Over the past century or so, many mechanical configurations for the automobile have been devised, developed, engineered, tested and produced, although several failed to clear those demanding final two hurdles on their way to the showroom.
Front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive, even just one driven wheel: they have all been tried, some with more success than others. The same goes for the location of the powerplant: it can either go out front, in the middle or at the back(1), each option coming with its own set of pros and cons. Engine location and driven wheel combinations have resulted in seven more or less widely applied pairings(2), but there have also been some unusual and eccentric mixes: one definitely belonging in the latter category is the rear-engined, yet front-wheel-driven car. Continue reading “Back to Front”
We look at three small eco-concept cars from the 1980s and see what became of them.
The last of the cars featured in this series is the BL Technologies ECV3. This is a classic BL tale of burgeoning promise turning to wracking frustration as funds dried up for the development of a new small car. As might be expected, it is also by some margin the most convoluted and protracted of the three stories.
BL Technology was the R&D arm of the state-owned British car maker. In 1980, it was led by renowned engineer Spen King and given a home at BL’s new testing facility at Gaydon in Warwickshire. BL Technology and its Gaydon site was basically a sand-box environment, enabling King and his colleagues to propose theories about the future design of cars, then turn these into working prototypes to Continue reading “Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 3 – BL Technologies ECV3”
Initial impressions of the Rover 75’s rebellious younger sibling.
Regular DTW readers may by now recognise my curious obsession with the ill-fated products of the late MG Rover company and may also recall a recent report on spending nearly a year with a 2.5 litre Rover 75 Sterling. At the time, I intimated that the Rover had been replaced with something related that was just a little bit rare and special.
Concluding the story of Rover Group’s US Sterling misadventure. Why did it go so badly wrong?
A total of 14,171 cars found US buyers before the end of 1987, Sterling’s first year on sale in the US. This was a respectable number, if shy of the 20,000 to 23,000 sales that had been forecast by ARCONA. Even before the end of the year, however, reports were emerging about inconsistent build quality and poor reliability. There were many instances of faulty paintwork, poorly assembled interior trim and various electrical problems(1). Moreover, the quality of the dealerships was highly variable, many lacking the expertise(2) to deal effectively with issues that arose on the car.
We recall Rover’s US misadventure with Sterling and ask why it all went so badly wrong for the second time in a decade.
The 1981 Project XX joint venture agreement between Honda and Austin Rover to develop a large luxury saloon appeared to open the way for the British company to return to the United States. It was no secret that Honda was designing its version of the car, the Legend, with the US market firmly in mind. The Japanese company wanted to move upmarket, to raise US transaction prices and profitability in case volume import quotas might be imposed by the US government to protect domestic automakers. If the Legend was explicitly designed to appeal to US customers, then why shouldn’t the British version, the Rover 800, do likewise?
I have, on a number of previous occasions, regaled readers of with tales of my odd obsession with Rover’s last (chance) saloon and a number of you were kind enough to express interest in an update regarding my second example of the breed; a 2002-registered (though built in 2001) 2.5 V6 Sterling, known as Connoisseur in the UK market. This car was purchased almost a year ago and has been in regular use as my sole form of motorised transport since then.
My beautifully blue Rover was blessed with two apparently-careful previous owners, who had not neglected its maintenance, and had, for its very nearly 20 years of age, a low kilometerage, to which I have added a good eleven thousand or so. Said car is also one of the most over-specified conveyances I have ever encountered – its original owner having ordered the topmost trim level, added a dark blue personal line leather interior (a lovely thing to have on the 75) and then ticked every other cost-option box on the order form for good measure. Continue reading “Rover 75: Long(ish) Term Test”
Today, we feature the CityRover, a cynical and poorly executed attempt to plug a perceived gap in MG Rover’s model range.
In 2000, the newly independent MG Rover found itself without a contender in the sub-B city car segment. As the formerly BMW-owned Rover Group, it had continued to field a version of the long-running 1980 Austin Metro, subject of three major facelifts before being renamed Rover 100 in 1994.
Despite its antiquity, it remained popular, at least in the UK, where it was valued for its compact size and nimbleness. A disastrous Euro-NCAP crash test in 1997 however, where the 100 received a uniquely poor one-star rating for adult occupant safety, caused sales to collapse and the model was discontinued the following year. Continue reading “Phoenix Follies (Part Two)”
At a crucial moment, and to the detriment of their mainstream business, MG Rover’s management squandered time and money on frivolous distractions.
