Blog : Rover Bravo, does anyone know more?

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Keith Adams

1982 Rover 800 proposal might give us a clue as to what the designers had in store for the Bravo project.
1982 Rover 800 proposal might give us a clue as to what the designers had in store for the Bravo project

In the dying days of Rover-Triumph as a separate entity within the company, in the lead-up to the association with Honda, BL’s prestige car division looked like it was fighting for its very existence.  In 1979, in the months following Sir Michael Edwardes’ appointment as Chairman and Chief Executive of BL and prior to his policy of separation of the carmaking divisions, product planners within each area of the company came up with revised versions of their upcoming model plans.

Unlike Austin-Morris, which looked settled in its Metro-Maestro-Montego plan, Rover-Triumph’s future was laid-out before it like an unpainted canvas – and it was in this era that they came up with what actually looked like a very viable plan of platform and component sharing, which could have left us with a much different outcome to the one that we ended up with. Thanks to David Knowles’ excellent book about the Triumph TR7, much has already been written about the sports car side of the business.

In pre-Honda thinking, we’d have ended up with an O-Series and V8-powered TR7 and, later on, this would have spun the MG Boxer and Triumph Broadside models. The range would have included roadsters – possibly a targa and definitely coupes – on two different wheelbases and would have seen the TR7 bloodline last right through to the late-1980s. In our own story about Rover-Triumph’s secret model plans, these cars were planned to run through until an electronic facelift in 1986 and could have lived on well into the MX-5 era.

The basis of Rover-Triumph’s saloon plans are currently somewhat cloudier, though. The ‘SD1 Series 2’ facelift had been set in stone in 1979 and was planned for Autumn 1981. As we know, that was delayed somewhat by the move in production from Solihull to Cowley (not anticipated in 1979), finally being launched in January 1982. However, its replacement, the Bravo, looked like it had also progressed a little further than the sterile pages of the product plans, too, given that the document below discusses both its facelift and subsequent development.

So that begs the question – where are the images of Rover Bravo? We’ve seen all manner of sports car renderings and models but, so far, nothing of the Rover has turned up at all. That’s a shame, as seeing some tangible proof of the SD1’s development beyond its light 1982 facelift would be nice. What the TR7-Rover SD1 platform does prove is that Spen King’s designs were simple and adaptable, and lent themselves easily to spinning out a potentially wider model range. Although I’ve yet to properly analyse a Triumph SD2, it’s abundently clear that it uses the TR7’s front struts, its rear axle, (probably) a shortened version of the SD1’s platform (maybe the Lynx’s underpinnings) and the LT77 gearbox.

Bravo still intrigues me, though. Just how extensive would this SD1 reskin actually be? Slated for launch in late 1984, it was initially to be launched as a four-door saloon and was to be based on a modified SD1 centre section. Early thoughts were that the V8 engine would not be used in the saloon, the TR7’s front suspension set-up and SD1 rear axle. Power would be by the O-Series engine in 2.0-litre form (as the SD1 would end up being from June 1982) as well as the 2.6-litre six-cylinder and four-cylinder VM turbodiesel.

A year later, the hatchback Rover Bravo would be added to the range and, beyond that, possibly an estate version. It was conceived as a differently-styled model and penned to slot in above the saloon. The V8 would find its way into this model, presumably as the performance halo flagship. In many ways, the Rover Bravo product plan was a nascent version of the 800’s – launch in saloon form first, then hatchback – and offered with a range of engines, which one assumes would have ended up having the O-Series based M16 as the main power unit, with the six- and V8-powered Bravos reserved for the luxury and high performance models.

The SD1’s platform wouldn’t have been carried over unmodified, as product planners suggested that the Bravo’s wheelbase would be 105in, some 5.8in less than the SD1 –  and 4in less than the Ford Granada Mk2. The logic behind this change in dimension remains unclear, especially as the SD1 was hardly noted for its generously-sized interior. It’s probably fair to say that it wouldn’t have looked a million miles away from this early Rover 800 mock-up, which was completed in July 1982 (above), even if it had been less overtly aerodynamic than this.

