HISTORY OF THE MG ROVER GROUP

The early history of the MG Rover Group reflects the way the British motor industry in developed in the early 1900’s. As many people tried their hands at manufacturing vehicles at this time, a wide range of independent vehicle manufacturers emerged. The majority of these lasted only a few years or were quickly taken over by other companies.

The Rover company developed through the grouping, regrouping, merger and take-over of many famous names in British motoring. These changes started almost from the moment the first British-built vehicle appeared on the roads (credited to Dr Frederick Lanchester who built a four-wheeled petrol driven car in 1895).

In 1968, the Leyland Motor Corporation and British Motor Holdings merged to form one large car and commercial vehicle organisation, British Leyland Motor Corporation. And in 1975, the company became British Leyland and in 1978 it was known as BL .

In the same year that the Rover 800 was introduced to the market, 1986, Sir Graham Day was appointed as chairman of British Leyland. He quickly named the company Rover Group and began a programme of moving the company and its products upmarket and away from mass-produced cars. In his role, Sir Graham set about completing a privatisation programme which saw many of British Leyland’s subsidiaries being sold. In 1988 the Rover Group was sold to British Aerospace.

In early 1994, the Rover Group was taken over by the German car maker, BMW. Following six years with BMW, on March 16, 2000, BMW announced fundamental ‘reorganisation plans’ that split the company apart and resulted in the sale of the key constituent parts of the group.

The new company, MG Rover Group Limited, is now an independent, medium sized, British company that produces cars under the Rover and MG brands from the Longbridge Birmingham plant. The company started life with a debt free balance sheet and a strong revenue stream, which included car sales, parts, accessories and vehicle financing. It also benefited from over £3 billion of investment by the previous owners.

Facts and Figures on the MG Rover Group Ltd, Year 2000:

Annual turnover:                    

£1.47 billion

Current export markets:

UK and Western Europe. The MG Rover Group operates in 70 markets world-wide. In 2000, new markets were opened in Australia, Norway and Sweden.
  Approximately 50 per cent of the annual production of cars are exported, the remainder distributed to the UK dealer network.

The chart below illustrates the mergers and regrouping of the famous names within the British motor industry which became, first, the British Leyland Motor Corporation and later the MG Rover Group.

Brief History of Rover:

When John Starley and William Sutton went into partnership in 1877 to manufacture penny farthing cycles and tricycles at Coventry, they laid the foundations of the Rover company. The name Rover was first used for one of their tricycles which was produced in 1884. After a succession of motorcycles, the first car, an 8 hp model, was introduced in 1904. In 1906, the company became the Rover Company Ltd.

In 1907, a Rover 20 hp car won the International Tourist Trophy race on the Isle of Man. Production of cycles, motorcycles and cars continued up to the First World War when Rover turned to Government contracts for military vehicles, mortars, gas shells and other munitions work.

In 1920, the Rover 8 hp was produced and more than 17,000 were manufactured up to 1925. The 14/15 hp model of 1924 was awarded the Dewar Trophy by the RAC. The company gained more prestige in 1930 when a Light Six car raced the Continental Express, 750 miles across France for 20 hours and reached Calais 20 minutes ahead of the train.

During the Second World War, more than 21,000 people were employed producing aero engines, tank engines and aircraft wings. Behind the scenes, the company was working on the secret development of a small gas turbine engine. On March 8, 1959, the world’s first gas turbine propelled car was launched, culminating in the T4, an advanced car with four-wheel drive, disc brakes and independent suspension. In 1963, Rover raced at Le Mans, covering 2,588 miles at an average speed of almost 108 miles per hour.

In 1967 the Rover company merged with the Leyland Motor Corporation and the following year became part of Britain’s largest motor manufacturing organisation, with the merger of the Leyland Group and British Motor Holdings to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation.

In June 1984 the Rover range was extended to include a highly specified range of smaller cars; the Rover 200 series. The latest version of the Rover 200 series was launched in 1989, followed by the Rover 400 range of mid-sized executive cars in March 1990.

In July 1986, the Rover 800 series was introduced, a luxurious range of executive cars with advanced styling and technology in design and manufacture.

In 1998, the Rover Group was sold to British Aerospace and six years later to the German car maker BMW.

The 1999 London Motor Show represented a historic milestone in the evolution of the Rover manqué beneath BMW ownership, with the world-debut of the new Rover 25 and 45 ranges. Positioned alongside the successful Rover 75, the new 25 and 45 ranges provided a clearer indication of the future role and direction of the Rover manqué.

In 2000, MG Rover Group Ltd took responsibility for the Longbridge car facilities producing the Rover 25, 45 and 75 models plus MGF the top selling roadster.

In 2001, the plants will additionally build the Rover 75 Tourer model and a range of three MG sports saloons.

For more detailed information on the history of the Rover Manqué, take this link .

Brief History of Austin

Herbert Austin built his first car, a three-wheeler, in 1895/1896 while working for the Wolseley Company. In 1899 he built a four-wheeler which won its class in the Automobile Club of Great Britain’s 1,000 mile trial.

Austin founded the Austin Motor Company at Longbridge Birmingham in 1905 and in 1906 unveiled the first "Austin" - a 25-30 hp estate with four speed gear-box and chain drive rear axle.

The business grew and by 1910 nearly 1,000 workers were making a wide range of car models from 6.8 hp to 60 hp.

After the First World War Austin decided to concentrate on just one model, a 20 hp car styled on American lines. The decision brought the company close to disaster but the introduction in 1922 of the Austin Seven completely transformed Austin’s fortunes.

Weighing only 9 cwt and only 8’ 9 " in length, it provided seats for four people. The Seven brought motoring to the family and became the most popular light car in the world.

