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WI: Rootes' takeover of Volkswagen goes ahead?


Well-known member
The Rootes Group, aka Rootes Motors Limited, was a British automobile manufacturer and, separately, a major motor distributors and dealers business. Run from London's West End, having been founded by William Rootes in Kent in 1913 (as a car sales agency independent from his father's Hawkhurst motor business), the manufacturer was based in the Midlands and the distribution and dealers business in the south of England. With the financial support of Prudential Assurance, Rootes bought some well-known British motor manufacturers, including Hillman, Humber, Singer, Sunbeam, Talbot, Commer and Karrier, controlling them through a parent company, Rootes' 60-per-cent-owned subsidiary, Humber Limited.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Rootes, like most other British car manufacturers, became involved with the production of armaments. In 1940, under the Government's shadow factory scheme, Rootes built its massive assembly plant in Ryton-on-Dunsmore, near Coventry, initially manufacturing aircraft, one of the first types being the Bristol Blenheim. Production included an RAF heavy bomber, the Handley Page Halifax. These were built at a shadow factory at Speke Airport near Liverpool and at Blythe Bridge in Staffordshire from 1941 to 1943. Rootes also manufactured military vehicles, based on the Humber and Commer. During the Second World War, William Rootes supervised the volume manufacture of aircraft and engines, as well as the supply of military motor vehicles and armoured fighting vehicles, and was knighted in 1942 for these services, as well as for organising the reconstruction of bomb-damaged Coventry after its saturation bombing by the Luftwaffe.

In the 1950s, he became a leader of Britain's export drive, and chaired a committee to found the University of Warwick with a vision of academic links with industry. Tilling-Stevens Limited, along with its subsidiary Vulcan Motors, both old-established and well-known commercial vehicle and bus manufacturers, were bought in the second half of 1950 as post-war acquisitions. And at its height in 1960, Rootes had manufacturing plants in the Midlands at Coventry and Birmingham, in southern England at Acton, Luton and Dunstable, and a brand-new plant in the west of Scotland at Linwood. From its offices in Devonshire House in London, it controlled exports and international distribution for Rootes and other motor manufacturers, and its own local distribution and service operations in London, Kent, Birmingham and Manchester, along with assembly plants in nine countries outside the UK.

Following the war, Rootes had sponsored satellite manufacturing operations around the world, notably in Australasia (Rootes Australia) and the Middle East, with the best known example of these being the Iranian-built Paykan. However, IOTL, William Rootes voluntarily missed out on perhaps his greatest business opportunity of all in this era- invited to visit the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg to evaluate it for war reparations, and given the option to purchase it as a post-war acquisition for next-to-nothing, he decided that it, and the Beetle, had no value- disinterested in obtaining anything from them besides a Volkswagen-sourced flat-twin for their own unrealised rear-engined Little Jimmy project by Craig Miller of the Rootes Group (allegedly the 12 hp Flat-Twin was sourced from a Volkswagen Tractor project, based off half the original 24-25 hp 985-1131cc Flat-4s, with the tooling for the engine having been destroyed during the war).

In the end, the Rootes Group was under-capitalized, and proved unable to survive industrial relations problems and losses from the 1963 introduction of a new aluminium-engined small car, the Hillman Imp. By mutual agreement, from mid-1964, Rootes Motors was taken over in stages by Chrysler Corporation, which bought control from the Rootes family in 1967. And by the end of 1978, the last of the various elements of Chrysler UK had been sold to Peugeot and Renault. So, then- what if, Sir William Rootes had indeed elected to take up perhaps the greatest opportunity he was offered, and as part of the agreements for post-war reparations, had agreed to pay the pittance required to add Volkswagen as a post-war acquisition in 1946, with VW added to his collection as another subsidiary of the Rootes Group, and its factory in Wolfsberg acquired as its largest satellite manufacturing operation? How much more successful might the Rootes Group, and the UK's post-war industrial export drive, have been as a result?


Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Published by SLP
Nu Yawk
I'm a casual car history student, so take this with a grain of salt, as it could be totally wrong.

-First, OTL Volkswagen had to make a virtue out of necessity because the Beetle was, for lack of a better word, all they had (see this article.) The reluctance that the foreign automakers had to grab the plant was genuine and mostly well-founded. OTL Volkswagen put investments and upgrades into the Beetle that made it more competitive (for a time, of course) that a foreign owner probably wouldn't do (especially if it competed against their other products). I see any foreign Wolfsburg plant as just making Beetles for a few years and then getting retooled to build something else.

-However, having a giant plant with a local supply chain would help tremendously with the European market in both political and economic ways. It could very well avert the tipping point in the OTL British car industry, which was the industry tooling up thinking they would join the EEC only to have De Gaulle stop it (and leaving them with politically sticky overcapacity and lost money).

-This would also help with a more sensible British car industry consolidation where BMC joins with Rootes in a volume-car big firm instead of competing with it after the Leyland mismatch. Having a large continental presence certainly wouldn't hurt.

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
the tipping point in the OTL British car industry, which was the industry tooling up thinking they would join the EEC only to have De Gaulle stop it (and leaving them with politically sticky overcapacity and lost money).
Huh, didn't know that was one of the big blows