Car of the Month : January 2005
There has been much talk about the re-emergence of the Rover Coupé during late 2004, well here is an Eighties original.
Styled by a ambitious young department headed by Roy Axe, the Rover CCV embodied everything about Austin-Rover Design’s vision for the future. Such a shame, then, it never made it into production. Austin-Rover has managed to re-unite the former BL Design Director with his creation…
THE CCV came into being as a result of a lot of forward thinking during the XX development programme. The intention was to re-launch Rover in the USA, and a coupé version of the car would make for a perfect flagship model to wow notoriously the difficult to impress American carbuyers. As discussed in the 800 Coupé development story, a big two-door had been on the cars right from the beginning of the programme. However, management felt the the car’s sales potential was not strong enought to warrant the outlay, and the project was never given the backing of the BL board.
That lack of confidence did not stop Roy Axe from persuing the concept, and he managed to persude management to allow him to build a full-sized concept model. Had the MG EX-E, previewed in 1985 not been such a success with the automotive community, it is doubtful he would have even been given permission to build a one-off concept. Roy Axe recalls: “The ice was broken with the EX-E, and there was little management opposition to the idea of another show car for the following year”.
Because the 800 was getting close to its launch date, it became something of a priority to produce a car, which could preview the new range, without giving enough away to identify its true character. Of course, Axe knew if the Coupé concept proved a hit with potential customers, then it would stand a much better chance of getting into production than it would have without significant press exposure. Axe recalls, “For the USA, a two-door coupé would have been much preferable to the four-door saloon. But plans and funds available did not support this, as the two-door coupé would have had appeal mainly in the USA, and volumes would be restricted. There were better places to use the limited use available or so it was judged.”
He added: “The idea of a two-door coupé show car, however, had good support, and so we started out on this project with a view to unveil it at the Turin show of 1985. Essentially, the EX-E design team was used, but with some changes where the original EX-E people (such as Gerry McGovern) were involved in other things.”
“The design office set the parameters and I felt that the coupe should pick up the character of the 800 in terms of basic form and character lines but without the restrictions on dimensions and other regulatory limitations imposed on the 800 due to its commonality with the Honda Legend. The extra form at front and rear and the more shapely sides greatly enhanced the 800 based lines.”
“Of course, with a show car designers are also spared the restrictions of current production technology and cost considerations and so I also felt the car should reflect some of the character of the MG EX-E in terms of the all transparent roof. In this case the roof was not as radical as the EX-E due to the proportions and end use considerations of a coupe but the idea worked well.”
“The design came together effortlessly around these guide lines and the final result, both interior and exterior, were very much to everyone’s satisfaction. As with the EX-E, the final result just looked right and it sailed through the approval process that cleared it for exhibition at the show.”
“Again the reaction can be read in the publications of the day which were all most complimentary. To get that reaction in Italy was a particular pleasure.”
“Regrettably, this was the last of the show cars as the years immediately following had the design office fully occupied with the production programmes of the new product plan. This is not to say that designs were not explored that could have been the subject of show vehicles and a number of models were built but there just was not the emphasis to do this in the climate of new production model introductions.”
Today, Roy remains proud of his Coupé but regrets it never making production. After all, the Sterling venture may well have had more success given such an attractive product to sell. In the end, the Rover 800 Coupé did make it into production, but the end result was much more conventional looking…
The car remains part of the Heritage Motor Centre’s collection at Gaydon.