Between Brooklodge and Riverstown

The fading embers of the commercial conflagration of Rover produced a few final sparks. Here is one.

2003-2005 Rover Streetwise. All Images: the author

The errant apostrophe serves as a hint about the state of affairs on the 34th floor at Rover Towers in Longbridge when this car hit the market. Let’s overlook the sub-editorial infelicity and see if we can

find something to like about the Rover Streetwise. How does it differ from the base car, the Rover 25, née 200, of 1995?

Black plastic bumpers, of course. And it has 10 mm more ground clearance. Bigger wheels too. Little Union Flag badges grace the C-pillars.

The Streetwise could be enjoyed with either three or five doors. Rather nicely, Rover offered it with the option of either a four or five-seat interior. The four-seater version thus offered a replacement to people still pining for the snug four-bucket interior of the marvellous and striking Volvo 480ES. (That’s not irony – I like that car.)

Frustratingly for Rover, by 2000 the brand had reverted to its senior-citizen image despite a period in the late 1980s when it aspired to be a British BMW. The Streetwise’s design cues had to suggest ruggedness, sportiness and chunkiness (belied by its 2WD configuration). The idea was to use this to counteract the staid Rover image. Or was it so staid? I do have my doubts about ideas of image. That’s the subjective piled on the subjective. In my whole life, I can’t recall anyone actively saying anything like ‘You know, Richard, Subaru isn’t a car with a great image….’. What I do hear is people reporting other people’s prejudices. But mostly, the only channel communicating image problems is the motoring press, predictably.

You can make Rover chocolate pieces with this mould.

Customers enjoyed unique alloy wheels, a different coloured light on the instrument panel and a revised dashboard which turned its back on the smooth ’90s walnut concept of 1995 and looked more industrial or technicalesque.

You’ll notice the roofbars which came as standard with the car. I bet those are worth a bit on eBay.

A friend of mine had a Rover 200 and one thing that really stood out about the car was the lack of space in the back. Rover normally had a talent for packaging (I am told) which could not be detected in this instance. I had a Peugeot 205 for a while and, although it was a shorter car, it had way more legroom in the back and a pretty decent sized boot in comparison. Perhaps Rover ought to have acknowledged the Streetwise’s pokey interior and dispensed entirely with the seats to make it a two-seater shooting brake. If the lifestyle imagery was to be believed, this was a car for young couples and singles to go snowrafting and bungee surfing in the Lakes region rather than a car for four-up tours.

But back to the car in question. Exercising due diligence, I thought I would root through the DTW archive of Car magazines (bound in green and lilac buffalo hide with silver lettering) to see if I could get a quotable quote about the car. I found nothing in the 2003 editions except a reminder that Ford made over their Ka at around the same time, turning it into a StreetKa (successful, I think) and that there were a host of more grown-up body-cladded, grey-dimply off-roady versions of Volvos, Subarus and Audis running around contemporaneously (credible).

That saves us regurgitating received wisdom and forces me to invent some of my own: the apostrophe on the sticker in the rear window troubles me.

If you really like it, you can get this low-mileage example in Germany for a modest sum (but still more than most XMs cost!).

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

37 thoughts on “Between Brooklodge and Riverstown”

  1. Good morning, Richard. You must be annoyed by my incorrect use of it’s and its in the comments here 😉 In my defense: I’m not a native English speaker (shouldn’t that be writer?).

    The Rover Streetwise is a car I completely forgot about. Only 333 were sold in the Netherlands. Not a surprise as the writing was already on the wall by then.

    1. Good morning, Freerk. I shouldn’t worry: the apostrophe is widely abused and misused by native English speakers. In such instances it’s known as the ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’ because of the predilection of fruit and veg sellers to apply it liberally and incorrectly to their signage:

      By the way, we’re not in America, so it’s ‘defence’. 😁

    2. You can find a fun book on apostrophes called “Eats shoots and leaves”.
      A panda walked into a bar and ordered a plate of cookies which it ate. Then it fired its gun at the ceiling and hurried off.
      “What kind of bear was that,” asked a man to his friend.
      “How do you know?”
      “Because it eats, shoots and leaves.”

