I’ve just spent a little time smoking around in a pair of British-built Honda’s for my own site – a Civic 1.8 petrol and a diesel CR-V. Both lead me to ponder a question that some people think of now and again… Rover and Honda: what if?
Negativity towards our eastern friends is a thing of the past and even when the Acclaim was introduced, it was seen as a good thing for BL. Customers were switching off from laughably poorly made British cars some years before Michael Edwardes firmly shook the hand of Mr Kyoshi Kawashima from Honda. Datsun and Toyota were steadily picking off disgruntled customers, whose primary demand was for a car that could be delivered on time and was almost guaranteed to start first time, every time, when you flicked the key. The decision to join forces with Honda was not only seen as a huge morale boost for BL, but equally importantly, and not so well documented, it showed that Honda had confidence in Great Britain and her workers.
Right up to the dying twitches of MG Rover, a fair proportion of the volume-selling range were reliant on a Honda-based car – namely the 45/ZS models. Even the 25/ZR, despite being based on the Rover-engineered “bubble” 200 series, contained a fair chunk of Honda ingredients such as the heater system, upper steering column, pedal box arrangement and so on. No one doubts that the fruits born from the engineering alliance between Honda and Rover were the best times of our now departed BLARG – with cars like the Acclaim, SD3, R8 and 6/800 ranges to name but a few.
So… what could have happened if Honda had increased their interest with the Rover Group when BAe was looking to move it on at the end of the five year clause? As we all know, the 75 came into light during BMW’s incumbency, but who knows what engineering prowess the car would have possessed with a range of Anglo-Japanese power units. Equally, imagine how well the car would have sold into the Japanese market – even to this day, most things related to Blighty sell like face masks in downtown Tokyo, be it cars, Dr Marten footwear or other great British brands.
Over 60 per cent of all Mini production went east, as did a vast proportion of the MGR-V8 production. This was not a passing trend – to this day, England sells in foreign lands and it saddens me that that the only people who don’t seem to relate to this in the developed world are the English. I wonder how a seriously quick, mid-mounted car with NSX underpinnings and an MG badge would have fared on a global scale – would it have banished the straggly beard and bobble hat image and turned MG into a fighting force for affordable fun? We’ll never know, I guess.
Engine-wise, how good does the best of V-TEC and VVC sound in an engine that probably wouldn’t emulate a Burco tea urn with little warning? We know the transmissions were pretty solid, the Honda-designed PG1 only gave cause for concern at the very highest power ratings and no doubt, under Honda’s watch, the problem of differential bearings exploding like landmines would have never been allowed to happen. The possibility of powertrains could have been almost endless had BAe not gone for a quick buck from BMW back in 1994. The initially dreadful KV6 unit just would not have happened, or if it had, it would have worked right first time no doubt.
It’s a known fact that the 45 series was at best an old model that was kept on life support for way too long. If the Rover 45 was a family pet, MG Rover would have received a custodial sentence for animal cruelty, but in Honda’s world, maybe the current Civic would have become the platform for a new range of medium sized family vehicles. The current Sports Tourer would cater for the family that travels and the hatchback Civic in a “Rover-ised” guise would offer all the space efficiency that even Alec Issigonis would be proud of – but would the brand have worked in such a wild body shape?
In a nutshell… Yes! You see, Rover sold their wares into a similar market audience as Honda for many years – the mature driver with a few bob spare in the purse or back pocket. Forget about the volume market of selling millions of vehicles into every market sector, Rover had already realised that the future lay with a premium market many years ago. The public were happy with an Anglo-Asian partnership and Honda learnt a lot more from Rover than you would ever have imagined, especially when it came to packaging the interior for European tastes – look at the difference between the interior of a Concerto to the one in a 200 series… The Concerto looks awful in comparison.
Just think of the potential, Rover styling and interior presentation allied to power unit, chassis and production engineering with Honda know how. The current Civic hatch may not have had such a bold style in a continued Honda/Rover partnership but, equally so, the HHR platform would not have been drawn out so painfully long as it did with MG Rover. Would the Jazz have become a more suitable CityRover or a new 100 Series, or maybe the CR-V could have been a reliable Freelander that worked straight from the box – the potential products with engineering supremacy can only be imagined, not just for Rover cars but the whole Rover Group including Land Rover – oh, we would still have Mini too of which more than half produced headed to Asia!
Whatever your thoughts may be, the period from 1981 to 994 brought together some of the very best talents of the global motor trade – our ability to dress and package a car and their ability to engineer them. Let’s look at the latest Civic Sports Tourer estate for example, breathtakingly clever and practical yet designed, engineered and fully assembled right here in the UK with many of the engineers being time-served, ex-Rover employees – and that’s a fact too. Which brings me back to the wonderfully engineered and British-built Civic I have been driving around in…