However, until we see some drawings or photos of models, this is really all supposition beyond what we know from the product plans. What we can ascertain is that an intriguing and perhaps fruitful 1980s was denied us when Rover-Triumph’s plans were cut short in 1981. A potentially convincing range of sports and executive cars was to be spun from what was essentially the same platform and small range of engines and that sounds like modern, joined-up thinking today, which serves the industry so well…

And to think that Roy Haynes had been trying to achieve the same thing at BL more than a decade before. But that’s another story…

No matter how appealing it looked, though, the question that also really needs asking is whether the Bravo would have been more suited to the late-1980s executive car market than the Rover 800? We might now look back on the car’s potential and see it as a potential rear-wheel drive BMW basher, but would its (by then) elderly underpinnings have held it back? After all, this was a product plan that was to have been done on a budget. No matter how appealing it might seem now, it’s debatable whether it would have lasted as long as the 800 (a car that should have been euthenised by 1996 at the latest). Questions, questions, questions…

Anyway, if you are a designer, or know one, who was there at the company at the time, and know of images, renderings or models of the Rover Bravo, I would dearly love to hear from you in order to fill in another important piece of this huge and complex jigsaw so please get in touch.

Rover Bravo
Rover SD1 saloon rendering gives us some hope that the Bravo’s proportions would have been nicely resolved
PRODUCT PLAN: Model line Rover Bravo
Year Month Details
1984 Autumn Project RT 020 – four-door saloon
Introduction of the first, in a new model range to replace SD1 in established markets, with the exception of North America.

Proposed specification

Underbody:
o Front end and suspension as TR7/8
o New mid-section similar to SD1
o Rear end and axle – combination of SD1 and LynxEngines:
o 2.0-litre O-Series
o 2.6-litre six-cylinder OHC
o 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel – bought outTransmission:
o 77mm gearbox
o Mid-range axle

Dimensions:
o Wheelbase 105″
o Front track 55.5″/56″
o Rear track 56.5″/57″

Weight:
2194-2305lb (target)

1985 Autumn Project RT 023 – Five-door saloon
introduction of five-door hatchback based on four-door underbody with extended front and rear ends to provide styling differential. Additional to model range in established Bravo markets and replaces SD1 in North America.Engines:
o 2.0-litre O-Series
o 2.6-litre 6-cylinder OHC
o V8 petrol engine
o 4-cylinder turbodieselDimensions and other mechanicals as 4-door.

Weight:
o 2379-2400lb (target)

1986 Model year change
Changes to meet mandatory legal requirements.
1987 Autumn Project RT 025 – Bravo facelift
A proposed facelift intended to maintain sales of the Bravo model range.

Possible opportunities on base plan
Autumn 1984: Dependent on AM engine strategy, oppportunity exists to increase the 4-door model range with a 2.0-litre O-Series turbocharged engine in Autumn 1984 and 5-door derivative in Autumn 1985.Autumn 1985: Opportunity exists to further increase the 5-door model range by the addition of a diesel engine based on the V8 petrol unit.
Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

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.
Keith Adams

32 Comments

  1. The car pictured wears Dutch number-plates and is still Dutch-registered. The pictures are obviously taken in Holland too. According to RDW (the Dutch DVLA) data it is classified as a yellow Rover 3500 Automatic, first registered (in the UK probably) on June 30, 1977 and first registered in The Netherlands on January 7, 2003. Following Dutch privacy laws the owner is not identified.

  2. And very handsome it is too. That would have gone down well in more conservative demographics, I think.

  3. If I remember correctly, there was a crude mule for this which had survived until the beginning of the 1990s but which BMIHT broke up, on the basis that it wasn’t a true prototype. This may be memory playing tricks with a discussion that I think I must have had with Anders Clausager about 20 years ago! However I remember that I thought the excuse whilst probably arguable was still lame. I agree that it would be nice to see a stylist’s sketch assuming one was done. I have asked in the past but never spoken to anyone who remembered one! However, I think that most of the work by this stage was engineering-led as a means of merging TR7 and SD1 bits to help save Rover Triumph as an entity. Hence the aforementioned mule which blended TR7 and SD1 bits. After TR7 died, so, in fairly short order, did Rover Triumph and the rump of their plans and Jeff Herbert left the company, to go on to have a very successful career. What was left of RT was glued to AM under the short-lived LMC. David Bache got the big-E too and I doubt that Roy Axe, who was a Harold Musgrove appointment, ever got to look at the Bravo.

  4. Wondered before if LM10 in hindsight should have been a conventional supermini (much smaller than the Maestro, but quite a bit bigger than the Metro) with LM11 being a larger variant – sort of like the 205/309 relationship.

