Heralded as an attractive modern 'city sector' small car in MG-Rovers' press
release dated 08 July 2003, you naturally assume MG-Rover are finally getting their act together
and releasing an exciting new model... until you reach the photographs supplied with the press
release. Seeing sight of them for the purpose of this article has renewed my feelings towards
this troubled product.
With punchy words such as "sporting style", "luxury" and "distinctive modern
Rover appearance", you would expect to have an ultra modern "city car" to compete with such
offerings fitting Rover's intended competitors. Vehicles such as the; Peugeot 106/Citroen Saxo,
Ford Ka, Vauxhall/Opel Agila, VW Lupo and the Fiat Seicento. However, the rather sad reality was
a cheap import, under developed for the UK market.
Casting my eye over the press release it was, once again, drawn to this particular line; "CityRover
provides a strong entry-level underpinning to the Longbridge built Rover 25, 45 and 75", did that mean
what I think?
A search of the internet lead me a number of concerning reports. Most were
pointing the finger of blame towards India and the, then unheard of, Tata Motors. At that time
my knowledge of Tata was limited to the fact that they made Tetley tea. So I undertook further
research into their car making knowledge. This is when I discovered the CityRover was in fact
a rebated Tata Indica. Had the Chiefs at Longbridge gone completely mad?
Although I am by no means an engineer, the Tata website lead me to believe that the Indica
was ultimately designed to get India moving, i.e. a car for the masses, so surely that would mean
cheap, dated, nasty, and well not a Rover? It seems that MG-Rover ignored these "qualities" and saw this
as an excellent opportunity to get Britain's moving in the same way - and quickly had Tata
knock out an initial batch of CityRover's. They arrived...
... to this kind of publicity.
Not being one for Top Gear (sorry Jeremy!), I took this to be the usual MG-Rover bashing.
I knew in my own mind - it didn't look as good, externally, as it could have been. But surely,
it wasn't this bad? I decided to take myself down to our local MG-Rover dealer to get a closer look.
I found myself astonished, it looked like a badly blown up Metro, with trim quality dating back to
British Leyland "everything has to be cheap" era.
I felt down-hearted and left the dealership wondering whatever would happen to MG-Rover. The rest
as I am sure you know is history.
After MG-Rover collapsed in 2005, the administrators were careful not to
flood the market with vehicles, and knock resale prices down to a ridiculous level. So vehicles were released
in tranches, with some dealerships picking up large stocks of vehicles. One such local dealer, DirectCars
based in Sheffield picked up numerous CityRovers and began offering new cars at silly money. Initially,
these were stocks of early CityRovers - which were the rushed job lot supplied by Tata. MG-Rover
had not had tight enough controls over the original order - which in turn lead to a number of niggling faults,
and more serious concerns (leading later to a safety inspection for damage to tyres). Just as the company was
going under a stock of "Mk2" vehicles entered the country and were left in containers at the port until
ownership could be established. It was later traced that these vehicles were indeed MG-Rover assets and
were therefore to be disposed of.
A second wave of, better(?), CityRover's therefore hit the market - and again were popular choices
for those who could only ever dream of owning a new car.
So... what happened to the many CityRover's sold?
Sadly (coughs), most of them are still on the road. Fortunately there are now finding their
way into scrap yards up and down the country. Why, I hear you ask...
... put simply CityRover's are now seen as "bangers". They bargain basement original
purchase price now means they change hands for under £1000. A quick eBay search
brought back a number of cars ranging from £700 - £1500.
I discovered this 56 (2006) plate CityRover in my local scrap yard today. Bodily it was
in good condition - I can only assume it was there because the cost of repairs totalled
more than the overall value of the car.
I decided to reacquaint myself with my old friend today, and took a seat in the drivers seat.
Immediately I was immersed in those feelings of shame that overwhelmed me in 2003. The same
awful trim inside, the cheap plastics, the dated sun visors, the awful cabin environment. I had
to get out....
... there was just one thing left for me to do. I felt I owed it to the employees of the
once mighty Rover Group - and that was remove the famous Viking Longboat from the (recycled)
Rover 100 style grile.
At present the badge sits proudly upon the shelf in the shed, never to see the light
of day again stuck on the front of a Tata Indica. I doubt my feelings towards this particular
"product" of MG-Rover will ever change, perhaps with Longbridge playing a more pivotal role
in its development, and styling for the UK market it could have been made more bearable?
CityRover must have some fans out there... somewhere?