Rover Company

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This article is about the original Rover Company until 1967. For the car brand used until 2005, see Rover (marque)
Rover Company
Industry Automotive industry
Motorcycle industry (until 1925)
Bicycle industry (until 1925)
Fate Merged
Successor(s)

Leyland Motor Corporation Rover Group

Land Rover
Founded 1885
Founder(s) John Kemp Starley &
William Sutton
Defunct 1967
Headquarters England:
Coventry, West Midlands
(1904–47)
Solihull, West Midlands
(1947–present)
Key people Spencer & Maurice Wilks
(Management & Engineering,
1929–63)
Products Rover Automobiles
Motorcycles (until 1925)
Bicycles (until 1925)
Land Rover All terrain vehicles
Subsidiaries Alvis Cars (1965–67)

The Rover Company is a former British car manufacturing company founded as Starley & Sutton Co. of Coventry in 1878. It is the direct ancestor of the present day Land Rover company, which is a subsidiary of Jaguar Land Rover, in turn owned by the Tata Group.

The company traded as Rover, manufacturing cars between 1904 and 1967, when it was sold to Leyland Motor Corporation, becoming the Rover marque. The Rover marque was used on cars produced by British Leyland (BL), who separated the assets of the original Rover Company as Land Rover in 1978 whilst the Rover trademark continued to be used on vehicles produced by its successor companies – the Austin Rover Group (1982–1986), the Rover Group (1986–2000), and then finally MG Rover (2000–2005). Following MG Rover's collapse in 2005, the Rover marque became dormant, and was subsequently sold to Ford, by now the owners of Land Rover, a move which effectively reunited the Rover trademark with the original company.

After developing the template for the modern bicycle with its Rover Safety Bicycle of 1885, the company moved into the automotive industry. It started building motorcycles and Rover cars, using their established marque with the iconic Viking Longship, from 1904 onwards. Land Rover vehicles were added from 1948 onwards, with all production moving to the Solihull plant after World War II.

The Polish word now most commonly used for bicyclerower originates from Rover bicycles which had both wheels of the same size (previous models usually had one bigger, one smaller – see Penny-farthing, and were called in Polish bicykl, from English bicycle).

History[edit]

Before cars[edit]

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 previously worked with his uncle, James Starley (father of the cycle trade), who began by 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-wheel designs. Cycling Magazine said the Rover had "set the pattern to the world"; the phrase was used in their advertising for many years. Starley's Rover is usually described by historians as the first recognisably modern bicycle.

The words for "bicycle" in Polish (Rower) and Belarusian (Rovar, Ро́вар) are derived from the name of the company. The word ровер is also used in many parts of Western Ukraine.

In 1889, the company became J.K. Starley & Co. Ltd., and in the late 1890s, the Rover Cycle Company Ltd.

Rover motorcycles[edit]

Main article: Rover (motorcycles)

In 1899 John Starley imported some of the early Peugeot motorcycles from France in for experimental development. His first project was to fit an engine to one of his Rover bicycles. Starley died early in October 1901 aged 46 and the business was taken over by entrepreneur H. J. Lawson.[1]

1912 Rover 3-speed

The company developed and produced the Rover Imperial motorcycle in November 1902. This was a 3.5 hp diamond-framed motorcycle with the engine in the centre and 'springer' front forks which was ahead of its time.[2] This first Rover motorcycle had innovative features such as a spray carburettor, bottom-bracket engine and mechanically operated valves. With a strong frame with double front down tubes and a good quality finish, over a thousand Rover motorcycles were sold in 1904. The following year, however, Rover stopped motorcycle production to concentrate on their 'safety bicycle' but in 1910 designer John Greenwood was commissioned to develop a new 3.5 hp 500 cc engine with spring-loaded tappets, a Bosch magneto and an innovative inverted tooth drive chain. It had a Brown and Barlow carburettor and Druid spring forks. This new model was launched at the 1910 Olympia show and over 500 were sold.