    And whether, above that, the medium market would have been better served by a RWD car based on existing hardware. Because, when you think about it the big investments made by BL were mostly made in RWD componentry (LT77, PE166, XJ40, TR7/8, SD1, O-series – OK that was also fitted transversely but BL seems to have made pig’s ear of putting it in the Maestro and Montego: only the availability of the PG1 saved the day.)

    Perhaps even more intriguing is the Haynes plan as mentioned in the article.

    All I know of is the Marina and Condor proposals, but Mr Knowles quotes Haynes himself in the excellent “MG: The Untold Story” as saying something like, “MG alone would have had three distinct product lines all built in volume.”

    Look at what you could have won.

  5. Was this SD4?

    SD1 being the Rover we all know and love
    SD2 the Triumph just below this
    SD3 the Ballade Rover 200
    SD4 then being the Bravo SD1 replacement
    SD5 the LR/Defender replacement

    ?

  6. No.

    The Rover 200 development story says this: ‘This was the first real sign that the Honda deal was becoming more involved. Whereas the Acclaim was a licence build arrangement, pure and simple, the Rover 200 would mark the start of more co-operative thinking. Honda marked the event with the announcement that, following in Nissan’s path, it was to set-up a facility in the UK at a green-field sight in Swindon. The site, which initially was quite small scale, was set-up to perform quality checks for their Ballade models produced in Longbridge – and the upcoming HX model (the Honda Legend) produced at Cowley. As for where the SD3 name came from, an insider explained: ‘we called it SD3 for fun, really. It was a nickname given to the car just before launch to give it a sense of continuity, following on from SD1 and SD2.’

    Bravo was RT020 and RT023. The Specialist Division was long gone by 1979.

  7. David,

    Thanks for the insight. I can’t imagine for a moment that there weren’t styling sketches done. That’s one thing that did come out of the company – lots and lots of paper projects.

    I just want to see some tangible evidence of this project, and get an insight to Rover-Triumph’s design direction at the time, pre-Axe…

  8. JH,

    As we’ve discussed many times before, I think you’re dead right on with this. The bottom line was that the mid-market cars, post-1975, was a mess of epic proportions, and that was a legacy of merger and failure to subsequently rationalise.

    My feeling on that is that we were still in the situation where there were autonymous design studios in Longbridge and Solihull, and more often than not, and through the necessity of having to continue to replace existing merged model lines, overlap wasn’t treated as seriously as it should have been.

    It’s easy now to see that way forward for BL (if it had to have two design studios, excluding Jaguar, which was moving towards separation) was to leave Longbridge to design and engineer the small cars, and Solihull to do the same with the big cars.

    And here’s where it gets messy – because it could be argued that either party had a claim on the Cortina-rivalling Marina replacement – Longbridge through the extended LC10, and Solihull with the Triumph SD2/Morris TM-1.

    As it played out, they went with the lower-resistance LM11 programme, and ended up with all manner of battles along the way in which to make it worse, not least the decision to develop the R- and S-Series engines, then abandon the LT80 transverse gearbox, in favour of buying in Volkswagen and Honda units.

    As an aside, when it came to striking a deal with Volkswagen over the gearbox for the Maestro, they knew it would fit, as LM10/A-Series/LT80 engineering mules were actually using VW ‘boxes in their place to speed up the process (as they were pretty close in dimensions, apparently). The PG1 deal that came much later was manna from heaven, as the transmission package was wholly unsuited to the bulkier O-Series engine – it literally wouldn’t fit.

    Shame is that as you say, with all that RWD investment during the 1970s, it was a pity that the TM1/SD2 wasn’t progressed as the group’s mid-sized car instead of the LM11 Montego. But then, costs were one thing – fashion was another, and this market sector was moving towards FWD anyway, and BL wanted to be part of that.

    Going for both was never an option, as resources just were’t there, hence Rover-Triumph (by 1979) being left with just two model lines – the executive saloon/hatch and sports car. Who would have guessed that within three years, that the former would cease to be developed, while the latter had simply ceased to be.

  9. Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hand together for the 1982 Renault 21!

    God did Rover miss a trick with that 800 proposal,i would have loved to see that go head to head with the Audi 100-especially if it had R8 quality.

    Surely Renault nicked the design cues for this car?

  10. It would have interesting to see how the 2.5 SD1-Six could have been further developed to be placed above the M/T-Series engines (possibly including the Turbos) as well as how the Dieselized Rover V8s would have fared had it reached production.

