Concepts : Rover P9 gallery

The supercar that never was…

The styling department's first ideas on the Rover P6BS...
The styling department’s first ideas on the Rover P6BS…
Rover P6BS: Was engineered and designed by Spen King, who prided himself on how this mid-engined design managed to still be easy to see out out, unlike many of its contemporaries. (Picture: "The Cars That Time Forgot", by Giles Chapman).
Rover P6BS: Was engineered and designed by Spen King, who prided himself on how this mid-engined design managed to still be easy to see out out, unlike many of its contemporaries. (Picture: “The Cars That Time Forgot”, by Giles Chapman).

Rover P9: Styled by David Bache's team, the P9 shows what could be achieved when facelifting the P6BS. Many people within The Rover Company bitterly mourned its loss; a direct consequence of Rover's integration into the Leyland fold. Alongside Bache's other Coupe, "Gladys", this would probably have been badged an Alvis, despite this clay model wearing the Rover Longship. (Picture: 'A Collector’s Guide – Classic Rovers – 1945 – 1986”, by James Taylor), supplied by Ian Robertson.
Rover P9: Styled by David Bache’s team, the P9 shows what could be achieved when facelifting the P6BS. Many people within The Rover Company bitterly mourned its loss; a direct consequence of Rover’s integration into the Leyland fold. Alongside Bache’s other Coupe, Gladys, this would probably have been badged an Alvis, despite this clay model wearing the Rover Longship. (Picture: A Collector’s Guide – Classic Rovers – 1945–1986, by James Taylor), supplied by Ian Robertson.

P9 Interior styling schemes

In case you were in any doubt as to whether the P9 was investigated fully and readied for production, here’s the full-size interior mock-up for the promising mid-engined supercar. As can be seen by the detailing, it would have been a bang-up-to-date effort, and possessed plenty of interior space…

Keith Adams


  1. The Rover P9 really would have put the cat amongst the pigeons! No wonder Sir William Lyons had a hand in canning the project… That’s a shame.

  2. The P9 would have been a great “halo” model for the range and have kept Rover at the cutting edge of the quality market. The P9 might also have been the basis for a new Alvis.

  3. I saw the P6BS in the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon and it is beautiful. I would say that not marketing this along with the 9X is the greatest mistake in the history of British industry.

    The P6BS could have fathered a line of sports cars which would have been the envy of the world whilst being in the lead of technology.

    I don’t want to offend anyone about the MGB but, instead, they kept making that for another 15 or so years.

  4. Every time I see these photos, it makes me cry. Rover knew the potential of the Buick V8 in a sports car application way before anyone else. This car should have replaced the Jaguar E-type and taken Porsche head on. The cancellation of projects like this left Rover gasping for air in the Eighties and led to the eventual tie up with Honda.

  5. @Miles Winchester
    Good point. It could certainly have performed the same role as the XJ-S, as it would doubtlessly have been a superb GT car, although practicality may have been slightly limited in that respect. But in terms of driving experience, it could have been a world-beater.
    The P9 mockup with the quad headlamps is my favourite model. It’s got such an aggressive stance and front.
    Regrets… we’ve got a few!!

  6. Having worked in the styling department and worked on this great car,it was indeed a great loss to all, together with the P8. Both cars would have been a spring board for Rover but sadly BL came along and ruined every thing.

  7. A fascinating sports car project. It could have been a 1970s Audi R8 – midmounted V-8, relative usability advantage over rivals, brand known for executive cars…

    Together with the P8, the P9 could have given the image of the Rover brand a considerable boost, potentially turning in some hefty profits for the whole group as well. Jaguar was always the problem, but was it never feasible for BLMC to just dump Lyons and Jaguar, allowing them to focus on Rover/Triumph as their premium division?

    Just imagine the fruits of a BMW-vs-Mercedes style rivalry between Rover and Jaguar. Both could have become top-tier global luxury brands by the time of the 2010s.

  8. Great idea, but the proportions are pretty weird. Would it have got the 4.4 V8 from the P76 because early Rover V8s only put out about 155hp, hardly enough to worry a Series 3 E-type.

