The saga of the future of car giant Rover has had more twists and turns than a grand prix race track, with workers regularly left in a state of confusion about their job prospects.

The Birmingham-based firm's fight for survival has become a firm feature of the story of British manufacturing in the past decade.

The company produced its first car in 1904 and found itself as the only British-owned mass volume motor manufacturer in a country where more cars than ever were being built.


Don't miss 'MG Rover: Past, Present and Future' - a special 20 page supplement published with Saturday's Birmingham Post.


Billions of pounds of public money has been spent propping up Rover over the years as a perennial struggle took place to prevent the company going out of business.

MG Rover was previously known as the British Motor Corporation, British Leyland and just Rover.

The foundations for the carmaker were laid by pioneering motor industry giants Herbert Austin and William Morris in the early part of the last century.

Britons bought as many cars as the company could build in the prosperous postwar years.

The huge factory at Longbridge in Birmingham produced its one millionth car in 1946, and another million vehicles rolled off the production line in the following seven years.

In 1952, Austin and Morris joined forces to form the British Motor Corporation, with sales leaping ahead of rival Ford.

The P4, P5 and P6 series became hallmarks of British motoring throughout the 1960s and 70s, with the P4 affectionately known as Auntie Rover.

It was a golden age of British motoring production, but it was followed in the 1970s with a period marked by industrial relations problems.

Cash injections from the Government kept afloat what was then known as British Leyland.

British Aerospace took over the firm in the 1980s, but by then Rover was in trouble.

It was sold in 1994 to German car giant BMW, which pumped hundreds of millions of pounds in its British venture.

But earnings at BMW were hit and industry observers started to question how much longer the firm could justify losses to its shareholders.

BMW chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder, the man behind the Rover acquisition, left in 1999 and was succeeded by Joachim Milberg, who imposed a two-year deadline on the company to reverse its fortunes.

In 2000 it was revealed BMW was considering breaking up the Rover group after losing #600 million in one year, prompting observers in Germany to dub Rover "the English patient".

Longbridge faced a serious threat of closure, but at the 11th hour there was a dramatic rescue bid from a consortium of British businessmen led by former Rover executive John Towers.

His Phoenix Consortium bought Rover for a symbolic #10 in 2000.

The MG sports car marque was added to the Rover name and hopes were high that the firm would take off.

The company announced it had started to reduce losses, but sales were disappointing and fresh doubts about the future returned.

It became clear that a joint venture with another company was the only way of saving MG Rover and the search for a partner began.

Rumours about the money being made by the so-called Phoenix Four broke out into the open, culminating in an outspoken attack by senior BMW executive Jim O'Donnell.

He described John Towers, Peter Beale, John Edwards and Nick Stephenson as the "unacceptable face of capitalism" who had let down the German firm by awarding themselves salary and pension payments worth a reported #13 million.

The state-owned Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation emerged as the possible saviour of MG Rover and talks began at the end of last year.

The plan was for SAIC to invest up to #1 billion in return for a 70 per cent controlling stake in the business.

Analysts remained sceptical, some warning that SAIC could decide to build all future cars in China.

Just before Christmas, MG Rover announced plans to appoint more dealers and signalled price cuts and product improvements to try to boost sales.

The firm denied it was "beleaguered" despite admitting that sales in 2004 would be below 120,000, the worst for a decade.

Work was under way on a new medium-size car and another model and SAIC pumped over #60 million into the venture.

But the proposed deal suffered further delays, raising the threat of a decision to close Longbridge being announced a few weeks before the May 5 general election.

The Government offered a bridging loan of #100million to keep MG Rover in business while the talks continued, but even that failed to achieve the breakthrough.

Doubts were expressed about whether the loan could be paid back, or even made in the first place because of strict state aid rules.

Latest figures showed the firm sold 12,545 cars in March, down by almost 17 per cent on March 2004.