The cars : Rover Metro/100 development story

Under the skin, there was plenty to crow about the Rover Metro of 1990 – the K-Series engine and interconnected Hydragas suspension were a technical marvel in this class.

However, the same-again styling stunted its long-term sales success…

 Rover’s Metro transformation

Rover Metro development story

The story of the Rover Metro is one of missed opportunities, a convoluted development programme and genuine innovation in the face of strict cost control. The matter of replacing the Austin Metro actually started as early as 1982, when Austin Rover embarked on an ambitious project, dubbed Austin AR6.

The brief laid out by the company was simple: the new supermini would need to be grown slightly in order to counter the larger opposition from Fiat and Peugeot, but also to take advantage of the extra development potential of the company’s new engine, the K-Series, which was also coming together at the same time.

In the early stages of planning the AR6, there was a long-held belief within Austin Rover that the Maestro and Montego would, at the very least, earn their keep – and, along with the extra £1.5 billion inward investment from the Government, the company believed that there would be sufficient funds to develop an entirely new supermini.

Metro replacement part one: AR6

The aluminium bodied BL ECV3 of 1982 showcased many ideas that would eventually find their way into the AR6. Flush glazing, lightweight construction, space efficient interior and a 3-cylinger engine, which paved the way for the K-series engine, mark this out as a highly significant vehicle in the company’s history.
The aluminium bodied BL ECV3 of 1982 showcased many ideas that would eventually find their way into the AR6. Flush glazing, lightweight construction, space efficient interior and a 3-cylinder engine, which paved the way for the K-Series engine, mark this out as a highly significant vehicle in the company’s history
Rear view shows the tapered flanks and very interestingly, the considered airflow underneath the car resulting in a smooth underside - and a diffuser-like arrangement at the rear, which created a low-pressure area at the rear.
Rear view shows the tapered flanks and, very interestingly, the considered airflow underneath the car resulting in a smooth underside – and a diffuser-like arrangement which created a low-pressure area at the rear.

The car quickly took shape – and, following on from the lessons learned from the ECV3 concept car of 1983 (above), it came as no surprise that the AR6 would sport such advanced features as flush glazing and extensive aerodynamic detailing, which had been carefully developed for the BL concept car. Also in the small car’s portfolio was a lightweight construction which, allied with the advanced engine being drawn up at Longbridge, meant that therein lay a potential for startling fuel economy.

Certainly, the AR6 (below) was to have been a radical small car which, in the eyes of Harold Musgrove, was the ideal vehicle for the high technology image that he was chasing for the car division.

Unlike the Metro, the AR6 was devised from the beginning to be available in three and five-door versions – and, along with the traditional idea of a long wheelbase within a short body, the interior packaging of both models looked efficient. The ECV3, from which the AR6 was inspired, offered a tremendous amount of interior room – and the large glasshouse ensured that the ECV3 cabin was also a very airy place to sit. Austin Rover executives were bullish about the AR6 and its chances in the marketplace, and much of the company’s development resources went into its gestation.

Austin AR6

Questions start to be asked

Throughout 1985 and 1986, development of the car continued, and several running prototypes were built. The AR6 was reaching the stage of production readiness – all that was required for the final go-ahead were the finances from within the company to bankroll the final stages of development and productionisation.

However, there was now a growing crisis of confidence within Austin Rover and it was becoming clear that, because of the uncertainty over the company’s future and the Government’s growing impatience at its stubborn refusal to show any form of profit, plans were drawn up for a lower cost alternative.

At least its engine was progressing nicely. Under the leadership of Roland Bertodo, the 1.1 and 1.4-litre K-Series were shaping up to be light and efficient power units – worthy enough to replace the A-Series. Through necessity, a lower cost alternative to the AR6 was taking shape at Canley. Why was this so? Management and planners knew that the AR6 was going to be an expensive project, and the Government was determined to sell Rover Group. What it didn’t need was the ongoing costs of AR6 development, rumoured to be more than £500 million.

Out with AR6, in with the new R6

Spotted testing in 1989, the R6 prototype could have gone unnoticed in this street scene
Spotted testing in 1989, the R6 prototype could have gone unnoticed in this street scene

Sometime around early 1987, the axe fell on the AR6. Graham Day’s regime could no longer afford to engineer the advanced little car for production, while maintaining the appearance of a healthy financial performance for any potential suitors. As it was, the Rover 800 was the only new product nearing production. The decision to kill the AR6, might have been a sound one, but it was a short-termist solution, and was greeted with huge disappointment internally.

