Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

In-house designs : Rover R6X

After Rover pulled the plug on the promising AR6 programme, Design Director Roy Axe decided that a light rebody of the upcoming K-Series Metro was required to keep it selling. Few would have predicted that it would end up looking as good as it did.

It’s a shame they never built it…

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 strong feelings: ‘This project was again born of frustration at the system that was developing at Rover… the R6X was a Design Office proposal again.’

Why Rover needed the R6X

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.

He said: ‘A few of us firmly believed that, given the level of engineering change inherent in R6 and 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 was 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?’

Where would the money come from?

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.’

He added: ‘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)

Making the running prototype

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,’ he added.

However, in the lead up to the BAe takeover of the Rover Group, there was no way that management wanted to sanction any unnecessary spending; Rover needed to look like a lean ship. Saddington felt that, even though the car was going to review, the Canley Designers were fighting a losing battle.

He said: ‘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.’

But it wasn’t enough

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 supplied by Roy Axe)

Perhaps the money should have been sanctioned – either way, it wasn’t immediately; in fact, the general consensus within the styling team was that it was doomed, given the lack of management enthusiasm for the project. Certainly from the 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.

A missed opportunity

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. It was one which became bogged down during the approval phase: ‘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.’

A reprieve?

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 escalated (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.’

A happy outcome?

Thankfully, the 1990 Metro/100 (above) 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 immediately. 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.

Not the desired result

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.

Even the models and prototypes 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 1995. 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)

28 Comments on "In-house designs : 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

    • Andy says:

      Totally agree! We own a 2012 civic, and when purchased we also test drove a Jazz. I mentioned to my Wife during the drive how much it felt like a modern day Metro. Perhaps not that surprising. Our Civic has a Rover ‘feel’ to it too, presumably an historical link to the 45/400 HHR cars?

  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.

  11. Glenn Aylett says:

    The R6 was a clever update of a ten year old car and made an ageing, noisy supermini into something vastly better with new engines, a light restyle, five speeds and a diesel option, the latter two the Austin Metro badly lacked. Sales remained high well into the nineties and only failing crash protection legislation really killed off the Metro/100 as it still had a following as late as 1997.

    • Dave Dawson says:

      Yes, it was a remarkable transformation that of Austin to Rover Metro.

      I believe Autocar described the Rover Metro as “Best small car in the world”

  12. hurricane hicken says:

    This really is one of those ‘ why the hell didn’t they’ cars. It’s such a transformation of the original that the general public would be convinced it’s a completely new car.

    If the crash protection had had some updating this car, had it been introduced would have kept Rover in the small car game for years. Even if R6 had been introduced in 1990, this could have been brought in in say 1995, this would still have been fresh until 2002, and at such a low cost, as all the underpinnings would have been the same.

    Such short sightedness, as along with the Montego Roverisation, would have worked wonders. This, along with the Union stupidity in the 70’s is what killed the British car industry.

  13. Nate says:

    Had BL minus the over-reliance on Honda been able to stand on their own two feet with a successful Maestro / Montego by the mid/late-1980s, then they would have likely had the following Roverized range.

    City Car – Mini with 3/4-cylinder K-Series replacing the A-Series
    Supermini – A6X and AR6 (similar to Peugeot 106 and Peugeot 205)
    Small Family Car – AR7/AR5
    Large Family Car – AR16/AR17
    Executive Car – Rover Bravo project

    Possible scenario for independent Rover from the 90s onwards:
    – The Mini and R6X would be replaced by the Spiritual project in the mid/late-90s featuring Kei Car specific versions, with development of other variants (e.g. MG Midget, Commercial, etc) allowing it to spread the costs of the project.
    – AR6 along with AR7/AR5 would be updated and re-skinned.
    – The AR16/AR17 would be replaced by a new model possibility utilizing an upscaled AR7/AR5-derived platform.
    – The Rover Bravo replacement meanwhile is dependent on whether the company is capable of producing a suitable RWD platform in-house that could serve as a basis for other projects (e.g. MG PR2 and MG DR2/PR5 to replace the Triumph RT061 Broadside from secret product plans).

