Friday, April 08, 2005

 

Tragedy in the UK

This probably won't be of much interest to US readers, but this week saw the demise of Britain's last volume car manufacturer, MG Rover.

From time to time Rover had a go at selling cars in the US, most recently under the 'Sterling' brand. I saw a 1986 Sterling 2.5V6 in Santa Clara a few weeks ago. Up until the early 1970s the cars were excellent. With the dead hand of state socialism upon Rover and its predecessors, however, quality plummeted and by the end of the 1970s Rover was a byword for cars which fell apart after a couple of years.

Since 1980 Rover has gone through four owners - British Aerospace, Honda, BMW, and finally what was left was bought in 2000 from BMW for the princely sum of one pound by the directors. Now the whole thing has gone into administration (the UK version of Chapter 11).

I used to work for a company which supplied Rover, and even back then in the early 1990s you could see the skids were under the place. They had a number of large factories which were half empty.

I also used to drive a Rover from their glory days, a true classic car, a P6, which looked like this



Here's another picture. There aren't many better-looking cars.




Even after 25 years this car was as good to drive as a modern car.

A 1975 Rover P6 V8 is a better car than a 2003 Lexus ES 300. It's no less economical; it is quicker, far more comfortable, and a lot safer as you have better all round visibility due to not having enormously thick A-pillars containing airbags.

Too bad Rover followed up this classic with the SD1:



This car had a well-deserved reputation for unreliability; I knew a guy who bought one in 1980 and within three months he could put his hand through any of the body panels, as the factory had ommitted the rust-proofing, and prior to delivery the car had stood in a field in the rain for six months due to a strike.

From the mid 1980s onward Rover quality improved, but they could never shake off a lack of public trust, and together with cheap overseas imports by 2004 they were down to a 3% share of the UK market.

Rest in peace Rover. Truly great cars, but an example of how Government interference is the death knell of industry and innovation.

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