Now that the replacement of the AR6 had been cancelled – this car’s replacement, the K-Series powered Metro facelift, known at Project R6, was given the go-ahead. The car was given the official development tag of R6 and the engineering make-up of the car was rapidly devised. Because funds were tight, the existing car’s monocoque would be used and changes would be made to it only where necessary.

Re-engineering the Metro’s hull to accommodate the K-Series engine and its end-on, PSA-derived R65 gearbox was not so straightforward. When mounted transversally, the unit occupied more width than the A-Series. Luckily, because the Metro was blessed with a stiff hull and a favourable accommodation/length ratio, it was easy to see that the Engineers had a good starting to point to work from.

This meant that the R6 styling was stuck with the familiar Metro theme, despite some promising sketches (above). The only room for movement was at the front, where the new front section was to be fitted. Roy Axe stated that the styling of the R6 should not be attributed to one Designer, as it was a committee job… and perhaps given the nature of the overall ‘look,’ this is probably the best way to view the R6.

However, it could have looked a whole lot better. Once the technical package was roughly set, David Saddington worked on a more comprehensively restyled version, using the R6 underpinnings. This car, known as the R6X (below) was, essentially a more stylish version of the final car, but sadly, it was cancelled due to lack of funds…

David Saddington's R6X had all the hallmarks of success...
David Saddington’s R6X had all the hallmarks of success…

Technical questions to answer

With the question of engine and transmission answered, the only real headache that the R6 posed was what suspension system would be needed. When launched in 1980, the Metro’s Hydragas system gave it class-competitive ride quality and handling – as well as a degree of ‘chuckability’ that endeared it to its buyers. But times had moved on: the Peugeot 205 especially, had shown that smaller cars had grown, but also that small car ride and handling had become significantly more sophisticated.

Because of these huge leaps made by the opposition, there were still unanswered questions on what was the preferable system to use in the R6: on one hand, work was completed on adapting the conventional set-up used in the AR6 for the R6, but as the Metro’s floorpan would require expensive re-engineering, this was not an ideal solution. With this in mind, work also continued in-house on refining the existing car’s Hydragas set-up.

The driving position of the Metro had also been a constant source of criticism from the press as well as customers so work was also done on improving that. Although the bodyshell of the Metro would be used unchanged, Engineers were given enough leeway to lengthen the nose of the car and also move the front axle line forward. The result was that the driver footwell was lengthened, the steering column could now be set as a more conventional angle and the front seats be set in a more natural position.

Swiftly, the configuration of the R6 was set: K-Series engine, PSA gearbox, and a slight increase in track front and rear – only the suspension layout was yet to be settled. That is, until the efforts of Dr. Alex Moulton (below) were brought to the attention of Rover.

Alex Moulton: suspended genius

Moulton was keen to demonstrate the benefits of his system: Hydragas suspension units were more compact, and therefore easier to package than coils. Besides, Rover knew that in order to use a conventional system in the R6, a degree of re-engineering in the floorpan would be needed. Moulton had modified his own W-registered Metro to accept front/rear interconnected Hydragas suspension.

Why front/rear interconnection as opposed to the vestigial side to side as it was on the existing car? When the front wheel encounters a bump and rises, the suspension fluid will rush from the front suspension unit to the rear. The rear wheel will resultantly lower, lifting the tail of the car and allowing a level ride. Citroëns demonstrate this trait perfectly when encountering a ‘sleeping policeman’ – the whole car rises in unison and suspension ‘see-sawing’ encountered in conventional cars (and the original Metro) is eliminated.

Why this ideal arrangement was omitted from the original Metro can be best summed up by Moulton himself, ‘I was struggling to show how an interconnected Hydragas Mini, for all its diminutive size could give better results than a VW Polo. But BL’s Spen King, a very strong-minded and knowledgeable Automotive Engineer, didn’t like it. He preferred absolutely conventional cars. Yet I was persistently and consistently offering something superior in Hydragas.” In fact, the original Metro was so compromised by its non-interconnected Hydragas arrangement, that Moulton felt that, ‘at best, the solution would only produce a car that was average.’