    9) Keith Adams

    Would it have still been possible for the Triumph SD1/Morris TM1 to have been built (with the latter being rebadged as an Austin), if what was later to become the Montego was reduced to rivalling the Ford Orion and Vauxhall Belmont instead of the Ford Sierra and Vauxhall Caviller?

    Also had the Triumph Lynx/Broadside and MG Boxer reached production, why was the 2.5 SD1-Six (albeit possibly developed) was not considered as a mid-range engine for those still preferring a 6-cylinder over a NA/Turbocharged O-Series?

  11. This feature is another reason that I love this site! Where else would we find out so many interesting aspects of former BL/Rover Group product plans?

    The rendering of an SD1 saloon opens up a whole new debate on what might have been if events hadn’t taken the course they did.

  12. Nate,

    All good suggestions. As I was writing my last diatribe, I realised that the Montego could have just as easily have been a Ford Orion/Volkswagen Jetta rival without such grandiose styling, front and rear – and it seems I was not alone. But BL believed (rightly, as it turned out) that the LC10 could be spun into a family of cars that could cover the entire centre market.

    That plan would have made a little more sense had we been given the LM15 (below) as well. That was a clever car, using the Maestro centre section to produce a more convincing fuller-sized five-door hatch to compete with the Sierra and Cavalier Mk2

    BL management in the mid- to late-1970s assumed there would be too much overlap between the LM10 family and SD2/TM1. And seeing that not-produced LM15, you can understand why.

    Good point on the straight-six in the Broadside/Boxer. Would have made an appealing latter-day Healey 3000/TR6… woud that engine have fit? Was it ever considered? Strikes me (in hindsight) as odd that the Triumph-derived straight-six (which also dreadfully overlapped with the Austin-Morris E6 engine) was never really allowed to reach its full pontential, seeing active service in just the SD1.

    That wouldn’t happen today, would it…

  13. 13/14) Keith Adams

    Is there any information or description of the LC/LM12 Coupe that was intended to be based on the LM11 floorpan and badged as an MG? From looking at the LC10 family link in post 14) I’m assuming that the LC/LM12 Coupe was essentially a 2-door version of LM11 or a 3-door version of LM14/15.

    You have a point regarding the LC family though unlike today there was a big distinction between a Ford Sierra and a BMW 3-Series that the FWD Austin LM14/15 (or RWD “Austin” TM1) and RWD Triumph SD2 would have rivalled respectively, whilst one of the main rivals of the Rover SD1 (or stillborn Rover Bravo) was always the BMW 5-Series.

    As for a potential TR7 6-cylinder – An existing 136 hp (restricted) version of the 2.6 SD1-Six in the TR7 could have produced performance roughly equivalent to the stillborn TR7 Sprint, while a developed (and unrestricted) SD1-Six could have potentially or almost occupied the space of the 155-190 hp 3.5 Rover V8, while allowing a larger 3.9/4.0 Rover V8 to move upwards in the power stakes at roughly 210-260 hp.

  14. “The SD1′s platform wouldn’t have been carried over unmodified, as product planners suggested that the Bravo’s wheelbase would be 105in, some 5.8in less than the SD1 – and 4in less than the Ford Granada Mk2.”

    Actually I think this was a smart move, the writing was on the wall for the Exec Barge with the BMW 3 & 5 series and Merc C Class being the destination for the market.

    I imagine the line up being a reskinned Montego for the fleet / private market and a similar sized premium sports saloon for Exec who were increasingly being allowed to choose their own company car. Many be down size the LC10 platform a little and take it to 4 lights, both to control cost and also can cover off the Golf / Jetta segment of the European market, an opportunity being that the Mk3 Escort / Orion was a little undersized.

    With Roy Axe in charge I would expect big glass area, big bumpers and big lights as with the Alpine (Solara) and 200, 400 and 800. My only concern is about estates, Roy didn’t seem to like them and I think he missed a chance by making the 800 fastback instead of an 800 estate and so handing that big “family” estate market to Volvo in the late 80’s.

  15. Presumably then the Bravo would have been a C/D sector car, similar in size to the Cortina? With the larger Hatchback – real SD1 replacement above it, suddenly Rover starts to look like having a BMW 3 and 5 series rivalling range, with the smaller Acclaim mopping up sales from those after a posh Escort. Some proper platform sharing gpong on as well with the Bravo/”new” SD1 and the TR7 all sharing major components. Adding a dash of XX/800 style to these cars would have created a volume premium British car company 30 odd years before Jaguar Landrover got round to it. A real shame the investment money went into the High Volume/low margin fleet fodder Maestro/Montego. A market AR never had a hope in hell of competing with Ford/GM in.