      I am not above erroneously typing apostrophes, by the way. I can add them when in a hurry.

    3. Richard, your apostrophes have attained mythical status here at DTW-editorial…

    4. Indeed they have, Eóin, and now we know where Richard originally found them, as bankrupt stock, circa 2005…

    5. I was actually looking at the panda book today, to reassure myself that the author is not running for PM ( Lynne not Liz).

  2. There was a lot of sneery coverage of the Streetwise when it came out, but the idea was sound, VW made the Polo Cross right through to 2017. It was exactly the same concept.

    1. The VW has the advantage of being based on a newer car and having the rugged bits more professionally (subtly) appended.

  3. Good morning Richard. Ah, yes, the Streetwise. Never hesitant to kick a dog when it’s down, the UK motoring press were predictably scathing about it. In its ‘Good, Bad and Ugly’ thumbnail review section, Car Magazine dismissed it with the inane quip that it was “only for the Streetstupid”. Others were more open-minded, however, and around 11,000 were sold over two years before MG Rover ceased trading in April 2005. Following its purchase of the company’s assets, Nanjing Automobile Group resurrected the StreetWise in China as the MG3 SW in 2008.

    Given the recent proliferation of so-called ‘faux-by-fours’, perhaps the StreetWise wasn’t a bad idea, just a prescient one, more than a decade ahead of its time. It was certainly less eccentric than another product of the company’s desperation to generate sales, irrespective of the cost to its reputation:

    The MG Express van was nothing more than a three-door MG ZR with no rear seats and metal panels in place of its rear side windows. The MG Express really was micro-niche marketing gone mad and was rewarded with just 317 sales.

    1. Hi David. Fair point, but Ford already had its badge on a range of commercial vehicles, whereas MG Rover had very different aspirations for its sporting brand – imagine if BMW did the same to its 1 Series?

    2. I can’t look upon a 2 Series Gran Tourer* without trying to think what the van version looks like.

      A missed opportunity – a proper van couldn’t be any worse.

      *Now thankfully discontinued.

    1. The necesssary panels can be bought from a company in Belgium (I think)

  4. At that angle, it’s not even an apostrophe but some kind of acute accent.

  5. Daniel, BMW did (sort of) – the Mini Clubvan. This article suggests 694 sales in 2013, which actually seems okay given that their benchmark was a c1500 units of the Corsavan, which was likely a lot cheaper. Otherwise, DFSK catered for that market, with their Rascal-type Loadhopper; some might argue that they used BMW ‘design cues’ in a more subtle way than some current BMWs. They also experimented with an i3 (REx) van, but it must have come to nothing.

    Around the time of the MG Express (also sold, a little more successfully, as Rover Commerce – about 565 sales), Ford offered the Ka as a panel van in RHD only, suggested here as largely to stop BT switching its business to Vauxhall in the two-year gap between mk4 and mk5 RHD Fiestavans:

    1. Hi Tom. I think the Clubvan was a bit of a misstep. BMW was at that time flailing around trying to find ways to increase MINI’s sales, which also resulted in the two-seater coupé and convertible and the utterly pointless Paceman, none of which was replaced.

  6. Richard Herriott wrote “Rover normally had a talent for packaging.”

    Eh? Wot? My disaster of a Rover 3500S (US model P6B), long gone and not lamented, is best characterized as a four door two seater.

    1. One swallow doesn´t make a summer. My dad had one of these. I wouldn´t be able to go as far as calling it a four-door, two-seater. That said I have no idea now where I heard the truism. Maybe it´s just unsubstantiated rubbish from the mind that can recall Petrocelli and Basil Brush.

    2. True, Rover weren’t good at packaging (The P5 is a disaster here as well), but some of the companies that became BLMC/British Leyland/BL/ARG/Rover Group/MG Rover (did I miss any?) had a knack for packaging. I believe there was a niche vehicle called the Mini that went on to be moderately successful. 🙂

  7. My brother once bought a Rover 25 and ‘converted’ it into an MG ZR. Was a great little runaround if I’m being honest.

    MG commercial vehicles seemed like a non starter, but what about Rover ones? Maybe by the 2000s that ship had long sailed but what about earlier, back in the British leyland era?

