MG Rover Manufacturer Profile & Rally History

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MG Rover Home Country: United Kingdom United Kingdom

Please note that the immense history of this group started under the Austin and BMC names. It is all the same group that kept changing names. Most entries within the actual WRC from 1973 were under the name Austin Rover Group or MG, which is why we placed the story under this name here. However you find some of their legends listed under the brand "BMC", "_ancient_".

(See the "Rally Beer" story under those other BMC brand names. It is maybe a good comparison for another aspect: Like with the many small car companies, we see a deja vu with Britain's hundreds of tiny breweries that struggle to survive in modern global market world. Unfortunately the BMC story proves these tiny, even if traditional brand names have to die. BMC was formed for the British car industry to be internationally stronger, but sticking to the many nice brand names - sometimes even 4 or 5 different brand names for variations of the same model of car - only caused confusion. Imagine one car manufacturer with 30 different main models and a confusion of brand identities competing the other brands with maybe 4 clearly structured main models each, it can't work. Maybe even comparable to the problem with modern WRC and its overcrowded, low identity events calendar, I know enough people who could tell you results of Monte, Safari, RAC of the 80s but couldn’t even tell you which events made up the calendar last year, never mind results. While it is nice to have hundreds of traditional breweries (really comparable), a manufacturer like BMC has a lot of expense keeping all the names and model variations afloat, yet you are confusing your customers and hardly selling more than the same size Citroën dealer across the road - who doesn't display Peugeot models, PSA sadly learned this lesson at the expense of Talbot. But applying that trick BMC would have had to have 10 car dealers each town.... Now sadly all BMC brands died with the big sinking ship.)