It had all started so well, or so it appeared. It was May 2000 and, after months of uncertainty and worry, Rover Group, the UK’s last remaining indigenous volume car manufacturer, was independent again and back under British ownership. Phoenix Venture Holdings, a consortium of businessmen led by John Towers, had secured ownership of the bulk of Rover for a nominal fee of £10 and negotiated a generous ‘dowry’ of £500 million from BMW AG. The German automotive giant was just relieved to Continue reading “Phoenix Follies (Part One)”
Honda’s Legend was brought to market late in 1985, stealing some of ARG’s thunder. Mark Snowdon, Managing Director of Product Development countered this move with an acceptance that Honda were a little faster to button everything up; “late stage modifications, we have a wider model range and we have different ways of launching cars to our Japanese colleagues.” A foil which did little to mask his chagrin. One of those late stage modifications being the M16 engines, which were not fully ready. 800s at launch instead making do with the Honda 2.5 litre engine. The M16 became available later in the year.
Neither car had been a secret. No camouflage wraps or exclusive spy shots in the mid-80’s. Five (or so) long years had passed from Sked’s reconnoitre in Frankfurt to British launch date (10th July 1986), two days after the company rebranded to Rover Group PLC. Whatever their name, the current financial and political situation was far from rosy. Sales were up but losses remained huge, in the tens of millions.
One contributory factor must be the 800’s launch package; Rover paid return airfare where Swiss roads were subjected to a 3,500 complement of journalists, Chief Constables and fleet managers (and wives supposedly) for a weekend jolly. Northumberland was similarly invaded by British MPs and hundreds more foreign journalists, all eager to Continue reading “Collaborative Applause Part Two”
Pity the poor car designer forty years hence. A CAD drove a Jaguar. Engines powered cars, not searches, whilst rivals were (almost) willing to explain their plans. Such was the case when BL chief designer, Gordon Sked moseyed through the 1981 Frankfurt motor show – to gain an understanding of what the opposition were up to.
Oops, I did it again… A belated defence of the Rover 75.
My first contribution to Driven to Write, in the spring of 2018, was to recount the tale of my replacing a V6 Rover 75, following a brief period of ownership, with a new twin cylinder Fiat Panda (as different a car as one could imagine). It was a tale of disillusionment and naivety; of an enthusiast who had not driven regularly for many years aspiring to a car he had admired when new, which turned out to be not entirely suited to his present circumstances.
After a kind reception by the readers of this site, I wrote a follow-up article in which I reviewed my tuned twin-air turbo Panda in more detail; a car that delighted me daily for two and a half years, so much so that I could Continue reading “Recovering A Dream”
Carrosserie Hermann Graber came into being in the early 1920s, providing coachbuilt bodies for a wide range of mostly upmarket carmakers, amongst which were such illustrious names as Bugatti and Duesenberg; Graber quickly establishing an enviable reputation for elegance of line and craftmanship at his studios in Bern, Switzerland.
Having clothed a number of their chassis’ at customer request, Graber obtained the distribution rights for the British luxury carmaker, Alvis in 1953. One of these was a rakish and well proportioned two-door design, which so impressed Alvis management that a modified version was produced in the UK and became the Red Triangle’s sole offering between 1958 and the cessation of carmaking in 1967. Continue reading “Swiss Account”
Rover’s great aunt marks her 70th. Time to pay our respects.
Reputation can be make or break. Whether it be gained through dynamic prowess, stylistic excellence, or for other, more negative traits, once it has been established, there is little chance of a well orchestrated perception being altered. Certainly by the time production finally ceased, the image of the Rover P4 as stuffy, outdated and overtly conservative had been broadly codified in the consciousness of the press and thereby the public. But it wasn’t always thus.
By the outbreak of the second world war, the Rover motor company was established as the purveyor of finely engineered, upmarket driver’s cars of quality and bearing, favoured by the establishment and by what might have been termed, the professional classes. Dignified, conservative, but by the time hostilities had ceased, somewhat old-fashioned in design and execution.
30 Years ago this week, the Rover Group launched perhaps its best realised product. We look back at the R8, née Rover 200-Series.
In the late 1980s it really did seem that at last Rover Group had finally found its place. Much of the credit was due to their new Japanese friends, but the rump of British Leyland was at last demonstrating a new found competence and confidence. However, agony would eventually follow the ecstasy of these heady days.
