MG might have become a renowned sports car maker like Lotus or even Porsche, had venture capitalist Jon Moulton succeeded in buying the firm from BMW in 2000.
That’s the verdict of automotive author Mike Gould, who has published a new book on the final chapter in the Rover story.
The Rover Group - Company and Cars - 1986-2000 (Crowood Press) tells of the troubled final years of the former automotive powerhouse.
The foreward has been written by Moulton, the venture capitalist who wanted to buy MG Rover from BMW.
At the time, his firm Alchemy Partners made no secret of the fact the car-maker could not continue as it was, with the likelihood it would have been turned into a niche sports car producer and eventually sold on.
The outcry over possible job losses was such that MG Rover was famously sold to the Phoenix Four, who wanted to continue mass production at Longbridge and revive both the MG and Rover brands.
Sadly, it was not to be, and the firm went into administration in 2005 with its key assets purchased by Nanjing Automobile Group.
Nanjing did restart MG sports car and sports saloon production in 2007 but later that year it merged with China’s largest car-maker SAIC Motor, leading to the creation of MG Motor UK.
After a slow start, the firm is now re-establishing itself, though there are no longer any MG sports cars and unlikely to be any in the foreseeable future.
But Mr Gould believes it could have been very different.
He initially approached Moulton’s firm, Better Capital, for a picture to be included in the book as he was “an important part of the story”.
But it soon became clear that Moulton was very keen to talk to Mr Gould about his party in the story.
“John Moulton has probably tried to buy the company more times than anyone else,” he said.
“Not only was he involved in the famous Alchemy deal but he was also involved when Land Rover managers were trying to buy the company.
“He had worked on at least three attempts to buy the company.
“He was someone who knew the company very well and knew the ins and outs of why it had failed.
“He knew his stuff, what would make a company work and what wouldn’t.
“He had some fairly robust plans for Longbridge which would concentrate on doing two MG sports cars, a bigger one and a smaller one.
“It was going to be called the MG Car Company and he is of the genuine opinion that it may very well have worked.
“He was looking at doing a small fun-type sports car like the MGF and a muscle car that may have used BMW engines.
“They were going to use Lotus-type techniques, cheap tooling and fibreglass or composite bodies – so not a massive investment in tooling.
“He was a venture capitalist, and if successful, would either have moved it on or listed it on the Stock Exchange.
“That never happened – we all know what did.”
Mr Gould said he asked Moulton what he thought could have happened had his bid to buy MG Rover been successful.
“He thinks it would have been around today, but is also glad he didn’t have to prove it,” said Mr Gould.
“I think the MG name would probably still be associated with sports cars but it would have been acquired by a bigger group.
“Who knows what they could have done with it? It could have become another Porsche or another Lotus.”
But Mr Gould said he still believes the Phoenix Four, had the best of intentions for the company, despite its ultimate demise.
“The one thing you have got to say about the Phoenix Four is they did actually keep it going,” he said.
“I sense that underneath all the shenanigans, there was a genuine desire to keep Longbridge going and they would go to extraordinary lengths to keep that an option.
“They had some good intentions but strange ways of pulling it off.
“But they did keep it going for five years longer than anyone else might have done.”
Looking at the bigger picture Mr Gould, a former PR manager for Land Rover, believes Rover’s problems started long before BMW or the Phoenix Four came into the picture.
“Since the early eighties there was over-optimism in the value of the Rover brand,” he said.
“It wasn’t this premium brand people thought it was – the feeling they could charge more for a Rover 200 than a Ford Escort because it was a better car – and that was wrong. Even BMW thought there was more value in it than there was.
“In my opinion the turning point was the SD1, a wonderful car in many ways, but the build quality was appalling and that period killed Rover.
“It just goes to show you never can take your eye off the quality ball.
“It’s almost like it needed a whistleblower to take a step back and say if the company is that wonderful why aren’t people buying our cars?”
Mr Gould believes Land Rover, now flying high under the ownership of Tata, could well have had a similar fate but managed to survive due to innovation.
He said: “Land Rover had always got a good image, but at one time that image was fading along with the Rover image. But work done in the eighties, such as the Discovery, kept it in good stead. They also innovated because they didn’t have a lot of money and had to find clever ways of doing things.
“Look at the Range Rover Evoque. The company could have gone down at that point but design genius really helped to turn the it around.
“It was not only that – Land Rover had other good products such as the Range Rover Sport and Discovery – but the Evoque spearheaded that revival.”
There is speculation from time to time the Rover brand, now owned by Jaguar Land Rover, could be revived.
Does Mr Gould think it likely?
“I would say ‘never say never’ but it is definitely a damaged brand,” he said.
“But maybe a few years down the line people might start looking at it with the rosy glow of distance and might start thinking about it again. Will they do it? I doubt it but it is a possibility.”