By 25 September 2010 8 Comments Read More →

Project Pride

Take one 50-year old record, and a group of talented and driven engineers – and the result is a Rover world endurance record…

Writing for Autocar magazine back in August 1990, Andrew Frankel gets close to the record-winning Metro GTi, and reports that it was an exciting steer.

The 130mph Metro GTi

IT COULD never have happened five years ago. Those were the words of Brian Cameron who, just three months after being given the go-ahead, masterminded the breaking of 21 UK speed records in the 1100-1500cc class, by a pair of specially-prepared Metro GTis. No matter that their average speed of 121mph is hardly going to have Richard Noble sprinting for the drawing board again, nor indeed that the vast majority of the records they broke were set before WWII. What is significant is that the record attempts ever took place at all.

When Rover’s personnel department saw how long the records had been standing, it came up with a proposal to break every one of them within a year. Cameron was consulted and reckoned he could do it in five months. When he put this to head office he was told he had just three months.

Undeterred, Cameron gathered 300 staff around him – a nucleus of 80 being directly involved – and work began on what Rover called ‘Project Pride’. Between them they gave up 6500 unpaid man hours to prepare the cars. They made the deadline, took every record attempt and set two new ones besides. By the time the last sandwich had been paid for, the total bill for the venture was under £20,000 – and half of that was the hire of the Millbrook Proving Ground.

A standard Rover Metro GTi has a top speed of 113mph from its 95bhp. To put the records beyond reach, the two special cars would have to average 120mph all day and all night. Clearly major modifications were needed.

First, the car had to be gutted. All that remains of the original interior is the dashboard. There is a 25-gallon fuel tank where you would expect to see a rear seat, Perspex in the side windows and a regulation roll cage and fire-eater system on board. Ahead of the racing seat, complete with four point harness, is a seemingly standard set of instruments, until you notice the revcounter goes round to 9000rpm with an 8200rpm red line and the speedometer is calibrated to 150mph.

Outside, if you can see your way past the garish paint job, you will notice plain wheel discs for minimal aerodynamic resistance, lowered front suspension and just one windscreen wiper. Otherwise, it seems largely standard.

Until someone flicks on the petrol pumps, turns off the ignition cut-out and fires it up, that is. It hardly seems credible that a Metro can make such a din. The main culprit is the straight-through drainpipe exhaust which emerges under the driver’s door. Other modifications include a no-compromise cam timing, a polished cylinder head, new manifolds and a revised chip in the ECU. This brings power up to 140bhp at 8200rpm and a small but unspecified rise in torque. Astonishingly, it still runs happily on normal 95-octane unleaded petrol.

It’s not easy to drive until you get the hang of it. The first surprise is it has only four gears. Cameron says the gearbox from the basic Metro gave less oil surge problems on the banking and, in a car designed solely for top speed, close ratios were not a high priority. Secondly, although it will idle frenetically at 2000rpm, it offers no real acceleration below 4000rpm and it is only happy above 5500rpm. From there it will bolt around to its red line like a startled hare so long as you keep the accelerator a few millimetres away from the floor. Push it all the way home and the engine splutters and stops revving.

Running the car flat out around Millbrook’s two-mile bowl involves constantly balancing the pressure on the accelerator against the wind as it whistles around you. With the wind behind, it is possible to use nearly all the travel in the pedal, allowing the car to race past a true 130mph. But as it comes round in front of you, you must back off and watch the speddometer needle fall.

I drove the number two car for more than half an hour on a sunny afternoon, a few days after the record attempt. After that, I was deafened and only beginning to learn how to extract the best from the unpredictable throttle response. During the record attempt, drivers were doing two-and-a-half hour stints, often during the night and in pouring rain. Take it from me, keeping up a 121mph average, inclusive of fuel and driver stops in such conditions, is some achievement.

It is a testament to the strength of the two K-Series engines, and the effort put into their preparation, that neither gave the slightest hint of trouble throughout the 24-hours and returned a consistent 18mpg throughout. After a compulsory strip-down by the RAC to make sure no illicit parts were bing used, nothing was found in need of replacement.

