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Future Classic Friday: Rover 75

Published 01 September 2017

Here’s a potted story for you, entitled 'Rover, the BMW Years'. It may not be what many enthusiasts of the late, lamented British marque want to hear, but it’s a simple truth. BMW Group did not kill Rover.

Indeed, if proof were needed that the German company tried its best to bring its ‘English Patient’ back from the brink, the Rover 75 is it. It was the controversy surrounding the 75’s 1998 British Motor Show debut that started the rock-throwing in BMW’s direction, after the company’s then boss, Bernd Pischetschreider, used the launch press conference to fire a warning shot to the British government to help stem more than £600m of losses.

Rover was on the sticky end of an extremely strong pound at the time, making exports unprofitable. It was also the UK’s biggest exporter, so it’s easy to see how the business model didn’t add up. BMW asked for government investment to keep Rover afloat, the car industry became a huge political football, and less than 18 months later the Germans packed their bags and left, taking the new Mini with them.

Rover 75 (3)

A very similar story has just unfolded in Australia, with GM, Ford and Toyota all closing factories that had produced cars there for decades. The Australian domestic car industry is dead, and the story is the same – the overseas investors asked for money, the domestic government made it a policy issue, and now the factories have fallen dormant.

It wasn’t BMW that killed Rover. It was simple economics, on top of decades of poor management.

It’s ironic, then, that the once proud British marque produced what was probably its best ever car as its last ever new car developed from the ground-up. The 75 was a truly, truly fabulous machine – well made, elegant, great to drive and exquisitely styled. It was a perfect amalgam of what Rover’s designers and chassis engineers were always exceptionally good at, with some German quality principles applied. And aside from the boardroom politics that blighted its entire life, the ‘car people’ within the Rover Group and their German colleagues absolutely nailed it.

In 1999, when it went on sale, the Italian media described the Rover 75 as the most beautiful car ever made. Enzo Ferrari may well have been turning in his grave, but they had a point. Chief stylist Richard Woolley’s delicate lines were unashamedly retro, but at the same time contemporary, while the interior managed to combine the gentleman’s club aura of the 1950s Rover that bore the same name, but in a thoroughly modern context. While other cars from the same era have aged quite badly, the 75 hasn’t – largely by virtue of the fact that it looked like an antique when it first came out. And we don’t mean that as an insult.

Rover 75 (4)

It drove brilliantly, too. The base model used Rover’s 1.8-litre K-series engine, which wasn’t the car’s finest feature, but further up the range were a choice of the smooth KV6 (best served in 2.5-litre form) or the BMW-sourced 2.0-litre CDT, which had made the BMW 3-series every fleet manager’s company car of choice thanks to its excellent economy, low emissions and driver-focused performance, even in moderate power outputs.

Those first 75s were great cars, and even after BMW pulled out and production of the 75 transferred from Cowley (which BMW kept to make the Mini) to Longbridge, it was still a capable and elegant car that was competitive in its class.

It was less so towards the end. With the exception of some interesting anomalies such as the 75 Limousine and V8, the ill-advised 2004 facelift also saw a significant drop in build standards, but by then the writing was already on the wall for Rover. The Viking longship was a sinking one, and even its former masthead wasn’t enough to keep the company afloat.

The rest, as they say, is history. But history at least appears to be being kind to the 75. The sheer number of survivors shows how well made they were, especially the earlier cars, and there’s already a large and passionate following for them among the classic car fraternity.

Time, then, to cast aside old prejudices and celebrate the Rover 75 for what it actually was – a great British car created by passionate designers and engineers as a showcase of the very best they could do. And, whisper it, they’d never have been able to do it without BMW…

Comments

Chris C    on 1 September 2017

Definitely a classic but not without its own list of known faults.

   on 1 September 2017

Please name a car that DOESN'T have its own list of known faults?

