In-house designs : Rover R30

A class act

Once concept produced for the R30 programme, as designed by the Solihull design consultants run by ex-AR Design Director, Richard Hamblin, OMNI Design. Neat, contemporary, and ever so wedgy, it's a far cry from some of the more traditional offerings that passed through the Product Planners' hands...

Once concept produced for the R30 programme, as designed by the Solihull design consultants run by ex-AR Design Director, Richard Hamblin, OMNI Design. Neat, contemporary, and ever so wedgy, it's a far cry from some of the more traditional offerings that passed through the Product Planners' hands...

BMW knew that in order to create a successful Rover for the 21st century, there needed to be a re-think of the range… a slimming down of model lines. After much consideration on how to go forwards with Rover, it was decided to continue down the road that was leading the company toward producing relaxing and ‘British’ cars.

The first true product of this thinking was the Rover 75 (R40), launched in 1998: it was an amalgamation of traditional Rover ideals and up-to-the-minute technology. The second phase of the plan was the MINI (R50), which we all know about, and the third car in the triumvirate was to be the Rover 55, which was codenamed R30.

The image shown above (which were published in Autocar in 1998) were early "themes" produced at Gaydon on their "Alias" imaging system - they were not representitive of how the car would end up looking, but they did demonstrate that Gaydon was thinking in terms of a "retro" feel (note the heavy use of chrome, and the "Auntie" grille).

The image shown above (which were published in Autocar in 1998) were early themes produced at Gaydon on their "Alias" imaging system - they were not representitive of how the car would end up looking, but they did demonstrate that Gaydon was thinking in terms of a retro feel (note the heavy use of chrome, and the Auntie grille).

Work on the R30 was started in 1996, and the plan was to produce a single model to replace the 200/400 range, and which would not share any componentry with the HHR or R3 (as they were to all intents, Honda-based products). The design team was headed up by Richard Woolley, and although the early design phase of the car was run in Gaydon, it soon moved to Germany, when plans became more advanced. As the car advanced, the politics in the company interrupted its development, and it soon became the focus of a political game of football that involved Bernd Pischetsrieder and the British Government.

The R30 was to be produced in Longbridge alongside the MINI, but in order to get the R30 into production, Longbridge would need some serious refurbishment. BMW in total costed the R30 project at approximately £2 billion, but asked the British Government for a £200m subsidy… the Government procrastinated – and in the end, they agreed to £152 million, phased over five years.

Following this, the subsidy became known as the ‘R30 Subsidy’, and the car became well known in the wider media – something Rover had not experienced in some years.

Interestingly, the R30 was engineered not to use the larger versions of the K-series engine, but the all-new NG (for New Generation) four-cylinder engines, to be built at the new factory at Hams Hall in Birmingham. It was also to have a Z-axle, just like the 75, and a meaty central structure – as well as, intriguingly, a crash structure designed for an in-line engine (something Rover had been experimentig with during the BMW era).

The R30 eventually emerged as a good looking design, which would have continued the engineering lead that the Rover 75 had established. However, it was not to be – at the time of the sell-off in 2000, the R30 was nearing the final stages of development, getting towards production readiness, although only one running prototype was produced.

The above image, published in Autocar at the time of the sell-off, "closely resembled the final design", according to a senior designer involved with the project. That being the case, it is a shame that the events that unfolded meant that the car never reached production. According to the same designer, it was a "cracking car"... so it is time that we lobby BMW to release details of the car, if only to preserve a part of the history of the British car industry!

The above image, published in Autocar at the time of the sell-off, "closely resembled the final design", according to a senior designer involved with the project. That being the case, it is a shame that the events that unfolded meant that the car never reached production. According to the same designer, it was a "cracking car"... so it is time that we lobby BMW to release details of the car, if only to preserve a part of the history of the British car industry!

There have been many subsequent rumours about the fate of the R30 project. Confined to the vaults in the BMW four-cylinder headquarters in Munich, the sole remaining prototype was production ready, and BMW is believed to have  tried to sell the project – first to MG Rover in 2001, for an alleged £300m and then to a number of Chinese manufacturers looking for a ‘turn-key’ entrant into the medium sector.

