The 800 Fastback was an integral part of the XX design process, as these sketches by Steve Harper and clay models from the Canley Styling Studios clearly show.
Development of the five-door might have come later in the programme, but it didn’t stop the final car looking stylish, desirable, and most importantly, fully integrated.
Words: Keith Adams Pictures: Roy Axe and Stephen Harper
The sleeker 800
It’s interesting to compare the executive car market of the 1980s, to that of the decade previous – and following. In the ’70s, managerial cars tended to be saloons, but as the decade wore on, the five-door brigade rolled in. The Renault 20/30 was the first, but it was quickly followed by the Rover SD1 and Audi C2 Avant to name but two. Then there were the fastback saloons, too, such as the Citroen CX and Lancia Gamma Berlina. The new generation of flying fastbacks certainly added style and glamour to what was becoming a staid market sector – but marketeers remained unconvinced about the sales appeal of the to-box alternatives.
After all, during the ’70s, the hatchback rear was still associated with utilitarian cars, such as the Renault 4 and Citroen Dyane. But times were changing, and although BL missed the boat with the Princess (following the five-door Maxi), it showed commitment to the cause with the Rover SD1. And the company was rewarded with strong sales in the UK, despite reliability and quality woes.
So, when it came to the development of the SD1’s replacement during the early ’80s, the design team decided to tread a middle path. Initial XX design themes from late 1981 and early 1982 were of three-box saloons (sharing with Honda’s vision of the HX Legend), but continuing the SD1 tradition, five-door sketches were added later on in 1982 and into ’83. Stephen Harper was one of the designers who produced sketches of XX Fastback, and it was soon clear that with the saloon shape finalised, the newer car would be closely related to it.
But happily, the shape of the 800 lent itself well to the addition of the new rear, and the car evolved logically – with only the slightest alterations being made along the way once it became clear that the original scheme balanced so well.
XX Fastback was due for launch in early 1988, following on from the saloon in July 1986, and that gave the markeers some time to formulate a plan for the five-door 800. The mew car certainly showed the contrasts between pre- and post-Graham Day management at Austin Rover. The original plan was to badge the car the Rover 600, and sell it at a lower level than the saloon – with more basic equipment packages. There would be no 600 Sterling, although, the Vitesse was in at the start. Also, the O-Series 2-litre carburettor engine would be offered at the entry level of the 600 range.
That strategy came under review almost as soon as the saloon went on sale. Because despite a few launch niggles, the 800 had met with a very favourable response, and that had encouraged Graham Day’s management team (which arrived within days of the 800’s launch) to drop the ‘value’ 600, and rebrand it as the 800 Fastback. At no point was the word hatchback considered – Fastback was considered a premium moniker for a premium car.
When it went on sale in the summer of 1988, the 800 Fastback was greeted warmly, and along with the package of improvements that was introduced across the range, such as the 2.7-litre V6 engine, pushed the car to the top of the executive sales charts in the UK. And it stayed that way well into the 1990s…
By July 1983, the basic design and execution of the hatchback was set…
A floating roof and two tone paint scheme for this version was tried.
By August 1983, Steve was already working on the sporting version.
1984, and the 800 Fastback has made it to the clay model stage. The kicked up rear-side windows were toned down for production, which is shame as it’s redolent of the SD1’s styling. Note the SD1 Vitesse wheels and badges.
Sleek looking from the front, the production 800 Fastback differed in detail from this model. The smaller Rover badge looks nice, but lacks identity.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics 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 unfeasible adventures all across Europe.