Rover Recollections

(Sonic random thoughts gathered during the 70th anniversary of the Solihull Company)

I went the other day to visit Mr. D. A. Cooper at his charming cottage high up on Frith Common, near Worcester, with a fine panoramic view stretching to the hills of the Welsh border. I did so primarily to chat about Rovers, because Mr. Cooper joined that company in 1929 as a road-test driver. But I discovered that he is a great enthusiast, who went to Brooklands in the 1920s, and later to Shelsley Walsh and Donington, snapping exciting cars (including that 16/50 Rover single-seater on the Track) with his Box Brownie camera. In those days he had a succession of interesting motorcycles, commencing with a circa-1918 3-1/2 -h.p. belt-drive Rover, encouraged by a father who began motoring in a Fiat 501 tourer, probably with an English body, judging by the square-shaped doors.

Mr. Cooper worked first for Arthur .Mulliner Ltd., as he was an inhabitant of Northampton, at a time when that Company was making craftsman-like bodies on Daimler and other fine chassis. At “The Rover” in Coventry he found he was required to test all the current models for 2-1/2 hours each, doing four tests a day. Frank Ansell was the final arbitrator, after tests driven by Ernie Sutch, Nobby Clarke, Bob Gosling, Ted Commander, Maurice Powney, and Don Cooper himself. The test route was out of Coventry, avoiding Kenilworth, to Warwick, Barford and up Frizz and Edge hills. It is recalled that the Rover Meteors with P.S.C. bodies often used to “nip-up” before the long grind up Edge Hill was completed. ,After cooling down they would free off and it was then up to the Inspection Foreman whether or not the engine was rejected or passed. The limousine on the long-wheelbase chassis with body by Holbrooks of Coventry (Dogbody’s to the trade!) was given a longer test. At this time the thumpy Ten had superseded the excellent Nine, its two-bearing engine disliking the extra weight of the new bodies. These came from Pressed Steel and to get them right two of the Pressed Steel staff were sent to Rover’s to investigate shortcomings. The Rover Pilot, with horn within the radiator grille, is remembered as a poor thing but the Speed Pilot with its nice fruity exhaust note was a good car. Rover’s had their own chromium-plating plant for finishing the bright parts of the Regal model but at first it was all too easy to lift off long strips of the new plating from a radiator with finger and thumb. The ordinary models had nickel plating.,

One day Jack Nugent, the Meteor Shop Foreman, said he would be wanting a few men to go elsewhere on a special task, but he couldn’t say what it would be. This was soon found to be to test the little 840-c.c. aircooled vee-twin Rover Scarab, which was to have sold for £85, although the proposed price crept up to nearly £100 as the project advanced and before it was finally abandoned. (The slump then, as now, was pushing up prices and the Scarab was intended to combat this.)

Relays of drivers, of whom Mr. Cooper was one, drove several Scarabs day and night round a 20-mile route near Coventry, each driver doing four hours on, four off, between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. They had arrived at Colonel Searle’s house, Braunston Hall, near Rugby, to find much of the work done in the converted stables; indeed, one Scarab had been given an 8/45 JAP engine. The others had Rover’s own vee-twin, in a boot at the back. The test-team slept in nearby quarters in a house at Willoughby. (Mr. Cooper has forgotten who made f.t.d., but remembers falling asleep and dropping one Scarab on to its side in the middle of the night!) The main trouble was that in lieu of a differential, a hardwood ring allowed drive to the n/s rear wheel to slip on acute corners, which consequently were taken to the accompaniment of audible grunts and gratings! Tyre life on the back wheels was only about 3,000-4,000 miles. Bigger tyres were tried but were worn out after 5,000-6,000 miles. It was also said that the rear suspension infringed Mercedes patents. As there was no heater, driving these Scarabs was a chilly business and the test chaps used to stuff the pedal-slots with old rags and blank off the dummy radiator. A modified body was a slight improvement and a number, including a sectioned engine, went to the 1931 Olympia Show. But the Rover Scarab never went into production. All the test fleet were registered, instead of being taken out on tradeplates, probably so as not to attract unwanted attention. Alas, none has survived. But Mr. Cooper has; he enjoys going to VSCC meetings, ran a 14/40 Vauxhall until recently, and marshals on present-day rallies, using a Triumph Herald.— W.B.