Learning from the errors of the original Metro

Mouton continued: ‘All they’re doing is substituting the conventional spring and damper with a Hydragas unit’ and that because of the compromise engineering in making this system work, needless complexity was designed in anyway. ‘Anyone coming in from outside would take one look, pronounce it burdened with nasty costs to no advantage and get rid of it.’

The real reason that Spen King adopted non-interconnected Hydragas for the original Metro was that the extra pipe work of the system employed on the Allegro and Princess would have cost extra money. So it was dropped – and it has to be said that the decision to do so was a rather questionable one. King recalled that, ‘we all had guns to our heads…,’ which would go some way towards explaining the immense pressure he was under as the company’s Technical Director.

Dr. Moulton invited CAR magazine to drive his modified Metro, which they did… and they were stunned at the difference that interconnection made to the package. How Rover’s own Engineers heard about the car is an interesting tale in itself: during July 1987, Moulton had received Sir Michael Edwardes (below) as a guest at his house and, during the meeting, Moulton invited Edwardes to drive his interconnected Metro.

Sir Michael Edwardes
Sir Michael Edwardes

Like CAR magazine, Edwardes was very impressed, and he telephoned Graham Day up to tell him that they,’should incorporate the system and charge £100 extra for it!’ Duly alerted about the existence of the Moulton solution, and allied with the painful decisions that the company had made over the AR6 and with question of the what the configuration of the R6 needed to be still to be unanswered, a viewing of Moulton’s solution would prove irresistible for Rover.

And so it was. Rover took the car away to Canley and Engineers thrashed it around, before concluding that Hydragas had a great deal of life left in it and, that following the example set by Moulton, the system could be developed into a class-leading package. The decision was made: the R6 would be launched with Moulton’s interconnected version of Hydragas – and, in taking that decision, Rover demonstrated that lateral thinking sometimes produced results far in excess of corporate compromise…

By 1988, road going versions were being tested and were delivering impressive results. Attention now turned to marketing the car.

What to call the new car?

Rover was aware that, in the UK, the Metro was still a best-selling car and the name was still regarded fondly by customers. Moreover, as there had been no mass abandonment of buyers following the deletion of the Austin badges during 1987, it was decided that the new car should become a Rover and not a ‘non-Rover’, as Kevin Morley used to refer to the Austin-era cars. At the time, the smallest Rover available was the Rover 213 which, although clearly a Honda-based car, was a popular choice with customers.

However, it was the smallest car to wear a Viking badge in living memory, and there was a sense of unease that there would be some buyer resistance to a Rover-badged supermini. The decision for the car to adopt a Rover badge may have been reasonably straightforward – naming the model was not: on one hand, the Metro name may have been a known quantity in the UK, but it also pointed to an increasingly outmoded car.

It also, clearly, was linked with the old days. Consideration was also given to the fact that customers would see the car as a lightly revised Austin Metro, rather than the re-engineered new car that it really was. After researching many different options including, amusingly, ‘Metro, by Rover” the decision was made to call it the Rover Metro in the UK and the Rover 100 Series (111 and 114 models) in overseas markets, where being seen as an entirely new car would be no disadvantage.

A successful launch

Rover Metro GTa
At launch, the Metro GTa was the penultimate sporting model in the range: this brisk hatchback was powered by the 8-valve version of the 1.4-litre K-Series engine and served as a suitable replacement for the well-loved MG Metro 1300. Evident in this photo is the elongated front end and slightly lengthened wheelbase forward of the front doors

By the May 1990 launch date of the Rover Metro, the firm was on a roll: the Rover 200/400 had been a success and the 800 was undergoing a renaissance on the marketplace. In the wake of the 200/400 launch, Rover announced the new Metro, which incorporated Rover 200 front seats, trim and colours and was equally well received. Thanks to the number of awards which it had won, much was made of the K-Series connection. If the press were disappointed at the styling of the new car – oh, so familiar inside and out – they found the driving experience a revelation. An example of this was the verdict reported by What Car? magazine which, after testing the Rover Metro 1.1L against the Peugeot 205, Fiat Uno and its then Car of The Year, the Ford Fiesta, pronounced the Metro an easy victor.

