
All photographs sourced used with permission from private collections, internet public domain, and original Rover publicity.