In 1913 a 'TT' model was launched with a shorter wheelbase and sports handlebars. The 'works team' of Dudley Noble and Chris Newsome had some success and won the works team award.[2]

1920 Rover 500 cc

Rover supplied 499 cc single cylinder motorcycles to the Russian Army during the First World War.[2] The company began to focus on car production at the end of the war, but Rover still produced motorcycles with 248 cc and 348 cc Rover overhead valve engines and with J.A.P. engines, including a 676 cc V-twin.[3] In 1924 Rover introduced a new lightweight 250cc motorcycle with unit construction of engine and gearbox. This had lights front and rear as well as a new design of internal expanding brakes.[2]

Poor sales of their motorcycles caused Rover to end motorcycle production and concentrate solely on the production of motor cars. Between 1903 and 1924 Rover had produced more than 10,000 motorcycles.[3]

Early Rover cars[edit]

Rover, 1905.
The Rover Six in a 1910 advertisement—£155.
Rover Tourer, 1926.
1936 Rover 10.

In 1888, Starley made an electric car, but it never was put into production.

Three years after Starley's death in 1901, and H. J. Lawson's subsequent takeover, the Rover company began producing automobiles with the two-seater Rover Eight to the designs of Edmund Lewis, who came from Lawson's Daimler. Lewis left the company to join Deasy in late 1905. He was eventually replaced by Owen Clegg, who joined from Wolseley in 1910 and set about reforming the product range. Short-lived experiments with sleeve valve engines were abandoned, and the 12hp model was introduced in 1912. This car was so successful that all other cars were dropped, and for a while, Rover pursued a "one model" policy. Clegg left to join the French company Darracq in 1912.

During the First World War, they made motorcycles, lorries to Maudslay designs, and, not having a suitable one of their own, cars to a Sunbeam design.

Restructure and re-organization[edit]

The business was not very successful during the 1920s and did not pay a dividend from 1923 until the mid-1930s. In December 1928 the chairman of Rover advised shareholders that the accumulation of the substantial losses of the 1923–1928 years together with the costs of that year's reorganisation must be recognised by a reduction of 60 per cent in the value of capital of the company.[4][5]

During 1928 Frank Searle was appointed managing director to supervise recovery. Searle was by training a locomotive engineer with motor industry experience at Daimler and, most recently, had been managing director of Imperial Airways. On his recommendation Spencer Wilks was brought in from Hillman as general manager and appointed to the board in 1929. That year, Searle split Midland Light Car Bodies from Rover in an effort to save money[6] and instructed Robert Boyle and Maurice Wilks to design a new small car.

This was the Rover Scarab with a rear-mounted V-twin-cylinder air-cooled engine announced in 1931, a van version was shown at Olympia, but it did not go into production.[7] During this time the Rover 10/25 was introduced, with bodies made by the Pressed Steel Company. This was the same body as used on the Hillman Minx. Prior to this time Rover had been a great supporter of the very light Weymann bodies that went suddenly out of fashion with the demand for shiny coachwork and more curved body shapes. Weymann bodies remained in the factory catalogue until 1933.

Frank Searle and Spencer Wilks set about reorganising the company and moving it upmarket to cater for people who wanted something "superior" to Fords and Austins. In 1930 Spencer Wilks was joined by his brother, Maurice, who had also been at Hillman as chief engineer. Spencer Wilks was to stay with the company until 1962, and his brother until 1963.

The company showed profits in the 1929 and 1930 years but with the economic downturn in 1931 Rover reported a loss of £77,529. 1932 produced a loss of £103,000 but a turn around following yet more reorganization resulted in a profit of £46,000 in 1933.[8] The new assembly operations in Australia and New Zealand were closed.

Frank Searle left the board near the end of the calendar year 1931, his work done.[6]

Building on successes such as beating the Blue Train for the first time in 1930 in the Blue Train Races, the Wilks Brothers established Rover as a company with several European royal, aristocratic, and governmental warrants, and upper-middle-class and star clients.[9]

Second World War and gas turbines[edit]

In the late 1930s, in anticipation of the potential hostilities that would become the Second World War, the British government started a rearmament programme, and as part of this, "shadow factories" were built. These were paid for by the government but staffed and run by private companies. Two were run by Rover: one, at Acocks Green, Birmingham, started operation in 1937, and a second, larger one, at Solihull, started in 1940. Both were employed making aero engines and airframes. The original main works at Helen Street, Coventry, was severely damaged by bombing in 1940 and 1941 and never regained full production.