1990 Rover Metro

‘The New Metro is a quantum leap, and on several accounts,’ said What Car? ‘For a start it’s light years ahead of its predecessor, far more so than its obvious family resemblance would suggest. But, more important still, it sets new standards of quality, ride and refinement for the class… In its chassis dynamics – ride and handling – it takes on the acknowledged masters of the art, the French, and beats them. It’s probably the quietest, smoothest, most refined car this side of £10,000 or even a bit higher.’

‘Drive the Metro, and unless you need more space you wonder if you need anything grander. Our only reservation concerns the fuel economy, which really ought to be better.’

This enthusiasm was reflected across the entire UK specialist motoring press: CAR magazine drove one on a 15,000-mile marathon and came away with nothing but praise, and Autocar & Motor declared it the magazine’s new supermini ‘Hero’. If that praise sounded like blinkered jingoism, remember that the motoring press had become much more objective in its reporting during the 1980s, less afraid of pulling punches than it had ever been before – and, seen in this light, the Rover’s achievement becomes all the more impressive.

Left: revisions to the rear end were limited to the adoption of a new tailgate, more stylish rear lamp clusters and full-depth bumpers. From the rear, the Rover Metro looked completely different to its progenitor. Right: Facia was largely unaltered from the 1984 vintage Austin Metro version, but was given a disproportionate lift by the new choice of trim colours, the rounded edges on the main instrument binnacle and the Rover 200-style safety steering wheel.
Left: revisions to the rear end were limited to the adoption of a new tailgate, more stylish rear lamp clusters and full-depth bumpers. From the rear, the Rover Metro looked completely different to its progenitor. Right: Facia was largely unaltered from the 1984 vintage Austin Metro version, but was given a disproportionate lift by the new choice of trim colours, the rounded edges on the main instrument binnacle and the Rover 200-style safety steering wheel

Rover marketed the Metro as a completely new car, playing the Rover angle for all it was worth: ‘The New Metro, with Rover Engineering”, sub-headed with the memorable, ‘Metromorphosis’ catchphrase. Backed up by the expensive and impressive Ridley Scott television commercial (below), the new car soon caught the public’s imagination. Sales started extremely well – so well, in fact, that Rover was completely surprised by it.

Strategists within the company had thought that the Metro would have a short shelf life – and, to a degree, this was true – and the fact that it was now smaller than all the competition, barring the Citroën AX, meant that it was going to have limited sales potential.

The fact that the CVT automatic version (leaving the A-Series-powered Metro automatic to linger on for a further year) and diesel versions were not planned to arrive until long after the initial launch did nothing to detract from the early popularity of the car. Bearing this in mind, viewing the SMMT UK sales figures is extremely interesting, considering that at the time of launch, the Rover Metro was, effectively, a ten-year old car.

Sales: falling off a cliff

SMMT Sales figures 1990-1996

1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996
Metro/100 81,064 60,361 56,713 57,068 58,865 52,392 42,009
Ford Fiesta 151,475 117,181 106,695 110,449 123,723 129,574 139,552

As can be seen from the sales performance of the Rover Metro, it established itself and remained popular until 1995, when the Rover 100 was launched. This is particularly interesting becuase it demonstrates that the Rover plan to replace the Metro in 1995 by the R3 (Rover 200) would have been the correct thing to do in order to maintain market share. The company’s market share in the UK held no immediate concern to George Simpson and his replacement, John Towers, who both felt that the profitability of Rover was of the utmost importance.

This might be true, but it should not have led to the error of judgement which resulted in the company’s strategy going off-course – and producing the Rover 100.

Rover agonised over how to replace the Metro. On one hand, the limited profitability of superminis meant that it would be desirable to produce bigger, more profitable cars. By 1992, Rover was deep in the throes of devising a viable supermini strategy: it was developing R3, but at the same time with that car’s slow move upmarket, something needed to be done about the direct replacement of the Metro.

Did it need to be replaced? The finance men argued against, the strategists argued in favour, talking in terms of maximising market share. In the end, the decision made was to replace the Metro with the Mini replacement that was in the early throes of development, move the R3 into the Golf/Escort market and the HHR into the Mondeo/Cavalier market.

And on to the Rover 100

Rover 100
Metro becomes the 100 Series: very little changed from the 1990 Metro apart from a slightly smoother looking front end. Contrast this with the prototype, shown above

So, in January 1995, the Rover 100 was launched. The problem was that the styling was not changed nearly enough – the grille (basically a version of the pre-1994 R3 prototype) and headlights were smoother but, apart from that, the Metro was practically unchanged. Many people were expecting more – and by 1995 with the advent of such cars as the Fiat Punto and SEAT Ibiza, which had moved the game forwards yet again, the Rover 100 had nothing left with which to compete with this next generation.

