In-house designs : Austin AR16
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
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 – 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 .
|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.
|AR16||Sub-800 4-door saloon Counterpart to the five-door AR17, both of which were based on the LM10 platform.||Dev:
|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
The Austin branding in this image promises a bright future for the marque
Advanced and sporting looking interior
It went from paper to clay with few changes
Design framework looked promising
A more Citroen-like design scheme
Four themes and the buck, which is about to receive clay
A closer look – interesting proportions
By 1985, interior is looking more traditional, but digital instruments look promising
Mostly familar to AROnline readers…
AR17 saloon looks promisingly wedgy – a nice bridge between the SD3 and Rover 800
AR16 hatchback would have provided stiff opposition to the Sierra and Cavalier at its 1988 launch date
Although badged 216SE, this would have been an interesting 416
AR17 saloon had simple rear styling, and wraparound rear window hints at Montego