Updated: Feb 19, 2019
The origins of British imports on the North American market can be traced back to the last days of World War II, when American and Canadian soldiers discovered the small, open top British Sportscars such as contemporary MGs and Triumphs. The British Government encouraged and pushed manufacturers to export as much as possible after the war, mainly by rationing steel allocated to the manufacturers.
Rover had a good war, despite the Coventry being completely destroyed by Luftwaffe airraids, they had managed a number of Government built shadow factories. One of these, Solihull, was to be Rover’s main premises after the war for the assembly of cars and bodies. Rover employed 21,500 people during war, and making a substantial contribution not only to the war effort but also to the development of the Whittle jet engine, which was later ceded to Rolls Royce in exchange for the production contract for Meteor tank engines. In 1946 the Solihull factory opened and Rover continued production of the pre-war 10/16 (P1). However, this wouldn’t sell abroad and Rover quickly launched new project such as P2,P3,P4 and the Land Rover. P2 never entered production and P3 was a quick revision of the P1 model, with a new sloping head engine. What was to save Rover was, unexpectedly, the Land Rover.
Rover did not have much experience with selling cars abroad, and its cars were designed with the Home Market in mind. The Land Rover, and later the all-new P4, saved Rover from difficulty and opened other markets for the company. By the end of the 1950s, Rover had produced no less than 250,000 Land Rovers and 100,000 P4s.
With the funds raised from the Land Rover and P4, Rover developed two new cars simultaneously. At first, there was only the P5, which was intended to be a small car. However, when the 1950s drew to a close P5 grew considerably due to a lack of expected production capacity and it was moved into the luxury car market. The P6 was to be the car that propelled Rover into the 1960s, together with the Series II Land Rover introduced in 88’ and 109’ guises in April 1958. (Bannock, 2013)
Throughout the 1950s Rover relied on subcontracted import into the USA and Canada, with limited involvement from the factory. The first break into the market was to be via Max Hoffman, an Austrian who settled in New York shortly before World War II began. Originally a running a successful jewelry business, he opened a single showroom in 1947. By 1949 he was the main importer for Jaguar, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Austin, Lea Francis and Morgan. Rover was added to these franchises, but it wasn’t to be a fruitful relationship. “Unsatisfactory terms of arrangement led to the import of only 20 units that year” according an internal document. Canada wasn’t a part of the arrangement and 38 Land Rovers were exported to dealers in Toronto and Montreal. However, 38 Land Rovers and 20 Rover cars to the USA, plus probably a few cars to Canada as well weren’t enough to break the market, or establish the Rover values.
Between early 1950 and 1958 import of Rover cars and Land Rovers was handled by Rootes Group Incorporated, an independent subsidiary of the British Rootes Group. Rootes had an established dealer network focusing on the North East and Southern California and took a decent number of Land Rovers and P4s. However, due to a lack of training and the forth coming lack of market control, Rover were not able to provide adequate back up for their products so in 1958 Rover established their own North American subsidiary, called the Rover Motor Company of North America. (Taylor, Land Rover Enthusiast 2005)