Concepts and Prototypes : Rover CCV (1984-1986)

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

Rover CCV concept

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?

Rover CCV

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.’

Rover CCV

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.

The CCV remains on display at Gaydon as a monument to what might have been...
The Rover CCV remains on display at Gaydon (although not in this colour!) as a monument to what might have been…
Keith Adams


  1. This CCV as displayed at Gaydon looks superb and shows how much flair that Roy Axe and the Rover design team had back in those days. Although the Rover 800 Coupe looks good too, the CCV has that “International” look about it. Thanks for another good feature Keith.

  2. This car is beautiful, this burnt copper was 25 yrs ahead of the today’s trend for this type of colour. Was Giugiaro inspired by this car when he designed the Subaru VSX?
    The 800 coupe still looks so gorgeous, it’s in my favourite colour: Nightfire….One day, maybe…..

  3. The CCV was a beautiful car, it was designed by Dave Saddington, it was his first full exterior project.
    As is the custom the Design Director gets the praise and the Designer gets no mention!

  4. I used to drool over this concept car as a kid and spent many a Sunday drawing my versions of it. Another defeat from the clutches of victory

  5. I pored over these pictures when they appeared in Car at the time as a young teenager. Great memories come flooding back. The design has stood up remarkably well although inevitable a production run would’ve lost some of its charm. See the difference between the new Honda E and its original and much better proportioned prototype

  6. I have said it before and i will say it again – they had MORONS in charge from the 50’s-00’s, so many awesome products thrown away for what, plain, boring staid uninteresting and poor quality products, it makes you wonder how they managed for so long, well, apart from billions being poured in from the UK Gov’s of the era’s.

    This and the MG EX-E were and are still stunning cars, and i believe would sell today if sold, you can see the Cadillac Allante in this, mind you that was not a huge success either, and that like the Sterling had a starring role in the, then, super soap, Dallas, that being driven by JR and the Sterling by the Poison Dwarf, Lucy, it made her look even smaller, but apparently that was a dog on set for reliability.

    • It is a shame that this never appeared for sale. However the 800 was so badly built in the initial run that it failed in America. If the build quality had matched it’s sister, the Legend then maybe Rover may have been here today as that car helped establish Honda stateside

      • I may be wrong, but wasn’t the Legend sold as an “Accura” in the States? (Hondas premium brand) If so, the quality must have been good to match the likes of Lexus, Jaguar and Mercedes

  7. So much better looking than the rather boring looking 800 saloon that followed. Indeed isn’t the danger of such show cars that they raise expectations too much…

  8. The remaining CCV model is still at the British Motor Museum, Gaydon and was in the workshop in the summer awaiting renovation – not an easy matter on a fibreglass, wood and plaster model. No doubt it’s still waiting…

  9. Has anyone else noticed that the horizontal ‘ribbing’ in the bumpers and lower part of the doors was a styling theme carried over for the Body Styling Enhancement Pack created for the production 800 Series? The BSE pack had been created by ARG’s Concept Design team and was then manufactured under contract by Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR), in preparation for its announcement at the 1987 Frankfurt Motor Show. Even the press photos show an 800 Sterling wearing the same non-production wheel design as had previewed on the Rover CCV.

    So another aspect of the CCV, albeit a minor stylistic theme, lived on.

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