    • David 3500 says:

      @ Nate:

      All of these “possible scenarios” would have still required huge investment at a time when Rover Group was owned by British Aerospace, who did not deliver anywhere near the level of investment as BMW would.

      In addition, there was also the growing needs of Land Rover to consider in terms of funding a new entry level Sport Utility Vehicle (i.e. Freelander) and ongoing updates to the Discovery, which was Land Rover’s best selling model. Land Rover was a crucial profit earner for the Rover Group in the early to mid 1990s, until the issues of warrant claims became apparent in the latter half of that decade (and added to Rover Group’s ‘perceived’ level of debt with BMW’s board). Therefore, investment in new and regularly updated Land Rover products was needed as much as it was for Rover Cars’ models.

      Rover Cars ultimately needed to be either completely reliant on Honda (which would never have been a good move both financially and in terms of delivering the array of products its customers demanded), or have a long-term owner willing to make huge investment and be committed to Rover Group’s needs. Sadly history has shown that the more preferable latter option did not work out.

      The money really wasn’t there in the early to mid 1990s to deliver all these suggested product and engineering-based actions, and within a necessary reasonable timescale too. A real shame when you consider the immense efforts made in the latter half of the 1980s which delivered some impressive results from 1990 onwards, starting with the R8 200/400 Series.

      • Nate says:

        The launch of the Maestro and Montego was before the British government sold BL / Rover Group to BAe though understand the government was desperate to sell off the company, would a successful (and possibly earlier) Maestro and Montego have made much of a difference or does a BL that stands independently after state ownership require an earlier scenario?

        • David 3500 says:

          I doubt whether a more successful Maestro and Montego launched earlier in, say, 1980 would have been enough for this level of autonomy to have been possible, in terms of funding further all-new products beyond what we already had. There were other problems within the company during the 1980s which had a negative impact on what could be delivered in the next decade. This included other models under-performing, noticeable gaps in their model line-up (e.g. between the Montego and executive Rover offering) and excess capacity within the Longbridge assembly plant. After the Austin Metro the SD3 Rover 200 Series was the next best selling model during the 1980s.

          Land Rover was also in a dire situation in the early to mid 1980s, with a number of interesting projects being cancelled or put on hold. Recovery did not occur until after 1987 when the Range Rover had been exported to North America and was beginning to gain a climb in sales.

          There was not a simple or easy answer to address the many issues that Rover Cars (and Rover Group) faced, unfortunately.

          • Nate says:

            Understand there was not a simple or easy answer for problems that existed prior to 1980, also forgot to consider the gaps created by cancellation of the Montego-based 5-door fastback Princess replacement and the SD2 prototypes along with the Land Rover projects.

            What would have been needed to bring about a similar scenario to the above where BL / Rover is either fully independent to pursue its own path at best or at worst collaborates with other carmakers as equals on certain join ventures on engines / platforms?

  14. David 3500 says:

    Looking at the images of R6X with its clean surface forms reminds me ever so slightly of the Honda Logo, a supermini contender which did not sell particularly well in the U.K.when it was announced sometime in the late 1990s.

    Every time I see Honda’s supermini (which is quite rare these days!) I often start pondering over whether Phoenix Venture Holdings (PVH) had it on their list of interests alongside the Honda Civic Aerodeck to discuss with Honda in those early days of MG Rover Group? If it had, then it might have been viewed by PVH as a quick and effective way to deliver a new entry-level model to sit belong the Rover 25 through a licencing agreement with Honda. Who knows, but perhaps a ‘Roverised’ Honda Logo might have been a better proposition than the CityRover?

    As for R6X and its potential role in the early 1990s, I prefer its styling to that of the production R6. However, as others have pointed out, the additional cost of re-skinning the existing Austin Metro would have been prohibitive at a time when the Rover Group was still state-owned, with a Government desperate to rid itself of the company and not put any more money into the cause.

    Trouble is, R6X might have been able to have disguised the Metro’s roots more effectively and thus delivered higher annual sales, and over a longer time period too. By 1993, some of the major motoring mags were already referring to the Rover Metro as “looking dated”. This possibly impacted on the gradual decline of sales each year at a time when supermini sales were dominating the top-ten sales in the U.K.through the likes of all-new contenders such as the Peugeot 106, Renault Clio, Vauxhall Corsa and Volkswagen Polo.