    This project also strikes me as dividing up BLMC resources when they couldn’t afford it, between ’70 and ’79 Mercedes only released two clean sheet designs W123 and W116 (the R107 was based on the W114), while BMW only released three E12, E21, E23 (the E24 was based on the E12), by focussing on so few models the Germans established their reputation for quality.

    In recent years the vast and pointless proliferation of models has probably contributed to the current middling quality of the German premium marques.

  9. The P6BS, entertaining though it was in its novelty, could never have been more than a niche car, as was the E type. It was also a car whose looks, to put it politely, would never have attracted much favourable comment, and it is looks which sell cars – always has been, and always will be until we reach the point where cars are only regarded as a sort of mobile washing machine . And the P9 – a prestige saloon with gull wing doors ? Spare me . If you have ever tried a gull wing door car, you will know that every time you get in and out in the rain you, and the passenger/driver compartment, get a soaking . The Audi R8 ? – another niche product which as far as I can see has been very unsuccessful on the market in rather the same way that the 850/840 BMW died the death

  10. A very enticing looking car, particularly in P9 guise, which clearly would have built on Rover’s already enviable reputation for stylish design and innovative engineering. A sad loss for the Rover Company Ltd which although likely to have sold in low numbers, would have given them an alternative ‘halo’ effect to the wood and leather wellbeing of the polished P5B. A shame some of the P9’s visual drama was not present in the stillborn (and rather pedestrian-looking) P8.

  11. @10 you not unreasonably assume this car has gullwing doors. Admittedly it is a little unclear from the photos of the full-size packaging model, but I wonder if it may be more likely that the idea was for more conventional doors (albeit with no capping channel over the door glass – like a typical open topped sports car) and lift-out roof panels a la the ca 1967 Corvette. Having said that, I know that David Bache had some weird ideas for a gull wing doored saloon…

  12. I’m fortunate enough to have spent an afternoon sat in and around (and under!) this car. It’s quite clearly an engineers’ hack to test the premise. The ergonomics leave a lot to be desired! The pedals are grouped together and pushed right over to the left hand side with a huge wheel arch dominating the right hand side of the footwell, the steering column is on a very funny angle indeed, and the seat is far far to far back. It’s an extremely compromised driving position. I wouldn’t fancy driving it around town for any period – would take quite a bit of time to get used to! Some nice features were the production Stag seats, and the dashboard which is quite clearly a P6 parts bin emptied onto a shelf! Underneath is a bit of lash-up to say the least…. It doesn’t exactly look robust, and you can see where all of the P6 production parts have been modified to fit in the most awkward manner. It’s quite an odd creature. I’d love to see how a full running production prototype would have been, but I feel this was dependent on P8 making production. P6BS is a cut’n’shut P6 base unit, whereas I feel P9 would have been the same treatment with the P8 shell, and therefore with a more accommodating design and a little more engineering sophistication!! A truly remarkable vehicle though, but not a patch on T4, which is so refined and skilfully executed. T4 feels very much like it could actually be a production vehicle – and yet is fully hand built. P6BS feels like it might fall apart at any moment!

    • The weird driving position described, offset pedals to the left dictated by the large wheel arch, strange steering column angle, just like a new Mazda MX5 my local ex-Honda dealer was pushing me towards a test drive, initial enthusiasm cooled as soon as I sat in the seat, in fact I was out of the car asap, never even bothered to start the engine.

  13. A lot of wishful thinking here! What comes to mind here is the 1976 Lotus Esprit S1. Even with jaw dropping looks it wasn’t until the S3 and Turbo that it began to come good. A company like Rover would have to have got it right first time. Unlike Lotus owners, Rover buyers were not folks who enjoyed lying upside down in the drivers footwell of their cars.

  14. This article highlights a rather British trait; or one which has developed recently. A belief that a good idea is somehow sufficient to produce a successful product. That once
    this idea has been born the rest of the work is taken for granted. An idea is just the beginning of a process of development, and designers are a small part of a team.
    Successive governments (yes politics is inextricably linked with manufacturing cars)
    have believed that by issuing a statement or producing a new law, a change would occur.
    This short term, shallow and hierarchical thinking is what led to the destruction of Britain’s ability to produce cars and manufactured products in general.