First let’s explain how it came to MG Rover: There are so many companies involved in this, it is hard to keep up, hard to divide them. The case not helped by the mother company changing names several times, too. Britain used to have hundreds (in around 1910-1930 this is no exaggeration!) of small car companies and some of them were cooperating anyway. The basic idea was good, as it was to join several smaller companies together to one big one, such being more competitive against European car manufacturer giants. We could be writing a never ending story here with endless confusion. So allow me to ignore the minor BMC/BL players such as Alvis, Authi, Innocenti, Healey (who also cooperated with Jensen and designed the Austin Healey), Lanchester, Standard, Sterling and several more... all small but characterful in their own rights. The most important and/or most remembered companies are:
Rover, started by John Kemp Starley and William Sutton. The name Rover was chosen as it is an old English word for vagabond with a posh touch. Like travelling all over the place, which is also why Rover's trick with model names back to front (i.e. Range Rover) works well. “to rove” in more up to date English would be “to roam” (although nothing to do with this car brand, NASA calls their Moon/Mars vehicles Rover for the same reason). Although starting with bicycles, Rover always stood for posh, innovative cars. They were one of the very first car makers full stop as the actual start of Rover was an electric car in 1888. This however did not work for the same reasons why electric cars don’t work today, some 130 years later, so in the following years they survived this start up disaster by importing Peugeot bicycles and motorbikes into the UK. As a magic example for their posh and innovative tag: in the 1960s the company experimented with gas turbine engines for mass production road cars! Land Rover in turn was not a car brand but the name of a Rover model, describing its off road use, same as there were models called Range Rover and Freight Rover. And in MG Rover's last survival attempt this name game should have been revived when the Indian Tata Indica was planned to be UK assembled as the City Rover. Tata today owns Land Rover, while the City Rover survival attempt for MG Rover sadly came too late to join everything together again. In a curious turn of events, as you find at the very end of this story, Rover could be the key today to who is the true successor of BMC/BL.
Jaguar was founded in 1922 as SS Cars by then only 21 year old William Lyons. But the name was changed to Jaguar after WW2 to avoid being mistaken for Nazi SS and, similar to Peugeot and Proton in their choice of brand logos, for the grace and strength of the wild cat animal. Interestingly like Lotus the first SS/Jaguar car was a converted Austin 7. But Jaguar was still the last make to join BMC before they turned BL and was bought by Ford before the disastrous BMW takeover of BL/MG Rover. Which probably is why Jaguar together with the off roader arm of Rover survived to the day, interestingly now in the hands of Tata of India, who also had strong links to MG Rover's last survival attempt. One very funny incident in car history is that already in their early years Jaguar bought Daimler, famous for cars used by the UK government and the Queen. Daimler was the UK importer for Daimler engines, the same as Panhard was the Daimler engine importer for France. Since nobody used the Daimler name on complete cars, Gottlieb Daimler granted Daimler founder Harry Lawson to use this name. Which means Daimler-Benz (Mercedes) does not actually have the rights to the Daimler name, but Jaguar has!
Triumph is the third and last made up name with a meaning within BMC/BL, Triumph like success. Triumph was originally founded in Coventry with German help as an importer of German Bettmann bicycles, but only after a few years they started producing their own bicycles under their own Triumph name. Soon Triumph was a famous motorbike manufacturer and only later started on cars and later again split in two independent companies. The Triumph motorbikes still exist today, only Triumph’s car division joined BL and that again, in contrast to all other BL passenger car makes not through BMC but as part of Leyland.
Austin, was the first and the biggest car make to form BMC, so no surprise alongside impressive Rover this brand name survived the longest within BMC/BL. Austin was founded already in 1905 by Herbert Austin, which explains the name. Herbert Austin and his successor Leonard Lord were also the bosses of the early BMC group. Although the BMC base was from the beginning at Austin's home Longbridge near Birmingham, both Austin and Morris had strong links to Wolseley, which seemed to make the cooperation obvious. While Herbert Austin always wanted to go into larger posh cars, his attempts with the Vanden Plas Princess derived Austin A135 and the later 6-cyl, RWD, hydropneumatic Austin 3000, although extremely good cars, somehow were never quite taken serious by the public. Basically the Austin 3000 was like the modern day Volkswagen Phaeton, only in gorgeous. In the end Austin was always particularly strong on the small car mass market, for many years even UK market leader, and that curiously not even for the Mini but for cars as the Austin 1100.
Morris in turn is founded by William Morris. What may add to confusion: Maybe you have heard of a car firm called Nuffield Group. Indeed Lord William of Nuffield and William Morris is one and the same person, Nuffield Group was a first idea by William Morris to join car makes together, the end result however with Austin and government influence was called British Motor Co. With Morris there joins in another brand, some special models and the sporty versions of his cars were called MG, standing for Morris Garages. This in fact explains the birth of BMC: Nuffield Group was a consortium combining Morris, MG & Wolseley, but in the Wolseley chapter below you read that Herbert Austin had a massive impact on Wolseley, then the government helped the lot and the Nuffield idea turned into BMC reality. Back to Morris: Exactly like Austin, Morris always served the smaller to mid sized car mass market. A big curiousity though: While virtually all the BMC makes were from Birmingham (Rover, Triumph & Jaguar from Coventry but not members of the first minute) Morris & MG are from the area between Oxford and Reading.
Riley, founded by William Riley, whose son Peter Riley even rallied BMC cars, but also at times Fords. Grandson William Riley gets a mention later as he still is involved today, even though Riley was one of the first makes to go. Once there were no independent Riley models any more, they stood for top of the range Austin models.
Wolseley originally stood for top of the range luxury Austins, later they were meant to be one level under Riley, which however did not suit Wolseley very well – or anyone in fact, how to market a not quite top of the range top of the range model? Besides, pardon me, the Riley name doesn’t sound near as posh as Wolseley and Vanden Plas? Wolseley is a real curiosity, founded by Frederik York the Wolseley name is derived from something wooly as it was a company that made tools for sheep shearing. Herbert Austin earned his money at Wolseley to get his car make Austin started. When then Austin turned rich and Wolseley went bankrupt, Herbert remembered where all started and let company (tooling) and name live on in his cars, although originally Wolseley had nothing to do with cars. Funny enough Wolseley still exists today as a plumbing wholesales company, again nothing to do with cars. Strange change, I would have thought there is a growing market for their original field, when nowadays English girls shave their beavers the Welsh need sheep shearing tools? Well, I thought this is funny, because my for English tongues difficult surname is pronounced exactly like Beaver, the rest of course is serious;-)
Vanden Plas is another odd one, because they are not actually British. They started as a luxurious specialist coachmaker company in Flanders, Belgium, as the name implements as well, founded by Guillaume van den Plas. They opened a UK subsidiary as their main customers were Bentley and the later BMC daughters Alvis and Daimler, but they also made their own complete cars as the gorgeous Vanden Plas Princess. With this came a change in the name spelling, to identify their UK arm (Vanden Plas) from their original Flanders arm (van den Plas). But all this coincided extremely unluckily with both the WWs, resulting in the loss of the Flanders HQ shortly after WW2. In later years Vanden Plas turned yet another brand name for luxury Austins, just like Wolseley and Riley, see it is getting too much. It made more sense when BL brands added on the Vanden Plas name for their luxury equipment level, like Ford's Ghia tag. Curiously many British struggle with the name probably thinking it is French, but as the "van den" clearly indicates it is not, so please do not swallow the last "S"! In contrary, "Plas", even with a strong "S", in Flemish and Dutch is a common word for anything water from a puddle to a pond and on Ypres Rally I have heard friends saying "een plas doen" for having a "P"! This means even more name curiosity as when Tony Pond rallied a Rover Vitesse, this could also be called a Rover Vanden Plas = Flemish for Rover of the Pond!

