Concepts and Prototypes : Rover 75 (2006 facelift)

The Rover 75 would prove to be one of the hardest cars in the industry to facelift.

That didn’t stop MGR Designer Lee Mitchell having a go with a re-nose slated for a 2006-2007 launch.


Rover 75: MGR’s secret Rover facelift

The farce that was the arrival of the 2004 facelifts of the Rover 25/MG ZR, 45/ZS and 75/ZT will probably haunt anyone who worked at MG Rover for years to come.

If you don’t remember it, then cast your minds back – MGR fans were eagerly anticipating the arrival of the new cars, the company had been struggling to get them out and, after flogging away behind the scenes, managed to ready the cars for introduction.

A date was set, embargoes were created, and fans with an appetite for the new were on tenterhooks… and then, three days before the official announcement, Rover’s own advertising in the London Evening Standard and Daily Mirror, revealed the new cars in their grainy monochrome glory. Oh dear…

A refreshing strategy

The idea of freshening up these rapidly ageing cars was a sound one – and, on the whole, the way they ended up looking was a step in the right direction. For the Rover 75, the facelift was necessary, as it was still Longbridge’s star car, its prize possession, and although sales had been on the slide since the end of 2003, when the Phoenix Four pension debacle went public, it was still very much a force within its sector of the UK market.

The 2004 front-end styling was controversial, though. The majority of models received a fairly low-key restyle, which played down the Rover’s heritage by shrinking the grille, and upping the plastic content.

It might have looked sleeker, but few 75 fans preferred it. However, the 75 V8‘s more imposing full-depth affair – although initially harder to stomach – was judged to be more successful and fitting of the marque.

The intermediate strategy

But this facelift was always meant to be a halfway house to the more thorough re-engineering job being done on the 75, which was due to bear fruit in 2006.

The main thrust of the 2006 model was to see the replacement of BMW’s M47 turbodiesel in favour of Powertrain’s impressive G-Series engine, which had started out unpromising in testing, but which had emerged as a fitting common rail-fuelled replacement.

There were to be many other improvements, too, but the external styling was to receive a much more thorough going over, as these images clearly show.

Platform changes

According to a couple of sources, this car was to also incorporate a 103mm stretch in the wheelbase to improve rear room as well as improve the already impressive chassis settings. New door pressings were being developed to meet this need, although according to Lee Mitchell, this was never in his design brief.

What we do also know about this car is that a revised interior was being developed, and the dashboard had been previewed in the 2004 Rover 75 Coupe proposal. It was this car that became the basis of the Roewe 750.

The favoured proposal, and the one which was approved for production was what was known within the company as the ‘interim heavy 75 facelift for 2006’.

Jaguar overtones

Although it doesn’t look it in these renderings, Mitchell stated that the new car would have used new sheet metal from the A-pillar forward. He said: ‘It was scarily like the Jaguar XF, and this is going back six years ago before that car was even a sketch!’

Certainly, there’s a resemblance around the headlamps and in the grille shape that’s hard to ignore, and according to Lee, it was rendered to full-size in clay, and it looked like a real step forward.

A more radical idea by Lee for this facelift (below) was sadly overlooked, but elements of this more muscular style would go into the early renderings for this car’s planned 2010 replacement…

Keith Adams

41 Comments

  1. Still preferred the original MK1 version over the actual facelift in 2004 – and this later facelift proposal. Lee Mitchell’s 2010 etchings looked promising though!

  2. In tandem with Hilton Davis’s sentiments, I, too, prefer the pre-facelift Rover 75. The facelifted model lacked prescence, although the Premium front bumper design as used on the V8 models, wasn’t that bad.

    The first shot of a proposed frontal enhancement definitely does not float my boat.

  3. If they had knocked a car out like this from maybe about 2000 to 2005, it would have knocked the socks off the general public… And I strongly believe MGR would be still with us and doing well!

  4. If Rover had launched a car like the(bottom shot) they would have owned the market never mind anything else. Stunning. And oh boy am i reading a good book about BAE/Honda/Rover/BMW-an eye opener!

