Ah, the joys of social media… The Lignes/Auto website recently shared the above image in its social media feed. It was part of a quiz, asking members to identify this Bertone proposal. One of the options was ‘Rover Bravo’ and, lo and behold, when the results were announced, it was this car – and not a Citroën, Renault, or anything Italian that was pinned against this image.
Questions, questions… Why would Rover-Triumph approach Bertone to create a full-sized proposal for a car that so far doesn’t appear to have left the product planning documents? Why indeed? But it’s perfectly possible that it could have happened, no matter how unlikely.
For one, British Leyland’s design capacity was at full pelt at the time. With the Metro signed off, LM10 and LM11 (and others in the family) were fully underway at Longbridge, while over at Canley, much attention was being given to the Triumph sports car range, and at Solihull, there was work being done on the Range Rover. So it was busy, busy, busy. To design a rebodied Rover might have been a step too far, hence the idea that outsourcing it to Bertone isn’t as unlikely as it first appears.
For one, it would have come under the auspices of Marc Deschamps, and had it been commissioned in 1980-1981, looking at the image above, there are some clear references to the SD1 around the nose in this rather generic-looking saloon proposal. So, it’s entirely possible that this proposal was a Rover Bravo by Bertone, but we are still seeking confirmation of the fact.
What was Rover Bravo?
In the dying days of Rover-Triumph as a separate entity within the company, in the lead-up to the association with Honda, BL’s prestige car division looked like it was fighting for its very existence. In 1979, in the months following Sir Michael Edwardes’ appointment as Chairman and Chief Executive of BL and prior to his policy of separation of the carmaking divisions, product planners within each area of the company came up with revised versions of their upcoming model plans.
Unlike Austin-Morris, which looked settled in its Metro-Maestro-Montego plan, Rover-Triumph’s future was laid-out before it like an unpainted canvas – and it was in this era that they came up with what actually looked like a very viable plan of platform and component sharing, which could have left us with a much different outcome to the one that we ended up with. Thanks to David Knowles’ excellent book about the Triumph TR7, much has already been written about the sports car side of the business.
In pre-Honda thinking, we’d have ended up with an O-Series and V8-powered TR7 and, later on, the MG Boxer and Triumph Broadside models would have followed. The range would have included roadsters – possibly a targa and definitely coupes – on two different wheelbases and would have seen the TR7 bloodline last right through to the late-1980s. In our own story about Rover-Triumph’s secret model plans, these cars were planned to run through until an electronic facelift in 1986 and could have lived on well into the MX-5 era.
What did it look like?
The basis of Rover-Triumph’s saloon plans are currently somewhat cloudier, though. The ‘SD1 Series 2’ facelift had been set in stone in 1979 and was planned for Autumn 1981. As we know, that was delayed somewhat by the move in production from Solihull to Cowley (not anticipated in 1979), finally being launched in January 1982. However, its replacement, the Bravo, looked like it had also progressed a little further than the sterile pages of the product plans, too, given that the document below discusses both its facelift and subsequent development.
So, that begs the question: where are the images of Rover Bravo? We’ve seen all manner of sports car renderings and models but, so far, nothing of the Rover has turned up at all. That’s a shame, as seeing some tangible proof of the SD1’s development beyond its light 1982 facelift would be nice. What the TR7-Rover SD1 platform does prove is that Spen King’s designs were simple and adaptable, and lent themselves easily to spinning out a potentially wider model range. Although I’ve yet to properly analyse a Triumph SD2, it’s abundantly clear that it uses the TR7’s front struts, its rear axle, (probably) a shortened version of the SD1’s platform (maybe the Lynx’s underpinnings) and the LT77 gearbox.