On 11 October 1989 Rover Group presented, with justifiable pride, the second-generation Rover 200 series, and with it the eagerly anticipated and all-new K-series engine. Every new Rover of the era had an equal and opposite Honda, and the 200’s was the Concerto, which had gone on sale in Japan in June 1998, only 16 months after Rover and Honda had signed the contract to build Project YY as a joint venture. Continue reading “The Brightest Hour Is Just Before Twilight (1)”
The ostensible initial aim of this small article was to find out how many engines British Leyland had around about the mid-1970s. I didn’t answer that question at all. So, what did I discover?
Before getting very far (as in reading one single page of the internet) I learned that truck and bus maker Leyland Motors Limited owned Triumph (acquired 1960) and Rover (acquired 1967) before LMC got merged with the British Motor Corporation in 1968 (bringing Austin, Morris, MG, Mini, Wolseley et al to the party). That puts a slightly different light on the later fate of Triumph. Conceivably LMC might have been able to Continue reading “Past Shadowed Beams Lean The Wintry Rays”
Today we have a small lesson in what amounts to a leafy cul-de-sac off a side-road in a dead-end of British motoring history.
For me the Rover SD1’s is a story starring the Buick-derived V8, a car known as the 3500 or 3500S. That’s the car that gets much of the press, it seems to me. That being the case, I have but a vague, passive knowledge about the 2300 and 2600,meaning if you asked me to Continue reading “Wintry Shadows Creep As The Beams Fall Aslant”
Rover’s 1958 3-Litre was a class act, but it was a class in the grasp of profound change.
On the 30th of April 1958, Royal assent was given to an act of parliament which changed the constitution of the upper house (the House of Lords) from being a male-only chamber, composed exclusively of hereditary peers. The Life Peerages Act led to a significant modernisation of parliament, lending the Lords a degree of legitimacy it had hitherto lacked, while better reflecting a changing UK society. Continue reading “Parliamentary Privilege”
The stillborn Rover P8 remains a fascinating technical fossil, but should the cause of its demise be laid entirely at Jaguar’s door?
Lost causes exert an undying fascination: The Beach Boys’ original Smile LP, Orson Welles’ allegedly destroyed original cut of The Magnificent Ambersons. These and others like them, while unrealised (or unfound) live on in our collective imagination, unsullied by inconvenient reality.
In 1965, the Rover Motor Company was a successful independent carmaker, producing well-regarded luxury saloons and a range of highly capable off-road vehicles. However, its flagship P5 saloon was dating and lacking the resources to replace it, Lode Lane’s developmental head, Charles (Spen) King, working under the guidance of Peter Wilks proposed a modular range of cars to be derived from a single base unit. Continue reading “Viking Burial”
The bland Triumph which owed everything to a low-key Honda led to the next collaborative effort which Car Magazine headlined as a ‘Bland Rover’. From such inauspicious beginnings came something of a revolution.
“England Expects – but Austin Rover Struggles to Deliver”. Cover of Car Magazine in the issue which covered the launch and first drive of the Rover 800.
Looking back, the 800 could probably be acclaimed as a commercial success, in the UK at least, but its launch and early years were dogged by poor quality, bad reliability and uneven capabilities. It represented a faltering of the emerging track-record of BL-Honda cars in terms of reliability.
The Acclaim did not live that long a life, but, in a quiet and unnoticed way typical of the car itself, its legacy can be considered to be enduring.
“NO OFFENCE. Reliability, something not always associated with BL products, was the most memorable characteristic of our LTT Triumph Acclaim, though the spritely Honda drivetrain also won it approval”. Title of Car’s Long Term Test article regarding an Acclaim HL which it ran over 28,000 miles in 18 months.
So, the Acclaim did achieve a reputation for reliability.
It’s not commonly known outside Denmark and northern Germany that the Danish border has only been in its current place since 1921. Before then much of what we call southern Denmark was in German hands.
While motoring around last week I saw this car swing dramatically into a parking lot. So, I went and stalked it.
The owner was very pleased to tell me a little more about the car and I learned a little about its design history. It counts as one the great examples of a succesful facelift and, in my view, one of Giovanni Michelotti’s finest works among a quite rich collection from his portfolio. The most interesting insight of my little carpark chat was that if you Continue reading “A Consternating Hot Bath On The Landing”
Sometimes driving the dream isn’t quite what it is cracked up to be. New contributor Chris Elvin outlines why he’s done a’ Rovering…
Despite passing my driving test shortly after my seventeenth birthday and having been enthusiastic about cars from toddling age, I managed to retain the position of being the only person in my immediate family never to have owned a car until quite recently, in my late 30s.
