Concepts : Rover R6X

Metro’s missed opportunity

The original R6X double-sided clay model - the three door version shows definite style... David Saddington was responsible for the style, which according to Roy Axe was, "...the strict evolution of the Rover image." (Picture supplied by Roy Axe)

The original R6X double-sided clay model - the three door version shows definite style... David Saddington was responsible for the style, which according to Roy Axe was, "...the strict evolution of the Rover image." (Picture supplied by Roy Axe)

Cost constraints killed the interesting AR6 Metro-replacement project, just as it was on the cusp of production. The lower cost alternative was to build a car based on the then current Metro, yet housing the PSA gearbox and K-Series engine. The underlying excellence of the K-Series engine, in particular, meant that there was going to be a car of great depth and ability emerging from Rover, but this would be largely masked by the “facelift” styling.

Some of the stylists at Canley felt so strongly about this, that they proposed a new style, which would closely tie in with the R6’s cost-constrained underpinnings. Director of Design, Roy Axe, reflected these stong feelings: “This project was again born of frustration at the system that was developing at Rover… the R6X was a design office proposal again.” In effect, product planners did not identify the need for the R6X – the designers did.

Expanding upon this, stylist David Saddington explained how this process was the logical continuation of the “facelift Metro” scheme: “few of us firmly believed that given the level of engineering change inherent in R6, that for a few dollars more – a new body and interior (R6X) would give the platform a longer lease of life and higher volumes.”

Given that management were heavily behind the R6 concept, it was logical that the R6X would need to be a stylish and convincing supermini: “With this argument looming between 6 and 6X, it was clear that we needed a good show to win the day. What better way than to build a ‘runner’ that would show all of the benefits in our proposal?” The difficulty lay in budget. It would cost money to prepare a running prototype.

Roy Axe, however, devised a lower cost method of getting the required results: “…we had to have something more convincing. I had taken on the role of Design and Advanced Engineering, which was hoped to be a way through the constant cry that engineering had no resources for anything other than to keep the relationship with Honda going…” With Axe installed in this role, he could take a wider view of the design process: “Though I did not have the resource to develop a full car in house, I knew someone who did. I had known the late Sergio Coggiola for some considerable time, and was very familiar with his capabilities. There were some very capable engineers in my team and I felt that we could design the vehicle on minimum budget, and have Coggiola build a prototype to this design in very quick time.”

(Picture supplied by Maurice Verboven)

(Picture supplied by Maurice Verboven)

Saddington explained the process behind the creation of this interesting running prototype: “Working from points data from the Canley clay model, and lots of good engineering info from Derek Anderson and John Button, Coggiola first produced a full-size plaster replica of our clay. They then produced this running prototype in record time, by joining their steel fabrication to an R6 prototype platform that we gave them.”

However, in the lead up to the BAe takeover of the Rover Group, there was no way that management wanted to sanction any unneccessary spending; Rover needed to look like a lean ship. Saddington felt that even though the car was going to review, they Canley designers were fighting a losing battle: “In project terms, we lost out to the bean counters who showed we did not have the money to launch our concept, and if memory serves, we were already fighting a lost battle by the time the prototype returned to England. The company could only afford R6.” Admittedly, the R6 was a revelation compared with the original Metro – and in so many areas – so, management could rightly point to their favoured car and ask the question: why spend more?

Why indeed…

This R6X prototype was a runner, and its designer, David Saddington took great pleasure from following it around the Gaydon test track, taking it in from the stylist's perspective. (Picture kindly supplied by Kevin Davis)

This R6X prototype was a runner, and its designer, David Saddington took great pleasure from following it around the Gaydon test track, taking it in from the stylist's perspective. (Picture kindly supplied by Kevin Davis)

The rear three-quarter view demonstrates the neat treatment of the back lights; five door scheme also looks very neat and contemporary, but it is a surprise to see that the D-Post has not been treated to the same black-out treatment as the B/C-Post. (Pictures kindly supplied by Roy Axe)

The rear three-quarter view demonstrates the neat treatment of the back lights; five door scheme also looks very neat and contemporary, but it is a surprise to see that the D-Post has not been treated to the same black-out treatment as the B/C-Post. (Pictures kindly supplied by Roy Axe)