Bravo still intrigues me, though. Just how extensive would this SD1 reskin actually be? Slated for launch in late 1984, it was initially to be launched as a four-door saloon and was to be based on a modified SD1 centre section. Early thoughts were that the V8 engine would not be used in the saloon, but that the TR7’s front suspension set-up and SD1 rear axle would be. The power units were to be the O-Series engine in 2.0-litre form (as the SD1 would end up being from June 1982), the 2.6-litre six-cylinder and four-cylinder VM turbodiesel.
The plans for Rover Bravo
A year later, the hatchback Rover Bravo would be added to the range and, beyond that, possibly an estate version. It was conceived as a differently-styled model and penned to slot in above the saloon. The V8 would find its way into this model, presumably as the performance halo flagship. In many ways, the Rover Bravo product plan was a nascent version of the 800’s – launch in saloon form first, then hatchback – and offered with a range of engines, which one assumes would have ended up having the O-Series-based M16 as the main power unit, with the six- and V8-powered Bravos reserved for the luxury and high performance models.
The SD1’s platform wouldn’t have been carried over unmodified, as Product Planners suggested that the Bravo’s wheelbase would be 105in, some 5.8in less than the SD1 – and 4in less than the Ford Granada Mk2. The logic behind this change in dimension remains unclear, especially as the SD1 was hardly noted for its generously-sized interior. It’s probably fair to say that it wouldn’t have looked a million miles away from this early Rover 800 mock-up, which was completed in July 1982 (above), even if it had been less overtly aerodynamic than this.
However, until we see some drawings or photos of models, this is really all supposition beyond what we know from the product plans. What we can ascertain is that an intriguing and perhaps fruitful 1980s was denied us when Rover-Triumph’s plans were cut short in 1981. A potentially convincing range of sports and executive cars was to be spun from what was essentially the same platform and small range of engines and that sounds like modern, joined-up thinking today, which serves the industry so well…
And to think that Roy Haynes had been trying to achieve the same thing at BL more than a decade before. But that’s another story…
What it the right car for the time?
No matter how appealing it looked, though, the question that also really needs asking is whether the Bravo would have been more suited to the late-1980s executive car market than the Rover 800?
We might now look back on the car’s potential and see it as a potential rear-wheel-drive BMW basher, but would its (by then) elderly underpinnings have held it back? After all, this was a product plan that was to have been done on a budget. No matter how appealing it might seem now, it’s debatable whether it would have lasted as long as the 800 (a car that should have been euthenised by 1996 at the latest). Questions, questions, questions…
Anyway, if you are a Designer, or know one, who was there at the company at the time and potentially worked with Bertone, and know of images, renderings or models of the Rover Bravo, I would dearly love to hear from you in order to fill in another important piece of this huge and complex jigsaw so please get in touch.
|Product Plan: Model Line Rover Bravo
|Project RT 020 – Four-door saloon
Introduction of the first in a new model range to replace SD1 in established markets, with the exception of North America.
o Front end and suspension as TR7/8
o New mid-section similar to SD1
o Rear end and axle – combination of SD1 and LynxEngines:
o 2.0-litre O-Series
o 2.6-litre six-cylinder OHC
o Four-cylinder turbocharged diesel – bought out
|Project RT 023 – Five-door saloon
Introduction of five-door hatchback based on four-door underbody with extended front and rear ends to provide styling differential. Additional to model range in established Bravo markets and replaces SD1 in North America.Engines:
o 2.0-litre O-Series
o 2.6-litre 6-cylinder OHC
o V8 petrol engine
o Four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Dimensions and other mechanicals:
|Model year change
Changes to meet mandatory legal requirements.
|Project RT 025 – Bravo facelift
A proposed facelift intended to maintain sales of the Bravo model range.
Possible opportunities on base plan
Dependent on A-M engine strategy, opportunity exists to increase the four-door model range with a 2.0-litre O-Series turbocharged engine in Autumn 1984 and five-door derivative in Autumn 1985.Autumn 1985: Opportunity exists to further increase the five-door model range by the addition of a diesel engine based on the V8 petrol unit.