No doubt that this was a sad turn of events, because the Rover 100 still possessed the fine engine, interior ambience and (front) seating that it always did – but, in this most fashion conscious of markets, the looks simply no longer cut the mustard.

Sales consequently dwindled, but as this was planned for, Rover was not too concerned: it had already been decided that the Metro would be allowed to die a natural death. After all, the new Mini would in theory be hitting the market around 1998/1999, by which time the Metro could be honourably retired after a long and successful run.

Rover 100 interior

Unfortunately, even this plan was scuppered at the hands of Euro NCAP, which reported in its crash test of the car that it fell a long way behind what was considered a minimum standard in passive safety. It was given a one-star front and side impact rating, which was a disastrous showing. Unfortunately for Rover, this story became a lot more widespread than the specialist press and it transcended the usual car magazines and into the daily newspapers. Worse, the Rover 100’s performance made it to the early evening news on the BBC…

Needless to say, this was disastrous for Rover and, within days, orders for the car dried up. Rover was given no choice other than to withdraw the 100 from sale with production ending on 23 December 1997. What a sad end for a car that had begun so promisingly back in 1990.

Keith Adams


  1. The Rover Metro is, perhaps, the best example of what Rover could achive on a limited budget and being constrained by having to use a lot of existing hardware. Was it Autocar or What Car? who described it as ‘The Best Supermini in the world’?

  2. A tragedy that the R6X wasn’t developed.

    A tragedy, too, that Hydragas was not adopted and refined as part of BL Technology under Spen King, his wonderful think-tank which gave us the K-series (a mixed blessing, perhaps), Torotrak, and the bonded/riveted aluminium structures that make so many of today’s Loti, Jaguars, and Astons what they are.

    I remember Geoff Howard – who used to write the “Tech” pieces in “Car” – bemoaning the fact that Hydragas was elbowed out of BL Technology’s R&D programme, and as a callow youth I wondered what the bloody hell he was blathering on about: surely Hydragas was rubbish?

    It took the R6 Metro to prove the system’s worth. You wonder how different things might have been had King put aside his prejudices and refined the system in the R6 manner. It was, after all, fitted to the Metro, Allegro, Maxi, and Princess.

  3. All the to do about the one star crash test rating was just rubbish watch the pug 205 crash test it’s just as bad or worse. It’s a shame the 100 did’nt last longer so it could have evolved into the rover 15.

    • Thing is that the 205 was not in production in 1997, it had long been replaced with the 206 which was a much better car… The Metro/100 was still in production and was tested as such.

    • The Peugeot 205 was developed WAY BEFORE car crash safety was even though of, they never updated it through it’s production with airbags / side impact protection / collapsible pedals etc and never built any ounce of safety into it’s body either…

  4. “…the motoring press had become much more objective in their reporting during the 1980s, less afraid of pulling punches than they had ever been before ”
    Less afraid of NOT pulling punches, I think that means.

  5. I’ve just bought a rover 100, which was registered in May 1998. Does anyone know when they were last made, as I think this must be one of the last ones to be made?

  6. Another factor, in the late 1990’s the EU took action against a price-fixing cartel in the European car market by fining the perpetrators ( not Rover), in the UK prices of cars such as VW Polo were inflated to subsidize car sales in other European markets. Prices of the competitors to the Rover 100 fell removing one of the selling points of the 100, the low purchase price.

  7. It’s amazing what some minor alterations to the styling and new engines can do for a car, the Metro became rejuvenated and the K series engines were light years ahead of the harsh and dated A series used in the Austin Metro. Also, finally a five speed transmission was available and a diesel option, which endowed the Metro with 60 mpg economy.
    Looking at the sales chart for 1991 and 1992 sales did dip by about 30 per cent, but so did the Fiesta’s, due mostly to a severe recession that saw new car sales fall by 25 per cent.

  8. While the PSA TUD did the job in the Rover Metro / 100 it was never capable of spawning a turbodiesel variant, so what made it the default choice for Rover and were other small diesels options considered for the R6 such as the 1.5 Isuzu 4EC1 or 1.3-1.4 Fiat Uno diesels/turbodiesels?