    And the streetwise, I kind of see it as an earlier and less well realised attempt at a Suzuki Ignis type vehicle. The concept wasn’t bad, just maybe the execution wasn’t the best. And of course the press was always teasing them regardless of what they did.

  8. The ‘Streetwise’ name is hilarious. Mind you, I don’t think the Renault Scénic gained anything in RX4 guise.

    1. It had 4 wheel drive though. I liked the look of them. The Kangoo Trekka was better though. You could see such cars as an interim between the 4×4 versions of ordinary saloons e.g. the Vectra, Sierra and BX on the one side and the full-on cross-overs that came later. Who wouldn´t like to have a Vectra 4×4 now? I found one in good nick for 4000 k.

  9. I recall that Peter Stevens (incredibly Rover’s design chief at the time) described at the launch that the Streetwise was the product of an exercise he set his team to design a car based on the 25 which would appeal to a younger urban audience. Apparently, he and the management team (Kevin Howe was MD by then I think, having been Marketing Director before that) were so impressed they decided to put it into production. That might be an urban myth, or just a load of bollocks story that Stevens used at the time, but it’s credible only because MGRover seemed so desperate at the time.

    It is astonishing the number of similar concepts that have made it to market subsequently, so it shows that they weren’t completely daft.

    1. Very true, the concept wasn’t bad at all, just maybe it was something beyond their ability to properly create at the time. Which is ironic when you remember that this was the marquee that created the Land Rover.

      Incidentally, did any Land Rover or Range Rover ever wear the Rover longship badge?

    2. The core idea is to make a regular hathback look rugged. That´s good if the ruggidity is backed in an upward direction by mechanical capability. I really wish Ford had offered the Fusion with 4×4 capability. It was a brilliant bit of design which really could have been ahead of the trend but someone decided to leave its robust, handsome shape lacking 4×4 reinforcement. The Streetwise and Fusion are out of the same box, in a sense, though the Ford is a vastly superior bit of industrial design which isn´t really promising off-roadability but hints at it.

  10. I saw a Fusion this evening, funnily enough. And a TR7 convertible (not so funny). Ford did think about an SUV version of the Fusion; I’m not sure how far it went as regards the mechanical aspects, though.

    I think the Streetwise and the Scenic are too rounded to withstand the bodykit treatment. The RX4 reminds me of the Pontiac Aztec (apologies). I think that’s why the original Panda carried-off the transformation to 4×4 so well – it’s pretty functional-looking to start with.

    The beauty of the Fusion, to me, is it is simple and modern-looking, without looking ‘tough’, as such. It looks civilized and as if it was designed with conviction.

    I had the same thought as JCC – that it was ironic that the Streetwise’s execution was so poor, given its heritage. I don’t think any production Land / Range Rover has ever worn the longship badge.

    1. Hi Charles. The Fusion was a really nicely resolved design, one of Ford’s best,but it was insufficiently different from the Fiesta to find its own market position. It might have done better if it had been butched up a bit with faux-by-four tinsel, although that would have spoilt the purity of the design:

  11. I know somebody who built a Streetwise van, based on a 2.0 diesel Rover 25 Commerce. An easier and cheaper exercise than expected, helped by the ready availability of parts from dead K series powered Streetwises. The L series powered Streetwise might just have been the best of the R3 / Jewel bunch, but for the wretched ‘Project Drive’ cost savings imposed by the Phoenix Four.

  12. With regard to the commercial derivatives of the Rover 25, they sold as fast as the factory could deliver them – which wasn’t fast. MG-R didn’t anticipate the demand, in the same way as the facelift ZS outsold the investment in body kit tooling. The commercials were actually the pick of the R3/200/25 bunch as the internal sheet metal changes used to convert it from carrying passengers to cargo significantly increased the stiffness of the body.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: