Arguably, the Rover 400 was viewed with disappointment by both buyers and certain elements within Rover itself. That said, the Richard Woolley-penned saloon version was a huge improvement over the five-door hatchback, and Rover admitted as much when, at the launch of the five-door hatchback, they told us that the ‘Real 400’ would be with us within months when the saloon broke cover.
From an engineering standpoint, the 400 was mainly Honda and, in the suspension department, that was no bad thing. It meant that the 400 was blessed with an advanced multi-link set-up that gave many possible ride/handling choices. Unfortunately, Rover (constrained by BMW?) chased ride comfort and, as a result, the handling was a little bit flawed.
Releasing the potential
Be that as it may, many people within Rover had faith in the car – and, together with the Engineers who cooked up the fabulous K-Series and KV6 engines, they came up with this concept. Since the KV6 had been placed under the bonnet of the Rover 800 in 1995, it was an inevitability that it would find its way under the bonnet of other products of the group.
While the HHR was under development, hacks with the KV6 engine were put together and seriously evaluated – there were some installation problems, notably KV6 failures but, in time, these issues were surmounted, and support for the vehicle mounted within the company. Rover finally produced a version for public consumption in 1999 and the press gave it a warm welcome.
A very British concept
As Rover at the time were majoring on comfort, rather than performance, the emphasis was placed firmly on the 425 being a refined compact express, but there was a sporting car waiting to break cover…
It was revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1997, but sadly it was only ever a design concept – no serious engineering work beyond simply installing the engine into the HHR’s engine bay was ever done. Indeed, it was a rather late decision to create a design concept for the 400 Series range, to complement similar design concept propositions for the 200 Series and 800 Series, as part of a performance portfolio of models – akin to the 200 BRM LE.
There were one or two examples built as running prototypes, although the reality was this proposition was at least a year away from entering any form of production schedule because of the ongoing production engineering that was required.
By the summer of 1998, Rover Cars was preparing for the unveiling of the new 75, and was discounting the 800 like crazy. For a few thousand pounds more than the anticipated on-the-road price of a production-ready 425 V6 Limited Edition, you could have an 800 Vitesse or Sterling.
As can be seen, the interior was treated to a green/tan colour scheme, and it worked surprisingly well. The exterior detailing was also re-thought, as well – the addition of chromed Rover 75 door mirrors and chromed door handles previewed the 1999 Rover 45, which was, of course, eventually offered with the KV6.
However, it was initially the 2.0-litre version that was offered, and again, the set-up of the car was biased towards comfort… So why was the 425 not launched as a fully-fledged production model – and why did we wait until 1999 before we were offered this engine in this car?
It would seem that internal politics between BMW and Rover stood in its way – and, although the Group’s problems were deep by this time, it did not stop the German parent company vetoing the potentially interesting package.
It could be said that the concept did come of age after the creation of MG Rover. However, the car would not wear a Viking badge, it would be called the MG ZS (below).