In early 1940, Rover was approached by the government to support Frank Whittle in developing the gas turbine engine. Whittle's company, Power Jets, had no production facilities; however, the intention was for Rover to take the design and develop it for mass production. Whittle himself was not pleased by this and did not like the design changes made without his approval, but the first test engines to the W2B design were built in an unused cotton mill in Barnoldswick, Lancashire, in October 1941. Rolls-Royce took an interest in the new technology, and an agreement was reached in 1942 in which they would take over the engines and Barnoldswick works—and in exchange, Rover would get the contract for making Meteor tank engines, which actually continued until 1964.

After the Second World War, the company abandoned Helen Street and bought the two shadow factories. Acocks Green carried on for a while, making Meteor engines for tanks, and Solihull became the new centre for vehicles, with production resuming in 1947. This was the year Rover produced the Rover 12 Sports Tourer. 200 cars were built for the export market but all had RHD so many cars stayed in the UK. Solihull would become the home of the Land Rover.

Experimental cars[edit]

Rover gas turbine experimental car.

In 1950, designer F.R. Bell and chief engineer Maurice Wilks unveiled the first car powered with a gas turbine engine, based upon the designs of Frank Whittle's Power Jets company. 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 88 mph (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 the Rover-BRM, a gas turbine-powered sports prototype that entered the 1963 24 hours of Le Mans, driven by Graham Hill and Richie Ginther. It averaged 107.8 mph (173 km/h) and had a top speed of 142 mph (229 km/h).

Rover also ran several experimental diesel engine projects in relation to the Land Rover. The 2-litre, 52 horsepower (39 kW) diesel unit designed and built by Rover for its 4x4 had entered production in 1956 and was one of Britain's first modern high-speed automotive diesel engines. Experimental projects were undertaken to improve the engine's power delivery, running qualities, and fuel tolerances. British Army requirements led to the development of a multifuel version of the 2.25-litre variant of the engine in 1962, which could run on petrol, diesel, Jet-A, or kerosene. However, the engine's power output when running on low-grade fuel was too low for the Army's uses. Rover developed a highly advanced (for the time) turbodiesel version of its engine in the mid-1960s to power its experimental '129-inch' heavy duty Land Rover designs. This 2.5-litre engine used a turbocharger built by Rover's gas turbine division as well as an intercooler. This was one of the first times these features had been incorporated on such a small-capacity diesel unit, but they were not adopted.

After the Leyland Motor Corporation takeover, the Rover Gas Turbine was used in a number of Leyland trucks, including one shown at the 1968 Commercial Motor Show. Rover gas turbines also powered the first Advanced Passenger Train.

Golden years[edit]

The 1950s and '60s were fruitful years for the company. The Land Rover became a runaway success (despite Rover's reputation for making upmarket saloons, the utilitarian Land Rover was actually the company's biggest seller throughout the 1950s, '60s, and '70s), as well as the P5 and P6 saloons equipped with a 3.5L (215ci) aluminium V8 (the design and tooling of which was purchased from Buick) and pioneering research into gas turbine-fueled vehicles.

As the '60s drew to a close Rover was working on a number of innovative projects. Having purchased the Alvis company in 1965 Rover was working on a V8-powered supercar to sell under the Alvis name. The prototype, called the P6BS, was completed and the finalised styling and engineering proposal, the P9, was drawn up. Rover was also working on the P8 project which aimed to replace the existing P5 large saloon with a modern design similar in concept to a scaled-up P6.

When Leyland Motors joined with British Motor Holdings and Rover and Jaguar became corporate partners these projects were cancelled to prevent internal competition with Jaguar products. The P8 in particular was cancelled in a very late stage of preparation- Rover had already ordered the dies and stamping equipment for making the car's body panels at Pressed Steel when ordered to stop work.

Rover continued to develop its '100-inch Station Wagon', which became the ground-breaking Range Rover, launched in 1970. This also used the ex-Buick V8 engine as well as the P6's innovative safety-frame body structure design and features such as permanent four-wheel drive and all-round disc brakes. The Range Rover was initially designed as a utility vehicle which could offer the off-road capability of the Land Rover, but in a more refined and car-like package.

