The history of the Rover SD1 and Standard-Triumph company are well known among marque enthusiasts; any number of online and print sources can provide the details.
Recently, classic car documentary film maker John Clancy had the opportunity to shed new light on the history of both car and company. After speaking to Rover and Triumph staff previously ignored by historians, journalists and writers, John’s two new films – Rover SD1 At Forty and The Standard-Triumph Story – promise to put back the missing pieces.
“It always bothered me that people were missing from the stories in question,” he explained to Classics World. With a background in computing and Super 8 film making, one of John’s earliest pieces – Project Bullet, a biopic of the Triumph TR7 – was a smash hit among aficionados and club members: “The TR Drivers’ Club have been particularly supportive – and other groups have realised the benefit in selling a film tailored to their audiences.”
Other films followed ‘Project Bullet’ up to and including the present day. With the Rover SD1 celebrating its 40th birthday this year, finding missing personnel associated with Rover’s last large rear-wheel drive flagship couldn’t have come at a better time.
Among missing key staff SD1 staff members was Kevin Spindler, a Rover stylist who stayed with the company until it disintegrated under the Phoenix Consortium in 2005. Many credit David Bache for the ‘five door Ferrari Daytona’ the SD1 resembled in concept; John’s research revealed it was Spindler who first penned the idea. “He was [at Rover] for an awfully long time and ended up in a very senior position. He’d never spoken to any journalist and had certainly never sat down to an interview,” John confirmed.
Spindler was also behind the still-born SD1 estate and played a significant role in the creation of the SD1 Vitesse. “I believe this is the first time the story has been told accurately,” added John, who also tracked down George Spence (SD1 principal engineer, chassis design 1976-79
& programme manager SD1 1985-86) and Peter Wilson, Triumph TR7 resident engineer who had first hand experience of the SD1 production lines at Solihull and had never spoken about that particular role on camera.
John found himself travelling to America in search of contributors for his Standard-Triumph film, arriving on the doorstep of Mike Dale CBE, British Leyland vice president of sales and marketing. From his home in Colpeper, Virginia, Mike recounted his role within the company, ending up as Jaguar of America president. Legendary Triumph high-speed test driver Gordon Birtwistle gets screen time, along with Ralph Wigginton and Norman Rose, top Herald chassis engineer and body engineers respectively.
Contacting former key players wasn’t without its upsetting moments – as John concluded when he spoke to Triumph stylist David Keepax: “I was hoping to speak to him just before this year’s Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show – but he’s been told he’s got weeks rather than months to live. It’s incredibly sad – but I’m glad I spent the past decade getting to know people like David – people from our rich motoring heritage of old because very soon it’ll be too late.”
Expect a review of Rover SD1 At Forty and The Standard-Triumph Story DVDs soon!