Sorry if I give more than one liners to the last three, Riley, Wolseley & Vanden Plas, even though they have nothing to do with BMC’s rallying, but they perfectly serve the case. Each of them is too interesting to be ignored completely, yet with 3 luxury brand names for similar models it all just turned a mess. And Rover was a luxury brand too, but at least with independent models, but that makes it 4 luxury brands competing each other under one roof - and I still forgot Jaguar and Daimler. And Austin and Morris were already quite similar. The case however was not helped when the management then decided to use the group names as brand names too. I.e. we have just lost Vanden Plas as a brand name because it was simply too much and out comes a car called Leyland Princess Vanden Plas? Sorry, many many cars within BMC/BL that count to my all time ultimate favourites, but what a mess! And we are still not finished as that group name changed all the time, too!

It all started in 1951/1952, when the companies joined together to form British government supported BMC = British Motor Corporation. But even though BMC was very successful, ill management meant they were not healthy. I.e. the famous Mini was so keenly priced that for a while BMC actually made a loss with every Mini sold. Which probably is why the British government lost interest in the venture, but not before Jaguar and Rover joined. Maybe this was also government influenced, as Jaguar already owned Daimler and Daimlers as well as Rover P5s made up the government and the Queen’s car fleets, plus Land Rover was a main supplier to the British Army. Still, in 1968 the government started to bail themselves out and sold the majority of the shares to Leyland. Leyland was named after their home town and produced lorries and i.e. the famous London buses (Leyland Routemaster). But as well Leyland started going into passenger cars already in 1961, when they purchased the car arm of Triumph. Interestingly Daimler&Jaguar was kept strictly independent from all other models throughout their time under BMC turn BL ownership, while Triumph was never part of BMC but part of the Leyland package. With the 1968 merger the BMC name was dropped and a "British" was added to the Leyland name, leading to the abbreviation BL, but sometimes we also see a combination of both names leading to BLMC.

So is it now BMC, BL or BLMC? Well, strictly speaking, there is even another, less known brand name. It was BMC at first, but it should actually be BMH (British Motor Holdings) when Jaguar joined, but somehow the BMH name stayed low profile and the public still called it BMC, and from 1968 both names BL & BLMC were officially used. As said it was a massive mess, sadly. I.e. the Mini was sold not only as Austin Mini and Morris Mini, it was also often named the BMC Mini, first versions were the Austin 7, there was an Authi Mini (one of the brand names I ignored so far) and then there were unusual but interesting saloon versions of the Mini called Wolseley Hornet and Riley Elf (note, since models like Austin 7 and Wolseley Six use numbers, Riley Elf = Elf like the fairy, not the number, in some countries Eleven is spelled Elf). Or the Austin 1100/1300. If I can call it Austin to bring it to your memory? For a start the name was confusing. It is in size between the Mini and the Maxi and in contrast to the Maxi it had a very distinct Austin design that went well in line with Mini and 1800. So indeed, the Maxi ranges between the 1300 & 1800 models. And depending on engine size the car between Mini and Maxi was called Austin 1100 or Austin 1300. But oh no, we are not done with that, there was a Morris 1100 & 1300, an MG 1100 & 1300, indeed a BMC 1100 & 1300, a short lived saloon version Austin Victoria (reminds in looks somehow of the Triumph Dolomite), in Italy it was the Innocenti IM3 & I4 & I5, in Australia & NZ the Morris Nomad, then there was a 1000cc budget version Austin de Luxe, and the luxury versions you had a choice of Wolseley 11/55, Vanden Plas Princess 1100 & 1275 and the Riley Kestrel! Of course most of these were available as a 3-door hatch, a 5-door hatch and a 3-door estate. OK, this must have been the most confusing and biggest variation they had. But i.e. the Austin 1800 was also Morris 1800, MG 1800, Wolseley 18/85, Wolseley Six (with a 2200cc 6-cylinder), in Scandinavia Austin Windsor and Morris Monaco, in Australia & NZ Austin Tasman and Morris Kimberley. And if that is not enough brand names yet, the Princess model from 1975 was sold under brand names Austin, Morris, Wolseley and Leyland!