  9. The Rover Metro was merely a re-engineering exercise from the old 80’s model that hadn’t received a lot of updating for EURONCAP crash safety tests and because it hadn’t been properly updated for safety performed dreadfully in the tests with unacceptable and abominable poor front / side impact safety. And to use large Rover 200 seats in the front robbing legroom from rear passengers was also wrong too. Could’ve and should’ve been better but wasn’t.

    • How about cars like the Fiat Cinquecento, Suzuki Alto and Kia Pride for poor crash protection, I’m sure the Rover 100 would be safer in a crash than these? However, crash protection aside, it was a decent car.

      • It was modelled around the late 70’s Metro without thought to crash safety, and the Rover 100 / Metro was dreadful in a crash, as it crumpled up badly, put the drivers legs and lower body at great risk of dreadful injury, and it didn’t perform particularly well in a side impact and the Metro / 100 only got one star which is dreadful and very unacceptable, you crash in a Metro / 100, there is no chance you’d survive and it was good for it to be withdrawn

        • I think retiring the Metro on a decent high in 1995 and letting the 200 take its place as the smallest Rover would have been better. The 100, apart from its humiliation in the NCAP tests, was merely a slightly warmed over Metro and buyers were turning away. However, mechanically both versions of the Rover Metro were reliable enough, rust protection was far better than the Austin Metro, and the car came with everything a supermini buyer wanted by the eartly 90s such as a five speed transmission, fuel injection and a diesel option.In particuar, the Peugeot engined diesel Metro was one of the most economical cars of the time, being capable of 65 mpg.

          • Speaking of the 1.4/1.5 TUD engine used in the Metro/100, have to wonder whether other developments of the engine were considered (e.g. turbo-diesel, 1587cc, etc) prior to being replaced by the jointly-developed 1.4-1.6 Ford DLD / PSA HDi engines (short of the latter being a development of the TUD – however distant).

    • Not mentioned much, but the Fiesta until 2002 was a continuation of a car that first appeared in 1976 and looked very dated until Ford made it bigger 16 years later. Yet because Ford made it, then somehow the Fiesta was good.

      • Are you sure about that? Always understood the 1989 model was completely new. Though I must admit that basically continued ’till 2002, so essentially both the 1976 model and the 1989 lasted 13 long years.

      • It is interesting to note how Ford was able to both enlarge and reduce the size of the B platform for the Fiesta (produced until 2002), Puma (produced until 2001), Ka (produced until 2008 / 2013 in Latin America) and Ikon (produced until 2011 in India).

        Then there is the fact that both the Ka as well as the Fiesta (the latter twice in 1997 and 2000), received Euro NCAP Adult Occupant ratings of 3 Stars out of 5 albeit with Pedestrian ratings of 1 Star out of 5, whereas the infamous Rover 100 had a Pedestrian rating of 2 Stars out of 5 despite its lowly 1 Star out 5 Adult Occupant rating.

        What this suggests is the Metro/100 platform possessed a similar potential for both additional variants, production longevity as well as improved safety had the company been in a better financial position, perhaps the R6X prototype could have become such a car in place of the R6?.

        • they should have replaced the 1990-1995 metro with the R6X and developed the 200 and 400 as true competitors in the markets rover had them compete in rather than spawning the 95-97 Rover 100 in my opinion, even though personally i own a `97 100 ascot SE

          • Agreed. One potential reservation about R6X (which is possibly unwarranted) would be the extent of its weight increase in the name of both slight enlargement (up to Uno wheelbase and AX length at minimum) as well as improved safety over the existing R6, which could hamper performance of the R6X equivalent of the 95-102 hp 1.4 Metro GTi against the likes of the Peugeot 106 XSi, Citroen Saxo VTR and Ford Fiesta Zetec S.

            If necessary performance could have been clawed back via the 120-130 hp 1.4 Turbo from the Metro SP prototype or the later 108-120 hp 1.6-1.8 K-Series (giving R6X the means to challenge the Peugeot 106 GTi, Citroen Saxo VTS, etc), however it seems the 1.4 Turbo would be a safer bet in terms of reliability over the stretched 1.6-1.8 K-Series.

  10. Was the Van Doorne VT-1 CVT in the Rover 100 used in any other cars or derived from the Ford CTX developed by Ford, Van Doorne and Fiat?

