The cars : Maleo – the Indonesian Rover Metro – Updated

In the 1990s, Rover exported Maestro production to Bulgaria and Montego assembly to India. But did you know that it almost repeated the feat with the Rover Metro/100?

Read on for the story of the Indonesian-assembled Metro/100 that never was. What we know about the Maleo has been pieced together by Mike Burns and Jesús Alonso Balado with significant clarifications by Ifan Ramadhana, a Jakarta-based motoring journalist.

Maleo: the Indonesian connection

Zagato-styled Rover 100-based saloon

Sometime back in 2015, an odd auction appeared on eBay for the blueprints to ‘make your own Metro’ – and, within the photos of this strangely unique auction, a drawing appeared of the Zagato-styled, Rover 100-based saloon and written reference was made to the abandoned Indonesian spin off of Rover Metro/100: the Rancang Maleo. Although, by the mid-1990s, this car was well past its sell-by date, it was a business model that saw the Maestro and Montego being exported to Bulgaria, India and China.

The name Maleo is taken from a bird found on the island of Sulawesi with the name macrocephalon maleo. Sulawesi is in Eastern Indonesia, and it is the birthplace of Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, who was then the fourth State Minister for Research and Technology of Indonesia. He would become the seventh Vice-President of Indonesia and, later, the third President of Indonesia.

In April 2015, the Birmingham Mail and Daily Mirror provided an insight into the Indonesian plan which existed in the mid-1990s to launch the Rancang Maleo in mid-1997. The political situation of Indonesia at the time should not be underestimated. The Suharto-led Government was widely deemed to be a corrupt regime with accusations of human rights abuses. The upcoming presidential elections of February 1998 were certainly a key factor in the anticipated launch date in mid-1997.

Rover Group playing politics?

While the plan appears to have been to design a four-door variant of the Rover 100 (above), the timing of the election meant this plan was abandoned in favour of a facelifted version of the then-current Rover 100 instead. Discussions on the whole project were held in secret and at a time when the Rover Group was under BMW control. The plan then evolved into one for the construction of approximately 10,000 Completely Knocked Down kits (CKD) exported from the UK.

The Maleo’s development programme started while Habibie was the Minister for Research and Technology. It was instigated in 1994 after the success of Indonesian Aerospace program (or IPTN at that time). Since Indonesia has successfully produced aircraft, the logical step was for automotive industry using the same pattern and management behind it. This was especially supported by members of People’s Representative Council (MPR).

The car would be an affordable, city car for Indonesian people, carry up to five people, environmentally friendly, with excellent fuel efficiency, and a high percentage of local components, from 60% to above 80% – the information differs from source to source. This project also appears to infer the potential transfer of Metro tooling from the UK at some point in 1997.

Where the Metro/100 comes in…

The original plan was for the Metro/100 to be assembled with local content. But the project failed to come to fruition because according to BJ Habibie publicly, Rover insisted on keeping its own badging (this was taken from an interview by a local magazine in 1996). Although the real reasons might be lack of technology transfer.

Therefore Metro was only originally considered as a Maleo and never progressed further. In 2019, Indonesian Times published information which appears to be a follow-on result of a special programme called Selasar BerodaEpisode 5 – Mobnas Maleo (broadcast by a car channel on YouTube known as Four Wheel Chat – C4R), where the long-abandoned Maleo project was brought back into the public domain. However, this has since been debunked by Ifan Ramadhana, a Jakarta-based motoring journalist, who says the basis of the information shown in the video is incorrect.

‘For the car that Four Wheel Chat presented, I know the owner and he stated that his mother used to work at PT Java Motors (the Indonesian agent for Land Rover) and purchased that car after she retired,’ Ifan says. ‘That car features a standard K-Series engine and, although the Four Wheel Chat claimed it used Hydropneumatic suspension like Citroën, they never presented any evidence of it. The Metro they presented was probably an example that was imported (at that time complete car importation was banned in Indonesia) by Java Motors for presentation of the project, that car featured no Maleo badging whatsoever.’

