Rover
‘Longship’

1929–2005

Design: Various

Rover was the last British-owned volume car maker, and is one of many defunct auto brand. Its origins date back to 1884, when cycle makers Starley & Sutton picked the moniker Rover for their special tricycle design, which they considered to be ideal for ‘roving’ the countryside. The name proved so popular that it was adopted as the company name. The earliest Rover cars were built in 1904; but it wasn’t until 1922 that Rover’s Viking theme began.

As the word Rover means wanderer or seafarer, a Viking was considered a fitting mascot for the company. In the 1920s, a Viking head with winged helmet was used as a radiator cap figure and on the original triangular brandmark. In 1929, this was replaced with a Viking ‘Longship’. The golden prow and burgundy-coloured billowing sails of the ship evoked Norse mythology, and appropriate associations such as adventure and exploration.

In the 1930s, Rover established a reputation for providing the middle classes with their wheels of choice. The landmark P4 design (of 1949), the so-called ‘Auntie’ Rover, cemented its somewhat sedate image in the market. The P5 (from 1958) was a favourite of the Queen, and was the car of Prime Ministers from Wilson to Thatcher. The association with British authority continued with the Rover 75 (from 1999) as the ministerial car of the Blair cabinet. Consequently, the Rover marque epitomised traditional British style – just like a pin-striped suit, a red Routemaster bus and a bowler hat.

As the designs of the cars changed over the years, the Rover Longship was frequently reworked. David Bache, Rover’s chief styling engineer from 1954–81, is probably responsible for the version that we know today. In 1990, the badge was revitalised by Marketplace Design Partnership.

Despite a state-controlled absorption by the Leyland Motor Corporation in 1967 and subsequent mergers, nationalisation and de-mergers throug the 1970s and into the 1990s, the Rover marque retained its identity. But, the schizophrenic culture was the beginning of the end. The company’s heritage drowned beneath the infamous industrial relations and managerial problems that beset the British motor industry.

Rover company ceased trading in April 2005, with debts of over £1.4 billion. After a marathon journey, the Rover Longship finally faded across
the horizon.

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