Ian Welding    on 1 September 2017

We have had our mg zt cdti since it was 6 months old, it's on a 53 plate it's been a great car. Had a new clutch 3 years ago and it's still going strong and pretty cheap to run and still holds its own against the most modern cars of today especially in reliability hope to get many more years out of her.
If only they still made cars like this today.

Harrovian    on 4 September 2017

I have a 2002 diesel tourer, it's a fantastic car, yes it has needed a new clutch and a fan, but otherwise trouble free. Economical, comfortable, stylish and very practical in estate form, I hope to keep it for many years yet, we did 1000 miles in a week in July on holiday and still use it extensively.
If only Rover had not gone under......................

tiger110    on 4 September 2017

The Rover 75 is still one of the most refined rides available even judged against the very latest mid range luxury cars. The Face lift model is still very elegant albeit perhaps a small notch down on the previous model so I disagree a little with the author's comments. It has to be remembered that there are a few "V8" drop head styled radiator grilled face-lift models out there which are the best styled front ends of all 75s. There are a few lucky 75 owners who have these front grills on non V8 cars because Rover were running short of supplies during their final months and used up their V8 stock of grills on all 75 models for a short time. A future classic indeed, and a great artical by Craig.

Amitch    on 6 September 2017

I owned 2 x ZT260's (V8 versions) & then a 75 V6 connoisseur. All of them were very reliable - particularly the 75 which I had over 6 years & used daily. It was probably the most reliable & comfortable cars I've owned (& owned quite a few other cars)...and still one of the best looking cars out there - particularly the chrome strip & chrome door handles. As an added bonus;They are also so cheap. Go for a V6 2.5 or a diesel with all extras & enjoy!

Victor Svekolkin    on 16 September 2017

I've owned 4 so far. Currently 2 in use, a 1.8 turbo saloon which is fast and whisper quiet plus a 2.5 V6 saloon which is refined and muscular with its sports handling pack which was an option when new. I see no reason to sell either car and will do my best to keep them going. Best car of probably the 30 or more BL/Austin Rover MGR cars I have owned in the last 35 years.

David peck    on 8 November 2017

My 2002 Connie cdt estate covered 2.500 miles on a charity drive this year from lands end to John o groats also got a 2.5 v6 old old English white saloon Connie love them both

Roverandum    on 7 December 2017

Fairly honest article, although I would take to task that BMW was not largely to blame for the demise of the company (not to excuse management failures). Under-powering the MG F / TF to ensure not rivalling the Z series. Asset stripping Mini and Land Rover (effectively to create the excruciating X Series!). Refusing to install curtain air bags as standard on the 75 thereby preventing the first Euro 5 Safety standard vehicle and also the commented upon 'own goal' at launch. Not investing in revising model line up to standardise competition with other brands rather than the 'mid-line ' approach to marketing that existed. I think some blame can be attributed and suspect (given that Rover sales exceeded BMW in Europe prior to their purchase of the brand and BMW effectively had the 3, 5 and 7 Series with the addition of the Z series underway prior to asset stripping Rover, but came out with the X Series following acquisition of Land Rover technology, Mini and the new 1 Series which bore a remarkable similarity to the Rover TCV concept car - which like the 75 was fully and independently developed by Rover - not BMW - also I would indicate that Rover 75 development was wholly Rover and completed prior to BMW acquisition with only the amendment of the BMW z-axle post acquisition).

   on 28 June 2019

I owned two Rover 75s then a MG Z-TT all diesels pre 2004 twin headlamp version and the 2004 -05 facelift and was a great improvement on reliability, not that mechanically there were any issues the only issues were the two fuel pumps failing, engine one first then the fuel tank one not to mention the flooding of the ecu due to blocked ducts in the engine bulk head, but didnt have this issue in my 2005 ctdi.

The car was a pleasure and lovely to drive and a great towing machine and not to mention good looks especially now when I see one passing me, where I think to myself (I do miss my Rover 75).

One car I will always love with fond memories !

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