As a final explanation why this mess was no good: Me personally am amongst the first to shed tears over losses of famous and traditional brand names. And my heart and soul would also agree to give these brand names some identity. But when I take the Austin 1100 for example: The Wolseley 11/55 would have an upright front grill, slightly different rear design, and posh interior up to wooden tables for the rear passengers. The Riley Kestrel would again have different grill and design elements, the Wolseley wooden tables and a completely new designed dashboard. And then there was a Vanden Plas version too, making 3 luxury brands for 1 car model originally designed for the budget market. Plus Morris, MG and others.... While the original idea behind BMC was brilliant, we end up having 6, 7 or more times development cost, even if in details, for one car model, but won’t sell 6, 7, however times as many cars as Ford, Vauxhall, etc.. Like this you can easily see why it could never work. Within reason it could have worked. I.e. Rovers still had an independent design and was the luxury car brand. This would have worked through BMC dealerships if there weren’t 3 other luxury car brands competing Rover inside the same showrooms! And there is room for a sporty badge. Like today “GTI” versions of Fiats go by the brand name Abarth, in the mid 1980s turbo charged versions of Austin Metro, Maestro, Montego were badged MG. Now that’s more like it....

Then the groupB rally version of the Austin Metro, although not turbo charged, was also badged MG. At the time of the MG Metro project, the British government tried to get out of the deal completely and the maybe confusing head company names BMC, British Leyland, BL & BLMC were dropped. Now we are talking of the Austin Rover Group, which only a few years later became MG Rover. – which once again is why we list the main story under MG Rover. And now, eventually, to their cumulated rally heritage:

As already pointed out in other parts of this manufacturer base, the makes with the biggest rallying heritage are Ford, Peugeot, Renault, Citroën and BMC. BMC stands for British Motor Corporation and was the brand name used with the famous Mini. But already then the group had rally history. The small Austin 55 as well as Austin Atlantic, MGA, MGB and MGC were already rallied and so was already under the BMC branding (from 1951) the Morris Minor. By the mid 1950s back under the Austin name the group’s rally car was the Austin Healey, a big 2-seater with an in-line 6-cylinder 3.0 engine, a fantastic sound and nice power – and many victories. In 1959 the Mini was launched and BMC wanted their competitions department, based in the Morris Garages in Abingdon, to turn the Mini into a rally marketing success. Bearing in mind the massive successes of the Mini, it seems unbelievable that the competitions department hid the Mini into a corner and didn’t want to know about it. Giving 2nd thoughts to the scenario, their current car of the time was the spectacular and powerful Healey, so no wonder drivers and engineers alike struggled to find motivation to work with the then 848cc FWD car.

We actually do have the Healey and other early Austin-MG-Rover legends listed in a model file under brand "BMC", "_ancient_". Still, let's have a quick look at a tiny selection of Austin Healey successes, and you see how this Healey story well overlapped with the Mini's intended debut (1959) and actual debut (1962):
1960: Pat Moss wins the Liége-Sophia-Liége marathon in URX 727, the Morley twins come 3rd on the RAC in SJB 471
1961: Peter Riley is 3rd on the Acropolis in XJB 871, the Morleys win the Austrian Alpine in XJB 876, Pat Moss comes 2nd on the RAC in XJB 877
1962: The Morleys win the Austrian Alpine once more in 57 ARX, on the RAC Paddy Hopkirk is 2nd 67 ARX with Pat Moss 3rd 77 ARX
1964: Morleys 2nd on Tulip Rally ARX 92B, the Austrian Alpine win this time for Paddy Hopkirk ARX 91B, Rauno Aaltonen wins Liége-Sophia-Liége BMO 93B, RAC we have the usual 2nd place, this time Timo Mäkinen BRX 852B
1965: As usual 2nd on the RAC, Mäkinen EJB 806C, in that eventually last season of the Healey Mäkinen still had an extensive BRC program with DRX 257C

