In-house designs : Rover R30
A class act
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.
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.
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…
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.