    • So far it seems the VT-1 CVT was also used in the Volvo 440/460 where it was known as Transmatic (renamed HTA aka High Tech Automatic), used steel belts (as opposed to rubber belts) and has nothing in common with the Variomatic CVT used in the earlier Volvo 300 Series. Along with being the subject of a big court case involving Volvo and Van Doorne.

      • A Metro with the Van Doorne system would be an interesting proposition, one of my Lecturers drove a Daf car with their Variomatic, system, he was a great advocate quoting the simplicity and low decibels (noise) of the transmission. There are literally millions of motor-scooters, eg Honda PCX125, which use the Van Doorne principle, they call it a variator, as a Chartered Mech Eng his opinions carried plenty of weight in my mind

        • As far as the original Metro is concerned have no clue if any other automated transmissions were considered, beyond a 5-speed AP automatic gearbox project involving Jack Knight and Keith Gerrard of Bushey Transmissions which likely precedes the Metro. Tidbits can be found here though more information is needed. –

          Apparently the VT-1 CVT / Transmatic used in the Rover Metro/100 R6 was said to have been a significant improvement compared to Van Doorne’s Ford CTX transmission used by Ford and Fiat.

          A CVT Mini / Minki that possibly carries over the Rover Metro/100 R6 CVT would have been an even more temptation proposition, since in the lighter Mini / Minki it would have theoretically possessed the sort of pace that harks back to the original 1275 Cooper S in a more relaxing package.

          A more economy focused CVT Mini / Minki is another interesting what-if when taking into account Alec Issigonis’s blind alley in developing the Gearless Minis, the latter being inferior to the existing AP Automatic transmission with even a more plausible H2 Hondamatic-inspired approach being a questionable direction compared to the AP Automatic.

  11. I think the Metro/100 had reached its logical conclusion by 1997, when it was pensioned off. The car was too small and old fashioned to take on its rivals and the 200 was its real successor, even if it was overpriced. However, Metros and 100s of both Austin and Rover types were a huge success for the former British Leyland, with 1.5 million sold, and were still selling in reasonable numbers until the mid nineties.

    • I am at a loss to describe the 100 as “old fashioned”. The 100 with the sweet running powerful K series engine, and the double wishbone advanced interconnected suspension which produced a flowing long wheelbase ride with sports car cornering and steering. Surely the competition with coil springs and McPherson struts / beam axles were the cars of yesteryear, not the 100

      • Mechanically the R100 was still highly advanced, but still looking very much like a car that was launched 17 years previously. Ford still producing the 2005 Fiesta, Vauxhall’s Corsa from 2005? No, they wouldn’t even still be on the sales charts with so much competition around! Expectations are advancing all the time.

        • @ GOJO78, the Rover Metro/100 was a decent car that had updated the original Metro for the nineties and was far better made, but this was the problem, as you say. It was a car that was still very reminiscent of the 1980 Metro and had become small and dated looking compared to rivals like the Fiat Punto. Also the NCAP tests were the final killer.

  12. Moulton had received Sir Michael Edwardes as a guest at his house, and during the meeting, Moulton invited Edwardes to drive his interconnected Metro… Edwardes was very impressed, and he telephoned Graham Day up to tell him that they, “should incorporate the system and charge £100 extra for it.

    Not as good as the real story!

    Alex Moulton did receive Edwardes as a guest at The Hall Bradford on Avon, Edwards arrived in a Range Rover fitted with experimental hydraulic suspension. The RangeRover arrived with suspension leaking and unsafe to drive as a fire risk.
    Moulton impishly loaned Edwards the A+ Metro “the Brown car”, for the return trip, the brown car being the very car converted to proper interconnection of suspension by Alex Moulton.
    See the Alex Moulton autobiography for more of this delightful anecdote

    • I always thought AR had it 180 degrees wrong using Hydragas on their smallest and cheapest model. Since when did super mini buyers care about ride?

      Arguably the most successful British vehicle equipped with Hydragas is the Challenger tank – all 60 tonnes of it

      • In general the cars which derive most benefit by having an interconnected suspension such as Hydragas for ride quality are short-wheelbase cars such as the Rover 100, cars with a short-wheelbase exaggerate pitch felt by the occupants when negotiating obstacle such a speed bumps, the i9nterconnection tends to smooth out the harsh pitching to more acceptable levels.