It’s another new year. What was happening 20 years ago?
At Gaydon, Rover’s engineers worked on the R55 (to be sold as the R40). Predictions suggested a vehicle with rounded windows like a 1992 Nissan Micra and an upright chrome grille with main body surfaces akin to the 75. Rover expected the launch to be in 1999 when the last of the Honda-based Rovers would be phased out.
We recently explored the matter of how long it takes to align two ranges of cars when one company takes over another or there is a merger. In the cases of Ford and GM, covered earlier, the process seems to take under a decade. Are there counter examples?
Today I will take a look at the case of Rover, which marque came under the control of BMW in 1994. Rover (when under BL) had already been part of a co-operative venture with Honda.
Today we explore alternative realities – one where perhaps Rover didn’t necessarily take the fork in the road marked SD1. What would that have looked like?
Counterfactuals are for the most part, exercises in futility, or at best, wishful thinking. When it comes to the products of what used to be British Leyland, added layers of poignancy come as standard. Few cars embody this like the Rover SD1 series; a car of enormous visual promise, fatally undermined by Continue reading “Altered Images”
We attempt to remain aloof to the Rover SD1’s visual appeal, but like the car itself, we fall at the final hurdle.
When it comes to legacies and reputations, has sufficient time elapsed to talk about the Rover SD1 without falling into the usual narrative tramlines? It’s a tricky one isn’t it? After all, the big Rover remains a deeply likeable car with much to commend it. Yet at the same time, although it never quite attained Lancia Gamma levels of toxicity, it became the living embodiment of British Leyland’s genius for snatching defeat from the cusp of victory.
Intended to signpost the crucial 800 saloon, Rover’s CCV concept could be said to have eclipsed it entirely.
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. Continue reading “Stolen Thunder – 1986 Rover CCV Concept”
Recently it’s been pointed out that, whatever his past achievements, such as a surprising yet admirable commitment to gay rights, David Cameron, British Prime Minister at the time of writing, will be defined by history as the man primarily responsible for Britain leaving the European Union and, conceivably, of causing irreparable damage to the EU itself. Whether you deserve it or not, posterity can be a harsh judge. Continue reading “Misposted in Posterity’s Pigeonhole : Rover P6”
Happy 20th anniversary, Rover 200. Or is it 21st anniversary?
Around about this time 20 years ago Rover enjoyed the beginnings of renaissance. We all know where that ended. It ended in a story that classic car journalists like because they can rake over and ask “what if” as they swirl madeira in their glasses.
This image is from the front cover of Autocar, January 17, 1996. It’s one of the first reviews, perhaps. Either way. Water. Bridge. Under. A lot of. The article pitted the Rover 214 against the new Fiat Bravo. I’d like to say which one won but in the end Continue reading “20 Years of the Rover 200”
After a bit of a hiatus a Photo for Sunday returns with an old favourite of Driven To Write, the Rover V8 engine in its original UK application, the Rover 3.5 Litre.
This one was not seen in my local neighbourhood, but in the midlands of Ireland. Normally I do as little editing as possible with these images. As there was a person sitting in this car I promised to anonymise the photos. Hence the blockular incongruities.
The Rover isn’t relatively big compared to most modern cars. It’s probably smaller than a VW Polo. You can measure it and yet still not believe your eyes. It still looks enormous and incredibly imposing without having the massive, stately-home inertia of a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow which manages to Continue reading “A Photo for Sunday: 1967-1973 Rover P5B”
Regular readers of this site know that there are only three natural positions for a product in the car market: luxury, sporting and economy. And?
And don’t get pushed too far from them. That’s the no-man’s land of not very sporty, not very cheap and not very luxurious. The unmarked graves of Lincoln (unfilled at the moment), Saab, Oldsmobile and Lancia are all in that bourne from which no car maker returns. Apart from Saab and Borgward.
Today there are quite a few contenders for that dubious accolade, possible exemplified best by the Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake. The idea of tacking a glassy, generous box onto the boot of a saloon, maybe even lengthening it a bit, in order to make something supremely useful just isn’t sexy in the 21st Century. People don’t want to be thought of as saddoes, who are only at their happiest bustling around B&Q with a groaning trolley of timber flooring. No, their lifestyle choices are better and, whilst they might need a bit of added loadspace for windsurfer accoutrements, old school golf clubs or just to fit in an extra Louis Vuitton hatbox, it’s important that the car doesn’t look in the least bit practical. Continue reading “Theme : Evolution – The Missing Links 7”
The Mercedes CLS is rightly cited as the direct production inspiration for today’s coupe saloons, but can we look back to the Rover P5 as being the first car to offer the option of less headroom for more money? Today, I agree it looks quite good but, at the time, as a rather dogmatic kid, I found it rather illogical. It’s not as if the high-sided P5 was ever svelte, but I suppose its appeal is a slight one of menace, more akin to that of a chopped Mercury. Continue reading “Theme : Evolution – The Missing Links 2”
The story of how the Buick aluminium 215 engine became the Rover V8 is often-enough told so I will use this little posting mostly as a short guide to some of the most entertaining versions.
