Keith Adams tells the story of the Rover Coupe Concept Vehicle, which acted as a showcase for Austin Rover design and starred at the 1986 Turin Motor Show.
It also gave some not-so-subtle hints at what Rover had planned for the 800 Series, due to go on sale later that year.
Rover CCV: Coupe de grace
Hot on the heels of the gorgeous MG EX-E, the Rover CCV (Coupé Concept Vehicle) made its debut at the 1986 Turin Motor Show. Unlike the MG, which had starred at Frankfurt in 1985 and had been quickly dismissed for production, this one was as a toe-in-the-water exercise to preview the styling of the Rover 800 and sound out potential buyers of the coupe version.
As it was, the CCV was an extremely handsome car overseen by Director of Design Roy Axe. It adopted the running theme in all Austin Rover projects of the time – slim headlights that bracketed a slit-like grille. The interior was also mocked-up for his prototype and boasted solid-state instrumentation and a dashboard mounted CD player (very novel back in 1986).
Roy Axe was very proud of what his team achieved with the CCV. He said: ‘The ice was broken and there was little opposition to the idea of another show car for the following year. This time there was more focus on the subject as the Rover 800 was well along the path to production and plans were forming to re-enter the USA market.’
Why a sneak preview of an 800 Coupe?
Roy Axe wanted Sterling to launch in the USA with a production coupe. ‘A two-door coupe would have been much preferable to the four-door saloon,’ he said. ‘But plans and funds available did not support this and volumes would be restricted. There were better places to use the limited funds available, or so it was judged.’
However, as a show car, a coupe would be perfect. ‘The idea had good support and so we started out on this project for the Turin show of 1986. Essentially, the same Design Teams were used for the EX-E and the CCV, but with some changes where the original MG people were involved in other things.’
The concept needed to be closely related to the Rover 800 saloon, though. ‘I felt that the coupe should pick up the character of the 800 in terms of basic form and character lines, but without the restrictions on dimensions and other regulatory limitations imposed on the 800 due to its commonality with the Honda Legend. The extra form at front and rear and the more shapely sides greatly enhanced the 800-based lines.’
Why the concept was so refreshing to design
Roy continued: ‘With a show car, Designers are spared the restrictions of current production technology and cost considerations. So, I felt the car should reflect some of the character of the MG EX-E in terms of the all-transparent roof. In this case, the roof was not as radical as the EX-E, due to the proportions and end use considerations of a coupe, but the idea worked well.’
With these stipulations, it’s not surprising the CCV looked so harmonious. ‘The design came together effortlessly around these guidelines and the final results, both interior and exterior, were very much to everyone’s satisfaction, he said. ‘Regrettably, this was the last of the show cars as the years immediately following had the Design Office fully occupied with the production programmes of the new product plan.’
The styling was judged an unqualified success at the Turin Motor Show, with the UK press in particular getting very excited by it. Many US dealers took on Sterling franchises on the strength of the CCV, and it proved disappointing that it never actually became a production reality. Roy recalled, ‘As with the EX-E, the final result just looked right and it sailed through the approval process that cleared it for exhibition at the show. Again the reaction can be read in the publications of the day which were all most complimentary. To get that reaction in Italy was a particular pleasure.’
The concept was investigated seriously by the company, but a lack of commitment to it by the management backed up by disappointing sales of the Sterling in the USA meant that it was continually put back.
However, the CCV would end up siring the Rover 800 Coupe, which finally went on sale in 1992 in facelifted R17 form. Like the second-generation Rover 800 (R17) saloon and fastback, the 800 Coupe ended up being a much more traditionally-focused vehicle than the earlier, edgier XX-generation Rover 800.
Read on for the full story of how the CCV was productionised into the 800 Coupe – a car that was designed for the USA and never sold there.