Beyond that, there have been persistent rumours that the RWD BMW 1-Series is closely based upon the R30; certainly from the A-post back. The idea of a small BMW isn’t a new one, and the even before the Rover take-over in 1994, BMW engineers had been dreaming up baby cars wearing the propellor badge. However, the Rover ownership complicated matters and the idea was shelved as the company ploughed its resources into Rover.

However, once BMW realised the marque was strong enough to head downmarket, and its management had concluded that the Rover experiment failed – the emphasis shifted back towards a baby BMW, as it washed its hands of the UK division. If rumour is to be believed, the 1-Series project was resurrected from the R30, and that its body structure from the bulkhead back is exactly the same.

Our Photoshop certainly shows some similarities, if you ignore the typical Chris Bangle flame surfacing along the flanks…

1-Series renderings by Mark Mastrototaro

1-Series renderings by Mark Mastrototaro

Keith Adams

About the Author:

AROnlineholic between 2001 and 2014 - editor of Classic Car Weekly, and all round car nut...

5 Comments on "In-house designs : Rover R30"

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  1. dontbuybluemotion dontbuybluemotion says:

    We all think that the Phoenix 4 Rifled Rover as they sorted their Pensions, then ran it into the ground due to unable to find a Business Partner daft enough to throw money at them (or is this just my take on them?).

    However Trawling through these pages “Phoenix” had some serious plans on the go….like the MG Rexton etc, perhaps I was being a bit harsh? Not sure if many of the projects were just a continuation of what BMW left behind, or Phoenix kick started these themselves …..? Just a shame they had no penny’s to launch any, otherwise they could of had this partly finished item, though is £300 mil cheap for a half finished yet to be finalised car?

    I remember the original Ford Mondeo held the record for most expensive Design ($6 Billion according to Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Mondeo ) although am sure it also included a new Factory? Though saying that the Metro wasn’t cheap nor was the transition from Marina to Ital came in at a scary amount.

    The Development costs does ask the question’s could Phoenix not buy a stihl saw and cut up the 75 to make 45 and 25 replacements… Well if only it was that easy? Imagine a full new range if it were so !

    However those pictures above…
    1 Looks like it has Nissan Almera overtones, especially around the rear flanks!

    2 To me anyway has some old shape Nissan Micra overtones if you squint or had a few sherry’s! and 3, Not sure about the front but quite like the Mad look of this one! Rather different as they say.

    4 Autocar picture Looks similar to the previous Honda Civic.

    5 Photoshoped BMW 1 series nee Rover, Love the rendering and as mentioned in this write up offered for sale in 2001, Then took BMW three years to cut down a 3 series and offer it for sale !

    Another splendid hidden gems from the archives!

  2. mike wren Mike Wren says:

    just came across a couple of images on Flickr of what is apparently an R30 model on display at Gaydon, (forgive me if it’s been mentioned elsewhere on this site but I can’t find it if it has)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/29912007@N05/7482791204/

    hopefully the link works and someone knows a bit more about it…?

  3. Nate says:

    2) Mike Wren

    Somehow that R30 model looks like it is based on the BMW Mini, which would make sense as a replacement for the Rover 25 though I’d find it difficult to believe BMW ever contemplating such an idea.

  4. Phil Simpson says:

    It is shameful that the UK Governament in 1999 didn’t hand over £200 million to BMW considering that in 1976 the previous Labour administration had given Chrysler Europe £160 million & their Ryton plant was still producing successful cars 27 years later.

    Granted Peugeot shut down Ryton in about 2006. However a) The Labour government in 1999 wouldn’t have known that was going to happen & b) BMW would have been a lot less likely to have shut up in the UK when Ryton did as sufficient overseas production capability just wouldn’t have been there.

    Since the above didn’t come about, The Phoenix Four would have been better off purchasing R30 for £300 million rather than siphoning funds into their own pockets & producing “side shows” such as the V8 75 & the XPower SV.

  5. Will M says:

    @4

    In fairness, I think the V8 and SV were intended as halo models, in the same way as Audi use R8s and S4s to get the punters in buying diesel repmobiles.

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