Rover offered one of the fullest ranges of cabriolets on the market – starting with the Mini, through the Metro/100 and onto the R8 (as well as the convertible MGF and RV8), there was a budget drop top for everyone.
Jeffery Allen, with the help of some friends, pieces together the history of the Lamm and Rover Mini Cabriolets, and explains what makes them so special…
Mini Convertible: Opening up an icon
While there has been a large number of companies which have converted Minis and all manner of other cars into convertibles, probably the best known of them in this country was Crayford. The company was responsible for the Heinz 57 Hornets back in the 1960s, and its success (in terms of publicity) has become almost legendary. It’s a situation that most Marketing Departments would die for – instantly recognisable products associated with an iconic product.
Lamm Autohous, based at Achern in Germany, had been producing its own Mini cabriolets since the 1980s. The conversion was straightforward, and was based on a thoroughly developed version of the standard saloon bodyshell. Following the massive revival in Mini fortunes in the late 1980s, especially in Japan, Rover began to take notice.
In 1991, Rover contracted Lamm Autohous to build 75 prototypes. All the cars were built in right-hand-drive form for sale though 12 selected Rover dealers – it was a taster exercise to see if there was any real demand for such a car to be sold in the mainstream range, and whether the expense of Rover Special Products (RSP) could be justified.
When it was launched on 23 June 1991, the list price of £12,250 was high – and immediately cast the car into a rather exclusive niche. It may have been an expensive product, but it also proved extremely popular, and all 75 cars were sold out within a month – and that was despite offering a Henry Ford-like attitude to colour (you could have it in any hue, as long as it was Cherry red – paint code GOC – and a matching red hood).
Rover was convinced – and RSP moved into develop its own version of the car…
Lamm Mini facts
For all those with an eye for facts:
- The car which exclusively appeared in all press photography was J800 KRW.
- Lamm continue in business and produced a very attractive hard top for their own cabriolets which, ironically, transforms the appearance back to a conventional Mini saloon again.
- VINs were XN010001 through to 76. All cars had the 1275cc engine with a carburettor.
Rover Mini Cabriolet
Following on from the success of the Lamm cabriolet, marketed through Rover dealers during 1991, Rover launched its own Cabriolet at the NEC Motor Show in October 1992. Considering that engineering a convertible from the Mini bodyshell was no small task, it was a brave job to take on – but, with anticipated demand in Japan shoring up confidence, building an open-topped Mini was seen as a gamble worth taking.
In fact, RSP continued the policy of outsourcing jobs like this – and sought the assistance of two design and engineering companies, Karmann and Tickford, to push forward with the concept of the Mini Cabriolet. Karmann, in Germany, had been involved in particular with the convertible versions of the Volkswagen Golf as well as the Ford Escort and Jaguar XJ-S. Tickford’s specialty was with the convertible roof assemblies which it had been instrumental in producing for the MG RV8, Jaguar XJ-SC and, later, the Lotus Elan.
When the Mini Cabriolet was (re-)introduced in June 1993, only two colours were available; Nightfire Red (COQ BLVC 916) or Caribbean Blue (UME BLVC 911) – however, in 1994 a third colour, British Racing Green (HAF BLVC 317), became available.
Rover Mini Cabrio points of difference
The red cars came with a matching red roof, whereas both the BRG and Caribbean Blue cars came with a less attractive grey hood. Each cabriolet came with a matching colour top boot which is used to cover the hood in the lowered position.
This both improved the appearance of the car as well as ensuring, as far as possible, that the roof did not vibrate whilst the car was in motion and cause the material to rub together and cause inappropriate wear. When new, a plastic cover (to have been located over the roof when parked) would have been supplied with the car.
List price when new was £11,995 – again, not cheap – and this price remained unchanged for the life of the car. For comparison purposes, the cost of a Mini Sprite 1.3 in 1994 was £5295, and an RSP Mini Cooper could be yours for £7195.
Production ended in mid 1996.
