Gallery : Austin AR6

An amazing number of design themes were created during the AR6 programme – here are some of the less well-known prototypes.

Words: Keith Adams Pictures: Roy Axe

1982 teaser prototype

Austin AR6

AR6 gallery
The five-door aspect of the double-sided model shown to the press in 1982 – and not commented upon by Roy Axe

AR6 gallery

AR6 gallery
Three-door styling is clean and crisp – with major Italdesign overtones…

1983 styling proposals

AR6 gallery
Once the AR6 programme was underway, a number of advanced styling schemes were concocted, including this one-box model

AR6 gallery

AR6 gallery

AR6 gallery
The proposal was further developed into a full-sized ‘see-through’ model for evaluation

AR6 gallery

AR6 gallery
More conventional model from 1983 wasn’t progressed

AR6 gallery

Original design developed for production

AR6 gallery
Early see-through model retained much of the 1982 car’s avantgarde styling…
AR6 gallery
See-through model was further developed for production – note the side skirts and Rover badging

AR6 gallery

1985 and the design direction changes

AR6 gallery
The previous car’s advanced glass-house was abandoned for a more production-feasible AR6
AR6 gallery
Three-door AR6 now looks rather conventional
AR6 gallery
Rear of five-door model looks plain to the point of anonymity
AR6 gallery
AR6 three-door was a more modern, airy variation on the Metro theme
Keith Adams


  1. Why in the hell didn’t they build this car? I reckon that it looked way ahead of its time for 1985 and actually still looks remarkably fresh now in 2011.

    ARG could have really stolen the thunder on a lot of the other car makers, including the Japanese, if they’d made the bold decision to build this car – especially if an up to the minute power plant had been fitted under the bonnet. Another wasted opportunity!

  2. IMO the 1985 AR6 prototype should have incorporated the styling of the R6X (albeit with a more developed rear) despite being two completely different cars, with the latter being delveloped only after the former was cancelled.

  3. The failure to fund AR6 is a sign that there was no long term vision, desire to properly re-establish the company.
    Similarly, the three M’s were only really two and a half cars. Government funding here should have allowed three separate platforms. More spending initially, yes, but greater long term benefit for the economy.

  4. The later AR6 reminds me of the Honda Logo but IMO it is a nice design which would have lasted some years.
    The rear threequarter glass on the earlier versions would have been a pig to production engineer and might even have distorted visibility?

  5. It’s the same old adage-doing something too little too late. Even if they had have incorporated the designs and built it, it would have had to soldier on for ten years or more and become embarrassing in front of the strong foreign competition. That s why mg rover failed. No money to update in time, not enough cash spent on RAndD and an attitude of ‘that ‘ll do for the next ten years’. Believe it or not I am an mg rover fan with 2 R8’s to my name but all this ‘what if’ is crazy. Even if they had gone with this look, the rest of the range of cars, the ones that made money, were failing.

  6. Back end of the last one looks like a Fiat Uno, hardly an inspiring choice..
    I’d go for the second of the two with that strange kinked glass, harder to make but hardly advanced, they were fitting two plane curved glass to cars in the early 60s.
    I think this would have sold well, but not surprised they snatched defeat from the claws of victory yet again..

  7. To me, the 1983 AR6 One Box model photos look the best, with the 5 door looking potentially useful. Actually I can imagine seeing it with Ford badges. No matter whether we like them or not, I always enjoy looking at these mock up designs of cars… very interesting. Another welcome feature on Aronline

    • Add the front-lights and grille from the later R6X to the AR6 One Box model in place of the Volvo 480-inspired front and it is almost there, though would probably place the rear number plate elsewhere.

  8. Did the ‘Revolution’ MINI concept derive from AR6? Anyone got any information on this?

    Spiritual and Evolution concepts are well documented, but the 3rd option seems to have been lost to the sands of time.

  9. The back end of the original 1982 design (and the prototype at Gaydon) reminds me a lot of the Yugo Sana. The first 1983 proposal looks oddly like the CityRover (there’s got to be some irony there) and the second one looks like a cross between a Peugeot 205 and a Seat Ibiza. The 1985 version is the blandest of all and looks Japanese.

  10. The 1985 BL corporate plan shows the AR6 was meant to be part of a family. It was the short wheelbase version to replace the Metro in Spring 1989 (with Mini too in effect as it would be discontinued), with the AR5 a long wheelbase version to replace the Rover 200 from 1990, and the a long wheelbase hatchback AR7 to replace the Maestro in 1991.

    The idea was that by sharing a platform and production technology volumes would go up. Capital costs for the AR6 were £162m up to 1991, the AR5 £71m and the AR7 £122m in the same period.

    AR6 was expected to have lower capital costs than the Metro as it would use much of the Metro equipment and facilities.

    The K series (including a 3 cylinder version) was expected to cost £121m and the gearbox for all three cars £72m up to 1991.

    By spring 1985 the AR5 and AR7 had been dropped for the AR8 and AR9, which would have cost a combined £176m. The AR6 was then expected to cost £195m, the K series engine £139m and the gearbox £76m.

    The government (including the PM) discussed these plans extensively. They wanted BL to make a small car – the Metro was seen as their one, admittedly low margin, success, but the Metro re-skin and joint a 1.3 engine/gearbox with Honda were pushed and the re-skin won the day. Harold Musgrove seemed willing to sacrifice the AR6 to keep the engine.

    Found loads about all this in the National Archive recently. Hope to get to Gaydon to see the AR6 in the flesh in the hope of finding out its wheelbase and whether it was made of aluminium.

    Would it have sold? It was designed to be ‘high tech’ and economical. Presumably, if it was a quality product like the second gen Rover 200 it might have sold. We’ll never know. But it was clearly Longbridge’s last ‘all new’ car in the sector that Austin had pioneered. After it went, ARG/Rover were not a vertically integrated volume car company by ambition (as they had not really been by sales for a while).

    • Mike Pryce

      Given that some of the AR6 proposals and the AR16/AR17 prototypes featured the Roverised styling that would later appear on the R8 200/400, would it be fair to say that production versions of the larger AR5 and AR7 would have likely carried over the Roverised styling (albeit with AR7 possibly being a two-box hatchback instead of a notchback hatchback as was the case with the R8 200)?

      • I think they would have all been Rovers – the last ‘see through’ AR6 above has a Rover badge on the tail. As Roy Axe was aiming for a family look, I can’t see how that could be achieved otherwise.

  11. I’d buy that “Early see-through model” today if it was available – it still looks very modern and classy, albeit that deep side-glazing is sadly not en vogue.

  12. The final mock ups are basically a cross between a Daihatsu Charade and a Suzuki Swift. Did they get Italdesign styling? It’s probably as well the car did not get built as it looks too similar to the other two…

  13. Interesting,, and attractive.

    The glass bubble-back one could have been problematic, I would fear that there would have been water and wind sealing issues in a production environment, and to properly prevent the thing turning into a sauna in summer it would have needed air conditioning, whose cost might have meant too much of a price hike for a small non-premium car’s market to accept.

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