  5. That car in the bottom rendering is stunning – compared with the heavy-handed and generally fugly Chrysler/Lancia Thema, this has style, elegance and presence in bucket-loads……another of the great MGR ‘could have beens’…….

  6. Hang on though. Where would this car have fitted in? Suddenly going from 3 series sized to 5 series sized but looking much the same. I think once again Rover would have ended up with an oddly sized car that the market didnt understand. The range would have existed of the ageing 200 – neither Fiesta or Focus, the positively ancient 400, overlapping the 200 and then a massive gap to this. If Rover had limped on into 2006, I reckon this would have absolutely finished it.

  7. I feel the top face lift looks dreadful, But! the rear looks great. The front (bottom) looks fantastic!! If they had made that, I feel it would have been a success

  8. I don’t care for either facelift proposal, but the bottom one looks like one of those chariacature cartoons, especially with those hideously inappropriate wheels.

  9. Lee’s proposal looks very Chrysler 300. A car with character and presence (and, it is rumoured, inspired by the P5).

  10. The 75 has its detractors mainly opinions against the ‘retro’ look of the original. Well, it’s a personal thing. Art: you like it or you don’t. Design’s the same. For me and I suspect most 75 lovers the pre-facelift was just a sublime piece of design.
    Somewhere on this site (I can never find it when I want to) is a 45 butched-up to look not unlike a 75 and, to my mind, was close to where Rover should have gone with the car.
    Not the facelift and far less any of these more ‘industrial’ versions suited the rounded classy look of the main body shape. All fine and interesting and correct, but for a very different car.
    I still look at the 75, particularly the early ones, and see an almost timeless design. It was, for those of us who appreciated it, as near perfect as could be.
    From the front, the back, the side: Richard Wooley created a masterpiece and I for one thank him for it.

  11. @6 – Francis – which book? and Lee’s proposal looked superb – @12 Will – the C300 looks very much like the P5, and that’s where I think Lee’s influence was 🙂

  12. @13, “END OF THE ROAD” The true story of the downfall of Rover. Brilliant read, made me wipe my mouth over some things, notably BMW.

  13. It strikes me that there is a terrible styling mismatch between the traditional rounded form of the central section and the angularity of the new front and rear (photos 1 & 2).

    Trouble is they needed fresh metal but had nothing to offer – if only earlier negotiations had led to a proper partner without having to try to negotiate with the Chinese – which is seldom a fruitful process…..

  14. I too like the silver one (third pic) front end. The alloys look a bit oversize though. It is only a styling concept after all

  15. The first rendering looks amazing up to the minute (even now!), second one not so much. The Mk1s styling was always a bit bland and wishy-washy for me, the down-turned front indicators always made the car look sad. The 2004 restyle addressed those shortcomings and these would have helped lift the 75s image higher, making it look more modern. Pity we never saw them in real life…

  16. Looks like another R17 to me, heavily facelifted but not heavily enough to disguise what lies beneath. If they’d managed to last long enough to release this it would have been just another milestone on the road to the inevitable.

  17. Of course that it’s something totally subjective, but I still think that the 600 was much better looking even by today standards. Just spotted one yesterday and what a beautiful car!
    Such a pity that never sold properly in Britain, maybe with larger engines and a wagon ( excuse me , estate LOL)

    In the other way, the 75 just like the much more beautiful S-Type, looked much more like a step backwards rather than forward, specially compared with the 600 and the XJ40/308.

  18. Ye Gods!

    Better they took it out the back of the shed and shot it, repeatedly, in the face, with a chaingun!

    Seriously the further you go down the more horrific it gets. The last one looks like a Chrysler 300C penned by the car designing equivalant of Amon Goeth (look him up, not a pleasant chap by all accounts – surname is pronounced ger-ter by the way).

    It looks just about bearable from the back in the dark blue picture, but even that looks like someone bolted on some e-bay specials light clusters from China.

    The original 75/XT was such a pretty car – these ‘updates’ are soul crushingly horrible.