It is hard to re-construct what lead to it, possibly that the competitions department didn’t do what they were told, but despite the successes the competitions director was replaced by Stuart Turner, a journalist and rally navigator of a strong character like later Jean Todt or Cesare Fiorio. In any case, everything changed with the arrival of Stuart Turner. By 1962 the Mini was BMC’s main rally project – over two years late but not long after Turner arrived. But Stuart Turner did another move that was rather unusual in those days and took near 15 years to become the norm in rallying: he built a team of permanent drivers, preferably Scandinavian ones! The line up was Rauno Aaltonen, Timo Mäkinen and Paddy Hopkirk, who is from Dublin, so incredibly for some time there wasn’t even a British driver in this very British team.

Next we have to note what was the secret of the Mini before it was turned into a rally car. It was light and compact, a budget car that had to use space in the best possible way. It had the engine transverse (first car with this layout - to avoid confusion, front wheel drive is credited to Citroën, but transverse engines is BMC/MG-Rover's creation!), such it saved room and was good on the balance. It had its (tiny) wheels pushed as far into each corner as possible, so it was a short car with a huge wheelbase and virtually no overhangs – a layout that to the day even Peugeot Sport keeps pointing out as being one of the most important aspects of a rally car. As a result of all that, the Mini may have been small and underpowered, but it was massively efficient!

And efficient the Mini was! Alone in 1965 Rauno Aaltonen won 5 rallies with it and gave the team a convincing ERC title. Timo Mäkinen won Finland 3 years running (1965-1967). It won the Monte Carlo in 1964 (Hopkirk), 1965 (Mäkinen) and 1967 (Aaltonen) and it would have had a 1-2-3 in Monte Carlo 1966 had it not been for a disqualification that to the day is regarded as one of the biggest rule maker scandals in rallying ever. And just to show how exciting and amusing it can be to research and identify cars by registration plates, the 3 Minis of the 1-2-3 result in MC 1966 were registered: GRX 5D, GRX 55D & GRX 555D.

But by 1968 the Mini stopped winning. It was the time when the Ford Escort MkI, the Renault Alpine A110, the Lancia Fulvia HF and the Fiat 124 Spider arrived and the Mini just seemed to have too little power in this comparison to make up through efficiency. As well Stuart Turner had meanwhile left the team to become Ford Motorsport boss. However BMC reacted already, they tried an Austin Maxi and an Austin 1100, which – pardon me – was not a very good car for anything else but a Basil Fawlty episode. And they tried an Austin 1800, which looked like a bigger version of the Maxi and interestingly featured a Citroën-type hydropneumatic suspension. But about the Austin 1800, nick named "Landcrab", I am not going to say it wasn’t very good, even though it may be tempting. It was unusual is more to the point. The Austin 1800 SMO 226G came 2nd in London-Sydney 1968 with Paddy Hopkirk and - although this is the only big success of the car bar Tony Fall winning the ERC Donau Rally 1967 in LRX 824E - you don’t come 2nd in London-Sydney with a car that is not very good! In fact, let's take a look at the semi works Austin 1800 MTB 150G: She finished 35th with Bob Eaves/Dennis Cresdie on the London-Sydney 1968. Then on the 1970 World Cup Rally Dennis Cresdie crashed this Austin 1800, but what an attempt to have the same car do two of the biggest marathons ever, like she went round the globe twice!! However, as recently as 2004 the now 35 years old MTB 150G (with new owner Peter Locks) won the historic section of the Rallye Monte Carlo!!!! You can turn it which ever way you want, this is not the record of an incapable car!

