In-house designs : Austin AR16

Replacing Montego

AR17 saloon

AR16/17 was designed to slot in below the Rover 800, replacing the Austin Montego. The saloon (above) was known as AR17, and the fastback, the AR16…

After arriving at BL in the winter months of 1981, Roy Axe knew that little short of a complete overhaul of the entire Austin-Rover range would be required to return the company to profitability by the late 1980s. And although Harold Musgrove had achieved a near-miracle by getting the Metro, then the Maestro/Montego onto the marketplace, and be as competitive as they were, Axe (and his styling team) were well aware that there were styling weaknesses with the M-cars. The first big project had been the Rover 800 – a joint Honda/Rover project (known as XX) that introduced a sharper new design language to Longbridge and Cowley, via the Canley styling studios.

However, once underway, Project XX would be joined by a family of crisply styled cars, ranging from the promising AR6 supermini through the AR8 family hatchback (that would become the familiar Rover R8), via the repmobile AR16/17, to the executive-class 800. As explained by Stephen Harper, the author of the sketch at the top of the page, the AR16 was an interesting project undertaken at Canley. ‘Before the Rover 600, back in 1982, a Honda-based car below the Rover 800 was developed under the codename AR16. This is an original sketch of the Austin ‘600’, a replacement for what we called the “Embarrasor” [Ambassador – Ed].’

The image below is clearly interesting for a number of reasons:

  • There was still plenty of confidence in the Austin name in the early-1980s, with the Montego-class motor retaining the marque name.
  • The original AR plan was to abandon the capable LM10/11 underpinnings in favour of Honda-based technology.
  • AR knew that to remain competitive in the fleet market, it needed a hatch and a saloon offerings, like Cavalier and Sierra.

 Stephen Harper's design sketch promised an advanced-looking mid-liner.

Stephen Harper’s design sketch promised an advanced-looking mid-liner

The all-British AR16 design continued to flourish throughout 1984 and ’85, and soon, full-size clay models of the entire range were produced at Canley. As all cars were based on the Montego, they featured the same, sound, suspension layout. But a lengthened wheelbase allowed the team to build a more balanced looking car – with heavy Rover 800 overtones.

The engine lineup was to include the S-Series 1.6-litre engine (a straight Montego/Rover 216 carry-over), the 2-litre O-Series, and the M16 2-litre 16-valve unit, which was to eventually lead a short life before being replaced by the T-Series. Like the Montego (and unlike the Rover 800), the AR16/17 was also conceived with an estate car version in mind and, as can be seen from the image below, this car looked like a very practical proposition indeed. The car was touted for a 1988-’89 launch, by which time, the Montego would have been ready to be put out to pasture.

During 1985, the AR16/17 dropped its Austin branding and became a fully-fledged member of the Rover family, becoming the 400-Series. As 1985 wore on, it became clear that there were future funding issues at Austin Rover, and the project lost it impetus. Although the Montego was underperforming on the market, and profits from this car were sadly lacking, it was considered competent enough by senior management – who were being hamstrung by the lack of funding now coming from the Government – to soldier on into the late-1980s with a facelift, along with the AR16/17’s M-Series engine option.

That would become the AR9, and in turn, even that project was watered down into what became the MY88.5 facelift. But by then, the management new broom of 1986 led by Graham Day knew that Rover’s mid-range future lay in the collaborative venture with Honda. The project officially died in November 1988, according to a report in The Engineer magazine.

For more images, check out the Gallery below.

