Wilks agreed that he would be relieved to be rid of them. Hives’ response was, “You give us this jet job and I’ll give you our tank engine factory in Nottingham.” From 1 January 1943, Hooker became chief engineer at the former cotton mill at Barnoldswick near Skipton, where Rolls-Royce planned W.2B production, and henceforth it became Rolls-Royce’s jet engine development center.
The pace quickened and jets went into service with the Royal Air Force. A Rolls-Royce B.23 engine flew in the F9/40 Meteor on 12 June 1943, and a batch of 100 engines was delivered as the Welland 1, going into action against V1 flying bombs in August 1944. Accordingly Rover’s place in the development of one of the Twentieth Century’s most demanding technologies was established, although it never again involved itself with aircraft jet engines.
The tank engine, a version of the V12 Merlin was made at Solihull, and it was called the Meteor in honor of a name associated with Rover since 1888 when the Starley and Sutton tricycle was made at the Meteor Works in West Orchard Street. Rover’s dalliance with the gas turbine engine continued with experimental gas turbine cars in the 1950s, and later Rover managing director William Martin-Hurst revived interest with the gas turbine Rover-BRM racing at Le Mans in 1963 and 1965. A gas turbine Land Rover was built, and when Rover merged with truck maker Leyland, the technology was applied to a heavy prime mover
Rover-designed gas turbines were used as auxiliary power units (APUs) in Nimrod maritime reconnaissance aircraft and Vulcan bombers but so far as passenger cars were concerned gas turbines remained uncompetitive. Heavily engaged in war production, by 1944 Rover had 24,000 employees in 18 factories, including an underground machining facility at Drakelow near Kidderminster. By 1945 it had made some 57,400 Hercules engines.
1945–1946 As soon as the war was over, Rover turned the Solihull shadow factory over to car production. The first post-war saloons came off the production line in December 1946 but to repay war debts, the government imposed strict controls on manufacturing. These included rationing steel according to success in export markets, particularly North America.
Rover’s first post-war new car project was the M-type or M1, a small 2-seat coupe powered by a 57mm × 68.5mm 4-cylinder 699cc 28bhp (21kW) engine with overhead inlet and side exhaust valves. Spencer Wilks, managing director since 1933, “strongly advised” the board in January 1945, “that we should aim to expand our output, and that to achieve this we should not look primarily to our pre-war models, but that we should add to our range by the introduction of a 6HP model.”
One anomaly of the scarcity in materials and resources was that although steel was in short supply, aluminum remained relatively plentiful, so when the M1 design was begun, using lots of aluminum seemed a good idea. It was thought that Solihull might make 15,000 full-sized cars and a further 5,000 M-types, so work began on an aluminum chassis with a strong box-shaped scuttle, for a car with a 77in (195.6cm) wheelbase and only 160in (406.4cm) long.