The way forward for the Rover brand

Sam Skelton

The next X-Type?

A new SD1: based upon Jaguar’s XF and styled to blend with the Jaguar Land Rover range. Could something like this be the next X-Type?

I guess that AROnline’s regular readers already know that I’m a BL lover. I really should join BL-coholics Anonymous, but that’s beside the point. The car that first sparked my love of old motors was a Rover SD1 V8 which my father owned from my birth until when I was 5. This is, I’m sure, the car that also helped focus my love of cars mainly upon BL.

Back when the SD1 was current, Rover was still seen as a premium brand. Since the days of the P4, Rover had been innovative, unusual and forward thinking. However, from 1991 (the launch of the R17 800) onwards, the company started to embark upon gaining a slightly tweedy and British image, reinforced by lots of chrome and tree and even bits of cow in the high spec models.

Rovers became cars for the elderly – that remained Rover’s niche until production came to an end in 2005. The Rover brand was the British BMW of its day until the year of my birth and, following that, it sought to carve a different path for itself.

I would partially blame BMW themselves for this – the custodians of Rover from 1994 until 2000 were hardly likely to develop in-house competitors. This is evident with the 75 – whereas  the BMW 3 and 5-Series were sporting saloons, the 75 was a waft-mobile. The customers of one company were not thought to have been in the market for the other’s models.

However, politics have put those days behind us; ending the existence of the Rover brand in 2005 with the closure of MG Rover and the company’s purchase by NAC and SAIC of China. Amid much to-ing and fro-ing, these companies have now readied a new car for the UK, to be built in Longbridge but that’s not the focus of this article. What is, is the fact that MG Rover did not own the Rover name.

This was owned by BMW and licenced to MG Rover as part of the contract made with Ford when the Jaguar and Land Rover brands were sold to the American giant. The Rover nameplate  was also sold to them outright a couple of years ago and then effectively moved to Tata Motors* with their purchase of JLR. This set me thinking.

Jaguar will not be replacing the X-TYPE when it is discontinued later this year. They blame lack of sales for this, but I think the reason is that a small saloon simply does not fit into Jaguar’s new advanced and upmarket range. However, there is no denying that JLR would be sacrificing a huge sector of the market in not providing a BMW 3-Series rival. My thoughts started to form into an idea…

Tata have the Rover nameplate, which was a leading premium brand during it’s heyday. The company pioneered the idea of a large executive hatchback -a genre which is finding favour once again after a ten-year hiatus. JLR needs a car to take on the Audi A4/A5 and BMW 3-Series. They have the accomplished X-TYPE and XF chassis so why not create a new Rover to fill the gap? Looking at it, it isn’t such a silly idea as it might seem at first glance.

It’s entirely possible to create a car which fits stylistically with the Jags, yet retains a Rover identity. The heritage of the SD1 can be used to bolster it in it’s first stages of production. It’s a more fitting use of the name than letting it die.

How can we do this? My idea is to do something retro yet modern – combining something with unmistakably classic Rover design values with something modern and chic. I’ve created a couple of quick mock ups, which show this in it’s best light. The exterior is an unmistakably Ian Callum-esque take on the SD1 theme, with the interior being a modernised interpretation.

Hence, we replace the walnut of the SD1 VP with aluminium, we have an LCD computerised dashboard, we retain the two-spoke wheel but incorporate the airbag. The idea would be to use a modified XF floorpan, with 2.5 and 3.0 V6s, the 3.5 V8 previously used only in the X350 XJ8 and the 5.0 supercharged V8 in a hairy one.

Oh, and if you like tractor engines, some sort of diesel would also be available. Tata/JLR, I hope you’re taking note of this idea.

OK, so would this work? There’s only one way to answer that and that is to put it to a public vote. Who, having read this and seen the images, would buy one of these over an Audi A4/5, BMW 3-Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class? Does anyone think that I’m a sentimental nitwit pining for the past? Over to you.

[*Editor’s Note: The IPRs to the Rover marque are, in fact, vested in Land Rover. See the Intellectual Property Office’s website here.]

A pleasant change from those Germans?

A refreshing change from those A4 and 3-Series dashboards?