AR17 estate

AR17 estate – or Rover 420 – looked potentially cavernous…

The AR family laid bare

 

AR5 Rover 213/216 replacement Scheduled for a 1989 launch, but was cancelled in favour of the Honda- based AR8 (see below), which served as a replacement for both the Maestro and Rover 213/216. Dev:1984-1985
AR6 Metro replacement All new supermini styled by Gerry
McGovern
and others under the direction of Roy Axe, incorporating K-Series engine and steel suspension. Abandoned when it became clear that there were not enough company funds to finance its development. Replaced by the R6.
Dev:1984-1986
AR7 Maestro replacement Engineered in-house and scheduled for a 1990 launch, this car was cancelled in 1985 in favour of the Honda-based AR8. Dev:1984-1985
AR8 Rover 214/216 Renamed version of the Honda YY. Renamed R8 in 1988. Dev:1986-1988
AR9 Roverised Montego A lower-cost Montego replacement
conceived after the AR16/17 plan was abandoned.
Dev:1986-1988
AR16 Sub-800 4-door saloon Counterpart to the five-door AR17, both of which were based on the LM10 platform. Dev:
1984-1985
AR17 Sub-800 5-door hatchback Counterpart to the four-door AR16, both of which were based on the LM10 platform. Dev:1984-1985

 Stephen Harper design sketch.

Stephen Harper design sketch

AR16 Rover concept

The Austin branding in this image promises a bright future for the marque

Advanced and sporting looking interior.

Advanced and sporting looking interior

It went from paper to clay with few changes.

It went from paper to clay with few changes

Design framework looked promising.

Design framework looked promising

A more Citroen-like design scheme.

A more Citroen-like design scheme

Four themes and the buck, which is about to receive clay.

Four themes and the buck, which is about to receive clay

 A closer look. Interesting proportions.

A closer look – interesting proportions

AR17 interior

By 1985, interior is looking more traditional, but digital instruments look promising

AR17 interior

Mostly familar to AROnline readers…

AR17 saloon

AR17 saloon looks promisingly wedgy – a nice bridge between the SD3 and Rover 800

AR16 hatchback

AR16 hatchback would have provided stiff opposition to the Sierra and Cavalier at its 1988 launch date

AR16 hatchback

Although badged 216SE, this would have been an interesting 416

AR17 saloon rear

AR17 saloon had simple rear styling, and wraparound rear window hints at Montego

 

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.

16 Comments on "In-house designs : Austin AR16"

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  1. Hilton Davis says:

    I actually like the look of these AR16 mock ups – especially in saloon form. The red Austin badged image has similarities to the late 80’s Honda Accord Aerodeck to me.

    It seems to me that ARG had plenty of ideas & design potential back then that many of the general public dont appreciate.

  2. dontbuybluemotion dontbuybluemotion says:

    Yet another “what could of been…if only the money was there ! ” Imagine if Stephen Harpers futuristic 1982 Design made it to production, The Jelly Mould Sierra would have had less of hard time and by 85-86 this Design could of just breezed onto the market though not sure the Citroen style half covered rear wheel arch would of made it, However would of been more interesting than the mk2 Cavalier and amazed it was produced as a mock up !, So it must of been taken quite seriously .

    Quite like the dashboard design even though the switches are in the usual scattered Honda style, perhaps it was still intended to be a Ronda joint venture? whilst the other toned down designs although better looking than the Montego?, still dont quite look right (to me) as the A17 appears like a “B”stard love child between the 213 and 800, whilst A17 hatchback resembles the original front wheel drive Toyota Corolla E80 Liftback (remember them? there is a picture on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_Corolla_(E80 ) which looks a bit awkward, though am sure the styling would been changed had the Design progressed, However the Estate looks nice.

  3. Nate says:

    Personally, I would have badged the AR16/17 as either Rover 500 or Rover 600 since it would have made a better rival for the Cavalier / Sierra, while allowing the R8 Rover 400 to compete in the Belmont / Orion / Jetta class where it belonged to begin with.

    I quite like the look of the fastback (a 3-door fastback coupe would have made a nice Calibra rival) though imo the rear window / D-pillar would of still needed some work prior to entering production, I would assumed that it would of eventually been powered by K-Series engines (including V6s from Honda like in the 800) but what about on the Diesel front?

    Would the AR16/17 have been powered by the 2.0 Perkins Prima (a carry-over from the Montego) or would it have ended up being powered by either the 2.5 VM Motori (like in the Rover 800) or the PSA XUD (like in the Rover 200/400 R8 but possibly including the 2.1 XUD11)?