In fact, there was a huge team of 1800's in that 1968 London-Sydney. Hopkirk's 2nd place was nicely confirmed by Rauno Aaltonen finishing 5th, while as well Green, Fall, Kingsley, Hamilton, Taylor & Eaves, 8 Landcrabs started and all reached the finish! It has to be said however, that on the Monte 1968 the cars were off the pace with Brian Culcheth, John Sprinzel & Peter Jopp, while in Safari 1968 all cars retired with the same suspension problem. An interesting team they had on that Safari though: #6 Rauno Aaltonen KOC 391E (Culcheth's Monte car), #11 Tony Fall ORX 662F & #14 Timo Mäkinen ORX 661F. The next big story for the 1800 should have been the World Cup Rally 1970, yet this rally more shows what was the problem of the 1800. In Austin 1800 at least Freeborough was 9th, Ken Tubman 11th (in SMO 227G, re-registered AZN 256, this was Evan Green's London-Sydney car and this car actually did finish both these rallies, twice round the globe!) & lady driver Denton 18th. Without disrespect to the drivers - after all Ken Tubman is the winner of the 1953 Australian Redex marathon (Peugeot 203) and the 1974 World Cup Rally (Citroën DS) - where were BMC's/BL’s star drivers? Clearly part of the problem for the Austin 1800 was that BL tried other solutions at the same time. So was a works BL run car 2nd in the 1970 World Cup Rally, but that was a Triumph 2.5Pi XJB 305H with Brian Culcheth with the sister car of Paddy Hopkirk XJB 302H coming 4th. The Triumph Dolomite was yet another car tried at the time. Well, if you remember that Triumph was actually part of Leyland and never BMC before, and that in 1968 BMC turned British Leyland, maybe here is an explanation why the Austin 1800 didn’t get the support it deserved. OK, the 2500cc 6-cylinder engine of the Triumph was no doubt promising, but one can’t deny the marathon abilities of the Austin 1800 with reliability and ride.

So, some adventures with a mostly group1 Morris Marina aside, Triumph now was what BL tried to push after the Mini. In the mid 1970s the Triumph TR7 arrived and soon it featured a powerful and super sexy sounding 3500 V8 (Rover) engine. Regular drivers with this project were Tony Pond and Per Eklund. The Triumph TR7 V8 may have been comparatively heavy, but as a short, 2-seater sports coupé with a super powerful engine it was far from a pathetic effort. Why didn’t it get the results? Simply, the TR7 V8 must have been one of the most unlucky rally cars there ever was!

Anyway, the TR7 V8 was canned after 1980 and what happened next had less to do with luck, but more with finding direction. BMC was meanwhile re-named Austin Rover Group and the sports department (already since the TR7 V8) was lead by former journalist and navigator (a good job combination on your CV it seems) John Davenport. The aim was to turn the supposed Mini successor, the Metro, into a rally car. To do so and with groupB round the corner, the Williams F1 team was consulted to carry out the design, in itself not the best of ideas. The first Metro 6R4, still in Mini-like all red colours, already appeared in national British rallies in 1983. But somehow the result was not satisfactory. The early version had only a 2.5 V6 engine rather than the 3.0 V6 and it was lacking the huge wheel arches – it was a far cry from the final version of the Metro 6R4 groupB car. And at the very same time work was carried out on the Metro, the team launched a huge groupA Rover Vitesse 3500, which was actually a very good car, although its results somehow reminded of the fate of the TR7 V8. Like the Rover Vitesse starting the 1984 RAC as a sky high favourite for groupA victory and crashing out barely 100yards into SS1 just sounds so typical for both these projects (compare Tony Pond, TR7 V8, RAC 1980, but these were not the only bad luck examples for these two cars). After 2 years of playing with MG Metro 6R4 prototypes and groupA Rover Vitesse 3500, the groupB Metro 6R4 was eventually launched – and it still wasn’t very good. However MG Rover thought to take on the best turbo groupB cars with a non-turbo car is anybody’s guess.

After that and the groupB ban it became very quiet for the first time in many, many years around the BMC/Austin Rover Group. Malcolm Wilson did a few national rallies in 1987 in the Metro 6R4, but these were not even BRC rounds and mid season he asked to be released from his contract. At the same time Tony Pond turned very much an ambassador for the group and did a few events in an MG Maestro D129 OOE, but that was even just a groupN car. Strangely in 1993 Tony Pond/Peter Joy turned up at some ERC events in a bright green Rover 114 GTI (Metro) J575 OHP, a 1400cc FWD groupN machine with works support! More of a highlight however was the return of the Mini! Yes, indeed, for this model’s 35th birthday, Russell Brookes competed on the 1994 RAC Rally in a full works Mini, while even old jewels Paddy Hopkirk and Timo Mäkinen came out of retirement to have a go at the Monte! Then the group was bought by BMW, who then thought it was no good for MG Rover to have a sporty image alongside BMW. It was not a marriage made in heaven, BMW chewed them and spit them out again and as if MG Rover had all their nice secrets hidden away from BMW bosses in their basement, as soon as they were independent they came out again with a huge range of sporty MG cars. Rallying would fit their marketing again perfectly. In fact there is a promising S1600 project with Gwyndaf Evans and the MG ZR, which very much is the package to beat in the S1600 class of the BRC 2002&2003. This project at the moment is hopelessly overshadowed by an extremely successful MG ZS touring car program, but I wouldn’t bet my house that MG Rover will not be back in rallying again!