  1. I love the idea. However, I am not quite sure if the dashboard design would appeal to many people. Moreover, wasn’t the retro-strategy one of the reasons that people started turning away from Rovers and buying more contemporary designs?

    I love fastbacks and love the idea of creating a modern day SD1 but I feel it should not have retro features like this dashboard, which will appeal only to people who love SD1s. For them, an A4-class car will be too small…

    Anyway, let’s hope the MG6 will, indeed, be produced at Longbridge – that could be the start of a new era for modern cars designed in Britain. Let’s just hope SAIC never move design to China . . .

  2. Ralph,
    I can see your point about SD1 lovers wanting a larger car but I doubt that this would be done as JLR have the XF in the slot above. I admit I’d considered doing this as a niche product with a Range Rover inspired P6-type car sitting in the BMW 3-Series slot but that would have meant that the BMW 3/5-Series segment would have been unduly crowded. This was the only way to do it.

    Anyway, have you seen just how big cars like the Audi A5 really are? I’m not planning something as big as that but, equally, my new Rover’s not going to be THAT small – certainly larger than the original ever was.

    The dash – yeah, it’s retro, I admit it. I hope, though, that what I’ve done is create something that, whilst looking to the past, manages to be modern enough to look the part today. It’s also different to the grey and black plastic you see elsewhere. What I’ve tried to do is something that displays its heritage and yet is miles more up to date than a small Jag could get away with being (Look at the X-TYPE – I don’t think a baby XF would be sufficiently Jag-like to work).


  3. Sam,
    You are indeed a sentimental nitwit but a damn clever one! Those are just fantastic, gorgeous renditions for a modern Rover. I’d certainly buy one especially if it came in Vitesse flavour. The retro dash is just hillarious and yet works! You’ve managed to conserve the original Daytonaesqness (if you know what I mean!) and it all gels so perfectly, without over the top retroness.

    The only slight criticism would be the front. A tad bland – needs a grille or something. Are you a professional designer or just have too much free time? Please do a decent version of the new MG6. I’d love to see that. It’s far too dated and Jap looking.

    Oh, and while you’re at it, I’ve got an ’89 XJS V12, which I’d kill to see in a new retroish version! Well done again, and let’s hope it inspires the gentlemen in Mumbai or Gaydon or wherever they may be.

  4. @Sam Skelton
    I really like your modern interpretation of the Rover SD1 but am not entirely clear whether you would pitch the car at the D-segment or E-segment.

    You say that you are not proposing something as big as an Audi A5 Sportback but that your new Rover would be larger than the original Rover SD1 – I wonder, then, how the dimensions of those two models compare and what dimensions your own Rover proposal would have. The XF platform which would underpin your new Rover might, perhaps, need to be shortened and that may not be cost-effective.

    Your article and subsequent comment indirectly raise another interesting point – I reckon that we are beginning to see a trend which may, in time, lead to a merger of the D-segment and E-segment. The key dimensions of, for example, the new E-segment BMW 5-Series and D-segment Opel/Vauxhall Insignia are pretty close to each other…

  5. My first thought was ‘oh dear’ but then, within about 30 seconds, this Rover proposal started to grow on me – far more interesting than any metal currently available in my eyes.

    As to the dash, well, the idea of retro-modernity is quite cool – far nicer to my eyes than the new Saab 9-5’s dash. I saw that car on the outside and thought ‘nice’, then saw the dash and thought ‘ugh’.

  6. Well, I think that is a great effort. Modern but retro at the same time. Have to agree about the dash – the block on top design was probably one of the ugliest ever.

    The X-TYPE is based upon the old Ford Mondeo platform – would Tata do a joint technology deal with Ford and get this on the market? Ford are currently working with Fiat for the Ka so I could see that happening.

    However, I think if the Rover brand returns it really needs to be in the segment below Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz currently occupied by the likes of Alfa Romeo, Saab, Volvo and, probably, VW – a sub-premium brand but above the mainstream in terms of quality and style.

  7. Charles,
    I agree – the front is bland (believe it or not it took longer to do the bonnet and the work ahead of the front arch than to do the rest), but what else can be done without compromising the links with the original design?

    There is a grille of sorts under the leading edge of the bonnet a la SD1 S2 (but in mesh) but I can do little more as it stands.