Perhaps the money should have been sanctioned – either way, it wasn’t immediately; in fact, the general concensus within the styling team was that it was doomed, given the lack of management enthusiasm for the project. Certainly from the two pictures that have escaped into the public domain, the car had undoubted style – and in a fashion conscious market, that would have undoubtedly assisted sales. Roy Axe felt it had a bright future and David Saddington echoed that view:

“The vehicle was a revelation. I have to say that a large portion of this came from the fundamental excellence of R6, but our design added clear votes on how that platform could go further; and with the all new style, it could easily carry the Rover badge. Apart from anything else, with a great interior from Graham Lewis and Jeremy Newman, the car just looked so right! Driving around the test track at Gaydon, and even more excitingly, driving behind our creation and seeing it moving on the road (imagining millions of them being sold of course!), is one of my happiest memories from this job.”

Although the R6X was not cancelled, as such, the review process was a laborious process; one which became bogged down in the approval process: “With deadlines pressing, the best we gained was a strategic decision that we would launch R6 as a stop-gap, and immediately start work on doing R6X ‘properly’.” This idea had legs; after all, the Metro was ageing badly, and although the A-Series powered car remained reasonably popular, sales were slipping away, and its main rival on the marketplace, the Ford Fiesta, had begun to leave it behind.

However, the plan was thrown into something resembling disarray thanks – again – to finance. The R6 project’s costs escallated (thanks in no small part to the array of underbody changes) to a level resembling those of the original R6X predictions. If this was not bad enough, the R6X was going through something of a metamorphosis – Saddington felt that it became something of a “committee car”, thanks to all the changes that it was undergoing: “…the rush job to productionise R6X, [it] got out of shape, and by the time it was eventually cancelled I was supervising one of those dreaded committee cars; it had gained a chrome grille, four inches in the wheelbase, and loads of cost and timing issues that eventually killed it. Sad to say, but I wasn’t too upset to see the committee car go.”

Thankfully, the 1990 Metro/100 did sell well, although the Rover marketing boys burned much midnight oil trying to devise a campaign that persuaded the public that it was an entirely new car underneath.

According to Saddington, R6X did not die; it was kicked around between management and the stylists before it died: “As interest diminished in the R6X project we applied a bit of lateral thinking. Given that the style of R6X had been so well received, we looked at applying the design to a cut-down R8 platform – R7. It looked great, a bit like a GT Estate car. Went nowhere, but eased our way into the SK3/R3…”

The sad thing is that the R6X concept was eminently saleable… the only thing that stopped the 1990 Metro/100 enjoying a longer and more successful lifespan was the styling, which was badly compromised by the fact that it looked like a facelift of a 1980 car. In fact, the R6 was much more than that – it’s just that many buyers were unaware of the fact. Given that original styling scheme, it would have undoubtedly been a much greater success; certainly, it wouldn’t have needed a facelift so soon after its launch. Still, much in the way of money saving went on within the Rover Group at the time (at the behest of its parent company, no doubt), so it should come as no surprise that such a shocking, short-termist policy was followed.

How different things might have been in subsequent years…

Sadly, even the models and protoypes did not even survive. According to Saddington, “…the original clay, fibreglass, and the ‘Coggi-car’ all languished in our store at Canley until we moved to Gaydon in ’95. At that point only the runner was given to Heritage. As far as I know the vehicle has now been destroyed (I was given the chassis plates as a memento).”

How sad.

The Coggiola team photographed with their car...  (Picture kindly supplied by Roy Axe)

The Coggiola team photographed with their car... (Picture kindly supplied by Roy Axe)

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
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.
Keith Adams

Latest posts by Keith Adams (see all)

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.

11 Comments on "Concepts : Rover R6X"

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  1. Ashley says:

    I think that when a car company is denied funding to do an effectively inexpensive rebody then collapse is inevitable. Luckily, at the time, BMW enthusiastically bought the company and was willing and able to invest heavily and secure its future. Unfortunately, success was, yet again, not to be which showed that the problems within Rover were more severe and needed more than just money to rectify.