Rover says ‘Project Pride’ was a motivation exercise pure and simple. Its total success is as indicative of the new wave of dedication, guts and talent within Rover as any of its class-leading cars. And you can be sure that the sense of achievement and pride such a project instills in a workforce can only be good news for those who buy the cars it builds.

Marketing was discreet, but effective…

The Metro’s 21 UK Speed records
Record Time and speed
5km 01m27.92s/127.48mph
10km 02m56.85s/126.48mph
5miles 02m21.88s/126.86mph
10miles 04m45.58s/126.05mph
50km 15m43.05s/118.60mph
100km 31m06.50s/119.84mph
200km 1h01m51.03s/120.55mph
500km 2h38m28.46s/117.62mph
1000km 5h11m38.75s/119.63mph
2000km 10h18m50.67s/120.48mph
50miles 25m02.93s/119.76mph
100miles 49m51.11s/120.35mph
200miles 1h39m22.02s/120.76mph
500miles 4h09m34.19s/120.20mph
1000miles 8h17m11.44s/120.67mph
2000miles 16h35m43.25s/120.51mph
1hour 120miles, 921yards/120.52mph
3hours 366miles, 1357yards/122.25mph
6hours 720miles, 1696yards/120.16mph
12hours 1436miles, 1165yards/119.78mph
24hours 2911miles, 1727yards/121.33mph


Posted in: Metro/100
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

8 Comments on "Project Pride"

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  1. Chris says:

    I currently own the #1 Project Pride Metro which is undergoing a full restoration. Any further info or pics would be greatly appreciated.

  2. tony says:

    i might be able to help you, i used to rally the car and was in it when rolled and ended up in the condition you might have got it
    this is the video i loaded on to youtube

    i have some info about its history

  3. Mel Charles says:

    Hi Chris I drove car #1 at Millbrook in 1990 with my other team drivers so glad you have her and is being rebuilt. I was working at Cowley at the time and was involved at Canley with the project now living in Phoenix AZ cheers mate.

  4. Mel Charles says:

    Hi Chris the picture from the Rover press release is of myself in the car at the finish on that great Sunday thank you.

  5. Sally says:

    Hello all. I’m so glad I found this article! I’m doing some research on a new book I’m writing (long story,) and was flicking through a 1993 Heritage Motor Centre catalog that I’ve been keeping… In it, there’s a pic of the Project Pride Metro, which I was also involved with on the periphery when I worked at Rover in the UK before I transferred to the US in late 1991. That made me think about doing a search for the car, which landed me here.

    First of all, I had no idea the car is now in private hands. Did the BMIHT sell it? Chris – is that how you have it? Tony – you had it beforehand so who did you buy it from?

    Secondly, wow Mel – I probably met you and was there to see you on that fateful day at Millbrook which I will always remember. Interesting that you are now in the US too. Are you still in touch with Brian Cameron or anyone else that was at Rover back in those days? I worked at Land Rover North America until 2007.

    • Sally says:

      Actually I may have answered my own question. You have car #1. Car #2 is in this shot and is still at the museum I’m guessing. Thanks!

    • Melvin Charles says:

      Hello sally I have not been in the AR on line page for a some time so glad to hear your info. I have been working for Jaguar Land Rover dealers in the States since the late 90’s so our paths have most likely crossed since Millbrook.You can contact me at Penske Jaguar Land Rover Service Dept in Phoenix AZ. So glad what we all did on the that day in 1990 has not been forgotten regards Mel Charles .

  6. Chris Clement says:

    Quick update on this, after coming out of long term storage things are finally moving on and the car goes to the bodyshop on Monday.

    For reference both cars are in private hands after the collapse of MG Rover, I have pictures of car #2 at the auction by Bonhams when all of the MG X Power cars and the Metro BTCC cars were auctioned off. Car #2 is on a C plate and my car Car #1 is on a D plate.

    If anyone wants to get in touch my email is

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