    I’m not a professional designer, just someone who’s not that bad with photo-editing software and has an hour or two’s free time per day to devote to this sort of thing. I’ve done a lot of retro stuff and did want a go at the XJ-S, but it’s finding a car to base it on that’s proving hard – when I’ve done one I’ll forward you a copy.

    Clive Goldthorp :
    You say that you are not proposing something as big as an Audi A5 Sportback but that your new Rover would be larger than the original Rover SD1 – I wonder, then, how the dimensions of those two models compare and what dimensions your own Rover proposal would have. The XF platform which would underpin your new Rover might, perhaps, need to be shortened and that may not be cost-effective.

    I didn’t say I wasn’t planning something A5-sized – to all intents and purposes that’s an A4 hatch and that’s exactly where my Rover proposal’s going. I was rushing when I wrote my last comment and didn’t check what I’d written thoroughly enough – I’m aiming for A5 and not XF in size and that’s what I meant to write.

    I agree it needs to be sub-Jaguar mainly due to the size of the car – the X-TYPE’s main issue was that it had the wrong badge and image for an executive saloon. However, BMW and Mercedes have made this ground their own and it’s at these names I think Tata/JLR need to aim with any new Rover.

  8. Nice idea and great piece of design work. Can’t help thinking that the brand is too damaged to re-launch though – CityRover, older 45s, death of the company loom large in recent memory. I think Jaguar could re-enter this market segment as recent press articles have suggested.

    Worth noting that many old Rovers started off as trendy, dynamic vehicles for young professionals but, as the models aged, the buyer profiles seemed to age too. This applied to the P4, P5, P6 and, yes, to the SD1 as well.

    It’s perhaps too early to tell whether MG is damaged too. I really hope not. A lot is riding on the MG6.

  9. Superb rendering! I still have a massive soft-spot for the SD1. HOWEVER, the Rover image is very tarnished in the UK, especially after the way the Pheonix 4 ran the marque down. Somehow, I don’t think a re-launch will ever happen. The brand has no kudos anymore with car buyers.

    It would need an extraordinary car to reignite the enthusiasm people once had for Rover. The 75 came very close but is now seen as a last chance saloon by many people. Shame, it’s a fine car.

  10. Jonathan Carling :Nice idea and great piece of design work. Can’t help thinking that the brand is too damaged to re-launch though – CityRover, older 45s, death of the company loom large in recent memory. I think Jaguar could re-enter this market segment as recent press articles have suggested.

    I agree – Rover is sadly too associated with the MG Rover collapse, the Phoenix 4’s fiddles and failure. There was nothing wrong with having a Jaguar X-TYPE – a modern, sporty RWD car would have sold well…

  11. I agree that there is an opportunity to develop and launch a new Rover. However, as much as I love classic Rovers (I am a P4 owner) I feel that a new Rover should not be designed to look like any previous model. It is important that the key Rover design values are expressed in a new model more than anything, as Sam rightly mentioned – innovation and forward thinking. All of the great Rovers embraced these values. If a new Rover emerged that could demonstrate these values together with quality then I am feel sure it would succeed.

    Motoring journalists will also need to adopt a more responsible position with Rover if a new car is launched, particularly in relation to the “auntie” tag that started during the production life of the P4 and sadly is still used today in a derogatory manner. None of the great Rovers were “auntie-like” when considered alongside their peer group cars in their production time zone. Real history supports this when, for example, some aspects of initial P4 styling had to be toned down as it was seen to be too radical when first launched. The same thing happened to the SD1 when consumer feedback led Rover to implement a more traditional interior approach with wood trimming.

    Finally, if Rover did make a successful comeback it will be important for Tata to resist the temptation to dilute the brand in the way that happened with CityRover. By all means have a range of Rovers but keep them as premium cars with a big emphasis on quality, innovation and forward thinking.

  12. Yes please – I would buy one tomorrow given the chance. Well done on a superb concept. How about a new take on the Austin Maxi if you fancy another challenge?

  13. @Simon Hodgetts
    Nice idea, although I think the issues of the ‘running down’ of the Rover name actually occured more during the BMW era when the focus was on relaxation and building cars that could not be seen to compete with BMW models in any way, shape or form.