  2. JH Gillson says:

    Hell-fire, if they’d bothered to rebody the R6 (and taken the care to improve its crash-resistance) the company could be with us now.

    Stuff:

    “…the rush job to productionise R6X, [it] got out of shape, and by the time it was eventually cancelled I was supervising one of those dreaded committee cars; it had gained a chrome grille, four inches in the wheelbase, and loads of cost and timing issues that eventually killed it. Sad to say, but I wasn’t too upset to see the committee car go.”

    I could live without the chrome grille, but a 4″ wheelbase stretch would have been just the job given the cramped rear quarters of the R6 (although it was probably no worse than the MINI in this regard.)

    Said it before, but I would happily have forgone low-volume niche product stuff like the 800 coupe, 200 coupe/convertible, Range Rover LSE (in production for all of 3 years), MG RV8, Mini convertible, and Metro convertible for a better-developed supermini produced in volume. Graham Day’s niche product strategy sounded nice, but wasn’t what the company needed. It needed to make stuff in volume.

    What’s tragic is that Rover was sitting on the biggest niche marque of all: Mini.

  3. Nate says:

    The R6X prototype looks very appealing though the rear could have done with some slight work to make it less awkward-looking as well as maybe position the number plate like as it was eventually be on the R6.

    Pity it never made production as Rover could have justifiably gotten-away with distancing it from its Metro-roots by naming it the Rover 100 as was the case on the continent, it would of also been interesting to imagine how a Metro 2-door saloon would of looked with a R6X-like rebody compared with the stillborn Metro saloon prototype.

    Such a waste.

  4. Richard16378 says:

    I did wonder if Rover had ever considered making a Roverised version of the Honda Jazz as a Metro replacement.

    IIRC the Jazz didn’t sell enough in Europe to justifiy long term imports after a few years on sale in the 1980s.

  5. Chris Baglin says:

    I agree with Nate. Although the R6 was a reasonable short-term restyle (and with much chassis engineering changes), it still looked far too obviously based on the previous Metro. The 5 door, however, does look like a bit of a hasty conversion job- odd considering that it would have been a clean-sheet design.

    The front end styling is rather weak on both this car and the production R6- the headlamps look too small and unhappy. Ford had the same problem with the ‘dead fish’ Fiesta, but they nailed that when they replaced it with the wide-eyed facelift.

  6. David Dawson1 says:

    Like the look of the R6X but I reckon R6 was the best option to go for. It was a great sales success and indeed why spend more – The R6X would have become outclassed on size & safety grounds no later than the lower cost R6.

    Thinking back to 1990 and the R6 was mightily impressive. So much better in so many areas and the fact it was so obviously an improvement of the original Metro somehow made it all the more appealing.

  7. MM says:

    #4.

    As a former owner of a Metro for 10 years and a Jazz for the last 4 years I consider the Jazz as the spiritual successor of the Metro.

    The Jazz has the same clever packaging as Metro, drop the rear seats and you have an enormous volume to carry itmes. The Jazz beats the Vauxhall Astra estate car by a good 50%.

    Fuel consumption of the Jazz is also a very Metro-like real world 55 mpg on long trips at 55 to 60 mph

  8. Will M says:

    I see some spiritual successor in the Hyundai Getz.

    I wonder if Hyundai and Rover could’ve tied up at some point?

    The Coupe / Genesis Coupe would’ve made a cracking MG, the 1-series like i30 a 45 replacement, the Genesis saloon would look good with a Rover grille…

  9. Richard Davies says:

    I’ve pondered elsewhere on this site if Rover had ever considered replacing the Metro with a badge-engineered Jazz, which Honda had tried selling over here in the 1980s but found it wasn’t profitable.

    • MM says:

      THe Honda Jazz of the early 1980s, (not to be confused with the 2002 + Jazz) was indeed a poor seller, it might be due to a problem with Insusrance, a friend purchased one without checking the premium, ( why bother, it is only a small hatchback), the rating was several groups over and above many sports cars. It woulkd have been less to insure a top of the range VW Scirroco

  10. Will M says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda_City_AA

    I see something of the Mini about the City/Jazz – the upright round headlights, the small wheel at each corner stance, even the rear lights look very Mini-ish.

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