  15. I couldn’t agree more with Pedro the Parrot. And there are some very significant casing examples of this – TR7, Princess, Hillman Imp, Metro, SD1 are all perfect examples of very, very good designs. Cars that incorporated elements or details that were not commonly fitted at the time, cars that contributed something to the industry, or sought to break convention by finding alternative, intelligent solutions to the problems of the day. And yet most or all of them were a commercial ‘failure’ in terms of actual sales vs sales expectations and/or production capacity.
    Clearly there were many factors at play, but Pedro’s point remains – good design does not causally lead to a successful product.

  16. Why thank you sir! I am a furniture designer (another nigh on extinct activity in this country) so I believe I have a little insight.

  17. Yes, I too agree with Pedro and indeed Michael Allen . We do indeed have a long history of ingenious – and good – designs which were imperfectly executed . The Metro ( as was the SD1 although in truth there were few if any rivals ) was a prime example of a design which was vastly superior to its Japanese equivalents, but which was not so well screwed together. that having been said, we had a 1986 MG Metro as a family hack which served us well for 7 years and, unlike its far Eastern equivalents, was fun to drive – as indeed was my 3500 SD1

  18. I happen to think this car would have been a cracking replacement for the Triumph TR6.

    Spen King was moved to Triumph at the time this car was in development, if he could have been allowed to take this design with him and see it to production it could well have been a winner.

  19. Tr6 hadn’t in fact appeared when the P6BS was around although the 5 was just appearing. I do agree, however, that in theory it would have been a better car than the TR7 FHC which eventually appeared some 8 years later . Whether it would have sold is another matter – midengined cars seem to die on the market , Boxster excepted for some reason

  20. I tend to disagree personally. If there were to have been a ‘better’ alternative to TR7 (‘better’ in either engineering sophistication or just greater ‘desirability’ – whatever means by history would better remember it), then that car would surely have been ADO21. Like P6BS, this too was a mid-engined, 2-seat configuration with a very progressive style and package built around existing running gear. However, it was also a four-cylinder – and whilst history clearly tells us that the market (or the British market at least) was not ready for a small, modernist sports coupe in the mid 70s (it probably took the MR2 to establish that) – a four cylinder with robust running gear would certainly be a far more saleable and affordable package as a sort of ‘space age successor’ to the traditional working men’s MGs.
    Personally I feel the P6BS could only ever have remained a niche product. Its rivals were ultimately TVRs, latterday Bristols and similar low volume cars. I just do not see how the market was there for a 2-seater, V8 powered mini-supercar. Bear in mind, the price difference between something like this and MG BGT V8 would have been as big as the engineering gap. It simply would not have been cheap to produce a car like this. Either bespoke body tooling would be required at Fisher at enormous cost, or every car would be hand made from modified P6 base units. So whether by demand or ability to produce, I think this car could – by its very nature – only ever have remained an extremely low volume product. In the same end of the market, two extra seats and FOUR extra cylinders could be had in the Jaguar XJ-S from 1975, and for all its foibles, it was available and extremely affordable.

  21. @ 20.
    That’s true, but I envisaging a launch date for P6BS of 1970-72?
    I’ve never considered the XJS as a sports car, I’ve always thought of it as more of a 2-seat grand-tourer.
    I can’t envisage either car encroaching in the sales territory of the other?

    I do however agree that the P6BS would probably have failed in the market place in being an expensive low-volume niche produce and sales would inevitably been affected by the events of 1973 and the oil crisis that followed.

  22. I always wondered why this car was wasted – Jag needed a replacement for the E Type and this could have been it making the 911 look antiquated, as it had the E Type. But then again British Leyland had so much infighting and not enough intergrating design and engineering which could have lead them to become a big player not just an automotive joke.

  23. This is just a question, not a criticism of any previous comments.
    Based on some of the foregoing posts, one would assume that this car was ready for production – was that the case, or was there lots more development to do? If the latter – then some or all of the ‘faults’ with the design and execution would have been hopefully rectified?
    Perhaps Peter @7 would have a better idea than many of us?

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