Concepts and prototypes : Rover 75

Not a lot of pictures of the R40’s development programme have surfaced; mainly because Richard Woolley’s 1993 design was considered so successful, it didn’t change between the time the clay model was finalised and the launch of the car five years later.

However, the interior was subject to a lot of soul searching, and two teams worked on competing designs. In the end, Wyn Thomas’ more traditional theme won the day – and, looking at the alternatives, it was a wise move…

R40 clay models

In 1993 Richard Woolley presented three designs, with which Rover would need to replace the 600, 800 and 800 Coupe. In the end, it was only ‘Core’ – the 600 replacement – that was developed into production reality.

These two clay models depict the R40 in 1994 – an evolution of ‘Core’ – and, after being signed off by management, it changed only in minor detail…

Rover 75 prototype
Scale model in clay being shaped by advanced CAD/CAM software. According to one insider, Rover’s design technology outstripped that of BMW at the time of the takeover…
Rover 75 prototype
Full-size clay model has a very familiar look to it. This was produced in 1994, and only minor details separate it from the finished article…

R40 interior designs

Photo records of three schemes exist and, as can be seen, the best design prevailed…

Scheme One

Rover 75 prototype
A swoopy scheme with interesting use of a chrome nascelle at the top of the centre console. It looked good on paper, and the ‘R O V E R’ script on the dashboard looked pretty good. The major substructure looked the same as the second scheme (below), many elements of which made it into production…
Rover 75 prototype
The sketches made it to the full-scale stage, but were eventually abandoned. There’s a pleasing simplicity to this design, and the circular instruments look a little unusual to today’s 75 veterans…

Scheme Two

Rover 75 prototype
The 75’s dashboard as we know and love it. Perhaps the pleated seats were too much, but surely they wouldn’t be followed up?
Rover 75 prototype
…amazingly, they were. It’s surprising just how fussy the pleats look today.
Rover 75 prototype
Getting there – the design is almost complete…
Rover 75 prototype
Interior imagery – old and new are compared, indicating retro was the preferred route for Rover…

Scheme Three

Rover 75 prototype
There seems to be a lot of more traditional thinking here – there are Honda, BMW and Land Rover overtones. In the end, the design was rejected…

Out testing…

The 75 went through a huge amount of pre-launch testing. Here’s an early Tourer prototype spotted cold winter testing near Geneva in 1999…

Rover 75 prototype
(Picture: Ian Robertson)
Keith Adams


  1. “According to one insider, Rover’s design technology outstripped that of BMW at the time of the takeover…”

    At the time, BMW’s design technology consisted of a ruler and a photocopier set to 75/100/125% scale.

  2. They all would have looked good, but they made the right choice. The 75 was a well resolved, confident design – confident in being different and having character.

  3. The more one learns about the demise of Rover the more one realises this was a tragedy which should never have been allowed to happen especially when there were developments and designs for future models in the pipeline. What a waste of all that technical expertise and creativity. Why can’t all those people be got together in a state of the art facility and start building Rovers again? A few a week. There must be someone out there who could finance such an endeavour to make this marque rise like a phoenix from the ashes. John Bloor did it with Triumph motorcycles.

    • My fantasy scenario was John Bloor himself buying Rover instead of the Phoenix four, and rebranding the whole lot to Triumph as a precursor to a relaunch in the US. Though he probably wasn’t strong enough in 1999, he would have needed a partner.

  4. Tim, I so agree with you and have been wishing for this ever since there demise, the coupe needs to be released, the upgrades that are available on the MG 7 and Roewe 750 should be used. Its still the only car I would consider buying new, even today. why wont MG import it in right hand drive ?

  5. I am so glad I have had one of these. Mine was a ZT-T 2.5 and it had a very special interior.

    Such a competent car, and such a great interior, a brilliant blend in MG guise of old world British style, with more dynamic “sporty” MG feel, classic yet modern.

    Mine was a Typhoon blue special order model which continued the exterior colour into the dash and gear surround combined with a blue and grey leather/alcantara interior.

    Very clever how they achieved this without it looking tacky bearing in mind the “mini Bentley” look of the Rover badged interiors.

    It was a truly lovely car, and I am so glad that I can say for a time I had one.

  6. I to am astounded how MGR were able to create to very different cars that behave so differently out of the one car. I have both a Rover 75 and a MGZT and love both of them.
    Just think what the people at MGR could have done if they had been properly funded. As for MGRs demise,apart from all the management and mis management,as I remember at the time, 2004 ish, there was a definate push from the EU for more intergration of industry to be spread throughout the EU.
    Unfortunately the govt of the day appeared to not really care about local manufacturing and thus let the dice roll.
    Kind of sad considering all the talent and skill lost.
    Unfortunately cant see any reason why TATA would want to resurect the Rover brand considering that they also own Landrover and Jaguar which covers most types of cars.

  7. I have always wondered about the headlight design of the 75. While it was produced with 4 round headlights, the cutline where the bumper meets the fenders implies that some sort of wrap around design was considered. Clearly, right up to the point when the stamping dies were made.
    Does anyone have an insight into what prompted the change from contemporary to a retro/classic 4 headlight front end? And do any pictures exist?