  16. A SD1 saloon derivative could have been badged Triumph?
    Triumph 2000, 2300, 2600.
    Leaving the flagship V8 models to the Rover fastback.

  17. Seems a good plan in isolation but, as with so many other BLARG might-have-beens, none of theses good ideas alone have made a difference – the company was so vast, unwieldy and underfunded it was impossible to fix.

    David Knowles excellent TR7 story is essential reading for an insight into how big a mess BL was, it illustrates just how difficult it was to get even the simplest of jobs sorted under such chaotic conditions.

    MG The untold story is a cracking read too, especially since it features quite a lot or ARG product stuff, not many books cover that period (which is why this website is so good)

  18. @Darren “Your” Bravo was a rather different beast. It figured in the 1991 November issue of Car magazine, as a possible Metro successor for 1994, competing with R6X. Don’t know if it really ever existed as more than this sketch, but we know the outcome…

    • Might the sketch from Darren’s link be the R7 prototype?

      The R7 was a small hatchback developed in 1988 from a shortened R8 platform with styling theme established by R6X carried over.

      According to David Saddington in the Rover R6X article, the R7 looked a bit like a GT Estate car and while the project went nowhere it did ease their way into what eventually became the R3 Rover 200, which is interesting given the sketch does indeed resemble the R3 Rover 200.

  19. As for whether a rebodied SD1 would have been competitive in the late 80s, it’s hard to say.

    At least it would have enabled Rover to still use their V8 in flagship models, something that would have given a much better halo model than the 825/827 with their relatively weedy V6s

    • Agree though wonder if a production version of the Rover Bravo would be able to use an updated SD1-Six or made to opt for Honda C V6 engines at the middle of the range?

      There is also the fact that the Rover V8 would also need to be updated to remain competitive or eventually be replaced by a production version of the Rover KV8 prototype engine, either that or Rover somehow manages to persuade Honda to produce a V8 version of their 90-degree Honda C V6 engine.

      • It’s interesting that Honda went for a 90 degree V6 rather than the ideal 60.

        Then again the PRV V6 managed to stay around for years with an angle of 90 degrees. I wonder if the considered making a 3.5 litre V8 from it.

        • Honda resisted pressure to develop a V8 despite it being easy to do so with the 90-degree Honda C V6 unit.

          The PRV engine originally conceived as a V8 for a high-end luxury car prototype called project H / 120 that was jointly-developed between Renault and Peugeot prior to the 1973 Oil Crisis, when it was converted to a V6 with Renault later deciding to develop the Renault 20/30.

          Volvo had intended to develop their own Redblock-based V8 before deciding to abandon it on cost grounds and join the PR now PRV engine project.

          While Citroen prior to going bankrupt in the 1970s were developing their own 4-litre V8 project derived from the 3-litre Merak V6, which while intended for Maseratis such as the Quattroporte II was tested in a Citroen SM.

          There is also the notion that the DS and CX 4-cylinder engines had unrealised potential as V8s given the engine design dates back to the Traction Avant and spawned a few unsuccessful pre-war and post-war V8 attempts (killed by pre-war financial problems and post-war French tax laws).

      • Wasn’t the Honda V6 especially developed for XX, so without the Rover/Honda JV, there would have been no reason for Rover to use a Honda V6, especially as Bravo would have been RWD unlike Hondas.

        The Discovery used the V8 until 2004 so the engine would have had plenty of life in it for Bravo

        • The Rover V8 would need to be in a much higher-state of tune for Bravo compared to the Land Rover Discovery, there was also the KV8 project that would have been given the go-ahead due to Bravo’s RWD platform for it or for a RWD Bravo replacement.

          Would be interesting if the 100 hp NA / 150 hp turbocharged 3.5-litre Iceberg V8 Diesel was produced with 4.0/4.6-litre+ turbocharged versions somehow managing to crack 200+ hp before the German marques made it fashionable in the mid/late-90s.

          • The Rover V8 was constantly developed after it became a LR only product, culminating in the 1996 4.6 version with 222hp. I imagine that would have given some nice grunt to any Rover saloon using it!

  20. I still like the look of that yellow SD1 “Saloon” rendering. Back in the day I could have imagined it as a desirable Executive car, selling alongside the Hatchback (when saloons were still in vogue). But perhaps Buyers would have still opted for the Hatchback that we know – and love?

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