Clarkson on: Rover
And so, with the hysteria over Rover now reduced to a few bits of tumbleweed, and most of the workforce settled into new jobs, it’s time to turn our attention to the plight of those customers who kept Britain’s sick old dog going for so long.
I often wondered what it was that caused someone to buy a Rover in the autumn of the company’s life. Technology? I rather think not since the best-selling models in the range were based on the Honda Civic. And not the current one, either, or even the one before that. But the one before the one before the one that was pulled along by an ox.
Style perhaps? Well there’s no denying the 25 was a pretty little thing, but the 45 wasn’t and the 75? That was an automotive incarnation of Austin Reed. It was a theme pub and the theme in question was bingo. And to make matters worse, it was sold latterly in a range of snazzy colours which always put me in mind of a Day-Glo danny mac and a lime-green shopping trolley.
It should have been sold in that extraordinary colour that doesn’t exist in any chart or on any spectrometer, existing in the tailoring department of shops frequented by those in their eighties. It’s not green, brown or grey, but a sort of sludgy blend of all three. A colour that’s called simply ‘old’.
So, if it wasn’t style or technology that drew people to the Rover brand, and it certainly wasn’t power, economy, space or comfort, then what was it? Well I’ve thought long and hard about this and the only thing I can come up with is that they perceived the brand to be ‘British’.
Why? If it was the British workforce that the customer was trying to support, then why not buy a Nissan or a Toyota or a Honda? If it wasn’t the workforce, perhaps it was the designers. So why not buy a Ford or a Renault or an Audi or indeed anything that takes your fancy; because just about every car firm in the world employs a Brit somewhere in the styling department.
It can only have been some sense that Rover was British owned. Well yes, but if you were to buy shares in Ford tomorrow, then Ford would be British owned, in part at least. If you bought shares in GM as well, and DaimlerChrysler, Renault, PSA, and VW, then Britain would have a stake in just about every car firm in the world. So now you can see how daft the concept of buying a Rover was.
It can only have been done because the Britishness of the brand gave the customers a sense of pride. And that’s just plain weird. The notion that someone in a retirement home in Bournemouth should have anything in common with a Midlands car worker is laughable. Politically, these Rule Britannia types have more in common with American neo-cons. Geographically, they’re nearer to the French and biologically, they are a gnat’s genome away from a fossilised bat.
I like being British because it gives me someone to shout at in the World Cup. I also like being British because I think we have a reasonably honourable history. But neither of these reasons would have caused me to buy a sub-standard product just because it was emblazoned with the Union flag.
“I like being British because it gives me someone to shout at in the World Cup”
Apart from anything else, I think of myself as European these days, and please don’t trot out the age old question: would I rather be governed by a bunch of German bankers? What? Instead of Tony Bloody Blair? Too damn right I would.
Not that even my pro-EU stance would cause me to buy a European car. In fact, my Ford GT comes from pretty well everyone’s idea of hell. America. And the car I’m most looking forward to in the next few months is the new Nissan Skyline. Oh wait. Under the Rover customer rules, that’s actually French. But the Ford GT has an Aston Vanquish steering rack. So does that make it British? Maybe so.
All this is by the by, because Rover is now Chinese, the dealers are all gone and Britain’s barmy army of Rover drivers is now in urgent need of a replacement. Morgan would be the obvious answer, but many,I suspect, would find the Plus 8 a bit too Welsh.
Some will drift to where they should have been in the first place. Honda. They’ll love the reliability, the space, the lightness of touch and the way other road users part when they drive by. We’re not parting of course; we’re running for our lives, because we know the Honda driver is deaf, mad and blind.
Some, however, will not buy a Honda because of a perceived war crime committed by Tojo in Burma.
These are the really dangerous ones. The sort of people who can’t forgive and forget even after 60 years. That makes them old and vindictive. And if they’ve been a Rover driver, stupid as well. There are creatures with big teeth in our nightmares that are less terrifying. Even Bill Oddie doesn’t match up.
This lot, then, have an unusual set of requirements for their next set of wheels. They need to demonstrate that they are not remotely interested in cars, and that they simply want the cheapest most anti-car money can buy. A Fiat Panda, then? Oh crikey, no, because who can forget Mussolini? Well all of us, actually, but not Sid and Doris.
So we must find a car made by a country with whom Britain has never had a fight. Er... Finland then? Oh wait, we did have a scrap with them in 1940 – the only time two democracies have declared war on one another, incidentally. Um, Ethiopia? Yes, but it’s not big on car manufacturing. And it’s the same story with Chile, Uzbekistan and Bhutan.
France is out, as is Germany, of course. Then there were the Spanish, who sent an armada; the Dutch, who sank our entire fleet in the Medway; there have been endless problems with the entire Middle East; and we can’t simply gloss over the American War of Independence either. Bunch of ingrates. Then you have Argentina, Iceland, China, Japan, Malaysia and Korea. Even the damn Swedes have had a pop, although this was back in 1810. Or, as Sid and Doris like to call it, yesterday.
A solution is to be found in the shape of Ford’s Galaxy. All MPVs are horrid, but this is one of the worst, with uncomfortable seats, no bootspace at all, and an image that could have come directly from the Argos catalogue. I’m using one this week and on every bend, down every straight and over every surface it never fails to disappoint and horrify. It even manages to make the kids sick, so therefore it is perfect for the motorists who loved Rover. The sort of people who buy a bad car on purpose so they can really show the world their anti-car zeal.
But you know the best thing about it. It’s built in one of the few countries anywhere on planet Earth that has never had a war with Britain. Portugal.