  13. Based on the company’s yearly earnings around the time of AR6’s development, what was their profits over that period compared to the estimated cost of putting AR6 into production and how short were they as a result of both the Maestro and Montego not earning their keep?

  14. The option of a 5-speed gearbox over 4-speed was £250, I test drove the entry level K series model (1.1C I think), has anyone taken a 4-speed gearbox to made it a 5-speed specification?
    The salesman thought the 4 and 5 speed gearboxes were identical internally, Is it a case of the 5th gear being blocked off by the gating of the gearstick? Or perhaps more involved, requiring a transmission stripdown and installation of extra transmission parts
    . Yamaha knew the trick for their 1970s RD250 and 350 2-stroke motorcycles, the 350 had a 6-gear transmission, the 250 the same transmission with a stop plate on the gear change drum, leaving only 5 gears available, the stop plate trick was soon found out by the DIY ers, it was easy to remove and Yamaha abandoned the practise.

    • I’ve heard some Ford Fiestas had a 5 speed gearbox with 5th gear blocked off. This was probably due to the bean counters deciding it was cheaper than making two different boxes. It was common for owners to remove the bolt blocking the gating to get 5th gear.

  15. I seem to remember that the press considered it class leading for about 10 minutes – until every other manufacturer introduced new models that left the already 10 year old Metro looking very dated. Another example of the pendulum swinging from one extreme to another – from radical aluminium bodied car that even a multi-national could not have made a business case for, to a 1980s resto-mod. As ever the pendulum should have settled in the middle – R6X looks about right.

    • The Rover Metro was a good car, kept Rover alive in the supermini sector, and at last came with a diesel option and five speed transmission, which buyers wanted by 1990. However, it should really have been pensioned off in 1995 and the second generation Rover 200 promoted as a larger replacement, with slightly lower prices. The 100 was just an attempt to keep an ageing design alive and was too small and unsafe to compete with newer rivals like the 1995 Fiesta.

    • The transformation of the Austin Metro to the Rover Metro is reminiscent of what Ford did with creating the lightly rebodied mk2 Fiesta from the mk1, even though the mk3 Fiesta had already appeared by the time of the Rover Metro’s launch.

      An R6 Hydragas arrangement was certainly feasible for the Austin Metro, though did wonder if a mk2 Polo gearbox could have been brought in to replace the in-sump arrangement (that was apparently ill-suited for diesel engines as it was for derestricted turbocharged petrol engines) as was done with the Golf gearbox for certain versions of the Maestro / Montego.

      Aside from its styling what is particularly interesting about R6X is how a 4-inch increase in wheelbase was done (amongst other changes) before it was abandoned when it devolved into a dreaded committee car. Would an Austin / Rover Metro with a 92.6-inch wheelbase and 138-inch length (instead of 88.6-inches and 134-inches respectively) with additional packaging / space efficiency have been enough to effectively compete against the likes of the Fiat Uno (whose dimensions it would not be too far removed from)?

  16. Clearly, the Rover 100 would have benefited from restyling the body sides and as the sketches show, there had been various ideas put forward. Just looking at the doors themselves, changes to the window profiles with a revision of door skin swages and new door handles would have made a significant difference to that first touch as well as improving the looks. Additional work on the bodyside pressings could have eliminated the fussy rear treatment on the 5-door car, and probably enabled more structural rigidity.

    However, it was known that to do even limited side restyling would mean that the body side and door press tools and dies would need complete renewal and this was a huge expense which could not be afforded in the short term, according to the bean counters.

    On structural safety, it is interesting to note that on the original 1980 introduction of Metro, great emphasis was put on the door and sill design, stating that if the car was hit from the side, the door and sill would lock together on impact to greatly increase resistance to side damage to the occupants. This was also used to explain the rather high sill, which cost Metro quite a few sales from less mobile people – as well as those who just had to do Rover-bashing!

    Although at the time it was introduced the Rover 100 was a fine-driving, lively and excellent handling car which excited the media, the target audience were far less ambitious and would have bought a bathtub on wheels provided it was cheap, looked attractive, was painted a pretty colour and was convenient for the weekly shop. A huge amount of good engineering, wasted. At its most extravagant best the GTi was great, but did anybody actually go out and buy one?

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