A return to Land Rover by the legendary Wilks Brothers.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting a retired engineer from Land Rover and our conversation naturally drifted to how the compnay had changed over the years. His career at Rover had overlapped the Wilks Brothers dynasty and he had fond memories of Maurice and Spencer as being innovative engineers with an eye on sales.
On the occasion of his retirement, his colleagues asked him what he would like to commemorate his long career with Rover. He made the unusual choice of asking for the Wilks Brother’s large ‘Partners’ Desk, that he knew was dismantled in a storeroom. His request was granted and he eventually had it shipped to Australia, where he now lives.
With so much change in those intervening years I wondered how today's company would be viewed by the old school should they and the desk make a remarkable return......
Imagine that the desk has been reinstated in the top floor office. A photograph of the Queen on the occasion of her Coronation, hung on the wall and the wooden coat stand placed in the corner to receive Maurice and Spencer’s overcoats as they walked through the door at exactly 8.00 am. Their secretary, Mrs Bakelite, brings in a pot of tea and a plateful of biscuits and announces that Dr. Ralf Speth, the Chief Executive Officer and Design Director, Gerry McGovern, are waiting in her office.
Maurice Wilks. A gifted engineer with a sharp eye on the bottom line.
SW: “ Good morning Gentlemen. Please come in and take a seat.”
Maurice pours the tea. Spencer, holding a copy of the Annual Report starts the ball rolling.
SW: “The figures look very promising Gentlemen. Well done, but we are a little confused over the range of new models and who actually owns our company now - perhaps you could elaborate?”
Dr. RS: “Vell Sir, during zee 80’s and 90’s zer company went through much upheaval and zer restructuring. Firstly BMW, whom I vorked for, bought zer Rover Group, lost money and passed it on to Ford for the zum of one pound”
MW, Digestive half way between plate and mouth:
“A pound!!!! BMW sold the whole company for a pound!!!”
G McG, silent up to this point and on his second biscuit chips in:
“At that point Sir, Range Rover and Land Rover sales were very good. Ford split the company and we were able to develop new models without the burden of the car market”.
SW: “Ahh. Young Spens idea came good then, but who owns us now?”
Dr. RS: “We are proud to be part of the Tata Groups. They are an Indian Company Sir.”
SW: “Indian by jove! Hard working chaps your Indians. No sloping off to the Golf Club on a Friday afternoon.”
MW: “So McGovern. What models do we manufacture now”
Gerry McGover opens up a laptop computer and fires up a Powerpoint presentation with fancy graphics, much to the amazement of the Brothers.
G McG: “We now have seven models Sir; The Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, Discovery, Freelander, Defender and the all new Evoque - a small version of the highly popular Range Rover Sport.”
SW: “Tell me McGovern - I saw an old Land Rover outside painted silver and sporting some wheels from a racing car. Some lad in the Works been building a special?”
GMcG: “Oh no Sir! That’ll be the 2011 Defender, Sir.”
SW & MW somewhat aghast: “You still make the same design we signed off in 1957?!?!”
Dr. RS: “With many improvements Sir. It now has zee engine from zer Ford van.”
MW: “Does anyone still buy it?”
Dr. RS: “Sales are steady Sir, particularly to the Army and it’s durable reputation has underpinned zee image of the entire range.”
SW: “If it’s not selling Dr. Seth, you should move on. We are surely still in the business of building and selling new cars, not pandering to nostalgia!”
Dr. RS: “We are hoping to introduce a new model next year - zer DC100. Here is a picture.” he says, pointing at the laptop.
SW: “Hard to imagine it with a few sheep in the back, or a load of logs?”
MW: “We had a chap turn up at the farm the other day in a Japanese 4x4 Pickup with some hay for the horses. Looked a fine piece of kit and he said it didn’t drip water on his right foot like his Dad’s old Land Rover - don’t we make something to cover that market?”
GMcG: “Very small niche market Sir. We prefer the luxury end, and the figures speak for themselves.”
SW, leaning forward, eyebrows raised: “How ‘niche’? Who buys these Japanese 4x4s?”
GMcG: “Oh, just a few builders, farmers, public utility companies.”
Dr. RS continues: “Construction workers, equestrian people and North African liberating armies.”
SW: “Sounds a hell of a big niche to me. I think you should take a closer look at it and report back to us next month. Good day Gentlemen!”
On that bombshell, the four shake hands, the Wilks Brothers finish their tea, get back in their ‘Cyclops’ Rover 75 and disappear back into the past.
Copyright Toby Savage.