    The MG Rover era saw the introduction of some good ideas such as the Contemporary trim level, sports suspension, a halo 75 V8 etc., but all this came along too late in the day. Rover was sidelined in preference to building up MG when the real focus should have been to repair the commercial damage inflicted on the more important Rover brand during the latter part of the BMW era.

    The Rover name took the brunt of the flack when MG Rover Group collapsed in 2005 because it had formed a prominent part of the corporate identity (Rover Group, MG Rover Group) for nearly two decades. Bringing the Rover name back would be very difficult at the moment because the marque’s natural place is in the medium, upper medium and executive market sector with premium status but not necessarily a premium price.

    The Rover name would only be successful on an all-new car using a modern platform design as opposed to a thinly disguised XF or the now old X-TYPE platform and body structure. However, having said that, as a design concept (and forgetting the obvious Jaguar parentage of the design), I actually like this proposal.

    Personally, I would love to see Rover return one day as I love the name and most of the cars built since the P4 (I am actually in my thirties, before you ask). JLR’s efforts now, though, seem to rest solely with Jaguar and Land Rover for the future.

    Incidentally, the Daimler name has been dropped from the renamed and relaunched Jaguar Heritage Trust and quite a few of the cars held in the collection that were sold off earlier this year were Daimlers. It appears that, like or loathe the idea, there is only room for two marques…

  14. Like the modern SD1 there, could be an alternative to the C6 for those of us who choose not to buy German.

    I would dread seeing a return of the CityRover though, and a Nano-based Rover 100 / 15 would not be an ideal return for the marque.

    How about an X-type based 600 / 65, old XJ based 800 / 85? Or do Ford own too much of the design (X type was based on Mondeo).

  15. Will,

    It’s funny you should mention an X-TYPE based car, as I had a similar idea myself whilst writing the blog. Something more traditional in that sector would be a nice idea – Audi have the A4, A5, and A6; BMW have the 3, 5, and 5 Series GT, so a third car in this sort of market sector wouldn’t be too crowded.

    My idea was to crib Land Rover styling cues this time and come up with a mildly retro (as the SD1 above is) version of the P6 shape. It’s proving trickier to sort than I’d hoped, which is why I didn’t include it in the above blog. A follow-up will be forthcoming when I find the time to finish it off.

    An XJ based car would be a mistake, as it would be priced in XF and low end XJ territory. Much as I want to see a return of Rover, I don’t think it’d be a good idea to re-enact the circumstances leading to the Ryder Report!


  16. Hmm great idea, will the retro instrument binnacle be made to warp the day after delivery? Then it would match my SD1.

  17. LOVE this idea! I am a massive fan of the iconic SD1 and think this design looks great (rolled back the years).

    I loved the Police version of the SD1 and wonder if anybody has a done a design for one based on this new image – I’m sure the Police Forces would be queuing up for them! 🙂

  18. Hi Sam,
    I was just wondering if you had done any designs of the Police Traffic version yet?
    One other question, have you thought about submitting the design of the new SD1 to JLR or MG?

    Looking forward to seeing the Police version once you have completed it.


  19. This is a good idea , but a area of the market JLR are missing out on is small hatch back market, like the golf , focus and the clio. So to get into this market the Rover name may be very useful as jaguar are not a name you would put into this market of a day to day hatch back market. JLR could adapt the XF chassis or look at a Rover 25 layout to inspire a hatch back with a range of smaller engines like TATA use in the 1.4 manza or maybe as the Free lander used K series this could be used , but obviously reworked to improve the head gasket issue with LR did address with the MLS head gasket and the more rigid oil rail that reduced movement.

    They could even make a ‘hot hatch’ to rival the focus RS level. The Rover name could be key to give TATA a good foot in the door of the EU market in everyday cars not just jags which are more high end as Rover as a brand is well know even now after the death in 2005.

  20. That SD1 design written about by Sam Skelton is awsome….. the way forward for Rover and the iconic SD1 future car of the year (2017) 40 years after its first win
    -Lee x

  21. A good idea Sam. However I don’t think JLR are capable of making such a strategic idea these days. They seem to be locked into a corporate dream believing bigger and more expensive the better.

  22. Looking at this quite again a few years later I wonder if Mercedes designers saw the interior and copied the dash digital screen for the new merc ranges? It looks pretty similar….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.