AR18/R16 : the missing Rover

Keith Adams

AR18/R16 the Rover 800 that wasn't...

AR18/R16: the Rover 800 that wasn’t…

Back in 1988, when Rover was getting down to the business of devising a replacement for the XX-Series 800, there were still questions over financing the project. It was clear that, under BAe’s control, Rover wasn’t going to be getting the development resources that it had under Government ownership and the Design Department was now under strict financial control.

When Roy Axe’s team designed the original XX, it had been lifed for a production run of around five years, with the intention of it then being replaced by all-new model. Without a decent budget, an all-new model was going to be out of the question – so various facelift schemes were devised. The cheapest of the lot – the R17 – used the existing car’s passenger doors (see the Rover 800 development story to see why that ended up being a false economy); but Axe put Richard Hamblin’s team in charge of producing an alternative project.

Initially known as AR18, the design brief was to produce a four-door saloon and two-door coupe. The cars would sit on the 800’s underpinnings, which were still competitive at the time – and the 700-Series tag was considered for the car, giving Rover the opportunity to produce a range-topper on the 800LWB floorpan (which had yet to be cancelled at that point).

By 1988, the project had been renamed R16 and ran alongside the R17 programme but, as our exclusive images clearly show, R16 really did move Rover forward in terms of design – especially as this car was mooted for a late-1990 launch. However, as it transpired, BAe wouldn’t invest enough to allow Rover to move forward with this concept and stuck with the R17…

We’ll leave it to you to decide whether that was a good move or not.

AR18/R16 the Rover 800 that wasn't...

AR18/R16: the Rover 800 that wasn’t…

Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007. Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

46 Comments on "AR18/R16 : the missing Rover"

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  1. Phil Simpson says:

    Looks like an elongated 600 at the front and a 75 at the rear.

    I think it would have given Ford and Vauxhall a real run for their money and one or two others, too.

    Yet another missed opportunity… I think it’s unforgivable that BAe, having got Austin Rover for a song, then underfunded the Rover Group.

  2. Wilko says:

    I agree – it does look a bit like the bastard offspring of a 600 and a 75!

    Personally, I love the R17 and think it is much nicer looking than this. However, I think my tastes are probably a little “individual” and, if I’m honest, I can’t help thinking this would have been rather more competitive.

    It is certainly well ahead of its time in style terms. I wonder, though, could it also have been designed with a nod to the American market?

  3. Dennis says:

    I’d agree it looks like this influenced the Rover 75 design team or, at least, the person who drew up the rear lights anyway.

    It’s hard to tell if this would have faired much better than the late 800 though, as it’s clear from the photos this was the barebones of a design and that the model was only one step from the paper sketches. The ‘model’ looks like masses of work would have been required before it became a serious proposition.

    Looking at how far back the rear doors go, there wouldn’t have been a lot of headroom in the back.

  4. KC says:

    Dennis :
    Looking at how far back the rear doors go, there wouldn’t have been a lot of headroom in the back.

    I agree. Looks like a very small cabin in quite a long body. If you extend the line of the rear window and the windscreen upwards, they’d meet at a point just above the roof. Almost a triangular cabin…

  5. James Godwin James G says:

    I couldn’t put my finger on it at first but, ahaa, it’s like a Mazda Eunos 300 – short wheelbase, long overhangs and frameless windows. Makes me wonder what R17 could have been like with a new roof and doors… See the image at this link.

  6. Hilton Davis says:

    I love this “peek” at another “what might have been” Rover car. Yes, the rear boot shape and lights resemble the R75 and still seem to have that “Rover family look.”

    I agree that the front lights may have been copied from the R600 (or XX R800). The grille could have done with a little more work perhaps but the side profile does lend itself to being worthy of the Rover identity.

  7. Simon Hodgetts says:

    That’s not a good looking car by any means – it looks like something Korean crossed with an old Honda Leg-end – and it’s completely over-bodied – one bend in the road and it’ll fall over. For once, I’m glad that this one got away!

  8. pigeons99 Pigeons99 says:

    I like the rear design and it’s a nice length. I think it would have been hit and miss though. It reminds me, or at least the front does, of the Alfa 166. It is quite nice though. I like that design – a production version might have faired quite well if it was reasonably priced.

  9. Alex Scott says:

    Looks like a Camry… Yuck!

