Thanks to the success of cars such as the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Escort Cabriolet during the 1980s, demand for open-tops based on hatchbacks ballooned during that decade.
Things died down as the 1980s turned into the 1990s, but that didn’t stop the ever-resourceful and niche-hungry Rover to introduce a family of rag-tops topped and tailed by the R8 and Mini. In the middle of the three-car range, we had the Metro/100 – an oddball rarity that has a small but loyal following…
LAUNCHED in MPi GTi from at the Berlin Motor Show in the Autumn of 1992, the Rover Metro Cabriolet was a fine example of the Rover Group’s plan to fill as many market niches as possible – in this case by launching a trio of Cabriolets.
Rover was very much on the move in the early 1990s, and the Metro Cabriolet was very much a ‘surprise’ item as ex-insider, Ian Elliott, recalled. It was not included in the Rover range brochure for that quarter, and to find out more you had to pick up the stand-alone brochure. The Metro/100 Cabriolet was followed a few weeks later at the Birmingham Motor Show by the definitive Mini Cabriolet (which wasn’t such a surprise, as it followed the LAMM Cabrio), and the MG RV8.
It was initially slated for availability in ‘early 1993’, but that dropped back to 1994 (now said to be in SLi form) because of delays. Commenting in CAR magazine in 1993, John Towers had this to say about the delays: “We’ve been burnt by promising things in the past, and we want to be sure we will deliver a product before we actually announce it. With the Metro Cabriolet, for example, a component supplier went bust after we’d announced the car, and now we’re scrambling to pick up the pieces.”
He was referring to LAMM, which had done so much work on the Mini and the Metro – and after that company’s demise, Tickford was commissioned to refine the original work undertaken, and ready it for production.
According to Ian Elliott, “The Metro Cabriolet was initially a Rover Special Products (RSP) car, built at Longbridge, on the same basis as the Mini Cabriolet – slotted in and out of the regular model production process wherever possible, so that it benefited from proper priming and paint processes.”
Under the skin
Engineering-wise, the Cabriolet version was rather interesting – it was based upon the platform of the five-door model, and that would explain why the petrol cap was under a flap and not the simpler disc-style exposed item as used in the three-door hatchback. To strengthen the bodyshell, the lateral box sections under the front seats were widened, and that compromised rear seat legroom, as the footwells were smaller in the back. Despite the fashionable notion that the Metro/100 bodyshell lacks stiffness, this is clearly not the case as no additional metal was added to the bulk-head when in the process of becoming a cabriolet. Also, the A-pillars are standard, with a modified section forming the top windscreen edge to create the lip for the leading edge of the roof to sit against.
However, there were plenty of structural modifications to the rear of the car. A double-skinned ‘parcel shelf’, specially shaped inside to bend the rear window when retracted, and three box sections to create lateral strength were added. These are not disimilar to the roll-bar/head-restraint device on the MINI convertibles – except they’re upside down and hidden from view. This left a half-width luggage passage into the rear passenger space. The bespoke one-piece back seat jack-knifed just as in the standard car.
The boot lid opened upwards on special parallelogram hinges and was a chopped-down version of the original. The fully-lined roof was designed specially and caused many problems and delays, with the original supplier having to be replaced. Consequently Rover Metro/100s have black roofs whereas facelift (post-1995) 100s have Grey hoods. All grey tops were electrically operated through one hydraulic motor feeding two raising arms. The Vynide rear window zipped open as on the MGF and TF and 200 Cabriolet, and the rear quarter light windows retract asymmetrically into the body leaving a crescent of glass visible. Strangely, though, electric front window operation was even not an option.
On the market
According to 100 Cabriolet enthusiast, Christian Lamb, there were plenty of fun and games exhibited by Rover when it came to selling the car in the UK. He said: “Both of my 100 Cabriolets were sold by Cleveland Garage, Mont a l’Abbe, St Helier Jersey. After some investigation, I found that it was all done as a tax dodge by the Rover Group! The initial sale price of £12,621 had proved way too high for the market, and the cars were not selling, so Rover shipped boat loads of them to Jersey, ran them around for a bit, and then brought them back to the mainland. No VAT to be paid because they were registered in Jersey first, so officially classed as secondhand vehicles on their return. This enabled Rover to sell them with less than 2000 miles on the clock, for a more realistic price of around £9650. Very clever.”
Christian added, “Also, although mine was not registered in England until Oct 1997, it was actually built in 1995. This also leads me to believe that they were built in two batches, or more like a circumstancially split production run: I wonder what Real Heuertz’s car’s build date is?”
Initially, the car was supposed to be available in 1.4 Cabriolet and 1.4 16v Cabriolet form in the UK market, and 1.4 8v only in mainland Europe. A 1.1 for Europe was mooted, and a few were sold in the Netherlands. Graham Hodgson recalls: “They’re designated ‘Rover 111 Cabriolet’. Sold after 1995 (with the Rover grille) models, I have rarely seen a 114 Cabriolet for sale here, so I think the majority were probably 1.1 types – but that’s a guess.”
Electric operation of the roof was supposed to be an option initially, possibly standard on the 16v, and only became standard with on the later grey-roof cars. The Cabriolet 8v was built to ‘S’ specification with a Renaissance fabric interior, and the 16v was a Metro GTi Cabriolet in all but name.
Here are some quotes from the sales brochure produced to trumpet the launch of the car in Europe:
Drive it. And enjoy a breath of fresh air, in the cabriolet that puts you head and shoulders above the rest.
Rover. The name means quality and refinement in a class apart. Cars that are distinctive, stylish and luxurious, and superb to drive.
Now, the Rover which has been acclaimed as ‘the best small car in the world” offers you the exhilaration of open top motoring. And because its a Rover, you can expect a great deal more than the average.
Choose from two exclusive models. The Rover Metro 1.4 Cabriolet is powered by the 75PS K-Series engine; catalyst equipped, naturally, and with electronic single point fuel injection giving a smooth and lively response. Among the luxuries is a high quality electronic stereo radio/cassette with security coding and four speakers.
Although we’ve yet to find out how many were officially built (can anyone fill in the blanks?) only a few trickled out of Longbridge, and the estimates are that there could well have been only a couple of hundred of the pre-1995 Metro/100 built, with anything between 500 and 2000 of the later cars finding new homes. They were available only on back-order from Rover, and the company kept pretty quiet about the car…
Obviously the delays in the earlier car’s launch meant that the revised 100 was looming on the horizon – and Rover held out for a re-introduction of the facelifted car, which was officially announced with the rest of the 100 range on the 26th December 1994, but with a March 1995 sale date for the Cabriolet.
However many were built, there’s no denying that the Metro/100 Cabriolet remains an exceptionally rare car today – and we’d love to hear from anyone with further information.
1992 Brief specifications:
|Engine||1.4 Cabriolet: 1396cc, 8-valve, ohc, in-line four-cylinder K-Series
1.4 Cabriolet 16v: 1396cc, 16-valve, dohc, in-line four-cylinder K-Series
|Maximum power||1.4 Cabriolet: 75PS at 5500rpm
1.4 Cabriolet 16v: 103PS at 6000rpm
|Fuel consumption||1.4 Cabriolet: Urban, 35.3mpg, 56mph, 55.9mpg, 75mph, 42.9mpg
1.4 Cabriolet 16v: Urban, 34.9mpg, 56mph, 55.9mpg, 75mph, 42.5mpg
TV Presenter Anna Walker gets to grips with the R6 Cabrio’s power hood in a Rover Group training video…
(Pics: Kevin Davis)