The Rover Company is a former British car manufacturing company founded as Starley & Sutton Co. of Coventry in 1878. The company traded as Rover, manufacturing cars, between 1904 and 1967, when it was sold to Leyland Motor Corporation, becoming the Rover marque. The marque went through several lifetimes before its liquidation in 2005.
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.
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.
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% in the value of capital of the company.
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 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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 last Rover was produced in 2005, just before bankruptcy.
Length : cm (in): 435 (171.3)
Width : cm (in): 160 (63)
Height : cm (in): 157 (62)
Wheelbase : cm (in) : 280 (110.5)
Weight: kg (lb) : 1397 (3080)
Displacement : straight six 2103 cc (128 ci)
Valve gear : 12
Fuel system : 1 carburettor
Gearbox : 4 speed manual
Driven wheels : rear-wheel drive
Maximum power : 75 bhp
Maximum torque :
Top speed :
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