Stolen Thunder – 1986 Rover CCV Concept

Intended to signpost the crucial 800 saloon, Rover’s CCV concept could be said to have eclipsed it entirely.

1986 Rover CCV concept. Image:
1986 Rover CCV concept. Image:

Why Austin Rover chose to display CCV at the Turin motor show a matter of weeks before the launch of their highly anticipated Rover 800 saloon seems a curious one in retrospect. For although it gained them a good deal of column inches and the approbation of the design community, it also ramped up anticipation for the new saloon model – which was dashed slightly when the 800 was revealed later that year. Because although the Rover saloon’s lines were crisp and sharply tailored, it appeared slightly slab-sided and clumsy next to the far better proportioned coupé concept.

When Roy Axe assumed the role of styling director for Austin Rover vacated by previous incumbent, David Bache, there were many problems to overcome, but one of the biggest he faced was that of credibility. Despite a series of forward looking designs through the 1970’s, Austin Rover had become better known for wild inconsistency and more latterly, dull looking cars. This perception would not be abetted by the advent of the Maestro/Montego twins in 1983/84, both of which were completed well before Axe’s appointment. With Austin Rover’s design credibility in tatters, Axe embarked upon a total reorganisation of the design team, its facilities and most crucially its output.

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The XX programme was Axe’s first major assignment – to replace the tarnished Rover SD1. It’s likely a coupé always figured in the product plan for the 800 programme, AR’s Harold Musgrove seeing it as a necessary adjunct to a return to the US market. Buoyed by the reception given their studio’s MG EXE concept the previous year, CCV built upon its styling themes and despite a number of showcar features, was viewed as broadly production feasible – although the glazed canopy was clearly never likely to get past the bean counters. Axe told Car magazine in 1986;  “we do a lot of cars like this in a year… this one is unashamedly an exercise in style… but it is definitely the kind of car we could produce.”

Axe’s team retained the saloon’s wheelbase which aided the car’s appearance, saying:  “We expected a few headaches about keeping the long wheelbase… in coupés it’s usually a source of trouble. But it works in this car because it’s got an extremely good stance.” CCV featured a smaller frontal area and superior drag coefficient to that of the 800 saloon. Austin Rover’s interior designer, Richard Hamblin imbued the car’s interior with a similar ambience to the production car – showcar flourishes like the plush seating and prominent compact disk player aside.

Nevertheless, despite being well received by show goers, the motoring public and fellow designers alike, CCV translated into a bit of an own goal for Rover and Musgrove, who was highly criticised for fumbling the launch of the 800 – a poor start the car arguably never quite recovered from. A further source of disappointment occurred five years later when the restyled R17 series saw the long awaited 800 coupé’s introduction. By then all but the most tenuous resemblance with CCV was lost and with Rover having withdrawn from the US market in ignominy, the business case for the car probably went with it. Why it went on sale at all remains something of a mystery as European sales of the elegant 2-door were minuscule.

It wouldn’t really be a disservice to describe the 800 series as a sort of British Lancia Thema in that it succeeded a more characterful model, selling in far greater numbers, with over 300,000 made from 1986 to 1998. The CCV concept was retained by the Heritage Collection at Gaydon, but unlike its MG EXE sibling, which is prominently displayed within the museum, CCV currently languishes at the collection centre in need of some TLC with a rather incongruous black plastic sheet deputising for its polycarbonate roof panel. That aside, it’s still a handsome design and arguably something of a missed opportunity for a more attractive saloon style.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

10 thoughts on “Stolen Thunder – 1986 Rover CCV Concept”

  1. Thanks for the memories. This and the EX-E promised so much … and then there was no follow through. I actually really liked the original 800 – neat, modern, handsome and sharp suited – and it was improved by the facelift which saw the fitting of slightly extended bumpers (originally designed and fitted to the US Sterling versions). If they had got the manufacturing standards right from the start on the 800 and followed up more quickly with other new product, things may have been different …

    1. I liked the styling of the 800 too, and have owned a couple including a ’97 Vitesse Coupe. The sad fact is that it really was not a terribly good car. Mediocre at launch, barely competitive after the ’92 facelift and a complete joke by the end. It really was only after the 1996 final updates to the model that they started building them properly and ironed out (most of) the electrical gremlins too.

      If as you say it had been properly built from launch in ’86 and then replaced 6/7 years later things could have been very different indeed. For a company trying very hard to move upmarket having such an obviously dated and mediocre car in the range at all, let alone as the flagship, is a bad position to be in.

  2. I have to say I liked the 800, too. I could have done without the more rounded shapes and even more the grille they added with the facelift, though.
    This concept (which I didn’t know before) is even more likeable. When will we see this kind of clean, crisp, modern shapes again?

  3. The CCV has the same kind of nose-cone design as the 1989 XM and 1988 VW Passat. The lamps are set into a plastic “mask” that is fitted to the front wings and leading edge of the bonnet. It has the same problem in that the panel gap which runs transversely interrupts the longitudinal lines and forms (the ones orientated forwards). The A-pillars and mirrors are also problematic.
    The CCV is quite bland.

  4. Does anyone else think that Subaru might have got their inspiration for the SVX from the CCV? In typical Japanese style, it lacks the tautness and subtlety of the CCV.

  5. Strangely, I remember reading that “We do a lot of cars like this in a year… ” quote in Car at the time. I remember it because it seemed an odd idea that they sat around “doing” cars all the time, as if filling some quota, like a chef cooking endless meals irrespective of whether the restaurant had customers.

    Time has given the production 800 Coupe an endearingly old-fashioned quaintness, but at the time it was indeed an odd thing. Though would it have been better received if it looked like the CCV, much as we might prefer it?

  6. Being pragmatic, what makes the CCV stand out is the tautness of its flanks and its excellent stance. These however are show car requisites. In truth, the production coupe – (awful side rubbing strip aside) – is a richer, nicer car. Glazed canopies were terribly en vogue during the mid-’80s – witness the Alfa Vivace and Aston Zagato of the same year. It’s a styling feature that hasn’t dated particularly well. The treatment employed for the production coupe is more noble and judging from some of the alternative concepts evaluated, the best proposal won out. A more upright grille would have suited the car better however.

    I saw the CCV at Gaydon recently and while the MG EXE still looks great, I though it was disappointing in three dimensions. What was cutting edge thirty years ago now appears a little bland.

  7. Agreed Mark,

    I also think the rear of the CCV is very reminiscent of the 90-95 Honda Legend saloon. Which is amusing because the first generation Legend and 800 shared a lot in common. On the subsequent iteration, Rover and Honda went their separate ways, on parting did Honda pinch the bits they liked about the CCV???

  8. Thanks for this. To me the CCV still looks superb. Rover’s stylists were drawing superb shapes at this time and it is good to see one of them in the metal. Honda must’ve been impressed, several of their cars recalling themes from the CCV for a number of years afterwards. And yes, showing the CCV just before the 800 was unhelpful, overshadowing what was to my eyes a still handsome production car. Jaguar managed the same misstep when launching the XF, so nothing changes.

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