  19. That M47 by any chance wouldn’t be the Diesel version of the E47 thats currently well known for its habit of being installed backwards and eating cam chains like K-series eat Head Gaskets?
    I mean – you are putting an engine in a make of car built for the people with the heaviest right boots known to man & you put in a single run cam-chain? backwards? so it takes over 8 hours to remove, repair & replace?
    I think BMW might be borrowing more from BL than we thought – who’d have thought ripping off the SD1 came with a side order of Marina’s Revenge…?

  20. #20 : actually, his name was Goth, with an umlaut over the o, and it is pronounced Gert . You are confusing the pronunciation with that of the poet Goethe, a different kind of creature altogether !

  21. I have always liked the 75 from the start of prodiction and did like the face lifted model but it did need updating a bit more than it recived in 2004, I think the 3rd styling change for the Rover 75 would of made a lot of sense and would of sold. But to put such a design change into production would of cost a bit and the sad finacial state MG Rover were in could they afford to of done this!!! I have always had a soft spot for Rover and have had a few, all reliable, early 216 Vanden Plass leaked a bit and rusted but the later one I had didn’t and was very well built. Its sad to see all our Uk owned car industry gone RIP MG Rover.

  22. I find it funny that rover spent so long to make the 75 retro then for the rest of the cars production life tried to modernise it and make it look not so retro

  23. As the Chief Engineer on Rover75 (post BMW) and MG ZT I would just like to say the constraints were not Design or Engineering, the constraints were Kevin Howe and money. With he and Nick Stevenson spending like crazy on Sport and Racing, setting up spoof companies and trying to encourage the Chinese there was no money left for new cars or major facelifts.

  24. Styling was never the issue with the 75. It was always gorgeous.
    It was quality — or the lack thereof — that needed addressing. Facelifts would not fix head gasket failures, sloppy fitting trim and other issues.
    From Day 1 of Phoenix, fixing quality should have been the #1 priority.

  25. The original Rover 75 styling was a bit marmite really. Those that loved it LOVED it, but it also put off a lot of potential buyers, as being too “grandad” looking, the sort of car driven by someone retired rather than a 40 year old “thrusting executive”.

    I’m not sure any of the facelifts entirely worked, as ultimately the basic proportions still shine through. I agree with Rodrigo above in much preferring the look of the Rover 600, which manages to look like a “proper” Rover, but also modern.

  26. The rear view of the proposed redesign still has that horrible oversized number plate space that disfigured the first versions of the R75 – made even more hideous when fitted with an oversized non rectangular number plate in some unfortunate cases. (similar horrible non rectangular plates occasionally found their way onto the backs of Jaguar S-types)

    The front with its massive out of proportion radiator grille looks nasty too – reminds me of the current Mercedes-Benz and BMW models with oversized grilles – which in many cases are actually blanked off dummies with no function at all.

    Practically, just as Ford and GM realised at the end of the last century, the game was up for non premium large saloons. I doubt that Rover noticed when they launched the 75 nor did it sink in for the next 6 or 7 years.

  27. Rover did have some kudos left as a manufacturer of premium cars when the 75 was launched, and the 200 and 400 were only three years old at the time, but the cars never received a full update and when Rover went under in 2005, their cars were essentially lightly modified 7 to 10 year old designs. Also the luxury market was dominated by premium German and Swedish brands by then and Rover was a peripheral brand in this market.
    It’s all a big shame, as the 25, 45 and 75 were still good looking cars and good to drive, but the market had moved on and the only part that has survived is Land Rover, who are doing exceptionally well making SUVs and crossovers, which is what the market wants now. I would imagine had Rover survived beyond 2005, the heavily revised 75 would have become an MG, as this side of the saloon business was doing better than Rover, and the Rover badge being dumped.

    • @Glenn Aylett:

      Quote: “Rover did have some kudos left as a manufacturer of premium cars when the 75 was launched, and the 200 and 400 were only three years old at the time, but the cars never received a full update and when Rover went under in 2005, their cars were essentially lightly modified 7 to 10 year old designs.”