  10. David 3500 says:

    This is certainly not as elegant looking as the R18 models that came on stream from November 1991. The rear box area certainly shows that, even at this early stage, the Rover P5 was an influential force, and all the better for it.

    At the front, the sleak nose looks like it has taken inspiration from the 1986 Coupe Concept Vehicle (CCV), but lacks the same serious intent and authority of the R17.

    I think it ultimately reinforces how hard Rover Cars tried to facelift the first generation XX 800 Series when such little finance was forthcoming for the project. If more funding had been available then we might have seen new sleeker R8-style headlamps, a greater reworking of the interior – particularly for the door architecture and dashboard – followed by new outer door skins.

  11. Jemma says:

    In some ways I actually prefer this – the front end needs some work done on it but otherwise good.

    It is a good mixture between the 600 and 75 and, with the front end suitably modified, could have made for a much more attractive car than the 75 as built, while retaining the majority of its appeal and retrospective styling…

    Another could have been… *Sigh*

  12. Andrew Elphick says:

    CityRover grille meets Lancia Kappa – what’s not to like!

    I keep thinking big Australian Mitsubishis though.

  13. Rover would have been in a stronger position if they had replaced the 800 with a production version of this car. It would have fitted in well the rest of the Rover range at that time.

    Unfortunately, as with most projects, concepts and prototypes made by BMC>MGR, this was a real opportunity lost.

  14. Alex Scott says:

    @Luke McCormack
    Rover would have been in stonger position if the K-Series hadn’t given them such bad publicity. Alex.

  15. JohnH says:

    The lack of money to even launch a reskin gives the lie to the idea that BMW took over a profitable company. They took over a company which had no money to develop new cars and was just maxing the profit out of rapidly ageing models.

  16. VavaVoom says:

    A clean looking concept, quite ‘British’ in its execution in my opinion. I disagree with the comments about it having a Japanese flavour to it. Very modern looking for the late 80s too – it would have looked a lot sharper then the contemporary Granada and Carlton. Hey, ho, what can we do about that now though?!

  17. Jonathan Williams says:

    There is a hint of Lancia Kappa about it. Amazing that the XX was only scheduled to last five years. I still think the Series 1 is sharper looking than the facelifted version which dated horribly as soon as it was launched.

  18. KeithB says:

    A much better looking car than the 800 or 75 in my eyes. It has the substance and weight that the 800 lacked without being bloated like the 75. This would have stacked up well against well Jaguar and Mercedes in terms of presence. The design also seems to have aged extremely well given the twenty years that have passed by.

  19. Will says:

    Not as elegant as the 800 facelift, 600 or 75 in my opinion.

    Looks very Japanese, from the rear it could be a Honda Integra four door.

  20. DaveH says:

    Rubbish – put it up against a contemporary BMW or Merc and it looks odd.

  21. Chris Chapman says:

    Frameless door glass – that would have been fun to get rigid. Surprised they apparently made a fullsize model when so much needed tweaking/reproportioning, eg rear side doors/wheelarches, tail slope, narrow rear cabin, high swageline producing oversize bumpers, inadequate front numberplate surround. There’s the basis of an attractive car in there though.

  22. Snapdragon Snapdragon says:

    As others have said, kind of odd proportions: long nose, short cabin, big overhangs. Got potential though.

  23. SD says:

    If they were really going to do this, Rover should have shared a platform with Lancia IMHO – the two are so similar.

    It does seem to look vaguely Korean minicab-ish. This is one that I’m not shedding any tears over.

  24. Mark Hayman says:

    Looks very nice, 75ish. I reckon that this could have been a good seller. A nice smooth design and the lines seem to flow.

  25. @Alex Scott
    True, but it would also have helped if they had received sufficient funding from BAe to make this car.

  26. Dr Bobby Love says:

    Yup, a cancelled project Rover were right to drop.

    This looks less like a Rover than the car it was based on…

    Really, the only thing to note about this is that it may be very early on in its development. Look at the very first 800 mock ups – if this had been moved on and on it may have been great but what’s shown above was by no means fit for production.

  27. Lord Sward says:

    While this AR18/R16 a nice enough concept, the R17 was absolutely spot-on for its time – more so than this concept would have been.

  28. Russ says:

    Ah, that’s where the Chinese found their rear lights for the Roewe 750 – not a nice looking car at all.

