When BMW bought Rover Group in 1994, it inherited a brand in tatters.
Rover was an amalgam of many older British brands, including Mini, MG, Austin and Morris. Stirred into the blend was Honda, which supplied the mechanicals for several Rover models and manufactured cars along with it at three U.K. plants.
Indeed, Rover cars were seen as little more than Honda Civics and Accords with bits of wood stuck on the instrument panel.
'Rover gradually turned into the old man's car,' said Jez Frampton, a consultant with Interbrand Group, a worldwide branding consultancy.
With BMW backing, Rover surveyed its customers and employees to find out what 'Britishness' stood for in their minds. The process took four years.
Concepts such as honesty, integrity, humor and eccentricity featured prominently in the responses, said Richard Wooley, studio director of Rover Cars.
The resulting product, the finished Rover 75, went on sale in the United Kingdom June 17 and will be sold in about 120 markets around the world. Future Rovers also will embody these qualities, which Rover hopes will become the essence of a revived brand.
Wooley feels the 75 is just the car people like him had been waiting to do all along.
'We felt there was a lot of pent-up feeling in the company,' said Wooley. 'We all knew what a real Rover could be. When the time came to do the car, it flowed very easily. It wasn't a struggle.'
The Rover 75 sedan has been praised widely in the enthusiast press for its elegance and its blend of traditional and modern elements. The wood instrument panel with cream-colored facings, two-tone leather seats, abundant chrome trim and graceful curves set the car apart.
But critics have called the car a kind of theme park of British automotive history.
'This is the German idea of what a British car is,' said Garel Rhys, director of the Centre for Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff University Business School in Wales.
'It might not be what would have happened if Rover had carried on its own development. What is going to be created is not the same as what would have happened if Rover had remained independent.'