Mergers to LMC and BL[edit]

Main article: British Leyland
This Rover prototype for a midengined sports car was shown to the press in 1967, but politics in the wake of the BLMC merger got in the way, and the model never entered production.

In 1967, Rover became part of the Leyland Motor Corporation (LMC), which already owned Triumph. The next year, LMC merged with British Motor Holdings (BMH) to become the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC). This was the beginning of the end for the independent Rover Company, 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. At various times, it was part of the Specialist Division (hence the factory designation SD1 for the first—and in the event, only—model produced under this arrangement), Leyland Cars, Rover-Triumph, and the short-lived Jaguar Rover Triumph. The Land Rover products however had flourished during the turbulent BLMC years, with the Range Rover in particular generating sizeable revenues for the company as it moved further upmarket. After the Ryder Report in 1975, Land Rover was split from Rover in 1978 as a separate operating company within British Leyland, and all Rover car production at Solihull ended and was switched to the Austin-Morris plants in Longbridge and Cowley for the rest of the marque's existence. The Range Rover subsequently went on to become BL's flagship product, after Jaguar was de-merged and privatised in 1984.

British Leyland entered into a collaborative venture with the Honda Motor Corporation of Japan, which resulted in a whole generation of Rover-badged vehicles which shared engineering with contemporary Honda models, which would sustain the beleaguered company and its successors until the mid-1990s.

Sale to BAe, and divestment[edit]

In 1988 the business was sold by the British Government to British Aerospace (BAe), and shortly after shortened its name to just Rover Group. They subsequently sold the business in 1994 to BMW. Honda, which had owned a 20% share in partnership with BAe, exited the business when BAe sold its share to BMW.[10]

BMW, after initially seeking to retain the whole, decided only to retain the Cowley operations for MINI production. Land Rover was sold by BMW to Ford.[10] The Longbridge production facility, along with the Rover and Morris Garages marques, was taken on by former Rover executive John Towers in April 2000 for a derisory sum under the marque MG Rover.[10] The Towers administration of MG was declared insolvent in April 2005 and the business was later refloated under the ownership of Nanjing Automobile, who moved production to China.[10]

Current Status[edit]

Legally the Rover marque is the property of Land Rover under the terms of Ford's purchase of the name in 2006. Land Rover is currently part of Jaguar Land Rover having being sold by Ford to Tata Motors in 2008. As part of the deal with Tata the Rover marque had to remain as property of Land Rover.[citation needed]

Models[edit]

1938 Rover 16.

Launched under the independent Rover Company pre-merger (1904–67)[edit]

Launched under the Rover trademark as a British Leyland Motor Corporation (later BL plc) subsidiary (1967–88)[edit]

Launched by the Rover Group/MG Rover as a British Aerospace/BMW subsidiary (1988–2005)[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Phillips, Kevin. "Rover – How it all began". Retrieved 2009-02-06. 
  2. ^ a b c d De Cet, Mirco (2005). Quentin Daniel, ed. The Complete Encyclopedia of Classic Motorcycles. Rebo International. ISBN 978-90-366-1497-9. 
  3. ^ a b "Brief History of the Marque: Rover". Retrieved 2009-02-03. 
  4. ^ City Notes. Rover's 60p.c. Capital Loss. The Times, Monday, Dec 03, 1928; pg. 23; Issue 45066
  5. ^ High Court Of Justice. Chancery Division., Reduction Of Capital The Times, Tuesday, Feb 12, 1929; pg. 5; Issue 45125
  6. ^ a b "Rover". British Motor Museum. Retrieved 30 March 2011. 
  7. ^ "The Road that Led to the Beetle". Light Auto. Retrieved 30 March 2011. 
  8. ^ The Rover Company, Substantial Trading Profit, High Quality Of Company's Cars The Times, Tuesday, Oct 10, 1933; pg. 21; Issue 46571
  9. ^ Graham Robson (1981). The Rover company (2 ed.). Patrick Stephens. ISBN 0-85059-543-6. 
  10. ^ a b c d "1994: MPs condemn sale of Rover". BBC News. 1 February 1994. 

External links[edit]