  29. Richard Brown says:

    Looks like nothing of this planet. May have gone down well on Mars though. We’ll never know now though.

    Saying it looks like a Camry, Alex Scott, is a slight against Toyoda who would be turning in his grave!

  30. Bajandave says:

    The back does resemble the 75 but it looks a lot cleaner and the grille could have definitely used some work. It would have looked good on the road in the early 90s against the likes of the Alfa 164, Peugeot 605 and more modern than the then BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class. Would reliability have held up, though?

  31. didierz65 Didier Ziane says:

    Was this design sold to Mazda for their Xedos? I’ve had a Xedos 6 – the small grille looks quite similar and so is the centre of the car. Never mind, I have a 75 now…

  32. Jonathan Carling Jonathan Carling says:

    There was a Giugiaro prototype doing the rounds at the time called the Jaguar Kensington – that looked a bit like this and eventually surfaced as the Daewoo Leganza. I do prefer the R17.

  33. Bob says:

    Wow – deja vu much? Nice juxtaposition of the new Rover 55 and this R16 – 20 years of development and the new Rover is a twin of the junked model from the 1980s. Hehe!

    I agree with Lord Sward – the R17 was a better fit for the 1990s fashion, but this R16 had some good styling. However, it is clearly based on the joint Honda work of the 800 – massive overhangs and a small cabin (which Honda still produce today!) – the exact opposite of Austin legacy.

    I also agree with Luke Scott – the K-Series is a nice engine, but its unreliability hurt AR and its development budget swallowed what should have gone on getting the bodies right – they were the consistent problem for AR (poor styling, lack of body variants to cover market segment).

    Reskins like the R16 should have been affordable ways to keep public interest – and sales – for cars that always had the performance and handling to beat their rivals. Think of XX, then R17, then R16 reskins at 3 year intervals, with refinements to engines and handling and interiors. Had to make profits…

  34. Will says:

    @Jonathan Carling
    Lexus GS and Seat Toledo Mk2, too?

  35. Karl says:

    I think that there’s something of the rear end of this in the Focus convertible – the forward sloping back which doesn’t really go with the rest of the Focus.

  36. Greg says:

    A poor man’s Bentley Brooklands rear end perhaps…

    …with a Joyce Grenfell nose.

  37. Roberto Caruso says:

    In the front it looks like a Alfa Romeo 164, which was a great car.

  38. MM says:

    The front bumper / bonnet / windscreen lines and profile suggest to me:

    1)pedestrian-friendly collision engineering
    2)small frontal area and drag factor considerations, including the small area of the radiator grill

  39. francis brett francis brett says:

    Did PSA rip this off with the 607?

  40. Paul Stigter says:

    Dreadful looking car. Out of proportion and makes a Ford Sierra look sexy. What happened to the Designer. Did his Labrador savage him to death by chance………..

  41. Will M says:

    Concepts rarely make it into production ‘as-is’.

    I think that this is an elegant design, hints of Jaguar Kensington about it. Though translated into production, it may have had last-gen-3series syndrome and looked underwheeled.

  42. Paul H says:

    Certainly of its time, featuring a number of styling trends that popped up on a lot of cars in the early 90s, including the original Mondeo. Personally I reckon the 800 looked far better and the R17 was probably the right way to go. Pity they didnt realise the bodyside tooling was shot beforehand though. They could have used it as an opportunity to got rid of the rather fussy ridges long the 800s side.

  43. Paul H says:

    Yes – just read the R17 story again. Yet again a BL/Rover product was compromised on the whim of a bombastic, shoot-from-the-hip, idiot, bully. In this case Andy Barr who insisted on keeping the 800 doors for the R17, even though the tooling was life expired. Thank god that corporate culture and the characters that went with it have gone.

  44. Marinast says:

    Lots of little designs that no doubt influenced the 75, those rear lights and bumper, the line of the rear pillars etc.

  45. christopher storey says:

    For me, the car it most closely resembles is the Bentley Continental R, and since it came before that by about 4 years ……..

  46. Paul Stigter says:

    @40

    I take back my earlier comments and seek forgiveness.

    The rear styling is pretty good and reminds me of a Rover 75 or Bentley. Funny how things start to grow on you.

    Wonder if the same principle works with an Allegro……….. Might be pushing it there!!!

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