The Seven laid the foundations for growth in inter-war years and by 1934 there was a choice of over 40 Austin models.

In 1936, Austin, who had already been made a Knight, became Lord Austin of Longbridge.

The war years meant production was turned over to military needs. But at the end of the war, Austin quickly moved to peace-time activities. The first post-war model was the Austin Sixteen.

In 1951 there were two significant events; a new assembly building was opened at Longbridge, modernising the production and, and after 30 years of intense rivalry, it was announced that the Austin and Nuffield (Morris) organisations were to merge the following year, forming the British Motor Corporation.

Brief History of Morris :

It was in 1910 that 33-year old William Richard Morris started to plan his first car, to be known as the Morris Oxford. The first production model left the converted military academy at Cowley on the outskirts of Oxford on March 28, 1913. By the time production of the 13.9 hp Bullnose Oxford and its sister 11.9 hp Cowley ceased in 1926, 154,244 had been made.

Morris launched a series of ruthless cuts in answer to the challenge of the post-war slump of 1920 and cut the price of the Cowley estate from £525 to £425 and then from £425 to £341, saving his company from bankruptcy. The 8 hp Morris Minor was launched in August 1928. The new model was from the newly acquired Wolseley company’s drawing office.

Always an admirer of American production methods, Morris returned from the US in the early 1920’s enthusiastic about the pressed steel method of body construction displayed by Budd, leaders in the field. William Morris and Edward G Budd together set up the Pressed Steel Company in 1926. They built the first British all-steel body in 1927 and the Morris Isis Six, a medium sized saloon, an early example of pressed steel expertise.

During 1933 and 1934, ‘specialisation’ became a slogan for Morris, a term coined to describe the company’s process of ‘taking over’ its suppliers. SU Carburettors, the Hotchkiss factory, Wolseley Motors Ltd and the ailing Riley company were all acquired in the period. Morris Motors in fact became the Nuffield Organisation after Lord Nuffield sold the company together with Wolseley and his other interests to Morris Motors Ltd.

After the Second World War, Morris launched the Minor, designed by Alec Issigonis to new road holding standards. The Minor had a roomy four-seater body and when fitted with the celebrated BMC A-series engine, it was unexpectedly fast.

Supporting the Minor was a range of larger saloons; the Morris Six and Isis – the last six cylinder Morris – and successive generations of Oxfords. With the design of the 1959 version being created by Pininfarina, the British public were introduced to the Italian favoured car style - squared-up lines and tail fins.

In 1952, the rivalry between the Nuffield organisation and the Austin ended with their amalgamation into the British Motor Corporation (BMC). BMC then merged with Jaguar and then the Leyland Motor Corporation to form in 1968 the British Leyland Motor Corporation.

William Morris died in 1963, having amassed a vast personal fortune through his business. Throughout his life, he gave £30 million to medical and educational institutions. Nuffield College, Oxford, was founded by him in 1929.

Morris Cowley became part of Rover Group’s major manufacturing facilities and benefited from a large-scale investment in design and manufacturing technology, placing it at the forefront of automobile technology.

Brief History of MG:

In 1922, 33-year-old Cecil Kimber joined Morris Garages as sales manager, to be appointed as general manager in the following year. Kimber had a great interest in body styling and coach building and was also an enthusiastic sports car driver. At the time, the Bullnosed Morris Cowleys and Oxfords were the best-selling cars in Britain, but were undeniably staid. So, it became natural for Kimber to turn his skills to fitting Morris chassis with a special bodywork of a more sporting nature.

In 1923, the first special-bodied Morris cars were marketed by Morris Garages, and in March 1924 the first MG car - a four-door saloon body on a Morris Oxford chassis - was advertised. It was followed immediately by the first examples of the MG four-seater Special Sports, also on the Oxford chassis

For 1925 a range of MG Super Sports models were offered, with two or four seater bodywork, or in 'salonette' form. In the same year the first entirely special purpose built MG sports, 'Old No. 1' was made for Cecil Kimber's own use. Kimber entered the car in the 1925 Land's End Trial and won a gold medal.

The period 1930 to 1935 saw the classic MG years, with a great variety of four and six cylinder models being manufactured. Most were sports cars, although a number of pure racing models were also developed and won countless successes on race tracks and road circuits in Britain and abroad. The name MG became synonymous with sports cars and it was in this period that the foundations were made for the lasting fame of the marquee.

Until 1935, the MG company had been the sole property of Lord Nuffield. However, in that year he sold the company together with Wolseley and his other interests to Morris Motors Ltd as part of a general rationalisation of the Morris companies, forming the Nuffield Organisation. It was simultaneously announced that MG would withdraw from racing. However, although there were no more MG racing cars, the company entered a new field of achievement with a series of record cars. The first was the EW120, the 'Magic Midget' which George Eyston drove at over 100 mph. This was followed by the EX135, the 'Magic Magnette' which was rebuilt with streamlined bodywork and in the course of its 15 year career, broke numerous records in different capacity classes, using five different engines. 

In 1952 Nuffield and Austin merged to form British Motor Corporation (BMC). This gave MG a family rival in the form of the Austin Healey sports car. In 1957 Austin-Healey production was transferred to Abingdon.  

The post 1960 period saw only six different MG models. The two saloon cars, the Magnette Mark III/IV and the 1100/1300, were relatively tame badge-engineered versions of the mainstream BMC products and were both made in the Cowley factory rather than in Abingdon. The 1100/1300 became the most popular saloon model, with 175,000 made between 1962 and 1971. 

During the 1980’s, the MG versions of the Metro, Maestro and the Montego were produced. These models were very successful, but were progressively phased out as derivative offerings were rationalised. 

For more detailed information on the history of the MG marque, take this link

History of the MG and Rover Marques