  4. James Riley James Riley says:

    I find it more and more unbelievable when you see cars like that. What on earth were Rover thinking to pass them over? This care was spookily like the JV R8 that would follow it, but this would have been an in-house affair and as a result, more profitable. They look very good, almost all of the mules above would not have looked out of place in a showroom, and a classy showroom at that! What a damn shame. As much as I love trawling through this site for all the wonders it keeps, this stuff just makes me really sad to think those people running the show were so remiss in their duties/capabilities to let so many missed opportunities pass them by. Look at the Ad077 page and that’s just another one only 10 years earlier. Never has a company has such continuous promise and yet had such continuous and blatant disregard for it… I could cry I really could (I won’t; I’ll have a beer instead)

  5. Paul says:

    As early as 1990 they could have had a complete Rover range
    R8 200 – Posh Escort
    R8 400 – Posh Orion
    Ar16/17 – Posh Sierra/Sapphire
    800 – About as posh as a Granada/Scorpio

    Given the R8 was the most profitable car BMC/BL/ARG etc probably ever made, you can imagine what a money spinner a properly co-ordinated range like this could have been. Ford was at a low ebb in the early 90s, the Cavalier was starting to age and Rover could have cleaned up. On top of that the AR16/17 would have been all Rovers own work – so no financial kick backs to Honda required.

  6. David Dawson1 says:

    Great looking cars and another missed opportunity on the face of it…..

  7. Paul says:

    These were nicely done. A lost opportunity indeed.

  8. Dave Dawson says:

    I’ve been looking at this article again. The AR16/17 were absolutely sound proposals. They looked so right and fitted so well – AR6, R8, AR16/17, XX. All on the market by 1990 and I’m sure that would have been the company saved.
    If those holding the purse strings had understood better…..

  9. Glenn Aylett says:

    This looks a really good car and some of the sketches make the Montego replacement look Citroen like. Also I’d imagine by 1988 all the quality issues would have been resolved and this could have been a really big seller.

  10. Dave Dawson says:

    I know the cost of getting a car into production is obviously huge – all the tooling etc. This massive cost is often why prototypes never become more than that. However, I often wonder just what the cost of the prototype is? I realise that often they will be incomplete, maybe with existing running gear, but who makes, what is the cost of so many ‘one-off’ parts ?

  11. Paul says:

    Interesting that these cars seem to have been at quite an advanced design stage in 1985, only 1 year after the Montego launched. Suggests ARG realised the Montego was a dog from day 1. Comments made by Roy Axe would also seem to confirm this. A real pity that the Maestro/Montego had done so much damage that the company lacked the confidence and resources to press ahead with this car.

    • Dave Dawson says:

      Yes, I was surprised that the design was so advanced just a year after Montego’s launch.

      I often wonder how on earth a state funded product led recovery was not generous enough to allow Montego to be a separate design from Maestro. Who the hell thought the company could possibly recover without a really competitive offering in the rep-mobile market?

      That said, I do still have a liking for Montego.

  12. Will M says:

    The Montego / Maestro could’ve been tidied up further with the facelift by simply filling in the scalloped sides.

    Give the Montego a solid C pillar, rather than the stepped window arrangement, it would also give the car the look of solidity – something not lost on VW with their Golf/Jetta rivals. (Indeed, it could be taken further, lose the 3rd side window on the Maestro!)

  13. stevo says:

    If AR had stopped doing so many half jobs and concentrated on seeing the job through, perhaps they would still be around today. So much time and effort for little reward.

  14. Glenn Aylett says:

    Had this hit the market in 1988, it would have meant the the Montego could have been pensioned off instead of dying a slow death into the nineties. With Graham Day at the helm, this good looking car would probably have been sorted from the start and would really have taken the fight to Ford and Vauxhall.

  15. Hilton D says:

    Steven Harper’s sketches of AR17 looked very futuristic, but strangely the typeface used for “Austin” branding looked very 1950s

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