    The Rover Metro certainly did very well over seven and a half years of production, but whether it might have done even better in terms of sales with a more effective re-skin is an interesting “what might have been” to ponder over.

    • daveh says:

      It was another sign of the bad decision making within the whole group that started back in the days of BMC.

      The re-bodied car would have carried the car on for longer and therefore made more money – instead they went for a warm over look which unfortunately did not help what was underneath a better car than the original Metro.

      What Rover did not learn from Vauxhall and Ford was makeovers increased sales as people perceived that it was anew model. VW are still doing this with the Golf!

  15. Glenn Aylett says:

    The best Rover Metro and one truest to the low cost motoring ethic of the Austin era car was the diesel. Using a proven 1.4 Peugeot engine and a five speed gearbox to reduce noise and fuel consumption, this car would easily return 55 mpg around town and 65 mpg on a long run. Also having a diesel meant the Metro could compete with the kings of the diesel supermini class like the Peugeot 205 and 106( which used the same engine) and the driving school favourite diesel Ford Fiesta.

    • Nate says:

      Though it was apparently impossible to turbocharge the Peugeot TUD diesel engine, it would have been interesting to see Peugeot produce a bored out version with the same displacement as the 1.6 TU petrol engine, even if there would likely have been only a marginal increase in power over the 1.4-1.5 TUD diesels.

  16. MM says:

    I prefer the all-new R6 over the K-series 100, but even the 100 was capable of taking on most of the mediocrity which represented the super-mini sector back then.
    The Moulton interconnected suspension was a delight for comfort and road holding, and the 1.1 engine was refined and lively, far better car than the wretched Corsa.

    From memory, Rover dealers were offering the 1.1 4- speed 3-door for £5495 OTR and possibly as low as £4995 in 1991/2, such was the trouble Rover were experiencing with sales.

  17. bartelbe says:

    This sadly is the story of British industry in a nutshell. Penny wise pound foolish. They spend an age dawdling developing new products, with most of them cancelled by the accountants or trapped in development hell by inept management. Wasting mountains of money on products that never see the light of day.

    Eventually the engineers achieve a minor miracle face lifting last years product, management and the accountants see an easy saving. The company is left with dated products made on worn tooling, falling further and further behind the competition. Until the sticking plaster exercise is no longer enough to keep up with foreign firms and they go under.

    It is still happening, our levels of investment are among the lowest in the developed world. While other countries invest for the long term, useless British owners and inept British management prioritise this years profits; scarifying the future.

    • David 3500 says:

      @ bartelbe:

      Sadly a lot of the actions of “inept British management” can be linked to the demands and attitudes of shareholders in companies. Many individuals become private shareholders because they see it as an investment opportunity. However, that often means they are not willing to sacrifice part of their dividend to enable the company to make higher investment in new products or production facilities. There is usually a short-termmist view taken by shareholders when a company announces lower than expected profits or it is making a loss.

      Companies in turn want to retain the loyalty of existing shareholders, as an increase in supply of shares on the stock market (when shareholders are dissatisfied) will impact on share price and potentially make the company vulnerable to hostile takeovers. Management often have to forego what is ultimately best for the long term ambitions of the company in order to maintain the expectations of shareholders.

      Sadly British private shareholders tend to take a short-term view on things rather than be in it for the long haul and they are rarely willing to sacrifice part of their dividend for the long term betterment of the company. It is a problem that can trace its routes back to the 1930s in the car industry. Behavioral Economics would describe shareholders demands for constant financial reward as being linked to ‘greed’.

      Short-term greed-based gains limits long term opportunities.

      It is probably just as bad in Government-owned institutions too.

      • bartelbe says:

        What you say is true, shareholder pressure and pressure from City institutions is damaging. As is the lack of support form the British government, which I suspect comes from the fact most went to public schools.

        The lingering upper classes dislike for trade. In Germany engineers are respected profession, here they are not. I sometimes think that London Civil servants and politicians would be happier if every factory closed and we made nothing.

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