After Rover pulled the plug on the promising AR6 programme, Design Director Roy Axe decided that a light rebody of the upcoming K-Series Metro was required to keep it selling. Few would have predicted that it would end up looking as good as it did.
It’s a shame they never built it…
Cost constraints killed the interesting AR6 Metro-replacement project, just as it was on the cusp of production. The lower-cost alternative was to build a car based on the then-current Metro, yet housing the PSA gearbox and K-Series engine.
The underlying excellence of the K-Series engine, in particular, meant that there was going to be a car of great depth and ability emerging from Rover, but this would be largely masked by the facelift styling.
Some of the stylists at Canley felt so strongly about this, that they proposed a new style, which would closely tie in with the R6’s cost-constrained underpinnings. Director of Design, Roy Axe, reflected these strong feelings: ‘This project was again born of frustration at the system that was developing at Rover… the R6X was a Design Office proposal again.’
Why Rover needed the R6X
In effect, Product Planners did not identify the need for the R6X – the Designers did. Expanding upon this, stylist David Saddington explained how this process was the logical continuation of the facelift Metro scheme.
He said: ‘A few of us firmly believed that, given the level of engineering change inherent in R6 and that for a few dollars more, a new body and interior (R6X) would give the platform a longer lease of life and higher volumes.’
Given that management was heavily behind the R6 concept, it was logical that the R6X would need to be a stylish and convincing supermini: ‘With this argument looming between 6 and 6X, it was clear that we needed a good show to win the day. What better way than to build a ‘runner’ that would show all of the benefits in our proposal?’
Where would the money come from?
The difficulty lay in budget. It would cost money to prepare a running prototype. However, Roy Axe devised a lower-cost method of getting the required results: ‘We had to have something more convincing.’
He added: ‘I had taken on the role of Design and Advanced Engineering, which was hoped to be a way through the constant cry that engineering had no resources for anything other than to keep the relationship with Honda going.’
With Axe installed in this role, he could take a wider view of the design process: ‘Though I did not have the resource to develop a full car in house, I knew someone who did. I had known the late Sergio Coggiola for some considerable time, and was very familiar with his capabilities. There were some very capable Engineers in my team and I felt that we could design the vehicle on minimum budget, and have Coggiola build a prototype to this design in very quick time.’
Making the running prototype
Saddington explained the process behind the creation of this interesting running prototype: ‘Working from points data from the Canley clay model, and lots of good engineering info from Derek Anderson and John Button, Coggiola first produced a full-size plaster replica of our clay.
‘They then produced this running prototype in record time, by joining their steel fabrication to an R6 prototype platform that we gave them,’ he added.
However, in the lead up to the BAe takeover of the Rover Group, there was no way that management wanted to sanction any unnecessary spending; Rover needed to look like a lean ship. Saddington felt that, even though the car was going to review, the Canley Designers were fighting a losing battle.
He said: ‘In project terms, we lost out to the bean counters, who showed we did not have the money to launch our concept and, if memory serves, we were already fighting a lost battle by the time the prototype returned to England. The company could only afford R6.’
But it wasn’t enough
Admittedly, the R6 was a revelation compared with the original Metro – and in so many areas – so, management could rightly point to their favoured car and ask the question: why spend more?
Perhaps the money should have been sanctioned – either way, it wasn’t immediately; in fact, the general consensus within the Styling Team was that it was doomed, given the lack of management enthusiasm for the project. Certainly, from the pictures that have escaped into the public domain, the car had undoubted style – and, in a fashion-conscious market, that would have undoubtedly assisted sales.
A missed opportunity
Roy Axe felt it had a bright future and David Saddington echoed that view: ‘The vehicle was a revelation. I have to say that a large portion of this came from the fundamental excellence of R6, but our design added clear votes on how that platform could go further; and with the all-new style, it could easily carry the Rover badge.
‘Apart from anything else, with a great interior from Graham Lewis and Jeremy Newman, the car just looked so right! Driving around the test track at Gaydon, and even more excitingly, driving behind our creation and seeing it moving on the road (imagining millions of them being sold, of course!), is one of my happiest memories from this job.’
Although the R6X was not cancelled, as such, the review process was a laborious process. It was one which became bogged down during the approval phase: ‘With deadlines pressing, the best we gained was a strategic decision that we would launch R6 as a stop-gap, and immediately start work on doing R6X properly.’
This idea had legs. After all, the Metro was ageing badly and, although the A-Series-powered car remained reasonably popular, sales were slipping away, and its main rival on the marketplace, the Ford Fiesta, had begun to leave it behind.
However, the plan was thrown into something resembling disarray thanks – again – to finance. The R6 project’s costs escalated (thanks in no small part to the array of underbody changes) to a level resembling those of the original R6X predictions. If this was not bad enough, the R6X was going through something of a metamorphosis.
Saddington felt that it became something of a ‘committee car’, thanks to all the changes that it was undergoing: ‘…the rush job to productionise R6X, [it] got out of shape and, by the time it was eventually cancelled, I was supervising one of those dreaded committee cars; it had gained a chrome grille, four inches in the wheelbase, and loads of cost and timing issues that eventually killed it. Sad to say, but I wasn’t too upset to see the committee car go.’
A happy outcome?
Thankfully, the 1990 Metro/100 (above) did sell well, although the Rover marketing boys burned much midnight oil trying to devise a campaign that persuaded the public that it was an entirely new car underneath.
According to Saddington, R6X did not die immediately. It was kicked around between management and the stylists before it died: ‘As interest diminished in the R6X project we applied a bit of lateral thinking. Given that the style of R6X had been so well received, we looked at applying the design to a cut-down R8 platform – R7. It looked great, a bit like a GT Estate car. Went nowhere, but eased our way into the SK3/R3…’
The sad thing is that the R6X concept was eminently saleable. The only thing that stopped the 1990 Metro/100 enjoying a longer and more successful lifespan was the styling, which was badly compromised by the fact that it looked like a facelift of a 1980 car.
Not the desired result
In fact, the R6 was much more than that – it’s just that many buyers were unaware of the fact. Given that original styling scheme, it would have undoubtedly been a much greater success. Certainly, it wouldn’t have needed a facelift so soon after its launch.
Still, much in the way of money saving went on within the Rover Group at the time (at the behest of its parent company, no doubt), so it should come as no surprise that such a shocking, short-termist policy was followed. How different things might have been in subsequent years…
Unfortunately, not even the models and prototypes survived. According to Saddington, ‘the original clay, fibreglass, and the ‘Coggi-car’ all languished in our store at Canley until we moved to Gaydon in 1995. At that point only the runner was given to Heritage. As far as I know the vehicle has now been destroyed (I was given the chassis plates as a memento).’ How sad…