Sold to Rover, the engine powered Range Rovers, Rovers, MGs and TVRs along with Morgan. Jalopnik has a good short version of the story here In a nutshell, Buick wanted a lightweight, small capacity V8. They decided to use aluminium which led to a chain of problems that were still being dealt with 40 years later. Among those problems are slipping liners and porosity. If you scroll down the comments at the Jalopnik article you’ll find a neat list of V8 engines used by GM in the late 60s. Continue reading “Theme: Secondhand – The Rover V8”
In 1993 the Rover 620i faced the BMW 318i, the Citroen Xantia 2.0 and Ford Mondeo 2.0.
All of these cars had something going for them. Car magazine judged all four to be “formidable”. Car estimated the BMW to cost €17,000 with a few options thrown in to make it habitable; ditto the Rover though it came with more features as standard. The Mondeo cost only £14,000 in GLX trim (I miss trim designations like that). Citroen wanted £17,500 for their car. So what are these cars worth now?
“Roverpowering!” Archie Vicar describes his impressions of the new Rover V8-S.
The text is what appears to be a transcript of an article from “Today’s Motoring Magazine”, July 1980 (pages 45-46). Original images by Nigel Rollister-Hyde. Due to a crossover accident at the processors, archive photos have been used.
That the Rover 3500 is a remarkable car goes without saying. Since its launch in 1976 it has won a firm following and has set a new benchmark in the large hatchback class. But the 1976 car was far from perfect, some say. It lacked a height-tilt adjustment for the driver’s seat cushion and a rear screen wiper, for example. Furthermore, the rear seats were set far too low and the passenger’s vent seldom functioned reliably. The steering wheel also obscured the minor instruments too and the lights’ master switch was hard to see.
In Simon’s introduction to this month’s theme he mentions the original P6 Rover dashboard, and I think this merits more scrutiny. The P6 Rover ceased production in 1977, ending its life as a British Leyland product built in 2.2 and 3.5 litre forms, and viewed as a rather staid design with a latterly gained reputation for poor build quality.
That isn’t what it deserved, but it had lived far too long. Casting back to its launch, 14 years previously, as the 2000 of the then independent Rover company, it was a well made car and a fresh, new design by any standards, a radical departure for that company. It drew inspiration from the Citroen DS, but in no way slavishly copied it. Continue reading “Theme : Dashboards – The Rover P6”
How bad were Jaguar’s quality problems in 1987? And what was Car magazine thinking when the XJ6 won a giant-test against the Rover Sterling and Vauxhall Senator? The Jaguar was rusting before their eyes.
It was the year 2000 and according to the predictions from 1970 we’d have been traveling on hover-speeders and wearing metallic-nylon bodysuits. Somehow that didn’t pan out. For Rover, it was still 1959 though.
For your education and general knowledge, today’s item on advertising is an example of exploiting the customer’s worst instincts and distracting them from the selling point. This was done not only by the form of the ad as conceived, but simply by ensuring the message was concealed by the centre fold of the magazine. ‘Rime eef’, it reads. Continue reading “Theme: Advertising – Rover’s RIME EEF.”
It’s hard to tell. The seller of this particular orphan has only just learned to use a camera. Two out of the three photos (twelve are allowed for free) at the car-sales website are taken with the sun light coming from behind the car. Thus in two out of three photos the image is mostly a Honda Accord silhouette with some Rover 600 chrome here and there. The third photo shows the front rear three-quarter with no shadow. Continue reading “Something Rotten In Denmark: 1996 Rover 2.0 Ti”
The quality of the interior has held up better than the quality of the concept of the Rover 827.
Given the depredations of the Danish climate and the fact this car was assembled in the UK, today’s discovery, a Rover 827 coupe, has held up rather well. Goodness, the leather interior is even developing a patina which I used think was only possible on cars made before I was born. Continue reading “Something Rotten in […] Denmark: The Baby Bentley”