Rover Mini Cabriolet facts
Here’s a breakdown of the modifications employed to turn in a Mini into a Mini Cabriolet:
Clearly it was important to compensate for the loss of the strength giving roof of the saloon. The Lamm approach was to provide strengthening sections particularly under the car. The Rover uses an additional sill which is fitted over the existing inner sill, providing an additional box section.
This unfortunately narrows the floor within the car. In addition the seat cross member is strengthened and the space below the back seat is sealed. The A-panel is strengthened. Seat belt mounting is provided at shoulder height for the driver and passenger and brackets are welded into the boot for the rear seat passengers.
The additional strengthening adds 154 lb to the weight over that of a saloon.
The windscreen glass on the Cabriolet is the same as the saloon, but the rest of the glass is unique. In particular the rear side windows are operated by winders, the glass pivoting as it lowers. With both the front and rear windows wound down, the car gains the appearance of a true convertible. However, even on a cold day, with the windows wound up and the (rather poor) heater on, open topped motoring can be quite pleasant.
It is necessary to lower the windows when raising or lowering the roof.
The rear window, like that of the Lamm and other popular sports cars of the period is made from flexible plastic.
Like the Lamm, the Rover included a body kit. This incorporated two spot lamps at the front and rear mounted fog lamps. The kit came in 12 plastic sections which are secured to the car body by means of nuts and bolts. This kit was of dubious taste, but there was no delete option on this. At a quick glance the wheels look just as those fitted to the Lamm, but in reality the Rover has 12-inch five-five spoke alloys fitted with 165/60×12 tyres. Wheels are from Revolution, their type Revolite, and are visually very similar to the ERA Mini.
The interior includes the full width walnut dash, fitted with Rev counter, speedometer, clock, and water temperature/fuel gauge. The glove compartment door unfortunately is not lockable, which is always desirable on an open car. Door cappings are in matching walnut, and add a note of luxury. Seats are in the style of Recaro being built up to provide almost bucket seat feel.
Seats were from Cobra, a company known mainly for its aftermarket equipment. The rear seat base is the standard item, but the vertical part of the rear seat is unique to the cabriolet being narrower than standard in order to accommodate the roof mechanism.
In Car Entertainment was provided by a three-band stereo radio cassette (R652) and four speakers. Two located either side of the dash and a pair conveniently fitted in the strengthening panel below the rear seat. Regardless of outside colour all interiors were trimmed in granite velour.
Rover Cabriolets were all built on the same production line as the standard Mini at Longbridge. The bodyshells, in batches of three, went along the production line without roof or rear parcel shelf until they were removed to be fitted out by RSP. Later, the Cabriolets rejoined the production line for completion. This ensured that the same QA paint processes were the same as that applied to the Cabriolet as the saloon.
Mechanically, the Cabriolet is identical to the SPi Rover Mini Cooper, however, with the extra weight to carry around, performance was down on that model by quite a margin. A black Mini shield type badge appears on the bonnet and ‘Mini’ features in the centre of each wheel. ‘Mini’ again appears on the centre of the steering wheel. Rear badge reads ‘Mini Cabriolet’ just as was the case with the Lamm.
As indicated above, the colour of the roof was determined by the colour of the car itself. The roof can be lowered very quickly. It is secured to the front windscreen surround by two securing over centre clips. Once released the roof is free to be lifted back to its resting place where the rear parcel shelf might otherwise have been. Remember to lower the windows first. Refitting is the reverse of removal as they say in the workshop manuals.
There has been talk of some cars coming with power operated roofs, but this has yet to be confirmed. The Metro Convertible was available with a power roof, and perhaps confusion has come from this.
Lamm convertible totals: 75
Rover Convertible totals: the answer seems less clear cut. The cars were allocated VIN numbers at the start of production, and therefore did not have a unique run of VINs, as they came down the same line as the standard cars. However, the figure which seems to come up most frequently is 1081 according to the BMW archive.
If you can confirm any of these numbers, please get in touch.