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SNAPSHOT 222: 1931 Rover Scarab

The stylish brochure gives a hint of adventure: the exotic and inscrutable sphinx; the game little car ploughing its way through tough terrain; the ancient scarab symbol of immortality, resurrection, transformation and protection.

Not so. The Rover Scarab was rightly given short shrift by dealers when it was shown at the 1931 Olympia and Scottish Shows by a company that had up to then a proud history of making mid-sized middle-of-the-range products for solid upright citizens.  It used a tiny V-twin air-cooled engine of only 839 cc, mounted at the rear of a ladder chassis with independent suspension by coil springs on sliding pillars at the front and by a coil spring swing axle arrangement at the rear. So why does our Snapshot show a glimpse of a proper Rover radiator up front?  Because it is a dummy – no doubt to maintain the link to the conventional members of the Rover range.

It was billed as a full four-seater convertible and Rover intended to sell it at £85.  But it was plagued with overheating, noise and roughness from the engine.

Fortunately for Rover, sanity prevailed and the car was quietly dropped.  But not before the company created this brochure, which exuded confidence in the qualities of the little car.  Some extracts from the blurb give evidence of the copywriter’s art, under the heading of “The car that will bring happy memories for millions”.

“Here is a car that you will love to own!  It is new, gloriously new in every detail.  It revolutionizes all your preconceived ideas of motor car design, asks nothing from the mandarins of design who insist that theirs is an undeviating convention to be followed, and yet it gives you efficient personal transport at a price that is amazing”; “Thousands of new motorists will choose the Scarab as their first car.”  Hmm.

The Rover company’s origins date to the firm founded in 1877 by John Kemp Starley and his partner William Sutton to build bicycles in Coventry.  The Rover name first appeared in 1884 on a tricycle, but in 1885 Starley produced the Rover Safety Bicycle.  Its two similar-sized wheels made it more stable than the existing ‘ordinary’ bicycles that needed enormous front wheels to provide forward motion at a reasonable pedal speed – the new chain drive creating the essential ratio between pedal and wheel rotation.  This was the template for every subsequent bicycle ever made.  Indeed, Cycling magazine stated that the Rover had “set the pattern to the world”, and the phrase was used in Rover bicycle advertising for many years.

After Starley’s sudden death in 1901 the company started to make motorcycles and cars, and produced in its heyday such famous and successful cars as the P4, P5 and P6.  Thank goodness the Scarab did not cut short that honourable history in the early 1930s.

Picture and original brochure courtesy of Guy Loveridge


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