So, very few changes were anticipated with the CKD approach and it was expected that the car would retain the K-Series engine.

So, what about the so-called Orbital Maleo?

This is unfounded, unfortunately. The one with the Orbital two-stroke engine is a completely different project which was developed by Millard Auto Design in Australia. Ifan says, ‘as far as I know, there are no known Orbital engine experiments in a Metro body, let alone any plans to produce the Maleo with such an engine. The true story of Maleo is still pretty much clouded in secrecy, a lot of former employees still refuse to talk about it.’

That’s not to say these Millard Auto Design-produced cars don’t have their own interesting backstory. It’s just that they’re not part of the Metro/100/Maleo story.

But if you’re interested in this, here’s what we know. One version was to be powered by an Orbital engine that displaced between 1.1- and 1.3-litres, with one more fanciful report claiming that a hydrogen fuel cell was also under consideration. However, the suppliers of a conventional petrol engine could either be Ford and GM. The two-stroke fuel injection engine from Orbital was favoured because it was a simpler power unit to maintain than a traditional four-stroke engine. Although attempts appear to have been made to revive the project, it seems to have been finally killed off in the early 2000s.

What did Millard Auto car look like?

Millard Design was contracted to produce 60 prototypes, although only five or six appear to have been built in the end. Five trim levels were planned – the top model had body-coloured bumpers, audio system, cloth seats, alloy wheels and a two-tone dashboard, while the lowest trim would be used as a taxi.

It seems that just one hatchback prototype has survived along with two saloon prototypes. Reportedly, one of these remains in the USA and the other in Russia. Why Russia? It seems that the saloon programme was sold to a Russian enterprise, which intended to take on the project and develop it into production – but it failed to get off the ground.

Keith Adams

12 Comments

  1. This was a real low profile project. The body project was based at Motor Panels in Coventry – they were just using office space. I know this because my project at the time moved into that office for a short time as they were finishing Maleo. They moved out we moved in. This would have been 1995/6 maybe. If I can find any more information I will update.

  2. Unfounded rumours of Rover 100 production restarting – I was at a supplier in the early 2000’s when it was officially asked by Rover as part of an enquiry to all suppliers of what tooling still existed/what capacity was still available because they were considering reintroduction of the 100 (at 50k per year?)

    I also remember the Indonesian Maleo project in the early 90’s when at Longbridge but specific details now elude me.

    When 100 production ceased a company in Walsall bought the BIW framing line and were trying to sell it but I guess they had a very limited market!

  3. Interesting. First I’ve heard about MGR’s plans to reintroduce the Rover 100 – although, given how creative / desperate they were, it doesn’t come as any real surprise. Would love to know what they had in mind, if anyone knows.

  4. Probably a good take on the Maleo sedan is covered in a book called “Crayon to CAD” by the veteran Australian car designer, Paul Beranger. He was Design Manager at Millard Design when the Maleo project was underway. He mentions that whilst Rover were happy to design a car for the Indonesians, they (Rover) were unwilling to train the engineers needed to support the project in Indonesia. So Millard were then commissioned to undertake the design of the saloon/sedan. Millard purchased a dozen Hyundai Excel sedans which were pulled down to form the basis of the prototype cars. The video above (under the heading “What about the saloon that evolved from it?” is very poor resolution but I would think it is mainly filmed in outer-suburban Melbourne at a location called Caribbean Gardens. The giveaway (not to mention the gum trees) is a narrow-gauge railway track seen at one stage, this is for a ‘kiddy-ride’ train operated at the location. Millard were located nearby at this time. The book goes on to mention how the Russians became involved once the ‘Maleo’ venture folded and Millard converted one of the protos to LHD and it was sent to Moscow. That venture also failed to get off the ground. The book infers that all of the Maleo protos were crushed after a period of storage. I suspect it is fairly unlikely that any Metros were brought to Australia as part of the Maleo exercise but I can’t say it didn’t happen.

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