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December 2016

The Archive contains extensive documentation about the formation and running of the numerous businesses which were once part of the British motor industry. I am Colin Corke, an Archive volunteer, and one of the tasks I assist with is the sorting and re-packaging of this important material which holds so many stories. In my many years of volunteering, one of the things which has always struck home when undertaking this type of job is the element of luck about what has survived and what has not. British Leyland and its predecessors did not systematically archive their paperwork and it’s often down to what has been saved by individuals and passed on to us for safekeeping. Thus, rather than having complete 'sets' or runs of documents, the Archive may contain notes of meetings in a more disjointed way with many gaps in the sequence. This reflects the way in which individuals within the relevant Companies passed their papers on to the Trust.

Why This Document?

This particular document is from a disparate collection of papers created by the Rover Company. It records the minutes of a confidential meeting about the '100 inch Station Wagon' which was held on 18 December 1968. The vehicle had been under development for three years, and this was a joint meeting of the Engineering and Sales Departments to discuss the concept, specification, launch, pricing and potential markets for the new vehicle. Though the British Leyland Motor Corporation had just been created, including Rover, it was not formally incorporated until February the following year so it would be some time before it got into its stride and began to look at the overall model programme for the coming years. In 1968 it was therefore business as usual among the newly merged car manufacturers.

The meeting was chaired by J K Carpenter. The attendees included Peter Wilks, Technical Director of Rover from 1963-71, and the company’s chief stylist David Bache. Peter was the nephew of Maurice and Spencer Wilks who were, of course, the men behind the introduction of the original ‘Land Rover' in 1948. This gives an added interest to his views as expressed at the meeting:

'Mr Wilks stated: In his opinion the present Land Rover (sic) sells because it is rugged and durable, and also because Rover are willing to produce vehicles to suit customer requirements. However, although the present Land Rover is neither comfortable, economical to run, nor safe, many people do buy it for leisure purposes. He was convinced that there is a potential for the 100 inch with all the above qualities which the present Land Rover does not possess. The meeting continued: Mr Wilks feels confident that we should be able to sell 200 to 350 per week.'

This passage tells us a lot about the company’s attitude to the Land Rover, which had been introduced as a stop-gap element of the model range immediately after the war and yet was still in production 20 years later. Wilks has identified that the reasons behind its popularity were as much rooted in emotion as practicality. And Rover decided that this could help them understand what direction to take with the first big development of the concept that they had attempted a 'leisure' utility vehicle with improved engineering.

For me, the significance of these minutes lies in item 3 'Name'.

'Mr Carpenter said there were two schools of thought. The first was that the twenty years of goodwill surrounding the name "Land Rover" should not be discarded, whilst the second regarded the vehicle as a completely new concept which should be promoted as such. Both Sales and Engineering supported the second school and generally agreed that "Range Rover" would be a suitable name.'

It is clear that this meeting adopted the name Range Rover for the new vehicle and the summary of conclusions circulated on 7 January 1969 confirmed that ‘both Sales and Engineering are in favour of adopting the name "Range Rover".'

There are many other nuggets from the discussion. It was revealed they were aiming well up-market of the utilitarian Land Rover: 'the vehicle would have a certain "snob-appeal" and be particularly attractive to the hunting, shooting, fishing and yachting fraternities'. When it came to overseas sales, the Sales Department was keen on 'a Mini-Safari in Africa or Spain' to raise press interest for the launch. This was countered by Mr Llewelyn, representing the North American market, who pointed out that his territory was the primary target so that was where any expedition should take place:

'The areas chosen must obviously be favourable for highlighting all the merits and capabilities of the vehicle. Mr Beresford suggested that a film should be made for the introduction and he thought that part of it could be made in conjunction with the route plan for the Mini-Safari.'

This would translate into the British Trans-Americas Expedition (better known as the Darien Gap Expedition) which took place in 1971-2 using two very early Range Rovers backed up by a fleet of Land Rovers. Both these vehicles are now part of the BMIHT Vehicle Collection. The film was made too, by the army officers who led the expedition.

This document is a wonderful example of how a few pages of rather boring-looking type-written minutes can yield up fascinating stories and insights when examined more closely.

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