    • It looks like it could accommodate Peugeot 406 facelift style headlights, which would’ve made the front look very Jag XF-like.

      However a big deal seemed to be made of the quad lights, in the James Taylor book “Rover 75 and MG ZT: The Complete Story” he has a media pre-launch teaser picture, in which the car is covered except for one corner showing the headlights (although at this point they were mostly silver paper).

  8. I like the heater controls being made out of chrome, they really look good and should have been used on the production car. Yet glad the 75 was made to look distinctive and this was important in the post Honda era.

  9. I think the final design pictured above would have had far more mass market appeal than the production version. It looked contemporary and Audi like. The exact market the 75 was supposed to chase. Rover mad the mistake of designing a car aimed at the executive/company car market that appealed to a generation unlikely to still be executives or company car users. The first picture appears to have a Jaguar type Riva hoop and has a lot in common with the derided (by those unlikely to be in the market for one)new XF dashboard.

  10. I have to agree, in the end won the best interior design. In the other side, it´s impressive to see that the exterior design was set so early, wich proves its quality and timeless design.
    In my opinion, despite all the brilliant cars Rover made in its history, the 75 was the best car they ever made in quality and design terms. To be perfect it only needed a more complete engine range.

  11. It is very easy to say ‘they should have done this, they should have done that’. Presumably, a great deal of research was done by MGR as to what potential customers wanted and that shaped the final product.

    To demonstrate differences, personally the walnut dash for me and most certainly not the black. 75 non Contempoary / MGZT seats for me and the Sandstone trim. So I would not buy an MGZT but would a 75. No doubt a significant people interviewed liked the ZT interior so it was progressed.

    Plus, BMW did not want the British product to compete too much with its German product hence engines not as powerful.

  12. you Brits crack me up …number one reason for Rover’s failure was the continuous negative comment from the motoring press which permeated through to the general public. There was nothing wrong with the Rover 75 (I still drive one here in New Zealand) and they certainly had no lack of funding during the design and original build period under BMW ownership. Admittedly the Honda related earlier history had done little to maintain Rover’s earlier proud position in the industry but the new 75 deserved a bit more patriotic support.
    I see the prices of used 75’s in the UK are pretty attractive ..pity you are at the other end of the earth!

  13. I worked on R75 at Canley before the team moved to Gaydon. It was a great time and Rover really seemed to have a great future ahead of it. R75 and laterly MG ZT were both great products. If only the management at BMW all had Rover’s best interests at heart and not played political ping pong with it. The ‘English patient’ became that under BMW ownership and losses at Rover suited certain individuals and were tax deductable in Germany…..

  14. The basic issues was loss of control of the company in the first place. If inept management hadn’t wrecked the British owned companies in the first place BMW wouldn’t have been in a position to scupper these cars.

    As for some Phoenix like rebirth at low volumes……the cost would be too high.

    • If BMW money had not bee available, they would never have happened, BL etc simply did not make a sell enough cars with enough profit in them to exist.

      It was quite simply game over once the Allegro failed, after that the best they could ever have hoped for was as part of a larger manufacturer.

      • I wonder what would have, or could have happened if AR was off-loaded to Ford in 1986? If Honda took control of AR I don’t think there would have been much autonomy in the styling department. Ford made a decent fist of Volvo under Henry’s management.
        Maybe back in 1953 it would have been better if Austin went to Ford and Nuffield to GM or vise-versa.

        I don’t think the four horseless carriages of the apocalypse, Maxi, Marina, Allegro and Princess would have happened under Ford or GM management!

  15. Great cars, well engineered, well built and very stylish then AND now.

    If Ford or GM had taken over Austin or Morris then I doubt that the Mini and 1100 would have happened but I suspect that MGs and Austin Healeys would have become world beaters. Imagine a Healey that was an 8/10 scale version of a Corvette built around Vauxhall 6 cylinder underpinnings. Or if the Capri had been developed as the MGB replacement.

    GM did this with the Opel GT in the ’70s. The great thing was that American ownership opened the door to North American exports through an established dealer network.

  16. So, a full sized clay model, that looks exactly like the finished car, was completed in 1994 but the car wasn’t launched until 1999?! What the hell were they doing in the intervening 5 years? They already had the engines and BMW parts to draw from. If this car had been launched say in 1997 things would have been a lot different for Rover. I’m sure they could have built on the platform; launched the coupe etc and would still be here.

    • I think they key problem was that Rover had been dependent for so long on Honda that it simply lacked the resources to do it themselves and so had to bring in knowhow from BMW, which was in itself neither big or well resourced at the time, it slowed the project down, which was after all other than its K Series engine (and the V6 was heavily revised) was all new.

      Also there was in Rover a reluctance to dig into the BMW parts bin, for example the rejection of the opportunity to build something on then outgoing BMW 5 series platform.

      The irony is that whilst the Rover 75 was not FWD BMW 3 Series, by using so much common engineering knowhow from BMW in its design, the end result is effectively a FWD 3 series with the car not only sharing the same body engineering technology but also the way it was assembled on the line, which again you could see when you visited Longbridge with the differences between the 25/45 line and the 75 Line. One wonders if they had simply set out to do a FWD BMW 3 series (noting that BMW had already done it themselves) they would have been able to bring the product to the market sooner.

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