Add on note: I probably would lose this bet. In June 2005 MG Rover conveyor belts have been stopped with the group being bankrupt. This is an incredible shame. I personally always respected MG Rover as one of the most fascinating car brands that ever existed. They were in problems since a while. But since returning from BMW ownership, MG Rover concentrated their own engineering force on the MG X-Power, impressing with a 385BHP super sports car, while the end of road came only days before the group was to launch the City Rover, a Tata Indigo/Indica licence produced budget car from India that would surely have made profit. An interesting idea, let the own engineers go wild and show what MG Rover can do, while getting to an in Europe unique enough budget car for the masses without having to pay huge development cost. Still, the car came moments too late for the struggling company. The brand is now owned by a Chinese consortium SAIC, who even create new cars (MG7 or Roewe 750 based on the old Rover 75, but also an all new, British designed(!) MG5 or Roewe 550). The Chinese consortium SAIC seems to be one of the better Chinese. Not only involving British engineers for their latest MG product, the 385BHP MG X-Power is actually still built and sold in UK! It is the Riley family, who owned one of the original brands forming BMC, to build and sell this car and they have full permission from China to officially use the MG brand name! But the MG Rover future is at this moment still unclear, the UK plants still empty, but curiously the MG brand is represented and marketed with an S2000 rally car since late 2007.

Next add on note: Time doesn’t stand still, and it became quiet around the Riley built MG X-Power and the S2000 project. In the meantime we had to wait very long, but eventually the Chinese kept promise after all. In July 2011 Longbridge took up production again. And they make a car called the MG6, which is a very nice, slightly more compact than Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia 5-door liftback that is fully UK designed and engineered. In 2012 the company entered the BTCC with this car and Jason Plato as the driver, won their very first race and came runner up in the championship. Maybe we do hear from them in rallying again after all? Although at this moment the MG6 is till the only model and the company seems to need time to gain momentum. More is planned, but for two years SAIC/MG has now only one model, a nice and capable one, but no diesel option and too much saloon for the British to see the MG spirit in new MG.

Future? The last couple of chapters are yet more complicated ones, but there is still history in the making for this legendary, if at times confusing consortium. Curiously this story runs under "MG Rover", because alongside "Austin Rover Group" this was the most used name in the post BMC/BL time and since the birth of the WRC. However it looks like MG & Rover have a future as two seperated companies. Or more for fans it could be a hard discussion who is the true successor. Chinese SAIC owned modern MG still seems like the logical successor, as they are based in the former Austin, BMC, BL, MG Rover home Longbridge. And alongside MG they do own the brand names Morris, Austin and Wolseley today.

In contrast Jaguar or JLR are based in Coventry-Whitley, actually a former Talbot design centre and van factory. Funny enough they also currently build an engine plant in Sunbeam home Wolverhampton and their diesel engines link back to Peugeot ones. And Jaguar was the last brand to join BMC before it turned BL and was bought by Ford before the tragic BMW take over, though maybe that's why Jaguar survived. So far Jaguar is not at all the obvious one to look at as a BMC/BL/MG Rover successor. It was also Ford who combined Land Rover with Jaguar before Tata took on Jaguar Land Rover = JLR and even though Ford never owned the rights to the Rover name. But for modern political times and trends, which I don't want to try and explain now, high class cars like Jaguar sell well as company cars plus SUVs as Range Rover just seems a combination made in heaven at a time when otherwise global car markets seem to collapse. They are missing mid range or even budget models for "normal people", but what they have is of fantastic design and sells well. What's more, JLR is owned by Indian Tata, who tried to help Longbridge i.e. with the City Rover model when Longbridge still made MG and Rover cars as the ZR/25 or ZT/75, as well as a hope to combine everything again, see City Rover, Land Rover, Range Rover.... Of course MG Rover Longbridge collapsed in 2005, but now the amazing bit: To make sure they don't run into trouble with their off roaders (remember from the Rover chapter further above, Land Rover originally is a model name rather than a brand name), Tata/Jaguar secured themselves the rights to the Rover name in 2008! At this moment JLR is so successful that they are thinking of launching a third brand. This must not necessarily be Rover, as right now they own the rights to the names Jaguar, Daimler, Rover & Vanden Plas!