      I’m confused by your comment that neither the R3 200 Series nor HHR 400 Series received a “full update”. This occurred in the Autumn of 1999 when both models under the codenames of ‘Jewel’ and ‘Oyster’ were updated, both cosmetically and in relation to trim materials, body engineering and dynamics. As the press release of the time suggested, “At least 40 percent of the components used were new for the revised models” that were also re-named as 25 and 45. This was quite a comprehensive update for models that were meant to have had only three more years of production left in them before all new replacement models were to have been launched under BMW’s ownership.

      The updates instigated under MG Rover Group for the 25 and 45 were a further attempt to keep the models fresh and engaging way beyond their original shelf life, which had not been envisaged by either BMW Group in late 1999 nor by Phoenix Venture Holdings in 2000. What was delivered to all models in 2004, therefore, was not only unplanned – with the exception of the Rover 75 – but now having to be heavily influenced by budgetary constraints because the models were simply too old to have made a significant impact on recovering sales in all markets and MG Rover Group itself not being in a position to spend heavily.

      • The 25 and 45 updates occurred when the cars were 4 years old and certainly freshened them up with the attractive four headlamp front end and improvements to peformance and handling. It would have been nice if both cars were replaced in 2002 as planned, but they had to live on until the end of MG Rover and were considered old hat except by Rover loyalists.
        I will defend the 75, though. This won praise for its driving abilities, comfort, beautiful interiors and large range of models when launched. The MG ZT versions also gave the range a sporting edge and less traditional interiors that won over some buyers. Considering the 800 seems to have vanished, I still see two 75s and a ZT Tourer in everyday use locally and it proves they were good cars and better than their predecessors.

  28. Really the 75 needed a complete rebody to modernise it, the original BMW-directed design was great as a piece of retro design but a bit naff in a world of always-evolving German saloons and super modern European fleet cars, it was only ever going to be a niche car realistically. Given how well-received the 600 was design-wise (even more so given its starting point) its a shame they didn’t evolve that style, BMW had the ability to revolutionise the mechanical bits and lower the production cost compared to the Honda-based car, that’s where they should have put the effort not thrusting Rover design 30 years into the past

  29. I never understood the supposed market niche of the 600 – it was a reworking of a boring Honda and never gained any sort of kudos.

    Honda saw the light a while ago and stopped selling the Accord in the UK.

    Ford at least did the ST series of Mondeos which were kinda fun.

    If Rover had wanted to do retro style for the 75 they should have done it by using a flat eggcrate grille and four round headlights at the front as a recreation of the P6 – which would be more appropriate to remind prospective buyers of the ‘prestige’ Rovers their parents drove in the 60s and 70s.

  30. Retro has worked for one brand, Mini, but the car has evolved from a 21st century answer to the BMC Mini into a whole range of cars that have some styling clues from the original car, but aren’t considered kitschy or naff, a fate which befell the new Beetle, which soon fell out of favour when the new Mini was launched.

  31. Retro has also worked well for FIAT to the point where the local FIAT dealers only have the various 500 derivatives on display in their showroom.

    I always thought that the 75 should have done retro by taking styling cues from the P6 series rather than the 1950s ‘auntie’ Rover models which always reminded me of the dumpy and hippopotamus-rounded Allegro!!

    A 75 with an option to mount the spare wheel on the bootlid, P6 style – now that would have been proper retro.

    And what about wire wheels?? I remember a family friend had a P6 with wires…

    • Wire wheels? Surely a step too far in the retro direction! I suspect you weren’t being entirely serious. I’ve never understood the appeal of wire wheels . The requirement to keep the tension in the spokes totally consistent to prevent the wheel going out of true? More bother than they’re worth.

      • I have had, and indeed still have 3, cars with wire wheels, and have never needed to have a single wheel trued up . Perhaps you are thinking of motorcyle wheels , which are a different proposition ?

    • The 500 probably saved Fiat as the Punto was starting to decline in popularity and the Bravo/ Brava never sold in huge numbers outside Italy. It was a successful 21st century take on one of Italy’s most loved cars and sales were massive as it was a funky two door small car that women in particular loved. Creating an MPV and crossover version added even more sales and the 500 is essentially Fiat these days( the Panda continues to sell to people wanting a four door supermini, but sales are minimal compared to the 500 range).

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