COLOURS & TYRES:

Even though Britain’s motorsport colour was dark green (British Racing Green), the BMC group cars were mostly in red, usually with white roofs. This already applied to the Austin Healey and the BMC Mini. Even the first MG Metro 6R4 appeared in all red, white roof. One exception was the Triumph models, the 2.5Pi and Dolomite were seen in white and the TR7 featured a colour scheme reflecting the British Leyland colours red & blue. By 1985 the group secured ComputerVision (CV) sponsorship and the Rover 3500 Vitesse and the MG Metro 6R4 were then showing a distinct light blue & white scheme. Now in modern days, when MG Rover returned from BMW as an independent company, the MG ZR project shows an unusual and distinct black & fluorescent green layout.

For tyres, all companies had links to BMC. While the Minis were usually not identified with a tyre make, the TR7 was on Dunlop, interestingly in the mid 1980s they kept using Dunlop for the gA Vitesse while the gB Metro was on Michelin and the latest MG ZR project was on Pirelli.

REGISTRATIONS:

This seems slightly tricky. The group's motorsport base was in the Morris Garages (MG) in Abingdon. Even though Abingdon is in Oxfordshire, it is south of Oxford heading towards Reading, nearer the Reading registration offices. Morris’ main factory however was in Cowley, also south of Oxford, but much closer to the city. The biggest factories of the group however are in Birmingham. And so BL's headquarter was in Bickenhill Lane, Birmingham, MG Rover's headquarter now is in Longbridge, Birmingham. Triumph's original base was Coventry, so with Triumph models occasionally a Coventry registration slips in and we have indeed the case of works TR7s registered in Oxford, Birmingham and Coventry. Otherwise for all this, works BMC/MG Rover cars have the choice of 3 different area codes: Reading, Oxford & Birmingham. It becomes a little easier, seeing that the habits of time periods rarely changed. So trying to find a simple formula:
- Reading: Healey, Mini, Austin 1800, Triumph 2.5Pi, basically everything up to (excluding) the TR7 registered in Reading.
- Oxford: From (including) the TR7, as also the MG Metro 6R4, they were registered in Oxford. (Chester registered Metros are private cars of the R-E-D team, used by David Llewellin, Jimmy McRae & Didier Auriol.)
- Birmingham: However in all these cases and cars ever again a Birmingham (and with Triumph a Coventry) number slips in.
And that is convenient, as the Birmingham numbers are easy to identify from the rest. In the 3-letter-block it is the combination of 2nd & 3rd letter to identify the area. Every combination that starts with an O (meaning the 2nd letter of the 3-letter-block should be O) is Birmingham (+DA, JW, UK). For Reading the combinations are: AN, BL, CF, DP, GM, JB, JH, JM, MO, RD, RX & TF. For Oxford they are: BW, FC, JO, UD & WL. The new UK system conveniently coincides with the return of MG Rover from BMW. Now cars are registered in Birmingham. The registration numbers start with a 2-letter area code, the first letter being a B. Examples: Birmingham registered Austin 1800 "KOC 391E", Reading registered Austin 1800 "SMO 226G", Oxford registered TR7 V8 "JJO 931W", Birmingham registered MG ZR "BU51 HXT".

MG Rover Rally Cars

Model Class
MG Rover MG Rover (SD1)  Group A
MG Rover MG Rover Metro  Group B
MG Rover MG Rover ZR  Group N
MG Rover MG Rover ZR  Super 1600
MG Rover MG Rover ZR  Super 2000 / WRC 1.6T

Rally Honour Roll

Year Class Place Manufacturer Events
1986 WRC Group B 9th. MG Rover (12pts) 13

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1985 WRC Group B 13th. MG Rover (14pts) 12

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1983 WRC Open 9th. MG Rover (11pts) 12

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1982 WRC Open 15th. MG Rover (12pts) 12

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar